Help me help my girlfriend purchase the right car for her.
October 28, 2010 8:47 PM   Subscribe

Help me help my girlfriend purchase the right car for her.

Both my girlfriend and I are inexperienced drivers and we know little about the car buying process. Her company is relocating--from NYC to a Jersey suburb--in the middle of December, so she needs a car soon.

We're not sure what would be a better option for an inexperienced driver: should she go used or new?

She believes new would be better because less money would be spent on maintaining the car and also because it reduces the possibility of an accident (of course, only time can tell for a new driver).

I, on the other hand, don't think she has the money to afford a new car, especially when she hasn't even looked at her budget (I'm pestering her about this). But I can tell you there isn't much room. Fortunately, she does have about $10,000 saved up.

I know there are a multitude of other factors (e.g. insurance) to consider but please share with me your best tips as well as answering the previously stated question of going used or new.

BTW, she is a NJ resident and she is not a US citizen.
posted by AngryTypingGuy to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How does she reckon a new car reduces the possibility of an accident??

A 2004 Honda Civic can be had for under $10k and it would likely last her another five-six years with proper maintenance. Having no payment not only saves her the interest but also on insurance.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:50 PM on October 28, 2010

Don't see much point in getting a brand new one in this situation. One with a few years on it that has been well-maintained should suit her fine, and the car will likely have done the majority of its devaluation if it's 3+ years old.
posted by asciident at 9:02 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: She thinks that if she were to get into an accident (just a matter of time) with a used car, it's possible that the car could be at some fault. Of course, for a new driver how could you know? I'm trying to get her to understand this part.

Newb question: What do you mean when you say no payment?
posted by AngryTypingGuy at 9:03 PM on October 28, 2010

Get a few years' old Honda Civic, I think the only year to avoid is 2006. Otherwise you can't go wrong.
posted by contessa at 9:05 PM on October 28, 2010

Nthing a used Honda Civic. Bulletproof, reliable, safe cars.
posted by zippy at 9:08 PM on October 28, 2010

Response by poster: Also, are certified used cars worth the extra cost?
posted by AngryTypingGuy at 9:14 PM on October 28, 2010

When they say no payment, it's because you could get the car for under the amount of money you say she has saved up.
posted by Night_owl at 9:14 PM on October 28, 2010

new would be better because less money would be spent on maintaining the car

While it might be true that a used car might cost slightly more in maintenance, that doesn't mean it's financially savvy. You will spend WAY, WAY more money buying new than used when all factors are considered.

with a used car, it's possible that the car could be at some fault.

You compare safety based on the design: for example, car A has anti-lock brakes, car B doesn't. Car A has side-impact airbags, car B doesn't. Car A got a 5 star crash rating, car B got only 4. While it's true that really older cars lacked a number of these design features, we're most likely taking about a car that's 3 to 5 years old which will have all the safety features of a new car, so being used doesn't really factor into anything. It's simply irrational to think that because a car is a few years old that it's not as safe as a new one. If you are worried about safety systems that might have broken and which the owner didn't repair, that is why you get any used car inspected by an independent mechanic first before buying it.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:20 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Truthfully, very few accidents are ever the cars fault. Especially with new drivers.

Get a used Honda or Toyoda from a dealer, then keep up on maintenance and you should get years out of it. I drive a 15 year old Acura and the only problems it has had are cosmetic. Before I had a 15 year old Honda accord, the only problem it had was someone making an illegal left turn in front of me across a highway when I was not expecting it.

Also, brand new cars end up with all kinds of problems and defects too, those are all just under warranty. A used car that is just a few years old will be like a new car with all the kinks worked out.
posted by token-ring at 9:25 PM on October 28, 2010

Buy a subscription to Run the numbers. Used car. Without a doubt.

There's zero correlation to new cars vs. used cars in terms of safety in causing an accident. The likelihood of a car causing an accident is infinitesimal. Drivers and circumstances cause accidents. A safe used vehicle is right up her alley.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:32 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should look at Hyundai as well. Consumer Reports ranks them right up there with Honda as far as reliability, yet they have a horrendous depreciation rate. This makes them an excellent value for used cars. Maybe check out a Sonata, since the body style just changed?

I drive a 2003 Santa Fe and it has been a flawless car. I got it used and it has a ton of extras I wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise.
posted by Ostara at 9:32 PM on October 28, 2010

Oh, and if your girlfriend is afraid of accidents, Hyundai and BMW had the best safety ratings in a recent test.
posted by Ostara at 9:34 PM on October 28, 2010

Used cars are usually cheaper. When you are buying a car that has really low depreciation and high demand (eg Toyota pickup, recent Subaru's, many Honda's, etc), sometimes a new car can be cheaper when you consider manufacturer's incentives, etc. Those are pretty specific situations; the general rule of used = cheaper is almost always true.

