By on December 9, 2010

Steve C. writes:

Currently I own two cars, a daily driver and a completely impractical two seat roadster with no trunk. The daily driver is a 1996 Toyota Corolla that has 145K miles. It has been in my family since new and has received good maintenance. I’ve had the car since 75K miles, doing all of the maintenance myself, and have enjoyed a mostly problem free ownership experience as is usually the case with these cars. However, the car did overheat once about 4 years ago while sitting in traffic due to a fan failure. The coolant actually boiled before I even realized there was a problem. I replaced the fan and thermostat, changed the coolant, and had no problems since.

However, in the past several months the engine has started consuming oil at a somewhat fast pace. I lent the car to my dad, who forgot to monitor it, and over the course of ~3500 miles the car lost enough oil to where there was barely any on the dipstick (the check engine light went on). The car also has some sort of vibration while coasting that seems to be an engine mount or axle issue. Basically, the car has reached the point of where its likely going to cost more to fix then its worth. Additionally, the back seat doesn’t fold so it makes it difficult to bring along my snowboard during the winter and I wont even mention the surfboard and backpacking trips. I would like to replace the car with something more suited toward my active life style, probably a pickup or SUV.

My budget is going to be ~$5,000, give or take a little. I am thinking about a 1990’s Tacoma or 4Runner, though I’ve had trouble locating one in my budget range that is a 4×4 (I live in the North East so a rear wheel drive truck just wont do). Do you have any other suggestions for an older vehicle that can be counted on as a dependable daily driver and can carry my gear? I am not too concerned with MPGs as I bike to work during warmer weather and my commute is ~7 miles round trip. I don’t want anything crazy huge because I live in a city where parking is a bit of a concern. Thanks for your help.

Steve Answers:

Do you even know what’s wrong with the Corolla?

You need to have an independent mechanic look at that vehicle. Motor mounts are cheap. A check engine light and low oil does not always equal engine damage. Plus $5000 is a lot of money to blow on something you may rarely use.

If you must buy an AWD vehicle, any SUV will do. Loaded low mileage Explorer from the late 90’s are more than fine along with a Ford Escape with a 5-speed. Chevy Blazers and their kin can also be a good fit for you. Cherokees, Grand Cherokees, Pathfinders, Rodeos, Troopers… they all ascribe to a simple and durable powertrain that was made in the hundreds of thousands. 4Runners from that era will be overpriced and they were not leading vehicles for this time. Tacomas of that vintage will ride like your roadster over bumps, and the price premium is even worse.

I would spend $4000 to $4500 on a vehicle that has been well kept. Then spend the remainder amount catching up on any upcoming maintenance issues and customizing the vehicle. That is if you must blow the dough.

Sajeev Answers:

See, the problem with writing alongside Mr. Lang is that he’s usually correct. I’ll forgo the Piston Slap routine with your Corolla, since you don’t much care for it. I recommend cleaning the little sedan up, selling it for a decent price on Craigslist so you can take advantage of this model’s impressive resale value and high desirability among the average car buyer.

Cash in hand? Good. Now buy something with less perceived value, but good real world driving value. Sounds to me that you’d love an SUV or CUV, and the only way to narrow it down is via test drives. Lots and lots of them. My gut feeling is that a body on frame SUV gives the most bang for your outdoorsy-lifestyle buck. While I prefer the 1996-up Explorer on interior fit/finish alone, either the Blue Oval or any one of GM’s (1999-up) Trailblazer derivatives will cheerfully fit the bill…for cheap.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to [email protected], and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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70 Comments on “New Or Used: SUV Resurgence over the Common Sense Corolla?...”


  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Agreed that 1990’s 4Runners are vastly overpriced.  In addition, they have an annoyingly narrow cabin, high floor, are prone to rusting, have a costly-failure-prone power tailgate window, and an high unstable center of gravity.

    1990’s Pathfinders are far better priced, more stable and wider/lower inside.  Pre-1996 Pathfinders have a short cargo area, and MUST be checked for frame rust around the rear axle. Post-1996 Pathfinders were far more refined and have proven to be extremely reliable. Up to the latest generation which are not so great and are beyond the price range.
     
    If you must try an Explorer, do back-to-back test drives with a Pathfinder on the same road and see which one is more like an amusement park ride.

  • avatar
    carve

    I’d get an XJ Cherokee with a manual.  I’m approaching 200k on mine.  It’s needed a radiator, a couple coolant pumps, a starter, and has just develped a few leaks.  Still runs like new .  Not to shabby.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      I’d love to find a clean ’97+ Cherokee 2-door with a manual transmission. Heck, I’d just love to find a 2-door…the AW4 automatic was so good that I could live with it if a manual was nowhere to be found. 

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I can understand the desire for something different. However, I think it is unwise to get rid of a vehicle for something equally as old and with the potential for similiar issues.

    You could get some decent money for the old Corolla, or you could fix the known issues. You know the history of the vehicle and possibly a few grand would have it like brand-new. Or you could buy something equally as old, and with more potential for issues (any 4×4) and could cost just as much to bring it into excellent operating condition. Not to mention the higher cost of keeping the vehicle on the road; tires, fuel, fluids, etc… Older 4Runners/Tacomas with the V6 have headgasket issues. Also, a 4×4 truck is not much better than a RWD truck in snow/ice, still have no weight over the rear and they’ll step out quite easily.

