Buying my first car soon. Please point me in the right direction.
January 6, 2014 11:58 AM   Subscribe

I am eligible to take my road test next month and, assuming a pass, would like to begin the process of purchasing a car a few months after that. I never got a walk-through with my parents, so I would like your advice specifically on the initial purchase and care of a FIRST car.

There are many articles on the internet, but most of them are so vague as to be unhelpful. I am the kind of person who researches stuff like this a lot, but I am finding it hard to get from general advice to specific advice. I am also a little late on getting my license (25), so a lot of stuff aimed at teenagers doesn't work 100% for me.

I would love to be able to go up to a dealership and say "it's my first time, please show me what's good" although I feel like that would be like a limping gazelle wandering right into a pack of hyenas.

What should I be valuing in a first car - should I look right away into something that keeps its value well, or just get a cheap thing for kijiji? (I suspect a cheap one would lead to me throwing money into the void for insurance/repairs/fuel...) Which brands are reliable? Which are hit-and-miss? What sorts of things should I initially avoid? Do you have any advice on how not to get screwed over that may not be immediately obvious?

I would very much appreciate links or references to resources that offer unbiased and detailed information on specific cars (prices and specs). A glossary of common terms certainly would be nice as well - I would like to know what the specs actually "mean." (By way of analogy, I am a tech junkie and I know which brands are good at which things for parts of a computer, how having more RAM or a larger bus will affect performance, etc., and I would like the same feel with cars.)

Any input, links, or advice is appreciated.
posted by one of these days to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know about Edmunds?
posted by mr_roboto at 12:04 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

What is your budget?
posted by anya32 at 12:17 PM on January 6, 2014

Broadly speaking, a mid 2000s Toyota or Honda sedan is going to be a reliable, relatively inexpensive, and deliciously boring car to drive. No need to get fancy or pricy, particularly given that it's your first car.

If I were buying my first car, I'd go to the dealer or something like Carmax--neither of which will get you the best price, but you have a big company to stand behind the sale. Find a local mechanic to give it a once-over. They do this all the time. I think my mechanic asks $75 for the service.

There may be specific things you need or want--i.e., does is snow a lot where you are such that you'd need 4WD/AWD or something? But otherwise, I don't think you should be looking beyond reliability, safety, and gas mileage.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:18 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I believe that a Toyota Corolla makes a great first car. They are reliable, get incredible gas mileage (30/35 mpg), are historically one of the safest cars on the road, and they look pretty snazzy for the money. I'm out right now, but when I get back home I can link you to the research my family and I used to make our purchase of my current Carolla.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:20 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

The initial question would be: What do you want in a car? Daily driver? Do you do anything outdoors? Do you need to tow a boat? Do you want to go fast? Do you frequently drive in heavy snow or ice or other extreme weather conditions?

My last time through, my process was:

-Price range, obviously
-Figure out what we want in a car. Last time we did this, we wanted a reliable, high gas mileage daily driver with cargo space as a nice bonus. But no mom mobiles.
-We liked our last Toyota, so the Yaris and Matrix were on our list, as was the Honda Fit and a couple other cars
-Did our legwork: Looked at Edmunds, Top Gear, Car and Driver, etc. on those particular models, especially useful as I'd never had a Honda before. Saw Top Gear's biggest complaint was the Fit was just not a lot of fun to drive but was otherwise top-of-the-line, which was an okay sort of complaint as I know what Top Gear's audience is aimed at (people who like fast, powerful cars).
-Test drive. Neither of us liked the Toyotas available or the dealership we would've had to buy from
-We both liked the Fit well enough and the dealership was great
-So we bought the Fit and still love it because it's a high gas mileage car with a ton of cargo space that hasn't needed anything other than routine maintenance and is perfectly suited for what we do and I even enjoy driving it if it's not a Top Gear-worthy car.

As for the price question, don't make the mistake of thinking price correlates to quality or reliability. A $12,000 Toyota will be more reliable than a $120,000 Ferrari, though the Ferrari will be much faster.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:21 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you buying a used car or a new one ? What kind are you interested in ? Sedans, coupes, wagons, pickups ? Do you have in mind some kind that you like already ? What is your budget ? Are you capable of doing basic maintenance, or will you need to take it to a garage ?

Edmunds and magazines like Car and Driver can give you a lot of information - as well as enthusiast websites and forums. Also, there is nothing wrong with spending an afternoon test driving different cars to see what you like and what you don't.

