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Buying a used European car for $5k or less after a car-less decade: y/n?
July 12, 2014 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Used car filter: after a decade without owning a car, I'd like to get back into the game. I'd prefer to spend $5k or less. I understand this means older cars/higher miles. I find myself drawn to early 2000s VW Golfs/GTIs, late-90s BMW 300 series, '90s Saabs, early '00s Volvos. Are any of these types going to be substantially more reliable or cheaper to maintain than others?

I know that for the ultimate in reliability, I should probably just get a Honda Civic. But that's the last car I had, and while I really liked it, I also like the idea of getting something fun and slightly fancy (but old). Leather seats and all that. I've heard that BMWs are "expensive to maintain": what does that really mean? I've heard similar things about VW. Does buying a European car necessarily mean making good friends with my dealer (or learning to DIY)? I don't mind the idea of 'taking good care of a car,' but I will be pissed if I am regularly having to spend multiple hundreds of dollars on things that break. Also, are there scheduled-maintenance things on BMWs that don't apply to other cars? Are they spendy?

I don't commute by car; this vehicle will be more for fun and for occasional out-of-town trips in the 2-3 hour-drive range. I'd also like to cross the country with it exactly once. Am open to make/model suggestions beyond the ones I've named. I seek a fun, fuel-efficient 2- or 4-door hatchback, coupe, or small sedan; bonus points if it has enough tire clearance to handle my parents' long, gravelly country driveway without too much trouble. Thanks.
posted by toomuchkatherine to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Spend multiple hundreds of dollars"... Didn't you mean multiple thousands of dollars?


Cheap to buy up front, but parts and labor are crazy. You would be lucky to get out of the repair shop for multiple hundreds. And these are not easy DIY cars.

If you do buy such a car, keep about $2500 in your repair fund. Even brakes, a common and easy repair, will run close to $1000 on a BMW.

I'm not totally sure, but you may be better off with a pre-, say, 1983 car as most of the worst stuff has been replaced and you aren't dealing with a computer that controls everything. On a 2000-ish BMW, my mechanic has to read the computer fault codes. It costs $150 just to read the code.
posted by littlewater at 11:20 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


VWs from the early 2000s had legendary reliability problems.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:33 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Saabs are out. I talked to a Saab mechanic once and he told me he only owned them "because it was easy [for him] to get parts and fix it."
posted by wuwei at 11:33 AM on July 12


All the cars you picked are on the "frequently break down" and "expensive to maintain" lists. The fun you are imagining will only exist between break downs. The "occasional out-of-town trips in the 2-3 hour-drive range" will always be accompanied by the vague worry that you might not make it.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:35 AM on July 12


The thing about the German cars is that, while they are super cool, they are notoriously unreliable, very expense to repair (high parts and labor), and famously need somewhat regular large repairs (new transmission every 80k, for example). Plus, the one you're going to find under $5k is going to have 150,000 miles on it and whatever cool factor you get from having an old beamer (which I totally get - I've wanted an old BMW myself for exactly this reason), is going to dissipate pretty quickly once you are shelling out thousands in fixes in the first year.

I hate to say it, but if you want a used car for under 5k, you want a toyota, honda or subie. Not as sexy (except for the subie - so sexy), but you're pocket book will thank you.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:38 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


In addition to what littlewater said, stay away from VW (personal experience). If you want least amount of trouble get yourself into a used Honda or Toyota.
posted by pyro979 at 11:38 AM on July 12


I bought a 2001 Volvo V70 T5 off Craigslist - a turbobrick - for $4950 in May of 2009. It was shockingly clean, and shockingly fast. Leather seats, fully loaded. It did need tires. Those cost me a little less than $400 installed.

In 2010, the power driver's seat failed, the recline on the rear seat failed (necessary for folding the rear seats flat), and the temperature gauge failed. They were fixed. The tint in the power mirror failed, creating a bubble of tint that would randomly float around. It was not fixed, and haunted me throughout the rest of the ownership of the car. The rear wiper failed, and that wasn't fixed either.

