By on May 4, 2010

Kevin Writes:

My sister’s current car, ’98 Nissan Altima A/T 180k Miles, recently came back from the mechanic where she received the unfortunate news that expensive repairs were in her near to immediate future. She’s been toying with the idea of purchasing a new car for the past year or so, and the recent news of dropping 2k into a car of such age and mileage finally has made her expedite her search. As such, she came to the knowledgeable “car guy” in the family… yours truly. She is looking for something reasonably inexpensive (roughly 25k max), automatic, four-door sedan, decent m.p.g., and most importantly excellent reliability with the intention of keeping the car for 10 or so years. Together we have narrowed down the choices to the following: Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, VW Jetta, and the Ford Fusion. I’m personally leaning towards the Altima, but am unsure of the long-term reliability and cost of replacing/repairing the CVT. She liked the Fusion as well, but is being cautious on the reliability of a car on a newer platform.

My questions are as follows:

1) Out of those 4 choices and the aforementioned criteria, what would you rank each choice?

2) Are there particular problem areas or concerns that lead you to choose one over another? IE: VW electrical gremlins, Toyota sludge issues, other expensive out-of-warranty repairs, etc.

Sajeev Answers:

Let’s remove the outlier: parts, service and reliability of a VW Jetta (or any European car) are significantly worse than average. The Nissan’s CVT is still up in the air, replacement cost may be pricey but they’ve yet to be condemned like the Ultradrive autoboxes in Chrysler K-cars or the head gaskets in a 3.8-liter Taurus.

It’s not a stretch to say the other cars presented are in the “splitting hairs” category. If a 2005 Camry or a 2007 Fusion had a problem verified with millions of miles of research, the factory, suppliers and dealerships could very well fix it by 2010. Odds are someone in the organization knew that problem could surface, and the “fix” is already waiting in the wings. Every company has implemented (some sort of) agile development methodology: JD Power and Consumer Reports’ ambiguous formulas and bullshit metrics be damned.

Put another way, ask me for this week’s winning lottery numbers instead. Fact is everything gets cranky when old. Late model V6 Hondas eat automatic transmissions like cotton candy at the state fair. Mazdas are rustbuckets, Toyotas sludge up and accelerate unintentionally, Ford’s cruise control catches on fire and Nissans self-implode. None of these problems were obvious as new cars, or even when slightly used. And owners are in the dark until the warranty expires, people come together for a class action lawsuit, or after being screwed by ruthless/ignorant mechanics for the last time. Do your sister a favor and put her in the car that puts the biggest smile on her face.

Steve answers:

Aaahhh… the 180k overall. A time when you usually need new belts, a tensioner, a water pump, tranny fluid change, and a tune-up. I’m sure there are other small issues besides the normal maintenance. But the Generation IV Maximas (1995-1998) are among the most indestructible vehicles out there. In fact they always go for very stiff premiums at the auctions. So if your sister wants to invest the leftover $23,000 and drive a car that should easily last another seven years or so, she has that choice. I would personally invest the money and spend maybe a grand upgrading the look of the vehicle if it’s needed. But….

Common sense always succumbs to the fear of the unknown. Speaking of which I don’t know if the tranny or engine are on their last legs. If she must take the path of least resistance I would consider:

Toyota Camry (for the non-enthusiast)

Ford Fusion (for the nicest interior)

Nissan Altima (for the driving experience)

VW Jetta (for the diesel)

Or if she is truly apathetic when it comes to cars, you can get the remnants of the last generation Sonata. I like that far better than a Camry. The Mazda 6 doesn’t suffer from a CVT and it rides on rails. Finally you can buy an awful lot of Euro sportiness if you get a one to two year old version of a $40,000 to $50,000 car. Plus you can have a longer warranty and a far better driving experience than anything mentioned. So if she must spend… let her seek out a car with 80% of it’s life for 50% of the price. Make sure she gets a CPO warranty and enjoy the ride. Either that or fix the Maxima and get one step closer to financial independence.

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76 Comments on “New Or Used?: Midsized Madness Edition...”

  • avatar

    “Finally you can buy an awful lot of Euro sportiness if you get a one to two year old version of a $40,000 to $50,000 car. Plus you can have a longer warranty and a far better driving experience than anything mentioned”

    This is my recommendation, I have had great luck with pre-owned German (BMW). Cheap to buy and in my world cheap to own and last forever, more important still fun to own with over 80k.