    I made the same mistake a few years ago. I got rid of my 1990 Integra, except that I felt since I had a “real” job and was done with college I should get something new. We have the Outback still and it’s an awesome vehicle but the Integra had plenty of life and was in perfect (mechanical and cosmetic) condition. Of course, I didn’t get much (private sale) for the Integra, could have kept it and bought the Outback…would have taken care of later problems…replacing my wife’s 1984 760 with a 1998 TL (didn’t want to spend more than $4k).

    Put a rack on the Corolla, snow tires, and you’re all set. Or dump your roadster and get the 4×4…having two “lifestyle” vehicles may be cool but may not be the wisest in the long run.

    With that said, a 1st-gen Xterra is also a good option.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    If you are secure enough in your manhood, you may want to consider a minivan.  You don’t need to seat 7, so even a short wheelbase Caravan or Chrysler Voyager will suit you.  With the 3.3 V6 and good maintenance, these will last a long, long time.  With your budget, you could find a fairly new one (like an 04-05), or an older one that you can do a lot of refresh work on and still have money leftover.  Not the most exciting vehicle for a single guy, but then you were driving an old Corolla.  The minivan is quiet, comfy, decent mileage and gobs of room to carry whatever you want to take with you.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      +1.  No point dumping money into your current ride if you don’t really care for it.  Get a set of snows and laugh at old man winter form your vintage swagger wagon!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Take a look around auto trader at 4cyl 4WD Escapes.  Because of high production numbers they’ve stayed pretty cheap even though they’re popular.  First gen even have a selectable transfer case switch.
     
    But personally I’d fix the Corolla and drive, drive, drive.  At this point any miles you put on it are money in your pocket.

  • avatar
    FJ20ET

    Sienna or Previa, if you can deal with the image of a Van.

  • avatar
    LUNDQIK

    2nd the 96+ Pathfinders and 1st Gen Xterras

    I hear Cherokees are good as well.  I think they are one of the best SUVs in terms of size, comfort, and capability.  That being said I had a 1998 Grand Cherokee 4×4 from 07-10 its was not relaiable.

    Passports and Rodeos (esentially the same) may be worth a look too.

  • avatar
    bobdod04

    Didn’t think I’d see my question come up.  Thanks guys!  Its been a little while since I’ve submitted it so let me provide an update to my situation.  First of all, the corolla was just not worth saving for me.  it didn’t provide enough room or versatility for what I need in a vehicle.  Also, it needed struts, rods, bushings, wheel bearings, etc.  All the stuff that I just wasn’t go to spend money on considering the car no longer met my needs.  Anyway, the Corolla is now gone.  I did exactly as suggested and sold it on Craigslist.  It was a bit of a hassle, but now its gone.  I still have not replaced it as of today, but I have a family friend who works the auctions looking for a new (to me) ride that will fit my needs.  He actually called me earlier today saying that he picked up a 2006 Vue that will fit my budget.  Its the 4 banger and front wheel drive, but as many will agree, AWD is not really a must have.  I am going to check out the Vue and see how I feel about it.  My first reaction was that Saturn = crap, but doing a bit of research, it seems that the Vue may not be completely terrible as a utility vehicle to haul my friends and our gear.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @bobdod: Your friend has a very good eye. I’m in a similar situation, where I need to replace my coupe with some kind of wagon, for Home Depot runs, hauling my drum kit to gigs, etc. I really don’t want a 4×4 as such, and don’t really care that much about SUV’s. All of this is dependent upon me scoring a higher paying daytime job. In Michigan, I may be waiting a while… I’d like something the size of a PT Cruiser, but not a PT Cruiser. Then one evening I came across an iron lot that had several FWD Saturn Vue’s and I thought this could work. If you get the Vue, please share your observations. I’d like to think I’m headed in the right direction.

    • 0 avatar
      dolo54

      Do not get the Vue. My father in law has one. It is garbage. Seriously. Handles like a pig, low low power. Will not satisfy you in any way. You can do better for sure. The first gen xterras are really nice. A friend has one and it is great. Late 90s Pathfinders are quite good as well. I would rather have an older one of those than a newer Vue in a second. Test drive a few things before buying.

    • 0 avatar
      bobdod04

      @dolo54
      What year Vue does your father in law have?  Apparently they made changes to handling in new model years.  I don’t much care about power as I have my roadster toy for fun.  What other issues did you father in law’s Vue have?

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Stay away from the early VUEs with the vTi [ Saturn speak for CVT ]. A time bomb and exepensive to replace. Check the Saturn fan site for the horror stories. They used that cruddy trans in the ION Quad Coupe as well. Look for post 2005 if you are considering the VUE.
      Also on CR’s “Used Cars To Avoid”. Like the Relay.
      Have you consideed an Outback or Forrester ?

    • 0 avatar
      Dingleberrypiez

      He states it’s a 2006.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    My first reaction is to agree with Steve.  A 1996 Corolla is about as good as they got.  It was right around that time that Toyota’s very slow slide into decontenting started to happen.  I’d find out what is wrong, and Corollas are cheap to fix.  A roof rack and tire chains solves your issue of hauling your winter toys.
     
    I’m probably going to get flamed on this recommendation, but if you look hard, in the $7K range you can find 2005 AWD Saturn Relay minivans.  Ya I know, minivan.  Ya I know, under powered minivan with GM 3.5L 6-banger under the hood.  They are dirt cheap (no one wants them) but they are as reliable as the sunrise.  The interior and controls are actually, nice (ack) and the ride/handling was near the top of the class.  This is a case of finding an under valued vehicle to maximize your dollars as other posters above have recommended.  A $4,000 AWD Tacoma would make me nervous as having a trashed body or interior to be in that price range.
     
