$10 to $15k used car suggestions
March 18, 2004 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Used car suggestions: I've got 10 to 15k to spend...[mi]

I've got about 10 to 15k to spend on a used car. I'm thinking of a Volkswagen Golf, or a Honda Civic hatchback. I like their size, and I like the style as well.

I don't really know a thing about cars, so any other suggestions as to a decent used car - I'm looking for something from around 2001 or 2002, with less than 40k miles on it - would be appreciated. Features that are important to me are mileage, reliability, and I would like to have a sunroof, as well as a manual transmission.

What kind of car can I expect to get for this amount?

Also, I can pay about 60 to 70% of that in cash - what kind of discount can I expect? Is doing that even wise?
posted by skwm to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total)
I was going to suggest a few things til I realised you were in
'merkia. The exchange rate makes a big difference.

Out of interest, why does it have to be a new(ish) car? You can get a hell of a lot of classic car for 15k...

OT - it's interesting to see that on that side of the water you talk of discounts for paying cash rather than credit while on this side we'd consider ourselves getting stung for credit instead of paying cash. In my experience it's much more common over here to buy with cash or a private loan.
posted by twine42 at 11:13 AM on March 18, 2004

Most banks are actually more willing to loan out larger amounts of money because even at a lower interest rate there is more money to be made that way. I would put down a bit more than the minimum to get financing, borrow the rest, and then make your first payment the rest of what you would have put down. You will get a lower interest rate this way.

Shop for your loan before you shop for the car. If you can walk into the dealership and tell them what rate your bank will give you, their finance manager will still try and beat that by giving you a loan close or at their buy rate. The salesperson usually gets $25-50 if you finance through the dealership, so he's got an incentive to push you that way.

Your best bet to get a good deal is to call around to Honda and VW dealers, tell them what you want, and ask for their best price. They will try and get you to come into the dealership so they can sell you on the car, but if you're flexible (and it sounds like you are) you can get a good idea of what you will have to spend.

Most states' Attorneys General have handbooks online that will warn you against making common or costly mistakes.

Finally, remember that EVERYTHING is negotiable. The anti-theft etching, extended warranty, loan rate, free oil changes, everything.

Good luck!
posted by Coffeemate at 11:15 AM on March 18, 2004

Response by poster: There was also a great thread recently, not sure if it was here or on MeFi proper, aboout negotiating tips for buying a car. I looked, but couldn't find it - anyone know where this one is?

Twine42: The reason I don't want a classic car is that I am starting a new job which will require quite a bit of travel, so I will need something that gets good mileage and is reliable, two qualities which classic cars don't have.
posted by skwm at 11:27 AM on March 18, 2004

after working on about 50 car websites and 100's of car dealer ads for about 7 years, i bought a 2002 hyundai elantra gls, 20k miles on it, cd, moonroof, etc....low emissions, great gas mileage, under 12k--with 10year 100k warranty. The 2003-2004 Accents come in some sporty, manual 2-doors.

wanted a Golf, but they were out of my price range for the years and mileage i wanted....but they are nicer. I think Civic's are overpriced, and--at least in my apartment complex--Honda's get smashed into all the time. Check local insurance, theft, break-in stats. Where I live, its all Honda's and Suburbans that get stolen.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:37 AM on March 18, 2004

Where are you located? Is snow or mountain driving going to be a factor? If so, you might consider picking up a Subaru... the WRX is an absolute blast to drive, has a decent reliability record, and that all-wheel drive can't be beat.

Otherwise, it sounds like you're in the market for something small, sporty, and front wheel drive, in which case I would add to your list these worthy contenders:

Saab 9-3
Mazdaspeed Protege
Mini Cooper
Ford Focus SVT

As twine42 mentioned, if warranty isn't important, and if you're looking to learn a lot more about cars, consider buying something older... you could get a gorgeous BMW 2002tii, or Alfa GTV, or Saab 99Turbo for 15k, one that was well-sorted enough that you could depend on it just about as much as a brand new car.

posted by saladin at 11:41 AM on March 18, 2004

I just purchased a 2003 Chevy Malibu for about $9,999. Car had about 23k miles on the odometer. The local GM dealers had a lot of these, recently from a rental company. So you might luck up on a good deal.

They're a nice (although boxy) car, with CD, Power everything witha V6. It's a mid-size car with another 1.5 years on the warranty. Get something built well, instead of trying to impress people.
posted by mkelley at 11:42 AM on March 18, 2004

saladn, I don't think that skwm is likely to find any of the cars you mentioned for less than 15k.

skwm, are you sold on a hatchback? Would you mind buying new if you found a really good deal? Do you care at all about "fun to drive", or are you just looking for cheap, reliable transportation?

