By on May 30, 2014

catch

Hi Steve,

I’m a 17 year old in grade 12 who purchased his first car about six months ago, a ’96 Crown Vic for $1300. As much as I love the size, comfort, space and V8 soundtrack it offers, gas here in Ontario costs nearly $1.40 CAD per litre (about $4.90 USD per gallon). Taking into account it won’t get much better than 14 MPG in the city (yes I’ve tried all I can to improve it) I have decided I need to get something more fuel efficient. Right now my budget is about $2500 plus whatever I can get for my Vic. I’m fairly mechanically inclined and try to repair as much as I can myself to save money, so I want a car that’s easy to work on.

Basically my checklist goes like this:

- Fuel efficient (four cylinder)
- Cheap to buy
- Easy to repair
- Cheap parts
- Reliable
- Domestic over imports (a Ford ideally)
- Lots of trunk space

Needless to say my Vic meets all but the first requirement. This list has led me to a bunch of mid-late 90′s Ford Escort wagons, not my number one choice but what do you think? Overall what do you think would be best car for me?

Thanks,

Steve Says:

There is one word that I didn’t see in your email.

Fun. Then again, if I were broke and lumbering in an 18 year old Crown Vic at a place where gas is about $5.00 a gallon, fun wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of my priorities.

My advice is for you is to do a reverse search.

What’s that? It’s one where you start searching for a car based on your budget, not your price. Go to the free online classifieds in your neck of the woods and sort out the vehicles based on price. In your case, perhaps a $3500 price ceiling  would do.

From there, call around and ask a few pointed questions. Feel free to read this article if you want a basic road map.

Once you find what interests you, follow the rest of that car buying series which you can find here, here and here.

As for what models to recommend? At this price range the prior owner’s driving habits and maintenance regimen represent a far better indicator of the car’s long-term worthiness than the brand. Look at it this way. Ford has managed to sell Mazdas, Kias, Nissans, Volvos and at least a half dozen other brands by taking the other manufacturer’s platform, and adding their own name brand and marketing muscle. Your search will have more to do with what’s a good powertrain combination (engine and transmission) than what name is in front of the hood.

I’ll offer one darkhorse amongst the 100+ models that may qualify. An older Mitsubishi Lancer. They do surprisingly well as compared to the industry average according to my research, and they also tend to be well discounted in the used car market.

Good luck!

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147 Comments on “New or Used? : At $5.00 A Gallon, The Crown Vic Doesn’t Cut It...”


  • avatar
    suspekt

    It’s really easy.

    Find an early 2000′s Corolla with under 150,000 miles.

    Set it and forget it.

  • avatar
    WhatDaFunk

    I’d recommend an early ’90s Civic with a 5MT. Cheap to maintain, super reliable, (my ’91 Civic has almost 280K miles and runs like a top), good milage (I average around 33 MPG combined) and they’re not bad little cars to flog down some back roads (just don’t expect to win any drag races).

    I agree with Steve in that the how the owner treated it makes all the difference. I was lucky to find a car that only had one owner, and he was meticulous about maintenance and keeping records.

    • 0 avatar
      Kaosaur

      Given the immense popularity of manual 90s Civics in Ontario during the late 90s/early 2000s, you will be hard pressed to find one that is affordable and not totally ragged out.

    • 0 avatar
      djsyndrome

      They also have a nasty habit of leaving for a new owner against their will in the dark of night.

      • 0 avatar
        WhatDaFunk

        This is true, they do have a nasty habit of disappearing. My Civic was stolen once but I was lucky enough to recover it, sans radio, after it had accrued some parking tickets in the next town over where the theives left it.

        It hadn’t occurred to me when I was writing my comment, but I bought my Civic 10 years ago. I imagine it’s harder to find clean ones now. Funny how time flies, doesn’t feel like I’ve had the car that long.

  • avatar
    Boff

    I’d recommend a Focus wagon from the middle of the first generation’s run. Just make sure it has been rustproofed.

  • avatar
    ant

    1300 seems like a lot to me for such an old car. Is that a canadian thing?

    Im thinking rust would be an issue in this price range. Especially with old Japanese 4 bangers.

    Domestics dont do so well at efficiency and reliability combined.

    An old Saturn perhaps? I never had any luck with fords.

  • avatar
    Zekele Ibo

    A Civic is the obvious choice, as mentioned above, but one issue in Ontario is insurance. Young kids and their love for ricer Civics may push up the premium for that vehicle beyond what is reasonable. (I’m guessing as I don’t live there though). Whatever vehicle you do choose, Ontario’s ridiculous insurance costs probably count more than fuel costs.

    This may be an unpopular choice as its street-cred is minimal (but then again the Crown Vic’s street-cred is equally minimal in the real world away from internet car forums), but in his situation I would look for a clean Toyota Echo with the 5-speed manual and A/C.

