In search of a motor vehicle that can take what I dish out
September 14, 2012 11:29 AM   Subscribe

Help my find my dream motor vehicle: I want a durable and dependable ride that can take a fair amount of abuse and is cheap to fix. What do I need?

I know next to nothing about vehicles.

I will have ~$2,000 for a down payment. My car payment can’t exceed $265/mo. I will either be leasing or getting a loan for a used car.

I’m really hard on cars. I have heavy foot, hit a lot of potholes, and drive on a variety of terrain. I live in the New York, so I’m driving in all kinds of weather. I currently drive a 2006 WV Beetle with 65k on the odometer, and it’s not working out. It’s fun to drive, but it’s neither dependable, durable, or cheap to fix.

Honda Civic/Accord and Toyota Camry/Carolla are not options I will consider. Been there, done that, not what I need.

What do you recommend?
posted by pupus to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Prius is quite reliable. Not having a transmission helps. The engine runs at optimal speed at all time, or the engine is off.

The Prius also gets much better mileage in the city, due to regenerative braking.

I've driven my 2008 (bought used) for a year in Montreal (that's one winter), and haven't had thing wrong with it yet.
posted by musofire at 11:32 AM on September 14, 2012

A used Jeep Cherokee, assuming it is in good shape and not suffering from undercarriage rust, may be what you want. Bulletproof engine, very durable, built to go off road, And with enough of an enthusiast base to keep parts available and inexpensive.

I bought mine for $3k, put another $5k into lifting it slightly, upgrading th suspension, and beefing up the bumpers. It would survive a war.
posted by ellF at 11:36 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Jeep Cherokee isn't a bad idea. They're easy to find.

How many seats/doors do you need? Do you need large amounts of road clearance? Do you haul yourself/people/stuff? How much do you care about fuel costs?
posted by Giggilituffin at 11:39 AM on September 14, 2012

It's truly unfair the amount of abuse I put my 1999 Chevy S-10 through. I can't vouch for the more recent Colorado, but this truck was cheap to begin with and up until this year cost me only regular maintenance (oil change, etc.) fees. I did sink about 2grand into it this year, but on the expectation that it'll go another 100,000 miles or another 12 years without much else going wrong.
posted by carsonb at 11:39 AM on September 14, 2012

Honda Civic/Accord and Toyota Camry/Carolla are not options I will consider

It's hard to answer without knowing what you dislike about these cars, since they are famous for meeting all of your criteria.

I love my Toyota Yaris; just drove it 3000 miles through the Western U.S. with no problems, including hours of unpaved roads in Northern Montana. But if you don't like Camrys you probably wouldn't like a Yaris either.

In my experience, direct and anecdotal, the Jeep brand is absolutely synonymous with lack of reliability
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:49 AM on September 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

I like my 2002 Ford Focus a lot. I live on an unpaved road and I commute 25 miles each way on back roads, so it takes a lot of abuse. It's 10 years old now and I've never had to do anything outside of regular oil changes except for replacing the front sway bars and struts earlier this year. Also, I rear-ended someone on the highway a couple years back and despite needing $3k in body work, it's still fine AND I barely even felt the impact. I get about 28mpg in mixed city/highway driving. It's not fancy, but it is very reliable and cheap to own.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:53 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

In my experience, direct and anecdotal, the Jeep brand is absolutely synonymous with lack of reliability

Modern Jeeps? Sure. The I6 in the XJ (Cherokee) is known to go for >300,000 miles, and aside from a head issue in the 2000/2001 models, it was and remains one of the most reliable vehicles ever made. Likewise for older Wranglers (pre-2006).
posted by ellF at 11:56 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

May I suggest a late-model used Subaru? Will last forever, wonderful in all types of weather and can handle off-roading, albeit not serious stuff that a Jeep would get through.

If you want something less beefy than a truck or Jeep, a Subaru is your best option hands-down.
posted by InsanePenguin at 11:59 AM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Toyota Hilux? Good enough for war zones all over the world.
posted by echo target at 12:02 PM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

My friends have had awful luck with Subarus. They're awesome til they're not, and then they're expensive to fix, even after every wrong diagnosis has been fixed.

I have friends with old (pre-2000) CRVs that put them through hell- like, up steep, overgrown fire roads on a daily basis.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:03 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Tacoma is the US version of the Toyota Hilux, and it certainly worth a look if you can get over the no Toyotas thing.
posted by InsanePenguin at 12:24 PM on September 14, 2012

Sounds like you might want a Rav-4 or a CRV. Still in the Honda/Toyota-reliable/cheap to fix wheelhouse, but can be beat all to hell.

Either that or get a chevy pick up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:41 PM on September 14, 2012

2nd the Ford Focus; "not fancy," yes, but amazingly reliable here. I am constantly parking next to my own car so assume I'm not the only one pleased with them. The wagon hauls a lot and gets good mileage. Mine has 176k and various abuses on it, and it failed to start only once (thoughtfully, on a lazy Sunday and in my own driveway) and the problem was solved for $60.
posted by kmennie at 12:52 PM on September 14, 2012

I've got a couple friends in Subarus and I second, they're great...until they're not. Also, I went looking for one a couple years back and even old, used, high mileage models still costed a fortune.

I would recommend a Jeep though, older model. My parents had an 89 model and a 92 model and both were stellar effing vehicles. My father has little knowledge about cars and was still able to fix 'em up when something went wrong. We put literally hundreds of thousands of miles on those puppies and they were the best.

