Hi Sajeev and Steve,
I’m looking to find a safe car in the $5 to $7k area to serve as a teenager’s first vehicle. My wife and I want to make sure the kids are safe. We have 4 children, so we’re looking for 4 doors. The kids will be paying for the gas, so we’re probably looking for a 4-cylinder sedan for the mileage…plus, we hope that an 8 to 11 second 0-60 time will slightly discourage hoonery (though it didn’t when I was 16). Trouble is, used car values are so high right now that not many cars seem to fit the bill. Where is the “best” safety and reliability trade-off between the cars that hold value well (accord, civic, camry, corolla) and those that are newer/ lower mileage? Can you, Steve, and the B&B help?
When it comes to the $5k to $7k range it’s not the car that’s truly important, it’s the prior owner.
There are Camrys and Accords that are as wore out as an old mop. Along with thousands of ‘unpopular cars’ that have been diligently maintained and well kept.
Your goal should be to find a reliable and safe car that is at least a midsize. Brand doesn’t matter so much. Yes there are specific models that are stinkers (any Chrysler with a 2.7L for instance). But if you go to owner review sites that have qualitative feedback such as Carsurvey and Edmunds, you should be able to thresh them out of the mix pretty quick.
I would start with family, friends and work. Find out if anyone has a good candidate and then apply the process that I outlined in my car buying series at TTAC. When it comes to car buying you need to rely on experts because a lot of expensive issues an be well hidden. Get the vehicle independently inspected and consider even going to an enthusiast site to find out what potential issues may be down the road once the vehicle checks out.
This is one of those times in life where investing in a professional and doing diligent research will likely pay off in ways far beyond ‘money’. If you invest in ‘the process’ and the people, your return will pay off in the long run. Be patient and enjoy doing something good for your kid.
I will default to Steve Lang when it comes to cheap family sedan analysis, he knows the market better than anybody. My only word of caution is to avoid the “hot” brands in this economy, I don’t believe the value proposition is strong enough. In your budget, I rather like the Nissan Altima for comfort and economy. But I would encourage you to forget about fuel economy for a moment, and look at any GM W-body product (my fav is the Oldsmobile Intrigue), something truly despicable like a Chrysler Sebring, or an old body style Vulcan V6 Taurus/Sable…cuz those Duratec V6s are too damn fast for kids!
Most teenagers don’t fall in love with their first car, unless they got lucky and had a (vintage) 1965 Ford Galaxie hardtop as their first whip. I still miss that car. Your kid shouldn’t wind up like me, and minimize your cash outlay right from the start. I’m likin’ me some Olds Intrigue right now…the kids might actually appreciate it too!
Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to firstname.lastname@example.org , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.