By on January 18, 2011

Shawn writes:

I am in the process of helping one of my female friends purchase a new car. The problem is, she has no idea what she wants! This is a fairly urgent matter too, because she is currently driving a high mileage 2003 Buick Century, which has been overheating with alarming frequency. The repairs it needs do not make financial sense at this point.

Anyway, the price range that she is looking in is between $15,000 and $25,000 Canadian. Some cars we have already looked at new, are a 2011 Scion Tc, a 2011 Ford Fiesta SES, a 2011 Honda Civic SE, and a 2011 Mazda3 Sport GS. Some cars we have looked at used are a 2007 Ford Fusion SEL w/2.3L, a 2007 VW Jetta 2.5L with Lux pack, and I am trying to convince her to look at a 2007 Lexus IS250 AWD. (Canadian winters rule out anything rear wheel drive).

Of the new cars she test drove, she loved the look of the Tc, the ambient lighting and refinement of the Fiesta, the gauges of the Civic, and the practicality and refinement of the 3. Of the used cars, she really liked the Jetta, because she found it to be luxurious, although she has said that the Fusion drove the best.

Based on all this, I have determined that she is looking for something refined, sporty and practical. Is a used 2007 Lexus IS250 AWD not her best bet? Reliability is also of concern here, so this rules out anyone suggesting a used WRX or 3 series. I feel like the Lexus has done the bulk of its depreciating, and is in another league in terms of refinement and reliability. What do you think? Am I forgetting something we should be considering? Don’t say Matrix/Corolla, because she has said that it looks like “a Grandma car”.

Best and Brightest, your help is needed ASAP! Her car is about to kick the bucket!

Sajeev Answers:

This isn’t necessarily a gender-specific thing, but men helping women with cars has the potential to seriously piss off the woman and/or get the man in an unplanned automotive commitment. Or perhaps expectations of a marriage proposal? Don’t ask how I know that.

But I digress. The Fusion’s driving demeanor and value proposition is perfect; find the cleanest example with the most options and a motivated seller. And do not look back, for she doesn’t want the Lexus IS. And why would she?  Average mileage with AWD and premium fuel, higher insurance rates (probably) and more expensive wear items (tires) are very likely.

Lastly, a secret a few of my shenanigan-savvy friends noticed after a few (intentionally short) weeks of Internet dating: stick with cars that she wants, lest you wish to be her, um, SugarDaddy.

Steve Answers:

What are the repair costs? Your friend would be surprised how little it costs to replace the 3.8L on that Buick.  The junkyards across this fair continent have millions of perfectly good engines and at least a thousand or so should fit your girlfriend’s ride. That engine has been in an awful lot of vehicles.

I’ve found that www.car-part.com is the easiest interface for consumers to use. But virtually all of these places will have locators that can track down a low mileage engine for the Regal. Given that this Buick is still one of the younger vehicles on the road (8 vs. 10+), and that these cars aren’t exactly known to be abused, a good engine for it is a no-brainer. Your friend would be way better off in every respect spending $1000 to $1500 on a new engine and keeping the rest invested.

One other thing. You may want to help her on the repair front. Some shops will see a young and inexperienced person and begin calculating the monthly yacht payments. A few calls over the phone. Perhaps a referral or two, can all go a long way in keeping the costs reasonable and the installation up to snuff.

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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88 Comments on “New or Used: Shawn of the Dead...”


  • avatar
    86er

    Steve:

    That Century has the 3.1.  But your point is likely still valid.

    • 0 avatar

      Wouldn’t be surprised if the 3.1L is even better, that motor was even more common than the 3.8L in the early 2000s.

    • 0 avatar
      changsta

      Hey all, Shawn here.
       
      The Century has a number of problems. I forgot to disclose that it has very high mileage because it is an ex-cabbie. The head gasket is about to blow, it is leaking coolant, the tranny is slipping, the brakes are toast. You get the idea. Simply NOT worth it to invest thousands into a lost cause. The body is not in the greatest condition either, as we live in the Greater Toronto Area, where salt is our best friend in the winter months. It would be great if we could buy the parts from the junk yard and fix it up, but we’re not that mechanically inclined. Plus, she can afford it, so why not get something newer and reliable to last her a good 10 years?
       
      Judging from what I’m seeing, the Fusion seems like the best bet eh?

  • avatar

    Replacement engines are dirt cheap for this car, but what does everything else look like?  Any serious rust issues on the body/frame, electrical gremlins, suspension problems, etc.?  If not, then consider repair.  Otherwise, I agree with Sajeev…

  • avatar
    vvk

    Steve, it’s a Century with the 3.1.

  • avatar
    86er

    Canadian winters rule out anything rear wheel drive.