    Recommendations of old Ford Explorer and old Ford Escape is solid, as is the recommendation form Sanjeev to find a Chevy Blazer.  The interior may be by Playskool and sea of creaks and rattles by this time, but the GM 4.3L V6 can’t be killed.
     
    Maybe it’s just the region I live in, but you can’t find a Tacoma 4X4, Ranger 4X4, or even an S-10/S-15 4X4 that isn’t at the end of its life in the $4K to $5K price range.

    • 0 avatar

      I was recommending the Trailblazer, as even some of my Blazer loyalists dislike the last of that bodystyle.  The TB is a good bit nicer all around, and the I-6 is a real sweetheart in my book. Probably the best engine in this class.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      No offense but you can go on the Saturn fans site and read all about the Relay and it’s sub par cousins.

      They’re cheap for a reason, not the least of which is the doors opening magically by themselves…. while rolling.

      A POS idea that besmirched Buick, Chevy, Pontiac AND Saturn. A bad idea spread across four lines and the pinnacle of GM’s “we’re not gonna badge engineer” era…..Stay away, stay very far away. Consumer Reports will give you any more data you need on these rolling garbage cans.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      @Sanjeev – sorry about the confusion.  Wasn’t aware that with some digging can find TB in the $6K to $7K range (just did some digging).  Hmmmm…I never even considered one when I was looking for my 2010-2011 winter beater, will know for next year.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup, it’d make a great beater.
      And Dweezil is right, the Relay and its GM Cousins are ugly, troubleprone, crude and terrible in a collision.  Not as bad as the sistership Chevy Astro, but they aren’t a good choice for anyone.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      @Sanjeev
       
      The 2005 to 2008 Generation II GM U-Bodies are near the top of the class in crash tests in the IIHS, they are extremely safe IF equipped with side airbags (thorax side airbags standard in ’05, optional and curtain optional in ’06, standard in ’07, so yes, it is a rat maze looking at the used ones).  The 1997 to 2005 Generation 1.5 GM U-Bodies are rolling death traps.  I’m all for recommending buys and don’t buys, but I’m also for having facts straight.
       
      The doors just opening was only on a handful of vehicles, and the GM power sliding door technology is licensed by every minivan maker with power sliding doors (surprised) except Chrysler and by proxy VW (for obvious reasons).
       
      TTAC has already ripped apart Consumer Reports for not having valid data sampling rates in their models, and Michael Karesh has provided additional supporting data to back that up; plus True Delta information appears to be more factual than TTAC.  What does True Delta say, well nothing because they don’t have enough data.
       
      Here is what MSN Auto has to say about Saturn Relay reliability:
       
      http://autos.msn.com/research/vip/Reliability.aspx?year=2005&make=Saturn&model=Relay
       
      And where the data comes from:
       
      http://autos.msn.com/advice/articles/aisfaq.aspx
       
      I have no idea of the value of the above, but seems this a much more valid data sample that Consumer Reports.
       
      To the posters above who recommended staying far away from early Saturn VUEs AMEN!  $100 million in payouts post class action lawsuit for craptastic CVT transmissions and the Elsemere 3.0L V6; which should have never been unleashed upon civilized man.  The later production models are much improved mechanically, but have almost no evolution in interior, which is pretty utilitarian.  The newer models command more than the $5K range you’re looking for.
       
      GM U-Body crude?  Absolutely.  Last generation models are far more reliable than the 1.5 version (and a 1.0 with plastic body panels and the 3.8 can’t be killed, they’re just ugly as sin and have horrific space utilization).  The 2.0 with side air bags is quite safe.  Go look at 6 model year old specimens that have had a modicum of reasonable care, interior operation, switch gear, etc. etc. all look factory new – at least the ones I’ve looked at.  Grossly under valued, huge perception problem that doesn’t equal reality, equals huge bang for the buck.

    • 0 avatar

      The 1997 to 2005 Generation 1.5 GM U-Bodies are rolling death traps.  I’m all for recommending buys and don’t buys, but I’m also for having facts straight.
       
      Correct, I forgot there was a change in their safety ratings by 2006.  Which I feel bad for, but I tend to multitask while posting in the comments section (I’m @work) and I’m really posting here to get people like you talking and interacting.  So thanks for kickin’ that up.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I vote extended cab PU if your single w/out kids. Much more versatile than any SUV. For early ti mid 90’s nothing compares to a Toyota, which is why the hold their value like gold. FWIW the Tacoma was introduced in ’95.

    • 0 avatar
      bobdod04

      I’ve pretty much given up on the Toyotas.  I haven’t found one in my price range that I would consider buying.  I’ve looked at Tacomas, 4Runners, and T100s, but haven’t found anything worth while.  As stated above, most of these are at or very near to end of life.  I almost picked up a 97 4Runner, but a Carfax showed the owner to be a liar (had two accidents, one with airbag deployment).  The rest of the miserly offerings out there are all close to 200K on the odometer, which is too high in my mind for a vehicle that commends $5-6K.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      Take a look at the Ranger.  I got one after two Toyota PUs (was unable to replace a totalled Toy for the insurance payout) and was surprised to find that it’s a much more quiet, comfortable, and capable truck. Quality is on par with my previous Toyota and it’s been the cheapest vehicle to own and operate that I’ve ever had. The S10 is not even close in reliability or build quality.  The 3.0L Vulcan engine is underpowered and unexciting but bulletproof and reasonably economical. The 4.0L is comparatively thirsty and more problem prone. With a limited slip diff, 4wd isn’t really necessary for most purposes.