    Oh no here come the German haters………

    • 0 avatar

      A late model simply equipped 3 or 5 would be a decent choice.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed – despite those who would have you believe that BMWs fall apart after 4 years, I have had very good luck with them. A low mile 328 would fit the bill but I would probably go for a used Acura – the RL is an absolute bargain used.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Bearing in mind that CPO BMWs have all service free, that makes them a pretty good deal. I have a CPO Z3 that has cost me zero in repairs, although the 55K service is now due, which I will have to pay for. I’ve had the car (an ’01) for 6 years. The only repair is that the water pump was replaced because it was noisy, under the warranty. The window lift on the driver’s side is acting a little weak, and the alarm system goes off randomly when activated. Those are the only apparent faults with the car.

  • avatar

    Why was the Sonata off of the original list?

  • avatar

    1. Ford
    2. Toyota
    3. Nissan

    Used VW is begging for trouble. The same order applies whether you are picking new or used.

  • avatar

    no love for the new chevy impala?

    the LT/LTZ trims are quite snazzy inside, and in all honesty with some nice wheels the car looks genuinely good.

    i wouldn’t buy it cuz it’s fwd, but for your sister… sounds good personally.

    • 0 avatar

      Your Chevy Impala is coming on 10yrs old.. on the same frame its been on.. since the dark ages.

      This is a car company that sells the Malibu right along side.. which begs the question.. which is more important.. Malibu or Impala.

      Then ya beg the question..
      Do ya buy a GM vehicle..

    • 0 avatar

      “no love for the new chevy impala?”

      What new Impala?

    • 0 avatar

      since 2006 they’ve used an updated W platform.

      just because it’s not a brand new platform doesn’t mean it’s not a ‘new’ car. besides, why fix what’s not broken? not that i’m saying the impala is spectacular or anything, but an old platform does not imply a bad platform. i’d take a fox platform over virtually anything.

    • 0 avatar

      The Impala has a frame? Go with the Altima for the driving pleasure, or go with the Fusion if the better dynamics of the Altima carries no weight…Regarding the 800 lb gorilla of poor reliability of aging German cars…is there any hard data to support this? VWs are a poor choice but what about BMW and Audi?

  • avatar

    Wondering why the 2011 Sonata isn’t on the list. For less than $25k out the door you can get a Limited model, which is fully loaded except for navigation. $20k gets you quite a lot… plus 35mpg highway. just rated it higher than every other car mentioned here:

  • avatar

    Buy certfied used with low miles.

    If you have to have new then of her choices the Fusion would be my first choice or go find a Hyundai dealer stuck with brand spanking new Sonata’s that just happen to be last years model and body style. Save a bundle and still drive new with a warranty that she’ll take advantage of by holding on to the car for a long time.

    • 0 avatar

      Where you can find low mile CPO bargains? All the examples I’ve looked at the price difference between what you pay new (after cash back etc.) and the price for a used CPO with 40k, it just doesn’t maek sense.

    • 0 avatar

      jmo, I’m not sure what you think is worth it, but I got a 06 335i CPO with 43k on it for 23 grand after I haggled a bit, and they gave me 2 grand more than anyone else had on my trade in, so the effective price was more like 21k. The same car new would have run around 45k or more. In my book saving 22,000 is very worth it, and it’ll be under warranty for another year (bought it in 09).

    • 0 avatar

      Many manufactures have websites that suck as far as searching CPO inventory. Many dealers don’t put all their CPO online and often search engines are weak when it comes to enthusiasts like us. (GM and Ford I’m looking at you.)

      I use and if I’m willing to travel about 300 miles the deals I find Phoenix dealers listing are pretty good. I could buy a Ford or a Nissan down there for example, pay about what I would pay for a non-CPO vehicle up here in Gallup, and then get all my warranty work done at my local dealer.

    • 0 avatar

      idk where Kevin lives, but in the Philly MSA, according to adds on, you can get a 2008 or 2009 model year CPO Camry or Altima with around 20k miles for $16k vs Sticker price of around $23k for decently equipped New car.
      As other posters have suggested though, you can get a brand new 2010 Sonata, after rebates and such, for about the same price. maybe 17k.
      All 4 cars (Altima, Sonata, Camry, Fusion) are reliable, and very similar, so For the price I’d rather have the Sonata. the Fusion is also a good deal after rebates.

