What are the best options for a very cheap used car?
September 28, 2006 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I need to buy a car for under $3000 to get me to and from work (11 miles each way). Any suggestions for the best make and model?
posted by gogomickey to Travel & Transportation (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Honda Civic.
posted by Frasermoo at 10:23 AM on September 28, 2006

Find an 1988-1991 Toyota Camry that's in decent condition. There are still a bunch of them on the road and they really broke the mold after they made those cars. You should be able to get one for under $1000. Also if you can find an old Honda Civic with low miles - or even under 150K you should jump on it.
posted by any major dude at 10:26 AM on September 28, 2006

Buy something small and Japanese (Civic, Corrolla), with some cosmetic body damage. Scratches, dents and dings are like 50% off coupons.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 10:29 AM on September 28, 2006

Civic. No doubt. I'm partial to the 3-door hatchbacks.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:31 AM on September 28, 2006

Scratches, dents and dings are like 50% off coupons

They are also signs that the owner probably took just as good care of the mechanicals. Anyone who spends money on a cars cosmetics is more often than not taking decent care under the hood.
posted by any major dude at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2006

Nissans are very underrated. I'd look for a late 90's Altima or Sentra, you'd be surprised how cheap they are compared to Civics and Corollas.
posted by knave at 10:35 AM on September 28, 2006

My 97 Mazda 626 V6 runs great and has a retail value of $2000 at best. They changed the body style in 99, yet I see a lot that look like mine still on the road. Don't even think about the 4 cyl model though. The transmission on the 4 cyl was very unreliable.

Also what they said above - Civic and Corolla are always good choices.
posted by COD at 10:37 AM on September 28, 2006

I drive a 1990 Dodge Colt (really a Mitsubishi) that exact distance to work everyday. I doubt if I could get $1,000 if I sold it, but it's never let me down yet, and it's a lot of fun to drive. I still see a lot of them on the roads so I don't think I just got lucky.
posted by timeistight at 10:39 AM on September 28, 2006

A Honda would be a better choice if they weren't so popular with boy-racer types--in this Fast and Furious era, though, the prices of used models are inflated, and they're targets for thieves.

For three grand, though, what you really want is a car from a friend or coworker or something--somebody who has something to lose if the car turns out to be something other than what was advertised. Failing that, you need a good mechanic to take a look at whatever you're considering buying. And bear in mind--you might be better off buying a $1500 car and putting a thousand dollars into maintenance and repair than you would be by simply buying a $2500 car.
posted by box at 10:40 AM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

See if you can find consumer report's list of good used car buys. It gives names and models in various price ranges.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:45 AM on September 28, 2006

I second the Japanese models. Especially Nissan. I've got a 1995 Maxima which has only gotten tune ups and tires since I've owned it - the past 70,000 (it has 170k now). I believe honda's are overpriced just because those crazy kids like to mod the hell out of them.

Also consider an late 80's early 90's Volvo. Those things are tanks and the 1987 240DL I owned rarely had issues and lasted to 275,000 miles (could have lasted more - just needed a water pump).

Mark II or III Volkswagens are around that price but may be more of a hassle to maintain. I know they're a little quirky with some little things but can last into the 200k range.

Why not a bike/motorcycle/moped to go 11 miles??
posted by premortem at 11:26 AM on September 28, 2006

I'll chime in on the Japanese cars. I've always had Hondas or Toyotas and they're generally a great bet for used cars. A lot of people I know have had great luck with used Subarus too.
posted by mattholomew at 11:33 AM on September 28, 2006

I wanted to second the Camry suggestion. I had a 91 Camry that was a hand me down and pushed it well over the 200,000 mark before it went onto it's next owner. It was by far my favorite car and I still miss it.
posted by chrisroberts at 11:47 AM on September 28, 2006

Toyota or a Volvo 240. Volvo's sturdier and roomier if you end up using it for more than just commuting and just a bit safer. Toyota's cheaper to fix and will get better mileage.

Price of the Honda has become a bit inflated because modders like them so much, but worth looking at if you see a good deal (I would slightly prefer the Toyota over the Honda, but YMMV.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:52 AM on September 28, 2006

1988 Nissan Sentra, Stick. Even if the engine block cracks and has to be replaced because you were driving uphill on the 210 freeway with the AC on full blast and overheated, the repair bill will be only about $400.00.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 11:53 AM on September 28, 2006

My wife and I bought a '92 Subaru Justy for CDN $3000 about a year ago. We love it so far. Great gas milage, had about 200,000 km on it (and many of those km were being towed behind an RV, on a car type that regularly gets 450,000 km before major engine repairs). And when we want to go out into the woods or the snow, it has 4WD and great clearance (for a compact car).

You might think $3000 is steep for a '92 model with 200k, but we basically figured that we want to spend about $1500 a year on a car (aside from gas), so if this car drives for 3 years with only minor repairs, then it's good. I suspect it will be going well for much more than 3 years, though. Also, used car prices (especially for Japanese cars) are kind of inflated where we live compared to other areas.

