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tedd's avatar

Used car buying suggestions?

Asked by tedd (14073points) February 14th, 2011

Yesterday afternoon I was in a wreck that totaled my car. I was on the freeway and the car in the next lane tried to change lanes into me without checking…. Long story short I swerved and ended up in the barrier (thankfully not the other traffic). The other car drove off and I was stuck with a ticket, and my own liability only insurance on my car. (though thankfully someone called in and reported the crash, and their story confirmed I was run off the road so I got out of the ticket in the end).

ANYWAYS…. I’m looking at buying a new car (used). I’m in the process of seeing if I can be approved for a loan UP to 10k (which will be interesting to see if I’m approved given my vast student loans). The cars I’m looking at are all 6k or under. At the moment I’m looking at cars that I think will be reliable cars that could last at least a couple years with minimal maintenance/repairs. Should the loan fall through I’ll probably fall back to just getting a junker and praying it doesn’t break down on me. For the moment though, I’ve made a list of 11 cars available locally that I like. Below I’m going to give a quick summary of the top 5, and I’ll just give the names and stats of the last 6.

#1 – 1999 Audi A4 Quattro. 134,768 miles, 26 overall gas mileage rating, $4,999, and I rated the interior and exterior both a 9. This car is beautiful and I trust the Audi name as being reliable. Its very clean, and I would expect I could drive it at least the next year and a half without any major work needed. It has a 4 cylinder turbo, which is both a plus and a minus. Plus because I like cars with turbos (faster, though here its just used to augment the engine power), minus because it REQUIRES premium gas.

#2 – 2004 Pontiac Grand Am. 124,719 miles, 27 overall gas mileage rating, $4,995, interior-6.5 exterior-7. My current car (the wrecked one) is a 2000 Grand Am. I bought it with ~140k miles and it had ~192 with no major issues had or in sight. In pretty good shape.

#3 – 2002 Volkswagen Jetta. 115,228 miles, 28 overall gas, $5,495. No pictures were available so I couldn’t rate the condition of the car (which is also the biggest current downside to the car, I don’t know what it looks like at all). I trust volkswagen as a reliable brand, but a lot of the reviews I read said this model Jetta had some issues. It is loaded with features (back up cam, dvd player) so that’s nice.

#4 – 2003 Saab 9–3. 125,872, 29 overall gas, $5,507. Interior-7 exterior-10. This car was by far and away my first choice for most of the day. Its incredibly beautiful, a bit of power behind it but not ridiculous, reasonable price, looks to be in good shape, et, etc. But then I read the consumer reviews… and they are awful. Very very bad reviews on most the sites I checked out. Lots of electrical issues apparently?

#5 – 2002 Nissan Altima. 131,792 miles, 27 overall gas, $5,949, interior and exterior are an 8. Solid reliable car from a trusted brand. Doesn’t look half bad either. It was my second choice behind the Saab, but suffered the same problem when I went through consumer reviews. Apparently very prone to engine trouble with the gaskets, which is very problematic and expensive to repair.

The Rest:
-2001 Toyota Corolla. 111,264 miles, 31 overall gas $4,900, Interior/Exterior -7
-2002 Civic EX. 174,250 miles, upper 20’s/low 30’s gas, $3,975, Interior-7.5 Exterior-7
-2000 Ford Focus. 128,734, 27 overall gas, $4,950, interior/exterior-7
-2001 Mazda Protege. 120,000 miles, mid 20’s/low 30s gas, $2,650, exterior-6 no interior shots
-2004 Suzuki Forenza. 86,000 miles, 22 overall gas, $3,990, exterior-7 interior-8
-2004 Saturn Ion. 117,038 miles, 26 overall gas, $4,995, exterior-7 interior-9

Do you have any advice about any of the cars or experiences? Which would you get if given the choice?

(sorry thats so long)

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11 Answers

JilltheTooth's avatar

Gosh, I’m glad you’re OK enough to be Fluthering! Sorry I can’t help you with the car question

tedd's avatar

@JilltheTooth Yah I’m pretty lucky thinking about it. I was going 70mph or so, there were a TON of cars out on the road. Had I swerved to hard to the right I probably would’ve gone into someone….. who knows how bad it coulda been. As it is I lucked out pretty hard.

john65pennington's avatar

I would only recommend a Toyota or Honda. Even if the the vehicle has 100,000 miles on it, the engines are good for 250,000 plus miles. Mine has 266,000 miles on it.

How many broken down Toyotas and Hondas do you see on the side of the road on the interstate?

How many of the others, do you see? Case closed.

Cruiser's avatar

If it is just reliable transportation and low maintenance costs go for the Toyota Corolla. Those things run forever and ever. The Saab and Audi both would hit you for big time repair bills if the engines ever needed servicing and at those miles you will run into those issues almost guaranteed.

