What car to buy?
November 22, 2013 8:00 PM   Subscribe

Let's play the ask-the-green-what-car-I-should-buy game.

After countless stressful repairs for an aging, dying car, I bit the bullet, ripped the band-aid off, mixed some more metaphors, opted against putting a massive amount of money into an aging car, and sold it for a very small amount of money. Now, after a few carless months in Southern California, I want to buy a new (used) car.

My priorities are the following:

a) Price
b) Reliability (closely related to price, as I can't stand not just the stress of always repairing things but also the massive associated bills)
c-y) ....
z) Styling. (I kinda vaguely want something "cool" or "sporty." For comparison, I think the Tesla is the coolest looking car on the road. I like sleek. Also, I think hatchbacks generally look very ugly -- though in my budget it seems many of the very small cars go hatchback in order to get a moderate mount of space.)

I don't really care about horsepower or handling or "performance." I don't particularly care about "safety" (actual safety means not getting in an accident to begin with; also, my impression is that cars over the past couple decades have made huge strides in safety across the board, so it's not a major factor from one car to the next). Within moderation, I don't much care about gas mileage (I'm looking at smaller cars anyway); I definitely don't need a hybrid. A smaller car is probably better, but that's a minor priority.

My budget is that I want to spend in the vein of $10k; perhaps $1,000 down and then $150/month for five years. No more than $11,000, definitely. I'm probably thinking to buy a car less than five or six years old and with less than 50 or 60,000 miles.

The models I've been looking at are Honda Civic, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Toyota Corrolla. (I know, two hatchbacks! Somehow someone has convinced me that the Honda Fit is vaguely charming, but Toyotas in general look ugly to me... so a friend mentioned that Scions are exactly the same as Toyotas except superficially, but but they do look rather snazzy. It was an idea I liked a lot, so add Scion tC to the mix.)

My questions:

1) Is it true that Scions should be considered the same as any other Toyota when it comes to reliability?
2) Are there any models besides the Honda/Toyota models I should look at?
3) Any out of the box ideas or other suggestions I should think of?
posted by lewedswiver to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are there any models besides the Honda/Toyota models I should look at?

Mazda 2 or 3, perhaps? An '08/09 Mazda3 hatch is potentially in your budget.
posted by holgate at 8:16 PM on November 22, 2013

I can only address the reliability issue, to which I can assure you that Scions are every bit as reliable as Toyota. Toyota, Scion and Lexus consistently top out the Consumer Reports surveys and share many parts. I agree with you about Toyota styling.
posted by Lame_username at 8:17 PM on November 22, 2013

We have a Honda Element and we love it.
posted by vrakatar at 8:24 PM on November 22, 2013

Scions ARE Toyotas, literally. In other markets they're sold as Toyotas.

You're going to get a lot of life out of pretty much any small Honda, Toyota, Nissan, or Mazda that's in good condition. Throw Hyundai and Kia into the mix too. Might be tough to hit your target price though.

Don't know if you'd consider an EV (you mentioned Tesla), but I just leased a 2013 Nissan Leaf for $1999 down and $199/mo for 36 months. The state of California gives you a refund check for $2500 for getting an EV and suddenly you're up $500. I get about 85 miles range reliably and it costs about 2ยข/mile to operate.
posted by Average Mario at 8:26 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The 2010 Kia Forte Koup is sporty, reliable, has tons of features and hits your price point. (I've had mine for a couple years and have been thrilled with it.)
posted by The Deej at 8:32 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna throw in a plug for my beloved Toyota Yaris. The early ones were dorky looking egg shapes. But check this out!

The styling has taken leaps and bounds forward- I especially like the chunky, aggressive stance it has when seen from the back. It's like a Mini Cooper that looks better, costs less, and has Toyota reliability.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:35 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I will add a vote for Mazdas. I have had Miatas for the past 14 years (one from 1999-2012, and number two since then) and they are fabulously reliable and loads of fun to boot. You could easily get a used Miata in your price range.

