Need a Car, High MPG, low cost
December 12, 2007 8:10 AM   Subscribe

What is the best low maintenance, high gas mileage, low cost car I can buy (new or used) on a limited budget.

I just wrecked my old car, it was 11 years old and I didn't have comp or collision. My work is driving intensive so I MUST get a new car quick, but I am on a very limited budget. MUST BE AUTOMATIC, can't drive manual.

My paycheck is not reliable yet (new sales job) so I would like to buy the new car outright or at least finance to get a very small monthly payment.

I can basically afford $5,000-7,000 now and perhaps $200 a month.

I don't know if it matters but I live near Raleigh NC.
posted by DetonatedManiac to Shopping (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Late 90s Honda Accord.
posted by sulaine at 8:15 AM on December 12, 2007

Late 90s Honda Accord.
Basically, any well-maintained 4-cylinder Honda that doesn't carry the "Si" badge.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:21 AM on December 12, 2007

Hyundais have a bad rap because the early models were crap. You can get a Hyundai Accent that is still under warranty for $5,000 and it will get upwards of 30mpg. Make sure you let it sit for 24 hours with the battery cables disconnected to reset the mileage computer, and then you'll be good to go.

Otherwise get a well-cared for honda or toyota.
posted by mecran01 at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2007

I bought a 2007 Honda Fit Sport this summer, and I think it's the perfect commuter car.

PROS: I get 27-33 miles per gallon. I paid $16,400 for the fully loaded Sport package. It's got more headroom than an Accord or Civic, it fits into any parking space, and the rear seating/cargo area is spacious and versatile. The Fit has front, side, and side curtain airbags, and scores high on crash tests. The Sport edition comes with alloy wheels, and fog lamps, among other items, and the automatic transmission can be switched into "Sport" mode, to take advantage of the Formula-One-style "paddle shifters" mounted on the wheel. It sounds silly to use paddle shifters on a 190hp subcompact, but it allows for easier passing on the highway, for example.

CONS: The 109hp gas engine is adequate, but you won't be pressed back into your seat. Also, the automatic transmission gearing is a little high for my tastes. Honda isn't selling many Fits yet, so you may have trouble getting one from the dealer. One dealer asked me for a $1500 premium over the sticker price!

With five grand down, you should be able to pay $200 a month - I put $3,000 down and I'm paying ~$300/month for 62 months.
posted by Lord Kinbote at 8:28 AM on December 12, 2007

I got my Civic in 2004 (new) and haven't had to do anything to it but change the oil and get a couple new tires. On the last road trip I took it got 40mpg. In town it usually does somewhere around 33-36. I got the base model (as in no extra letters after the name) and bought at the end of the year, so it was reasonably priced.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:30 AM on December 12, 2007

Another thought about the Fit-- If you worry about driving a "brand new model", where the new design flaws might not be worked out yet, that doesn't apply. Honda has been selling the Fit (aka Honda Jazz) in Japan and Europe since 2004, so it's not a "new" design anymore.
posted by Lord Kinbote at 8:31 AM on December 12, 2007

that's 109 HP on the Fit, NOT 190!
posted by Lord Kinbote at 8:32 AM on December 12, 2007

I'm in Raleigh. A few months ago, looking for the exact same specs, I got a '99 Mazda Protege. Which I love. Which I'm trying to sell--fast--because I got a job in New York. Drop me an e-mail if you're interested?
posted by Jeanne at 8:35 AM on December 12, 2007

A car that fits the asker's requirements would be a Toyota Echo. They get high-30s mileage and fall within the price range. I've been shopping these on Craigslist for a while and they regularly come around the $5k-$7k range.

Lord Kinbote: I have a Fit and have been pretty disappointed with the gas mileage. I rarely see above 30 MPG unless I'm driving all day on the highway. As soon as it gets into the city, the mileage plummets. It's a great car for all the other reasons you listed, though, and I wouldn't give it up.
posted by zsazsa at 8:40 AM on December 12, 2007

Read the reviews on the Echo. I rented one and the handling was a little weird feeling.
posted by mecran01 at 8:44 AM on December 12, 2007

It's only anecdotal, but my search for the same thing led me to a 2001 Saturn LS1. It's a four cylinder, Single Overhead Cam, and it's been very nice to me. I got one with 13k miles last year for about 7k. I'm sure you can find one with 50k miles for less than that. I get 31-33 mpg in mostly hiway driving. I think in this segment Hondas are considered to be more sexy, so the Saturns represent a better value. YMMV.
posted by joecacti at 9:02 AM on December 12, 2007