    • 0 avatar

      Uh, toxicroach…

      There’s no such thing as an ’06 335i, at least in the U.S.

      Do you mean 330i or do you mean ’07?

    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar

      20k miles for $16k vs Sticker price of around $23k for decently equipped New car.

      Who’s paying sticker for a Camry? When you count 0% financing and include the other incentives you may be able to get that 23k Camry for 19.5k. If that’s the case it doesn’t seem like a deal.

      If you had to pay sticker for a Camry and you could get it for 14k used – then it woudl be a deal. But, 19k vs. 16k doesn’t make sense to me.

  • avatar

    2 – 3 year-old used is my recommendation. In her price range, I’d take a gently used BMW 3-Series with a complete service history over any new Asian car. If she just wants a transportation appliance, I’d second the Hyundai Sonata recommendation.


    • 0 avatar

      If I had to gamble, I’d wager a bet in favor of new Asian cars over a “gently used” (is this even possible?) BMW 3 series in terms of long-term car service history and reliability. More specifically a 2011 Hyundai Sonata! It would be a far stretch to call it a transportation appliance what with its sleek styling & more fun to drive appeal (admittedly less than a BMW). Critics all over the world are hailing Hyundai as an up and coming automobile behemoth (in cars sold not size) set to take America by storm in the near future, but I’d disagree. The start of a new era of Hyundai dominance has already been signaled in with its new car releases (Genesis, Tucson, Sonata) and will only continue to gain market share. They are well on their way to becoming the Toyotas and Hondas or yore.

  • avatar

    Maxima or Altima? There seems to be some confusion.

  • avatar

    Avoid VW. Strongly consider the Sonata.

  • avatar

    Just say no to VWs.

    Nissan Altima wins here.

  • avatar

    new or gently used prius (which means pretty much any of them).

    IIRC, the battery truly is holding up well 100,000+ miles later.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    All the objective criteria lead to the obvious safe choice: Camry.

    Sludging was limited to certain V6s years ago. The 4 cyl. Camrys have no obvious weak spots.

    • 0 avatar

      I will agree with this: the Fusion is probably the next-best bet and can be had for less money used, but it’s somewhat more cramped and gets worse fuel economy.

      That said, there were four-cylinder Camries that did tend to sludge, but as with the V6s that stopped being an issue after 2001. It was the Corolla, Echo and Tercel fours that were immune.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      I agree with Paul. First choice would be a 4 cylinder Toyota Camry, the Impala for the 21st century. Not great looking, but the SE trim package looks better than the LE. Saw large number of 2010 used Camry SEs with about 24k miles on a Toyota used car lot this weekend. Used rental cars would be my guess. Would also consider a Ford Fusion at the right price.

      A friend had a similar Altima die due to a broken timing chain tensioner. She ended up replacing it with a 2005 Honda Accord.

  • avatar

    I love the transmission article linked from Sajeev at the top. There’s a story not being told yet that I foresee…that story being how all the new automatic transmission technology (CVT, 5/6/7/8 speeds, DSG, etc.) developed in the past 4-5 years means massive increases in transmission failures in the future as these cars hit the 100k mile marker and beyond. I’ve had to replace two automatic trannys this year at less than 75k…one Mazda and one Ford.

    Everyone is pushing these fancy new autos for their fuel efficiency, but my guess is that the old 4-speed auto in the base Malibu, and the Toyota automatic are probably going to last the longest (I’ve never heard of Toyota automatic tranny problems). Therefore I’d recommend the Fusion if she wants a stick, and the Toyota if she just wants a reliable automatic appliance.

    The new Sonata is impressive, but I’ve never personally seen a Hyundai with over 150k on the odometer, so their long-term durability is still unproven, as I see it.

    • 0 avatar

      developed in the past 4-5 years means massive increases in transmission failures in the future as these cars hit the 100k mile marker and beyond.

      That’s what they say about every new development – yet every year cars get even more durable and reliable.

  • avatar

    From the short list, go with the Nissan or the Toyota. Still, an 8th gen Honda Accord should deserve a serious look.

