Narrowing down a used car search.
November 26, 2009 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Looking to narrow my search for a used car down to just a few options. Seeking something around $5k, reliable, low maintenance and compact.

I'm looking to buy a used car in the States. I know little about cars and believe my best bet is to narrow in on a select few cars in particular and search for a good deal from there. I'm not sure which I should look at. Here's what I'm looking for:

1. Under $5000 - I can go above that if it's warranted
2. Reliable, low maintenance - I can't afford something high maintenance, I'm looking for a runner, a non-temperamental vehicle
3. Compact, good mileage - I don't need a lot of space or a big vehicle, enough to get me around is fine

I have no preference towards a make or model. Anything else I can think of to look for, original owner, no accidents, would apply to the car for sale and not a make or model concern.

So I have two questions for anyone that can help:

1. Anything else I should be looking for in a vehicle?
2. What are my best options (make, model and year)? It would help to include a link to an article, site with statistics or your background as it applies.
posted by MeatyBean to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Anything Toyota or anything Honda. With the economy where it is used car prices are a bit elevated finding something under 5k might be a bit tough
posted by Scientifik at 10:35 AM on November 26, 2009

A used Japanese car from a remote town.

Seriously though, you will need to spend time researching. Kelley blueblook and Edmunds are two good places to start. It helps writing down what you value most in a car because during your research there will be a lot of distraction - it's very easy to lose focus. It is also not a bad idea to make a spreadsheet is not a bad idea (but keep it simple so you don't spend too much time on it)

Everyone wants a cheap car that has good mileage/fuel efficiency, so you will need to look hard and act fast. My biased suggestion was based on the stereo type that, 1) Japanese cars in general are known for their reliability but not size (this has been improved nowadays), 2) If you go out of your way you will sometimes find very good prices on the same make/model you find in a big city.

I believe basic warranty are about 3~5 years and 60k~100k miles, so you will probably have better chances looking for cars that are no longer under manufacturer's warranty. In fact with your budget you might start with 10-year-old cars. I am sure there are people way more qualified and experienced when it comes to buying a used car but I thought I'd just start with my 2 cents.

The whole process may be long and exhausting, but when you finally get that car you are happy with, it will really make your everyday life just a little bit more pleasant. Good luck!!
posted by jstarlee at 10:43 AM on November 26, 2009

At 5k, you are looking at a well-used top-tier Japanese car (Toyota, Honda), or maybe a second-tier (Mazda, Nissan) car in better shape.

The Toyota Corolla is a good place to start. Learn all you can about Corollas, and then use them as your baseline to compare other cars with. They get decent mileage, are cheap to maintain and are actually pretty decent cars to drive. You do pay a Toyota premium, so you might want to look at Nissans and Mazdas too.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:45 AM on November 26, 2009

Everyone wants a cheap car that has good mileage/fuel efficiency, so you will need to look hard and act fast.

You will have to do a lot of research, but don't act before you are comfortable. It may be hard to find a great deal on a Corolla (for example), but letting a possibly-great deal slip by isn't the end of the world. Toyota pumps them out like crazy, so you probably won't have to wait more than a few weeks before you find another amazing deal.

[personally, I prefer ~10 year old European cars, but you need to do a lot more research and more careful negotiation to find a good car. Japanese cars are much easier to buy and own]
posted by b1tr0t at 10:51 AM on November 26, 2009

For not much more that price, when my mom needed replacement for the minivan, I had her get a '98 Honda Accord. You really can't go wrong with the basic Honda (Accord/Civic) or Toyota (Corolla/Camry) options, although a Mazda or Nissan of the same vintage is probably going to be similarly reliable and low mpg and probably a bit cheaper.

Consumer Reports has a good Used Car section, and a service you can buy for three months while you look.
posted by dhartung at 11:10 AM on November 26, 2009

Hyundai should not be overlooked. If you just want something small, you can get a not-too-old Accent in your price range easy. One thing I check is model reliability ratings from two sources. One is by Googling the make and model with the word reliability (e.g. Hyundai accent reliaibilty) and finding the link. It will tell you problems that have a history of showing up on a vehicle. The other place I check is here: O'Rielly Auto ratings. This is from an auto parts chain and Hyundai vehicles score as well or better than anything, including Toyota or Honda.
posted by azpenguin at 10:19 PM on November 26, 2009

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