The Entrepreneurmobile and Our Top 10 Used Cars For Under $5,000

The Entrepreneurmobile and Our Top 10 Used Cars For Under $5,000 post image

“When it comes down to it, at this point in my life if I have to choose car payment or plane tickets… I’m taking the tickets every time.” – podcast listener Mikey 

Ian here! In my short time on this planet I’ve owned over 20 cars– everything from Subarus to BMWs. I’ve worked as a mechanic, raced competitively, and read just about everything printed about cars that I can get my hands on.

By far, my favorite type of car is an “entrepreneurmobile.” Back on episode 239 we started talking about our favorite “entrepreneurmobiles.” We think owning one is something of a status symbol! I’ve started to hash out a definition of the term, here’s the best I’ve come up with so far:

EntrepreneurmobileA vehicle that has almost fully depreciated. They are reliable cars that are generally inexpensive to maintain and fix. They can often be sold several years later for the same price they were purchased for. Now seen as status symbols of the new rich, these vehicles free us from a prison of payments and allow us to focus on real wealth and asset generation.

Wes Monk's 2005 Acura MDX with 180,000 miles

Wes Monk’s 2005 Acura MDX with 180,000 miles

Status Symbols of the New Rich

As an entrepreneur, I’ve come to realize that my status symbols are freedom of time and the opportunity to work on projects I’m passionate about – not my BMW M3. Auto payments are a form of debt and debt can cost us opportunities. Debt has the ability to cause irrational decisions around our businesses, which can negatively impact our trajectory and potential.

Whether you are considering buying a new vehicle or financing a used one, be aware of the costs associated. As an entrepreneur, they can put you at a disadvantage. For those earning a salary I give the same precaution, these payments can be the reason you are never able to leave your job and pursue a life of entrepreneurship.

The idea is to have your cash work for you in investments and your business. In most cases a car is not a good investment, it’s a depreciating asset (usually depreciating very quickly). So we should treat it as what it is and try not to lose our ass during the course of car ownership.

The real costs of car ownership are hidden in simple math. The first thing I tell someone considering a new vehicle or financing a new or used vehicle is that the true price of an automobile can be opaque. A lot of people have a hard time stomaching the simple math because, emotionally, it’s not what they want to see. They want to see a car in their driveway that has free maintenance for 100,000 miles and only costs $199 a month. That’s not how it works. Regardless of what the television commercial says, there are hidden costs.

Also worth mentioning, you can not walk away from these payments.  The earlier in the depreciation curve that you try and exit, the more you are going to lose.

only $199

The bait. Source

Basic New Car Math

Let’s assume you buy a new car and plan to keep it for 10 years. We’ll use a Honda Accord, one of the most popular cars on the road, as an example.

  • 2014 Honda Accord LX w/ automatic transmission $23,545  + California sales tax 8% = $25,429

According to Edmunds, the real cost to own a 2014 Accord for 5 years is actually $43,158. That includes fuel, insurance, and maintenance. You’ll have to pay for these with every vehicle, so we can back those out. But the biggest expenses in that 43K come in the form of depreciation, tax / interest, and financing for a grand total of $16,281 for the first five years. In the next five years it tapers off but what you are left with, according to, is a car that’s worth about $6,777.

That’s right, the going rate for a 2004 Accord, 10 years later is $6,777 or 26% of the initial purchase price.

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So what’s the actual cost per month?

Let’s figure out how that works in terms of cost per month. We’ll leave out the gas cost since it’s virtually the same for all mid-sized cars.

  • Your 2014 Honda Accord costs you $25,429 + average $9,107 in maintenance, tax, interest over 10 years = $34,536
  • If you sell it in 10 years you get back $6,777, so net total spent = $27,759
  • $27,759 / 10 years = $2775.90 per year or $231.33 per month + $176 insurance = $407 per month

For a comparison, let’s look at the 2004 Honda Accord. Here is the breakdown:

  • Your 2004 Honda Accord costs you $6,777 + average $3000 maintenance = $9,777
  • If you sell it in 10 years you get back $2,500, so net total spent = $7,277
  • $7,277 / 10 = $727.70 per year or $60 per month + $75 insurance = $135 per month

It Gets Worse

The math gets even more scary as the purchase price increases. The baseline BMW 325i costs almost $10,000 more than the Accord. Yet, according to KBB, at the end of 10 years it’s only worth $5,904.