    I recently purchased a 7th generation Accord (EX-Leather, 4 cyl, 5 speed manual) from a private party. It had a transferable HondaCare warranty and I’m good until 105k miles or late 2013.

    It was a good deal. It’s only defect (manual transmission) was a plus for me.

    Seriously take your sister out and drive a 2006-2008 Honda Accord.

  • avatar

    they do?? I disagree. It seems to me that most Honda’s, Nissan’s and Toyota’s of the late 90’s were more durable and required less long-term maintenance than the newer ones. The others may have improved, but what I’m speaking of is the truly indestructible cars…I had a friend drive two late 90’s Maxima’s to over 220k each, with practically nothing ever required to be fixed on either. He had one alternator fail on him at 210k once, and he made a big deal of that. He upgraded to a 2005 Pilot, and I get the feeling it won’t live up to his prior expectations, although it’s a fine car.

    • 0 avatar

      This is mostly rose-coloured glasses.

      Japanese quality dipped slightly from about 1997-2002, which was when cost-cutting measures were first put in place to deal with the pressure from the rising yen and failing home market. Some marques did this reasonably well (Toyota, Honda), some less (Nissan) some really badly (Mitsubishi), but they all did it to some degree.

      Since then, objective mechanical quality has been on a steady increase, and the total cost to own has been dropping. The “it’s not as good as it used to be” is really little more than a meme.

      What people harp on is largely tactile quality, which is, in my opinion, mostly a matter of taste (old-school car people like soft-touch materials; modern cars are starting to look more like stereo equipment and less like horse-carriages).

  • avatar

    I own a ’99 Altima and am looking at the same list of cars. The only one I have driven so far is the ’09 Altima 4 cyl CVT. The car has many virtues, but I could not get past the annoying CVT. If your sister really likes this model, make sure she takes a good long test drive. Preferably, try to rent one from Hertz for a few days. If the tranny doesn’t grate on her nerves then this is a good choice. If she hates the CVT, then the Fusion/Milan/Mazda6 triplets are next down the list.

    • 0 avatar

      We rented a new Altima for a trip to Nevada and back (western WA). I didn’t much care for the CVT – too many times it seemed as though the clutch was slipping. If you’ve ever driven a stick-shift car that had the clutch going out you know that feeling. (But someone who owns one of these, I suspect, will soon get used to it, and learn to drive so that’s minimized.) Otherwise the car was fine…handled ok, good enough performance. I must add, however, that my wife hated the car, because she didn’t like the higher beltline and lesser visibility compared to her 1999 Accord.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Steve recommends a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) car which leads me to think U.S. CPO cars must be different than Canadian ones.

    Here premium priced new car dealer CPO cars are marketed as carefully selected, exhaustively reconditioned, accident-free, cream puffs with comprehensive extended warranty protection. CPO cheating and skimping are rampant. Dealers are selling collision and flood damaged cars and U.S. lemon law buybacks and lying through their teeth regarding their attributes. The warranties are loaded with booby traps, exclusions and deductibles and may be worthless if the dealer or manufacturer ceases business. The GM Optimum Used Car Warranty, for example, is a 90-day limited warranty with a $100 deductible and the balance of the original manufacturer’s warranty, which you would be entitled to in any event.

    If you find one you like put it through the full due diligence process and have it checked by a trusted mechanic or inspection agency. Bargain hard.

    • 0 avatar

      lol, the CPO has been marketed well and eaten up as gospel here.

      While CPO isn’t a scam, it’s definitely not the manufacturer doing you a favor.

      If you look at the 1xx-point checklist touted by the manufacturers pretty much everything is what you’d get at an oil change from a good servicer.

      When you buy CPO you’re buying an extended warranty. And if you read the fine print most CPOs have a $50-ish deductible for any repairs. So you pay on both ends.

      Best bet if going used is non-CPO with a well-inspected car and banking the savings for any unexpected repair.

