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Best used cars under $10,000 in Australia

Our top picks for sub-$10,000 used cars.

The problem with cars is that all the ones you really, really want - the ones you’d have posters of on your wall if you were still young enough for that to be acceptable - are too expensive.

In the real world, most of us don’t have $100,000-plus or more to drop on a car, as much as we’d like to. So, what can you buy with real money? The kind that won’t break the bank, or require an intimidating loan with alarming repayments?

What, if anything, can you get for less than $10,000? Well, if you shop carefully and wisely, a lot more than you think. Obviously, you need to be cautious, as any vehicle at that price point is going to have a lot of years and kilometres under its wheels, and quite likely multiple owners, but there are bargains to be had.

Here, then, is our helpful list of the best cars to go for, in various categories, at a bargain-basement price.

Best sports car under $10,000 – Mazda NB MX-5

2003 Mazda MX5

This, fortunately, is an easy one, and the answer would be the same if you were shopping for a new sports car. When it comes to combining affordability with outrageous fun, it really is hard to go past the legendary Mazda MX-5 - the best-selling roadster of all time. Worldwide.

Yes, it’s very small and if you take a passenger with you, it’s only mildly uncomfortable to sit that close to them (unless you’re already intimate), but having them in the car will genuinely blunt its performance.

The MX-5 has never been outrageously powerful, it’s more about lightweight fun and simplicity. The rear-wheel-drive layout and tiny proportions make it a purist’s delight, and, quite simply, the more money you can spend on one, and thus the more recent a model you can find at your price, the better the car will be. It’s a vintage Mazda that has only improved with each reimagining.

The NB MX-5, built from 1998 to 2005, is going to be your best shopping for under $10,000, and right now on you can find excellent examples from 2002 at $8,950. Remarkably there’s even a 2007 version for $9,990 drive-away (it’s an automatic, though, with high mileage).

Our one piece of advice, if you really enjoy your driving, is to go for a manual gearbox version, if at all possible.

Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Best hatchback under $10,000 – VW Mk5 Golf GTI

When it comes to a hatchback, you’re actually going to have plenty of options for less than $10,000, and the choice may well come down to which car’s styling appeals the most to you.

We’d say you can’t go wrong with a Toyota Corolla, a Mazda 3 or a Hyundai i30, but if you want a hatch that will make you feel alive, inspire actual driving joy and look good as well, the excellent news is you can actually get hold a Volkswagen Golf GTI at the price.

This week we found a 2006 model for just $7,800 with fewer than 100,000km on the clock, which looks like a fantastic bargain, if you’re willing to take a risk on an ageing European model. There was also a 2008 model for $8,800 with a few more miles.

While the VW Golf is hugely popular around the world, and is very much a family car of choice in Europe where people are used to driving smaller vehicles, the GTI takes things to the next level with sporty engines, a sexier interior, and a ride and handling balance that is truly German in its excellence.

Again, our one important piece of advice would be to go for a manual if at all possible, not just because they’re more fun, but because VW has infamously had reliability issues with early DSG gearboxes and clutches.

Best luxury car under $10,000 – BMW E90 3 Series

There’s an obvious safe answer to this question, which is to go and buy whichever Lexus most appeals to you, and is available at your price. A Lexus is, of course, a Toyota in a fancy dress, and that means it’s reliable, built to last and thus a very wise second-hand buy. You’ll get a lot of car, and a lot of bells and whistles, for your money.

Whether a Japanese car counts as luxury is a personal thing, but for many people, it has to be German. And when it comes to a good, solid and enjoyable luxe German car, it’s hard to go past the vehicle that BMW originally built its global success on (before the arrival of its now best-selling X models), the 3 Series.

There are plenty of variants of the 3, and you can choose one with two doors or four, small economical engines or larger, sportier ones (the straight six-cylinder the company used to make for its sporty 3 models is one of the great engines of all time). And, thankfully, you can get a 3 in pretty good order for under $10,000, but like the Golf GTI, understand that older Euros tend to have expensive running costs lurking behind their cheap purchase prices, 

On we found a 2009 model 320i for $9,450 and even a 2002 320i for just $4000. You’ll have to look hard and bargain even harder, but a BMW 3 Series is certainly not out of reach.

