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  • morin2 05/14/10 2:09 pm PST

    Great question. Tell us more about what you need the car to do & you'll get better answers. Just hit the "answer this question" below. Things like: fuel efficient commuter, hauler, tow vehicle, winter use & AWD, cars for lots of kids & their gear, kayak & canoe transport, best for inside versatility or carrying bikes inside, etc. There's no point in folks telling you why a car is good if it doesn't fit your needs.

    My used cars have been more reliable than my new cars. How's that for a surprise?

    Whatever models are suggested, you will need to bring any used car to your mechanic for an inspection. Maintenance records are a plus. Carfax can help to rule some out, but not necessarily to approve a purchase.


  • gallan 05/14/10 2:23 pm PST

    Thanks for the quick reply! Didn't realize I was being so vague. Here's some more detail:


    It's just me and my two-year-old so I need a car that I would feel comfortable driving him around in. I ride my bike to work every day, so I drive less than 300 miles per month. Fuel efficiency would be nice, but I don't drive enough for it to make much of a difference. Most of my trips are only a few miles, but about once a month I'll go see my parents about 100 miles away. That involves driving over mountains, and through snow in the winter months, so it would need to be able to handle that. I don't tow anything and it doesn't need to hold bikes or canoes or any equipment like that.

    I just need a simple car that's relatively safe, that'll handle the occasional grocery store trip and a monthly trip over the mountain.

  • morin2 05/14/10 2:50 pm PST

    You've got lots of options.
    My favorite would be a Toyota Camry 4 cyl (2.2 liter) around 1999-2002. These are both reliable and easy to maintain yourself. If you need more power in the mountains, you could opt for a V6 - but it will be less maintenance friendly. A Nissan Maxima of the same years would be ok too - the powertrains are durable but expect the occasional failed power window or sunroof. Somewhat harder to find would be a H6 Subaru Legacy or Outback sedan or wagon. You can't beat a Subaru in the snow. But avoid the 4 cyl. models. Those with the 2.5 liter in the years for your price target are prone to headgasket failure - while the 3.0 H6 is not.

    Condition and maintenance history might be more important than the brand & model - at least among these three.

  • morin2 05/14/10 3:07 pm PST

    I would add Honda Accord 00-02 to the list also. Used, its priced close to a smaller Civic. Its marketed new to a different demographic than the Civic, so you're more likely to find one that has not been abused or altered. Most people are looking for the V-6, but I think the 4 cyl is better priced, has enough power and is easier to maintain.

    I like the Corollas, Matrix and Pontiac Vibes also - but they are lower powered and may not have the "oomph" you need in the mountains.

  • stephen987 05/14/10 3:32 pm PST

    The problem with most of those suggestions is that they are likely to be at around 100k miles. Nothing wrong with that intrinsically, except that those cars tend to require major maintenance (timing belt and CV axles) at around that point. These are not cheap. So if you do go the Honda/Toyota/Nissan route, be sure to ask for records documenting major maintenance items, and plan to spend for anything that hasn't already been taken care of.

    You might do better with either a body-on-frame 2wd SUV (preferably an Explorer) or something on the order of a Crown Vic or Grand Marquis. They may not be quite as perfect--but they'll probably cost less to buy, insure, and maintain. (Of course, you'll spend more for fuel, though.)

  • Stever@Edmunds 05/14/10 5:32 pm PST

    Edmunds.com's annual Used Car Best Bet Awards will give you a few more to think about, although you may have to go a year or two older to hit your price point.

    The Elantra may work out - resale values are poor on Hyundais, which can mean more bang for buck, unlike used Toyotas and Hondas.

    Used Car Dark Horse: 2001-and up Hyundai Elantra


  • morin2 05/14/10 7:27 pm PST

    Good point Steve. I think that's the best way to buy a Korean car - after someone else has absorbed the depreciation. Do call your insurance agent to check on rates, however. Because these depreciate so steeply and people are upside-down so quickly, they have many mysterious (suspicious) fires - some of which have been too obvious to get paid by the insurance company. As a result, the insurance in some areas is very high for Korean cars. A Hyundai Elantra in PG Co. MD costs as much to insure as a Mercedes. A co-worker (with the same insurance company) once bought a new 2001 Elantra for $11K and was shocked to get his insurance bill - triple the cost of my same year loaded Silverado, even though I had much higher limits.

  • MrShift@Edmunds 05/14/10 7:53 pm PST

    I'm thinkin' that since he requires driving over mountains in snow, and since gas mileage is not of much importance, and CHEAP is important, that a Ford Explorer might work. Easy to get it worked on, good in snow, dime a dozen, buy your parts at Kragen, and an easy sell if you don't like it.

    Front drive cars climbing snowy mountain roads is a bit dicey, if the grades are steep, as are clearance issues underneath.

    These Explorers are so cheap you could probably score a 2000 or newer with under 100,000 miles, as opposed to having to stick with an older and higher mileage Japanese car.




  • morin2 05/15/10 11:10 am PST

    I occasionally get assigned older Explorers to use in the field that would be at the upper limit of your price target, from our motor pool and they are not bad. I find that the seats are very good making them the most comfortable of any of our pool vehicles - important to me when I'm in one for 250 miles per day. I actually prefer the better torque of the straight-6 Trailblazers, but the seats are not as good as the explorers. You can get reasonable fuel economy with an Explorer if driven conservatively - but who cares at 300 miles/month (I drive more every 3 days). The 4WD adds about $1K to the value of a used one - but might be worth it depending on how much snow you expect to encounter. You can fold down one rear seat or both almost flat for carrying long items.

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