However, you then have to figure in hard to monetize questions like "how much safer is a 2004 Honda Civic compared to a 2011 Honda Civic?" Anytime you buy a car that has been more recently (re)designed, there are more safety features and more benefits... but you pay more. It's easy to say how much more you pay; it's really hard to quantify how much safer or more reliable you are with a newer car.

So sorry, there's not a simple answer to this, which is probably unsurprising given that there are something like 250 models of cars for sale in the US right now and a bunch more if you start counting used cars.
posted by Forktine at 9:52 PM on October 28, 2010

Nthing buy used. Also spend some time looking at Edmunds and Consumer Reports. The latter organization has an excellent car buying advice section on their website. Cars are not like other consumer goods that you and your girlfriend are likely to have experience with; the price on the window is what the dealer hopes you'll pay, not what it really has to cost.

When you're looking at used car values on sites like Edmunds, notice that there's universally a huge spread between the typical trade-in value and dealer retail prices for any given car. Trade-in values are low because many people buying newer cars would rather not have to sell their old one themselves, so they accept a low price to save the grief and time of negotiating Craigslist. Dealer retail prices are then inflated for a variety of reasons, very few of which are related to any costs the dealer might have incurred or any lasting value actually delivered to the customer. The dealer might spend a couple hundred bucks detailing the car so it shines inside and out, then put a sticker on the windshield for $3000 more than they paid for it. They'll love you if you just point and say, 'I want that one,' and pay the sticker price, but they'll sell it to you for much less; they've got thousands of dollars in wiggle room, and a small profit is better than no profit. You can save more by negotiating on the day you buy the car than you can by seeking out cheap gas for several years afterward.

The only time the car itself is likely to "cause" an accident is if you've seriously neglected the maintenance and ignored warning signs as some problem has gradually gotten worse. If you're the type to say to yourself, while cruising around in your 15 year old, 150K-mile hooptie, 'my brakes aren't working as well as they used to, but I don't want to spend money on a mechanic so I'll just live with it for now," then yes, the age of the car can contribute to an accident. But only with your complicity. I don't get the impression that your gf is likely to act that way.

FWIW, I drove a string of $300 cars over several years, and the only accident I ever got into was when I was rear-ended while sitting at a stop sign.
posted by jon1270 at 3:26 AM on October 29, 2010

besides a used honda civic a used toyota corolla will also work. I have a 2004 toyota corolla i bought new and it has about 80k miles on it and has had not a single thing wrong with it and still going strong.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:53 AM on October 29, 2010

In 2007 I got a 91 Lexus ls400 with about 90,000 miles on it for $2500. Besides standard maintenance stuff (brake pads, etc) I haven't ever had any problems. I've put well over 40,000 miles on it since then, and I'm pretty sure it'll last until at least 225-250k.

Nthing buy used.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:17 AM on October 29, 2010

While safety is a paramount concern, your girlfriend is addressing it incorrectly. She is basically a new and inexperienced driver; the most likely cause of an accident is her, not some part of a second hand car magically exploding or falling off.

She wants something that is safe, economical, inexpensive to insure and not particularly shiny bait for theft. A new car only ticks one of those boxes; a second hand car can tick all of them. I absolutely understand the anxiety about getting a used car and spending a lot of time and maintenance money on it, but the Civics, Corollas and Hyundais being suggested are very reliable, well-built cars that should mitigate against this with proper maintenance.

You should always have any second hand car you are interested in purchasing looked at by an independent mechanic.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:23 AM on October 29, 2010

You should always have any second hand car you are interested in purchasing looked at by an independent mechanic.

This cannot be stressed strongly enough, even when buying a very reliable recent-model car like a Honda Civic or similar Toyota. It is absolutely worth the $50-100 to have a third party take a look at what you're going to be paying thousands of dollars for. A co-worker recently skipped this step because he was buying a 2 or 3 year old Subaru and didn't think it could have much wrong with it yet -- and very much regretted it later.
posted by aught at 8:42 AM on October 29, 2010

For a tight budget, like others above, I'd recommend a 2-3 year old used, reliable car as well -- Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Hyundai. Recent-year models have pretty much the same safety features as a new car you can buy today. Here are the safety features that Consumer Reports recommends looking out for.

While I do love the idea of getting a car without a loan and having no car payments, if the savings total $10k, I'd highly recommend looking at an auto loan, especially because of the ultra-low interest rates. Some credit unions are offering rates as low as 2.65% APR, but more realistically you should be able to get a 4-5% rate with good credit. A loan would help with the cash flow situation instead of locking up all the savings into the car.

This previous AskMeFi discussing small cars might be helpful as well.
posted by thewildgreen at 9:28 AM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for your input, everyone!
posted by AngryTypingGuy at 11:40 PM on November 8, 2010

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