I need a very inexpensive beater car for short drivers.
April 26, 2013 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I have up to $2000 at my disposal, and need a sedan or 5-door hatchback/wagon that can accommodate drivers 4'9" - 5'. My early 2000's mid-size American sedan does have a tilting steering column. However, since it does not telescope, when the driver adjusts the seat forward, the steering wheel is too close to their chest to be safe, and they still can't see much over the steering wheel. Using seat cushions means not having enough reach to use the pedals. Any advice to models to keep an eye out for or solutions pertaining to height would be appreciated!

There are a few Crown Victorias that we'll be looking at, but those cars would get worse mileage my current 22MPG average with mixed highway/city driving. 3000 miles per month would add up, although something might be said for reliability.
posted by Giggilituffin to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a list from Consumer Reports.

Here's an article from Edmunds (2008, but relevant).

I'd recommend the Honda Fit, but I don't think you'll be able to find one in your price range.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:13 AM on April 26, 2013

Toyota Tercel? They're pretty tiny, and you could probably find one in not totally-used-up condition for $2000. I'm sure they are/were driven by a lot of 5'0" Japanese people.
posted by thewalrus at 7:15 AM on April 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks Ruthless. I've seen both of those. Any of the in-person examples I've seen from those have prices well above the $4,000 mark, mainly because the best cars from those lists are luxury models like Lexus and BMW. Even a 2000 Civic with 100k goes for $4500 here.

Most likely what I'm looking for are models from the mid to late 90's.
posted by Giggilituffin at 7:41 AM on April 26, 2013

How's your credit? Because I think you need a loan so you can get a better car. 3000 miles a month is a ton of driving. Reliability, so that you aren't constantly taking your beater to mechanics, worrying about unexpected expenses, and having to go car shopping all over again every year, has got to be worth some interest payments. The fuel savings may offset the cost of the loan anyhow.
posted by jon1270 at 8:08 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

My wife is under 5', and we have a VW Golf.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:08 AM on April 26, 2013

You don't want a specific model. You want whatever car on Craigslist is selling for the best deal. Someone needs to get rid of a car *today* that's worth $2500 or $3000 so that they don't need to drag it across the country with them while they move (or whatever), and is willing to take a loss on it. Buy that car, it doesn't matter if its a Toyota Corrola or a Fore Focus. This is the best way to get a cheap car in decent shape - the difference between a $2000 and $3000 car is big, and you'd rather have a car of a less desirable if its in condition that might warrant the higher rather than lower price.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:10 AM on April 26, 2013

I am 4'11" and I drive a 2004 Hyundai Accent. Steering wheel doesn't telescope but it's low and close in enough anyway. Seat goes more than far enough forward for me.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:18 AM on April 26, 2013

a run of the mill compact car should fit the bill and save on mileage. Kia sephia is one example.
posted by jander03 at 10:10 AM on April 26, 2013

Response by poster: Jon1270, last year I went to get a loan through my bank and they said my credit history was too short. It's still above 700, when I checked last month.
posted by Giggilituffin at 12:28 PM on April 26, 2013

last year I went to get a loan through my bank and they said my credit history was too short.

Ah, well I suggest you ask again, at more than one bank / credit union, and maybe see what you can do to build a credit history if it's just not feasible to borrow anything right now. A beater would be better than an overpriced car with an overpriced loan from one of those lots that cater to desperate customers with bad credit, but a decent car funded with a non-scammy loan may be very worthwhile. I say this as someone who dislikes debt and who has owned, fixed and driven a lot of beaters. I've gotten away with it because I know something about car repair and can almost always spot problems before they strand me somewhere, and because I don't drive much anyhow. No beater is going to handle 36,000 miles per year without a lot of expensive, time-consuming nurturing. Also, I did some careful analysis on my wife's last car, and when I factored in maintenance and depreciation costs it actually started to get more expensive after about 90K miles, despite the fact that is was completely paid off. I had this big spreadsheet that made it clear we'd be better off selling the thing and buying something several years newer, so that's what we did.