    • 0 avatar

      @rocketrodeo

      I drive two Toyota trucks from the early nineties (both are Xtracab SR5 4WD 5 speed models, a 1990 4cyl and a 1993 V6) and I used to have a 1993 Xtraxab DX 4cyl. The DX was totalled in an accident and my insurance company gave me 5,700$ for it in 2009 and they left me the remains of my truck for parts. I was able to save quite a few parts out of it, including the doors, the bed and engine that are now in my 1990. Here are the remains: http://memimage.cardomain.com/ride_images/3/2731/3681/31826840013_large.jpg
      http://memimage.cardomain.com/ride_images/3/2731/3681/31826840023_large.jpg

      At my job, I drive a 1994 Ranger XL regular cab 2wd with the 2.3 and a 5 speed tranny. I like it but don’t think it compares to my Toyotas. It’s has less mileage than my Toyotas and it’s been quite reliable over the years but I just don’t like it as much.

      3 friends of mine have or had 2wd (Ranger clones) Mazdas, one has a ’95 B2300 2wd and it’s just like the Ranger at my job but with higher mileage and more problems. I know someone who has a 2wd 2003 B3000 2WD 5 speed which he mostly uses to haul stuff and another friend had a 2003 B4000 “Dual Sport” 2WD automatic with a limited slip differential. He sold it last year for less than I paid my 10 years older Toyota because he didn’t like a 2WD pickup for winter driving and he really started to hate it after he got stuck in the 600ft driveway of another friend who lives on a mountain. He damaged his cheap mudflaps and a plastic weel arch moulding (and I had to repaint the new one that he ordered from Mazda). My other friend had to tow the B4000 down his driveway with his ’89 Toyota (he also owns two Toyota 4WD trucks, a 1989 and a 1991).

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      Tires are pretty critical for any 2wd truck you’re going to drive in the winter. I haven’t had any problems, but I’ve been a believer in modern winter tires at all four corners for quite a few years.  Lots of folks still mistake deep-lugged all-terrain tires for snow tires.
       
      Toyotas are fine trucks but they make better commuters than workhorses. The superior driving experience completely goes away as soon as you put a load on it, even if it’s something well within the rating, like a middleweight motorcycle. They really aren’t up for carrying loads or towing like the Ranger is without significantly upgrading the suspension.
       
      The Ranger will require new ball joints sooner; the Toyota will need tie rods sooner. The 22R likewise goes through timing chains at the rate Hondas go through timing belts, and the 3VZE Toyota V6 is not known for longevity either. I wouldn’t put a lot of money on a 4.0L Ford engine outlasting either of them, but there are few drawbacks to either of the smaller Ford engines.
       
      In general, you can get a much newer Ranger for the same money as an older Tacoma, and the HiLuxes are just too old to be trustworthy. You’re more likely to find “advanced” features like cruise control, antilock brakes, and airbags on the Ranger as well, and dead certain to find better ergos, seats, and soundproofing. As with any used vehicle, the quality of its past maintenance is going to be a much bigger factor than any other variable, and it’s rare to find an affordable Toyota with less than six figures of mileage.

      I bought my 2000 Ranger (supercab, V6, 5 speed, 70+K) for $6650 six years ago. It has depreciated somewhere around $2000 over the 65,000 miles I’ve driven it.  It hasn’t broken once or even begun to rust, and that’s with some nasty midwestern winters on it. I don’t expect it to stay perfect, but at a little less than 140K it still looks new and I figure it’s only about half used up. I did have to replace the 10 year old OEM battery two days ago.

    • 0 avatar

      My 1993 Toyota doesn’t have airbags but it does have anti-lock brakes, cruise control, all power options still work (mirrors, antenna, windows and locks), a/c works too, there are no annoying noises or body rattles, it doesn’t feel like most 17 years old vehicles. As an example, I just had a ride in a 2010 GMC 2500 and there were cracking noises coming from it’s dashboard). The front bucket seats in my Toyota are much more comfortable than those in the Rangers I sat in and they offer more adjustments (height, lumbar support, side support and 4 way headrests). Of course, a much newer Ranger or Mazda is less expensive and is likely to have less mileage but I can’t complain about the older Toyota’s reliability.

      It’s true that the stock rear suspension on Toyotas is a bit weak to carry heavy stuff and the towing capacity is very low at 3500 lbs (my cars can tow more than that!).
      It’s also true that the 22R-E engines eat timing chain guides, the 3VZE tend to leak oil from their valve cover gaskets and neither are performant but I can’t say that they aren’t durable. I have quite a few friends who own trucks with both engines and high mileage and they’re both quite good. From my experiences, the V6 is better than the 22R-E (I know that many differ).

      My friend who had a 2003 B4000 needed to have his a/c serviced at 20,000 miles in 2007(warranty had expired), he had problems with his power steering, headliner material and trim falling off, a cupholder door broke on his armrest, the dimmer for the dashboard illumination went bad and he sold the truck at 42,000 miles last year… Just a few months before, I had paid more for my 10 years older Toyota with 124,000 miles (now has 152,000 miles) than what he got for his Mazda. 

