I need car buying advice please
June 14, 2008 5:44 PM   Subscribe

I need to buy a car, it must be small, cheap and good on gas.

I sold my Honda Accord to move here to Denver and have been car-less for a year now. Since nursing school has involved more traveling than I expected PLUS I feel so freaking isolated with no car, I really would like to get one for the next school year. I am poor like crazy but will have $1000 in August and I have so/so credit. Any suggestions? Kia? Ancient Honda? I should add that there is no one here in Denver that can help me with repairs so dependable would be good. Do I go to a dealer or should I figure out the kind and look in craigslist? I'm so bad at this stuff!
posted by yodelingisfun to Shopping (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Old Pros of MPG

Just one of many articles on this subject I found by googling "used cars" and "good gas milage."
posted by wfrgms at 6:03 PM on June 14, 2008

Old Honda Civic. Great mileage, cheap to fix, goes forever. Don't go to a dealer, don't go into debt.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 6:08 PM on June 14, 2008

I love my 2006 Scion XA. It's little but zippy, gets 38 highway miles/gallon and it has great resale value. (I bought mine new for 14 grand in May 2007, just got a letter from the toyota dealership offering to buy it back for 12 grand due to it being so high in demand.)
posted by np312 at 6:08 PM on June 14, 2008

Old Civic > Any Kia. That being said, they have a pretty good rating from Consumer Reports now (best small car?). Still... I would prefer a 2000 Accord/Civic to a 2008 Kia anything.
posted by SirStan at 6:10 PM on June 14, 2008

IANA car owner.

1) Do you have any connections, even loose ones, to car people? An uncle who's a car auctioneer? Dad knows someone at work who's looking to get rid of an 80s Toyota or Honda?

2) If you do go the Craigslist route, take the car for a test drive to a mechanic or two and have them give you an estimate on what needs to be done to make it safe and pass any sort of legal tests it might need to pass (smog tests, for example). If it's not going to die soon or kill you, then perhaps it's worth it.

3) You mention that you're in school: are there other students interested in sharing a car? No idea about the feasibility of that one, but if you and a friend split the cost, that might make life significantly (though not incredibly) easier.

4) See if your bank/credit union is willing to extend you a loan for $1000/$2000 more - with that much, you can totally find something that might last you for a few years if it's been maintained well - here's a mid-90s Camry which apparently runs well for $2600. My first car (2001) was a $1700 1985 Toyota Camry (with a moonroof!) that ran really well after a few hundred dollars of maintenance had been done on it, and it lasted years (until I, uh, totaled it). I had a $3200 Suzuki Esteem station wagon after that for three years until I sold it (for only a few hundred less than I paid!), and aside from routine oil/filter changes (a few dollars every few months), I didn't have to do much of anything to maintain it, and it got 35 mpg.

5) Finally, learn stick shift: it's harder to sell something people can't drive, so perhaps you'd have more leverage when negotiating a price.
posted by mdonley at 6:13 PM on June 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you for the link wfrgms, but I guess I'm looking for more personal experiences to add to what I've read. Not to mention two different articles often say opposite things and like I mentioned, I'm not savvy with the car buying. I know no one here in Denver, well a boyfriend and some class-mates but no family no close friends, no car helpers. I've seen REALLY old Hondas in my price range, but I was scared of the age. Not so much a worry then? I can totally drive a stick, my first car was a red chevette with only one working door (passenger side!), I loved that car. Anyhow thanks for the advice so far.
posted by yodelingisfun at 6:24 PM on June 14, 2008

Oh yeah, if you just need a car for occasional errand running then you could consider a ride-share program like zipcar or flexcar. Both are available in your area. Between a zipcar and my bicycle I get around Chicago pretty easily. Not sure how viable that is for Denver.
posted by wfrgms at 6:27 PM on June 14, 2008

I'd go an old Corolla, myself. I've had one for years, anyway. It racked up 300k km with no real mechanical issues, and is only off the road when it started rusting up a bunch. Very fuel efficient, and quite capable of hauling my 1.85m frame around (6'1" in old money).
posted by rodgerd at 6:41 PM on June 14, 2008

If you are looking at a REALLY old Honda, try to find one that the current owner has had for a long time and has plenty of maintenance records. Hondas CAN go forever, but only if taken care of. It's pretty easy to destroy any car by not paying attention, not changing the oil regularly, not fixing small problems before they turn into big problems. If you do get a very old car, remember that things will break, but if you have the car checked and tuned up regularly it won't leave you stranded and will cost much less than a newer car in the long run.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 6:42 PM on June 14, 2008

posted by arnicae at 6:44 PM on June 14, 2008

SmartCars are definitely not in yodelingisfun's budget.. they're not really cheaper than a regular car
posted by majikstreet at 7:15 PM on June 14, 2008

SmartCars are definitely not in yodelingisfun's budget.. they're not really cheaper than a regular car

The new American Smart cars also don't get nearly the mileage you'd expect and have gotten shitty reviews.

