What reliable used cars should I consider?
December 2, 2014 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I am planning on buying a lightly used car in the next few months, so I’m starting to research what kind to buy. What make/models (and years) should I consider?

My criteria are:
  • Will last a long time. I currently drive a 20-year-old Toyota Camry with 200k+ miles on it and it has held up very well. I’d like the next car to do the same.
  • Reliable and cheap to own. (ie, doesn’t have expensive parts)
  • Decent gas mileage.
I’d like to find a lightly used car (under 60k or so miles, ideally less). My budget is flexible but probably around $10-12k. I’m thinking sedan but open to Fit-style shapes.

I’m going to go to dealerships this weekend and test-drive a bunch of cars to see which ones I like the feel of. So far my list is:

Toyotas: Corolla, Camry, Scion xB
Hondas: Civic, Accord, Fit

What other make/models should I add to the list? Any notes on particulars years to avoid? Any miscellaneous advice? Thanks!
posted by aka burlap to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Subarus. Each of their lines is mostly the same guts with different bodies (i.e., they more or less have the same engine). I have a recent Forester, but if you're looking for a sedan, there's the Impreza or Legacy.

But otherwise, I'd be looking at Toyotas. Our last car was an 11 year old Lexus, and it ran like a tank.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:33 AM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We have a 2002 Camry that is going very strong. I think you can't go wrong with any of the Toyotas. (We also have a 2012 Sienna, but I'm a Girl Scout troop leader.That's advanced herding of small kids. :)
posted by heathrowga at 11:33 AM on December 2, 2014

Best answer: I feel like I say this in every used car thread, but consider the Ford Focus. My 2002 Focus sedan behaves exactly the same today as it did when I got it 11 years ago (as a 1-year-old used car) for under $10K. I have had zero problems with it. You can get a lot of Focus for $10-12K.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:47 AM on December 2, 2014

Best answer: Seconding Admiral Haddock. My mom just traded in a 2005 Subaru Impreza that was far from the end of its life for the 2014 model. Very fun cars to drive and hers needed very little work outside of maintenance for almost a decade. My next car may just be a used Subaru.

I currently drive a Mazda 3 and really like it. It's a fun little car to drive and there are oodles of them in my area, so parts are not expensive and are very easy to get. Currently has 120,000km on it and aside from replacing a wheel bearing and getting a brake job, nothing else beyond regular maintenance.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:13 PM on December 2, 2014

Best answer: I'm on my third Mazda. The first two both went for 150,000 and I have no reason to believe this one won't. We currently own a 2010 Mazda 3 hatchback and a 2005 Honda Civic and have had excellent luck with both. Repairs aren't needed often and when they are needed, they aren't expensive, except for tire replacement. I love my hatchback because it carries 90% of what I need it to, and the other 10% of the time I'm fine with paying for delivery.
posted by notjustthefish at 12:21 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't have a good answer, but I do have a caution; we have been in the market for a used car for quite a while. We have rented, driven, bought and sold several over the last couple of years. The issue that we are attempting to address is chronic back pain for my husband. By far and away, the very worst cars for the good health of your back are Hondas (and he kept buying Hondas as a "good value" until I put my foot down in the interest of "good health"). Google it, there are tons of forums in which people complain about Hondas and back pain.

That said, I love my 10yo, 120K+ mile Camry.
posted by vignettist at 1:14 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't overlook the late model Korean models in this price range. Kias and Hyundais are incredibly reliable and very well appointed. I bought a 2010 Kia Forte Koup with 25,000 miles on it in 2012 for about $14,000. It now has 61,000 miles on it and I have had zero problems with it. In your price range you can probably get a Kia Optima, which is a very nice sedan.
posted by The Deej at 1:20 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The only reason I donated my '91 Protege was because it was going to cost too much to convert the AC to the new refrigerant. So I bought a '99. Still have it.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:27 PM on December 2, 2014

Best answer: Since others have suggestions on specific cars, I would recommend that you look at the third or later model year for the specific generation of used car you choose. In general, they seem to iron out most of the issues by then.
posted by palionex at 1:49 PM on December 2, 2014

Best answer: I love my Subaru, but I'm going to counter some advice in this thread: if you want cheap maintenance, and if you don't need AWD, skip the Subaru. I'd add Lexus IS or ES models to the top of your list list. I also suggest the Kia Forte or Optima, and the Hyundai Elantra. Ford Focus is also a good suggestion (just keep it to a model year after 2004, as the 1998-2004 years had issues with overheating and destroying the engine).
posted by nicodine at 1:51 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What you want to do is check out any prospective cars on True Delta, which will give you collated information about which models and years are the most reliable.
posted by birdsquared at 2:14 PM on December 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: My 2003 Toyota Matrix XRS (based off a Corolla) has 191,000 miles on it and shows no signs of stopping. I've replaced the starter, the serpentine belt, and the battery since owning it. I probably need to service the suspension next, but that's a consumable part. Engine and drive train have no issues.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:29 PM on December 2, 2014

Best answer: I sold my 2004 Subaru Forester XT this past April. Definitely the most reliable car I've ever owned. It was a hoot to drive (the turbo rocked), the AWD could go anywhere, and the boxer engine is tough as a tank. And, even 10+ years old, I got seven grand for it. Downsides: AWD costs you some mileage, the turbo requires premium gas, and the fact that they hold their value makes used ones a bit more expensive than other makes. I cannot recommend Subarus enough.

That said, I'm in a new Mazda 3 now. I've owned reliable Mazdas in the past, and this one has impressed so far. Good looking and great mileage for a conventional motor. Cheap regular gas, too.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:07 PM on December 2, 2014

Best answer: Hyundai Accents made after 2004 are also very reliable.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:35 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you ever noticed what a large percentage of the very old, very dented cars on the road are Hondas? They are the survivors.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:53 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I bought my (former) Honda Accord after using SemiSalt's theory and looking at the oldest, crustiest cars on the highway in the fast lane. I saw Hondas and Toyotas. I, personally, prefer the ride of a Honda (feels sportier to me...personal preference), but I think both make great cars that generally last a long time and don't cost a fortune over their lifetimes.
posted by nobejen at 8:42 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: All very helpful answers! Thanks everyone!
posted by aka burlap at 8:54 AM on December 3, 2014

Best answer: aka burlap: "around $10-12k.... Honda Fit"

If you can swing it you can get a new Fit base model for ~18k out the door and get a finance special. The finance person is open to negotiations if you present a good rate from your bank. Chase offered ~2% plus .5% off by having a bank account and using autopay. The finance person matched it get the loan.

We looked for used Fits and bought new since they hold their resale value very well to the point that with spending 10-12k + used car finance rate (but they had like 60k miles already, and no warranty) was fairly close to new.
posted by wcfields at 1:17 PM on December 3, 2014

Response by poster: Update, many months later: I ended up getting a used Mazda 6 and so far it's great. Thanks for all the advice!
posted by aka burlap at 3:52 PM on August 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

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