Which vehicle would you buy?
August 28, 2015 8:31 AM   Subscribe

If you only had $5000 for a used vehicle, would you buy a RAV4, CRV, or Lexus RX?

I just lost my awesome Toyota RAV4 in a car accident. We made many wonderful memories and many miles together. I now need to replace my vehicle with the most reliable similar vehicle possible, but I'm on an incredibly limited budget of about $5000. What small, used SUV would you recommend for that price? I'm considering a Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, or Lexus RX series. Any used vehicle at this price range will have tons of miles on it, but which vehicle brand would give me the most for my very limited buck?
posted by Nematoda to Shopping (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
*Must* it be an SUV?
posted by amtho at 8:33 AM on August 28, 2015

Is the CRV the all-wheel-drive version?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:38 AM on August 28, 2015

Yeah, I'm partial to small SUV's, so I'm mainly looking at those. I haven't picked out any specific vehicles yet. This question is to hopefully focus my search. :)
posted by Nematoda at 8:45 AM on August 28, 2015

Which one of those is a Honda? Oh yeah, the CRV. I'd get that. :-)

Okay, more: I'd go with that just because the parts are going to be cheaper and the reliability a bit higher.

The Lexus will be a bit nicer because Lexus, but pricier, so you're going to get a worse one, and parts on it are going to be a problem. I wouldn't do that at $5K. $10K, yes, $5K , not.

You may be happier in the RAV4 if you loved the RAV4 before, and you presumably have people who know how to work on them, etc. so you are set there.

Normally, I would tell you to look at a Volvo XC60 because I'm a complete Volvo guy and will always shill the Swedecar, but you're not going to find an XC60 at $5K that you'd want buy, so don't do that.

But at 5K, you really may want to step down to sedan -- you could get a much better Civic or Corolla than a CRV/RAV4 for that price, and there's nothing in the world cheaper to maintain than a Civic. Warning, though -- if you're in an area with a car theft problem, the single most stolen car is the Civic, so that is an issue.
posted by eriko at 8:49 AM on August 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think clean Foresters are pretty cheap partly due to not having the Honda/Toyota used cachet, so I would add that to the search, but do your research on the head gasket issue.
posted by ftm at 8:56 AM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

The best way to answer this is for you to go do some test driving. My last three car buys all surprised me -- I bought the car I didn't plan on each time, because of the test drive. (Um, after a heck of a lot of bargaining, too.)

But if you can't, I'd go with the Lexus.
posted by bearwife at 8:58 AM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can use info you gather on the reliability of various models, but at this price point I would look more at individual vehicles that seemed like a good deal/seemed to be in good condition rather than trying to narrow it down to a certain type of vehicle. A reputation for reliability can't necessarily trump 150k miles of abuse.
posted by geegollygosh at 9:00 AM on August 28, 2015

I would go with a Honda Fit, which is a hatchback and is basically the CRV's little brother. Better gas mileage. Well-designed interior that can fit huge and heavy things. (The seats fold both down and up... you can put them down for putting cargo through, or fold the bottoms up to fit things like plants.) Possible to attach a trailer hitch. Rides higher on the road than similar hatchbacks like the Yaris or Accent. Highly reliable.

There are decent Fits out there in your price range (not many, but it's do-able, esp. if you're willing to go private-party sale).
posted by pie ninja at 9:09 AM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

ftm--not sure where the OP is, but I just went Subaru shopping in the northeast US and Subarus are VERY sought after in places where the weather stinks. Foresters are nigh-unfindable under 15k around here.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:09 AM on August 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would buy primarily on reliability. In this case, I would pay whatever Consumer Reports wants for access to their website, and buy based on reliability numbers around the years and models you're looking at.
posted by cnc at 9:27 AM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

At that price point, I think you might be better off looking for the best available example of a few possible models (maintenance records, low mileage, Carfax, non-shady seller, etc.) than you would be picking one model right away.

That said, between the three I'd probably go for the RX--it's built on the Camry platform, and at that price you'll probably be able to find a reasonably well-maintained one- or two-owner one at a good point in its depreciation curve. If you're willing to buy one with some cosmetic issues (e.g. paint peeling or small dents), you can get an even better bang for your buck.
posted by box at 9:28 AM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Be careful on the Lexus. If it's around 90K miles, the 90K service tends to be pricey (about $1K). If it's more and the timing belt hasn't been replaced yet, you will likely need to and those are also notoriously expensive jobs (my dad has had a couple Lexsuses (Lexi?)) and told me timing belt horror stories.
posted by plinth at 9:33 AM on August 28, 2015

For that price, it comes down to condition and how much maintenance will be required to bring it up to safe running condition. I'd take a shiny Ford with new tires and brakes over a starting-to-rust Honda with 8 college stickers and four bald tires.

I don't know your particulars, but for most people a $5k beater is a terrible value proposition. Own it for a few years, spend a bunch each year to keep it in running shape until it has some epic failure, then sell it to CARMAX for $500. Rinse, repeat. It's just another example of how it's expensive to be poor.

