Advice on which used car to get

Discussion in 'Motorized Vehicles' started by QueenOfSpades, May 1, 2011.

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  1. QueenOfSpades

    QueenOfSpades Notebook Consultant

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    I have about $4,000 to spend on a used car. I am hoping to keep the car for a couple of years. I always do routine maintenance, and definitely don't mind fixing a few things here or there, but I am looking to avoid a money pit type of crapmobile.

    I'm a baby screenwriter (read: poor), so for now, I want to buy a used car outright and avoid car payments + inflated insurance while I'm trying to work my way into Hollywood.

    Unfortunately, I know jack about cars and my family's advice ranges from buy a Volvo (ugh) to buy anything Japanese.

    My preferences right now, within my budget, lean toward a 2000ish Volkswagen Jetta, or a 2000ish Jeep Grand Cherokee. This is primarily based on looks, I fully admit. Gas is obviously a concern with the JGC, but I don't want to pick my car based solely on that. Does anyone have any experience or opinions on which of these cars would be more reliable? I've done some internet research, but all I'm finding are the places where people complain, so it's not very objective. I'm not a particularly hard driver, and I've never driven more than 8k/year, but it will be in LA, so driving daily is a must.

    I'd also be willing to hear other suggestions. Thanks in advance if anyone has any insight.
     
  2. Kaelang

    Kaelang Requires more Witcher.

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    Both the Jetta and the Grand Cherokee might be iffy choices, since the reliability of both is questionable at best. They both look nice, but that's where "nice" ends. I highly recommend you use something like Consumer Reports to get an idea of what you should get in your price range. There are very few nice looking cars that are reliable from the 1990's and early 2000's, but you might be able to find a decent Lexus or Toyota, even a nice Honda. Every brand has low quality or low reliability models, but you can almost never go wrong with a Toyota or Honda. Some Nissans are decent, but they didn't really start getting good until recently, though the late 90's and early 2000's Maximas and Altimas are fairly reliable and don't look too bad.
    Also be sure you get something that is easy for you to work on. Be sure you know how to do basic maintenance (4 cyl's are your best bet since they're smaller and generally less complicated, things are easier to access).

    Be sure you don't get something with abnormally high miles either, for the late 90's you should be looking at 100,000 miles or less (+-30,000).
     
  3. QueenOfSpades

    QueenOfSpades Notebook Consultant

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    I will check out the consumer reports, thanks.

    Hmm, that seems particularly bleak.

    I realize $4,000 isn't a ton of money, but it will definitely get me better than I'm used to. My first car was a $500 Pontiac, and for the time, it was both decent looking and reliable. My sister and I drove 2000 Dodge Neons in college, which were pretty reliable. We never had to put much money into repairs outside of routine maintenance. If I weren't looking for something different this time around, I'd look at one again.

    To provide some context, I bought a 2001 Dodge Neon for $1200. I kept it for a year and a half and spent nothing on it. I moved, so I sold it. I was fine with the car, it was reliable, but I'm hoping to do a little better this time around, since I'm spending more money. And obviously since I've driven Neons for the last few years, "better" will be most anything that's not a total piece.

    I will pick up the consumer guide tomorrow if I can. Maybe a Honda Accord would fit the bill. I'm happy with the way those look, and everyone raves about Honda's reliability.

    Thanks.
     
  4. H.A.L. 9000

    H.A.L. 9000 Occam's Chainsaw

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    Try a Corolla. Reliable, easy to fix, cheap parts, really good MPG ratings, and they're pretty decent looking little cars! :)

    I have a family member with a '93 model with the 1.6L and a stick with 258,000 miles on it and it's still running fine. You can pull up at a stop light and not even feel it running. The only things that were ever replaced were the alternator at 200k and oil changes and brakes. Really amazing little car.
     
  5. QueenOfSpades

    QueenOfSpades Notebook Consultant

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    Thank you for the helpful suggestion - I will check out Corollas as well.
     