  • avatar

    I would remove all of the above cars on your list and instead look at the far superior Hyundai Sonata. The Camry is boring, generic and numerous elderly drivers with 07-09 versions have had there cars in to the shop more times than they should have. The Camrys warranty is also inferior to the Sonata. That plus I wouldn’t touch Toyotas arrogance with a 20′ stick and there vehicles seem to be on an annual monthly recall program. The Fusion seems to be reliable with CR but that car is too new to see how it will hold up long term and it’s warranty and 4 cylinder mileage with 6 speed automatic in inferior. The Jetta I wouldn’t even consider unless you want to hear the sound of your wallet shrinking every month the car is out of warranty and I don’t trust CVT trannys. It may be fine for the forst 50K miles. It has yet to be proven how that will be with 100K. Judging from most other manufacturers who have either abonded CVT’s or only used them on hybrids I would be cautious. That leaves the new Sonata. Hyundai quality has been on a roll the past several years, the 2.4 has proven it’self to be a great engine and highway mileage tops all others hear save the Jetta diesel. The 6 speed automatic is now a homegrown Hyundai unit that has had much thought and development put into it’s design and the 100K warranty is a value plus in case it does go sour. The new Sonata also makes the 5 year old dated Camry and basically 6 year old Fusion and even older looking Altima look like something out of the 90’s in comparison. The best part: You can land a loaded up top of the line Limited for a full sticker price of 26K so expect actual transaction price to be around 24,500 or so. A loaded base model stickers for under 22K and the sporty SE goes for 24K which is thousands less than several of these competitors with similar features.
    And for everybody gushing over 180K miles like it’s so special, all of my GM W-body cars that I have owned including a 2002 Intrigue, 2000 Impala and 1996 Lumina all went well past that with there original motors, trannys, alternators, water pumps, starters, window motors/regulators, stereos etc. My folks had a 1998 Olds 88 that lasted well over 300K with the 3800 V6 and there current 2001 Bonneville has 107K and is still running perfect. Thats what happens when you take care of your car with good maintenance and buy something that has been proven over years of production.

    • 0 avatar


      If you think Camry is boring…

      Look up Sonata in dictionary…
      But ya buy it for its price.. AND PRICE ALONE.

    • 0 avatar

      In regards to the Altima going 180k…so am I. We bought (recently) a used 2000 with just under 100k on the clock for a relative. If it can fall apart, it has fallen apart. Maybe we found the one lemon out there, but it’s been a real turd. I trust my 1997 Toyota Tercel with 200k on it over the Altima with half the mileage 1000%.

      We have close to 100k on our 2006 Fusion…so far, so good…though the clutch feels heavier than a tractor’s.

      Comes down to what she wants…I, too, would tend to shy away from older VWs. I love driving them, but the ones I’ve owned have begun detonating right after the warranty has run out. I drove a 2008 Sonata recently, and wasn’t that impressed. I’d do a last gen Accord, a Fusion or a Camry for “Fridgedaire” transportation. A Mazda6 thrown in the mix for something with a bit of character, perhaps…

    • 0 avatar

      The Jetta in both Gas and Diesel use traditional Autos. VW doesn’t even offer a CVT on anything they make.

  • avatar

    I think that the bandwagon effect here is huge. Do those that say avoid it ever own a MkV?
    While I do have to agree that maybe the MkIV Jetta’s were a nightmare, it would seem that the MkV isnt. Reliability have been average or better for it.

    • 0 avatar

      If it were for me and not a recommendation to someone else, I’d happily consider the VW and just do the maintenance myself. My prior experiences (3 Golfs – 1 with 2.0 gasser and 2 TDIs) prove this to be the best way to enjoy a VW.

      That said, I’d avoid the current Jetta just because it looks like a Corolla. The next version should correct this.

  • avatar

    Previous gen (up to ’07) Accord 4cyl. Decent looking (at least compared to the new ones IMHO), no t-belt, reliable transmission, well put together. Maybe a bit more expensive up front, but if you find a well kept one it’ll hold up pretty darned well.

  • avatar

    Yeah, I’ve got to put in props for VW too. They took a well-deserved hit for the MK IV and Passat issues, but personal experience:

    My wife’s MKIII lasted so damned long – 240,000 miles with zero issues: nothing but oil changes, tune-ups and alternator, we managed to skip the MK IV. We’ve had a ’09 since late ’08 and have had zero issues. The 2.5 i5 is a nice little engine and the transmission has a great notchy feel. . . long gone are the days of rubbery FWD shifting.

    Nothing at all wrong with reliable Asian cars, but I’d say the VW presents an excellent value.