Also keep in mind that replacement parts and insurance generally cost more for newer cars. They are more complex to work on and you’ll want to carry liability and comprehensive insurance coverage. I pay $29 a month for insurance for my 1998 Acura. For a 2014 Honda Accord, it would be $176 per month or 6 times as much.

Are you getting three times the car with the 2014? Both the 2004 and the 2014 Honda Accord received the top 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA.

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2014 Honda Accord, NHTSA data

2014 & 2004 Honda Accord, NHTSA data

The 2014 gets only slightly better gas milage. If you drive primarily on the highway the average savings would be less than $100 per year.

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2014 & 2004 Honda Accord Gas Mileage: Source

What happens if the first 2004 Honda Accord you buy ends up in a lake? Buy another one. You accidentally put diesel in the gas tank and lock up the motor? Buy another one. On your third Accord you will still be in a better financial position than if you’d bought a new car.

By the way, these examples are fairly absurd and usually covered by insurance. Even if, in a rare situation, you needed to replace all of the major components on the 2004 that were not covered by insurance such as the engine, transmission, suspension parts, exhaust, etc., it wouldn’t be more than 5k. You are still way ahead than if you’d bought a new car.

Let me say that again– maintenance costs on an older vehicle will not outpace the depreciation of a new vehicle.  In another 10 years that 2004 turns into a 1994 Accord. Going rate for one of those bad boys with about 200,000 miles is $2500. These are fully depreciated at this point. Let’s assume there are a few sets of tires in there and maybe even a head gasket for a total maintenance cost of $2000. Let’s also assume you keep this one for only 5 years.

  • Your 1994 Accord costs you $2,500 + average $2000 maintenance = $4,500
  • If you sell it in 5 years you get back $1,500, so net total spent = $3,000
  • $3,000 / 5 = $600 per year or $50 per month + $29 insurance = $79 per month

The 1994 is about five times cheaper than a new car and about two times cheaper than the 2004. Both the 1994 and the 2004 are also cheaper than using Uber and Car2go (although I expect this to change in less than 3 years). Before buying my latest entrepreneurmobile, I was spending about $200 a month on those services. In some instances those services are less expensive depending on your city/ gas consumption. You’ll be limited in your travel range though, and that’s important for me right now.

Here is a simple chart showing the depreciation of the 2014 Honda Accord. You can see most of the depreciation has set in around year 6 and by year 10 the curve really begins to flatten out.

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The Hard Truth

Car ownership, anyway you slice it, isn’t cheap. As you can see though, you are much better off buying a car that has gone through most, if not all, of its depreciation cycle. Buying a new car in cash helps a bit but still the depreciation lost will never be recovered.

Most cars are going to require gas; all require maintenance, insurance, and attention. It may not feel like you are paying for maintenance because you have a warranty on the newer car. As I’ve shown above though, you are actually paying more in depreciation than you will to replace nearly every major component on an older car – at 5x over!!

I get a lot of resistance when I mention that you can buy a very good car for less than $5,000. Objections are usually centered around safety and reliability. It’s true that new cars have to conform to stricter safety standards, but that doesn’t mean old cars are unsafe. 9 out of the 10 cars on this list have airbags.  All of them have crumple zones and must pass federally regulated safety standards. I have never once (knock on wood) been stranded on the side of the road driving one of these cars.

Cars are machines and most machines give you several warning signs before they break. It’s a matter of interpreting the signs and being proactive with maintenance. Have a good mechanic you trust and follow the maintenance schedule. Every car has a designated schedule that, if followed, will usually result in a modern car lasting 200,000 – 300,000 miles.

Most stories I hear of people who constantly have their car in the shop with large repair bills are those who haven’t done proper maintenance. Either that, or they are buying cars that are genuine pieces of shit and poorly designed/manufactured (you’ll find those on the dog list).

Finding Your Entrepreneurmobile

Here is the 1998 Acura Integra I just bought for $2,200 with 193,000 miles on the clock.  It has dual air-bags and ABS brakes:

1998 Acura Integra, 194,000 miles, bought for $2,200

1998 Acura Integra, 194,000 miles, bought for $2,200

If you’re worried about having a modern entertainment system, here’s a handsfree bluetooth aftermarket stereo that’s only $129. It’s the same one I just put in my car.