In 2011, the sunroof shattered when I shut the door. It was fixed. Not long thereafter, the side of the car was totally smashed in a hit and run. I hunt down and found the culprit, which is a story for another time, and insurance made the bizarre decision to replace much of the left side of the car, despite the fact that the repairs cost more than $4950. That was OK, since I still liked it.

In 2012, the clearcoat on the hood started to bubble severely, with it starting to flake off dramatically. The rear door started to rust. The gas tank cover was ripped off when going through a car wash. I had the hood painted. I bought a gas tank cover off eBay and replaced it myself. It worked well, but with the repainting from the accident, the hood and the gas tank, it was a patchwork of vaguely-but-not-quite-the-same metallic colors.

In 2013, the Volvo signaled to me that the brakes had failed, and that I should pull over safely immediately. They hadn't quite failed, but there was clearly something wrong. I limped at 5mph to the mechanics, who reset the electronics. It was fine again. It all happened again a week later, when the ABS, brakes and traction control failed simultaneously. The mechanic spent a few days investigating, and warned me that tracing the problem likely meant ovrer $2000 in repairs as various boards were replaced and tested. I gave up, and signed over the car in exchange for payment on the attempted repairs.

To be clear, the car never cost me more than $1000 in repairs and maintenance in any given year. Fuel economy for a giant turboboat was really quite good, and it was remarkably comfortable and enjoyable to drive. But there was a continual stream of practical or cosmetic problems that were a hassle. I sure enjoyed that car, but I'm not sure I would go the same route again unless I was forced into it. I got a great deal on a last-years model that had been sitting on the lot for a while to replace the Volvo, and that's made things a lot easier, as there hasn't been a single issue.
posted by eschatfische at 11:40 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


European VWs (and VW's cheaper marques like SEAT and Skoda) win reliability prizes in Europe, while the ones in the US tend to be associated with horror stories. Differences in factories, or the model ranges sold to the US market? American usage patterns expose certain weaknesses? Cost of parts? Mechanic experience? Perhaps a little of everything. I'd buy one in Europe (diesel engine, cloth interior) but not the US.
posted by holgate at 11:55 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I loved my '02 GTI. I miss my '02 GTI. I stopped wanting to own my '02 GTI, for exactly the things you are worried about, and got rid of it years ago. Damn thing was a money pit, and even the small fixes were large bills from the mechanic. Granted, its just one data point on a high milage daily-driver car, but my understanding was it was a pretty typical experience. I can't imagine what the costs would be like on that same car now 5 years later...
posted by cgg at 12:02 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Thanks, folks. This is discouraging, but maybe what I need to hear...
posted by toomuchkatherine at 12:06 PM on July 12


Bought a 2000 Jetta for 3600 a couple years ago. Put at least 7000-8000 into it before giving up. Don't make the same mistake I did.
posted by Slinga at 12:18 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Do not get a VW that was not made in Germany. In particular the mk4 Golf/Jetta/Beetle from about 1999-2004 were full of trouble. I loved driving my 2000 Jetta but man did it give me problems. By the time it was totaled in 2011 I was sorta glad because it was not holding up well. My fiance had the same car and he kept his until 2012 somehow but only did short in-town trips.
posted by radioamy at 12:20 PM on July 12


I know this isn't what you want to hear, but if you decide to go the way this thread is trending, you might find the answers to my recent question helpful.
posted by ClaireBear at 12:26 PM on July 12


The Saab 9-2X Aero is an Impresa in Swedish clothing. You might be able to find a high mileage example in your price range.
posted by Mitheral at 12:35 PM on July 12


If you want a car that's more fun but more reliable, what about some of the smaller, sportier Subarus?
posted by Madamina at 12:51 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Add me to the list of drivers forever alienated from VW by my experiences with a 2000 Jetta. It was ridiculously problematic.
posted by jon1270 at 1:09 PM on July 12


My new late 90s VW was terrible. The AC broke 3 times while I had it, the central locking broke, some parts just fell off. Since then I've had a Toyota Prius a similar number of years and it's been almost flawless.
posted by w0mbat at 1:15 PM on July 12


