What kind of car should I get?
November 25, 2006 7:11 PM   Subscribe

We're looking to buy a new or pre-owned car. We have a pretty good idea of what we want from a car, but not what exact model. So I was looking for suggestions on which one we should get.

Hi all,

Me and my fiancee are looking to buy a new or pre-owned car. We have a pretty good idea of what we want from a car, but not what exact model. So I was looking for suggestions on which one we should get.

Here's what we want from a car:
- We mostly going to use it on weekends, and not drive it to work every day. But on weekends, we're going to use it pretty heavily.
- The maximum amount of $$$ we can spend on it is $20,000 including everything. We're looking to buy, not to lease.
- I don't care if it's the 'hottest' car or not, what's much more important for me is that it's super reliable and will last us 10 years. The ideal situation is we take it mechanic only for an oil change :-)
- The reliability and 'lasting 10 years' requirement excludes any American cars and we can't buy German for other reasons.
- I don't care if it looks hot, but it can't look too dorky at the request of my fiancee.
- It has to have 4 doors and have automatic transmission.

So anybody has any suggestions as to what we should get? We live in Brooklyn, NY.

posted by zavulon to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Toyota Corolla. One of the most reliable cars out there, and they get pretty good gas mileage.

The question is a little difficult to answer because you're not specifying for what purposes the car will be used for. Weekends, yes, but for what? Visiting grandma? Lugging kayaks or mountain bikes around? Big dogs, kids on the way?

For an all-around weekend driver (as in, you're not taking it camping) I'd go with the Corolla.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:15 PM on November 25, 2006

Response by poster: Hey, thanks for the response.

The car will be not used for anything 'extreme'. Mostly - yes, visiting parents, grocery shopping trips, going to movies, sports games and other activities. Neither of us are really into hiking, kayaking and that sort of thing - the most I can think of in that area is we'll use this car for weekends trips to a ski resort in the winter (with no need to fit any ski equipment into the car, because we don't own any and going to rent whatever we need)

As far as kids - none planned for at least 3 years, after that - yeah, most likely in 5 years though.
posted by zavulon at 7:28 PM on November 25, 2006

I think you're ruling out American cars too quickly / irrationally. My SO has a 1995 Ford Taurus that is still ticking like a clock, with nothing but oil changes and brake work. I think the perception of quality between Asian and American automobiles is mostly leftover from the "bad 'ol days," since I've had far more trouble with the family Subaru (blown head gaskets, ate through clutches like you wouldn't believe) than I've ever had on a mid-range American car.

Anyway, just food for thought. You can't go wrong with a Toyota or Honda, as long as it's not too loaded up on the gadgets, but I think most (non-luxury, non-gadget-ridden) cars these days will probably last 10 years if they're properly maintained and not abused.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:03 PM on November 25, 2006

Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic will both fit the bill easily, brand new, under your 20k ceiling and both are damn nearly bulletproof.

If you are willing to either take the base model, or take a 1-2 year old model, you could step up quite easily to the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, both of which are among the finest cars manufactured in history. They will also fit your "maybe kids" quite a bit easier.

In fact, since the 2007's are now out, you might look at some outlying dealerships (maybe up to 100 miles from your home) and see if they have any 2006's that are still new but at substantial discounts, especially if you are not picky over color. You could probably find a left-over brand-new 2006 Accord 4 door in one of the less popular colors for well under your $20k price.

Neither of them get your blood boiling, but they will be in good repair, getting great gas mileage, and having an almost negligible repair bill several years from now.

Note that whatever car you get, do not skimp on regular maintenance. Regular oil changes are like trading your car in for a newer model once every 3 months for $20. The "major milestone" maintenance plans (i.e. 60,000 miles, 100,000 miles) that are recommended can also be helpful, though their value is somewhat disputed amongst "car people". I performed both regular and scheduled maintenance on two Honda Accords we had, and we accumulated almost 300,000 miles between the two of them in about 6 years, and all we did was change the oil, put gas in them, and change the tires and brakepads. $0 in unscheduled repairs.

A well maintained Toyota or Honda will go 200k miles quite easily.

Although the prices are attractive, stay away from the Korean brands (Kia, Hyundai). Although they are fine cars in their own right, and have really come a long way the last decade, they are not up to the 10 year expectation you have.

I don't think Mazda is right for you either, and I say this as currently owning two 2006 Mazdas (Mazda3 and Mazda5 for those playing at home), and owning a 90's model in the past. They are great cars, and you can find frighteningly good deals (as I did, bought both the same day). But, again, I don't think they are a good choice for your 10 year outlook. Same story for Subaru, for similar reasons. Nissan I would put on the fence. Very, very good cars, by and large. But, they simply do not have the fit and finish of Toyotas or Hondas.

For that kind of longevity, in your price range, your only real choices are Toyota, Honda, and possibly Volkswagon. Since you specified no German, that leaves you comfortably with only Toyota and Honda.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:12 PM on November 25, 2006

I bought a lemon guide to help me make the same decision, and while it was generally helpful, I ended up picking one of the most reliable vehicles listed (99 Subaru Forester) and have had continued overheating problems.