The way to not get screwed over it to take your time, and do research - and be firm and polite with salespeople. They can apply a ton of pressure. There will be a ton of marketing BS and crap to wade through.

But once you have narrowed your search a bit, and have a better idea what you want, these questions will be easier answer.

In the absence of that, Toyota has well earned reputation for reliability. A Corolla or Camry makes a good first car. But, it really depends on what you want out of your car.

At the end of the day, the only things that really matter about car are - Do you like it, and does it meet your needs ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:23 PM on January 6, 2014

My first car was a Corolla, base model, stick shift. It was bare bones (didn't even have power windows or power locks!) but it was reliable as hell, cheap to drive, cheap to insure, and totally functional for what I needed it for. Where it was my first car and I didn't really know what I wanted in terms of features I went with nothing so that I would know better what I would and would not be worth the money when it came to trade in and get a different car.

My second car (that I got just this past summer) is a Kia Rio 5 door. The main things I knew I wanted after having my bare bones car for 4 years was power windows, air conditioning, and a hatch back. I also wanted to keep driving stick (who knew I would love it so much!) and I wanted it to be at a good price with a solid warantee. I love my Kia Rio, he is super comfortable, useful, reliable (so far), packed full of features (hello heated seats!), and he is even cheaper to insure than my old car! YEAH!

So my advice is to either:
- get a bare bones car (like a base model Corolla) for your first one so that you'll know what you'll want/use for your next car
- Get a Kia Rio 5 door because it is awesome, Kia has a great warranty and a lot of standard features that rock ass.

Also, enlisting a friend who does know about cars and could offer you some guidance and help, even go with you to dealerships, is a good plan as well.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:25 PM on January 6, 2014

I think Edmunds is a great place for you to get your legs under you.

But honestly, what you mostly do is decide for real what your budget is, ignore cars that are not in that range, read up on the 5 or so cars in that range. Note the issues that will actually affect your life - do you need to haul a giant dog, will you be putting a child in the back seat any time soon, are you extremely tall or short, does it snow where you are, do you need to tow anything (something that actually exists, not the fishing boat of your dreams)?

At that point, you're probably down to four cars that are really two cars - either it's the exact same car with two different brands, or you might be deciding between hatch/no-hatch models of the same cars. Go test drive those cars. Choose the one that is most pleasant to you to drive, sit in, and see out of.

Salespeople are there to sell you as much car as they can talk you into, and ideally to sell you financing as well. Secure pre-approval for financing via your bank or credit union or grandma or whatever, ask your friends which one of them most loves haggling, take that person with you to purchase.

There is no new car (barring high-end sports cars, but that's not what you're looking for) available today that will ruin your life. As long as you do not spend more money than you have, the worst thing that this car can do to you is be slightly uncomfortable or a bit impractical. Be realistic about your life - buying a 4wd isn't going to magically turn you into a backcountry hiker. If you're almost certainly doomed to a long commute in your area and it's cold there, the seat heater is actually pretty nice, and efficiency is a priority.

In all likelihood you're going to buy the second- or third-cheapest Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai or Kia. Barring a nasty accident you'll get a good life out of it and by the time you hit 100-150K miles new cars will fly or connect remotely to your retinal implant or have cupholders so high-tech we can't even imagine the specs today, and you will be a little sad saying goodbye to your old friend but totally stoked about those fly cupholders. (This is how I will feel about the heated seats and iOS interface in my next new car.)
posted by Lyn Never at 12:42 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Budget, which you do not share with any seller. Know how much you'll be able to spend on maintenance. Shop a *lot* go to all the used car lots in your area. Drive a lot of cars. If you have the budget to get a 'fun' car, and it's in your budget, go for it. Take any car you're serious about buying to a mechanic - this has saved me so much money and hassle. Some states require inspection, so be sure it's inspectable. Test *everything* I'm mildly bummed that my new-to-me car's tape player doesn't work.

Maintenance = tires, gas, oil, brake pads, batteries, and fixing things that inevitably go wrong. Most cars need a new timing belt @ every 100,000 miles, and that's expensive. Learn to change the oil, air filter, how to check and add oil, water/ coolant, transmission fluid, brake fluid, windshield washer. Read the manual that comes with the car - it's amazing how many people ignore this useful resource.