Does buying a European car necessarily mean making good friends with my dealer (or learning to DIY)?
It means getting into European Car Culture and finding out where the affordable service shops are. Sometimes the dealer is your best friend, sometimes they are your worst enemy. Similarly, some independent shops will repeatedly screw you, others will give you unbelievably good deals. But it isn't even that simple! When I had a '96 Mercedes C280 I took it to a shop that was rather expensive but fast. In a previous state, the shop I took it to was cheap but very slow. Each shop was ideal given my circumstances at the time.
this vehicle will be more for fun and for occasional out-of-town trips in the 2-3 hour-drive range. I'd also like to cross the country with it exactly once.
If your goal is road trips, then don't get anything even remotely exotic. Your car is going to break down away from home, and you will be forced to have it serviced by whatever shop is nearby. Get a Honda, Toyota, or an American car. Unless you want to go on adventures, then find a car club that you like, and buy the kind of car that the club members focus on.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:16 PM on July 12


Out of that list, the only one of those cars i'd REMOTELY even THINK about buying would be a volvo 850/v70/s70, the 5 cylinder ones. My friend has one he hopelessly abuses and it just will not die. It's approaching 200k miles just having had no real problems that would stop you from driving(the sunroof jammed, that kind of stupid shit).

Saabs are terrible no matter what year you get them at, but especially in that time period. My friend had one from around then and it stranded her out of state like 4 fucking times, with hugely expensive repairs every time("oh, the turbo ate itself and burned up most of the oil lol, now you're stuck in podunk hicksville for 4 days while it gets mailed in, and i charge you like $3000 to replace it because you have no other options") BMWs that age will be falling the fuck apart by now unless they're out of your price range, and VWs of that era are, as mentioned, hilariously awful. The TDI ones are OK if you ignore the rest of the car falling apart around the engine and expensive maintenance for non-engine bits, but they have a huge following and kind of start at 5k for a semi shitty one.

A contractor i've worked with a lot always drives TDIs. I think he's on like... his 4th early 2000s one? The last time i saw him for more than 5 minutes, i was helping him try and track down a stupid turbocharger problem with a laptop and special software. He's basically always tweaking something on it, and something always isn't quite 100%.

For that money though, i wouldn't recommend getting anything from any brand on your list. Buy like, a subaru. Or a toyota corolla/nissan sentra.

If you're really set on getting a quirky, semi-luxury european car, look in to 80s diesel mercedes models like the W123 300d/300d turbo. 5k will get you a solid one, they have a huge following, look really cool*, and they're easy to work on. The thing is, i'd really only recommend a car that old or one of those if you're fairly handy and can do most minor/non complex special tools or a lift required repairs yourself. If you're the kind of person who'd pay someone to change an alternator or a radiator, then forget it.

Personally, i think the fun of owning an interesting car is working on it yourself. But i'm also One Of Those People. I think anything you'd get for that amount of cash besides a volvo v70/s70 is going to be fucking garbage though, and even one of those is probably going to have >150k miles on it and be getting in to the middle aged years of its life(a volvo like that will run for 3-400k miles easily, but not for free)

All that said,

I don't commute by car; this vehicle will be more for fun and for occasional out-of-town trips in the 2-3 hour-drive range.

I bought an "interesting" car for exactly this usage pattern, and HOLY FUCK do i regret it. I should have bought a basic "shitty" 90s corolla or something and saved the rest of the money for cheap parts/repairs. I wish i had gotten AAA right when i got the car. This sort of usage pattern is hard on a car that isn't super simple, and will really expose any flaws very plainly. The majority of problems/breakdowns i had were nowhere near my house.

I have several friends who use their cars similarly, and they all have SUPER basic older economy cars. None of them really ever have problems beyond "oh, the exhaust rattles now that we got off that craterous dirt road off the trail parking". Meanwhile i'm stuck on the side of the road because it started randomly running rich in bizarre sunday afternoon stop and go traffic, and now i'm stuck with a flooded engine on the inside shoulder standing in the mud in dress shoes.

Never. Again. Buy a fucking sentra if you're going to use your car this way, unless you're loaded. You either need an unbreakable car, or AAA and tip-top maintenance if you're going to drive this way. And nothing you mentioned really qualifies as unbreakable. You want like, a civic.

