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Can't Afford a New Car? 10 Cheap Old Cars That Will Last Forever

The author knows a lot about cars and motorcycles, especially older and more affordable ones.

With the current economic conditions, it's not surprising that not everybody can afford a newer car. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of lower-priced older cars that will last an extremely long time with proper care and maintenance.

Here is a list of 10 that I like and recommend. If reliability and economy are more important to you than shininess and status, maybe one of these is the car for you.

Early 90s Volvo 240

Early 90s Volvo 240

1. Volvo 240 1974–1993

  • Volvos are excellent. They are built like tanks, and you can find very nice examples for less than $3000.
  • They will easily make it well above 200,000 miles with proper maintenance.
  • Parts are very reasonably priced and widely available in most Pick-a-Part type junkyards.
  • Rear-wheel drive is a plus to me.
  • Despite rumors to the contrary, these cars are actually pretty easy to work on.
  • Coupes, sedans, and station wagons are available.

2. Mercedes Benz 300D/CD/TD 1977–1985

  • These Mercedes models are very well-built and still surprisingly plentiful in many areas.
  • They offer considerable interior comfort for the price.
  • Parts are cheaper than you might expect. They are almost as common in the junkyards as the Volvo 240.
  • The diesel motor would be the way to go in my opinion, but the gas motors are also great.
  • Coupes, sedans, and station wagon models are available.

3. BMW 3 Series E21 and E30 1977–1991

  • These cars are really easy to find in many areas, although many of the early ones in particular are in pretty sorry condition.
  • Make sure you get one that has been maintained; bringing one back from the dead is pretty un-economical.
  • Rust can be a big problem on these, so be sure to check for rust before you buy.
  • Parts are reasonable, and junkyard availability is decent.
  • Available in 2-door, 4-door, and 2-door convertible.
1985 Toyota 4wd

1985 Toyota 4wd

4. Toyota Pickup and 4Runner 1984–1989

  • While all Toyota trucks are known for their durability, this body style is my personal favorite.
  • While many of these will be in less-than-good condition, they are relatively easy to get back on the road.
  • Parts are cheap and plentiful.
  • Taller people should look for an extended cab.
  • 2wd and 4wd available.
  • Electronic Fuel Injection is available from 1985 on.
  • Solid front axles until 1985 on 4wd models.
  • The 4 cylinder 22R engine is known throughout the world for its reliability and longevity.
  • I personally have owned a few of these trucks with more than 275,000 miles on the original engines.
  • The V6 is good as well but not as good as the 22R in my opinion.
  • Rust on the bed is a major issue in most parts of the country.

5. Honda Accord 1982–1989

  • Honda is a manufacturer that is also renowned for its build quality and reliability.
  • The Accord was the top-of-the-line offering for the U.S. market and tends to be in better shape than the Civic in my experience.
  • High mileage is common on these, but not really a worry.
  • Parts are cheap.
  • There are many good independent shops around that specialize in Hondas if you are not up to maintaining it yourself.

6. Volkswagen Jetta/Golf 1985–1991

  • This car was extremely popular and extremely robust.
  • You can find these for as little as $500 in running condition with extremely high miles.
  • Many of these poor cars have been driven into the ground or modified beyond usefulness by the boy racer crowd.
  • Parts are cheap and common.
  • There is a large variety of aftermarket tuning parts available for these cars.

7. Jeep Cherokee 1984–2001

  • These are very good trucks in my opinion. The early models were plagued with troublesome engines and transmissions, so I would avoid any model that does not have the inline 6-cylinder engine.
  • 2 and 4 door models are available.
  • The straight-six engines are capable of extremely high mileage.
  • Solid axles and coil springs are standard on 4-wheel drive models.
  • A sad number of these have been very highly modified for off-road use, which leaves them almost unusable for street driving, so I would avoid these.
  • Parts are cheap.
1983 Subaru

1983 Subaru

8. Subaru 1980–1989

  • I have seen these cars driving around with milages that are beyond belief.
  • They are getting a little harder to find these days but are still around.
  • Rust was a bad problem with these things, so make sure you buy one that isn't about to break in half.
  • Available as coupes, sedans, wagons, pickups, and hatchback models.
  • Turbos available on some pickup and wagon models.
  • 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive comes standard, depending on year.

9. Isuzu Trooper 1981–1990

  • These are some very tough vehicles and a very good value. While they are underpowered by most standards, they make up for it in durability.
  • Both long- and short-wheelbase models were available.
  • Parts are cheap, although they are not as common as they used to be.
  • Luckily the off-roaders don't seem to be hacking these up at the same rate as the Toyotas and Jeeps.
  • The popularity of these vehicles seems to vary from region to region.
Toyota Van

Toyota Van

10. Toyota Van 1984–1989

  • I really like these vans. Many of them have been severely abused as work vans, but nice examples are still around. I find at least a couple of them in almost every junkyard I go to.
  • Available with 4-wheel drive which was pretty rare for the time they were made.
  • Unfortunately, they used a different engine than the pickups, but it is still good for the long haul.
  • Panel Van and Window Van versions are available.

There are many vehicles that could have been put on this list, these are just the ones I like the best. There is no reason to go get a new car with a high payment when you can spend a couple of thousand dollars for a car that will last you many years.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.