What would be the most reliable car I can purchase for about $7000-8000? And what would be the upper limit on mileage that I would even consider?
I grew up in the food import business. So to me, the answer to this question is a lot like asking my Dad, “What is the best cake I can get for $70?”
He would probably tell you that it depends on your ingredients, your cooking methods, your recipe, and what parts of the ingredients matter to you the most.
The ingredients when it comes to a used car is… the prior owner.
Like a pitcher in baseball who has an overwhelming influence over the outcome of the game, the prior owner’s maintenance habits and driving style has the greatest impact on the longevity of the vehicle when you’re shopping at this lower price range.
The cooking methods are… your own driving style and maintenance regimen. The way you cook those ingredients once you get them determines a lot of that long-term reliability.
My father’s Lincolns were rarely driven hard, and he took fantastic care of his cars. My mom was a rolling hurricane who routinely beat her cars to an inch of their metallic being. Some cars can easily handle the obscenity that is a person shifting from reverse to drive while in motion (Crown Vics come to mind), while other cars would likely be recycled into Chinese washing machines within five years (Chevy Aveo).
You need to be honest about the type of driver you are, the type of driving you do, and the types of wear you have commonly seen in your past vehicles. A diesel is often better for mountainous highways than an older hybrid, and a Lincoln Town Car will likely be a better fit for potholed streets than a Mitsubishi Lancer.
The recipe is usually… the manufacturer. The ways you get to enjoy it depends on the way they built it.
Cars have their own unique manufacturing tolerances and varying quality levels built into their 180,000+ parts. Honda makes wonderful manual transmissions. Toyota is a world-class manufacturer of hybrids. GM and Ford make highly reliable full-sized trucks and SUVs, and BMW along with Porsche have offered sports cars that were truly the best in the business. The manufacturer that offers the best match for your automotive tastes will impact your reliability because, you will likely be willing to invest in the best parts if that car offers what you consider to be the optimal driving experience.
Does it sound like I’m evading your questions? Well, let me toss around the ingredients that matter to you the most then and give you a solid answer.
If cars to you are like water… no taste is the best taste… and you drive about 50 to 60 miles per hour on flat, boring, mundane roads, then find yourself a 2007 Toyota Corolla. Get a low mileage version with a 5-speed that was driven by a prior owner who knew how to handle a stick. 07′ was the last year of that particular generation and historically, vehicles that are later in their model runs tend to have fewer issues.
If cars are a matter of sport and passion, I have an incredibly weak spot in my heart for second generation Miatas. A low mileage version owned by a Miata enthusiast is a helluva deal. Here in the southern US, an 03 or 04 with around 60k miles would sell for around $7000. I also like the Honda S2000 and the BMW Z4. Those will have higher miles than the Miata, and the Z4 in particular may not match the Miata for reliability alone. But those two models may offer certain ingredients that are more appealing to you.
Finally, if you’re looking for that same automotive luxury and richness as a five layer coconut cake filled with Godiva chocolate flakes, and coconut that was flown directly from the Polynesian Island of Tofoa, the sad news is there are no reliable $7000 Rolls-Royces or Bentleys. However a 2001 Infiniti Q45 is a frequently overlooked luxury model that I would keep a keen eye on if I had $7000 to spend on a ‘rich’ car. One with less than 100k miles, if you can find it, would be a fantastic deal.
Oh well, gotta go and exercise. My morning cake came from an article I wrote a couple of days ago and I now have to remove all the calories that are stuck in my big fat head.