  • avatar

    I agree that there are some cars conspicuously absent. For one thing, cars have grown in the last 12 years, so she might very well find a “compact” model, like a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, offers every bit of the room of her Altima.

    Secondly, if reliability is at the top of the list I would move VW (except for the Golf) right off that list. Ford is questionable. Gotta go with the reliable standouts, Honda and Toyota first. Also, Hyundai should really be considered. Heck, when I was shopping early this year you could find last year’s model (2010) Sonata on showroom floors for $18K. I bet there are still deals.

  • avatar
    7th Frog

    I would go with a Mazda6 no question. Plus I think Mazda is still offering 0.0% for five years.

    I guess I am in the minority but if she plans on keeping it for ten plus years her best bet is to buy new. No way I would touch a used Euro car or a new Jetta.

    A co-worker has a new Fusion and I think the interior is just awful and cheap.

    I do have a soft spot for the Malibu and the Suzuki Kisashi. I couldn’t pull the trigger on the Suzuki because I have my doubts about them selling cars in America in the near future just like everyone else.

    I have always had great luck with Nissans but I wouldn’t touch a CVT tranny. I am a life long manual guy, though. Two friends have them and don’t appear to have any problems. One hates driving it and the other one probably doesn’t know what a CVT is.

  • avatar

    Mazda3 or Accord. Both great, reliable, reasonably fun, reasonably roomy, and good on gas.

    They Hyundai is a fine car, but a bit of a bore.

  • avatar
    7th Frog

    I have a 2010 Mazda3 and I love it and would recommend it. Provided you like the styling, which I do. It easily has the best interior of any vehicle I have ever owned. I would guess it is about the same size of her Altima as well.

  • avatar

    The VW Jetta and Golf are above average in reliability for 07 according to CR. Not as easy to group into the unreliable Euro category anymore. Same for the 3-series.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    The VW Jetta and Golf are above average in reliability for 07 according to CR. Not as easy to group into the unreliable Euro category anymore. Same for the 3-series.

    Not to mince words, but I’d be far more interested in reliability years 5 through 8 or so….

    As JD Power has proven over and again, just about anything should remain in good shape at 3 years old…..

    I’d love to see that happen for VW, since they do build driver-oriented cars with soul.

    Hey, what about the Legacy?

  • avatar

    Well, Kevin doesn’t really say if she want’s a brand new vehicle or a used but new to her vehicle. I’ve always been a fan of letting someone else take the initial depreciation off my hands and then still driving the vehicle for 10+ years. If that’s the case I’d go to with a proven reliability as in a gently used 4cyl Accord. I’ve heard bad things reliability wise about Camry’s from the past couple years but I’d still give them higher props than Hyundai. Nissan from my experience hasn’t kept their quality standards up to that of Honda/Toyota.

    Now if she’s going brand new I’m a big fan of the Fusion. I think it looks the most fresh of the mid-size class and Ford quality has made great strides in recent years. While the Mazda 6 is a similar vehicle it has felt light weight and tinny to me. Just left a bad taste.

    Obviously European is off the list if you want long term reliability. While there are tons of people that will tell you about their zero problem VW, or what have you, the masses don’t lie and Euro cars are just too much of a risk.

  • avatar

    Since she is looking at a decade of low cost ownership..

    Camry 4banger – any transmission. Any mileage under 40K.
    Interiors hold up nicely over the long haul. Relatively cheap to maintain. Plenty of spacetrunk space for anything. Good on gas and relatively spunky. SE model has beeter suspension than the LE.
    Safest bet

    Honda Accord 4 banger – any Transmission. Price premium alert. Otherwise should hold up just as well as Camry.

    Nissan Altima – Nice will go the distance, but interior ages a lil quicker than Honda or Camry.

    Ford FusionMazda6 – Nice will go the distance but expect interior to start aging round the same time as Nissan. At the price points shes shopping at, Fusion will be the one to get her into the V6 game cheapest. 3.0 V6 is a solid engine and the 6spd auto should be fine as long as she is diligent with Tran fluid maintenance schedule.

    VW (Any) – Brilliant up to year five. Game of chance for everything after that. I’m sure VW owners will pull a “My lasted fo-eva!!!.” Good for you. Thanks for recomending that 1.8T equiped Jetta. Suprised the dealer accepted trade in considering it barely ran. Thanks for recomending the Passat. The interior was still sublime when the ECU or whatever it is crapped.