    • 0 avatar
      bufguy

      You’re right about Ontario insurance…A friend of mine lived here in Buffalo, 40 yo, clean record, paid about $1000 per year for his BMW 128. He moved to Toronto, where the car stays garaged for 90% of the time and his insurance is almost $2500 per year

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      Civics and Integras are over priced, and you are very likely to find it missing from where you parked it the night before.

      Echo , Sentra , Vibe

      Older Saturn maybe? If you find a good one they are automotive cockroaches .

      Whatever convinced you to buy a Vic?

      Way Too much Panther luv on this forum.

    • 0 avatar
      Neel

      I’m the owner of the Vic. I looked at many cars before buying this one, many of them were Civics. You’re right, they are either worn out or overpriced, or both… One thing this car has going for it is the very cheap insurance, I couldn’t find a car with lower insurance.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Fix the Crown Vic or the way your drive! If you are only getting 14 MPG there is either something wrong with the car like a couple of cylinders that are misfiring or it is the way that you drive. You should be able to get 18-20 MPG in everyday driving.

    How many miles do you drive in a year? Chances are that you will not come out ahead with your new ride for a number of years. With the CV all you need to do is drive it, change the oil every couple of years and keep tires on it.

    If they reason for your much worse than a cabby or cop MPG is the way your drive you will be disapointed with the MPG of your 4cyl car too.

    Say you go from getting 14 MPG to 20 MPG and you drive 10,000 miles per year. You will only save $1000 per year in fuel. However your insurance will likely go up and you’ll spend more per year on maintenance and repairs.

    So stick with the Vic for a couple of years and fix it or your driving style.

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      This is all true. Chances are you need to give in and buy the Accel coils, set of 8 is $300 at Advance Auto. Don’t buy the cheap generic ones. Get new Autolite Platinum plugs, not Bosche. Clean the MAF, clean the throttle body, clean/replace the EGR and DPFE, disconnect altogether if it really gives you crap. Make sure your tire pressure is even. Hit the air filter on the curb, or replace it. Seafoam it through the brake vacuum line on the right side of the firewall. You should be getting around 20 MPG’s typical and 24 MPG max out of that.

      Fuel is the cheapest thing in cars, even at 5 bucks a gallon. One unforseen failure from the new snazzy car and poof goes that measly $1000 you saved.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        A 1996 has the coil packs not the individual coils, so it just needs a quality set of wires, as it is very rare for those coil packs to fail. Current Autolite plugs are made in China so I go with NGK but you definitely do not want the Bosch plugs.

    • 0 avatar
      Giltibo

      The fact is, my friend, your CV satisfies every one of your conditions, except the fuel mileage. With a few hundred bucks at most, you can rejuvenate it with a good tune up. Don’t forget the relatively cheap insurance on that car!

      Used FoMoCo Compacts are sh*tboxes if they haven’t been treated right.

      And definitely not as easy to service as your Panther (For How-To’s, YouTube and Google are your best friends). Whatever you can do yourself, plus the wide and affordable parts availability will save you much more money than the extra money you spend on fuel.

      As for a Mitsu, being in Canada, fuggeddaboutit! Dealers are scarce and so are the parts…

      A good, used Honda (Say, an early 2000s Civic or Accord with a Manual Trans) would run you in the 2500-3500$. Reliable, but the price insurance is a factor (Your CV probably does not cost nearly as much to insure)

    • 0 avatar
      jimbob457

      Much as I love Panthers, I don’t think you can fix ‘em for a young dude who pays $5 a gallon for gas. A kid likes to drive, so 12k miles a year is minimum. With a $2,500 incremental investment, we are talking about a one year pay out.

      My advice is to listen to the advice you hear on this forum about how to buy a good used vehicle. Research Blue Book values and all that stuff. Imo though, the most critical thing is to engage the services of a trusted independent mechanic to whom you pay a small fee (maybe $100) and who you know is on your side. Let him examine every prospective purchase.

      With used vehicles, it is hard to over pay for a good one. You can’t really buy a bad one cheaply enough.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        It is a two year payout at 12,000 miles per year assuming he doesn’t have to pay more for insurance which is almost a given and he doesn’t have to spend money or repairs/maintenance which is a given on a $3500 Honda or Toyota and will be almost non existent on the Panther.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      I second this. I drove a ’96 Grand Marquis for 10 years and sold it to my mother-in-law with somewhere north of 160,000 on the clock and the car is still running strong. All original drive train. I had an excellent mechanic and the car was kept in an good state of tune and the BOTTOM MPG in all city driving was 16.5 mpg. Mixed driving would net about 21 mpg and in pure highway, set the cruise on 70 and forget it, I could push 26 mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      I agree. The Vic cannot possibly be in proper tune or your a sever lead foot to be getting such low mileage. My 1996 Caprice with the 4.3 and optional 3.23 rear gears is doing 18-19 pure city driving and is comparable weight and size wise to your Vic. The only thing to do is put that car on a proper scanner that reads everything from engine temp to mass air flow sensor voltage to a cylinder firing/load test, engine vacuum etc that can identify something wrong. My elderly owned but excellent condition 96 Caprice seemed to run perfect when I first bought her a few months ago. But she was using lots of gas, had a off the line hesitation and the exhaust smelled rich at times. Sure enough we found a vacuum leak and a dirty mass air flow sensor that after was cleaned performed great. Replacing the two leaky vacuum lines and a new air filter and the old Caprice ran as new and can see up to 26-27 on the open road. If you must have a 4 cylinder get a Saturn!