The "certified preowned" Hondas are usually a very good deal. If you're just looking for dependable, cheap wheels, you might want to look at Hyuandais from the past few years -- certainly nothing early than 2000 or so. A friend of mine was recently looking for a car to do nothing but take her back and forth to work, and she's been very happy with a 2001 Elantra she bought at an excellent price. I'd stay away from any of the other Korean brands, though. Their reliability just hasn't been shown to be up to snuff, yet.

There are also a few exciting new car buys in that price range. The new Chevy Aveo, for one, has receivd very good reviews in recent car mags, and the stripper models start at under $10k. Well equipped, they're still only about $13k, iirc.

These suggestions are all based around plain, pedestrian transportation that will do little for your adrenalien level, but also do little to your blood pressure. If you have different priorities, say so, and I can come up with a whole other batch of suggestions.
posted by jammer at 11:49 AM on March 18, 2004

Love my Honda. Started on a -24 F. morning a few weeks ago, no problem. I would have kissed it, but I didn't want to stick to it in that weather...

But, it's also on some "most stolen" lists for my area, so I second the advice above about checking such stats.
posted by gimonca at 11:53 AM on March 18, 2004

Jammer, I wouldn't have thought so either, but before I posted I made sure to check around just to see. I found at least 3 nice examples of each one under 15k (quite a few really nice Saabs) except the Focus. Got a little overzealous on that one, meant to recommend a ZX5 Focus, not an SVT, in which case there are plenty available in that price range as well.
posted by saladin at 11:57 AM on March 18, 2004

Actually, I could see the Mazdaspeed being in that price range, come to think of it... but the Saab and the Mini really surprise me. I apologize for contradicting you without loooking.
posted by jammer at 12:01 PM on March 18, 2004

Response by poster: I'm not really interested in anything flashy or extra-fast, a nice plain old pedestrian car is what I'm after. That being said, I'd also like something that doesn't look like my grandmother drives.
posted by skwm at 12:06 PM on March 18, 2004

I would suggest the Mini Cooper...base is US$17K...and all the bells and whistles only bring it up to US$21K. They are exceptional cars, and hold a lot in the back - which is surprising givin it's size. I see you live in Long Island, Mini's have great gas milage and are super easy to park.

That being said, check out Confessions of a Car Salesman - a reporter goes undercover and becomes a car salesman to see what it is like. Very informative to understand the inner drive of car salesmen.
posted by plemeljr at 12:18 PM on March 18, 2004

The Honda Civic is more likely to hold its value and less likely to randomly spit pieces of itself off onto the roadway than the Golf, in my experience.

Also, it's Edmund's Best Bet in the economy class.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:19 PM on March 18, 2004

I just purchased a 2003 Chevy Malibu for about $9,999. ... Get something built well, instead of trying to impress people.

Talk about an easy target.

Seriously, look at Edmunds.com and at Consumer Reports' used-car ratings. If you're using the car for business travel, I would discourage going for a "good deal" with, say, a year-old fleet or rental car that people abused until you came along. You may want to suck up the dealer markup on a used car and get a vehicle with a warranty, too, since you'll be racking up miles pretty quickly and will discover problems as you go.

For your purposes, I'd advocate buying an inexpensive new car, as discussed above. The folks suggesting cars that start at $17K are a little ridiculous given $15K is your limit, but a number of reliable, enjoyable cars exist in your price range: Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Echo and Scion, Hyundai Accent, and others.
posted by werty at 12:33 PM on March 18, 2004

Consumer Reports just mailed me their latest Car Issue. Go find it! It's a must for this kind of decision. It details not only new cars reliability projections, but also used car details.

For what it's worth: I bought a '99 Civic a year ago and love it. My partner bought a new Civic two months ago and loves it. I'm jealous of her advanced cup holder technology! The new Civics now come with a kill switch ignition.
posted by answergrape at 12:37 PM on March 18, 2004

No worries, Jammer, arguing cars is my favorite pastime!
posted by saladin at 12:44 PM on March 18, 2004

(mine, too, Saladin)

To follow up on what werty said, skwm, I would certainly suggest going for either an inexpensive new car, or one of the used cars that come with a factory inspection and remainder of warranty. If reliability is a key concern of yours, there's little to gain from buying from some random Joe.

You've gotten alot of good suggestions in this thread. You pretty much can't go wrong with anything from Toyota or Honda's budget lines. Nissan isn't quite up to the same quality or reliability standards -- and I say that as a happy, albeit occasionally frustrated, Nissan owner. Hyundai, as I've noted, makes an excellent car at a very good price, and you get a killer warranty with it; they've come a lon way from the Excel.