  • avatar
    pauldun170

    Didn’t Escapes have issues with cat converters?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Don’t Toyotas?  https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/piston-slap-sulphur-farts/
       
      But I’ve never head of the Escape “cat” issues before.  You need to remember the internet’s ability to blow things out of proportion.  If you believe what you read on the web, then all 4th gen Ford Taurus’ spontaneously eat their transmissions while their owners are sleeping soundly in bed.  The truth is that Taurus’ with 3.0V6 don’t usually have enough power to destroy the trans (unless you abuse it) and 3.0 DOHC engines just require you to be a little more vigilant with transmission maintenance. BTW I speak from experience of working for a school district that has dozens of 2000 to 2007 Taurus’ in it’s fleet. Most are nearing 100,000 miles and doing just fine with routine “motor pool” maintenance.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      My 92 Sable’s cat rotted out at 16 years of service…the professional wrench banged me for nearly $1,000 for a premium replacement.  Foolish me for not asking how much first.  BTW the trans is still original at over 120K.
       
      I’d consider the Pathfinder if you can get a good price.  The Blazer is crude in comparison, but the business case for it should make it a contender.  It is amazing how you can get a excellent condition vehicle for cheap bucks because it doesn’t have a red dot in that near-useless rag.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I have a friend with a 93 corolla that she’s had since new. It has over 300k on it! It leaks oil and a little transmission fluid. She drives it on no oil quite a bit (I usually check her oil when she’s visiting). What I’m saying is that car has a long way to go before being retired. They are solid, reliable vehicles. However it sounds as if you have outgrown it, which is as good a reason as any to move on to something else. I myself would prefer a subaru outback or similar to an SUV, which is more fun to drive and as well suited to what you need.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      Ya good reliable vehicles:
       
      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/piston-slap-sulphur-farts/
       
      It leaks oil and transmission fluid but my friend keeps driving it.  Leaking bodily fluids is not a hallmark of solid build quality.  I know plenty of vehicles out there that hemorrhage bodily fluids on a daily basis and, “just keep running,” I sure wouldn’t then say, “and they’re reliable.”
       
      I’m sure I could easily find a similarly aged Ford, Dodge, or Chevy truck with the same mileage that bleeds all over the driveway – no one would use the word, “reliable” to describe them.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      I’d take that 300,000 mile Corolla over your “reliable” Relay recommendation any day of the week.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      In the price range they are looking, anything seems like it could be a gamble.   Just sayin’.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      @Dweezil
       
      Again, feel free to argue with data:
       
      http://autos.msn.com/research/vip/Reliability.aspx?year=2005&make=Saturn&model=Relay
       
      Consumer Reports was already exposed for what they are here on TTAC and True Delta doesn’t have enough data – hence they won’t run a report based on a statistically insignificant data set, unlike Consumer Reports.  If I’m supposed to believe CR, Porsche is the most reliable vehicle on the planet; that in itself is a laughable statement.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      @HoldenSSVSE:
       
      I’m not sure if I would use MSN as the reliability authority either.
       
      Maybe Steve C. should look into a ’98 Disco?
       
      1998 Land Rover Discovery.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      @ajla – in an earlier post I noted that YMMV on any of the “reliability” reports on vehicles out there.  JD Power and Consumer Reports are ferociously flawed.  Again TTAC, picked that apart.  True Delta does a solid job; but proves the hardest part of any reliability survey that requires a valid sample data set; you won’t be able to report data on all vehicles.  For True Delta, that’s fine; for CR and JDP that would be kiss the death.  It is very likely that although MSN methodology is to survey 20,000 repair shops a month (so sayeth their site) it is highly likely that they don’t get a valid data set for all makes and models.
       
      Lets go back to the whole silly argument. dolo54 wrote they have a friend with a 1993 Corolla with over 300K miles on it that leaks so much oil that the owner frequently drives it with little oil in the crank case.  That Corolla is either part diesel or leaving pools of bodily fluids everywhere – oh yes – and the tranny leaks too.
      DweezilSFV then makes this ridiculous statement:
      I’d take that 300,000 mile Corolla over your “reliable” Relay recommendation any day of the week.
      Now let that statement sink in for a minute.  Me, personally, I would take a 2005 ANYTHING beyond an uber-erotic-exotic with say 75K miles on the odometer, and I mean anything, over a 18 model year old Corolla with a failing engine and transmission.  Just about any car, beyond again uber-erotic-exotics built after 2003 to 2005 is good for 150K to 200K miles of near trouble free service with regular, routine care.  YES, everyone knows the dude with the Honda Civic that needed an engine, transmission, and the seat fell off in just 15K miles, and everyone has heard about the one-million mile Saab that only died because the frame rotted out.  That doesn’t mean Saab’s are indestructible, it doesn’t mean Civics are crap.
      But to make a statement of I’d take an 18 year old Corolla with a failing engine and transmission leaving pools of fluids whenever it parks and with an owner that doesn’t care for it over a 2005 or 2006 Saturn, or anything else – is – insanity.

  • avatar
    alex_rashev

    Cheap: mid-90’s Ford Escort Wagon in REALLY good condition. Those can’t possibly cost more than 2K and will last you a long, long time, all while giving you great gas mileage and plenty of room.

    Cheerful: Mid-90’s Civic hatch with a roofrack and a 5-speed. I searched high and low and I couldn’t find anything better as far as value goes. Buy the best, most unmolested example you can find. Can’t possibly cost more than 4K even for a pristine late model.

    Mighty: 94-96 5.7 Caprice Wagon or Roadmaster Estate. I have one. You can fit 10+ dead bodies in the back and still have 6 burly gangsters sitting comfortably upfront, all while carrying 500lbs of explosives on the roof and towing a stolen Escalade behind you, at 120mph; the nerdy woody sides mean that noone will suspect a thing. Again, 3-4K buys you a nice example.