If you can, get a standard - so much more fun to drive, and reduces the number of people who can borrow your car. I've always loaned my car and as I hand the borrower my keys I say "5,000 deductible is up to you." Your insurance will be high because you're a new driver, and higher if you get anything sporty and/ or expensive. Get quotes on any car you're serious about.

If you buy from a dealer, you really can get a better deal at the end of the month.
posted by theora55 at 12:45 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Figure out the big features that you want in a car (car, truck, SUV, hovercraft, cargo space, 4 doors, big engine, bumpin' stereo, 4WD/AWD for snow/ice, miles-per-gallon, etc) and just go out and test drive a bunch, new or used, in your price range to see what you like. Bring your boyfriend/dad/male-friend along for additional advice. Keep an eye out around town for cars you like and research them specifically. There are a ton of factors involved here, but as long as you figure out what you really want in a car, it doesn't really matter what you get as long as you like it and can afford it (don't forget the price of insurance, too!). Low maintenance is a very subjective consideration, but Edmunds (and others) have cost of ownership numbers to look at.

Call me conservative, but another option would be to ask your parents if they want to get rid of their old car. Presumably you're already familiar with it, know the history of it, and they'll no doubt give you a discount.

Good luck, and welcome to the confusing and overwhelming car universe. :)
posted by mrrisotto at 1:05 PM on January 6, 2014

Look at the Consumer Reports annual car issue (borrowing it from the library or a friend would work).
posted by Anne Neville at 1:17 PM on January 6, 2014

It really doesn't matter what car you get. Get a car that:

1) Fits your budget. Don't overspend on a status symbol. This is just plain financial advice more than car buying advice.

2) Get a car that fits your needs. Don't buy a two-seater convertible because it looks fun if you regularly have a lot to haul around.

3) Don't buy a car with high maintenance costs unless you can afford it. If you make $90k/year, you can probably afford to maintain a German sedan. If you make $40k/year, it might be a stretch.

4) If you don't know hardly anything about cars and just want something that can drive you around to places without issue, get something that ranks highly in something like consumer reports best car values.

5) You can always sell it later and get something different if you end up not liking it, but there is some overhead involved in this, especially if you bought a brand-new car.

I don't think there's really a lot that you have to do especially for a first car, as opposed to a second or tenth car. If you have the money you can run out and buy a Range Rover or a Tesla as a first car and it'll drive around just fine. Most first drivers in the US are 16, highly influenced to do irresponsible things by their peers, and not flush with cash. Neither of these things probably apply to you as much.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:27 PM on January 6, 2014

Financially speaking: buy the best used car that you can afford to pay cash for (if possible). All cars depreciate in value quickly and paying interest on one, if you can avoid it, does not make good financial sense.
posted by chaiminda at 1:32 PM on January 6, 2014

1. Figure out what you can afford, comfortably.

2. Figure out what you care about more: saving money, or having predictable expenses.

For your first car, things like "handling" shouldn't really be a concern -- it's really making sure that you can afford it, and that it won't be too much of a burden. Let's take a couple of examples:

Example A: you can afford a lot, and prefer predictable expenses

In this example, you buy a new car. You'll pay more than you would for a new car, but if you can afford it you probably manage money well and can get good financing. The predictability comes from knowing your car is under warranty...ideally for the full duration of your loan.

Example B: you can't afford much, and need to keep things as cheap as possible

In this example, you'll want to focus on cars that are known to be reliable, cheap to repair and operate, and undesirable (meaning that they're boring, ordinary, and not status cars.) You'll want to try for one with a warranty from a long-standing, high-reputation source, and one that you can get repaired easily (no Alfa Romeos!)

You get the idea.

If you can share both of those with us, we can help you more. If you want to dive deeper into it, send me MeMail.
posted by davejay at 2:58 PM on January 6, 2014

...more that you would for a used car, that is
posted by davejay at 3:14 PM on January 6, 2014

I'd encourage you to buy used and cheap.

Say you have $4,000 cash. Try to buy a car for about half that--no more than $3,000. If you have more money, spend more of course, but the point is not to spend everything you could.

You'll own the car outright, which means you'll save the $200 / month payment of a new car, not owe any interest to anyone, and be able to purchase liability insurance instead of full coverage. Remember to bump up from the minimums in each category at least a little bit--it's hard to not cause $30,000 in damage in a minor accident if you hit a fancy SUV or Mercedes or whatever.