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    I’m a little surprised about the Lancer recommendation. My friend’s wife bought a 2005 automatic Lancer (non-Evo) brand new. I got to drive it a few times and it was a complete piece of junk. It had an impressive combination of low power and pretty awful fuel economy for its size (about 25mpg average). And while it wasn’t too unreliable I think it was average at best. Seriously, there was positively nothing good about that car. When it got rear ended and totaled in 2010 I think everybody had a sigh of relief and she got a Honda Fit instead which was a much better car.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    I would suggest an old saturn s series. They’re dirt cheap, extremely reliable, and get great mpg.

    Another suggestion is a 3800 powered GM W body. The 3800 gives amazing fuel economy for a big v6. My old buick regal could easily get 30 mpg when driving conservatively. Unfortunately that car got totaled.

    Now I drive an 01 mgm and can get 22 mpg in winter and 25-26 in summer. I’d expect better mpg from your vic unless you’ve got the lower rear axle ratio.

  • avatar
    Onus

    I just picked up a 1996 camry 2.2 5 speed. 220,000 miles. $1700 bucks.

    Still feels well put together. Cheap cheap parts. Much cheaper than my f250.

    Can’t comment on the mpg yet.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Man up, tune up, sit down, shut up, hang on. ;)

    But seriously. Gas is the cheapest part of car ownership in the grand scheme, especially if you buy used when the depreciation curve has bottomed out.

  • avatar
    mikeg216

    If you change the timing belt and water pump as scheduled on a lancer they are reliable as anything out there..

  • avatar
    seth1065

    My guess would be a used minivan they are all over Canada, gotta be cheap and will get better mpg than the Vic, good luck

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      A minivan that he can get for the price won’t get better MPG it will get worse. Yeah the latest minivans will do better but for $3500 you’ll be talking something from the 90′s or very early 00′s and they will get worse MPG and they are immensely uncool to be seen in particularly if you are 17.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Volvo 940, towing aside they have every quality of the Crown Vic but with better steering, better gas mileage, better longevity, and more than likely safer in a crash.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      My edit button, its gone!

      But if you seriously want better gas mileage I suggest a Mazda Protege.

      • 0 avatar
        BunkerMan

        There aren’t too many Proteges left here in Canada, since the salt rots them away to tissue paper. They seem to have fixed that with the Mazda3, but they would most likely be out of his price range.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Rats, I thought that Proteges had better rust-proofing.

          Mazda 3s rust pretty bad too, not easy finding a Japanese car that can eat salt well.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            A buddy of mine picked up his granny’s low mileage always garaged Protege as a winter ride to supplement his Challenger R/T. After 1 winter of him having it the rear wheel wells broke out. They really don’t last.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            At dave:

            Well, my one example of a good Protege is owned by someone in California, so I have to agree.

            Rear wheel well rust is quite common on Japanese cars from the 90′s for some reason, even Mazda 3s like to rust back there (not sure about the most recent redesign).

          • 0 avatar
            Drewlssix

            If I were going for a 3rd gen protege it would probably be a 5 wagon and those didn’t do great for highway mpg. High 20s at best. A result of a not that great engine and 3k+ rpm at speed lugging around a draggy box. I know Canada got the 1.8 version of the tepid FS engine so it may offer better mpg but I imagine like the 1.6 it would be awfully slow and only available in the non zoom zoom base models.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No they don’t have better longevity than a Panther and when something does need replacement on a Panther the parts will be much cheaper.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Which is why I’ve talked with several ex-owners of 90′s Panthers who had to sell them at 90k miles due to numerous failing parts taking away their money.

        This is not mentioning their recalls on suspension parts, terrible steering, plastic intake manifolds (I can see why thats cheap), terrible side-protection (Read Baruths story), transmission issues, engines that like to eat oil, cheaply made HVAC systems, body-rollloose steering makes snow driving a chore, and weak brakes.

        Yes Panthers will go 300k, provided that you own a garage, a good team of mechanics and a fleets-worth of extra parts. Otherwise for ever 300k+ Panther, 5 125k examples are scrapped on a regular basis.

        Volvo 940s aren’t immune to needing parts replaced either, but important things like HVAC, the engine and steering will hold up much better, 940s endure salt like its nothing, and the brakes are excellent.

        Theres a reason why junkyards will have just a few 940s, all either with 300K+, or saving drivers from horrific accidents.