Outside of the Miata, I agree with your assessment regarding the reliability of Toyota and Honda. I have made some small study of automobile reliability, but haven't updated my data in a few years.
posted by blurker at 8:41 PM on November 22, 2013

Mazda 2 or 3, perhaps? An '08/09 Mazda3 hatch is potentially in your budget.

Only thing with a Mazda 2 is 2011 was their first model year, so there may not be any used models in the price range yet.
posted by LionIndex at 8:44 PM on November 22, 2013

I just went through exactly what you're going through.

I ended up in a 2007 Toyota Corolla. (I paid a chunk less than you're looking to.) While my Corolla is dull as hell, I at least got it in black, so it feels a little sleeker or more elegant to me. If I'd had my choice, I'd have picked a fully loaded version, but the base model was what they had at the dealership, and the price is right, and can you beat a Corolla for reliability?

I actually was in the market for a cute little hatchback, so when I went to the dealership I was mostly looking at Mazda 3s and Kia Forte 5-doors.

For some reason the car that comes to mind with all your criteria is a Honda Accord Coupe.

I also found that it was a lot easier to find the various reliable Japanese compacts in their sedan or coupe options rather than the hatchback you say you don't want anyway. So there's a strong chance that you'll find a car you like just fine and not run into a glut of 5-doors.

(FWIW I ended up buying from Glendale Kia. I had a not terrible experience there and feel like I got a fair enough deal, though it was my first time buying a car at a dealership like that.)
posted by Sara C. at 8:50 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need to take a look at the Mazda 3. I've put 150,000 miles on one over the past ten years. It's been a tank reliability-wise, and it's still fun to drive.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:09 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't discount the Nissan Versa. The sedan starts at $11,900. We've been driving a 2008 hatchback we bought new, and it has not given us any trouble at all. It's got 112K on it and has never been in the shop for anything aside from routine maintenance. Carsoup shows a half-dozen used models 2009-2012 around here [55387] in the 7-9K range.

From a safety standpoint, my wife hit a turkey and my son a deer in the car. Both banged up the hood and took out a headlight, but the car drove home after both.
posted by chazlarson at 9:19 PM on November 22, 2013

Honda Civic is the standard answer for cheapish reliability. Get a Honda Civic. Do not, under any circumstance, get a VW.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:27 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also have a Nissan Versa* and it's a great little car. I also have the hatchback, bought it new in 2011 for about $14k (not the base model but close), so you could probably buy one that is a few years old in your price range. The original sedan model was not super attractive but the newer body style is nice looking. Nissan Sentra is the next level up, and you could probably get a good price on a used one. I liked the Sentra when I test drove it in 2011, I just wanted to get something new and a little cheaper.

You don't mention Volkswagen but since fieldtrip did, my caveat is that if you do get a VW, get one that is actually made in Germany, not Mexico.

*Looking at Nissan's site and Wikipedia, it looks like they switched things around. The older Nissan Versa hatchback was discontinued in the US, and was replaced by the Versa Note. FYI.
posted by radioamy at 9:35 PM on November 22, 2013

Mmmm. Some more criteria as to what use you need a car for would be good.

A mazda miata would certainly fit your criteria, but if you ever want to haul anything more than a weeks worth of grocerys or 1 other person it won't work for you.

A mazda3 would be good. Most of the used ones in your price range seem a little clapped out to me, but they could still be good.

You are not going to find an element worth owning for 10k. An older first or second generation honda CRV would be a great car and in your price range. They are not really a 'stylish' car but they do come with a picnic table built in (seriously) and are surprisingly good off road and can haul a truly monumental amount of stuff.

Any older 2wd mini truck would be a good practical car but styling is...well they are pickup trucks.

A Honda Civic would be a great choice. An older acura integra would also be a great choice. Just beware of one that has been driven hard and especially modified with bad choices like lowering, cold air intake or fart can muffler.

