Of course I just paid it off
July 9, 2009 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I need a cheap, used car (~$6000) that can handle the hundreds of miles I drive every week for work.

I was driving a used 2001 Kia Rio that I just paid off (of course) and that broke down a couple of weeks ago. My regular mechanic thinks I need a new engine which would cost about $2500. I bought the car for $5000, and it has about 120,000+ miles on it. I've already put so much money into maintaining this car that I think I should just buy a used one that's more reliable. But I'm concerned because I drive so much.

Not only do I have to commute about 30 miles each way to work 4 days a week, but I also drive a lot after I get there, so driving 500 miles/week isn't a rare occurrence. Moving closer to work isn't an option.

I'm looking at Toyotas, Volvos, Hondas, etc. If any of you drive a cheap, used, reliable car a lot, I'd love to hear recommendations and your experiences. (I'll be stopping at the library soon to pick up a copy of Consumer Reports).
posted by girlmightlive to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Toyotas, Volvos, Hondas, etc. This is correct.

My personal recommendation is Honda -- their engines are long-lasting workhorses, pure and simple -- but I've known a number of very happy Corolla drivers. Though I'd probably drop Volvo from that list, you're on the right road.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 2:42 PM on July 9, 2009

Volvo's do last a long time but those European parts are not cheap. I'd get a Corolla as my first choice. I seem to recall the Ford Taurus was also a very solid car.
posted by chairface at 2:45 PM on July 9, 2009

Hyundai might be your best bet. For about 6 grand, you can get one that still has its base 10-year 100k mile warranty. They're not as nice to drive as a Honda but late model Hyundais can be quiet, comfortable, and reliable.

If you're feeling daring and a little foolish, you can do what I did and buy a diesel Benz from the 80s. Every bone in my body told me to just buy a used Honda, but I wanted style, adventure, class, and a certain Teutonic Ich weiƟ nicht. I ignored all of the good car-buying advice that I usually dispense. I'm pretty happy so far, despite the "lived in" patina.
posted by Jon-o at 2:51 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Diesel engines are rumored to last longer than gas engines, but maybe that's just a pre direct injection European thing. (And those old Benz diesels really have a reputation of longevity. All the Taxis are Diesel Benzs here.)
posted by mmkhd at 2:57 PM on July 9, 2009

The '91 Corolla that has been bouncing around between my parents, my little sister, and I runs perfectly with over 200,000 mostly city miles on it.

I know from experience that Volvo's are inexpensive to fix if you use non-OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts and have an honest mechanic. I had a '94 Volvo 940 for a few years before I handed it off to little sis. It's still humming along at above 200,000. It needed a new hood when I first got it. OEM hoods were all above $600. I got a non-OEM model for under $200. The radiator eventually developed a crack. OEM radiators were above $300, I got a non-OEM replacement for $150. They're incredibly easy cars to work on because almost everything is easily accessed and removed, so an honest mechanic who doesn't insist on overcharging you for OEM parts will also not be charging you much on labor. Besides the normal brake pads and such, that car has only needed the new radiator and a fuel pump issue fixed, for a total of less than $800 in repairs over five years. Not bad in my book.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 3:02 PM on July 9, 2009

1990s Toyota Corolla. I'm on my third Corolla; my first made it to almost 300,000 miles. Second, 275,000. Current one is only at 115,000 and going strong.
posted by chez shoes at 3:08 PM on July 9, 2009

I had a 93 corolla get over 300,000 miles. It would still be running if my ex husband hadn't been in an accident.
I was also once told by a mechanic, after my annual inspection, "If everyone owned toyotas I'd be out of a job."
posted by Kellydamnit at 3:08 PM on July 9, 2009

Toyota or Honda. A used Toyota Echo should be pretty cheap and go pretty far.

See also.
posted by willpie at 3:11 PM on July 9, 2009

If you get a Civic with >70,000m, make sure the timing belt has been replaced. I've loved my Civic CX hatchback since the day I bought it (first car) in '93.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:16 PM on July 9, 2009

Volvos made after the mid-90s have average reliability at best. Avoid them if possible.
posted by zsazsa at 3:22 PM on July 9, 2009

I had a 1994 Honda Civic that lasted forever (that I sold last year for $2500 with 100k miles on it; i still miss it! you might be able to get a better deal than $6k).

My mechanic at the 90k check said the engine looked great and that it would run for another 100k. It was highly reliable; the only thing I ever had to replace was the battery. Also, it was a very low maintenance car (meaning I abused it, didn't do regular oil changes, went for periods of time without driving it, and yet it still passed through the 90k check beautifully).
posted by cranberryskies at 3:23 PM on July 9, 2009

ah yes, bonobothegreat's comment reminded me that i also replaced the timing belt - but that was about it with years of driving on it
posted by cranberryskies at 3:24 PM on July 9, 2009

Yep, toyota & honda. Buy the lowest-spec'd version of the model. For example, if you are getting a civic, look for one that has the least options = less things to break. I've had some very frugal friends go crazy for the toyota echo as it's good on gas, cheap, undesirable (unlike a civic) for thieves, and simple.
posted by gofargogo at 3:30 PM on July 9, 2009

