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  • morin2 06/30/09 12:29 am PST

    The mechanical condition will be very important, so have any vehicle fully checked out by your mechanic. If you don't have a mechanic, try this site that has worked well for me:

    http://www.cartalk.com/content/mechx/

    Expect to spend $50 - 100 for a complete mechanical check and it will be money well spent, an excellent investment.

    The cars may not be in perfect cosmetic shape but you should be concerned more with the mechanical conditon. I like subarus. The 2.2 motor and 4-speed auto trans is as close to a bulletproof combination as you can get. Backyard small aircraft builders use that engine. The Subaru Impreza used that engine to about 2000. Legacies stopped using it much earlier and will be harder to find with the 2.2liter. Avoid any 2.5 liter in your price range, as they were prone to head gasket failures, although one with recent new head gaskets might be worth a mechanical inspection. Another excellent college car would be the Chevy Prizm, a twin of the Toyota Corolla, but cheaper because of the Chevy label. The Toyota 1.6 and 1.8 liter engines are also excellent, although a bit less powerful than subaru's 2.2. Look for a 1997-2000. The 2001 and 2002 might be out of your price range. Any Mazda Protege in that price range would be worth a look. Avoid sunroofs, and if you find one with manual roll-up windows and manual mirrors, there's that much less to go wrong. Those power options are the first things to fail, expensive to repair, and really unneccessary luxuries for a student.

    The advantage to a cheap car, paid with cash, is that you can carry liability-only insurance.
    Good luck!


  • boomchek 06/30/09 2:46 pm PST

    An older Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla would be my best bet.

    The Corollas are a little bit more bland than Civics but very reliable.

    The Civics are also reliable but more sporty for young poeple compared to Corollas, but keep in mind that 2 door Civics usually have high insurance premiums for young drivers.

    Get a good independent mechnical inspection done before buying the vehicle.

  • morin2 06/30/09 9:36 pm PST

    One of the great things about being a college student is that you will be questioning conventional thinking and in the process, will learn that sometimes "conventional wisdom" is wrong. This can apply to your car buying as well. I suggest that you can do better than follow the herd shopping for that cheap Civic (and by creating demand, driving up the price) - which is more likely to be a clapped out piece of junk at that price. It also has an interference engine, so if you are unlucky and that cheap Civic breaks its timing belt, the engine will be toast. There's nothing inherently wrong with Civics - but they are better bought new, maintained religiously, and not at the $2-3K price level. Being in college is a time to think outside the box. Why would you buy an old used Corolla when the exact same car with a Chevy Prizm label glued on it - from the same assembly line in Freemont CA costs half as much? In 2005, I bought a 3 year old (2002) like new Prizm LSI with 25K miles on it for $5750. The car coming off the same assembly line but wearing a Toyota Corolla label would have cost twice as much. Which is the better value? I drove that car for 4 years before turning it over to my daughter for her HS ride and she will also take it to college.

    Through college and two grad schools myself and now with kids in college, one thing I have discovered about college towns is that they have great mechanics! Check it out yourself at this web site that I have found to be very helpful:

    http://www.cartalk.com/content/mechx/

    Enter your college zip code and check it out. My son found an excellent mechanic just two miles from his college for his old subaru this way. How about this crazy idea - check & see if you have a mechanic who is known for working magic on certain marques, or a specialist. Say you've got a Volvo specialist right there known for fair dealings - then you could consider a Volvo 240, 740, 940 etc. Or what if customers call a local mechanic the best Jeep expert in this half of the country - then you could consider a classic Cherokee with a 4.0. Such things do occur. You could even stop by and see if the specialist has something for sale, or just talk to him and see what he recommends. If not such exotic specialties, ask the generalist about which model with a GM 3.8 v-6 would he recommend. Having somebody right there near school to work on your car when needed is a huge relief - and extremely practical. It will also provide some peace of mind to your parents. Caveat: some brands you should avoid at your price regardless of what you read in the cartalk mechanix files - like Land Rover and Audi, for example. A $2-3K VW is also probably not worth considering. One of the biggest mistakes made by college students is to ignore the practical advice from the guys with the grease under their fingernails. I have known mechanics who were pure wizards around an engine, and could also discuss Dostoyevsky, or Faulkner, or C.S. Lewis, or knew advanced calculus. No, I'm not kidding (that was in MA) - I found this out when I brought a case of beer for them at Christmas.

    Also consider if you'll be driving in the snow, or transporting long things on the roof. Will you carry skis or a bike or canoe or kayak on the roof? Some roof rails are stronger than others and better than aftermarket clips for gutterless roofs & will save you some money in roof rack components.

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