I'd also really strongly consider the fact that five grand(Plus insurance! plus tires! plus gas since some of the car shares include that!) buys a lot of zipcar/other sharing services/rentals. I'd do the math depending on how much you're driving and figure out if it's even worth it to own the car in the first place. As it is, i'm getting out of the whole owning a car thing because fuck.

*totally subjective, i realize. But i was surprised that even several of the women i know commented on how they looked stylish as well. Pretty timeless design, like the 80s E30 BMWs or something
posted by emptythought at 2:00 PM on July 12 [12 favorites]


Emptythought really said it all, but does bring up some good new ideas. If this car is really "just for fun" and for road trips, $5k also rents you a whole lot of car. You could rent a Challenger, a Camaro, sometimes Porsches from the big agencies. I think they charge about $200-$400 per day for those babies, but it might fit your need. There are also exotic car rentals that will rent you things that you would be terrified to drive (Lambos, etc.) but they also rent classics like a convertible Caddy from the 60s. And they also rent newer BMWs, etc.
Do a fun rental for road trips and get the zip car for day to day.
posted by littlewater at 2:11 PM on July 12


Yup, I had a 2000 Jetta for about two years... 2004-5 that I bought used, in good condition, with low miles for 5k. It ended when it needed a new 3k transmission that then cost more than the car was worth and I sold it to AutoMax or something for $150. Instead of road tripping home that summer, I bought a train ticket...

Our current '99 Toyota hatchback with low miles has had only routine maintenance and no major issues.

Just anecdata....
posted by jrobin276 at 3:20 PM on July 12


I have a couple of friends who swear that a used Lexus is the most reliable, affordable, and luxurious car on the road. Both friends have driven nothing but used ones for years.
posted by mareli at 4:37 PM on July 12


Addressing just the part about doing a cross-country drive:

I would opt for a rental. Contemporary cars have come a lonnnnnnng way in safety, comfort, and navigational levels in the last decade. I love old cars myself, and drive one extensively, but for a long haul like that, I'd rent for sure. If the rental poops out in the middle of nowhere, it's a drag, but it's the agency's problem to fix. If an old Beemer gives up the ghost on a weekend in a remote stretch of highway, you are looking at an epic "adventure" finding a station that can even procure the specialized parts/tools, much less fix it. And lots of the reasonably-priced rentals (non-luxury, non-sport) are actually really fun to drive.
posted by nacho fries at 4:47 PM on July 12


I have a twenty-year-old BMW.

I spent a long time looking for the right one, and I went into it knowing that it was going to cost me more money than a Civic or Corolla or whatever, willing and able to do most repairs, with another way to get around while I'm working on it, and with a AAA card in the glove box.

The more of these things that are true for you, the better your experience will be.
posted by box at 5:35 PM on July 12


I bought a 1995 BMW 318ti brand new, almost 19 years ago. It's the least expensive car I've ever owned and maintained. It beats the Saab the Buick and the Pontiac that I had before for maintenance costs, by a mile.

The key is this - maintain the car faithfully ( regular oil changes, Inspections I and II as per schedules ) and the car will run blissfully well. I'm still on my original clutch. Had my first set of replacement brakes a few years ago. No rust ( I'm on the W coast ). No issues with the car.

I walk to work and live downtown, so my car trips are the 6-hour drive to the coast or the 6-hour drive to the next state or the interior.

I have 190,000km on the car. It looks newer than it is because of me taking care of it. No you can't buy it :)

Find a well maintained car, check all maintenance records and continue with the regular oil changes and good maintenance. And you will have the car of your dreams. Good luck.
posted by seawallrunner at 5:53 PM on July 12


A couple more things that will improve your old-car ownership experience: a trusted mechanic, and an avid online enthusiast community.
posted by box at 7:16 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Okay, thanks. I'm coming to my senses; I should probably buy another Civic, or a different Honda or Toyota, or a Ford Focus or something.

But before I totally abandon the dream of cheap-ish, luxury-ish car, does anyone have any experience with used Acuras and/or Lexuses?

And then there are always Subarus.