If you're more interested in domestics, the Focus, as saladin pointed out, is in your price range in all but the sportiest model; they would certainly, I think, meet your requirement that it not look like a retirement-car, either. A ZX3 or 5, depending on your wants and needs, would do you very nicely, and can certainly be found used in your price range. You can find a basic ZX3 new under 15k, even. The offerings from the remainder of the big three I don't find very compelling. The Neon has always seemed to me to be a bit underwhelming just about any way you look at it. GM's economy car lineup has been far from stellar for a long time, but, as I mentioned above, the Aveo looks promising.

Hopefully you've gotten useful leads from the posts above. All car buying, though, comes down to getting out, putting your butt in the seat, and making sure that what you're looking at is something you're willing to make a relatively long-term commitment to. Take our suggestions, research them on your own, come up with a list of 5 or so models you'd be interested in, then go drive them all. You probably won't go wrong whatever you pick -- now is a very exciting time to be looking at "budget" cars.
posted by jammer at 1:01 PM on March 18, 2004

10-15K will get you a lot of Honda! I bought a 96 Accord sedan from my local dealers [they are a no haggle, shop, such a simple deal] which had 100K miles on it for 5K-ish. Body was in good shape, interior lovely. My boyfriend's '94 Accord is still going strong at 180K. I second everyone's advice to go looking at Edmunds and the new Consumer Reports. For Hondas in my range, the important question was "Have they had the 90K mile maintenance?" which involves getting a new drive train and is pricey if it hasn't been done. With newer Hondas this is less of an issue, of course. I'd lean towards used over new only because Hondas hold value and there's the "car loses thousands in value once you drive it off the lot" adage. Also, yeah Honda's certified pre-owned cars are a really good value and well-warranteed.

In answer to your specific questions: mine [sort of a ghost of xmas future to what you are looking at] gets 33 MPG highway, manual transmission, starts in -25 weather, is comfy for commuting, looks a little boring, but not unbearable, and is pretty fun to drive for a sedan. I paid cash so I have no loan advice.
posted by jessamyn at 1:12 PM on March 18, 2004

When I went looking for a used car, armed with about the same funding, I ended up with a new, base-model Nissan Sentra. It cost about $10K. I think it was actually "last year's" model that had been sitting on the lot for a while, which dropped the price by a couple thousand.

Anyway, I second the recommendation for a cheap new car, as opposed to an expensive used one. I'm really happy with the Sentra - it is exactly the sort of basic, workhorse, good-mileage-good-reliabilty car I was looking for, and it was quite a bit less than the used Hondas the dealership was selling. Unlike jammer, I haven't had any problems with my Nissan, and it's up to 50,000 miles. If you get one, you should probably buy a decent CD/MP3 deck with the money you save, though. :)
posted by vorfeed at 1:14 PM on March 18, 2004

th3ph17 nails my suggestion exactly on the Elantra, except I'd suggest the GT. I paid just a tad over $15,000 for my loaded Elantra GT hatchback in January 2003. That's with the automatic and with the ABS and sunroof bundle, not to mention all the goodies that come standard on the Elantra GT, such as the leather seats and wheel, keyless entry, and fog lights. You could probably get a brand new 2004 with the manual trans and sunroof for around $15,000, but of course there would be sales tax.

I've got about 18,000 miles on mine and have been quite satisfied. No major mechanical issues at all, and the car has been in the shop exactly one day to take care of a few minor things at no cost to me. The warranty simply kicks ass.

The 2004 is even better than the 2003; the interior's a bit nicer (e.g. chrome emblem on steering wheel), the stereo is now a Kenwood MP3 CD player, and they added variable valve timing to the engine for better low-end torque and an extra MPG or so. It's probably the best value in compact cars.
posted by kindall at 1:20 PM on March 18, 2004

I will add to the certified used Honda chorus. Spring for the Accord, it will still be within your price range and it's a fantastic car. Bought my '98 Accord in 2001 off-lease with 32K miles; negotiated it down to $14.5 with the certification and powertrain warranty to 100K miles. And that was in an expensive market as well (Cambridge Mass.)

BTW, I got 6% financing with the certification package. That's negotiable as well. Just threaten to take your loan to the bank if they don't give you a good rate.
posted by PrinceValium at 1:41 PM on March 18, 2004

Is there a CarMax in your area? When I got my car there a few years ago, I noticed that every used car on their lot was listed in Consumer Reports as a "recommended" buy, and without exception within (though near the top of) CR's suggested price range. You'd be likely to get a better price from an individual, but I was very happy with CarMax's administration--they handled all the paperwork, registration, etc. Plus, they have extended warranties.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:58 PM on March 18, 2004

Unlike jammer, I haven't had any problems with my Nissan, and it's up to 50,000 miles

Lest I give a false impression, in 36,000 miles I haven't had any real problems. It's just that, compared to Hondas, in particular, of similar vintage I have a few more creaks and rattles, my paint's in a bit rougher shape, and it generally feels like it hasn't worn as well. Of course, a good portion of that is because I drive my car hard, including frequent autocrossing during three seasons of the year, and, while I'm religious about mechanical maintenance and exterior care, I'm a bit slack when it come to other details.