Also, this won't seem to fit your cheap to fix criteria but I've been driving a 1992 BMW for two years now and that thing has been a champ. Before this one I owned an 85, my brothers owned an 89 and my sister owned a new-ish model. We all love them. My 89 had nearly 400,000 miles on it when I sold it for a grand. Go with a late 80s-early 90s model, I'd suggest, skip any special junk if you could (automatic windows, etc.), and absolutely buy a manual (do not, DO NOT buy an automatic). If you could find a good used one for cheap you'd love it, I bet. Plus, at least in my area, they retain their resale value insanely well. I've made but one repair to mine in the past two years and it was a hose replacement, which I (a girl with absolutely no knowledge of cars and just a Chilton's manual in hand, did all by myself).
posted by youandiandaflame at 1:36 PM on September 14, 2012

No offense, really, but why are you hitting "a lot" of potholes? Are you driving new routes every day? I'm really trying not to be aggressive, but if you really are constantly hitting potholes, that is a sign that you are not watching your overall surroundings enough and are risking accidents more than you should. I don't mean just from hitting potholes, but from really running into other things or vehicles. I used to drive in Detroit (pothole city!) for work, and I still probably only hit a pothole hard enough to notice a few times a year, if that.

That being said, to more directly answer your questions : Ford Ranger, Chevy S-10, Ford Escort (I have a '95 that just hangs in there). Toyotas with a 22R are supposed to be indestructible engine-wise. Toyota 4Runners up to 1995 have the 22R.

Good luck on your search!
posted by Slothrop at 1:40 PM on September 14, 2012

If you're okay at fixing things yourself at all, 1980s diesel Mercedes are cheap, durable, and fixable. They are EVERYwhere around the SF Bay Area.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:16 PM on September 14, 2012

The I6 in the XJ (Cherokee) is known to go for >300,000 miles, and aside from a head issue in the 2000/2001 models, it was and remains one of the most reliable vehicles ever made. Likewise for older Wranglers (pre-2006).

My '99 Wrangler's engine blew up on the freeway at 75K miles, just sayin'.
posted by i'm offended you're offended at 2:24 PM on September 14, 2012

Ford Panther platform. You've seen them as taxis, police cars, and fleet vehicles.
posted by jet_silver at 2:26 PM on September 14, 2012

I think there are two different criteria here.
One is reliability, and Toyota and Honda are great in that respect.
But the second is that you abuse your vehicles in physical ways, and passenger cars are not built for that.
I think you need something that is built on a heavy-duty platform, such as a pickup or a full-size SUV. Something designed to go off-road and handle potholes.
For further opinions, consult Click and Clack on their radio show or their website.
posted by exphysicist345 at 3:33 PM on September 14, 2012

Best answer: In my experience, direct and anecdotal, the Jeep brand is absolutely synonymous with lack of reliability

Modern Jeeps? Sure. The I6 in the XJ (Cherokee) is known to go for >300,000 miles, and aside from a head issue in the 2000/2001 models, it was and remains one of the most reliable vehicles ever made. Likewise for older Wranglers (pre-2006)

The engines/transmissions/axles in jeeps are outstanding (assuming you don't put on huge tires or something like that) and will outlast most vehicles and run longer poorly than most vehicles will run at all. However the rest of the build quality on jeeps suck. Door hings break (all too common on Cherokees) door locks and window switches stop work, window motors burn out, more rattles and squeaks than feeding time at the snake house, they tend to be easy to overheat as they age and in stop and go traffic. and they leak like 60's british sports car-enough so rust isn't usually a problem because the entire underside has several quarts of oil on it. This is after a lifetime of running and fixing jeeps from a 50's willys cabover to a 2006 liberty. Jeeps are great for the mechanically inclined maniac-not for the urban commuter.

They are easy to fix though if you don't mind getting dirty and are willing to learn how to. The last few years of the cherokee are some of the best jeeps ever made and parts are easy to find and cheap.

My two suggestions are 1. stop abusing cars. It is easy to do, pays huge dividends regardless of the car you drive and makes you a safer and better driver. It is just pouring money down the drain for no good reason.
2. get a crossover SUV like a CRV or RAV4. I think the first two generations of CRV are the best of these-small, light, lots of room, based on the honda civic and parts are easy and cheap and every mechanic knows how to work on them. I think they stopped making the second generation in 2003 or so. A good second choice from this would be a 2wd ford ranger with the 4 cylinder. Not nearly as comfortable as the crossovers but tough as nails, cheap and easy to repair. 3. whatever you get maybe buy it from somewhere that doesn't have lots of salt on the roads in the winter-like florida or texas or arizona. It makes a HUGE difference in long term reliability and when you get this pristine rust free vehicle, WASH it in the winter as much as you can to keep the salt off and stop the corrosion.

But no matter what car you get if you don't take care of it it will break down and be unreliable. They are complicated mechanical devices with LOTS of moving parts.
posted by bartonlong at 4:24 PM on September 14, 2012

posted by BadMiker at 6:28 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

My car payment can’t exceed $265/mo.

If your budget is calculated to the exact dollar, then don't forget operating expenses - which, these days, is mostly the price of gas.

Depending on what vehicle you choose (and, obviously, how much you'll be driving...), you could pay (say) either $100 or $300 per month at the gas pump. At $4/gallon, gas mileage makes a significant difference in your vehicle options. I know people whose monthly gas bill is more than their car payment.

E.g.: $265/month car payment, 1,000 miles of driving per month, and gas at $4/gallon:
20 mpg = 50 gallons of gas, $200 per month.
40 mpg = 25 gallons of gas, $100 per month.

Gas is already $4/gallon. There's no guarantee it won't go UP, either.

posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 1:49 PM on September 15, 2012

Response by poster: My gas bill has been more than my car payment for the last two years :(
posted by pupus at 10:35 AM on September 16, 2012

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