I'll also recommend a great book on car buying: Don't Get Taken Every Time. It's really easy to overpay for a used car if you're not careful.
posted by jon1270 at 2:06 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for suggestions, jon1270. I've been able to avoid debt accumulation until now and don't take the idea of taking on debt easily. I've seen some friends grabbing cars for well under $3500 cash, even under a grand in some cases, and I'd like to find a car that actually meets my needs or wants (e.g. NOT a Mustang/Nissan coupe or Jeep Grand Cherokee/Chevy Blazer).

Owning the book you mention does help. While I am fairly knowledgeable about KBB and NADA pricing as well as available options and trim levels with various makes and models, it seems like anytime I go to a dealership in town, the salesperson is just not very open to negotiation. I recently found a couple of local dealerships worth looking into, as well as a few an hour or two out of town.
posted by Giggilituffin at 2:33 PM on April 26, 2013

it seems like anytime I go to a dealership in town, the salesperson is just not very open to negotiation.

Yeah, the only way the price comes down significantly is if you put the dealership in a position where their only choices are to make a small amount of money off of you, or none at all (because you'll leave). They can't stay in business if every customer does that to them, so they do whatever they can to make it difficult. That's why the book is so useful.
posted by jon1270 at 2:39 PM on April 26, 2013

If you're on that tight of a budget, a loan might not be the best option anyways. Every loan i've ever heard of required full coverage insurance, and most people driving beaters like this are doing the bare minimum(understandably) and if their car is damaged to the point that they decide it's not worth fixing, they just get another beater. The required extra insurance costs might make that a dealbreaker.

That said, the Tercel suggestion is excellent. You may also find a slightly beat up echo in that price range as well.

I had a tercel, and while i loved it(and it was SUPER reliable), i'm 6'2 and i fit in the thing like a goddamn clown car. My dad is a similar height, but a pretty burly guy and could barely even get in the thing. We often joked that it was for tiny people, and several of my small friends fit in it perfectly. The dashboard was extremely low compared to a lot of cars, and the seat seemed to adjust a lot more forward/etc to allow for position for someone small rather than someone tall.

Not a lot of cars are that small anymore, neither nissan or honda really makes a tiny car like the tercel/echo/yaris, and the fit would be far out of your price range.

Also, i'd disregard any VW options in your price range. Repairs and parts are expensive, and anything that cheap is likely a serious clunker.

Another thing to look at is the geo/chevy prizm, which is a rebadged version of the corolla. They go for a lot less than corollas despite being the exact same car.

Also, i disagree a bit on any beater failing this test. i put more than 36k miles on my tercel without doing much of anything, and it had over 100k on it when i got it. i wasn't really neglecting it, It just didn't need much maintenance.

I would however, not expect to get a car that would last more than 3 years if you're going to be driving that much. Anything in that price range is going to be north of 100k, and once you get past 200k you're going to start needing to do some serious work. Hell, midway in to the hundreds you're look at timing belts and other stuff. I'd be very, very clear on what maintenance had already been done at the 80/90k scheduled mark(or not!) on any car i was looking at, and use that as a bargaining chip if it hadn't.

I also think in this price range you're solidly looking at a cash sale on craigslist, not any sort of dealership. Any dealership that sells $2000 cars where i live is sketchy as fuck. Find a mechanic, and plan on taking the car there for a prepurchase inspection. But before you even blow money on that, as i said, get a very clear idea of how it's been maintained from the sellers mouth. if they "don't know/remember", just walk.(with one exception, if they inherited the car from a parent/grandparent and that person is dead)
posted by emptythought at 3:27 PM on April 26, 2013

Not sure if you'll find one in that price range, but my 4'11" mom said her Mazda 5 was the best-fitting car she'd ever driven.
posted by xedrik at 3:44 PM on April 26, 2013

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