I'd still recommend Nissan to anyone who was looking for a reliable car that was entertaining to drive -- the major Japanese makes, imo, fall on a continuum with Toyota/Lexus at the appliance-like end of the scale, Nissan/Infinity channeling alot more pure emotion at the expense of a bit of refinement, and Honda/Acura somewhere in the middle.

I love my Nissan.

posted by jammer at 2:40 PM on March 18, 2004

My wife is in love with her Corolla S. It came out to be 14k and change (plus taxes and stuff) I can say that it is pretty fun to drive and the S package looks pretty good.

As for shopping... I reccomend emailing all your local dealers. That will get you the internet department. They normally (at least around here) have set prices right around invoice.

Good luck, drive a bunch of cars in your price range and pick the one that you feel right in!
posted by stew560 at 4:54 PM on March 18, 2004

I love my Nissan NX. If you're looking for a pocket-rocket car, it should be at the top of your list. Rear seat for emergency passengers, lots of trunk space, and an absolute blast to drive. Get a loaded NX 2000 (abs, airbags, 4w disc, t-top, air, pw/l) with low kilometers.

Myself, I've beat my NX 1600 over hundreds of kilometers of rutted logging roads. It's been places no sporty t-top should be. And it has the scars to prove it.

So I'm also looking for a next vehicle. The Acura EL is top of the charts for a refined, small sedan with some amount of fun; it feels just like the NX. But I can't let myself take something like that off the asphalt, and I just know I'm going to go hiking again. So next on the list is the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute. Top of the charts for the small SUV, with moderate off-road capability.

The Subarus were in the running, until I concluded that they are a premium price with the most utilitarian interior. Wonderful as the engine and transmission may be, they don't make up for the boring, cheap interior. They do, however, fall squarely between a nice car and a nice truck. Handles mostly like a car, and decently at that; can drive like a monster truck, and decently at that.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:56 PM on March 18, 2004

The Honda CR-V isn't particularly advanced for off-road applications -- the "Real Time 4WD" has limitations, and clearance is OK but not all it's cracked up to be -- but as an everyday driver it's pretty nice if you replace the stock tires which are uniformly awful. I was able to score one for just under ten grand, with AC, CD changer, and the alloy rim package, in generally nice condition. It's a quasi-SUV built on the lauded Civic platform, and though 2L four-banger could probably stand to get better mileage it's far from being a Hummer in that department.

I was originally shopping around for a Civic hatchback or a Golf, too, but found the CR-V to my liking, roomy and well-designed -- the cargo area has a built-in picnic table and a wet well for storage under the floor, and there are tons of little places to stash things all throughout the truck; the interior just feels really well thought-out -- and about the same price if you're willing to get something with some miles on it. Fortunately, they're pretty much trouble-free for the first 200,000 miles or so if maintenance is kept up. It's a Honda, after all.

Think of the CR-V as kind of a SU-minivan for people who don't need the gonzo "mini"vans that are out there these days.
posted by majick at 8:30 PM on March 18, 2004

Nissan is now building a more reliable car than Honda or Toyota

Nissan has really been kicking ass the past few years in general. Their first full-size pickup truck ever, the Titan, recently won a Car and Driver comparo against all the Big 3 Americans. When I was shopping for cars the Murano had just recently come out, and when I ran across it at the dealer in that copper color, I stopped dead in my tracks with my mouth hanging open. It was just so audacious.

It's about time they redesign the Sentra to bring it in line with the rest of their designs, though. A mini-Altima would sell like hotcakes.
posted by kindall at 8:40 AM on March 19, 2004

Nissan's Sentra will be redesigned for '05 - you can probably see it now at a dealer.
Banks LOVE the Sentra because it is incredibly reliable and holds its value well.
posted by Coffeemate at 9:23 AM on March 19, 2004

Audacious is a very kind word to use when discussing the Murano. My god it's hideous! were the words I used when I first saw it.

I wish Nissan would return the NX. It was the Honda CRX done right. Perhaps not quite as fun as the Miata, but far, far more practical. (I can bring full sheets of plywood home in the NX, and can carry kids in the NX. Can't say the same for the CRX and Miata.)

I'm very, very tempted by the Pathfinder, but I can't find a reviewer who claims it's the top of the heap.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:41 AM on March 19, 2004

Yeah, the Murano and the rest of Nissan's new-styled vehicles are very "love it or hate it." I know people who think the new Z is hideous. To me, it looks like a movie prop, and I have mixed feelings about that, but on the whole I like it. But at least the Murano has some personality, unlike most of its competition.
posted by kindall at 12:52 PM on March 19, 2004

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