It often takes me two weeks or less to find the right entrepreneurmobile.  Two weeks spent searching can save you thousands of dollars per year and, most importantly, keep you out of debt and your money working for you in real assets.

It’s important to know where the car came from and its history. The Acura Intergra was an ideal candidate.  It was a one-owner car with complete service records, new tires, and a new timing belt.  The car was previously owned by a family that could afford a much more expensive car.  That generally means there is money left over to maintain the vehicle properly.

There are a few prototypical scripts I look for when checking out a car:

  • Family looking for a bigger car
  • 1-2 owner car (have owned the car for several years)
  • Moving, can’t take the car
  • Owner deceased
  • Female owned (generally follow maintenance schedules better than know-it-all dudes!)

There are several cars/ scripts I stay away from:

  • Cars that are owned by young people (under 25)
  • Anything with a salvage or rebuilt title
  • Owned less than 1 year without a good explanation
  • Without some maintenance records (anything with 1/2 the records in addition to a good memory on the owner’s behalf works for me)
  • Lots of dents/ scratches/ dirty (generally indicates lack of care and is probably the same for the mechanical components)
  • Cars sold by dealers (they eat up all the margin)

Questions I ask sellers on the 1st phone call before taking a look:

  • Why are you selling the vehicle and how long have you owned it? (good opener and feeler for the situation)
  • Has the car been in any kind of accident? (if so, was it just a fender replaced, or was there frame damage?)
  • Where did you have it serviced? (dealer serviced cars are preferred because they stick to the manufactures guidelines)
  • Do you have the maintenance records? (if it was serviced at an independent shop, were they doing the scheduled maintenance on time?)
  • Do you have a current Smog or Emissions test? (this is a good baseline indicator of the engine’s health)
  • Is there anything right now that you feel the vehicle needs? (a moment of honesty)

Don’t feel like you need to know anything technical in order to inspect the car, there are people that can help.  Most neighborhood shops and dealerships will offer a pre-purchase inspection for less than $100, or you can use a checklist like this one. Obviously you don’t want to pay this for several vehicles. If you can get past the basic requirements and questions above to feel comfortable with the seller though, then maybe it’s time to set up an appointment.

The List

I’ve compiled a list below of cars that I think make good entrepreneurmobiles. The make and model of the car you pick is very important.  Most of the cars on the list have been in production for a long time or the motors/ transmissions have a long history of being reliable (credit natasha at  For example, the 2.5 liter motor in the BMWs has been in development for nearly 30 years. That means when you own that vehicle, you are benefiting from 30 + years of design, engineering, and innovation.

It’s all about getting your reps in.  Companies like BMW and Honda have been produced millions of millions of cars and they have a long history of racing programs.  This technology and legacy gets dripped down into what we drive today.  When was the last time you saw a Kia on the racetrack?

Some cars are just downright bad investments or garbage. If they are prone to repairs or don’t have a good reputation, you’ll see them on the list of dogs. Most of my top cars under 5K get around 30mpg combined city/ highway driving. These cars are relatively light weight which means they are easier on consumables such as gas, tires, shocks, and brakes.  Don’t see a car on this list? It probably fits somewhere between the categories or I forgot it.

Top Cars Under 5K

  • Honda Civic
  • Honda Accord (4 cylinder)
  • Acura Integra
  • BMW 3 Series
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Toyota Camry
  • Mazda3
  • Scion
  • Nissan Altima
  • Nissan Sentra

Bigger Vehicles Under 5K

  • Honda Element
  • Honda CR-V
  • Toyota Rav4
  • Acura MDX
  • Scion Xb
  • BMW 5 Series
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Toyota Sienna
  • Toyota Truck
  • Ford F150
  • GM Silverado/ GMC Sierra

Dog List

Take a look around your neighborhood the next time you are walking. When is the last time you saw a 1994 Hyundai Excel? Never, they are all in the junk yard. Now count how many 1994 Honda Civics or Toyota Camrys you can spot in 10 minutes with your fingers and I guarantee you’ll run out of hands.