Take the leftover money and purchase the top-tier membership at an auto club like AAA, one that has a stupid number of free towes and extended towing range and free locksmith services etc. This is your consolation prize for not having a newer or lower mileage vehicle. Take all the left over money, at least $1,000, and start a car-only bank account. Every month put your car payment in the account.

Budget for a major repair every quarter--about half of what you're putting into the account. If you're lucky, it won't be nearly that much. Cars are extremely reliable now, and depending on what's breaking down, some things you can just ignore if they don't bother you. Use this period with your first car to find a good mechanic that isn't associated with a dealership. Establish a relationship and make sure you're confident in them.

Every now and then, take stock of the bank account and the expected value of the vehicle, were you to sell it. You can sell anything for scrap for $300 to $500. Anything running is worth at least $1,000. If you live in a state with strict smog regulations like California, anything running that passes smog is worth at least $1,500.

When the car's value + bank account + whatever you feel like tossing in from your other savings would let you pay cash for a new vehicle that's about $2,000 more than what you paid for your current one, plus leave at least $1,000 in your car bank account, start the process over again. Every $2,000 jump in car price gets you something substantially better than before--newer, lower mileage, more features, etc. Smaller jumps aren't necessarily something you're going to notice, in my humble.

In ten years or so, you'll be at a place where you'll be driving a new or almost new car, having never paid a dime in interest payments and even gotten interest from the car account (you'll want to search for a FDIC-insured internet only bank--they give the best interest rates). You'll also always have a bankroll to fund emergency repairs, plus excellent roadside protection in case of an emergency situation (flat tire, keys locked inside, etc.).

Even a new car can leave you stranded, and buying a new car is almost never the right decision from a monetary standpoint. Particularly since you're young, you are very likely to have better places to put your extra resources than an asset that can only depreciate.
posted by jsturgill at 3:18 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

My vote would be for a basic 'keeps its value' Civic or Corolla or similar boring and reliable thing, not new but I'd try to avoid too old if you can afford it. As somebody who learned to drive later in life: it took a while for me to really grok what I wanted out of a car, and I don't think test drives would've clued me in. You need, I think, a few years of driving something generic before 'This thing does not accelerate quickly enough on the highway but I love the trunk space' useful fussiness really kicks in. And I imagine life is difficult without a mechanic you trust -- work your social networks for a solid recommendation.
posted by kmennie at 3:55 PM on January 6, 2014

New vs used: as a brand-new driver, I'm going to recommend you get a used car, not a new one. This isn't to say you'll be a poor driver, just that as an inexperienced one you'll probably be less nervous and worry about things like scratching the car if it's used not new.

Don't lease a car: while leasing is fine for some folks, there are too many things against it (returning it in undamaged condition, the costs involved, etc). To be blunt, you should get a car that won't make you freak if you slightly damage it.

Seconding the Consumer Reports suggestion; they're a great impartial information resource. Also talk to friends & family about their cars: what do they like and why, what do they hate. Ask if they'll let you test-drive their cars, so you can see what YOU like or dislike.

As far as dealing with a car salesman goes, remember your budget and don't let them talk you into going over it. If necessary, ask a friend to help you deal with the dealer.
posted by easily confused at 4:04 PM on January 6, 2014

My thoughts, FWIW (I've bought a few cars, and I'm a damn good negotiator but not a techie):

- Hondas are generally known to be most reliable, I think Toyotas too (although personally I'm not in love with Toyotas, because of idiot Prius drivers). The classic reliable affordable holds-its-value-forever decent-fuel-economy boring car that you can get 200,000 miles out of (that's rather a lot) is the Honda Civic. It's never a bad choice. If you're playing with more money than that, BMW, Volvo, etc. have good reputations. Minis are known to have maintenance problems, as are Kias, though YMMV. In terms of American cars, I think Ford's been producing some good one's lately, I wouldn't buy any other American car.

- Edmunds and the Kelly Blue Book ( are the two best car information websites. Also, USNews has rankings by category that aggregate lots of reviews, so there's lots of good information there. Example.