To those who pointed out that $5k will buy a lot of car rental and train travel, you're right. I do belong to Zipcar, and I do sometimes rent a car. It's been great not to own or need a car these years, and in a way, I can't even believe I'm contemplating owning one again. As with a lot of consumer desires, it's not totally rational. Suffice to say, I feel a desire right now not just to get around in a car, but to own a car. If that makes sense. It has to do with what's going on in my life, etc etc.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 7:19 PM on July 12


My family has a late-'90s Lexus. I don't know the model number, but at the time it was the smallest one they made. (Which makes it medium-sized as far as cars go.) The inside is not particularly fancy, but it is nice; the drive itself is kind of stodgy and I say that as somebody who generally doesn't notice how cars drive. It's been solidly reliable, with a couple of engine problems and a smattering of other issues, but I wouldn't call it spectacular.

Mostly, I think we like the Lexus because the BMW we had before it was so awful. It would break down once a year like clockwork, and it once left me stranded in another city and had to be towed home.

Meanwhile, my 1998 Civic keeps happily chugging away.
posted by Georgina at 9:32 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


And then there are always Subarus.

My current car is a 2000 Subaru Outback wagon that I picked up with 85K on the odometer for much less than $5K because I lucked into a very good deal. I've had it about 15 months. It's just as luxurious as the 2000 Jetta we had. The quality of the interior finish materials (upholstery, controls, plastic parts, etc.) is clearly better. It's less nimble but accelerates well, is much better on rough pavement or dirt/gravel roads thanks to the higher ground clearance and AWD, and even the gas mileage is pretty good on the highway.

It hasn't been completely trouble free. I replaced some rubber fuel lines under the hood that were beginning to seep at their connections when the weather was cold. The knock sensor failed and had to be replaced ($18 delivered from eBay). A slide on one of the rear calipers started to stick and caused excessive wear on one of the brake pads, necessitating replacement of the otherwise like-new pads. The car began to overheat in stop-and-go traffic on an extraordinarily hot day last summer, which turned out to be due to nothing but a blown fuse for one of the radiator fans. The alternator failed and had to be rebuilt, and the alternator rebuild ($100) is the only work I've had to pay someone else to do. Soon I'll have to change the timing belt, which will run a few hundred bucks in parts, because it's time to do that. And there's rust behind the rear wheels (very common on Subies of this vintage in my area) that would be prohibitively expensive to fix, which is a pity. Despite these issues, it's the best of the many older used cars I've ever owned.

Cars of this age will definitely need work more often than newer cars, even if you buy Japanese. If you aren't mechanically inclined then repairs will be more expensive for you than they are for me, not only because you'll have to pay someone else to fix them but because some problems will get worse and more complicated before you notice that anything is wrong.
posted by jon1270 at 5:13 AM on July 13


I have a 2000 VW Golf that I bought new. It was made in Germany. It's alternated being a commuter car, a fun trips car, and is now back to doing commuter duty. I've driven it through several interstate moves. It has about half the miles expected of a car that age, and the other day the guy at the car detailing place I took it to remarked on how good it looked for its age. Like seawallrunner, I've taken good care of it, following the recommended maintenance schedule. No, you can't buy it :)

It's brought me a lot of fahrvergn├╝gen over the years and my heart sinks at the idea of eventually replacing it with a sensible Japanese car, even though that would be the logical thing to do. I suspect that will be one of the difficulties with finding an older European car in good condition, they'll be owned by people like me or seawallrunner who are loath to part with them.
posted by research monkey at 7:30 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Japanese luxury cars are pretty reliable. The Lexus is basically a Toyota. Acura is a Honda and Infiniti is a Nissan. I have an Infiniti (much newer though) and the mechanics have told me they will go to 200k miles without issues. I've known people with late 90s/early '00s era Lexus and Infiniti cars and they are much more reliable than the equivalent volvos, Mercedes and bmws.

This may be terrible advice for your situation, but perhaps you can lease a new car for a few years instead? The peace of mind in owning a new car is worth it to me as a non-handy person.
posted by rainydayfilms at 7:35 AM on July 13


Contrarian opinion: the build quality, technology, and driving experience of a late model Japanese or Korean (or at last, most American) compact -- even a base cheapo -- will be better than that of any 15 year old European car, even in excellent condition, that you can afford. Cars are exponentially safer that they were 10 or 20 years ago. They are far more efficiently tuned. A cheap car of today is mechanically *superior* to a brand new-condition car of any model made before 2000 due to a revolution in manufacturing technology. The average 2014 Civic will give you more trouble free miles than any car built in the 1990s. Mercedes included. It's safer too, adjusting for vehicle weight.

