Help me (reluctantly) choose a first car!
June 22, 2011 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Help me (reluctantly) choose a first car!

I'd always wanted to be a lifelong cyclist/transit sort of guy, but that looks impossible for next year. Despite having an awesome teaching year on a one-year contract, I'm going to be doing double(ish)-duty between two schools next year.

Here are the relevant (?) details. Apologies if this is overkill, but would love help.

30 year-old Canadian male, teacher. Will be making 83% (yay part contracts) of ~60,000 (so about 49k before taxes).

My only debt at that time will be 150$/month towards very low-interest student loans.

Rent is 755$/month. Other than that, I don't have real costs besides necessities (beer) and luxuries (food).

I'd really rather buy something new, on financing (0% if possible). I don't have the space or experience to do much beyond basic work myself, will be very busy and need something reliable. A new car warranty also is also attractive.

For the car: I don't really care. I don't need or want fancy or fast or gadget-y. I'd rather drive something reliable and relatively inexpensive. If I could stick a bike or canoe on top, that would be ideal. I'd like something smaller and efficient. I've never driven manual, but have two very close friends that would be happy to teach.

Okay: what do I look at? What information is missing?

Thanks MeFi!
posted by iftheaccidentwill to Work & Money (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Used is much cheaper any way you look at it.
posted by smokingmonkey at 4:02 PM on June 22, 2011

Honda Fit. I don't know about the finance details for Canada, but it's reliable, sporty, has tons of space with the backseat folded down (and even with it up). I also know many who have bike racks on the back and kayak mounts on the tops (I don't know if you could fit two, though). The gas milage is good. I usually hover between 27mpg and 32. I was even at 35mpg for a road trip across (a lot of) the USA.

Good luck!
posted by raccoon409 at 4:08 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need a car that is appliance like. Simple, straightforward, reliable transportation. I would say for you a 'B" segment car is the right choice, this is the cars that are almost mini station wagons. I would go with a Honda Fit, Kia Soul or Toyota Yaris, with my strong personal preference to the Honda Fit(best car) or Kia Soul (best value). If you are living somewhere that snow is a signifcant concern maybe look at subura impreza (base model-you don't want to deal with a WRX). All of these cars are cheap and easy to maintain, have good warranties, Just about any shop can work on them and you can do the basic maintenance in the street if you are so inclined. Tires are cheap, Insurance is cheap, an active online community so you can look up how to and troubleshooting articles. For someone who needs a car but doesn't really want a car one of these three is the way to go.

The ford fiesta and chevrolet cruze are good vehicles but still working out some problems and more expensive than these without the interior space utilization you get with the B segment.

Anything bigger is just going to be overkill and cost you more in gas and hassle than you need.
posted by bartonlong at 4:08 PM on June 22, 2011

Oh, and used cars, especially in the small fuel effecient categories, are not really much cheaper than new for a variety of market reasons. When you factor in the warranty value and just the brand new car, don't have to worry about it factor go with the new right now. In a year it might be different. This is due to not a lot of cars sold in the last 3 years because of the bad economy, cash for clunkers and even fewer lease return and rental car fleet sales. There just isn't much supply for the good small cars right now. I think you can get a Honda Fit for less than 15k if you don't go crazy with options and I know you can get a Kia Soul for less if you don't get the top of the line model. Oh and definately get the manual. The cars (usually) get better fuel economy, are lighter weight and more fun to drive (automatics have more internal friction loss so feel less powerful), and are more reliable and cheaper to maintain. Good luck
posted by bartonlong at 4:13 PM on June 22, 2011

How much can you genuinely afford per month for a car, including the payment, insurance and fuel? How long do you want to spend paying for that car? Typical loans are between 36 and 60 months, stretching (higher interest) to 84. That will give you a price that you can afford. Work from there.

A used car, especially one that is a "certified" used car can be a much more cost-effective way to go. All cars lose significant value as soon as they are driven off the lot. I would consider looking at a car that is 1-2 years old with under 40,000km.

Go test drive cars, see what you think. Read all of the car buying articles at to get an idea of how many different ways a dealer will try to take your money and what others think of possible cars. Get a friend who has experience buying cars to help you out.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:16 PM on June 22, 2011

For the car: I don't really care. I don't need or want fancy or fast or gadget-y.

