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There are people who swear by used cars. For them it makes absolutely no sense to take the depreciation hit all new cars take the moment they are driven off of the dealer’s lot. In many ways we see the logic in that, although there are a number of very sound reasons to purchase a new car as well.
That said, one can typically save money going used, particularly if you can afford to pay cash. Of course, there is used and there is used. If you’re looking for one of the best used SUVs for under $5000 you’ll need to be prepared to go pretty far back in time to get one. No, we don’t mean back in time as in fire up the DeLorean, we mean you’ll be looking at models from the previous century for the most part.
To assemble this list, we consulted our friends at Kelley Blue Book to find the youngest SUVs out there priced below $5,000. We then considered those models’ user ratings to find the vehicles with the best reputation for reliability.
Only two of the vehicles on this list hail from the 21st century, the rest were all built in the last few years of the 20th Century. With that revelation comes good news and bad news. The good news is that was a time in history when the SUV was experiencing a significant boom in demand, so there should be lots of examples of these vehicles out there for you to choose from. The bad news is, they will almost invariably need work, because of their age.
For this reason, it absolutely behooves you to seek the advice of trusted professional mechanic. Finding a vehicle with fewer than 100,000 miles on it at this price point is going to be nigh impossible. Before you hand over your hard earned cash, get the vehicle inspected for serious mechanical problems. If you’re truly lucky, you’ll find an auto with all of its service records intact. Although, given the fact most of the vehicle will probably be on their third owner by now…
Long story short, if you’re considering buying one of these vehicles, make sure you do your due diligence, research them on the web, try to learn all of their potential problem areas, so you’ll know what to look for when you go see one of them. You’ll also want to research for any potential recalls and do your best to make sure the vehicle you’re considering was updated if any recalls were issued for it. And finally, never underestimate the value of a thorough pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic intimately familiar with the make and model you’re planning to purchase.
It’s a “gotta have” in this instance.
With that said, here’s a list of the best used SUVs you can buy for under $5,000…
Powered by a robust 4.8-liter V8 producing 275 horsepower and 290 ft-lbs of torque, the 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe comes recommended highly by current owners. The engines are praised for their reliability, with many owners having in excess of 200,000 miles on the vehicle. A four-speed automatic routes power to all four wheels. Properly equipped, the 2002 Tahoe is capable of towing 8,700 pounds. Available features included power adjustable driver and front passenger seats, heated exterior rear-view mirrors, and 104.6 cubic feet of cargo space. Fuel economy is rated at 13 miles per gallon in the city, 16 on the highway.
The Durango offered the spaciousness of a large SUV with the ease of handling of smaller models. Renowned for reliability, owners praise the Dodge's durability and its powerful V8 engine, but lament the fuel economy. Available in 4x4 and 4x2 powertrains, the 2001 Durango featured a 4.7-liter V8 as standard equipment. The engine routed 235 horsepower and 295 ft-lbs of torque through a four-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy was rated at 12 miles per gallon in the city and 17 on the highway. With seating for up to eight people, the 2001 Dodge Durango was rated to tow 4,100 pounds.
With seating for up to nine people, and a very comfortable ride quality, the Ford offered a towing capacity of up to 8,000 pounds when configured properly. Two engine choices were offered, although you’re more likely to find the 4.6-liter V8 at this price point. It developed 240 horsepower and 293 ft-lbs of torque, which it routed through a four-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. Fuel economy was rated at 11 miles per gallon in the city and 16 on the highway. The Expedition also offered a removable fold-flat third row seat and it will fit in most garages.
If you’re really lucky, you might find the high-end Denali version of the Yukon (the next best thing to an Escalade) offered at this price, but in all likelihood you’ll be looking at the base model. However, this is a GMC so it’ll have full power accessories and a nice array of comfort and convenience features. Power will most likely come from GM’s 5.7-liter Vortec V8 producing 255-horsepower and 330 ft-lbs of torque. A four-speed automatic routed power to all four wheels. Towing capacity was 7,000 pounds when properly equipped. Fuel economy came in at 11 city and 15 highway.
Honda models have a richly deserved reputation for reliability, making the 1999 CR-V a reasonable consideration at this price point. A 146-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine powered the crossover. Offering most of the attributes of a SUV with carlike handling and a tidy size, 1999 Honda CR-V buyers could choose between a four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual. Like most Honda engines from this period, you’ll want to make sure the timing belt is in good shape as it is the Achilles Heel in an otherwise remarkably robust engine. Fuel economy was rated at 19 city and 23 highway.
Essentially a Nissan Pathfinder in disguise, the QX4 did offer a slightly more luxurious interior treatment. Power came from Nissan’s a 3.3-liter version of Nissan’s buttery smooth VQ series V6. A four-speed automatic transmission routed its 168 horsepower and 196 ft-lbs of torque to all four wheels. Fuel economy was rated at 15 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on the highway. With the rear seat folded, the QX4 offered some 85 cubic feet of cargo space. With it in place, the Infiniti QX4 would seat up to five passengers. Owners praise the Infiniti’s comfort and its reliability.
The Jeep Cherokee from 1998 offered a robust 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, sound construction, and reasonable fuel economy (for this category). If the Jeep had one downfall, it’d be the quality of the paint. Most Jeeps of this vintage have rather faded paint jobs. But mechanically, they are very sound. If you’re looking for an even more inexpensive proposition you could seek out the 125-horsepower four-cylinder engine, though it was only offered with a manual transmission. We prefer the 190-horsepower six for both its greater power and smoothness. Fuel economy with the four-speed automatic was 14 city and 19 highway.
Pressing right up against our $5,000 price cap, the 1999 Lexus RX300 holds the distinction of being considered the first luxury crossover SUV. Quiet, smooth, reliable, and packed with luxurious touches, the Lexus is a good value, and should serve its buyer well. Keep in mind though, the RX300 is intended for street use. Power comes from a 3.0-liter V6 producing 220 horsepower and 220 ft-lbs of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission fed either the front, or all four wheels on AWD models. Fuel economy was rated at 17 in the city and 22 on the highway with front-wheel drive.
A body on frame SUV just like its larger truck-based rivals from the big three; solid construction, robust engines, and the legendary Toyota reliability make the 4Runner a good pick for this list of best used SUVs under $5,000. Two engines were offered, a 150-horsepower, 2.7-liter inline four and a 183-horsepower, 3.4-liter V6. Both engines could be had with four-wheel drive, but a five-speed manual was the only transmission offered with the four-cylinder engine. The V6 got a four-speed automatic. Fuel economy with the four was 17 city and 22 highway, while the V6 returned 15 city and 19 highway.
A variety of body styles made the RAV4 appealing to a broader swath of the marketplace for four-cylinder SUVs. With mild offroad capabilities built in, the RAV4 could handle relatively rugged terrain. The Toyota was offered as a traditional four-door hatchback, or even as a two-door convertible. Power came from a 127-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine producing 132 ft-lbs of torque. A five-speed annual transmission was the only offering, although buyers could choose between front- and all-wheel drive. One of the original “cute-utes’, the 1998 Toyota RAV4 was rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 27 highway.