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.
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.
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.