- Your basic options for normal driving are threefold:
--- One or two years old, so you miss most of the depreciation from new but still have a good + in initial warranty car. Always a good first car option, though be careful with former rentals (carfax can tell you this. look at their website.)
--- New car. Not necessarily a horrible choice, so long as you get a car that keeps its value (Honda again, BMW, Mini, etc. etc.---this is also something google and the aforementioned websites can tell you---probably never an American car though), you won't hurt too much on depreciation, and you'll get the most life from it.
---Old clunker, very cheap. Probably best done private party, because this is where you get into the dealers selling total garbage zone. I actually got an old civic off craigslist for 3k once that lasted me for 3, 4 years. Which is amazing. But I was also very lucky. It's easy to get crap there. Have a mechanic you trust inspecting before getting into this.
- Things that matter to your pocketbook: basic price, maintenance cost, fuel economy, and how long the thing will keep running before it just croaks.

NEGOTIATING (my real area of expertise)
- BE WILLING TO WALK AWAY. BE WILLING TO WALK AWAY. BE WILLING TO WALK AWAY. NO MATTER HOW MUCH TIME YOU'VE PUT IN WITH A SPECIFIC DEALER/ON A SPECIFIC CAR. This is your #1 negotiation principle, it's the one thing that will give you much more power back from the dealer and save you thousands of dollars long run. Here's my most recent car-buying story. Found the car I wanted at a local dealer. It was the slightly inferior 2012 model. Test-drove it, loved it. The dealer tried to chisel me like crazy. Wouldn't meet my price, after multiple visits and hours of negotiation. I could have bought it at that price. It would have still been a reasonable price for the car. But I genuinely believed, after doing my research (see next point), that I could do significantly better. So I walked away. I test drove other cars. I was about to make an offer on a car I liked less. I learned about the car I really wanted fifty miles away at another dealer, in the better 2013 model. That dealer offered me $2000 better than the first dealer, on the better model, over e-mail. I went there and bought the car, and got an amazing deal.
- Do your research beforehand. Go to a dealer with a specific car in mind and a specific price that you want to get, as well as a range that you're willing to get. Know how much you can get the car for elsewhere. Edmunds and Kelly Blue Book have great tools for this, use them. Also know how popular the car is---e.g., you're not going to get a good deal on a Subaru BRZ, because they're insanely in demand. You can get a very good deal on a Honda CRZ if you one of the few who like it (I do, that's the one I bought) because they're shockingly unpopular.
- Do not be a "monthly payment buyer." The dealer will try to get you to say what monthly payment you're willing to do. Telling them this ever will set you on a fast train to screwedville. Because, see, if you say a number higher than their standard deal, it's easy for them to pump stuff into the contract you don't need to get you higher. If you say a lower number, it's easy for them to try and make you a financing deal with a longer term that gets you a lower payment but leads to you paying much more in the long run. There are two numbers that matter when you're with the dealer. Price and interest rate on the financing. That's it. And in general, I prefer not to name my own on these, but get the dealer to name one and go from there.
- Speaking of financing, you don't have to finance through the dealer. Go to your own bank first, see what rate they'll give you---most banks will commit to a dollar amount and a rate before you even see the car. Then you can tell whether the dealer is offering good financing. Comparison shopping is your friend.
- After you finish coming to a deal with the salesperson, you'll be handed over to the finance guy. His/her job, more than anyone else in a car dealership, is to screw you. Your job is to resist being screwed. DO NOT BUY ANY EXTRAS FROM THE FINANCE GUY. No extended warranties of any kind. No weird little things like coatings for this and coverings for that and some bizarre chemical that they swear will make your car immune from all damage ever, quadruple your gas mileage, and make everyone of your preferred sex immediately drop to their knees and start supplying oral sex whenever they see you. Pretty much invariably, they're rip-offs. Anything that isn't just a fraud is available from outside the dealer for cheaper.

Ok, that's what I got.
posted by paultopia at 4:16 PM on January 6, 2014

For your first car, The Car God is telling you to buy "a mid 2000s Toyota or Honda sedan" with not too much more than 100 kilos on the odometer, after an independent mechanic's evaluation, and to get a friend who knows something about cars to help you shop around for it.
posted by ovvl at 4:41 PM on January 6, 2014

Why is everyone encouraging the OP to get a used car when there is nothing in the question to indicate that he or she can't afford one? If you can afford a car payment and you have good credit, get a new or slightly used car. I have a used car that I bought outright, and I've paid a lot of money over the years in repairs and maintenance that would be covered by any decent warranty.