Honda Civic or Fit, Toyota Yaris or Corolla or Scion xD, maybe the new Ford Focus or Fiesta. Which one is best? All of them are fine, so: fuck it. Just get whichever of them you can get the best deal for the features you want. Really, if you don't really care that match then don't agonize about which is the most bestest, just go for the best deal.

Seconding that you are not likely to see disproportionate savings for a 1-2 year old used car in this market. It'll be cheaper, but not by WOW!. With various incentives, there is even a small chance that new could work out cheaper (ie, we have a 5 year 0% loan on our Mazda). I don't mean to cheer NEW! NEW! NEW!, but you should by all means look at new cars too instead of restricting yourself to used.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:32 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are going to spend a lot of time in stop-and-go conditions then you might want an automatic transmission. I say that as a stop-and-go commuter who has a manual and would not have an auto. It is simply something to consider. Autos are a bit more fragile than manuals, in general.

I can attest to Subaru reliability. Seconding the Impreza as something to consider if you happen to like, or need, AWD. You give up some mileage (or will until the 2012 model comes out, which will have quite a leap in mileage if the initial projections are to be believed).
posted by jet_silver at 4:33 PM on June 22, 2011

I did research couple of years ago for a smallish economy car and bought a Honda Fit. I couldn't be happier.
posted by snowjoe at 4:33 PM on June 22, 2011

My first car was a Toyota Yaris and I loved it. That or a Honda Fit, for exactly the reasons raccoon409 and bartonlong mentioned. Both of them have more space inside then they look from the outside, and have great gas mileage.
posted by xmts at 4:34 PM on June 22, 2011

I'd definitely go with a Kia Soul or a Honda Fit (we're considering getting a 2nd car, and I'm leaning toward the Kia Soul). They've got a nicer finish and interior quality than the Yaris and the Soul seems to be the better value of the two, with a better warranty.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:37 PM on June 22, 2011

Look at what's available in your price range online to see which features are attractive to you. The research safety. Once you've got a few ideas, go for a test drive. Resist talking numbers and refuse to make any purchases until you're done with your various driving tests. Definitely make sure you are comfortable in it. If you are tall or have wide shoulders, mini-cars like the Honda Fit are not going to be very pleasant.

If you are a large person (6'+ or broad shouldered), you can probably forget mini-cars like the Fit or Yaris. Look at larger compacts like the Honda Civic.
posted by Hylas at 4:42 PM on June 22, 2011

as an FYI, the most environmentally friendly thing you can do (though it's somewhat counterintuitive) is get an old beater (even if it's feul efficiency is far from stellar) and just drive it into the ground. see, the carbon footprint of producing a new car is generally equal to driving it for 5-10 (in some cases, even more) years.
posted by sexyrobot at 5:32 PM on June 22, 2011

Also in terms of buying new vs. used, look out for interest rates which can, on recent used cars, end up bringing the total close (if not equal) to buying new at 0-2%.
posted by ddaavviidd at 5:42 PM on June 22, 2011

The answer to this is: Honda Civic. I want to be buried next to my Civic. (I've heard only good things about the Fit, too.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:39 PM on June 22, 2011

If you are a large person (6'+ or broad shouldered), you can probably forget mini-cars like the Fit or Yaris.

The Fit is sort of amazingly roomy for a small car. I'm 6'2", 240 pounds and I'm totally comfortable in mine. Even in the back seats. Wonderful car.
posted by octothorpe at 7:46 PM on June 22, 2011

Ten year old Honda. Hands down.
posted by notsnot at 7:50 PM on June 22, 2011

I have driven two Toyota Corollas in my life (the only reason I don't still have the first one is that I sold it to my sister when I moved to New York and didn't need a car). I get great mileage, it's safe, it can handle a reasonable amount of ice and snow (it's not a Jeep--I'm assuming you don't need a Jeep). I know some more recent models had problems with sticking accelerators--I'm not sure what the status of that is. But they wouldn't be in the new models, and they also aren't a problem with older models. My car is a 2005 LE, with 80,000 miles. I'm going to keep it till it dies.

