I want to buy a really boring car.
February 19, 2011 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I have about $9k to spend. What car should I buy? And where should I buy it?

My beloved 1997 Toyota Corolla is on its last legs, and needs to be replaced. The $9k is in cash--I'd really rather not be making car payments.
--I'm open to pretty much anything, as long as it's reliable and gets good gas mileage. I'm assuming this means a compact.
--I live in the city, and commute about 30 miles a day on the freeway with little traffic. Periodically I drive about an hour and a half to visit my parents in the mountains, but I don't do a lot of long-distance driving.
--I don't care much about styling; I'd prefer a sedan but anything with 4 doors is fine.
--I HATE buying cars, so I want to be able to keep this one as long as possible. (I've had the current one for 12 years.) Basically I want to buy it and then think about it as little as possible. I'm not a big car person at all--it just needs to do its job.

And because I hate the car-buying process, what's the most painless way to go about it? Jut the thought of going to a car dealership makes me queasy.
posted by exceptinsects to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
No matter what repairs are needed, it's almost always cheaper to keep the car you already have. And, honestly, with $9,000, you could fix almost anything that's wrong with a '97 Corolla and have enough money left for a brand new engine.

If you want a different car, you want a different car--but if you just want any car, putting some money into the car you already have might be worth considering.
posted by box at 9:12 AM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I bought a Mazda3 in a similar situation and budget. I'm pretty happy with it.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:36 AM on February 19, 2011

A 2005 Corolla?
posted by thilmony at 10:15 AM on February 19, 2011

My car buying philosophy is pretty much the same as yours. What I've done, for the last three cars, is buy a Corolla, drive it until it's near dead, pull into a good Toyota dealer's pre-owned lot, and trade it in on a newer one. It may not be much, but even with a near-dead car they will give you some trade-in credit for it. I would think that with the trade-in value and $9000 cash, you should be able to come away with a new car and no payments, but just barely.
posted by chez shoes at 11:05 AM on February 19, 2011

I agree with box about just spend the money fixing your current car. 9k would even buy you a new engine with 4k left over. Your corolla is from what I consider to be a golden age of cars out of japan. They are light weight, great gas mileage, have reasonable power and are very well built. They are fairly simple compared to modern cars. Replacement parts like tires and brakes are cheap and readily available. There are a LOT in junkyards to pull parts from, they even do fairly well in most crash tests (and really well compared to other cars of similar vintage) Their only weak point was usually paint and interiors, but any car after 14 years of use is going to show some interior wear. The only way I would recommend getting rid of your car is if you have more than 300k on it.

As far as a replacement, get a 5 year old Honda civic or Toyota corolla or a slightly older camry or accord. Get the mid level model with a manual transmission. Manual usually get better gas mileage, are more reliable and are cheaper to repair (you do have to periodically replace clutches, but driven right the clutch can last over 100k easy, I have gotten 200k out of clutches). If you don't know how to drive a manual, view it as a useful new skill to acquire. I personally think it is high on the list of bad-assery to be able to drive a manual transmission really well. Try to avoid high level luxury options on older cars-they break first and are usually really expensive to repair. Things like power seats, air suspension, special high performance models and so on. If you are really a drive it tell the wheels fall off kinda guy, but a new car, but a base model of the above cars. They are usually cheap (although more than 9k certainly) and one of the few times it is worth it to buy a new car is when you are going to keep it for years (like 10 or more) and have a high down payment (like 50% or more).
posted by bartonlong at 11:05 AM on February 19, 2011

Response by poster: I would keep the current one, but it has 210k miles on it and needs some expensive body work after a fender-bender (it looks ok but the headlights are kind of messed up and will require pretty major work to fix, apparently).
I could just keep fixing things, but it's becoming more and more of a thing I have to think about, which I would rather not have.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:11 AM on February 19, 2011

A newer Corolla, Honda Civic, and whatever the Toyota version of the recent-day econobox is. Around here (SF), Craigslist shows $8-9K Corollas being of the mid-2000's vintage.
posted by rhizome at 11:33 AM on February 19, 2011

Until you said 4 doors, my thought was 2004-5 Mini Cooper.
posted by Night_owl at 4:56 PM on February 19, 2011

I really do love my Mazda3 - practical and fun.

Though I certainly wouldn't rule out something like a Ford Focus, Chevy Cobalt, Chevy Aveo, or even a Kia. These cars will have depreciated a bit more than the competing Honda/Toyota models, and you'll probably be able to get something newer with less miles. I see a loaded 2009 Aveo with 37K miles for $9599 on CarMax, just as a data point. Assuming 10-15K miles a year and regular maintenance, it would probably be quite a while before you'd be looking at buying another car.
posted by itheearl at 7:56 AM on February 20, 2011

I just got a 2001 Toyota Echo with 117,000 miles on it for around $3000. It's amazing. They are a bit smaller than the Corolla, but they are built to run forever. 40 MPG. Toyota stopped making the Echo in 2005, so they can be a little hard to find, but if you can find one in your area either from a private seller or a dealer (or even on Ebay) leap on it. Other than that, just get a newer Corolla or a Toyota Scion, which is another smallish, sturdy car.
posted by Rocket26 at 9:39 AM on February 20, 2011

For reliability you can't deny the longevity in Japanese cars. Although the gold standards are Honda and Toyota, I'd recommend looking for a low-mileage Mazda 3. Mazdas are a little out of the mainstream, as they tend to focus on buyers who want something a bit "sportier", and I think this lowers their resale values more than Toyota and Honda. This makes them a relative bargain in the used car market.

I've purchased three Mazdas through the years and they are amazing cars. Two of them have close to 100,000 miles and still don't rattle or feel old at all. Cost to maintain are typical of Japanese cars. One caveat, gas mileage tends to be a bit lower than comparable cars but I don't think it would be a deal breaker.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 9:43 AM on February 20, 2011

Response by poster: To follow up: I ended up buying a 2005 Corolla LE. I love it!
posted by exceptinsects at 2:21 PM on May 8, 2011

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