Reliable, safe car under $2,500?

cheap used cars

Good, cheap car for little dollars

Car buying on a budget can be frustrating, for example, you might find the car you want, with the features you need, but the price tag is well out of reach.

But what if you’re on a really tight budget? What are some second-hand cars that are worth looking at that won’t break the bank?

Tina sent us in that very question – “Is it possible to get a reliable and safe used car for under $2,500?”

The short answer is yes, so long as you’re willing to be patient and a bit picky (ok, that might have actually been a long answer!).

Any way you cut it there’s no shortage of used cars available in Australia.

Think about it, there’s all those cars sitting in dealerships that need to find homes, and many private sellers looking to part with their older set of wheels too.

So, we recommend that you never be in a rush to buy a car, especially a pre-owned one.

It’s a buyers’ market and you should be prepared to get the best possible car, at the best price.

How many kilometres?

When buying a cheap used car, the first thing to consider is the mileage that your prospective car has on the clock.

A car that may be a little older, but has travelled less kilometres, is most likely going to serve you better than a newer car that has circled the globe a few times.

So, how many k’s should a car have travelled? The general rule of thumb is 15,000km per year.

Remember, generally speaking, cars that have hit 200,000km generally have their best days behind the them.

Related: Essential safety features for a first car

That’s not to say that a well-maintained car will immediately fall apart as soon as the odometer ticks over into the 200,000’s, however it’s a good yardstick to keep in mind.

We’ve seen very moderately priced cars with fewer than 150,000km on the clock, and that’s exactly what you should be looking for.

That kind of mileage gives you a good chance of getting plenty of life out the engine, transmission and major components.

Receipts and service history

This is a very important thing to check before you hand over your hard-earned dollars.

Has the car been regularly serviced and maintained? Again, a car that has been loved and looked after is more likely to give good service and hopefully protect you against expensive repair bills.

Has there been a lot of money spent on the car in recent times? This may be a false economy.

Sure, it looks good that the transmission, brakes, battery and a dozen other things have been replaced, but are you just buying someone else’s problem?

Look for a car in as original condition as possible, and with as much info on hand about its background, that way you can get a really accurate idea of the true condition of the car.

Go Japanese

I know, that’s a big statement, but I really stand by that in this situation.

Chances are a Korean car that is around that $2,500 figure is going to be an earlier generation Kia or Hyundai. They make great cars today, but a decade ago…well they were a bit ‘hit and miss’.

I’m not just picking on the Koreans either, steer clear of anything too exotic too – think Peugeot, BMW, Saab and Mercedes-Benz.

These might have been terrific cars when they were new, however 10-15 years on Australian roads can take their toll and replacement parts and repairs can well and truly blow your budget.

Play it really safe, opt for a Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru or Mitsubishi.

Get it checked out

Yes, you may not be buying perfection on wheels, however you want to make sure that you’re not going to be handing out more money for repairs (if you could, wouldn’t you just be buying a more expensive car?).

Get a mechanic, one that you know and trust, to give your prospective car a good going-over.

Make sure they check the coolant system, electricals, brakes and, if a front-wheel drive car, the CV joints.


$2,500 should at least get you front airbags and anti-lock brakes.

Make sure your prospective purchase has quality tyres (not retreads) with plenty of rubber, and that the brakes, horn, indicators, lights and wipers are all in top shape.

Oh, and don’t forget the most important safety feature – the seatbelts.

Give these a good look over as well, you want to make sure there’s no signs of wear or fraying and that the buckles work as intended.

For details on the safety performance of different models check out the ANCAP website.

Related: 8 DIY Affordable Ways to Maintain Your Car

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