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The best used cars under $7000.
The best used cars under $7000.

In cheap used car territory – around $7000 or so -- it’s condition, condition, condition.

Don’t be too worried about how many kilometres it’s got on the clock. If the car has its original, complete service book, that’s a better indication that you could be on to something good.

No matter how schmick the car looks, though, at this sort of money there are probably one or two expensive time bombs lurking within it. Unless you really know how to check a car out properly, get an independent mechanic to have a look at it before you sign up. A report might save you from a $7000 disaster.



No other brand makes cars that keep on keeping on like Toyota, and a well maintained Corolla, of any vintage, is usually a trouble-free choice. I know of one that’s done more than 400,000 kilometres. You’re looking at a 2002-2003 hatch or sedan, probably base Ascent or Conquest grades, with the same 1.8-litre engine used in the current model, and a five speed manual or four speed automatic. You’ll get great fuel economy. It’s big enough for four, practical and comfortable. Try to find one with the passenger airbag/ABS brakes option..

Price when new: $23,890
Engine: 4 Cylinder, 1.8 Litre
Transmission: five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, front wheel drive
Outputs: 100kW/171Nm
Thirst: 7.7 / 100Km


The Lancer is a basic, tough, reliable sedan (and wagon) that was heavily discounted when new, so you can pick up a relatively late-model (2005) base 2.0-litre ES for about $7000. That’s great value, especially if it’s got the ABS brakes/six airbags option.

Price when new: $21,990
Engine: 4 Cylinder, 2.0 Litre
Transmission: four-speed automatic, front wheel drive
Outputs: 92kw/173Nm
Thirst: 8.7 / 100Km


You probably have to spend more than $7000 to get an early (2004) Mazda3, but its 2002-2003 323 predecessor is a blue-chip Japanese small car with similar virtues to a Corolla. There’s Protégé sedan and Astina hatch body styles, with a 1.8 litre engine, plus upmarket, sorta kinda sporty 2.0-litre SP20 variants.

Price when new: $19,990
Engine: 4 Cylinder, 1.8 Litre
Transmission: five-speed Manual, Front Wheel Drive
Outputs: 92kw/163Nm
Thirst: 7.4 / 100Km


The Civic is a favourite with older buyers, who are either too tight to pay for proper servicing, or fastidious about keeping their pride and joy in mint nick. If the seller proudly shows you the complete service book, buy the car. It will be a 2000-2002 GLi sedan or Vi hatch, with an economical 1.7-litre engine.

Price when new: $27,950
Engine: 4 Cylinder, 1.7 Litre
Transmission: four-speed Automatic, Front Wheel Drive
Outputs: 96kW/155Nm
Thirst: 7.3 / 100Km


I’ve included this because it was cheap as chips when new, so you can now pick up a 2005-2007 model for about $7000. Avoid the base S hatch; go for a 1.6-litre SX instead, which has ABS brakes as standard. Motoring associations rated the Getz as the car with the lowest running costs on the market.

Price when new: $16,490
Engine: 4 Cylinder, 1.6 Litre
Transmission: five-speed Manual, Front Wheel Drive
Outputs: 78kW/144Nm
Thirst: 6.2 / 100Km


Toyota Camry

Price when new: $30,990
Engine: 6 Cylinder, 3.0 Litre
Transmission: five-speed Manual
Outputs: 141kW/279Nm
Thirst: 9.9/100Km

Seriously, what else could I recommend above one of these? The Camry’s quality, durability and reliability are legendary. It might take a while, but eventually you will find a 2003 (introduced in September 2002) Altise or Ateva, the first of the 2.4-litre models, probably with a four speed automatic, though there are a few five-speed manuals around. There’s also an equally reliable 3.0-litre V6/four speed auto, which is usually slightly cheaper than the four cylinder, because that’s the car everybody wants. Camry’s a big five seater, with a huge boot. ABS brakes were optional on the base model, so check they’re fitted.

Mitsubishi Magna

Price when new: $32,710
Engine: 6 Cylinder, 3.5 Litre
Transmission: five-speed manual
Outputs: 155kW/316Nm
Thirst: 11.8/100Km

Not as bulletproof as a Camry, but there are still plenty of 2003-2005 models being used as daily drivers. The 3.5-litre V6 is smooth and powerful, but if the four speed automatic shifts slowly, or with a clunk, leave it alone. Go for the ES sedan, which has four airbags as standard.

Subaru Liberty

Price when new: $41,890
Engine: 4 Cylinder, 2.5 Litre
Transmission: four-speed automatic
Outputs: 115kW/223Nm
Thirst: 8.7/100Km

The safest car in its class at the time, the 2001-2002 Subaru Liberty sedan is available with 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre four cylinder engines, five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions, and all-wheel drive. This is an effective substitute for a traction/stability control system, especially in wet, slippery conditions.

Mercedes-Benz C180/C200

Price when new: $53,000
Engine:  4 Cylinder, 1.8 Litre
Transmission: five-speed Automatic, Rear Wheel Drive
Outputs: 90kw/170Nm
Thirst: 8.0/100km

The W202 C Class, popular in the late 1990s, dates from an era when a Mercedes was over-engineered and built in Germany, to the world’s best quality and reliability standards. They’ve arguably gone backwards since. Choose from 1.8 and 2.0-litre four cylinder engines, both offering glacially slow performance.