Although Korean automakers have made very impressive strides in the past 20 years (more than most US automakers), they still don’t stand up to a Japanese vehicle in terms of their required maintenance and resale value – often these two factors are intertwined. Although I love me some Mustangs, American manufactured cars, in general, pale in comparison to most Japanese cars in terms of reliability, resale, and overall value (we’ve still got the best trucks!).

I think within the next 10 years we’ll see some of the 2014 model American/ Korean cars retaining their value with low maintenance costs, but it’s too early to say.  Same goes with Audi and VW.  Audi, until very recently, were very big piles.  VW is a step above Audi. When you count the number of VW Golfs still on the road though, it’s far less than the Civic.  If you’ve got a good VW mechanic though, it’s possible. In general their history is patchy, so it’s much easier to drive something on the list above and just avoid the risk.

  • Hyundai
  • Kia
  • Chrysler/ Dodge, Avenger, Charger, Caliber, Daytona, Neon
  • GM – Sunfire, Caviler, Malibu, Grand Am, Cobalt, Cruze, Saturn
  • Ford Contour, Focus, Tempo, Fusion, Escort ZX2
  • Volvo post 1995ish
  • Audi
  • VW
  • Suzuki

It’s working

Since we started talking about this concept with friends and peers a few years back, people have responded with their own stories and experiences.  Here are a few we’ve received in the last week.

Melissa & Tim with their 200K Mazda

Melissa & Tim with their 200K Mazda “Matilda”.  After 5000km roadtrip this week the only thing that had to be replaced was a headlight bulb!


Jon’s M3 has cost $2970 in maintenance for the past 6 years or $41 a month AND he makes money with it through! (now known as

photo (5) (1)

John’s vintage Datsun helped him build a runway, he leaves in 17 days to travel the world


Tristan’s 1998 Mitsubishi Executive 2006-2014


Juard’s restored 1967 Karmann Ghia – selling in July to buy a one-way ticket to Shanghai


Fri’s ‘Betty’ did 75,000 miles in 2 years, bought for $900 and sold for $1,050

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Simon’s 1983 Toyota Hiace – bought for 5K


The Hiace comes complete with living quarters and a fridge for coconuts!!

Michael from 2004 Toyota he bought for $4,500

Michael from 2004 Toyota he bought for $4,500

Jaana's 2005 Yamaha TDM 900

Jaana’s 2005 Yamaha TDM 900

Andrew Youderian’s two-tone Camary

 Making it work with a dog


Kent’s 1998 Mustang GT has 190,000 miles and features a lot of broken parts but he hasn’t had a car payment in 7 years


Rye’s 1994 Pontiac Grand Am complete with a ‘move or tow’ notice from the city. He bought it to last a few months but through the powers of rust it’s been a few years

Have you found yourself the perfect entrepreneurmobile yet? Got any experiences with the cars on the dog list? I would love to hear your stories and opinions.



P.S. Many moons ago we were thinking about making an information product based around flipping cars (facepalm!).  It’s unfinished and will never officially see the light of day but I attached it because there are some good tips on what to look for in a used car. You can download it here – How to Flip Used Cars.  Also here is a 37 Point Checklist for when you do an inspection.

Published on 05.06.14
  • TJ Nelson

    What do you think of older Lexus cars for an entrepreneurmobile?

  • Ian

    Good! They are made by Toyota. Would be a good choice. I’d probably shoot for the ES/GS 300/400 because they were luxury cars at the time and most people who owned them could afford much more and probably kept up with the maintenance.

  • Ian

    Honda and Acura parts are virtually the same price because they share many of the same components. Your are right to say that’s not always the case with cars on shared platforms. For example when Mazda and Ford collaborate it’s often the case that the Mazda parts for the same Ford car are more expensive. Both the MDX and the Integra are a good choice.

  • Ian

    All I know about Brazil is it gave birth to one of the greatest racers of all time.. Ayrton Senna :)

  • Ian

    Sweet ride!

  • Ian

    Xterra is a good truck, the V6 is reliable and should last 200k miles if taken care of.