    Finally: unless you climb 30% gradients in ice on a daily basis, or do SERIOUS offroading, any of the above cars plus a set of winter tires on steelies will suit you even if you live up north. I’ve done some pretty rough driving and I’ve never actually NEEDED a 4×4. Dare I say it, ~95% of Wrangler owners could drive theirs on 2wd full time, and they wouldn’t notice a thing, even when they do so-called “offroading”.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      The recommendation for the Ford Escort wagon in the price range is a good one.  I wouldn’t get an automatic version, get a 5-speed, but they are good basic transportation.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Actually the auto models are ok too if you don’t want to “shift it yourself.”  I used to own a 1997 model (used to, damn ex-wife) and I had transmission troubles (resulting in a total rebuild) but those troubles were my own fault.  I knew full well that I could have issues with that sucker but I didn’t do the preventative maintenance.
       
      But yes they are ROOMY ROOMY ROOMY!  I brought an old CRT style TV (27in) home in the back of the sucker (in the box) and didn’t even have to put the seats down.

    • 0 avatar

      +2 on the Escort Wagon…if you can find one.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Do the Escort wagons not feature the constant rear coil spring failures that cause the hatchbacks and sedans of this generation to fail their state inspections in Virginia each year? A quick google search suggests that the wagons have the same problems the rest of them do.

  • avatar

    Based on a quick check of KBB.com, you should be able to find a Suzuki Grand Vitara that’s a 2000 or newer for well within your budget.  Unlike most SUVs of that size, the Grand Vitara has a ladder frame, making it more suitable for leaving the pavement.

  • avatar
    pauldun170

    http://www.ehow.com/list_7566925_ford-escape-catalytic-converter-problems.html

  • avatar
    mikey

    From early 2003 to 2005 GM Canada discounted thousands of 2dr Jimmys/Blazers. My wife bought one in 2003. Eight years later its now our winter beater. I’m not sure of the US market,but up here there is all kinds of used ones….cheap

     The Good…..The Jimmy is easy to fix and parts are cheap and plentifull. For the most part its dependable,and repairs have never been an issue With good tires it will go almost anywhere. With the seats folded down and the rear mounted spare,you got lots of room. You can…if you have to, sleep in it.  I find the Jimmy a blast to drive. My wife thinks it the greatest vehicle ever created. Last spring, financial considerations demanded either my Firebird,or the Jimmy had to go….Well…. we still got the Jimmy.. eh.

    The bad…Compared to my daughters Grand Cherokee, the Jimmy is a tractor. The seats are basic GM issue,they do the job..but barely. Once a week you have to spray lithium grease on the door hinges and the rear mounted spare. Once a year you have to spray oil on everything to stave of the rusties. The ball joints need to be lubed every three months, and the uppers are a pain in the butt,to lube. The 4.3 is bullet proof. However its noisy and rough.

    The ugly… The Jimmy has an insatiable thirst. I have a tried everthing I keep it tuned, change the air filter,keep the Michelin LTX tires at 37 lbs,and it still drinks gas.

     Anyway if you can get one cheap enough, and mpg isn’t an issue, its a good little BOF truck.

    IMHO…  I still wish, I had kept my Firebird, and dumped her gas gobbling little Jimmy. Hope she doesn’t read this.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t believe you sold that car, it was one of the first vehicles to get Piston Slapped. Tragic.
      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/03/piston-slap-poncho-muscle-flex-and-panic-at-the-opera-light/

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      Sajeev….Without getting into too many details. I had a little issue with the “Canadian Reveune” Agency. I think you guys call them the IRS,among other things.

      When I retired from GM they gave me a lovely Impala as part of my retirement package. It seems the word “give” is not a term that the nice folks at the C.R.A recognize. So I sold my beloved Firebird and “gave” those folks at the C.R.A  the proceeds.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s awful, but it’s actually a good story.  Gettin’ screwed by GM, followed up by the government.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    For what it’s worth from someone a lot older than you: Evaluate your Corolla and if it’s worth it, FIX IT AND DRIVE IT! Blowing money on a second “lifestyle” vehicle in this economy isn’t a wise idea at all. If your income level is somewhat on the south side of normal, for now you may want to cash in and sell the 2-seater (whatever it is) and hoard your money, too.

    OR…(drum roll please…) buy a 5-10 year-old Crown Vic/Marquis! That’ll afford you living space if you ever need it, plus space for all your stuff! I never thought I’d say that, being in Chevy’s camp again!

    EDIT: Your Toyota was of the ilk when Toyota was at or almost at the top of their game. Once again: If cost-effective, fix it and drive the dream!

  • avatar
    texan01

    If you get a 95-01 Explorer or -04 Sport, try and avoid the SOHC 4.0 V6 if you can, they are problematic with timing chain issues that are expensive to fix. the underpowered pushrod 4.0 V6 is as tough as nails if treated to regular oil changes. the transmission is a mixed bag, but I’d find a 5 speed stick as it makes it a ball of fun to drive, especially if lowered an inch. I’d avoid the 3rd gen Explorers as they are actually a let down in terms of quality from the 95-01 models.
     
