5 for $5,000: The best cheap cars for sale in Baltimore

For this week’s Five Under $5,000, we’re in Baltimore City. And we’re talking specifically about Baltimore – the DMV area (DC, Maryland, Virginia) is its own thing and its own vibe. Let’s check out what the cheap car market looks like in Maryland’s largest city on this little corner of the East Coast.

As a reminder, these posts are meant to display and contextualize the realities of today’s market while offering what look like decent car options. Our suggestions are purely based on what we see in the listing. We haven’t performed VIN checks, we haven’t seen the cars in person, and we haven’t spoken to sales people, so buy at your own risk. At the very least, we recommend checking VINs and having these cars inspected before making any serious buying decisions.

We have a diverse range of vehicles as usual and have tried to find the best things at this increasingly difficult price point.

The Budget Work: 2000 Toyota Solara V6 Manual

  • Price: $1,300
  • Miles: 223,000
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Based on the 1997-2001 Camry, the Toyota Solara is essentially the same car with a coupe body, and that era is almost invincible. The 2.2-liter 5FSE engine will outlast anything, and it’s usually neglect or rust that knocks them off the road, not bad design.

This one, however, is very special and very rare. This Solara has a V6 and a manual transmission, an enthusiast’s dream. I’ve driven a few manual Camrys from this era, and the shifter is a bit long but nice and easy to use. The 3.0 produced a healthy 200 horsepower for the time, all sent to the front wheels.

The leather is a little ragged and the clear coat is peeling off, but the seller says the car doesn’t have a check engine light and suggests it “runs strong”. Even with 223,000 miles, any car that looks this good, for this price, is a good buy. If this car was near me it wouldn’t be on this list, I would have bought it and it would be in my driveway.

A Real Mechanic’s Dream: 2004 Lexus RX330

  • Price: $3,500
  • Miles: 225,000
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I am realistic. I try to recommend usable, fixable, and flexible cars for people on a budget. Sure, a fancy BMW or Audi can drive nicely, but the level of specialist tools or OEM-only spares often means budget BMWs and Audis just aren’t smart ideas. Lexus repair, however, is not too different from ordinary Toyota repair. The Lexus RX is mechanically similar to the ubiquitous Toyota Highlander crossover, so maintaining and repairing one isn’t that difficult.

This 2004 RX330 appears to be in excellent physical shape for a nearly 20 year old car with 225,000 miles. Now, it’s not all peaches and cream here. The seller says there is an illuminated check engine light and the code is “reflecting emissions or catalytic converter repair”. Without the ability to perform diagnostics, I’m going to assume the code is P0420 – Catalyst System Low Efficiency. At 225,000 miles and two decades of use, the catalytic converters are likely worn out. A cheap set of aftermarket exhaust manifolds with built-in converters will cost around $300, according to eBay. I’d say maybe $1,000 including labor and that RX330 would be back on the road for not that much.

The Enthusiasts’ Choice: 2006 Lexus IS250

  • Price: $5,000
  • Miles: 176,500
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The Lexus IS250 is cool. Well, this generation is probably not as interesting as the model that precedes it or even compared to its contemporaries like the BMW 3 Series E90 or the Infiniti G35. But at the end of the day, it’s still a rear-drive six-cylinder sports sedan.

At $5,000, this example has seen better days. The body panels look straight and the exterior damage appears to be mostly cosmetic, aside from the chipping front bumper that was likely replaced and mismatched after an old accident. The fitment seems to be good so I wouldn’t worry too much about heavy structural damage underneath. Inside, some trim pieces look a little less worn.

If the engine and transmission are in good shape, I think that buyer could probably be negotiated down for a better deal.

The family transporter: 2006 Toyota Sienna XL AWD

  • Price: $4,600
  • Miles: 173,000
  • Link

The all-wheel-drive minivan phenomenon was such a random thing when you step back and think about it. In the 1980s, Chrysler added it to the Voyager and Dodge Caravan, but it fell off the options list when flat-folding stow-n-go seats came into play. Ford and Chevy offered all-wheel drive, respectively. on the Aerostar and Astro minivans, but when the two automakers decided to make their minivans front-wheel drive, they left all-wheel drive on the cutting room floor. Toyota, however, has always offered a Sienna AWD for every generation except the first. Generally, the Toyota Sienna has been the only choice for drivers looking for an all-wheel-drive people-carrying vehicle that is not an SUV or commercial van.

This 2004 Sienna has driven 173,000 miles and appears to be in excellent physical shape. The headlights are aged and faded, and the seat belts look dirty from using the ferry for kids. But, those seem like minimal complaints for what appears to be a very good pickup truck. I’d try knocking a few bucks off of the headlights, but at $4,600, it’s a good price for a solid pickup.

Cheap Nostalgic Ticket: 1993 Dodge Dynasty

  • Price: $2,200
  • Miles: 106 229
  • Link

This car is not for the daily driver or budget transport seeker, although I have no doubt the Dynasty is capable of that. This car is for people who participate in Radwood or any other exceptionally quixotic car collector.

The Dodge Dynasty is not a good car at all. Underneath is yet another K-car variant (Dodge Aries), this one with a 3.3-liter V6 and a four-speed automatic. It could be worse, the Dynasty came with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a three-speed automatic, so this upgraded powertrain is positively space-age by comparison.

Yet this dynasty has good bones. The tires are good, the body panels in the photos fit well and there are no big dents or blemishes. This car is a paint job and deep interior detail far from a potential contender for Radwood’s finest.

Previous regions featured on ‘5 Under 5’

Beware: The Garage’s “five under five” highlights five cars listed under $5,000 in a specific geographic region. The idea is to keep a finger on the pulse of the low-end car market and provide context on the current state of what’s on Craigslist. Be advised: we don’t know these sellers and haven’t seen any of these cars in person. We’re just sharing them based on what appears in the ad, so get your wallet out at your own risk!

Lee J. Murillo