The only appeal of an old European car for anyone not mechanically inclined and disposed to driving illegally fast is some notion of being (appearing to be) quirky and unique and not a follower of convention. Save that affectation for your clothes. A car needs to keep you alive and not bankrupt you before you even consider its style quotient.

Plus older luxury and sports cars get crappy mileage. That will cost you serious money and it's bad for the planet. There is no reason to settle for less than 30mpg on the highway unless you need a truck.
posted by spitbull at 8:17 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Keep in mind too that there's a difference between an old car that you bought as the original owner and have maintained (like mine), vs. buying a car that someone else may or may not have maintained properly. Usually when someone unloads an older car, it's because they are fed up with the big ticket repairs that come with high mileage, or the little fiddly repairs that come with age (knobs breaking off, door handles sticking). Those little things become really exasperating really quickly.

No reasonable person would get rid of a really well-running old classic unless there were extenuating circumstances (death in the family, moving to another country, drug habit)...and in that case, the car would usually get snapped up before it hits the open market by a friend, co-worker, or independent mechanic who has serviced the car.

As spitbull says: the level of fit and finish and creature comforts in new cars is not to be underestimated. I love my old car, but when I drive or ride shotgun in new vehicles, I notice a huge difference.
posted by nacho fries at 9:39 AM on July 13


But before I totally abandon the dream of cheap-ish, luxury-ish car, does anyone have any experience with used Acuras and/or Lexuses?

And then there are always Subarus.


You're getting some good advice here, but I thought id comment again on this.

I was going to say those are all good choices, but at least in my market(pacific northwest, Seattle) there is no such thing as a $5000 Acura or Lexus. Trust me, I was just looking. There also wasn't a $5000 Subaru. The ones approaching that price had a fuckton of miles. Like 175-220k. I saw some with more. It speaks to their mechanical integrity that they're still looking decent and running with that many miles, but you're buying someone else's greynosed dog.

I would have bought an early 2000s Lexus or Acura if I could have found one with under 130k miles. But the ones out there with that few are well, few and far between. And they still command surprisingly high prices.

There's also something to be said for the fact that besides the very smallest models, they're all fairly big heavy cars with big engines that get mediocre gas mileage, as mentioned above. There's not a whole ton of even 4cyl Acura or Lexus models. Every Lexus ES has a v6 for instance, and that's the most basic Lexus.

They also all look generally dated now. Someone driving an e30 BMW or a w123(or w201) Mercedes has style, and is making a statement. Someone driving an early 2000s luxury car of any manufacturer just looks like they've either owned it since it was new, inherited it, or just bought it because they wanted a luxury car but couldn't actually afford one.(barring stuff like the is300 and RSX which basically say "pull me over", but that's not the kind of car you're looking at anyways).

Oh, and Subarus of that era also often have head gasket issues if they have the 2.5 engine. They're cool if it's been swapped, but basically guaranteed to eventually have a problem if it hadn't been.

Your best bet if you want something a bit cushy/luxuryish is like, a specced up nissan Altima, or similar "mid level mid size upmarket but standard brand" car. A nicer specced Camry would fall into this category, or an accord, etc. Avoid anything like a maxima that's going to have a big engine and suck gas.

Mazda 3s are shockingly nice inside, especially with the leather interior. They're also some of the least dated looking cars that old. But good luck finding one for a decent price, they hold value like subarus.

Pretty much though, I think you're going to be hard pressed to find anything nicer than a basic economy car for that much unless you're willing to buy something with over 150k miles(which my friend bought his v70 at), that isn't that desirable. And there will be reasons that nicer car costs a lot less, repair and parts cost wise(a Volvo alternator is fucking $300+ for instance. Even a used one from a junkyard costs more than a brand new one for say, a sentra).

$5000 is sort of a no mans land in my market at least. You either need to step up to ~$8000ish, or accept something very basic. That, or you're buying something that's cheap for a reason.