    Chevy Malibu – Interior looks good but you will find so many little things that will just make you shake your head. Interior bits will start mocking you at about 3 years and then it goes 1 per year. Rotor replacement gets old quick.

    Suzuki Karasihimishumi-hot dog muk. She would be happy with it, maybe even love it until 1 of two things happen.
    1. She makes an appointment with the dealership 4 years from now to check out a CEL or somthing minor and the dealership experience gets her to the point where she spits to the ground whenever someone says Suzuki.
    2. Someone says “Well why didn’t you get a CamryAccordJetta?”
    Having to justify a purchase would lead to her selling it prematurely.
    Mitsubishi – lulz
    Kia – Ask again in 10 years
    Hyundai SonataElantra – Boring with a splash of an 2002-2006 Camry LE. Interior Quality of a Malibu, Dealer Experience of a Suzuki. Will experience a mild VW at about 60K when CEL come on. will do again at 90K and then again at about 150K. By 150K the car will be horrid but will get her where she needs to go.
    Chrysler – Just kidding. Unless its an 80’s Chrysler, something from the K-Car era. Save a ton of money and she could be retro. Will…get…her…laid…by …very…famous…athletes.

    BMW – She can only afford used and a used BMW in her price range will have already suffer owners manual mandated neglect. Its going to be hit or miss and she would have to make sure she gets a basic model.
    MB – No…
    Audi – No
    Volvo – Little C30? Maybe? V60?

    What else is there?

    • 0 avatar

      “Suzuki Karasihimishumi-hot dog muk. She would be happy with it, maybe even love it until 1 of two things happen.
      1. She makes an appointment with the dealership 4 years from now to check out a CEL or somthing minor and the dealership experience gets her to the point where she spits to the ground whenever someone says Suzuki.”

      Updated version:
      1. She calls to make an appointment and:
      a. The phone is disconnected.
      b. She goes to the dealer and it’s an empty lot with tall grass growing from the cracks and tumbleweeds blowing around.

  • avatar

    First off, buy CPO.

    From what I’ve heard and read VW has spent significant money on it’s reliability issues, and it seems to be bearing fruit (see CR etc…). I would put the Jetta on top of that list, but most specifically the wolfsburg 2.0T, the diesel is a little too mature (for me) and the 2.5 is blah. With this motor it’s the best drivetrain in class as well as best interior.
    1. Jetta 2.0T, Passat CC
    2. Mazda6 or Accord
    3. Fusion
    4. Camry
    5. Anything Korean – these are the guys with the most recently awful reliability history.
    6. Anything CVT (Audi, MINI, Nisaan, Subaru, Suzuki)- 10 years? That’s one hell of a bet on the technology. Think about how much she’ll appreciate your advice when you recomend one of these and the tranny goes tits up. It could even total the car if it happens near the end of that timeframe. Besides, it’s not like they are the nicest cars otherwise in the price range.

  • avatar

    “Anything CVT (Audi, MINI, Nisaan, Subaru, Suzuki)- 10 years? That’s one hell of a bet on the technology. Think about how much she’ll appreciate your advice when you recomend one of these and the tranny goes tits up.”

    I guess the same standard applies to VW DCT trannys.

  • avatar

    What about an Aura? I’d imagine resale values are down since Saturn is an orphan brand, but they’re a nice ride and there’s enough G6’es and Malibus out there with the same innards that parts will never be a worry…

    • 0 avatar

      You know I had a fleeting thought about the Aura. I think its a better looking Malibu. Of course it doesn’t have the updated powertrain, but prices are very reasonable as well.

    • 0 avatar

      I would second a nod to the Aura. The Epsilon chassis is not bad on the road, and with the 3.5 V6 and 4 speed auto tranny should run forever. A co worker just recently purchased a CPO 2008 Aura XR loaded to the gills, it absolutely outshines my G6 Sport Sedan. Plus it was cheaper than my G6 and we’re GMS family.

  • avatar

    If you’re considering a Jetta and a Mazda 3 I testdrove both cars back to back (new 2010 models) and although I was very impressed three years prior when I testdrove a Mazda 3 the Jetta is far smoother riding and far less noisy. IMO the Jetta is a much better choice between the two. A night and day difference.