I did a similiar commute for a while with a Saturn S-series. Much cheaper than the Toyotas and Hondas they compete with.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:53 PM on July 9, 2009

truedelta.com is loaded with real reliability data from thousands of owners. Use it in conjuction with pricing information from edmunds.com.
posted by davcoo at 5:52 PM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Look at Nissan Sentras. I've found them to be cheap to buy, operate and work on. They simple enough to do the work yourself if you are handy. Really not bad cars, and usually cheaper than the Toyotas and Hondas.
posted by wrnealis at 6:16 PM on July 9, 2009

Judging from the Consumer Reports 2009 cars issue ("Models to look for": $4000-6000), you're looking at Hondas and Toyotas from 99-2000 and Hyundais from 03-04.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 6:31 PM on July 9, 2009

My brother just bought a used Pontiac Vibe which shares the the Toyota Matrix platform and drive train. It's sells for a lot less than the Matrix, is supposedly just as reliable, comes with more features and he gets about 40-mpg on the highway with a standard transmission. He paid $6900 for a well-maintained 2002 with about 65K miles.

I am of the opinion that Toyotas, Hondas and some Hyundais can be expected to go well over 200K miles without any major repairs, assuming they are maintained properly. My '01 Camry gets driven 80 miles/day for work and I am planning on driving it to the moon (250K miles).
posted by 14580 at 7:41 PM on July 9, 2009

I also drive a remarkably reliable Pontiac Vibe with great gas mileage. My understanding is that most of the parks are the same as the Toyota Matrix, but it's significantly cheaper, especially on the used market. And they are pretty nice cars to drive.
posted by mjcon at 8:17 PM on July 9, 2009

I love my 94 honda accord. It was under five thousand dollars (I bought it a few years ago) and has taken me reliably all over the eastern part of the US. It hit the 200,000 mile mark a few months back.
posted by frobozz at 10:07 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

The big things: pre-purchase check by trusted mechanic and make damn sure the timing belt has been done (assuming it has one).

An alternative for cheap? Dunno how hard it might be for you to find 'em, but I've had two Crown Victorias that were built to be police cars (P71 in the VIN) and used by non-LE gov't agencies. Paid $2800 for one, $2900 for the other. A regular Crown Vic has a lot going for it, too.

The police-model is a serious, comprehensive upgrade. These cars and cockroaches will survive nuclear war.

Upsides: the first one has provided 60,000 miles of trouble-free motoring (I gave it to friends when I moved overseas) and drives beautifully at 170,000 miles. My mechanic said he often sees those cars doing fine at 250,000 miles.

There is room; there will be happy motoring if you are tall or large or both, or have tall and/or large friends. The trunk is immense.

The car is solid, great in bad weather. Barely feel it moving a teensy bit when the wind is wicked and rain is pelting. I've driven small cars in bad weather and they can be a handful. I feel bad for anyone who might hit this thing.

The police package includes serious suspension upgrades so it doesn't flop around like a grampa car.

It is not a rocket off the line, but it devours on-ramps without being close to floored, does damn well if you need a little speed to change lanes or make a quick move. Hills? Ha!

Smooth and quiet. Nice to drive 600 miles in a day, feel great and ready. (It even has heavy-duty seats)

Heating and A/C are vicious. Crank up the latter and hang meat. Crank up the former and cook it.

Downsides: They are big. Parking lots and on-street parking can be a pain. They do like gas. I average about 20.

In the more conventional realm, I've heard and read a lot that relatively new Volvos are best avoided.
posted by ambient2 at 11:52 PM on July 9, 2009

See if you can get a late 90s Subaru. Those things run forever.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:44 AM on July 10, 2009

My husband and I were just in the market for a new-to-us used car, after our beloved '95 Corolla was totaled when a jackass rear-ended me, hard.

We found that the used car info at Consumer Reports was way, way, WAY more comprehensive and detailed than the info at Edmunds, though the links to local dealers at Edmunds found us the car we wanted at a local dealership. I'd take Stylus Happenstances' suggestion and check out CR's advice. $25 to subscribe to Consumer Reports online to look at the used car info could save you a LOT of money in the long run!

FWIW, the data at CR contradicts getawaysticks' suggestion--we had considered Subarus but the info on models more than about 5 years old said that they had bad problems with major and minor engine issues. (This agrees with the experience of an officemate of mine, who cursed his late 90s model Subaru.)

We loved our recently-departed Corolla (had just hit 100K! Totally reliable! Expected to drive it forever!). We'd had a beloved Corolla before that, also, that died of old age well past 100K. This time we got a Matrix, essentially a Corolla hatchback--more legroom for the kids in back, more room to stow stuff in the way back.

It may be that the Vibe is an exact replica of the Matrix but after watching my family of origin get f*cked over by their Pontiacs in times past, it'll be a cold day in hell before I ever buy a Pontiac...
posted by Sublimity at 4:54 PM on July 10, 2009

Jumping back in with a oddball: BMW 525i from the late 80's through early 90's. I've driven one, and they are very comfortable. A lot of guys I know from the BMW 2002 scene use them as daily drivers, because they run forever, like hundreds of thousands of miles. Also, 3-series cars from the same era (E30s) seem to have a minor cult following for being reliable (especially the 318), really fun, and well built. You easily spend less than 6k and have a great commute hack.
posted by gofargogo at 8:29 PM on July 16, 2009

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