Scooby's avatar

With your budget I’d be looking at ex company cars, turbo diesels preferably, Audi & VW have some great engines….the same in fact, Look for high milers that have a full dealer service history & proof of a recent timing belt change or a 100,000 mile major service, you can’t fall off…….

Seelix's avatar

I’m glad you’re okay! Just thought I’d weigh in and say that I have a 2001 Focus which has never given me any trouble aside from normal wear-and-tear.

jerv's avatar

Of those, I would say the Corolla hands-down.

While I normally rate Hondas as a viable alternative due to their reliability, Toyota is generally slightly better there. Also, that particular Honda has seen a lot more miles and thus will likely need some stuff replaced sooner than the Corolla; after that many miles, even things like shocks become “wear and tear” maintenance items. Additionally, the EX tend to be a loaded model so a car a year newer with more options being less expensive (even moreso than the odometer justifies) raises a flag with me.

Until very recently, American cars did not fare well on reliability, so I am generally biased against them anyways. Mazda uses enough Ford parts in some of their models, and after a bad experience with a 626 that had a Ford CD4E transmission with a design flaw that they still use and haven;t remedied), I am iffy about Mazda. Cracking an engine block at 108K miles, losing the tranny on three other rigs (one Ford, one Chevy, one Dodge), and a host of other issues make me avoid the Big Three like STD.

European cars are generally expensive to maintain or repair, so they are out if you are on a budget. VW/Audi (they are the same company) stopped being reliable in the mid-1990s and tend to have wonky problems, especially in the electrical systems. I’ve seen too many Saturns with transmission problems to trust them any more, and Suzuki just isn’t happening. As for Nissan, I have yet to see one outlast a Toyota or Honda; they seen to be only slightly longer-lived and less fragile and temperamental than Ford or GM.

Reliable, cheap to maintain and to repair when something goes wrong, availability of parts… that all points to Honda and Toyota, and I already told you my opinion of that Honda.

BTW, I have a Toyota Corolla with over 222K miles on it that still runs good despite over two decades of abuse by it’s former owners. The last Corolla I had was still running strong when I got rid of it, and I beat the shit out of it yet could not kill it. Pretty much the only way to take out a Toyota is high-speed impact; shifting into reverse at 35MPH won’t do it, nor will any of the other non-impact-related things I did.

@Seelix Have you had all of the recall items fixed? Two of them can make your car crash immediately, so I hope so ;)

Seelix's avatar

@jerv – Yup. My dealer is great about sending notices, and I’ve only had the car since ‘04, so only a few pertained to my vehicle. But thanks :)

jerv's avatar

@Seelix My wife had one car that didn’t have the work done. It’s a good thing that I wasn’t with her or I would’ve had serious burns on my legs when the heater core went! As it was, she barely got off the road safely with the passenger compartment full of steam in a place with no cell coverage. Recalls are there for a reason; don’t ignore them!

YARNLADY's avatar

I can’t hardly believe I am reading this. My adult grandson totalled our car this weekend and we are in the same boat. (no serious injuries – his chest is very, very sore). We visited Carfax.com and Usedcars.com plus each of the three automalls in our area, on the internet.

We filled out the car finder form offered by our credit union, and they found us a very good used car that fits our budget and the amenities we wanted. We are buying a 2010 Aveo with 30,000 miles and a warranty for $10,000, to replace an older Aveo with lower miles and no warranty. The insurance settlement was $6,500.

jerv's avatar

@YARNLADY Glad to here he’s relatively unhurt.

So, to simplify, the new Aveo will only cost you $3,500 (plus taxes, title, registration…), correct?

Unfortunately, it seems that the OP isn’t getting any settlement like you did, and I am not sure if $10K is really feasible for them, especially with all of the student loans. I know I couldn’t swing that right now; there is a reason most of my cars cost (and are worth) less than the deductible on my insurance.

@tedd I wanted to expand on a couple of things about the two Corollas I’ve had; it might clue you in to why I am so super-loyal to them.
The first was an ‘87; about 12 years old at the time. I bought it for $500 and over the course of the 2½ years I had it, I only put about $300 worth of repairs into it, half of that due to NH using ungawdly amounts of road salt and eating the exhaust system. Unlike most of my cars, it was running strong and still in good shape when I got rid of it. The only car I ever had with fully functioning A/C too!
My current Corolla is an ‘85 that I bought for only $300 off of Craigslist almost two years ago. It had bad struts when I got it, so I had to spend another $500 before I could safely go over 45 MPH, but it still got me around reliably until I could get it fixed. It hasn’t needed any other repairs (aside from “maintenance items” like the battery, headlights, and front brake pads) so I have driven around for almost two years in something that still runs reliably and cruises comfortably for only $800.
Figure, if I could get that sort of longevity and reliability out of a couple of old beater Corollas, you can probably do better with something newer and in better shape than mine were when I got them :D

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