    I’ve got a 95 with the automatic and the wheezy pushrod 4.0 has decent grunt to get to 60, and will push it all the way if you got patience to do it, to 120mph. Mine also has 275,000 miles on the original engine, 50,000 on a rebuilt trans, and has had 4 heater cores (not cheap or easy to fix), 4 radiators, and two sets of head gaskets. I’d say the worst engineered part on the car is the cooling system, but that seems to be a Ford thing in general. Other than said cooling issues, it’s been bullet-proof for the 180,000 miles I’ve owned it. It’s 2wd and has a LS rear axle and will get just about anywhere I want to go, even banging down paths vaguely resembling a road. I lowered it an inch which took the vast majority of the top-heavy feel out of it.
     
    It’ll also carry a 4×6 sheet of plywood in the back with the tailgate closed, and seats folded down. I’ve also put 12 feet of lumber in it, by stacking it on the center console and hanging 3 or 4 feet out the back window. Payload is kind of low if you carry people and their luggage, though. Mine with 4 or 5 people will hit bottom on the rear end pretty easily but that may be due to the reduced ride height or the springs have gotten weak over the years.
    #1 one thing to remember with any SUV though get GOOD TIRES, and make sure tire pressures are equal front to rear. I had a tire shop replace two tires on mine, and they didn’t fill them to 32psi like I told them to, and instead filled them to 26 like the door said……. front tires were inflated to 32. Yeah, it’d hang the tail out without much help then, and I spun it at 60mph when someone cut me off. It stayed bolt upright though.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    The first generation Xterra has come up a couple of times.  It’s a update of the first generation Pathfinder, with the spare moved inside and leaf springs instead of the first generation Pathfinders excellent 5-link setup.
    The first year of the second generation of XL7 was 2007.  The first generation XL-7 was a stretched Grand Vitara.

  • avatar
    Mike C.

    For 5 grand, I would see what you can find (from a private owner) in a 2000-2002 Subaru Outback or Forester.  The gas mileage isn’t that bad even with the AWD.  I get around 26-27 mpg for mostly highway driving (usually at 70 mph).  Be sure to ask if the head gaskets were replaced since the originals were a weak point on the 2.5L engine.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Get a 96 hatchback or wagon Corolla. You know it’s the only decent thing to do. As mentioned by several posters above, for basic reliable transportation the mid 90’s Corollas were almost as good as it gets (IE boring as f***). One alternative could be a Civic of the same age that has not been ‘Fast&furious’ed.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The US didn’t get the AE10x hatchback (and the AE9x hatch was sold as a Geo Prizm). We did get the wagon, but the mid-90s was pretty much the end of the line for those, so finding one will be a chore. First-gen CR-v would work, though finding one of those for 5k might be tough. The last unmolested Civic hatch had its springs cut about five years ago.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    That’s the last Corolla I really liked. Here it’s called Baby Camry.
     
    Strange that no one suggested purchasing a Corolla wagon of the same vintage. I’d say an XJ or ZJ Jeep would just be fine.
     
     

  • avatar

    These Corollas were among the most reliable. Too bad the base “SD” model lacked folding seats! My mother drives a ’97 Corolla SD with no options but less than 20,000 miles!
    http://img41.imageshack.us/img41/5535/dscf6060h.jpg 

    But these aren’t the funniest cars to drive!

    Since you live in the northeast, be careful in your next purchase if you want a 1990’s compact 4×4 as most of them have rust problems. 

    My daily drivers are currently two pre-Tacoma Toyota 4×4 pickups and I really like them but those in good shape are usually expensive… The newer 95 1/2- 2004 Tacomas have frame rust problems and most of the 1995-2000 are gone from the road around here as Toyota bought them back. 2001-2004 Tacomas and 1st gen Tundras are also recalled for frame rust but they often get frame replacements. A friend of mine has a 2000 Tundra and it’s currently at the dealership for a complete frame replacement… And other brands have rust problems too, but they weren’t recalled for that!

    My 1990 SR5 4cyl, 1993 SR5 v6 and my friend’s 2000 Tundra.
    http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/4/370/989/38422994002_large.jpg

    I had jeep XJ Cherokees in the past and I still have one. I like them too, the 1987-01 models have good 6 cyl engines and good (Toyota) automatic transmissions (unlike most Chrysler products from this period!) but I don’t like them as much as my Toyota pickups. And they have rust problems too…

    As for Nissans, I’ve never owned one but they also have rust problems and they don’t seem to be as reliable as Toyotas. A friend of mine has a newer 2003 Xterra and it’s supercharged engine needs to be replaced (he had to buy another car as he’s waiting to find a decently priced engine), I’ve driven it once and that’s when I noticed that both front power windows don’t work (the driver side window does get down but not up…) and there are quite a few rust spots on it’s body.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    I’m going to second Steve’s recommendation of a Cherokee. With the exception noted below, engine and trans are darn near indestructable and they are cheap to acquire and maintain. ’91-’96 models are actually simpler and in some ways more robust than the ’97+ models because of that simplicity. Having said that, the known issues on the ’97+ models of any consequence are a propensity to crack A/C evaporators and a potential cylinder head cracking issue on the ’00/’01 models. Sure, they’re crude and “trucky” feeling, but they have an endearing quality about them like an old hound dog. 

  • avatar
    stickmaster

    Steve:
    I had a ’96 Corolla, my first car, that I loved and drove for about 90,000 miles until a nasty accident left it worthless.

    What a blessing in disguise that was.  Cars have moved on since then; they now safer, more comfortable, and more fuel efficient to boot. At the very least, you should buy a bigger car, even if that means busting your budget.

    Ditch the Corolla.  I echo those here who think you should consider a used Subaru Outback, especially if fuel economy is not your top priority.