Crap, I mean SL1. The LS models are larger. Definitely SL1.
posted by joecacti at 9:04 AM on December 12, 2007

You can lease a Honda Civic Hybrid (45MPG) for $199/month with $3500 down. For other high MPG cars, check with the govt.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:05 AM on December 12, 2007

I have a Nissan Versa. 2007, paid 14,500 for it in January. I adore it. The best part is that if anything goes wrong, I don't have to worry about it-- the dealership takes care of it. I get almost 35 mpg highway. My payment is a little over 300/month but I did not put any money down at all.
posted by miss tea at 9:10 AM on December 12, 2007

I've had my 2001 Ford Focus SE for about a year and a half now and it's a great car - I manage mid-high 30s MPG highway and just under 30 city. I'm a big guy but have absolutely no trouble fitting in - it has a whole lot of space inside and an unbelievable amount of trunk space. Late summer '06 we paid $7000 for it, and had a few other Focus options with more miles around 5500-6500. Some people may wave you away from American cars for reliability, but I really love my Focus.
posted by Rallon at 9:32 AM on December 12, 2007

Toyota Echo used, absolutely. Also the Geo/Chevy version of the Corolla, the Prizm. Both undervalued, high-reliability Japanese-built cars. Also Corollas, Proteges, Nissans before 2000, 1st-gen Saturn SL series, and the aforementioned 4-cyl Hondas (pre-2001 only.)

And yes, Rallon, I'm going to wave the poster away from American cars (and German cars, and Swedish cars, and pretty much any non-Japanese car, and some Japanese cars, too) because simple, cheap and reliable are the key criteria here.

Finally, remember: as cars get older, the way they were treated matters more than their lineage, as you can abuse and neglect an otherwise reliable car and create a lemon.
posted by davejay at 9:52 AM on December 12, 2007

Try Carmax. I recently bought used there and had a great experience - price and service.
posted by doorsfan at 10:44 AM on December 12, 2007

Prizm! It's just a Corolla with a different badge, but you can trade on other peoples' ignorance (and their sensible-in-most-cases distaste for American cars) and save some bucks.

(If I ever quit driving pickups, I'll be looking for a Pontiac Vibe.)
posted by box at 10:44 AM on December 12, 2007

zsazsa: I agree with your comments about the mileage: I only get above 30mpg while highway driving.
The EPA recently revised the mileage calculation rules for manufacturers starting with 2008 cars. Many cars have suddenly seen big dips in the mileage printed on the sticker. For example, the The Honda Fit website lists the 2008 Fit Sport at 27 city, 33 highway, which is close to my real driving data from my first 6,000 miles. However, the window sticker on my 2007 Fit read 31 city, 37 highway, which is not realistic.
posted by Lord Kinbote at 10:56 AM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I asked something similar a while back. Ended up going with a 1999 Toyota Corolla, hasn't given me any trouble and gets about 31 MPG. Let's see that was in 2004, so now it's 2007, so you should get a 2002 Corolla. If my math is right.
posted by jcruelty at 11:01 AM on December 12, 2007

It might also be worth looking into pickups. Any late 90s Toyota pickup (with the 2.4L or 2.7L engines) are extremely reliable - the only maintenance I did on mine was replacing brake pads that didn't need to be replaced. My '97 got about 27 mpg on the highway and had 100,000 miles on it.

The downside is that they may be difficult to find in a base model with an automatic.

I miss my '97 - cheap, reliable, and safe. I just wish a lady in an Explorer hadn't been so intent on sending it airborne.
posted by krisak at 12:11 PM on December 12, 2007

Regrading the fuel efficiency of 2008 cars versus older ones - the EPA finally updated the 1970s-era calculations to reflect real-world usage like AC. So many of the "classic" high-MPG ratings from pre-2008 now look artificially high compared to what's advertised on new models such as, for example, the Fit. Smaller cars and hybrids exhibited more of a delta in these calculations than larger cars.
posted by meehawl at 12:26 PM on December 12, 2007

Meh. Mid 90's jetta, really, or civic/accord. If you go Jetta, I would seriously consider Diesel. 55mpg anyone? People will flame this---but I have the insider track.
posted by TomMelee at 6:08 PM on December 12, 2007

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