In general I don't think you are going to find much that is good, reliable in your age range and price range. If you keep the price and go back 6-10 years I think you are going to find a LOT of good cars to choose from. The biggest thing to getting a good used car at this age range (and there are a LOT of them out there, as well as a LOT of bad ones) is having it checked out by a good mechanic.
posted by bartonlong at 10:01 PM on November 22, 2013

Confronting similar problem in my life, way in the Northeast, as far from you as you can get, just about.

My main observation/comment on this topic to ANYONE, including me is:

........ There is no perfect choice.

Any choice will run into needs that cannot be met in a 4 year period. The best one can do is a local optimum.... get really clear on EXACTLY how you spend most of your time in transit and address that set. Borrow or rent to meet other transient needs as they come up.

What you buy will come with things you love and things you hate, new or used. No one machine is perfect. Any more than one tool can suffice for all projects. If you are a carpenter, you seldom need a welder. No one makes a welder/hand saw combo.

I love my Honda Insight and have since 2001. I hate it when I need to move plywood or a big piece of marble. I'd have been awfully silly to buy a pickup truck just for those events. 95% of the 160,000 miles on that car have been with one occupant, too. I'd have been awfully silly to buy a 4-door Camry.

What are you? If you are like most of us, you need to move your ass and attachments from Point A to Point B, alone and comfortably. If you have penis-size issues, you can compensate for them with the decorative aspects of your chosen chariot. If you want attention from gold-digging bimbos, you can show off your wallet contents via body style. You will be subtly judged for what you choose. Still, you can ignore that and just worry about getting the ass from A to B, and you will be better served, and greener in the process. Oh, and MPG is a lot less important than M. 8 miles per gallon driven 1 mile per day beats 80 miles per gallon driven 200 miles a day. Green is absolute. Living closer beats commuting leaner, IYKWIM.
posted by FauxScot at 1:59 AM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

My mom has a scion. They're kinda cheapie for the price point. I think you'd get higher quality from a Honda Fit, Nissan Versa Note, Kia Soul, or Hyundai Accent. Generally, Kia/Hyundai seems to get you great quality for the price point, and the Accent is pretty cute, sleek and sporty looking, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:26 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I understand the strict budget and all but a quick thought here. A 5 year old car will have no or not much warranty left so your 150 a month for 5 years is really likely to overlap with needed repairs for a car 5 years old today. Either buy a newer car with some warranty left (that is: make that a bigger consideration than brand) or consider spending slightly more, say about 210 a month and the world of reliable new low cost american cars is yours. Nearly every American car company and some foreign too have a $12,000 car and with it being end of november you can get end of month AND end of year deals in the way of ultra low finance rates or cash off deals. Last though about financing is that the rates on new cars is ALWAYS better than used so this saves you in the monthly budget. Buy new and in 5 years you'll outright own a car thats 5 years old.... Instead of a 10 year old beater. A little higher outlay for 5 years nets you a car for 10!

Also extra unresearched bonus thought: is buying american more green since the car didn't have to get shipped here? Plus we have higher standards for air quality than many Asian places... Just a little bug of a thought.
posted by chasles at 5:31 AM on November 23, 2013

The Scion thing was a marketing move by Toyota, in an attempt to attract young consumers to their product (they were losing young adult market share to the Honda Civic). I had to read Rob Walker's Buying In for class, which goes into excruciating detail about it. In short: They are made by Toyota; there is no difference; Toyota just gets pissed off when people say "Toyota Scion" because murketing marketing.

You're going to get a million different answers in terms of car recommendations because anecdata.

A Honda Fit did save my life once, though.