  • avatar
    bobdod04

    Thanks for all of the advice and opinions. I guess it must be my location, but a trailblazer is out of my price range, even one with 150K miles. I like the idea of a Legacy or Outback, but after reading up on these, I am not sure I want to gamble on a pre 2004 model. The 2003s have really bad reliability ratings on truedelta, while the even earlier ones have head gasket problems galore. Unless my friend can track down a non turbo 2004 at an auction, I won’t be able to find one near my price point. I should be able to check out the 2006 Vue he bought on Monday. I don’t think I am going to find any other 5 year old SUV for this kind of money. Truedelta rates them pretty well too. Its definitely more practical than the 04 A4 Avant he offered to pick up for me.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Glad to hear you know that: European Car + Used + no warranty = run like hell.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      You need to negotiate… a lot…
      I do have a 1998 Forester in excellent condition, 5-speed, AWD, 132k, if you’re interested in coming to Atlanta.
      You do not want the Vue if it has the CVT transmission. Those things are pure torture.

    • 0 avatar
      bobdod04

      I would never consider anything with a CVT. The one I am looking at has an automatic with the 2.2 ecotec. The Honda driven sixes have tranny issues galore from reading saturn forums.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    What about a first gen Focus wagon?  Lots of room, good handling, I expect they’re pretty cheap.  Not sure how reliable they are.

  • avatar
    Tree Trunk

    We have a 1991 Corolla (All-Track wagon) in our driveway, that likes it oil a bit and has even gone down to the oil light a couple off times without any apparent damage.  Over 190k and still going strong.
     
    The All Track would be perfect, but they are getting hard to find so I would look at Isuzu Rodeo.  Our is a 1995 130K and minimal repairs.  You can get them up to 2004 and since the are no longer sold in the US they go for pennies compared to a 4runner.
     
     

  • avatar
    OliverTwist

    Oh, that red Corolla! We want it!

    My sister-in-law had a 1993 version, which we loved very much. It was just perfect car and a lot of fun to drive. Since we lived in Colorado, my brother often put in the studded tyres every winter. It was hoot to drive on snow and ice, freaking out the Californians who recently immigrated to Colorado in the late 1990s.

    Unfortunately, it met the untimely death at the intersection. My sister-in-law and her 4-year old daughter were waiting their turn to cross the intersection. This motherfucking bitch in the motherfucking Cadillac Escalade was so fucking busy, yapping the latest fucking gossip on her fucking cell phone. She didn’t see the traffic backing up and didn’t think of using the brakes. Our Corolla happened to be the impromptus crash barrier for the Escalade. The Escalade travelling at about 40 mph smashed into Corolla sitting at the intersection.

    What’s so incredible: all of four doors on the Corolla opened effortlessly even though the rear end was smashed to nil. Police couldn’t believe how strong Corolla’s body shell was. My sister-in-law and her daughter got out of the car unscatched but very royally angry.

    Police had trouble opening the doors on Escalade. The bitch was freaking out about being trapped in the Escalade and put out the drama worth Emmy award.

    My brother visited the junkyard to take the final photos of Corolla and noticed that Escalade was a total write-off even though it had minor damage to the bumper and nose. Closer examination revealed that the chassis frame had been bent (that explained the jammed doors).

    He has been looking for a good seventh generation Corolla from 1991 to 1995 ever since. Specifically the red one.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Have you looked at a 1996-2002 Isuzu Trooper?  The are comfortable but built like a tank, and have a hard to find low beltline that gives the better outside visibility than any other SUV I can think of.  They are also a mid size SUV that holds a lot but is not a land barge.
     
    Because Consumer Reports reported that they were more likely to roll over than other SUV’s their sales and resale value went in the tank, so prices are pretty attractive.  I put about 150k miles on one and regret ever selling it.  Bonus: if you find one that has been kept in the south it should be rust free.
     
    Seriously, find one on Craigslist and take it for a test drive.  The Trooper is a great, low cost option.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Hmm overheated, using oil and run low on oil. Sounds to me like the engine in your Carolla isn’t long for the world. My friends 1996 did about the same thing until it set up in sub zero temps with the engine at high idle trying to warm up. It through a rod, out went the oil and the engine never ran again. I wouldn’t trust a 90’s Toyota truck judging my all the rotted out frames issues I have encountered (neatly brushed under the carpet by Toyota in offering far more trade than the truck is worth). The older Subies are spotty with many examples dropping there trannys with well under 100K. I agree about the Vue. The Honda V6 is smooth and powerful and will last. That plus the body that won’t rust out make it even better.

    • 0 avatar

      ” I wouldn’t trust a 90′s Toyota truck judging my all the rotted out frames issues I have encountered (neatly brushed under the carpet by Toyota in offering far more trade than the truck is worth). ”

      The frame rust issues are on the 1995½ and newer Tacomas, not the older Toyota trucks. Of course, any vehicle that’s 15 years old or more might have high mileage, rust and mechanical problems but there are some that are still quite good, even in the northeast!

      And I don’t see what you mean by “neatly brushed under the carpet”. I think that it was a fair offer considering that a replacement frame isn’t available for the first generation Tacoma and that it would, in most cases, cost a lot more to replace the frame than the resale value of the truck with the new frame installed!

      A friend of mine has a 2000 Tundra and we discovered last month that it’s frame was perforated bnear the transmission crossmember. Toyota won’t buy back his truck but they’ll spend about 14,000$ for the frame replacement (his truck is currently at the dealership for that). 14,000$ is almost twice the value of his truck.

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