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College students need to combine reliability and affordability when they are buying a car. Since most college students are either unemployed or only work part-time, these factors are paramount. For this article we decided to concentrate on used cars with better than average fuel economy, low insurance costs, and a sticker price under $5,000-8000.

Honda Civic

The Honda Civic is probably on every list ever written about reliable used cars. The Civic is practically impossible to kill. There are numerous stories about owners who never check the oil or other vital fluids, opting to assume that as long as there is gas in it, the car will run. Since a college student may well fall into that mindset, this is the perfect car for the list. You can find many examples between the model years 1992 and 1997 for under $5,000.

Mazda Miata

Not everyone is ready to settle down in college. Some degree of sportiness is desired, if not required. The Miata offers the desired sportiness combined with solid fuel economy numbers. Oh yeah, quite a few Miatas have seen 200,000 miles without batting an eye. If you find one between the model years 1991 and 1997, it will carry a price tag under five grand.

Pontiac Grand Prix

The Grand Prix offers four doors for you friends and reliability for you. Most examples prior to the 2006 model year carry a price tag under $5,000. You can opt for a 4-cylinder version if fuel economy is your primary concern, but I would recommend the 3.6L V6 instead. Government ratings would have you believe that the fuel economy is sub-26 mpg on the highway, but the reality is that the V6 offers closer to 30 mpg and is pretty responsive to the accelerator.

Ford Mustang

The Ford Mustang is easily recognized as America’s favorite muscle car. Iconic versions are frequently featured in movies and have been front-and-center of many teenage dreams. The used car ads are full of model years older than 2005 that come in under our price point. With a little bit of patience you can find a nice drop top as well. For fuel economy you will need to look for a lower trim level with a small V6. If that isn’t a major concern, feel free to indulge in a 4.6 or 5.0 GT.

Three-Way Tie

The fifth spot on this list is a tie between Kia, Ford, and Hyundai. The Kia Rio is the un-sexy of used cars for sure, unless you consider longevity, safety, fuel economy, and low price to be sexy. In that case, the Rio is one sexy beast. You can find a plethora of Rios for less than $5,000 that are as new as the 2008 model year. The Ford Focus is next. It offers all of the same benefits as the Rio, but you will need to look for the 2004 model year and older in order to meet our price point. Then there is the Hyundai Accent and Elantra. Yes, a two-for-one. Score! The Accent delivers better on fuel economy, while the Elantra is more reliable. Whichever you prefer, you can find a solid example from the model years 2006 and older for our price point.

Just because you find a used car for less than $5,000 does not mean you need to be in a hurry to buy it. The best used car for a college student is the one that will last until they have obtained their degree. So, it is in your best interest to take any used car that you are considering to a qualified mechanic to have it inspected. The money that you will pay for their time is cheaper than buying a junker.

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