As a random tidbit though, if you can drive stick there's better deals to be had. I also saw amazing deals on combos of cars people just didn't really want. Like basic Toyota yaris and nissan versa models with a stick shift that were super new compared to the other stuff in my price range(like 2008-2011!) for 6-7 grand with barely over 50k miles on them. Yea, that's a basic car. But it's several generations of tech newer, looks current, and it'll be incredibly cheap and simple to repair/own. They had manual windows and stuff, but the value there is just intensely high.

If you want a "rolling couch" car like a Lexus, be prepared for mediocre gas mileage, and be prepared to spend probably double your price range for a decent one. The same applies to subarus, minus the gas mileage bit somewhat(although, for what it's worth, my dad's forester has never ever gotten over 30mpg even when it was basically new).

I realize that you came into this asking what European luxury car to buy and I just recommended bare bones economy cars, and cautioned against even cheap Japanese luxury cars... But for this price, I can't help but feel that this is a bit of a fools errand and you're asking for the wrong things here. I think you either need to spend up to double what you presented as a potential "ish" price, or buy something WAY more basic.

Spending some more money and getting the newest Camry you can possibly find with leather seats will probably get you the closest to where you're trying to go comfort/interior appointment wise and on things like sound deadening. I was utterly impressed with a several year old one I rode in last night taking an uber, after riding in an Infiniti g37x earlier that night. It was easily 75% as nice inside. Especially if you weren't regularly riding in luxury cars, it felt like one.

Kind of rambling at this point, but I hope that helps.
posted by emptythought at 11:51 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Something to be aware of is that a lot of old premium cars require . . . premium gas (and premium tires, premium parts, etc.). Given what gas costs now, be sure you figure that into the cost of ownership.

The other thing is that some of them require serious driving skill to drive safely. Modern cars, by comparison, practically think for you. (That's what some driving nuts hate about them the most. But for most people, it's a shocking experience to have to be fully engaged in driving and nothing else.)
posted by spitbull at 12:26 PM on July 13


Okay! You've all talked me out of the BMWs. You've talked me into looking at Japanese cars. I have always liked the Honda Civic hatchbacks. The Mazda 3 hatchbacks or Mazda Protege 5s look pretty nice.

So it'll probably be a small-to-midsized, Japanese car for me.

It's still hard to say goodbye to the Golf/GTI idea. I found one that was supposedly made in Germany. (More than I was planning to spend on a car, but I could afford it, change my game plan a little.) 82,000 miles / $11k for a 2007 made-in-Germany Golf GTI. Still a bad idea???

Thanks for all the attention, and I will most likely end up with one of the three Japanese varieties named above.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 4:09 PM on July 13


A 2007 Golf GTi would have to be in pristine condition to be worth $11K at 82K miles. KBB on that car is $9700 in Good to Very Good condition (unless it has a shit-ton of options).

I predict that would be buying a headache anyway. People buy GTis to drive them hard and fast. People who buy them tend to do so to work on them themselves. I'd be very dubious about a well-used one.

Personally speaking, for what it's worth, I just drove a 2014 Golf (non-GTi) against a Mazda 3i (its direct competitor on most specs and price) and the Mazda was *much* more engaging and responsive. Now these are new models, and the VW was a non-GTi model, but after hearing many people tell me VW Golfs were drivers' cars, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the handling of the actual car, certainly compared to even the smaller-engined Mazda I ended up choosing. Which, by the way, handled like a very nice dream, outclassing, to my mind, anything else I put against it.

If you go for a Mazda 3, there are major generational updates -- including serious safety improvements -- in 2008, so you'd be better off sticking with 2008 or newer. The 2.5l engine kicks serious ass, at a price in gas mileage however, if you're looking to drag race with GTis.

You can buy a very solid 2008 or 2009 Mazda 3 on your budget. I'm looking at a 2008 on Edmunds with 48K for $7500 right now, in the smaller i class engine format.
posted by spitbull at 4:45 PM on July 14


research monkey when we get tired of our cars, maybe we could just switch vehicles? your car will be new-to-me and vice versa !
posted by seawallrunner at 9:50 PM on July 18


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