        • 0 avatar
          mankyman

          I think Panthers must have improved since the 90s. I have owned two: a 2002 CVPI and a 2007 CVPI and have had almost no maintenance issues in a combined 70K miles of driving. The only thing that went was a window regulator and I’m planning on fixing that myself if I can work up the courage to mess with the glass.

          The engines haven’t eaten oil. I’ve towed a boat thousands of miles without an issue, so I don’t think the transmissions are bad either. I will admit that the car doesn’t stop as quickly as I would like.

          I don’t think it’s fair to compare the civilian and the CVPI. They are worlds apart in how they are put together. It seems like the Ontario teenager might have an old civilian version, and I think he probably should have gotten a CVPI instead. (Although for $1300, he would have gotten a pretty ratty one.)

          And there’s no way, even in city driving, that he should be getting 14 MPG.

          I also note that he can do some maintenance. If he gets one of these older Asian or European cars, the cost for parts alone is hemorrhoid-inducing. Just an alternator for an older accord can run $300+.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Sorry but no the engines don’t eat oil until they get well past 3 or 500k as long as you change it every once in a while. The transmissions will regularly go over 300K if you change the fluid every 100K. Yes the plastic intake manifold is a problem but that only affects a few years of them. Just a couple years had their steering shafts recalled. The only real common issue are the window regulators.

          As far as their crash safety they are one of the highest rated cars for side impact, not some floppy econobox.

          The only Panthers you see in wrecking yards with 125K on them are ones that have been in serious accidents.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            I dunno, I see a fair number of early-mid ’90s Panthers with the trademark Ford Smoke wafting out of the tailpipe. The late ’90s and beyond do seem to have better rings and valve steam seals, though.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I’d believe you, except my almost 110,000 mile Thunderbird is already oil-burning, though not particularly quickly. I last topped it off a few weeks ago and so far the level hasn’t dropped enough to be of concern.

          • 0 avatar
            ponchoman49

            Pre- 96 4.6′s could have oil control problems, especially if the user did not follow correct change intervals, didn’t use the correct grade oil and didn’t use the correct oil filters. The newer 4.6′s are much better and rarely do I ever hear anybody with an oil control issues unless they have an ungodly amount of miles on them!

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            A VW-grade maintenance schedule for a Crown Vic. Who knew?

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            “As far as their crash safety they are one of the highest rated cars for side impact, not some floppy econobox.”

            Which is why Baruths Town Car bannana’d when a Hyundai hit it.

            About every Panther that I’ve seen looked like they were garage kept for a bit, or they were an ex cab.

            Can’t any of these Panther fans be bothered to research or read other reviews before arguing with me?

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Royku you are the one that seems to be making things up.

            Did you read the crash report on Baruth’s car. He was going fairly fast sideways and the Hyundai that hit him was traveling around 40-50 MPH. Fact is a Panther will be much safer in a crash than any compact car that you can find that is a running, driving car for $3500. Sure if he had the cash to pony up for a new car there are cars that do better in a crash than a 90′s Panther. However his budget doesn’t allow for the newest car on the road.

            Certainly you will see some Panthers out there giving a puff of oil smoke on acceleration but that does not translate to oil eating as you stated. I’ve had several that have had 200K or more and the worst of them, a 92, the suposed worst year for oil consumption only used a qt every 2500 mi or so if I used quality oil and didn’t keep it in there for 10K or more.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            “However his budget doesn’t allow for the newest car on the road.”

            Which is why Baruth replaced his Town Car with a fresh, new Accord coupe. And owns several Porsche’s and other high-end cars, clearly he has budget issues.

            Also, his Town Car was from the mid 2000′s if not later, one of the newest examples.

            If you get t-boned in say, a Volvo 940, at 40mph you will come out fine. Panthers are only safe if they have the optional side airbags.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Baruth

            Ryoku, I think he’s saying that the kid being discussed in the story doesn’t have the money for a modern car.

            My Town Car was a 2009; it had over 100k at the time of the crash.

          • 0 avatar
            Drewlssix

            Except for the side impact safety you are fairly spot on. The very best Vic scores rather poor in side impact, the estimated injuries are moderated by the side airbags but structurally the car is weak. Go back just a few years and the results are very bad. The car actually gets the worst possible score for side impact structure and occupants suffer far worse injuries. This whole thing about old big cars being safer than new little ones is BS. New cars are designed to protect occupants from both the energy of an impact AND intrusion into the cabin. Something d cars are bad at. In some 50s or 60s land barge a moderate impact may leave he car relatively intact but the result is most of the force playing out through your body, or corpse. In a slightly faster accident the natural failure point is the cabin area. There are countless photos available demonstrating the fatal effects of a 40 mph collision in a full sized sedan that crushes all of its occupants when the trunk try’s to meet the engine.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          At Jack: Thanks for clearing that up, Scouts comment was a bit of a run-on sentence.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      940 or *possibly* 850/S70. The latter requires a little more DIY skills than the former, IMO.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        850sS70s are tough beasts, but yea they can be a bit of a nuisance when something goofs up, it was a fresh design for Volvo so they weren’t quite as straightened out as the 940.

