Buying a used car with a $5000 budget

Holden Commodore VE
Holden Commodore

On a tight budget or looking for your kid’s first car?

Around $5000 will buy you a Holden VE Commodore. 

Sometimes you just need a cheap set of wheels to get you from A to B or a vehicle for your newly P-plated teenager who has little or no budget. A large car like the Commodore mightn’t come to mind, as many buyers think that small equals cheap, but that’s not necessarily true. 

The term ‘safety in numbers’ is apt for the VE Commodore. Launched late in 2006, it was the first Commodore to have electronic stability control standard across the range. A much stronger body structure, as well as a comprehensive airbag package and anti-lock brakes, ensured a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating at a time when many small cars didn’t have ESC, let alone five stars.

It was also the time when the Commodore wasn’t quite Australia’s favourite car any longer, but Holden still sold a lot of VEs in the ensuing years. Most mechanical repair shops will be familiar with the VE, which is among the cheapest cars to repair. Not many vehicles have less expensive routine car servicing and tyre replacement than the Commodore.

Until late 2008, powering the base Omega is a 3.6-litre alloy V6 first used in the previous VZ. With 180kW and 330Nm, it has plenty of power and the engine is matched to a four-speed auto. From 2009, Omegas were fitted a 3.0L V6 with 190kW and 300Nm, that was mated to a six-speed auto.

Engine problems do occur, so check to see if the engine warning light comes on when you test the car under load up a hill. If it does, it’s an indication the timing chain has stretched, which can cost $2000 or more to repair. Also check for brake shudder and look underneath for power steering leaks and telltale dark red oil stains. And pick a model that has a consistent service history, as engine sludging can be a problem.