Five Under $5K: The Best Cheap Cars We Found for Sale (Baltimore, MD Edition)

Here’s what the cheap used car market looks like in Maryland’s biggest city. We even found something in stick shift!

byKevin Williams|
Lexus IS250 with 5 under 5 logo in front

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

As a reminder, these posts are meant to display and give context to the realities of the current market while offering what look like some decent car options. Our suggestions are purely based on what we see from the listing. We haven’t run VIN checks, we haven’t seen the cars in person, and we haven’t spoken to the sellers, so buy at your own risk. At the very least, we recommend checking the VINs and taking these cars for inspections before making any serious purchasing decisions.

We've got a diverse range of vehicles, as usual, and tried to find the most interesting stuff at this increasingly challenging price point.

The Budget Job: 2000 Toyota Solara V6 Manual

Craigslist Craigslist Screenshot
  • Price: $1,300
  • Miles: 223,000
  • Link

Based on the 1997-2001 Camry, the Toyota Solara is essentially the same car with coupe bodywork, and this era is nigh unkillable. The 2.2-liter 5FSE engine will survive anything, and it’s typically neglect or rust that takes these off the road, not bad design.

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

The leather is a bit tattered and the clear coat is peeling, but the seller says the car has no check engine light and suggests it “runs strong.” Even with 223,000 miles, any car that looks this good, for this cheap, is a good buy. If this car were close to me, it wouldn’t be on this list, I would have purchased it and it would be in my driveway.

A True Mechanic’s Dream: 2004 Lexus RX330

Craigslist Craigslist Screenshot
  • Price: $3,500
  • Miles: 225,000
  • Link

I’m a realist. I try to recommend cars that are usable, repairable, and flexible for folks who are on a budget. Sure, a fancy BMW or Audi may drive nice, but the level of OEM-only specialized tools or replacement parts often means that budget BMWs and Audis just aren’t wise ideas. Repairing  Lexuses, though, isn’t too different from repairing ordinary Toyotas. The Lexus RX is mechanically similar to the ubiquitous Toyota Highlander crossover, so servicing and repairing one isn’t that hard.

This 2004 RX330 looks 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’s a check engine light on, and the code is “reflecting emissions or catalytic converter repair.” Without the ability to perform a diagnosis, I’m going to assume that the code is P0420 - Catalyst System Low Efficiency. At 225,000 miles and two decades of use, the catalytic converters have likely worn out. A cheap set of aftermarket exhaust manifolds with integrated converters will cost about $300, according to eBay. I’d say maybe $1,000 including labor, and this RX330 would be back on the road for not that much dough.

The Enthusiast’s Choice: 2006 Lexus IS250

Craigslist Craigslist Screenshot
  • Price: $5,000
  • Miles: 176,500
  • Link

The Lexus IS250 is cool. Well, this generation is arguably not as interesting as the model before it or even compared to its contemporaries like the E90 BMW 3-series or Infiniti G35. But at the end of the day, it is still a rear-wheel-drive, six-cylinder sports sedan.

At $5,000, this example has seen better days. The body panels look straight, and the exterior damages appear to be mostly cosmetic, aside from the peeling front bumper that likely was replaced and badly color-matched after some former accident. The fitment looks to be good, so I wouldn’t worry too hard about any sort of heavy structural damage underneath. Inside, some of the trim pieces look a little worse for wear.

If the engine and transmission are in good shape, I think this buyer could likely be haggled downward for a better deal. 

The Family Hauler: 2006 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD

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

The all-wheel-drive minivan phenomenon was such a hit-or-miss thing when you step back and think about it. Back in the 1980s, Chrysler added it to the Voyager and Dodge Caravan, but it fell off the options list when stow-n-go fold flat seats came into play. Ford and Chevy offered AWD on the Aerostar and Astro vans respectively, but when the two automakers decided to make their front-wheel-drive Minivans, they left AWD on the cutting room floor. Toyota, however, has consistently offered an AWD Sienna for each generation, except the first. Commonly, the Toyota Sienna has been the only choice for drivers in search of an all-wheel-drive people mover that isn’t an SUV or a commercial van.

This 2004 Sienna has done 173,000 miles and looks to be in great physical shape. The headlights are aged and faded, and the seat belts look dirty from kid-ferrying use. But, those seem like minimal complaints for what looks to be a very good-condition van. I’d try and knock off a few dollars on account of the headlights, but at $4,600, this is a good price for a solid van. 

Cheap Nostalgic Ticket: 1993 Dodge Dynasty

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

This car isn’t for the daily driver or budget transportation seeker, although I don’t doubt the Dynasty would be capable of that. This car is for the people who participate in Radwood or any other exceptionally quixotic car collector.

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

Still, this Dynasty has good bones. The tires are good, the body panels in the pictures fit right, and there aren’t any big dents or blemishes. This car is a paint job and a deep interior detail away from being a potential Radwood best-in-show contender.

Previous Regions Featured on '5 Under 5'

Heads up: The Garage’s “five under five” highlights five cars listed under $5,000 within a specific geographic region. The idea is to keep a finger on the low-end car market’s pulse and provide some 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’s apparent in the ad, so break out your wallet at your own risk!