        The RWD S90V90 though, basically 940s but with the quality taken out of them.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I believe MY99 S70 has side curtain airbags optional and MY00 standard. Due to the age and nature of these cars, I don’t believe you’ll pay much more for a final year model vs an earlier 850. For someone in salty Canada, I could see this model as an excellent choice you just have to become one with the model and its nuisances. 940 is more “set it and forget it”.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I don’t think of a Volvo as a good choice for a poor teenager.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            RWD Volvos are not a bad choice, the FWDs can be a bit more challenging. Depends on your skill and patience level.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            But for a kid, is that a reliable ride? I know parts on old Volvos are harder to find than Japanese of course, and always more expensive!

  • avatar
    gaudette

    The cheapest car is the one you already own.

  • avatar
    Neel

    I’m am the owner of the car in question.
    I’m glad this got posted here, I’ve already gotten lots of suggestions. A few things I should clarify, the car is getting 14 mpg doing 100% stop and go city driving, the many small trips I make aren’t helping. As I figured several people would recommend Corollas and Civics. I haven’t gone that route for two main reasons. Firstly, insurance is particular high on both models and secondly, finding one that isn’t completely worn out for a reasonable price is next to impossible. I’m not planning to buy something else in the immediate future but the suggestions are very informative.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      14 mpg? Theres something seriously wrong with your heavy V8 Panther! You should be getting 18 around the city!

      Jokes aside, it is indeed hard to find a Corolla or a Civic for a reasonable price that isn’t falling apart. Normally I suggest this, but perhaps a first gen Nissan Altima would work.

      I have little experience with them, but I know that they’re cheap and last about as long as Civics and ‘Rollas while getting okay mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      DevilsRotary86

      “the car is getting 14 mpg doing 100% stop and go city driving, the many small trips I make aren’t helping.”

      Ah, that makes sense now. Short trips are nothing short of murder for gas mileage. My wife’s ’07 Fit should get 27mpg city. When I was driving it to work, which is a little less than 5 miles away, I was lucky to get 25mpg. I would bicycle to work if doing so wasn’t suicide in the suburbs of North Dallas.

      • 0 avatar
        BadaBing373

        I hear you DR86…I am 4 miles (one way) from work and I would love to be able to bike to work. But just as you said, IMHO the ‘burbs of North Dallas are very dangerous for bicycles. In my 5 spd 2001 Nissan Altima with KA24DE engine, I get 16-17MPG in winter and 19-20 in summer :-(

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        My dad used to be a courier that delivered medical records between sites in a 2005 Honda Civic LX automatic. His driving was pure city and mostly stop and go. His best MPG was 20 and that shrunk to 18-18.5 in the colder months so yes pure stop and go driving is murder on mileage. A hybrid would be the only real way out of this but far far more costly!

  • avatar
    Ostrich67

    I had a ’96 Mustang with the same 4.6 SOHC engine. I got an honest 27 MPG at 70 MPH.

    I installed 3.73 gears in the rear end. I think that enabled the engine to run at the most efficient RPM most of the time. Before that I had to downshift to pass someone on the freeway; after I installed the gears it felt like it was at the bottom of the sweet spot in the torque curve and just touching the gas allowed it to accelerate smartly.

    Your non-police Crown Vic probably has 2.73 or 3.08 gears and you’re lugging that engine. It likes revs, and runs smoothly and quietly enough that it won’t bother you if you increase them a little. Even if it doesn’t increase your MPG it will definitely make your Panther more fun to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      A civilian 95 CV will have the 3.08 gears the PI will have the 3.23 gears. Having had Panthers with 2.73, 3.08, 3.23, and 3.55 gears I’ve found that there isn’t a significant difference in MPG around town, they all have returned about the same in my everyday driving. On the freeway the 3.23 car did the best even cruising at extra legal speeds.

    • 0 avatar

      My 94 5 speed 6 cyl gets 33 mpg highway at a good clip and around town isn’t bad. You can find sn95s cheap these days, I paid $400 for mine with 150k, just needed tires and front brake lines.

      There are cars with better mileage, but this one is far less of a compromise with the style you want (and it’s a Ford!)

    • 0 avatar
      PonchoIndian

      did you recalibrate the speedo when you did the gear swap? if not I’ll bet that would account for your spectacular mileage :)

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Speedometers/odometers aren’t affected by gear ratios. Speedos are linked to the rotational speed of the wheels which is only affected by wheel/tire diameter.

        • 0 avatar
          PonchoIndian

          With all due respect, the speedo reading is absolutely affected by gear ratio changes. The speed sensor (in old terms speedo gear) is part of the transmission. You change the rear axle ratio to a lower gear (higher number) the speedo gear ratio will think the tires are turning faster than they are because of the rear end ratio change.