Nissan Maxima

Price when new: $42,990
Engine: 6 Cylinder, 3.0 Litre
Transmission: Automatic, Front Wheel drive
Outputs: 157kW / 291Nm
Thirst: 8.6L/100Km

You’ll have to hunt one of these down, because they didn’t sell in big numbers, but a 2002-2003 Maxima is used car gold. At the time, owner satisfaction surveys done in secret by the car industry rated the Maxima as the best big, affordable sedan on the market. Its powerful 3.0-litre V6 was also regarded as one of the world’s best engines.

Build quality is light years ahead of any Falcodore, and the Maxima is luxuriously comfortable. Four airbags and ABS are standard. If you’re lucky, you’ll find an ST-R, with sunroof and 17-inch alloys. Ti also gets leather and side airbags.

Toyota Avalon

Price when new: $43,990
Engine: 6 Cylinder, 3.0 Litre
Transmission: Automatic, Front Wheel Drive
Outputs: 145kW / 284Nm
Thirst: 8.5L / 100Km

This is basically a rebodied Camry with the 3.0-litre V6 engine and a four-speed automatic. At $7000, you’re probably looking at a 2002-2003 model, before the September 2003 MkIII facelift. If you can find one of those, though, it’s worth looking at because Toyota improved the brakes, ride and handling.

Ford Falcon

Price when new: $36,575
Engine: 6 Cylinder, 4.0 Litre
Transmission: Manual, Rear Wheel Drive
Outputs: 182kW / 380Nm
Thirst: 11.4L/100Km

We’re in BA territory here, from September 2002 to October 2004. The mighty Falcon is a more reliable old dunger than its Commodore equivalent, and the BA got the 4.0-litre six (with a shocking thirst), plus a four speed auto. Don’t buy a BA without traction control; the Fairmont also has side airbags.

Holden Commodore 

Price when new: $35,950
Engine: 6 Cylinder, 3.8 Litre
Transmission: Manual, Rear Wheel Drive
Outputs: 152kW / 305Nm
Thirst: 8.0 / 100Km

Our $7000 limit bring us in at the 2001 VXII and 2002 VY Commodores, both with the primitive, hoarse and incontinent, but surprisingly economical, 3.8 litre V6. Ah, but you can also get the Gen III 5.7-litre V8. Nice, but be very, very careful. These things have dropped their guts in many a driveway.


Subaru Liberty Outback 

Price when new: $38,290
Engine: 4 Cylinder, 2.5 Litre
Transmission: Manual, Four Wheel Drive
Outputs: 115kW / 223Nm
Thirst: 8.9 / 100Km

Liberty wagon engines and spex are as per the 2001-2002 sedans. The Liberty is unusual in that nearly every sedan variant is also available as a family freighter. Subaru sold heaps of wagons because, while some car makers still didn’t take safety seriously ten years ago, the Liberty’s four star ANCAP rating (the maximum at the time) made it the obvious choice for parents who wanted to make sure that their kids were properly protected in a crash. It’s not quite big enough to work as daily transport for three kids, but it’ll take two easily. The 2.0-litre engine is gutless, so try to find a 2.5. The Outback has higher clearance and awful plastic body trim.

Toyota Corolla

Price when new: $29,090                      
Engine: 4 Cylinder, 1.8 Litre
Transmission: Automatic, Front Wheel Drive
Outputs: 100kW / 171Nm
Thirst: 7.7 / 100Km

The Corolla wagon is now no more, which is a pity, because this 2002-2003 model was one of those cars that cleverly packed a big, useful interior into a compact body. The wagon’s 60/40 split fold rear seat folds down to make a completely flat floor space.

Toyota Camry

Price when new: $34,165
Engine: 6 Cylinder, 3.0 Litre
Transmission: Automatic, Front Wheel Drive
Outputs: 141kW / 279Nm
Thirst: 8.7 / 100Km

Toyota stopped making the Camry wagon in 2002. The Kluger took over that role in 2003. There’s plenty of 2000-2002 Camry wagons out there, though, with bulletproof 2.2-litre four cylinder and 3.0-litre V6 engines. Find one with ABS brakes, which were optional on most variants. The 3.0V6 Touring is the gem.

Toyota Tarago

Price when new: $45,030
Engine: 4 Cylinder, 2.4 Litre
Transmission: Manual, Rear Wheel Drive
Outputs: 102kW / 208Nm
Thirst: 9.3 / 100Km

If you need seven or eight seats for $7000, you’re looking at a 1998-1999 Toyota Tarago GLi. Its 2.4-litre engine goes OK and doesn’t use huge amounts of juice. Find one with rear seat air con to keep the kids comfortable. The Getaway model has ABS and two airbags.

Whats your pick for a budget second hand buy? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Toyota Corolla 2002: Ascent Seca

Safety Rating
Engine Type Inline 4, 1.8L
Fuel Type Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency 7.8L/100km (combined)
Seating 5
Price From $2,860 - $4,510
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2003 Toyota Corolla
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