BMW 320i

BMW 320i
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Best family car under $10,000 – Subaru BM/BR Liberty/Outback

There’s always a part of me that wants to go Aussie, even though that part of me is well out of date now. Still, I did have some hope that I’d be able to recommend Holden’s VF Commodore for this category. I note that some people online seem to think it is a sub-$10K bargain, but I couldn’t find many at that price, and I think it might be a while yet until they’re that cheap. It is, however, a great car, a great size, made for our conditions, good to drive, well equipped with tech - including self-parking - and a future collector’s item, possibly. Aside from the price issue, it might not be the most reliable thing once it does get that cheap.

So, let’s get realistic and turn Japanese. At this price, your smartest bet would be a Toyota Camry or Mazda6, but my personal choice would be a Subaru Liberty or Outback.

This gives you the choice of a sedan or wagon, or a slightly more rugged wagon. As I’ve said many times, when it comes to second-hand vehicles, my personal advice is always to choose the Subaru that best suits your lifestyle. Quality build and often excellent reliability combined with all-wheel drive, and truly enjoyable handling and steering can make a Subaru both a sensible and enjoyable choice. 

The Liberty does hold its value, so you might have to go back to 2010 or earlier to find one under $10k. But be mindful that 2010 safety levels are a far cry from what we expect in 2020. There was one 2012 offering on Autotrader at $10,990, but it was pushing 200,000km.

The more rugged Outback is also in high demand, but $8950 would get you a 2010 2.5I Premium model.

Best SUV under $10,000 – Ford Territory

Yes, this is a very broad category, isn’t it? The size of the SUV you’re after is obviously going to be a vital part of the question here, but if you really want to go big, $10k is going to be a tough ask. Shop hard and you might just get into a Toyota Kluger with a long history; fortunately, Toyotas reputedly go forever.

There are plenty of cars to choose from in the more manageable mid-size range, of course, and the Mitsubishi Outlander has plenty of fans, as does Nissan’s Dualis, Hyundai’s Santa Fe and, for the adventurous, Skoda’s Yeti.

When it comes to the best second-hand SUV, it should be hard to go past Volvo’s XC90, but you have to be a Volvo kind of person and willing to take on a liability in this price bracket, so we’re going to recommend something local instead, an SUV built for Australia and Australians and thus, sadly, not built any more. As a second-hand buy, though, a Ford Territory, with its rugged usability, seven-seat option and car-like drivability is a winner. They're not perfect, but relatively cheap to fix and parts shouldn't be hard to find.

It’s not unusual to find more than 600 Territorys for sale on Autotrader, and while many of them are still worth north of $20,000, there are good, clean examples at closer to $10k, from 2012, while a 2010 model will get you under that mark.

Best ute under $10,000 – Toyota AN10 HiLux

Pricing for a 2012 Hilux ranges between $8K-$27K.

Yes, you want a Ford Ranger, and who doesn’t? Ever since Australians fell as madly in love with pick-up trucks, sorry, utes, as Americans have long been, the attraction of a tough-looking US-style load hauler has been strong. But sadly, the PX Ranger that's led a lot of this demand is still quite new, and thus finding one under $10,000 is going to be a challenge. If you do, well done. Enjoy, but make sure you give it plenty of scrutiny first.

That leaves us with some proper workhorses, like the Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton, Ford Courier and Isuzu D-Max. All of them are tough and capable and large, but don’t be tempted by how cheap the Great Wall utes are, buying Chinese is still a risk, reliability (and safety) wise.

The obvious choice for a cheap ute, though, and the one that will give you the most options, is the 'unbreakable' Toyota HiLux, which is so popular it’s often Australia’s best-selling vehicle.

When it comes to 4x4s of any stripe, Toyota is hard to go past, and if you head into the serious outback of Australia, it’s pretty much the only brand you’ll see, for good reason.

There are quite a few HiLuxes for sale at any time on Autotrader, with as many as 100 of them under $10,000, but you will be buying something a little older - like a 2004, 2009 or hopefully a 2012.