General Question

eadinad's avatar

I want to buy a (used) car. What kind should I look for?

Asked by eadinad (1278points) June 4th, 2009

I’m a college student looking to buy my first car. I don’t care about looks as much, but I want it to be dependable (eg not a money trap, constantly being fixed), get good gas mileage, and an automatic. I’d prefer no older than 15 years, but that’s more flexible. I’d like to spend between $1000 – $1500. Basically a “point A to point B” car, with point B occasionally being a few hundred miles away.

What makes and models should I be looking for? How do I check for problems before buying? Am I being realistic in my expectations? Where can I look to find a good deal, besides craigslist?

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23 Answers

cak's avatar

Another thing to consider, insurance! :) We were looking at a Honda for our daughter, but surprisingly enough, the insurance is higher than expected. Make sure you factor that in, when buying your car.

explanation for the Honda being higher on insurance…it’s on a list of cars that are stolen frequently.

Edited to add: Oh…get a CarFax Report, too! One thing to keep in mind, though. If it is less than a certain percentage of damage (I forget the percentage) it doesn’t show up on the report.

CMaz's avatar

Can you get a dependable car for $1500?

Judi's avatar

I don’t think you’re being very realistic if you really need to get to point B. It will be a crap shoot in a 1500 car.

ragingloli's avatar

I remember the Top Gear special where they travelled through the US in cars they bought for that kind of budget. All three of them total rubbish.

cak's avatar

Sometimes, you can find cars (at low prices) through mechanics, where people just never paid for the repairs and surrendered their cars. The more and more I think about this, though – that price range might be difficult to find a reliable car. I’m not sure. I’m married to a mechanic. I don’t do the looking – he does.

Whatever you find, ask the person if you can have a mechanic take a look at the car. If they resist, there is a reason. You want the car checked over! An older car really needs to have been maintained – oil changes, brakes, transmission…etc. If it hasn’t been taken car of – just say the oil, and it hasn’t been changed or is way low, your engine can seize and then you have a super heavy paperweight.

Is there any way you can bump the price up a bit?

MrGV's avatar

honda or toyota

Judi's avatar

@cak ; but if he’s only paying $1500 for the car do you think he hs an extra $100 to pay a mechanic to look at it?

crisw's avatar

Consumer Reports recently rated the ‘99 Toyota Tacoma 4-cylinder base model and one other car (I’ll have to look up what it was) as the most dependable 10 year old cars. I just sold my 99 Tacoma a while back (still running perfectly) and it was a great pickup. I never had a mechanical problem with it. So, if you would consider a pickup, it’s a great vehicle.

Likeradar's avatar

Consider an old Nissan Maxima.
I had a ‘93, valued at about $1500, that was insanely reliable, spacious, and decent on gas mileage. It was stolen a few months ago. I did a lot of reading about them after it was stolen, and many, many people agree with me that it’s a great car.

But with any car that old, you must have a maintainence budget.

cak's avatar

@Judi – I know, but if he’s really considering something that low in price and that old, it might be better to wait another month (or enough time to get the hundred) for the inspection. I don’t know, just trying to throw out some ideas. it’s just something that came to mind.

crisw's avatar

OK, here’s the article. Looks like the other car is the Lexus LS.

Judi's avatar

@cak ; its sad. The more you need those kinds of safety nets the least you can afford them :-(

cak's avatar

@judi – I know. I drove a clunker for quite some time. I had to put oil in it, constantly…and it loved to overheat! a small hole in the radiator!

Lupin's avatar

Look for a 10 year old (or older) GM car with the 3800 engine. At 100,000 miles they are just getting broken in. And they don’t need the $1200 timing chain “maintenance” specified in the Honda owners manual at 100,000 miles.
It is easy and cheap to get parts if needed. If you find something pre-1996 you don’t have the OBD II (On Board diagnostics) so won’t have to worry about that if your state requires an OBD II inspection.
Be prepared to drive it for a long time.

SierraNichole's avatar

the best used cars i have ever had were grand prix and grand ams. i’m driving a chevy cavalier. had her for 3 years and its in great condition.
i’m really glad i dont need a car for college…you tend not to drive in chicago.
but yes one of those 3 would be good

Fred931's avatar

Your price range is definitely unrealistic. A good used car will go for around 3k to 5k. Also, if you suddenly run into 10000, definitely get a Scion. They are excellent cars, even used ones are reliable, fuel efficient, and useful. That’s probably because Scion is a division of Toyota. However, you probably won’t get that sudden infusion of cash from your parents, so look for either a 2WD Ford f150, a Toyota Corrola or Echo, a Honda Accord or Civic, or a Suzuki SX4. those were all recommended models, all year models between ‘98 and ‘00, recommended by Consumer Reports that were under $4,000. Earlier year models will work, too. Also, there’s always a junker somewhere for $250 that, if you like working with cars, can be made to actually get to point B.

Darwin's avatar

Get a moped.

Lupin's avatar

I just did a fast search for cars in my neighborhood on
Here’s a 1994 Buick Centruy 59,0000 miles asking $1,700. Power Steering, Power Windows, Remote Keyless Entry (It only has the 4 cyl engine.)
Selling Points: Car has no rust or dents, new brakes & rotors, just inspected: $1700 or. B/O.
Listing Source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
I think this link Sorry i just tried it – it does not work. You have to go to there on your own.
Clearly this is a “Geezer Car”, well maintained by the original owner until they moved to a nursing home or Florida. That’s the kind of car you want.
It will outlive you if you treat it right..

Lupin's avatar

Chev Corsica, Pontiac 6000, Chev Malibu, Ford Taurus. There are lots of them. Even a small pick up. They last forever too and are cheap now.
Here’s the info on the timing belt maintenance for Toyota Corolla, Honda Accord, CR-V, VW Passat – they all have a timing belt with an interference engine. When the belt breaks, the pistons crash into the valves resulting in a broken engine. Big bucks or a one way trip to the junk yard. The timing belt must be replaced at the mileage specified by the manufacturer – 60k to 100k. Usually they have to take off the water pump to get to it so that is often replaced at the same time. $600 If you do it yourself you can knock the price down, but it can go much higher. Make sure you figure that cost into the car if it sounds like a good deal. Honda and Toyota owners all know this. In general, people do not trade in their used cars after spending $1000 on their engines. The decision to trade in is made when they are told it will cost them $1000.
The GM and Ford engines are not interference type engines. If the belt goes, you are “walking home” but your engine is not permanently broken. Replace the belt and you’re done. Good for another 60k. (For a given displacement, interference engines, in general, give better performance and fuel economy – until they break.)
I just did a quick, admittedly unscientific search on for cars with stated mileage above 100k and a stated price less than $2000 for my zip code. There were only 3 Toyotas and one Honda of all models. However, there were 14 GM cars and 11 Fords.
Try it yourself.

eadinad's avatar

Thanks Lupin, that’s extremely helpful information.

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