On preview: Chasles, a lot of "Asian" cars are actually assembled in the U.S. these days. Particularly Toyotas and Hondas.
posted by topoisomerase at 5:46 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreed topoisomerase but the Kia and Hyundai's etc aren't. I should've been more clear!
posted by chasles at 6:26 AM on November 23, 2013

If you can get to the LA Convention Center in the next week or so, the LA Auto Show is going on till December 1. Pretty much any car you'd be interested in will be right there for you to check out.
posted by mogget at 7:35 AM on November 23, 2013

Economy + stylish = Hyundai Elantra.
Or maybe a recent Ford Focus?
Mazda 3 is also pretty nice, with extra zoomy handling compared to its peers.

(Honda Fit has been a bit trendy lately, making good used deals harder to find.)
posted by ovvl at 9:24 AM on November 23, 2013

is buying american more green since the car didn't have to get shipped here?

Not to any significant degree. Unless you live in the town where they're manufactured (this may be in Canada or Mexico for American cars), they're still shipped a long way, and shipping by sea is extremely efficient.

Plus we have higher standards for air quality than many Asian places

Anything sold as new in the US meets US standards.

the Kia and Hyundai's etc aren't

Hyundai Sonatas and Elantras are built in Alabama. Kia Sorentos and Optimas are built in Georgia.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:36 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Anything sold as new in the US meets US standards

Ya. I meant the factories themselves. Your point is valid, I said it was an unresearched thought.... Except those 4 cars you mention aren't the budget appropriate cars from those vendors. Those are all $20k+ cars. The lowest cost cars from those vendors are still made in korea and shipped.

As for container ships being more efficient. Thats just plain wrong. The average of carbon emitted from a car only container ships per 2 ton vehicle is 400kg. The average carbon emitted from a diesel train per 2 ton car traveling 2250 miles (I picked an average long haul intra north american distance) is just 99kg.

So. Ya. I WILL correct my language: buy "made in america" not nessecarily american brands. Better?

Links for my math:

posted by chasles at 1:17 PM on November 23, 2013

I'm wild about my Honda Civic. Super cheap to own and maintain. Husbunny has a Fit and he's 6" and very happy bumping around the countryside in it.

We each traded in 7 and 8 year old Hondas and pretty much have never been stranded or left in the lurch.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:19 PM on November 23, 2013

Can you describe your driving habits? In particular, how many miles per year you anticipate driving, and whether most/all of those miles will by SoCal city commuting, or if you have a hobby that takes you further afield or into special conditions (skiing the local mountains, e.g.).

What I'm getting at is calculating the true cost of ownership per mile, and also thinking about the best car for your particular conditions.

(If you aren't inclined to calculate all that down to a gnat's eyelash, no worries. I think any of the vehicles you mentioned would be fine for general SoCal conditions.)

P.S. You might want to Google which makes/models are the favorites of thieves. There's a brisk trade in SoCal in stealing/chopping certain vehicles that might be on your short list. Minor concern probably, but still...
posted by nacho fries at 5:54 PM on November 23, 2013

I have adored the fugly look of the Honda Fit since it first hit the scene a number of years back... I finally bought one last fall when my suburban's cost of ownership exceeded the cost of a new car

I LOVE this car with a passion. No, it's not a sporty, road hugging wonder, but it does everything we need and then some. I was in a pretty good accident about 6 months after I purchased my Fit and ended up with a totaled car... I bought the same darn thing to replace it.

Loves: the configurability of the seats; interior hight; backseat legroom; we can get 5 people to the trailhead with all the gear needed for a fair weather hike; reliability; hasn't broke the bank.

Loathes: it's not a v8... or a turbo. A fact I need to remember when I've got four lanes to cross and oncoming traffic. The interior fabric leaves much to be desired.

I've put about 12k miles on my replacement car since June and couldn't be happier.

I'd look at the Corolla as well. If you get the S with all the sporty body panels, and tint the windows, it's pretty good looking.
posted by AnneBoleyn at 8:47 PM on November 23, 2013

You are not going to find an element worth owning for 10k.

This is generally true, but I'm about to sell my 2008 w/audio package and 53000 miles for right around 10 or 11.

It's certainly not sleek, but man is it useful.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:11 AM on November 24, 2013

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