          These days you can make the calibration change with a hand held tuner. Back in the day you could swap the gear out on the end of the speedo cable to fix it.

          • 0 avatar
            Ubermensch

            Sorry, you are correct. I was confusing it with the wheel speed sensors for ABS/traction control. Need more coffee.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Yeah, my ’95 Thunderbird needs recalibrating because it was upgraded to a 3.73 rear and that actually decreased the governed top speed in the computer. Probably messed with the speedo and maybe even the transmission shift points too…

            But fortunately all V8 Thunderbirds from ’94-97 use OBD-II so that should be really easy for me.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            In that year you can make the change either with a gear swap or programing since the speed sensor is gear driven by the same set of gears that were used back in the days of mechanical speedos. Either way it is fixed it will fix the speedo and the shift points of the transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        Ostrich67

        Yes I did recalibrate the speedo, which entailed replacing the speedometer drive gear at the transmission. Now I did have a 5-speed instead of the automatic; I also drove like an adult.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    I’m always amazed how much more people will spend in order to “save” money.

    A single repair on a different car will wipe out whatever gas savings you’ll get from a more fuel efficient offering.

    Something is likely wrong with the 14mpg figure, but I would sit down and really calculate what changing cars is really going to save you. Unless you’re really at the extremes, it’s usually not worth jumping vehicles over.

    If you have a reliable, inexpensive car that you like, I think you’re best move is to just take the extra $40 or so a month hit in gas and enjoy it.

  • avatar
    LambourneNL

    Teenage driver? I’d say get something safe first of all, and a panther isn’t a bad choice considering the budget.

    • 0 avatar
      Zekele Ibo

      Disagree. Not about the part about safety being important for a young driver, but because an ancient design such as a panther is a poor choice both for active and passive safety.

      More modern designs are much better in a crash, have ABS, airbags, or other technology. What’s more, handling is poor (don’t forget the poster is in Canada and has to drive in ice and snow). A modern FWD compact car would be less likely to crash, and more likely to successfully protect its occupants if it did.

  • avatar
    Panther Platform

    Stick with the Vic, drive as smoothly as possible, and let coasting be your friend.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Agree there, those things coast like nobody’s business. I’ve let off the gas about a mile before my stop sign on the grid and only lost about 12 mph.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    A few months ago I turned loose a 2002 Focus hatchback for $2500. That would have been perfect for him.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Since the OP didn’t specify his needs, I’m going with “ride the school bus.”

    The fastest,most certain way to cut your transportation expense is to stop driving the car. Step back and think about what you are using it for. Do you need it for that? Are you working just to feed it? Could you find a job that’s closer and ditch the car? If you lose a buck an hour on a job that’s closer but no longer feed the car, do you come out ahead? How much is your insurance? What is this really worth? Can you carpool?

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Oh, please…

      I’m the Court Weenie at TTAC but even I wouldn’t tell you to just ride the bus. Ya gotta have wheels.

      And I agree with the panther people here. Just drive less and enjoy it more. And maybe have a decent mechanic check out your Vic, too. Seems you’re getting stiffed with the mileage.

    • 0 avatar
      Neel

      I’m the original poster.
      Where I live public transit is a joke (40 minute waits for a bus). I wouldn’t say that I drive excessively, but if I need to drive I will. As for carpooling, I’m the only person in my immediate group of friends that even has a car, so I tend to end up being a taxi at times (appropriate based on the car). They do reimburse me for gas though so it works out okay for me, I profit a little. I work part time right now and most of that money goes towards gas and insurance. This summer I will start working full time so money won’t be as tight. Thanks again for all the advise!

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Well, KixStart certainly has a point; unless you’re a rich kid it’s all too easy to get trapped into working just to support your car and pay insurance.

        But any opportunity that comes along for you in work and school pretty much requires wheels in all but the densest urban settings. And who wants to be there unless you’re a rich kid?

        Not having a car, however cheap and humble, is unfortunately a form of economic castration. Whatever you decide, you’re a level-headed young guy and I wish you the very best.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Echo or Yaris. Forget about the whole domestic/Ford thing, you can have unfounded prejudices when you’re old, like in 2070.

    Most of the other suggestions don’t apply in Ontario. Anything pre-2000 has rusted away, and Mitsubishi Canada has outrageous parts prices (if you can find a dealership at all).

    The other option is to drive less. There’s something to be said for a car that’s paid-off at your age. If you don’t have money for gas this week, get on your bike or ride the bus. No big deal until winter returns.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Something is wrong with your car. My 86 CV wagon I had in college 20 years ago did 18 or better around town. Heck I delivered pizza in it for a year and a half.

    If you must punt you might consider a 2×4 4 cylinder Pick up with the MT. I have had plenty of them, they are a hoot in the snow with some studded tires easy to fix and get good mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      5 speed 2.3 Ford Ranger 4×2 regular cab. It’s not fast but it’s reliable, cheap, and you can bring junk home with it!