  • Haha, yes, lots of roads in Brazil are named after him :) We ended up buying a 1997 Toyota Corolla with 260,000 Kilometers that only had two previous owners. However, the advice most people give in Brazil is to buy a car that is cheap to fix and easy to resell. Brazilians expect to have to fix their cars, and since cars are so much more expensive here (car makers make 10% margin instead of 3% average in USA), Brazilians opt for the cheapest cars possible and that are easiest to fix. Not sure how easy this car will be to resell, but having only owned a Toyota before, I didn’t want to have to fix my car, not to mention trying to find honest businesses to work with here.

  • TJ Nelson

    That makes sense! Just curious why they weren’t on your list. I’ve heard that Lexus are some of the most reliable, but thought maybe they weren’t on the list for expensive repairs or something.

    I see a lot of IS models, but those are probably more owned by younger people.

  • Ian

    Couldn’t include them all! IS models are probably just as reliable but like you mentioned, probably driven by a dude that took ecstasy all weekend and forgot to change his oil.

  • yang mills

    BMW is on this list as a good used car to buy? The rest of the Internet has decided otherwise. Very expensive to repair.

  • Ian

    Zee Germans in the last few decades have proven to build cars with the same quality and precision as the Japanese IF properly maintained. Their maintenance schedules can be more rigorous and thus more expensive but if properly kept up I’d take a 1996 325i over any American car of the same year. Also, unless you live in Nebraska there are probably a dozen BMW specialty shops in your town. This wasn’t the case a few years ago but it helps to drive down the cost of repairs because there are now many people that specialize in German autos.

    For further proof take a look at the amateur racing leagues that are running cars for 8-24 hours at a time. One of the most popular engines out there on the track is the 2.5L from BMW because it’s bullet proof and can withstand a ton of abuse without failure.

  • Da Botz

    Mercedes Benz W124, 1990, 2.0 l I.e.

    It is 18 years that we go around… it will probably outlast me, and is still a better drive than my bro W211.

  • Thanks, still rolling strong at 210k, though she likes premium!

  • Ian

    Agree the W124 is a solid platform and some of those cars should be included on the list.

  • Love this…biggest financial mistake I made in my 20’s was buying/leasing new vehicles.

    Not sure why it took me 3 cars to realize…”Shit…I’ve lost 5-9k each vehicle just by buying new?”

    Bought a 1 year old Ford Escape that was FULLY LOADED (Custom built for a salesperson of the year)…bit high on miles for a 18 month old car but MSRP was 32k and picked it up for 19k with 100k bumper to bumper warranty.

    Will drive it til the wheels fall off (GREAT vehicle for small SUV class)

  • Wilfredo Hernandez

    I never heard of an entreprenuermobile before, but I will have to check some out. Getting a car for under 5K seems like a great way to save money because as you mention those cars will sell back at the same price and not depreciate. Also, the low cost of repairs is attractive.

  • soflgirl

    I know this is an old post but I wanted to share about my Lexus GS 300 that I have owned for over 11 years. It now has 210,000 miles on it and I bought it outright for cash when I purchased it. At that time it was a splurge, even though it was a used vehicle then, (2 years old) but it has more than paid for itself over the years. Very few maintenance issues and the body still looks great! I would highly recommend this car, and it will be hard for me to part with it when that eventually happens. I have been spoiled the last 10 years driving it.

  • Ian

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing,

  • Tal Griffin

    I bought my 1998 Lexus GS400 with 151k miles when I needed a comfy car to sell pharmaceuticals (legitimately) over 3 states (approx 900mi/wk). It was a terrific car and was a delightful drive. I’d recommend that you see that everything works before you buy! Steering wheel tilt motor would have cost $1100 to replace and power door locks were over $300 EACH!!! Fortunately, my steering wheel height was perfect for me and the only failed power lock was the driver rear so I could reach it no problem. Lexus V8s require premium fuel but were probably owned by responsible perfectionists. LOVE THIS ARTICLE!!!

  • Tal Griffin

    I bought my 1998 Lexus GS400 with 151k miles when I needed a comfy car to sell pharmaceuticals (legitimately) over 3 states (approx 900mi/wk) because it didn’t want to pile miles on my 2000 4runner(220K miles). It was a terrific car and was a delightful drive. I’d recommend that you see that everything works before you buy! Steering wheel tilt motor would have cost $1100 to replace and power door locks were over $300 EACH!!! Fortunately, my steering wheel height was perfect for me and the only failed power lock was the driver rear so I could reach it no problem. Lexus V8s require premium fuel but were probably owned by responsible perfectionists. LOVE THIS ARTICLE!!!