If you buy used, get one with the lowest mileage you can find.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:51 PM on June 22, 2011

Response by poster: I've been looking up reviews off of everything that's been said - thanks!

I'm still trying to decide if I like the Kia Soul. Definitely a nice price.. the Rio/Rio5 are cheaper (and nicer to my eye, but what do I know?) and the Forte is comparable.

The Fit seems alright, definitely gets high reviews. A bit more than the Soul, but not overly much. New Civics aren't that much more, either.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 8:50 PM on June 22, 2011

If you get a 2009-ish car with ~12k miles, you get the main perks of buying new (you qualify for "new" rather than "used" financing, lower rates, car comes with full bumper-to-bumper warrantee (depending on manufacturer), the mechanical reliability is indistinguishable from buying new etc. etc.

But you shave off the worst 2-3 years of depreciation.

To my mind, since (with some makes anyway) you can get all the benefits of buying new when buying gently-used, the only reason to buy new is to get factory customisation (eg a very personal choice of color, options, interior fabrics, stitching color, etc.) And that only applies to makes/models that offer a lot of customization, and to people who want it.

The difference that 2 years makes in terms of features is usually little things like a built-in hands-off phone-adaptor option becoming a bluetooth-enabled hands-off phone adaptor. Sometimes it'll make a big difference if it happens to be something that is important to you, but most of the time, not worth the depreciation.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:36 PM on June 22, 2011

Honda Civic or Fit, Toyota Yaris or Corolla or Scion xD, maybe the new Ford Focus or Fiesta. Which one is best? All of them are fine, so: fuck it.

This was our strategy when LN bought her Yaris. Worked very well and she's quite happy with the car. I'd add the Hyundai's to that list too. The only reason we didn't buy the Hyundai was that the only models available when we were looking to buy were two door. Her mother and sister have both bought Hyundais and have been vary pleased with them.

But absolutely, go by price. There are three or four choices in this category that all seem to be quite good little cars.
posted by bonehead at 5:37 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are a large person (6'+ or broad shouldered), you can probably forget mini-cars like the Fit or Yaris

I'm 6' and fairly broad-shouldered. Our Yaris is quite comfortable.
posted by bonehead at 5:38 AM on June 23, 2011

I bought a used (2007) Yaris last year and it's been great; given the way gas prices have gone up over the last year it feels like it was a really good choice. I mostly picked it because it was available from a private seller for a price I was willing to pay the week I needed to buy a car.
posted by mskyle at 6:52 AM on June 23, 2011

The Yaris is a fantastic little road trip car. Comfy to drive on long hauls, and has lots of vim on the highway. Great fuel mileage, too. I insisted Bonehead come along with me car shopping so I could get him to sit in the cars, front and back seat. The Yaris had great headspace and was comfy for a large man. The trunk is teeny, but if you get the hatchback it ceases to be a problem. For reference, I can get my keyboard, stand and stool, plus a bag full of sheet music in the trunk without having to put the seat down.

If, however, your criteria is how much stuff you can fit in the trunk of your car, well, there's a reason why Honda called its car the "Fit". I've never seen a roomier small car. A bike would go in there, no problem at all.

The Hyundai was also good, lots of trunk space, tough-as-nails little car, but I found it less responsive on the road - harder to get up to speed and less responsive going around turns. The Toyota and the Honda were much better.
posted by LN at 6:52 AM on June 23, 2011

Oh and it was my first car in five years. Before that I had a Civic, which was also great, and which I bought new; I did not want to buy a new car again.
posted by mskyle at 6:52 AM on June 23, 2011

If you are a large person (6'+ or broad shouldered),

This 6'+ broad-shouldered fella has no problem with his wife's Nissan Versa, which slots into the same segment as the Fit and Yaris. Fairly fun, reliable, good mileage, and(in my opinion, of course) better in the looks department than the Fit or Yaris.

There's also Mazda's new subcompact, the Mazda 2. I can't speak from experience, but if I were in the market I would be checking it out.
posted by owtytrof at 2:11 PM on June 23, 2011

I've always had good luck with Volkswagons; right now I've got a 2003 GTI with 80,000 miles on it that still runs like a dream. Fits me, my husband, the dog, and a bunch of groceries with no problems.
posted by crowyhead at 10:46 AM on June 24, 2011

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