PS timeistight: Our previous car was a '91 Dodge Colt that we bought for CDN $1000. After a year the computer busted and we decided it wasn't worth the expense getting it fixed. Apparently that is very common with the Dodge Colt. It did pretty good until then though.
posted by Emanuel at 11:56 AM on September 28, 2006

In this case I would buy domestic. If your buying a car that old, fixing it is a fact of life. If your in the states American parts are still cheaper. The best car would probably be a Buick Lesabre. The slant 6 is bullet proof and buicks are driven by old people. They don't put alot of wear and tear on their cars and they will usually part with them fairly cheap. Driving an old person car is punk rock! If you cant bring yourself to drive a buick try a Chevy Cavalier or Pontiac sunbird. In both cases buy the newest car you can afford. Each year cars get more and more reliable. So if your debating between a 94 and a 95 get the 95. As long as the mileage difference isn't too significant. Again old person car = low mileage. Good luck.
posted by govtrust at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2006

Definately go for something Japanese. Low running costs and efficient.
posted by womble at 12:21 PM on September 28, 2006

Cool Tools convinced me to shop for a Volvo 240.
posted by sudama at 1:11 PM on September 28, 2006

I love my last honda accord '94, when I sold it it had 180,000 miles on it and a guy who lived near me bought it. I still see it driving around town without a problem 3 years later....I still miss that car.
posted by Gooney at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2006

I drive a $3000 '94 Toyota Tercel. That's my recommendation.
posted by klangklangston at 2:20 PM on September 28, 2006

Ford Laser. Best hatchback ever, and you can probably get a good one and still have heaps of change from $3000.

My friend had one of these and subjected it to extreme abuse, but it just kept going and going and going. We even took it on 1000km roadtrips. And they're also very cheap to fix when you finally break it.
posted by Lucie at 2:35 PM on September 28, 2006

In all the years I've owned it, my Volvo 240 (340,000 miles) has set me back $30 in repairs. Can be had all over this town for 1000-2000.
posted by sourwookie at 2:40 PM on September 28, 2006

Another vote for the 88-91 Camry. I have a '90, V6/LX trim, 93k miles (it was garaged for several years after the death of the previous owner), and I love it. I know mine's an unusually low-milage specimen, but seriously, these cars kick massive arse.
posted by Alterscape at 3:35 PM on September 28, 2006

govtrust writes "In this case I would buy domestic. If your buying a car that old, fixing it is a fact of life. If your in the states American parts are still cheaper. The best car would probably be a Buick Lesabre. The slant 6 is bullet proof and buicks are driven by old people. "

Unless you desperately desire a teeny car I'm going to agree (though GM didn't make the slant six, Chrysler did). If your going to buy a 15-20 year old car get a domestic, parts are readily available for cheap. I once had to wait for a driver's side window to come from Japan on the six week slow boat for a 10 year old Corolla. Any lower mileage GM sedan with the 2.8 V6 and non antilock brakes is a good choice. Chrysler Shadow/Spirit with a 2.5L4 3spd auto also good.

Make sure you leave enough money for brakes, tires, battery and exhuast. Most 2-3K cars need at least 2 of the 4.

Lucie writes "Ford Laser. Best hatchback ever, and you can probably get a good one and still have heaps of change from $3000."

Do you mean the Plymouth Laser? Not a bad choice if you like tinkering. The AWD turbo versions are a bit fragile, go with the baser models. Also known as the Mitsu Eclipse and Eagle Talon.
posted by Mitheral at 5:55 PM on September 28, 2006

I have both a 1990 Camry and a 1989 Volvo 240 - both are pretty dependable, but I really prefer the Volvo. It's more comfortable, sturdier, and I can actually fix things on it if anything does go wrong. It's easy to work on and parts are really not that expensive.
posted by sluggo at 6:41 PM on September 28, 2006

I nth the Honda Civic! I bought a 1991 Civic LX (stick) a few years ago for $1800, drove to and from work daily (a similar distance to your commute), and used it locally (you know, like you do). I never had any problems with it and it was amazing on gas (I paid, on average, $35 per month as of mid 2005 - Virginia gas prices). I traded it last year for a newer (2004) Honda Civic EX, and that was only because I relocated for work and was facing a much longer commute.
posted by mewithoutyou at 6:50 PM on September 28, 2006

Mitheral > no, I meant the Ford Laser as sold in Australia. It didn't occur to me that an American company wouldn't sell them in America!
posted by Lucie at 11:59 PM on September 28, 2006

Ah, the 323 based Escort. The seats are too firm for me but my friend who had one liked it. Only had one serious problem I remember, the alternator blew three days into ownership on a long weekend trip. A bad omen that proved to be wrong.

Ya, Ford is like that. Several sweat European Fords aren't available in North America. We only got the awesome Euro Sierra as the Mercury Merkkur for example, and then we never got the 4WD versions. GM doesn't import any of the Holdens either. Like the Crewman SS, the thing would fly off the lot here.

Where the heck are you gogomickey?
posted by Mitheral at 9:03 AM on September 29, 2006

Mitheral writes "Several sweat European Fords"

...several sweet Eutopean Fords...

You all can keep the sweaty ones.
posted by Mitheral at 9:38 AM on September 29, 2006

Where do you live? If you are anywhere near Portland Maine I have 93 Nissan Sentra that needs a home.
posted by theora55 at 5:21 PM on September 29, 2006

What about a 150cc scooter? 80 mpg, only SLIGHTLY less safe than a used car.
posted by billtron at 8:05 AM on September 30, 2006

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