The 5 Best Cheap Used Cars to Buy If You’re Trying to Save Gas

If high gas prices have hit you right in your (too thin) wallet, you may be thinking about finding a good, cheap, used car to rack up the endless miles to and from work every day. Just as declining sales of big SUVs and pickups have have some car dealers’ hair coming out in huge clumps, other dealers are making a fortune selling smaller cars of the gas saving variety. When it costs upwards of $80 to fill up the F-150, many people have decided that it just doesn’t make sense to continue driving such gas hogs any longer. In fact, with some of the real gas guzzlers, you can almost pay for a the monthly payments of another car with gas savings alone!

Here’s an example:
Drive to work each way: 25 miles – part city, part highway driving
Other driving: 500 miles per month
Vehicle : 2002 Ford F-150 4×4 4.6l V-8 pickup
EPA mileage: 14 combined
Current gas prices, regular gas: $3.68 / gallon, nationwide average

That means that in this example, you’d drive approximately 1,600 miles per month. At 14 mpg, your truck would drink about 114 gallons of unleaded regular every month (don’t burn premium in this rig, it’s a waste of money). That would set you back $420 per month.

If you got a used car that gave you 25mpg, you’d drop your monthly gas bill to about $235, or a monthly gas savings of $185. The smaller car would probably be cheaper to insure as well, but I won’t even put that into the equation. Your $185 monthly gas savings could be put straight into a car payment. According to, if you have good credit you can get a 48 month, used car loan in about 10 minutes from lenders such as FirstAgain at an interest rate of 6.49% (today’s rate).

At that interest rate, a 48 month car loan of $7,800 would get you a car payment of $184.94, right at your gas savings for the month. Here are some of the top gas saving cars you could buy for that $7,800 according to used car values for used cars in good condition from, fuel economy ratings from the EPA, and vehicle reliability ratings from MSN.

Best Cheap Used Cars to Save Gas With – #5
2001 Acura Integra LS Sedan, 1.8L, 5sp manual trans, EPA MPG 22 city / 28 hwy
This is a great car. It drives superbly, handles well, and returns fantastic gas mileage. The reliability is beyond reproach and the power train is jewel-like. Saving gas in this thing would be a pleasure. About the only disadvantages are that, as a 2001, it’s getting a bit older, so most examples will tend to have racked up a few miles, and they are not the most quiet cars from the driver’s seat. One more issue is that these cars enjoy a strong enthusiast following, so finding one that hasn’t been modified and abused may require a bit of commitment, but would be worth it.

Best Cheap Used Cars to Save Gas With – #4
2005 Ford Focus ZX4 2.0L, 5sp manual trans, EPA MPG 22 city / 32 hwy
This car gets excellent fuel economy, and handles very well. Although not the fastest thing on the road the handling makes it fun to drive and the interior was redesigned for 2005, making it a more palatable place to spend the daily slog. Not super quiet inside, but few econo rigs are. It’s new enough that you should be able to find lightly used examples out there, and it doesn’t command much of a following among the performance oriented crowd, so finding a good one shouldn’t be a challenge.

Best Cheap Used Cars to Save Gas With – #3
2003 Mazda Protege ES 4dr, 2.0L, 5sp manual trans, EPA MPG 22 city / 28 hwy
Good gas mileage, but stellar handling. This thing livens up the drive to work. Not too fleet of foot though, sort of oozes down the road more than scampers. Given the handling prowess, the Protégé is way short of grunt. Pretty good sized interior, so if you have to take your family along for the ride, this’ll do it for you. Not the absolutely highest gas mileage, but would definitely save gas over a big truck.

Best Cheap Used Cars to Save Gas With – #2
2004 Hyundai Elantra GLS Sedan, , 2.0L, 5sp manual trans, EPA MPG 23 city / 31 hwy
Great gas mileage, very good reliability, MSN Autos says “Infrequent problems reported, all with low repair costs” for all categories. The Elantra boasts decent acceleration, and is loaded with features (especially considering the low cost). The reliability should make sure you gat to work every day, and the Elantra’s cockpit isn’t a bad place to spend your drive, but it’s not as nice as the Honda Civic.

Best Cheap Used Cars to Save Gas With – #1
2002 Honda Civic DX 4dr, 1.7L, 5sp manual trans, EPA MPG 28 city / 36 hwy
And here’s my pick for the best cheap, used car to save gas with. Look at that! Buy one of these cars and you’ll get the best gas mileage short of dropping some big coin on a new hybrid. The little (but not too little) Honda really saves gas, but also goes down the road in a quiet, composed way the other cars in it’s class just can’t quite match (unless the road starts to get curvy). It’s kind of the mirror image of the Mazda; only so-so handling, but a quiet, cushy ride for your commute to work. The Civic was redesigned for 2002, so it looks even newer than it is.

It has a well deserved rep for safety and, like the Protégé, is pretty large inside for a compact car. The cons for the DX version of the Civic is that you can’t get ABS, and many of these cars may not have A/C. That last one is obviously a deal breaker if you live in Phoenix, Dallas, or Bakersfield.

5 Responses to “The 5 Best Cheap Used Cars to Buy If You’re Trying to Save Gas”

  1. This post has been included in the 141st Festival of Frugality at Almost Frugal, going live September 2, 2008. Please link back to the festival when you get a chance!

  2. Karen

    This is great information if you are in the market for a used car with manual transmission. I would like to see the same list “5 Best Cheap Used Cars to Buy if Trying to Save Gas” for automatic transmissions only. Thanks!

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