You can get about equally good mileage from something like a Kia Rio. My wife has been happy with hers.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:22 PM on June 14, 2008

you're not really saying what you have to spend. If you have "so-so credit,"you're looking at truly terrible interest rates generally, so financing is a last resort. That said, you can do this.

Folks recommending an ancient Honda havn't been pricing cars. Any Civic that still runs is coveted by the "2 Fast 2 Furious" crowd because it can be repaired and modded easily. Which is a shame because they're really durable cars.

If you're looking to spend that 1,000 and be clear, your best bet is a Toyota from the late 80's/early 90's or a Volvo of a similar vintage. Since you're "so bad at this stuff", your best aim is for a car with a current inspection sticker. That's not a guarantee of no work needed, but it's a strong suggestion that the car will thrive to limp along until you have more cash to put into it.

If you take one thing away from my comment, it should be this: financing a used car more than just a few years old is a trap. With that 1000 bucks, picking the right make, you can get a beater that will last you a couple years with minimal repairs. And the cheaper the entry price, the less likely the car is to bear up. A used Kia looks like a bargain until you have to maintain it. Shoot for a Toyota, Volvo or Subaru in your "pay cash" range with at least 8 months on the sticker, change the oil regularly, and you might have a winner.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:30 PM on June 14, 2008

Put the word out in your personal network that you're looking for a reliable used car. Cars on the private market are cheaper. Find a good mechanic to inspect any car you consider.
posted by theora55 at 9:42 PM on June 14, 2008

I love my 2006 Scion XA.


Why are you guys suggesting cars that are 15 times the OP's price range?


I would look on craigslist and in your local paper for an older Honda Civic hatchback or CRX. They can be had for about $1500 around these parts and get around 40 MPG. (Source)

One thing about getting a deal on a used car is that it's really important to check frequently, and when you see a deal, to be the first person there with cash-in-hand. My dad has gotten a lot of sweet deals on all kinds of cars by doing this.
posted by !Jim at 9:57 PM on June 14, 2008

Oh, and you should definitely look for a car that's been well-maintained and had few owners. You should also take any car you're considering buying to a good mechanic. You can just tell them you're considering buying the car and ask them to look at it. If you don't know any mechanics in your area, and don't know anyone who does, head over to cartalk.com and put your zip code into the Find a Mechanic box. It looked like there might be a few rated ones in your area.
posted by !Jim at 10:05 PM on June 14, 2008

Find a Hyundai Accent that is still under warranty.
posted by mecran01 at 11:10 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Accent. I've bought 2 in my life, still on the second one. Great cars for the money. However, looking at your budget, it would seem that's out of reach unless it's a REALLY old Accent, used. In your shoes, here's what I'd do. Go find one of them auto auctions that's held every month or so in most regions, and look at the old Asian cars (Japan/Korea), generally the smaller the car the better it will be on gas. When I was in college, that's what I did, got myself an old Datsun for $400. It sipped gas, and I got about 25000 miles out of it. The down side was there was repair work that needed doing from time to time and I ended up doing it all myself. Although the older the car, the easier it is to do repairs yourself, and cheaper too. It's a great way to (be forced to) learn how to fix cars. If you do get an old heap of some sort, go get a Haynes manual for it pronto.
posted by barc0001 at 2:06 AM on June 15, 2008

Buy something used and Japanese and about ten years old.

Ten year old Korean cars will be about as good as ten year old Japanese cars in about another three years. Hyundai designs and build quality are better than Kia.

American cars are rubbish.

European cars cost too much.
posted by flabdablet at 5:44 AM on June 15, 2008

Flabdablet, I'd qualify your statement with, *cheap* cars are rubbish, and the American companies make plenty of them. The Japanese and Europeans don't make cheap cars. Dollar for dollar, most cars are about the same in the US market. The rest is confirmation bias, marginal gains, and whatever that effect is where when you believe you've got a good car so you take care of it. If you could do a total cost of ownership calculation and somehow correct for that, I'm sure everything would level out. Right now, for a new car, Hyundai seems to be making the cheapest, best car. But as they gain a reputation for quality, that price is going to go up. Maybe not to the level of a Toyota, but it will level out.

If I wanted a 10 year old, cheap used car that got good mileage, I too would choose a Civic or a Corolla. But only if all things are equal- if the choice is between getting some unknown Honda from a used car lot and a Dodge that the old lady next door took care of, the Dodge wins.

Here is a rule I try to follow- people don't sell good stuff. Both end users and car dealers. If it's an end user, find out why they are selling. If it's a car dealer, they keep the good used cars and auction off the bad ones. Why should they sell a good car at auction when they could sell it on the lot for way more? Only one reason to send a car to auction, and that's because it's more hassle than its worth. So if you're buying a used car, make sure it's never been auctioned. Or at least, go to the auction and get a price commensurate with the risk of buying the unknown.
posted by gjc at 8:51 AM on June 15, 2008

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