Car purchase could be the death of me...
November 20, 2007 11:24 PM   Subscribe

I just got a kick-butt new job, and I'm already in stressed-out, dejected pain -- over buying a stupid car to get to it.

I've just gotten this great new communications officer gig that kicks all kinds of ass (short hours, lots of holidays, good pay, interesting travel, casual office environment, networking opportunities galore -- yay!). I start on Monday, and am crazily excited.

The catch is the car.

We're currently a single-vehicle family (minivan), having just booted our last beater into the back-40 three weeks ago, because of terminal fixability issues. This job showed up out of the blue, and I was hired, literally, three hours after the interview. We had planned on single-car-ing it for the next little while, but this has massively accelerated the need to purchase something. So, I have five days to find a vehicle. Here are my issues:

1) We live in a rural area, four hours from Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, so there is a dearth of used vehicle options;

2) I want something that's in the 5-8K range (so I can pay cash);

3) I've looked at all kinds of used vehicles in Winnipeg, and though I know many will recommend a Corolla, Civic, Tercel or Accord, the price on these cars in Winnipeg are *insane.* I cannot in good conscience pay $8,000 for a 1994 four-door Tercel with 170,000k on it, that looks so cheap, the gas pedal must be an option;

4) I'm not super image-conscious, but I want something that has a little style. I have a minivan for hauling the kidlets around in, so it would be nice to have something a little sportier -- yet still good on gas -- to drive to work in;

5) I'm not a mechanical idiot, but I also don't have the time in my day to dink around with a car that's not going to be reliable.

I'm totally dejected over this, because I'm running out of time, and feeling like I've got to spend substantially more money than I thought, on cars that look not-so-reliable. I guess I'm looking for some opinions on other cars that are in that price range that I've found (all in the 1999-2003ish age):

-Olds Alero
-Pontiac Grand Am (I swear to god, half of Winnipeg owns this or a Cavalier)
-Pontiac Grand Prix

....or, should I suck it up and spend more on something else?

Thanks, hive mind....
posted by liquado to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is leasing a new car an option for you? $5K is probably more than enough for a deposit and all the other fees they slap you with. If you use your van for the rest of your travels, you should be able to stay within the mileage allowance of a lease vehicle.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:55 PM on November 20, 2007

I was in the same situation as you a few months ago looking for a reliable used car at a reasonable price. I was shocked at how few decent cars are out there. For used, I have heard good things about Echoes. I know the Lemonaide guide recommends them, they also have a chapter on cheap beater cars that are reliable. If you had more time I would recommend a trip to Southern Ontario to see the larger used car selection. Because the cost of car repairs has gone up so much in the past ten years, and now I have a real job and a family, reliability was my number one concern. I ended up purchasing a new Toyota Yaris (base price $16,000, with taxes and options it was $19,000). The financing was great, the dealer treated me like a person, not a wallet, and the fact that I don't have to worry about car repairs, especially now winter is here, is worth the extra cost to me. The car is ~awesome~ on gas and I am due to recieve my $1000 cheque from the federal gov't's ecoAuto programme any day now. If you are worried about size, my SO is over 6 feet and built like a brick shithouse and finds it comfortable. I'm usually driving with three children in back and I have used it for camping trips with no problem either.
posted by saucysault at 11:57 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Agree with Oriole- you need something reliable and professional, with a low total cost of ownership. You may have to join the rest of us unfortunates who had to get a new car by loan or lease. Consider a Civic - seems to have a high resale value in your area. First time your 1999 Grand Am doesn't start when you need to get to work, you'll may be unhappy with the more sensible decision.
posted by objdoc at 1:49 AM on November 21, 2007

Would you be able to rent a car for the first weak and then take a trip on the weekend to someplace with better used cares? The expense of the rental might be worth.
posted by oddman at 4:17 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

seconding the renting option. It will give you more time to make better decisions.
posted by necessitas at 4:48 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is there any way you could drive down to the US to make a purchase? Between better prices and the strength of the Canadian dollar, maybe you'd be able to afford more.
posted by Madamina at 5:01 AM on November 21, 2007

This seems like a reasonable price for a vehicle with fairly low kms for its age..

The Cavaliers are everywhere, but they're really not bad cars.

How far is your daily commute going to be?
posted by davey_darling at 5:33 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

It may be worthwhile to fly somewhere to buy something and drive the car back. Even if you end up paying the same when you figure in the plane ticket, you will have way more choices. Maybe figure out a 6 or 8 hour driving radius and check one of the websites that allow to search for cars within a certain area of where you live.

Looking for a good used car is stressful even under the best circumstances. I'm doing the same thing right now. Good luck.
posted by The Deej at 5:48 AM on November 21, 2007

I was gonna also mention hoping the border BUT warranty might be an issue and if it used you'll definitely want to add that.
posted by doorsfan at 6:13 AM on November 21, 2007

I agree with the idea of renting a car for a week or two and spending a little more time searching for a permanent vehicle.

Also: it can't hurt to ask your new employer to defray at least some of the cost of this rental. If they want you enough to hire you 3 hours after an interview, and your job includes travel, they may be willing to throw a few hundred dollars your way for a couple of weeks rental. It isn't really that different from having an employer pay moving expenses if you have to relocate for a job.
posted by googly at 6:35 AM on November 21, 2007

Response by poster: Hi folks. An update on a few points:

1) Oriole Adams/davey_darling: My commute every day is 80km return (ah, rural life). Leasing could kill me on the km overage. (PS davey_darling: Nice find. I've emailed the owner to see if it's still available.)