      There was one for sale right up the road for $1800 but it was gone in a couple days.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    If you really have to sell the CV, I would suggest a Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable. They should at least get you in the 20s MPG wise and are cheap. There are other various GM midsizers I would recommend as well. A Buick Century or Chevy Malibu should be on your list. My sister’s Alero cost under your budget six years ago. Its still running well. The kid across the street has an Olds 88 that runs well. None of those answers are sexy, but are reasonably reliable and cheap to maintain. Or keep the Vic.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if my daughter was 18 years old instead of 18 months old, I’d buy her the nicest 2008-09 D-platform Sable or Taurus I could find for under $10K. I know that is above your budget though.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      I was going to throw out the Alero as an option, with the caveat that I don’t think the Alero is something you should actively search for, but something you stumble upon. Do a search on kijiji for cars, $1500 to $3500, and see what pops up. You never know what you may find. If you are uncertain as to what you need except for criteria and budget, a quick browse may just turn up something you had not thought of.

      Even though I just bought a new car, I really enjoy killing an hour here and there by searching kijiji by price range and seeing what comes up.

      • 0 avatar
        burnbomber

        My 99 Olds Cutlass has been a pretty good ride; it was broken but free to me when I got it.

        Broken intake manifold gasket. That, plus underhood maintenance on hoses, belts, plugs and wires, a new battery and fluids, plus back tag fees did cost plenty.

        Still a cheap ride though and very reliable now. The Olds Cutlass version are all V6 models; the Chevy Malibu version is equipped with either the V6 or I4. I routinely get 22-23 mpg in mixed driving to work.

        You will learn how to take care of it. I have a fully equipped tool kit in the trunk, and I’ve used it.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The difference in the MPG between the Taurus and Crown Vic is neglible, about 1 MPG so if he is only getting 14 with his CV then he will only get 15 with the Taurus. When gas hit $4 the first time I got the wife a 2000 Taurus for her to use as her daily driver to limit the miles put on the 15 MPG SUV. All it could ever get in daily driving was 20-20.5 MPG. When my son got old enough to drive we gave the Taurus to him and got her a 2001 Grand Marquis and doing the same driving she got 19-19.5 MPG. The lower insurance cost makes up for the difference in fuel cost and the Panther is cheaper to keep in tires and brakes.

    • 0 avatar
      Ostrich67

      There’s two kinds of Taurus/Sables. The ones whose transmissions have expired, and those whose transmissions are about to.

      Stick with the Vic. Change the plugs and wires; they’re right on top and couldn’t be easier to get to. Keep your tire pressure at the proper level and use the cruise control a lot. Ride the cheesewagon to school; it’s free.

  • avatar
    PonchoIndian

    Saturn SL series.

    Durable little beast (notice I didn’t say refined)
    Cheap cheap cheap to fix and purchase parts for
    Easy and simple to fix
    Killer gas mileage and can actually be fun to drive.
    Did I mention durable and cheap to buy, fix and feed?

    Other benefits, not visible rust, and easy to repair body panels.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I agree. I don’t find the SL fun to drive, but its cheap and will get you there. I tend to prefer some of the larger GM vehicles though. People forget GM even made the Malibu in the early to mid 2000s.

      • 0 avatar
        PonchoIndian

        I should edit that from “fun” to “can be entertaining”

        At 2200 lbs they are light and quick on their feet. Spend a few hundred on the suspension and you have a 4 door Miata without the steering feel, looks, soulful engine, great shifter…on second thought…haha.

        They did clean up pretty good back in the day at the SCCA events.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Drop some trays under the rear wheels and you can make any FWD a hoot.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I’ll agree with that.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          I was going to mention the same thing. I had a ’95 Saturn coupe when I was in the military. Only 100hp, but lighter than my current Miata (2,200 lbs). It was fun and tossable.

          I got well over 30 mpg on the highway (not sure about city), and the engine/trans would not die no matter how neglectful I was. Just about everything fell apart on the interior though. I had that car for 8-9 years and the only thing I ever had to replace was an alternator.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      If someone goes this route, you ideally want the SL2 DOHC, not the SL1 SOHC which IIRC suffers from head gasket maladies.

      • 0 avatar
        PonchoIndian

        They SOHC’s had head cracking issues, but if it isn’t broken and fixed already by now its probably in the junk yard anyway. At this point with the newest ones being pretty darn old I’d be shocked if you could purchase one that will crack a head on you.

        Put over 100K on two SL1′s. Cheapest freaking cars to run ever. Sold one to a friend and it just hit 200K miles and is still rattling along like it always has.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I’ve always had SL2s, never motor problems and only had relatively minor issues. Between my late father, brother, and myself we put 261K on two of them. I have recently acquired a new one I intend to put at least another 100K on.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    How about an early 2000s Saturn SW2? Plastic body = no rust (exterior anyway). Want a conventional trunk? an L-series would be affordable. A 200KM Mazda 6 may be in your price range.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      If one gets a first gen Mazda6 I would recommend avoiding the 3.0 V6. Its thirsty and doesn’t justify its thirst with comparable performance. The 2.3 is more than adequate for the car has more reasonable economy numbers.