I don't think there's really a lot that you have to do especially for a first car, as opposed to a second or tenth car. If you have the money you can run out and buy a Range Rover or a Tesla as a first car and it'll drive around just fine

Yeah, seriously. It's a car, not a spaceship. You'll figure it out.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 5:58 PM on January 6, 2014

For your first car, The Car God is telling you to buy "a mid 2000s Toyota or Honda sedan" with not too much more than 100 kilos on the odometer, after an independent mechanic's evaluation, and to get a friend who knows something about cars to help you shop around for it.

I know this is the conventional wisdom, but I actually think it's kind of crap now.

Everyone knows that an eight-year-old Civic is a great car to buy, so they hold their value pretty well. They're cheaper than a new car, of course, but if you buy a new car, you can worry less about unexpected maintenance issues, have something with every modern safety feature (tire pressure sensors only became mandatory in the 2008 model year, for instance), and have a car that will function reliably well into the next decade.

These days, new cars last. The Japanese manufacturers won, and everyone does things their way. There's nothing particularly special about that magic Toyota nameplate any more.

If you buy a five-to-ten-year-old Honda or Toyota, you're going to overpay. You'd be better off buying new.

There. I said it.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:39 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

toyota trucks, 2wd if you're gonna stay on pavement, 4wd otherwise.
posted by bruce at 12:57 AM on January 7, 2014

Response by poster: I am taking time to read through the responses now, thanks. There are a lot of resources I have yet to see.

If there is anyone still here (or for posterity for searches):

- I have good credit and I could probably get financing on a new car. What I could pay in cash right now for a car tops out at $5000, but I have several months to add to that. I just wanted to start learning about features/makes/etc as early as possible.

- I live in Canada, so I will be driving frequently in snow and ice, and on bad roads covered in salt. I will likely need a 4WD (?). Otherwise my commutes are short. I mostly want to do regular daily city driving, and to occasionally visit my SO in a city about a half-hour away.

Thanks again. I have a lot of reading to do.
posted by one of these days at 6:27 AM on January 7, 2014

I know this is the conventional wisdom, but I actually think it's kind of crap now.

ah, sorry, I'd buy a brand-new Subaru right now if I could afford it, but that credit thingy is a double-edged sword..
posted by ovvl at 6:23 PM on January 8, 2014

You'd be better off buying new.

If you don't need to finance, and you get a good price on a brand new vehicle, you're still leaving money on the table but it's not a "bad" deal. There are tradeoffs that can be worth it to you.

On the other hand, right now on Carmax there's a used 2013 Toyota Corolla LE with 40,000 miles on it for $14,000. A new base model 2014 with no options is $17,000.

In the car-buying world, $3,000 isn't much, I guess. In the real world, $3,000 at 25 years old into a low-fee index fund is a maybe a full year of living expenses when you retire, potentially tax-free depending on how you structure it.

I humbly suggest that there's no meaningful difference between the low-mileage 2013 car and the brand new 2014 car when it comes to comfort, ride quality, reliability, and projected repairs, but a year of not having to work is pretty amazing compared to the alternative.

And really the difference between the two options, used and new, is much larger than in that example because you could spend $10,000 and get a 2010 model that's basically new, with more options, that will also be very likely to go three to five years without needing anything beyond gas and oil changes.

Bam! Two years of work-free luxury added to the end of your life for buying a really nice car instead of a really nice new car.
posted by jsturgill at 8:30 AM on January 9, 2014

My bad. The 2014 Corolla L is $17,000; the 2014 LE starts at $19,000. So you're looking at a savings of $5,000 for last year's lightly used model.
posted by jsturgill at 9:26 AM on January 9, 2014

I would consider a used Subaru through a dealership, if you can find one within your price range. A quick look at one dealership showed me certified pre-owned cars at $12,000 and up. Subaru's tend to last a long time and dealerships give good packages for even their used cars. Subaru's are also great in the conditions you describe. Perhaps you could shop around and see if you could find a lower price. And what paultopia said above is accurate and good advice about negotiating, in my experience.
posted by anya32 at 1:45 PM on January 9, 2014

I will likely need a 4WD (?).

4WD & AWD on Wikipedia

4WD is for extreme use, off-roading and/or towing loads.

AWD is a safety feature which is recommended if you live somewhere with steep hills and mean winter snows. But cars with AWD are more expensive (Subarus & Volvos, Rav4s & CRVs, etc).

For an affordable generic car in Canada, an extra set of Winter Tires from December to March is recommended. (And also, don't go out when the weather is extremely vile).
posted by ovvl at 5:51 PM on January 11, 2014

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