2) Oddman/necessitas: I had thought about the rental thing to buy some time, but the lead-up to Christmas is, as for many, ridiculously hectic, likely killing any option to go south looking for a vehicle.

3) The Deej: Cities in the 6-8 hour range include Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, and Minneapolis/St. Paul's (the middle of nowhere is down the block from us) -- I was thinking about going down to M/SP and looking, but again, timing and time available make it difficult, if not impossible.

Thankee sai...
posted by liquado at 6:41 AM on November 21, 2007

How about a pick-up truck? Don't know much about them, but maybe even an old cheap one would solve the image problem or at least put you into a different image category. Presumably it would have to be 4 wd given where you are.
posted by Kevin S at 6:53 AM on November 21, 2007

I have a '99 Grand Am. It's not a bad car. I have the 4 cylinder engine, and if I use the non-ethanol gas I routinely get ~30 mpg. That goes down to about 20-25 if I use the ethanol stuff. I'd convert that to metric, but I don't remember the preferred units...

An option you may consider, though it's not generally recommended, is to ask for a pay advance from your new job. It would be work related, if you need to justify it.

Also, have you asked at your new job if they have some sort of lease deal you may be able to take advantage of?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:21 AM on November 21, 2007

Oh, I forgot to add that I paid ~$9K US in 2004 for the Grand Am (Washington state). So far the biggest problem I've had was that the resistor that controls the fan speed (for the heater/A.C.) burned out. It was a pain to replace, due to its location, but it stayed fixed.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:28 AM on November 21, 2007

Mazda Miata? I was looking to buy a car a couple years ago for around $8000 (US), and folks here were touting the reliability of Miata's - "built like tanks" and "Camry-like reliability" are the phrases that stuck out at me. The '99 and '00 models were in or near my price range, and Consumer Reports pegged the overall gas mileage as 27 mpg.

I didn't actually buy any car, so I'm just spitballing here. Congrats on your new job, tho'.
posted by averyoldworld at 7:35 AM on November 21, 2007

Importing a car into Canada is a bit of a nightmare and requires time, paperwork and (I think?) money. Also has issues with reselling it.
posted by barnone at 8:01 AM on November 21, 2007

I'm in much the same position, looking to drop about $7K on a decent used car. Right now I'm leaning towards a 2000-era Saturn S-Series with about 100k km. Both the coupe and the sedan get 40 mpg highway and are very reliable.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 8:23 AM on November 21, 2007

Can you buy Saturns in Canada? I picked up a 2002 SE 4-door the summer before last for under $8000US in Washington state (55,000 miles). It was one of their most popular small cars before they replaced it with the Ion, and it has been utterly reliable. Not a bad-looking little car, either. Saturn is what is keeping GM afloat these days.

Congrats on the job, by the way!
posted by lhauser at 8:47 AM on November 21, 2007

5-8K range (so I can pay cash);

Try to find a Saturn S-Series of 1997-2002 vintage. Its like a Honda without the price premium.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:47 AM on November 21, 2007

Response by poster: I'm looking at the Saturns, too, but thanks for the reminder -- argh, too.... much..... selection....


Thanks for the help all. I'm still following up on the Cavalier that davey_darling found, and I've got a line on something locally that might be cheaper, too. I'll leave a last update once I get vehicled up.
posted by liquado at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2007

Another satisfied Pontiac Grand Am owner here (ex-owner, now -- totaled by friend.) Mine was a '97, totally reliable, reasonably comfortable ride. Gas milage was not great, but I'd get another if the price was ok.
posted by anadem at 10:47 AM on November 21, 2007

ebay motors. Look long and hard and carefully, check the carfax report & get it inspected before you give them the payment. I've known several people who got pretty good cars that way. You can shop from home, then take a trip to pick up the car.
posted by theora55 at 11:09 AM on November 21, 2007

I agree with lhauser on Saturns. There are two dealers in Winnipeg (googled 'em). If Canadian Saturn dealerships are anything like US ones, they are absolutely great to buy from-- low pressure, reliable product, excellent used options. Also agreeing that you need to try renting (or maybe the company has a company car you could use for a month to take you past the holidays?) to give yourself some time to cope.
posted by nax at 11:47 AM on November 21, 2007

You can get a Honda Accord (probably around a 2001 or newer, I'd guess) for that prices range. I don't know my Canada, but if Winnipeg is a reasonably sized city, you might be able to find something.

I have a friend in a similar situation who bought a Dodge Caliber, totally stripped for about $8k. I would be careful with renting, as making the payments on something for a month or so while you find something else may be much cheaper.

Finally, you might be able to tell your employer about this hardship\inconvenience, and see if they can somehow help you out (by discounting car rental, or similar).
posted by !Jim at 10:42 PM on November 21, 2007

Response by poster: Hey all:

Just to close the thread, I wound up buying another beater to save me the frustration (and likely rapage) in trying to buy a car in one day. The "beater" is a 1997 Lumina with 213k on it, but it's in great shape, new tires, little rust, and was $2300. If it lasts a year, I'm ahead of the game.

Thanks for the advice. Oh, and the job still rules. :)
posted by liquado at 9:29 PM on November 28, 2007

Thanks for the update liquado. Nothing wrong with getting by for now. I just finished my used car hunt as well. I paid $1800 for a (are you ready?) 96 Grand Am in excellent shape, with 140,000 miles. I'm looking to get 2 years out of it, but I drive much less than you. Work is just 4 miles and I take the bus a lot of the time.

Good luck with the Lumina and congrats on the job.
posted by The Deej at 7:27 AM on November 29, 2007

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