  • DoltonAdler

    Additionally, be open for arrangements, however control clear from those attempting to lowball you. Building up affinity and making the purchaser need the car more will likewise help your shots. cars in austin tx

  • Trish Kirby

    How about the 99 Lexus RX300? I am between that and a 2003 Honda CRV. Both at $5600. Lexus has 150k but new timing belt, water pump, alternator, seals and sensors, and 4 new tires. The Honda has 119k but only a brake booster and oxygen sensor replaced. Any guidance would be appreciated.

  • Ian

    Not surprising that has been all the CRV has needed. The 2003 may have had a timing chain which will not need maintenance (you need to check). Sounds like the Lexus has been well maintained. Both are good solid vehicles. Depending on how long you keep them the CRV is probably going to have slightly better resale value. My personal preference would be the CRV for this reason but the Lexus is more luxurious. If you are concerned with safety you can look and check the crash results to determine the tie breaker :) But you are on the right path either way.

  • Tal Griffin

    Ian, in your best list, you include BMW 3s & 5s. In subsequent mentions, you specifically laud the proven 2.5L motor. As I look for an e39 for be my next 600-1000 mile/week comfy sales mule, I’m finding plenty 528i and 530i as well. Is there a decline in reliability withe larger engines?

    My best “cheap car” experiences thus far have been from Japan (222k 4Runner, 160k GS400, 320k ’93 Miata track toy) BUT 5-series are darn nice cars. I really don’t work on cars myself, but I’m not one to cut corners on maintenance. Sorry so long-winded. Great informative article

  • Ashley

    Where do Subarus rank?
    I live in central NY and I’m looking for an awd hatchback around $5000.

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  • Ian

    They rank fairly high on my list. Boxer engine is a good one for the most part. Some of them leak oil at the valve covers and expect slightly higher maintenance costs for the awd, especially when it comes to replacing CV boots.

  • Ian

    the 528 and 530 basically use a variant of that 2.5L motor, it’s a good one! I would stay away from the V8 if you don’t need the horsepower.

  • Grant Bennett

    Loved the article. Let me ask you this:

    When is the best time to sell the car?

    I internally debate driving my car until it’s salvage, but I suspect with good timing I could buy and sell every couple years and lose minimal cash, or possibly make a little.

  • I have an older Toyota Prius (2001) with a little over 200K miles and it’s still going strong even though I had to spend nearly 4K replacing the high voltage battery in 2014. I’d recommend an older Prius only if you drive a lot; otherwise you’re probably better off with an older Civic or Corolla. Then again, a Prius will not only save you in gas but also brakes, transmission, and timing belt costs.

    Another good place to to get used cars: a local university with a lot of foreign students (particularly from China or Korea.) A lot of these students are from wealthy families and will not hesitate to drop big bucks on a new car or a good used one while they go to school for a few years and are forced to sell it when they return home after their studies.

  • Brendan M

    I just read through this after coaching my son on buying a car. He bought a Honda CRV for $2200 and put another $1500 into it. Otherwise, it’s in great shape.

    Which is to say, this blog post (like so many on the site) is BRILLIANT, and such sensible, smart advice. Thanks so much for posting!!

  • appreciate it! it’s a great lesson to learn: take pride in making smart deals and not in going with the flow.

  • since the idea is to buy when the model is more or less fully or mostly depreciated the timing of the sale probably has more to do with your personal lifestyle factors than the timing of the purchase (which would depend more on the market).

  • Debbie Hart

    My husband and I have been searching for “new” vehicles for months! I have been researching via the internet for at least 10 months and am going crazy! What are your thoughts, experiences on/with 2006 or 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid? 2009 Acura MDX? Please help!!!! Thank you

  • Lacy

    What about a Ford Focus?

  • The bus was less than $5k originally.

  • bus ballin’

  • Felix

    I would like to make another suggestion for very good, very reliable and super cheap cars (at least in Germany): old Mercedes-Benz from the mid-nineties.

    Often driven by grandmas (=low mileage), reasonable fuel economy and great comfort. I’m driving a W202 and would not trade it for anything else.

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