There is a possibility that a previous accident is really to blame for this though, so do get advice on the model, but then *absolutely* get it thoroughly checked out before purchasing it. That may not have helped in my case, since I've not yet been able to diagnose the actual cause, but it's still a very worthwhile thing to do.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:16 PM on November 25, 2006

When I finally get around to it, my next car will be a Scion (Toyota) xB. Funny looking, but economical, reliable, amazingly big on the inside, and gets a lot of props in other threads from other MeFites.
posted by 4ster at 8:30 PM on November 25, 2006

I also vote for a Honda or Toyota. If you want more space than a civic or accord, try the Honda Hose-It-Out Element.
posted by raf at 9:03 PM on November 25, 2006

You are the reason why they make Corollas and Camrys and Accords and Civics. Go drive them all. Get the one you like best, or the one that strikes you as the best deal. All of them are fine and dandy, and you don't need to worry about which might be best in some global sense.

You don't need a super-reliable car to last 10 years with scheduled maintenance and maybe one or two things going wrong at some point. Rather, a modern car that won't last 10 years is spectacularly unreliable. Plenty of American cars will last you 10 years without sweating.

But if all you know is that you want a functional, reliable car that you don't need to worry about, go get a Corolla / Camry / Civic / Accord.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:35 PM on November 25, 2006

The guys at Car Talk (a syndicated NPR radio show about cars) have a fancy configurator that lets you put in specific information about how you'll use the car, what brands you like/dislike, etc. and it spits out some recommendations at the end. It's probably worth a try.
posted by nadise at 10:08 PM on November 25, 2006

I just noticed that the Car Talk configurator recommends new vehicles only, but you said either new or used was fine, so it might still be helpful.
posted by nadise at 10:09 PM on November 25, 2006

What, exactly, is the difference between used and pre-owned? Is it just some new marketing-speak, or does it mean something?
posted by rbs at 10:31 PM on November 25, 2006

Just to chime in, I've always bought used, and feel that I've gotten a much better value for my money. I'm a touch obsessive about purchases like these, and it tends to take me awhile of scanning the classifieds and tracking down random people selling cars, but if I can get it around or below blue book value (and confirm that it hasn't been smashed and bondo'd back into shape), I drive it until it falls apart and then start over. That was how my family always operated, and it's served me well in the 15 years I've been driving, first a ten-year-old 1981 BMW that had 100k on it and took another 8 years and 150K before it finally conked out, and then a civic that was similarly situated, but after an accident I took my insurance money and bought another old BMW ('96, that was a couple years ago) for around six grand and it's a real dream. It helps finding a car that's only had one owner who appears fastidious. I've been lucky finding cars whose owner retained paperwork and the like. Used cars can be money pits, but they can also be real bargains.
posted by incessant at 10:31 PM on November 25, 2006

Okay, I know this isn't exactly the answer to your question, but have you considered something like Zipcar instead? For the type of usage you describe, owning is probably a big money hole, and even though it's not Manhattan, I bet keeping a car in Brooklyn is a big pain in the ass. Just a thought...
posted by j-dawg at 6:17 AM on November 26, 2006

Your post may as well been written by my wife and I a couple of months ago. The characteristics you were looking for are exactly what we were trying to find.

I have to second the posts mentioning the Corollas, Camrys and other Japanese cars. We were initially searching for a Corolla on the lot, but actually settled on a 2002 Camry LE for about the same price, with a couple of very minor bells and whistles just to make it feel a little nicer. The car runs great, has a suprisingly decent suspension for a smaller car and is a lot roomier than the Corolla (which is still a great car). Consumer Reports also speaks highly of the Japanese cars as opposed to American/German as far as problems (or lack thereof) over time. In addition, the car is a classy looking vehicle at a very reasonable value and my next vehicle will be a Toyota, as well. (No, I do not work for the Toyota Motor Company. I am just a very satisfied owner.)

"The ideal situation is we take it mechanic only for an oil change"

I am not sure if you're just kidding or not, but if not... this expectation is pretty unrealistic. Cars cost money to maintain. Brake pads, tires and suspension parts will wear out and need to be replaced. In addition, the manufacturer calls for certain maintenance at certain milestones in order to make sure the car's parts last as long as they should.

For example, a Power Steering Flush every so often will help to avoid a short life for your Power Steering Pump, a far costlier repair. This is true of most maintenance. So as tempting as it may be to only do oil changes, I would seriously consider following the manufacturer's specifications to a "T" in order to make it last the next ten years -- It might seem expensive in the beginning, but it is far more economical over time.
posted by jeffrygardner at 6:53 AM on November 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

By the way, I would recommend a subscription to the Consumer Reports website, which is pretty economical and will provide some great information about how the different model years of different vehicles stack up. I recommend it, of course, only as a supplement to the expertise of the Ask MetaFilter crowd. :)
posted by jeffrygardner at 6:57 AM on November 26, 2006

I have to say I love my Hyundai and Kia. And you can't beat their warranties.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:52 AM on November 26, 2006

Scion XB. It fits all your criteria, Consumer Reports likes it, and I like mine.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:21 PM on November 26, 2006

If the skiing takes up a lot of the miles then a Subaru's worth having for the all-wheel-drive (which is also helpful on wet roads). I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Subie fan, having driven my '93 Legacy AWD 230k miles. The largest expense has been timing belt changes, to which you're doomed with just about any modern car. I'm on my second Subaru but kept the '93 for hauling bathtubs and hay bales.

Buy one that's three years old. Subarus depreciate pretty quickly. A 2003 Legacy will go for 15k or so, but it's very dependent on where you live.

Kickstart70's problem with the Forester is probably the bad head gaskets they put on '98 - 2000 2.5 liter engines.That's a known problem area, and KS70 - check Ultimate Subaru for help on that.
posted by jet_silver at 1:52 PM on November 26, 2006

Seconding Kadin2048's comment that you're ruling out American cars too quickly/irrationally.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:08 PM on November 26, 2006

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