Yes You Can Still Find an Awesome Car for Under $10K

April 8th, 2022 by

A lot of used cars under $10k is shown.

Let’s face it—new cars are expensive. Unfortunately, the same can be said for used models these days, too. What’s a buyer on a budget to do? If you’re desperately hunting for used cars under $10k, know that even in this crazy car market, there are still plenty of them around. Tight budgets shouldn’t mean you get squeezed out of the market, but for the sub-$10k crowd, it pays to follow a few golden rules.

Quality matters at this price point because you’re likely looking at older model year vehicles with six-digit numbers on the odometer. Also, it helps to let go of any super-specific criteria. For example, you may want an SUV, but if a low mileage sedan gets on your radar, you’d be wise to snatch it up. Putting quality and reliability first will guarantee you a hassle-free ownership experience.

Some buyers in this price category are cash buyers, and others are dealing with credit issues or maybe some challenging financial hurdles. Regardless, shopping in the $10k and under range doesn’t mean you’re stuck with a salvage title lemon. Here at McCluskey, we stock tons of affordable starter cars in every body style, so keep an open mind and relax, knowing it’s easier than you think to end up with an amazing vehicle.

Budget Car Shopping 101

We’ll cover the basics here to start your search with confidence. The most successful $10k-or-less buyers let go of any cosmetic standards. It’s like Misfits Market, the mailorder company that sells the “ugly” produce that grocery stores reject. It’s still nutritious, organic, and fresh, but because it doesn’t look perfect, they can sell it at a discount. If you find a high-quality, low-mileage car in a weird color or one with a few dents and dings, it’s still a high-quality car.

So, if you agree that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, you’re well on your way to an open-minded shopping experience. Next comes deciding what you cannot live without. For some buyers, that’s capability. You might need a pickup for work or an all-wheel drive car for safe long-range commuting—make a list of must-have features and share them with your sales consultant. Remember, these are MUST HAVE features. The fewer you have, the easier it’ll be to find a vehicle.

Warning! Budget buyers who rely on Craigslist or other third-party classified sites are heading into the danger zone. The used car business is full of shady sellers, and they’ve perfected their fraudulent practices, making it difficult to discern what’s a great deal and what’s an outright scam. Why create stress for yourself? Skip the sketchy classified sites, and you’ll protect yourself from common pitfalls like ending up with a salvage title vehicle that sustained major damage.

The same holds true for app-based sellers. They may hide behind slick user interfaces and Super Bowl ads, but these companies don’t usually have great live customer support. Unless you like sitting on hold for 45 minutes, it’s best to avoid buying a car this way. Any online seller that isn’t affiliated with a reputable dealer could spell trouble. These sites often get their inventory from auctions sight unseen, with little regard for their present conditions—not a great formula for quality.

A person is shown passing a key after looking for used cars under $10k.

Financing and Payments

Buyers come in all shapes and sizes, so credit-challenged shoppers aren’t just those on a shoestring budget. We’ve seen millionaires with 500 credit scores. If you’re in a bind financially or dealing with a low credit score, it doesn’t exclude you from qualifying for a car loan. Well-run dealer finance departments include professionals who know how to find great loan programs for buyers with challenging credit. We specialize in helping buyers in this situation, so if your car purchase involves finding a lender that works with not-so-great credit, we’ve got you covered. Not all sellers can make it happen, though.

When you’re struggling financially, it’s especially important to find a reliable car that will get you to and from work. The one-two punch of finding a lender and negotiating a monthly payment you can afford can seem overwhelming. Our advice? Let McCluskey’s finance professionals walk you through the process. They’ve helped many buyers in similar situations. They understand how to find a program that keeps you within your monthly budget, and that won’t end up with you owing more than the vehicle is worth.

You should also know that any financial difficulties you may be experiencing should have no bearing on how you’re treated. Walk away from sellers with a bias against budget buyers or those with challenged credit. Their poor treatment is a preview of what you can expect throughout the ownership stage. First impressions matter, and every customer deserves only the highest levels of service and support. Buying a car at any price point is supposed to be fun and exciting, not stressful and humiliating.

One other consideration as you begin thinking about the financing part of your purchase—consider an extended warranty. While some vehicles won’t qualify based on age or if the odometer has reached a certain number of miles, it’s worth exploring coverage for your car’s main components. The most expensive repairs involve the powertrain/drivetrain, including the engine, transmission, and axles. If extra coverage is available, we recommend strongly considering adding it to your finance package.

Life Behind the Wheel of a $10K Car

It’s important to be realistic about longevity when you’re buying a lower-priced car. These vehicles tend to be older and have higher mileage, so they’ve accumulated wear and tear. As the vehicle’s owner, it’s up to you to stay on top of regular maintenance, like oil changes and tire rotations. It is critical to do so with older vehicles to ensure they continue aging well. When possible, choose full synthetic oil rather than less expensive conventional oil or synthetic blends.

Also, it’s always better to bring your vehicle back to us for all your service and maintenance. As a certified dealer, we use genuine factory replacement parts, not cheap aftermarket copycat components. Cars are like people–if we feed them high quality food (a.k.a. synthetic oil), bring them in for regular check-ups (a.k.a. inspections), and look after their ongoing upkeep (a.k.a. scheduled maintenance), our cars will reward us with many years of problem-free driving. Oil changes at discount national chains are like fast food for cars–they’re cheap, but they’ll cost you later.

As strange as it sounds, consider keeping your car clean with a wash every week or so (more often in the winter). Dirt and dust can build up and affect the vehicle’s paint, but it can also get into vents and coat engine components. Weekly car washes sound like a big investment, but even if you run your car through the $10 drive-thru car wash, it’s better than nothing. You should also get in the habit of checking your tires for any embedded rocks or nails and checking tire pressure.

Monthly, weekly, and even daily vehicle upkeep pays off in the long run. You should get to know your vehicle intimately, so you’ll quickly detect any changes in performance that might signal a bigger problem. It’s not necessary to spring for premium gas or pay a detailer hundreds every month; simple awareness of your car’s baseline performance and health helps you catch potential issues sooner, which could translate into big savings on a repair.

A row of used cars are shown parked at a car dealer.

Shop for Your Used Car With Confidence

Not all of us can afford a brand new car with all the bells and whistles, and that’s OK. People who choose to buy cars that cost under $10k do so for many reasons. It could be parents shopping for their new driver’s first car or a thrifty minimalist who’d rather put her cash in the stock market. It’s a popular price category–more popular than you might think. That’s why we refresh our used inventory almost daily.

Our advice to you is to take a deep breath and relax because you have tons of great options at your price point. Whether you want a crossover, a compact sedan, or a full-size pickup, chances are you’ll find it in your price range. Best of all, you won’t automatically sacrifice quality. Instead, you could end up with a vehicle that lasts for years to come.