But I love my Beetle! Time for a new (used) car
July 9, 2019 10:12 AM   Subscribe

I love my 2004 VW Beetle but it needs ~$1200 worth of work, which I'm not going to do. So, it is time to get a new (used) car. I can spend about $5000. Wants, needs, and deadlbreakers inside.

I love the Beetle because it is both a solid car and a car that makes me (and others) smile when it is seen. I use the car mostly only on weekends for trips of about 2 hours out of town plus the occasional weekend errand running. The car is otherwise parked on the street in NYC and is never driven in snow/ice. I have a love/hate relationship with the idea of owning a car (and using Zipcar instead is being considered). After reading my criteria below, I'd love suggestions for what cars (makes and models) to look for. Bonus points for links to actual cars in the NY metro-area for sale.

Automatic Transmission
Reliable/cheapish to maintain
Good safety record
Good visability

Compact (or at least small)
Body-style has a bit of fun
Can attach a bike rack to the back

Gas guzzler
posted by Pineapplicious to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
$5,000 is not a lot of money for a used car; at that price, you're fairly likely to find a vehicle with high miles, a dubious maintenance history, or both. I've gone that route before, and the vehicle I bought (a 4Runner) needed over $1,200 worth of work within the first month. Maybe that could have been avoided with a better inspection, but I doubt it. You know the ownership and maintenance history of your beetle and you love it. And $1,200 is less than $5,000. I'd strongly consider fixing what you have.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:21 AM on July 9, 2019 [15 favorites]

What a great time to explore the idea of not owning a car in a more serious way! Your use cases for a car match mine and a car rental for a full day or weekend is cheaper than a Zipcar, which is better for shorter more spontaneous trips at your convenience. In my city, Zipcar partners with a car rental agency to offer you discounted rates-worth checking out if that is a thing in NYC. If you're not ever using your car during the week, you can buy a whole lot of various car services on the weekends before you get to the cost of ownership. I've been car-free for about half of my adult life and it's more viable now than its ever been, if you are a person who lives in a city.
posted by Kwine at 10:33 AM on July 9, 2019

I'd also hang onto the Beetle. Yeah, it probably costs more than the car is worth to fix it, but I wouldn't fret over Kelley Blue Book values if you're just looking for cheap, basic transportation. You know the maintenance history, you like the car, and let's face it: cars are bad investments in general. Embrace it.

$5000 isn't really enough to get a reliable car anyway, especially an automatic.
posted by vitout at 10:35 AM on July 9, 2019

I love my 1995 Daihatsu Mira, and it's just blown a head gasket at 335,000km. It may well cost me more to have this car's engine rebuilt than to replace the car with another newer one, but there is no way on God's green earth I would ever get a used car whose engine has zero km on it for what I'm going to pay to get my busted engine reborn.

The book value of used cars over ten years old is pretty much irrelevant. If you have a well-engineered machine without significant structural rust, keeping it running by fixing what breaks is always going to be your least costly option.
posted by flabdablet at 10:59 AM on July 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

For $1200 you can have a car that has everything working and that you love? In your place I would totally do that. Actually I just did. The mechanic was a little surprised I said yes, but how else can I get a fully working car to drive that I love, that cheap? It even has my favorite cassettes in it already!
posted by fritley at 11:21 AM on July 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

when each of my daughters turned 16, we bought them used nissan maximas with about 100K and and 127K miles on them that were around 10 years old for around 5K. one cost little more than the other, but both were top of the line when they were brand new - leather, good stereos, automatic, all the bells and whistles. one of the girls is still driving hers 4 years later, we have replaced the brakes and tires and the ac is on the blink currently but that is it. The other daughter drove hers for a little over 4 years and we replaced the battery and that was it. Had our kids driven as little as you are talking about they would have probably lasted another 4 years.

Caveat - we knew the people we bought them from and they were one owner cars. So, I would put some feelers out with coworkers, family, friends and let them know you are looking. I realize NYC is not the same market for used cars where I live, since it would be a real struggle to get by without one here so it will be harder for you but it is worth a try. In the mean time try out the no car thing and maybe by the time something you want turns up you will know what you want to do.
posted by domino at 11:24 AM on July 9, 2019

Any used car that costs less than $5,000 could wind up needing a $1,200 repair the week after you buy it. Regardless of what model you chose, in that price range you're almost certainly looking at something with 120,000+ miles on it (and for the most reliable models like Corollas and Civics, you're looking at more like 150,000+ miles at that price point). With that amount of mileage you are almost guaranteed to have occasional moderate maintenance costs ($500-$1000) and the big-ticket items (transmission, engine) could fail at any time.
posted by drlith at 11:36 AM on July 9, 2019

Here is a low-miles 2012 Mazda6. A sedan instead of a compact, but I've owned Mazdas for the past 15 years and love them - they are low maintenance, reliable, safe and fun to drive.
posted by jillithd at 11:43 AM on July 9, 2019

$5000 plus insurance and gas and parking and maintenance and depreciation adds up to a heck of a lot of Zipcar rentals over several years. But with others above I can fully concur that any $5000 car you buy in the NYC area is going to very likely need plenty of work done to keep it on the road and $1200 to keep yours going even another year or two doesn’t seem bad at all.
posted by spitbull at 11:45 AM on July 9, 2019

I don't know the NYC market, but I've been shopping my local big city market, and I'd say that you either want to get rid of the car entirely, or fix the Beetle. The Beetle isn't a total safety horror, and you're not using it every day. And you'd have to do a lot of searching and have a lot of care to find a sufficiently better car in the neighborhood of $5000 (though that Mazda 6 from jillithd ain't bad at all, especially miles for the cost).
posted by wotsac at 12:09 PM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fix the Beetle.
$1,200 to bring the VW back to snuff, or $5,000 on another car which, at that price, could easily need much more money dropped on it in short time? My math says fix the Beetle.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:26 PM on July 9, 2019

The Beetle might be well worth fixing.

If not, I blew it by passing up a 2008 Prius with 140K miles for 3,000 from a seller who obviously took good care of it. They rack up more miles because they have a gas engine and electric motor, so it will likely be on the road for another 100,000 miles,at least. I got a 2011 Prius with 80K miles for 7,000. It has a salvage title because mice nested in it. Local shop pulled it apart, removed nests. It still smells like Cheapass Used Car Scent™ after a month, but getting better. It's a pleasure to drive, reliable, obviously great on fuel. There are now many repair shops that can rebuild the hybrid battery if it needs it, for far less than a dealer. This is unpredictable, and after my research, a risk I'm okay with.

Beetles have a place in my heart because I drove one in my youth. My sister killed it when she hit a dinosaur. (No, not really, age joke; 1969 Beetle, I think. She neglected to keep the oil topped off, don't do that.)
posted by theora55 at 2:44 PM on July 9, 2019

I'd definitely spend the $1200 to fix it if you like the car, especially since you don't drive it a ton. At your budget you're getting a used car that's not a whole lot different from yours... only you don't know how the previous owner drove it.
posted by Polycarp at 4:46 PM on July 9, 2019

I drove my 93 Civic hatchback for just shy of 26 years. My last car payment was in ‘97, so I figured any money I occasionally put into it for repairs was a better than starting up monthly payments on something I didn’t know the maintenance history of. I miss that car.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:55 PM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm car-free, and would definitely recommend it in a city where you have access to car sharing and a decent transit system. However, the Beetle is pretty iconic, and they aren't going to be making more of them shortly; if I owned one I would consider fixing it/keeping it.
posted by Laura in Canada at 6:47 AM on July 10, 2019

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