Best used cars under $4,000
• 99 Hyundai Elantra. The experts at Edmunds.com have long loved this car. The reliability ratings at MSN Autos are good. It's under $4K. Next?
• 97 Ford Taurus. Around $3,000, the key on this car is the styling. It looks newer than it is, as other manufacturers moved to similiar design cues. Rated at 29 mpg on the highway, too.
• 93 Acura. Said about.com: "There's no shame in driving an Acura" no matter what the year. Great reliability, and this car can be found for $3,500.
• The Nissan Pathfinder. Originally introduced in 1985, long before SUVs became popular, it's now on its fourth generation. Price quotes on this vehicle vary widely, but all models from 93 to 98 report excellent reliability and most models from those years can be found for under $4,000.
• And finally... on list after list, you see love for the Buick LeSabre. The best-selling full-size car in the U.S. for 12 years in a row and scores a four out of five on the reliability ratings at MSN Autos. According to KBB, you can find a 96 for $3,500. Not the sexiest car in the world, but it's solid and has a legendary smooth ride. We could put this car in every one of our price categories (as an 05 can be found for $11,500).
What just missed this list:
• The Volkswagen Jetta. Mixed opinions on this car and its reliability. The best rated model was the 96, and you can find one for about $4,600.
• The 1973 and 1974 Volkswagen Thing gets our vote for the wackiest car every dropped on the American market -- and the most fun. Only 25,000 were sold because, as VW put it, "the American market failed to appreciate its Spartan nature." Essentially a metal lunchbox with a motor in the back and a pup tent for a roof, it came complete with a heater that burned GASOLINE. Back in the day, they sold for $1,995 brand new; today a well-restored Thing can fetch more than $12,000, one that's in fair shape will be in the $4,000 range. A four-door convertible where you could take the top off, doors off, and fold the windshield down; how great is that?