No Cars Go
May 23, 2010 7:49 PM   Subscribe

EMERGENCY! My car is about to go kablewy (as in any day now), and I have to commute 30 miles a day to work. I can't live without a car, and seeing as hubby and I just moved, we have no savings or nest egg to fall back on. We are looking for an affordable, fuel efficient, used car around $6000ish. IYHO: Who's the best used car dealer in town?

Before you suggest it, Craigslist is sadly not an option. We don't have the money in hand to shell out to a private party, we are going to have to finance (as loathsome as that sounds) and rely on the kablewy car as a trade in if possible. This is Seattle, and I work second shift in Snohomish county, so mass transit isn't an option (it would take 2 hrs, 5 buses, and almost $8 each way). I am disabled, so I am not riding a bike 30 miles in the rain either.

We had been looking at gas/electric hybrids at The Green Car Company prior to this, but they don't seem to have any inventory at the moment.

Any one have any sellers they would recommend? Good experiences?
posted by evilcupcakes to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm confused why you think that it's not possible to finance a private party transaction. It's done fairly regularly and any bank would be able to work it out.
posted by saeculorum at 7:58 PM on May 23, 2010

What saeculroum said -- you can still finance a private party transaction. If your current bank is giving you the run-around, go to a credit union.

Once that's taken care of, the best you can do is a reliable Japanese car that is cheap to repair if anything goes wrong. You can get a late 90's Camry for about $6000 (disclaimer: be careful, of course -- you need to have a mechanic check out the car, i.e. change the transmission fluid and you can kind of judge wear and tear on it by looking at the old fluid). Corolla's are also incredibly reliable and will hold up to the harsher climates. Ditto with Honda Accords and Civics. Avoid Nissan, they tend to be driven hard and their transmissions give out because they use generally more powerful engines.

It sounds like you're in a hurry, but again, be vigilant and thorough when checking out the car. Look for any rust on the frame, any weird noises from the engine, make sure it accelerates well, etc. Paying a mechanic $100 to inspect any car in question is a sound investment.
posted by spiderskull at 8:04 PM on May 23, 2010

evilcupcakes, don't freak out. I'm pretty sure that over in Bremerton you'll be able to find something that's probably cheaper than $6K. Look for one of those "buy-sell-trade" places that cater to military folks.
posted by snsranch at 8:21 PM on May 23, 2010

You can also hire an inspector to come inspect any car you are planning to buy - I am told most dealerships are familiar with them and for very little money, you can have greater peace of mind.
I had my 1996 Corolla inspected when I bought it in 1998. It just passed away this year. In my experience, toyotas last a looong time. (My 1st car, a Tercel, lasted 10 years)
posted by pointystick at 8:28 PM on May 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

It's called a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI) and it's most common when buying a classic/collector/sports car, such as a Porsche. You take the car to a shop that specializes in the make or model and they inspect it. In the case of a Toyota, it would make sense to take it to Toyota, but for older cars this same logic doesn't always hold true, as is the case with a good independent shop. The PPI should cost between $150-$280.

Honestly, the way reliability is moving, you'd be much better off with a newer car rather than a specific brand of older car. A late '90s Toyota is a machine with ten years of wear. While the quality of these era Toyotas are high, after a decade of use there are parts that are simply bound to fail—brakes, bushes, sensors, etc. I hope Jon-o will chime in here with some support, but I'd recommend a newer: Focus, Honda, Toyota, or Nissan. I'd buy a Focus or a Vibe and be done with it.

Get a full service history. This is repeated as a mantra ad nauseum in the car world, but it holds true: a car that has been properly looked after is always better than a car with a mysterious past.
posted by luckypozzo at 9:41 PM on May 23, 2010

What makes you think your car is going to go kablewy?
Did you decide this yourself, or did someone tell you?
There are many, many repairs on cars that are lifesaving,
and cost less than a thousand bucks.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:17 PM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Rent a car for a couple of weeks and don't get rushed into buying a car.
Rushing=trouble. Get the new car inspected....
posted by lalochezia at 12:39 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

As noted above, you should be able to buy from a private seller. The bank / credit union will only lend you an amount equal to or less than the estimated value of the car. Dealer markups are much higher than private sellers, so you can afford more car from a private seller than you can from a dealer. Consider that at a $6k price point you're looking at older cars in the as-is / no warranty category. The only benefit you'll get by buying from a dealer is speed and convenience. Very expensive speed and convenience.
posted by jon1270 at 3:22 AM on May 24, 2010

We just bought a used car in the exact price range you describe. We ended up with a 2003 Mazda Protege 5 with 89,000 miles. It was owned by an engineer who seemed to take very good care of the mechanicals. The outside of the car was also cosmetically very, very nice. The only downside was the interior was quite messy as he had four children. My wife and I spent an afternoon cleaning and detailing the interior and now the whole thing is quite sharp. If you can possibly be a little patient, you can get something good. We used Craigslist and found the car within a few days (although I had been looking for a few weeks to get a feel for Craigslist).

We used the 09 Consumer Reports booklet that had ratings going back to 2002 or so. It also has a basic list of recommended cars in the 4-6000 range. The Protege5 was on the list, as were your usual Corollas, Camrys, Civics, Accords, etc. Newer Hyundai Elantras might work for you or some newer Kias and Suzukis. Generally for any given price, we found, you could get a two or three years newer Hyundai/Kia/Suzuki than you could Honda/Toyota.

One last tip, that I rarely see people mention : look for a used car with few options. Find one with a manual transmission, roll-up windows, non-power seats, etc. Obviously you want airbags, but those other comfort options are just waiting to break in my opinion...
posted by Slothrop at 4:29 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

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