  • avatar
    calgarytek

    A used Buick with a 3.8L V6, considering that you’re looking for a domestic vehicle with trunk space. You can find spare parts in a hedge so to speak.

    Mid 90′s Saturn with the SOHC engine and a manual transmission would be your second best bet.

    …And that’s it really.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Before you settle on a new car, calculate the cost of fuel in a year for the Crown Vic and the Contender.

    I think the difference will surprise you. I can almost guarantee it will be less than US$1000.

    Buying a car just to cut fuel consumption seldom actually makes a significant return unless one drives an extreme amount.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      Fully agree. When gas got above $4.00 a gallon here in the midwest in the summer of ’07, I was nearly broke but driving a paid for ’96 Grand Marquis and did a little math on getting a new car for better mileage. I think I used a Honda Fit in the calculation and if memory serves, for me to save more money in gas than the car payment I’d be taking on, gas would have to be $10 a gallon. I haven’t worried about the price of gas since. I just got a credit card with 2% cash back on gas and use gas buddy once in a while (though I prefer to use a Top Tier station, regardless of cost).

      During that time, my neighbor went from a Hummer H2 to a V6 Dodge Charger and then as soon as gas prices eased, to a Hummer H3. I know all that trading in and out of vehicles had to have cost more than he was putting into that H2. Sometimes owning what you love and what suits you is worth the cost of ownership.

    • 0 avatar
      Neel

      I’m the owner of the Vic. I’ve been thinking it over the past few days since this was posted and you’re right. I’ve calculated I’d save maybe around $600 a year on gas based on what I’ve been paying recently. While $600 is a fair bit of money, another car would cost five times that much.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    That’s easy:

    Geo/Chevy Prizm (basically a Corolla build in California)
    Chevy Caviler
    Pontiac Vibe if you have the budget (automatic, the manual ones have transmission issue)

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Side thought re. crappy mileage: make sure the brakes aren’t dragging. A sticky caliper or misadjusted drum can easily squash your fuel economy.

  • avatar
    bts

    Not a single mention of the 2002-2005 Impala so I’ll throw that out there. With the 3.4L V6 fuel economy is better than the other GM w bodies with the 3.8L. In 2006 it was updated in engines with probably even better fuel economy. And the car has great interior and trunk space.

    Another option that wasn’t mentioned much is the 1998-2003 Buick Regal. They come with the 3.8 though. The nice thing about the Regal is the more normal styling compared to the Impala and other similar GM cars.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Blasphemy. While 60V6 is a competent engine, 3800 is quite superior. Even EPA claims 3400 only does 1mpg better mixed vs Series II 3800 in a W-body, and EPA figures do not always reflect real world driving. I routinely pull 19 city, 30+ hwy, and 26 in 60/40 hwy mixed driving (never stomping on it) in an unmodded Series III 3800 with synthetic being the only change vs factory recommendations. This despite a 25hp and 25ft-tq increase vs 3400.

      http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/Find.do?action=sbs&id=19798&id=19835

  • avatar
    Neel

    We’ll I never thought I’d get the number of replies I’ve gotten. Thinking it over I think I’m going to keep my Vic, for now anyways. Once I’ve got a steady, better paying job then I’ll think about getting something else. As of right now I’d save about $600 a year going from 14 MPG to 20 MPG. Not a small amount of money but much less than I’d be spending on another car. Thanks everyone for their advice, this is a great site and I’ll definitely be commenting more often now.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    How about an Escape Hybrid? An older used one won’t cost a lot, and when they do have problems, they’re likely to be with the non-hybrid aspects. They get startling mileage.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    If you check back Neel, don’t worry about RWDFWD in the snow, what counts is weighing the back down a bit, driving skill, and throwing on some snow tires.

    Even with 4WD SUVs and that are frequently run into the dutch when winter hits, both from careless drivers and the generally mediocre performance of most all season tires.

  • avatar
    matador

    I have to agree with the authors response- see what’s available. I drove (And still have) a 1995 LeSabreI purchased for $700 in High School. It gets 29 on the highway and I love it.

    But, I wasn’t originally looking for a LeSabre- or even a Buick. I was looking for anything that was big and reliable. Ibought the Buick from a man who ran a junkyard/vehicle repair place. I actually wanted a 2000 Taurus for $1300, but he sold it. My other vehicle was in the mechanics shop, sso I had to buy something. I drove the Buick and bought it. It was the best car I ever bought.

    My point- see what’s available. I now love Buicks with the 3800, but there are tons of reliable choices out there. Have fun looking!

  • avatar
    jackmathew

    Great information.


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