If you have the room in your budget and you rely on your car to live your life, I'd recommend using the $5k as a downpayment on a brand new Honda HR-V. Better gas mileage, modern safety equipment, and no unexpected cash outlays for a long time. Maintain it right and keep it for a decade.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 9:52 AM on August 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

Lexus suv=gas hog. I had a friend who crashed her Lexus SUV. She was paying 3-400 per month on gas. I talked her into a Subaru Forrester, though her extended family thought this was a step down. She was complaining the payment was a bit higher than she had planned on. Then they used it, used it, and didn't have to gas it up for three weeks. The fifty extra per month for the newer Forrester, translated to 250 per month lower operating cost.
posted by Oyéah at 10:10 AM on August 28, 2015

Having owned a CR-V and not liked it, and knowing how expensive the Lexus can be to fix, I'd go with the RAV4.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:16 AM on August 28, 2015

I'm happy with my 2003 Ford Escape. Uncomplicated, small but not tiny, and powerful.
posted by swift at 10:34 AM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

They vary by year. RAV4 is a bit smaller, which I like, but I'd locate the cars, drive them and choose based on the best value of the CRV or RAV4 that has the best details.
posted by theora55 at 10:49 AM on August 28, 2015

I'd go with the RAV4. I'm about to sell my 2002 RAV4 that I've had since it was new, and it is such a great car. My family (4 people plus a dog) slightly outgrew it and I wanted new car safety features, but it was really hard to let go of it, and every time I drive it I remember why I kept it for so long. You don't say what year yours was but given the price point you're looking at I'm guessing it was around the same age as mine -- there really are not many other cars that fit that itty-bitty SUV niche. It's smaller and slightly more fuel efficient than either the Forester or the CRV, and it's spritely and fun to drive, and just a great little car. (And it FEELS like a little car while also having great AWD capability.)

If you can find a used RAV4 in great shape I say stick with what you love.
posted by xeney at 11:48 AM on August 28, 2015

By the way, if you do wind up using the money as a downpayment on a newer car, we did not like the new model RAV4s (too big and too different from the old model) but have found the Mazda CX-5 to be a lot like the older model RAV4s. And unlike Toyotas and Hondas, you can actually get a pretty good deal on a late model used Mazda.
posted by xeney at 11:51 AM on August 28, 2015

Rav4 gets better gas mileage than the RX. Between those two it depends if you want decent fuel economy or a comfier car with leather seats.
I believe they actually share many of the same parts, so Lexus repairs aren't always more expensive (away from the dealership).
posted by w0mbat at 1:31 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

The CR-V is fun to drive, but a bit side-wobbly for those who don't hold the wheel (=passengers). Seems to be a reliable car, though, I know folks who had one for many years without a true problem.
posted by Namlit at 1:45 PM on August 28, 2015

For what it's worth, my father has the most amazing 2005 Lexus (not an SUV). It now has 350,000 miles on it -- really -- and it runs like a charm. Much better than new cars I've driven recently. I've honestly never come across a better car.
posted by caoimhe at 2:31 PM on August 28, 2015

Yeah, late-'90s and early-2000's Lexus is one of the best carmakers in world history operating at the absolute top of their game. And some of the people that bought them have been taking good care of them.

That intervening ten or twenty years still makes a huge difference, but, if you're looking for a beater starting point and you know what you're getting into (basically a slow ride of selected and delayed maintenance into decrepitude), you could do a lot worse.

The challenge with used luxury cars is to get in at the point where a previous owner decided to sell instead of starting to neglect it--you don't want to buy from the selectively-neglectful owner, you want to be that person. And then you want to be the final owner.

everythings interrelated is right--but if you know what you're getting into, used luxury cars make some of the best beaters.
posted by box at 4:38 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

You'll find the CRV more comfy and better built than the Rav 4, plus it's got that picnic table wheel cover! I'd also add the Subaru Forster to your list.
posted by furtive at 4:51 PM on August 28, 2015

Alas, but the newer CRVs do not have the picnic table. However, aside from the enormous sentimental value of my first car, my CRV is the best car I've ever had. Of all the car brands I've owned, the Hondas have been the most reliable by far.
posted by Ruki at 5:41 PM on August 28, 2015

We are a Honda & Toyota family. Except, due to hubby's chronic back pain issues, we no longer drive Hondas (Google around, there are tons of stories about how Honda seats are terrible for your back). Which leaves us now as a Toyota family. I've driven both the CRV and the RAV4, and if it comes down to comfort I would go with the RAV4. Reliability-wise they're about the same.
posted by vignettist at 9:59 PM on August 28, 2015

Thanks for the advice! I think I'm going to use the $5,000 as a down payment on a slightly better RAV4 or RX. This was very helpful!
posted by Nematoda at 8:20 PM on August 29, 2015

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