  6. Kaelang

    Kaelang Requires more Witcher.

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    Find a nice looking reliable car from the 90's and early 2000's and I'll take it back.
     
  7. allfiredup

    allfiredup Notebook Virtuoso

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    I would avoid anything German (VW) because you'll only find an older, very high mileage model within your budget. They tend to have very expensive problems as they age...which you want to avoid.

    At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, you also need to avoid the Jeep Grand Cherokee. I say that because I actually own a ’95 Grand Cherokee with 220k miles on it, but it was given to me by my parents and is just an extra vehicle, not my primary. It has also been perfectly maintained and babied its entire life. A Jeep would also use twice as much gas as your Dodge Neon, literally.

    It’s a given that a Honda Accord, Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla in decent condition are among the best bets. For that reason, they are also priced higher than other vehicles of similar age and mileage. I searched AutoTrader.com within 100 miles of my Atlanta area zip code for any Honda, model year 2000 or newer for $4000 or less….and got a single result- a 2000 Accord with 217k miles and lookin’ rough inside and out with obvious body damage. No thanks! I didn’t have any better luck when I searched for a Toyota.

    With a $4000 budget, you’ll need to look beyond Honda and Toyota. Based on reliability data from Consumer Reports, Edmunds.com and a few other consumer-oriented auto sources, here are the cars I’d be looking for-

    2000-2003 Mazda Protégé
    2000-2004 Nissan Sentra
    2004-2006 Hyundai Elantra
    2004-2005 Ford Focus


    And last, but not least- 2000-2002 Saturn S-series Coupe and Sedan.
    The 2-door is available in two models- SC1 and SC2 and the 4-door is the SL1 and SL2. The engine, suspension and interior trim/fabric are the main difference between the ‘1’ and ‘2’ models. The SC1/SL1 have a 1.9L 100hp SOHC 8v 4-cylinder engine; the SC2/SL2 have a 124hp DOHC 16v version of the same engine. They also have larger 15” wheels/tires, sport suspension and nicer interior trim.

    The Saturn S-series didn’t share components with any other GM vehicle. They were assembled by workers who actually gave a crap about the quality of vehicles they built. As a result, they actually built a high quality car that holds up very well. I’ve never owned one, but I have a friend who bought a 2001 SL2 new. He has driven it 128-miles round-trip, five days per week for 10 years. It passed the 300,000-mile mark some time last year and is still going on the original engine and (manual) transmission.

    Regardless of whether you take my advice and consider a Saturn or any of the other vehicles I mentioned, there are two things you ABSOULTELY MUST do before purchasing a particular vehicle-
    1) Pull a Carfax vehicle history report.
    2) Have it inspected by a mechanic of your choosing (usually $50-$75, but a lot of independent shops will do it for FREE).

    Good luck!
     
  8. key001

    key001 Notebook Evangelist

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    Find out how much it's gonna cost to replace some parts for each car you're considering to get an idea about how it's designed. For some cars you'd have to take half the engine apart to replace a water pump. You'll see a huge difference in labor costs.

    Here's an example
    car #1 - you could do it yourself
    Labor: $73 - $93
    Parts: $102 - $204

    car#2 - yeah right
    Labor: $383 - $489
    Parts: $126 - $192
     
  9. H.A.L. 9000

    H.A.L. 9000 Occam's Chainsaw

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    The Corolla, like I said, is a very decent looking car. Especially for the segment it's in. Take no offense, but you need to come down off your high-horse a bit. There are plenty of decent cars in the late 90's to the early 2000's. Heck, my first car is a bit over $2000 used right now, but the 2000 BMW 323i is still a heck of a good looking car, even today. :rolleyes:

    Here's a '98
    [​IMG]

    Here's an '01
    [​IMG]
     
  10. Kaelang

    Kaelang Requires more Witcher.

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    I guess it's a personal thing, because I find that very unattractive.
    The newer ones are alright, but still not quite my cup of tea.
     
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