  • avatar

    $25,000 max, automatic, safe, keeping it for ten years? May I direct you to your nearest Hyundai dealer? Go in the back lot and find an Azera that they can’t get rid of.

    Or buy a nice new Sonata. Either will work for the above. It’s really a difference between fuel economy and Buick-ish-ness.

  • avatar

    Teach her how to drive a stick, and she can knock $2,000 off her purchase price (or get $2,000 of upgrades in other ways) and get that longevity, too. If she had a manual in this car she’d probably still be going.

    I don’t know why people feel this great need to avoid manual transmissions. The learning curve is not that steep, and they are mechanically very straightforward and easy to repair. Also, when they fail, they tend not to fail catastrophically. (My ’90 Hyundai Excel had a synchro problem at 180K so I lost the ability to downshift into second without double clutching. Solution: Don’t downshift into second, or double clutch. :) )

    Automatics are getting more and more complex as manufacturers find the need to attain legally-mandated fuel economy ratings. This makes them prefer economy over reliability (and then they catch up with the reliability later). Manual transmissions, on the other hand, can’t really be changed for reliability purposes except perhaps to change the gearing ratios or number of gears, but this doesn’t really make them all that much more complex.

    The only problem: a lot of cars in this class don’t come with the stick. I have a loaded ’07 I4 Accord with one, but the only way to get a loaded ’09 with one is to get it with a V6. On the other hand, you can get decently-equipped Accords, Mazda6, Sonatas and some other cars with a manual as long as you don’t want them too loaded up (or, in some cases, will buy one completely loaded).

    As a nice perk, nice late-model cars with sticks tend to be dirt cheap relative to nice late-model cars with automatics. Most Americans and Canadians can’t drive a manual and won’t buy one. This works to your favour if you buy and keep, or buy used; it works against you if you buy new frequently.

    • 0 avatar

      Teach her how to drive a stick, and she can knock $2,000 off her purchase price

      When she tries to sell the car, the buyer will knock $4,000 off.

  • avatar

    An easy choice.

    VW Jetta TDI with 6 speed DSG gearbox.
    $ 24.680

  • avatar

    The 2010 (boring looking) Sonata Limited 4 cylinder is $24K. Not sure how much the gorgeous looking good one costs.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget to factor in a new Sonata’s 10 year/100,000 mile warranty. Gorgeous new 2011 Sonata Limited MSRP: $25,295.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I don’t know why people feel this great need to avoid manual transmissions.

    I love manual transmissions. LOVE them. They bring so much more life to the driving experience.

    But after 20+ years of shifting for myself, rush hour traffic and other distractions made an automatic impossible to avoid.

  • avatar

    The answer to the question remains as ‘any 4-cylinder Honda will do.’

  • avatar

    teach her to drive stick

    get her in a last-generation non turbo Legacy sedan

    job done

  • avatar

    On the Nissan’s CVT: Nissan recently expanded (retroactively) warranty coverage on many, many years of the CVT models to 10 years/120,000 miles, as well as reducing the replacement cost, in order to address concerns about longevity. That is to say, not to address a specific problem, but to address the fact that people were shying away from the units because of the unknown reliability. There’s info on the company website here:

    The model years covered are 2003-2010, so an Altima with CVT in the age/price range you’re looking at would likely be covered.

  • avatar

    I’d recommend a 2-3 year old Accord, Camry or Altima with less than 45K. The resale on Korean vehicles doesn’t compare with those Big 3 Japanese models and a few more bucks up front will be well spent.
    A manual transmission Altima probably gets you the most value per dollar spent, if you’re lucky enough to find one.

  • avatar

    Nobody is asking just WHAT that $2,000 bill is for? Is an engine/transmission rebuild/replacement needed? The price would be a bit higher than two grand. I’d get a full assessment of present-future repairs from an independent mechanic first. If it’s belts, hoses, bushings, shocks/struts, etc. I’d be more inclined to go with Steve and do the work and save the cost of a new/lightly-used car. The suspension work alone would make that ’98 feel like a new car.

  • avatar

    Newer platform? The Fusion is based on the Mazda 6, whose platform dates back to 2003.

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