    Says who?  :)

    • 0 avatar
      SherbornSean

      I can’t help but rant, as I spent 2 hours this morning on what should normally be a 45-50 minute commute, due to Boston getting perhaps an inch of snow.  Unbeleivable how many xDrive Bimmers and Audis there are in Wellesley, apparently driven by great grandmas who have never heard of winter tires.

      Where did this absurd idea come from that AWD helps you stop and turn in the snow?  I mean honestly, why did you buy a $50K car (OK, lease) if you can’t afford to put winter tires on it?  So frustrating.

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      +1 SherbornSean

      If you are scared to drive over 25 mph on the freeway because of improper tires or just fear, then stay off the highways during snow!

      My winter driver is a rwd compact pickup.  Proper tires and a bed loaded with snow shoveled from the driveway makes for a great snow vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with my fellow Bostonian here. Same thing in Lexington as in Wellesley. And Mom & Dad did fine with snows on the ’57 Chevy, the ’57 Plymouth, and various later RWDs. (Interestingly, they never put snows on the Peugeot 404, which had radials, and it did fine, too with the Michelins.)

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, says who?  :)

    • 0 avatar
      PeregrineFalcon

      The “No RWD” may be a nice way of saying “She can’t handle RWD + snow.”

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    Correct me if I’m wrong but this sounds like wanting a reason to get a new set of wheels. Is the engine the only fault of this high-mileage yet young (8 years) Buick? If so then I agree with Steve in finding a replacement motor and a reputable shop to do the surgery. The money you spend on a motor transplant is probably the best you can spend in comparison to $25k on a new (used) car purchase. Besides, as Steve says, there must be millions of 3.1 motors in good condition that a few calls should turn up (as a matter of fact, I’d suggest trying to bolt a supercharged 3.8 in that beauty but that’s just the tuner in me talking so ignore that).
     
    If she really wants a new car, I suggest the Fusion. Anything based on the bones of the Mazda6 proves to be a great driving car.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    It may be cheaper to keep ‘er, Steve, but it’s easy for you to say when you work with cars and have a fleet of them outside your office. Many people, especially women who aren’t mechanically inclined, hate dealing with the increased frequency of repairs of an aging car, getting it towed when it breaks down, bumming rides while it’s in the shop, and wondering what’s going to go wrong next. Heck, I hate it and I do have a basic understanding of how a car works and dealing with the mechanic. Even a reliable used engine will still leave hundreds of parts potentially on the verge of breaking or wearing out. Sites like this are full of people advocating driving $500 cars for 300,000 miles, but for me a new or newer car is worth every penny.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadFlorist

      This, learned the hard way.  I got my single mom cousin into a 20 year old low mileage grandma-owned Cadillac Seville.  I figured the 60,000 mile 4.5 would last her 100,000 more miles without even trying in soft, cushy American old school luxury without the burden of car payments.  The same motor powers both my mother’s and my cars.  I forget that “fundamentally solid drivetrain” ain’t enough for those who know zero times zero about cars and live 800 miles away from their mechanically inclined relatives.  She has a late model Japanese unit now.  I still feel really bad about the Caddy.

    • 0 avatar
      neevers1

      Yup, I agree. When you are supposed to be somewhere, you go out and your car won’t start, sometimes it’s more than just a inconvenience, or when you stop for gas and the starter went out, happened to me. I bought a VW jetta with 70,000 miles on the clock, now coming from Hondas, I thought that thing was going to go for a solid 100,000 more before I had issues, well it’s left me stranded 5 times. I didn’t have another car, or vehicle of any sort, and I live in a town with basically no public transport. Anyways, that jetta is still around, but I have a new car that replaces it, the jettas around until it breaks down again, then off to the great junk heap in the sky, unless it’s a cheap fix.
      That jetta did teach me how to work on a car though, I’ve fixed it’s problems, little and large, just out of my stubborn will to not pay someone else to fix it, I’m cheap, but not on the original car purchase anymore. When you have more than one car, or live in a two car household it’s different.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    A  friend just had a new used engine installed in his Park Avenue $1500 installed which included installing a new intake gasket on the used engine, an easy job with the engine out of the car. This is the way to go with a car that has the 3.8

  • avatar

    Refined, sporty, and practical. The Saab 9-3 SportCombi would be a great choice, and a huge step up from the Century. If she’s that concerned about reliability, however, it may not be in the cards. Anything from the compact Volvo family (S40, V50, and C30) would be good, and even a very lightly used S60 would be worthy of consideration. Both the S60 and the Lincoln Zephyr/MKZ would be appealing, as they offer many of the merits of the Fusion but with more luxury features (as in the Jetta.)
    My recommendation would be to stay away from very small cars (Fiesta, possibly even the Civic) which are ill-adapted to Canadian winter driving (if she’s in Toronto this isn’t a concern.) Go for something a little larger and heavier. A final consideration would be the last generation Honda Accord (or its TL sibling), either with a V6 or with the I4 and stick. If that’s too big of a car, perhaps the Acura TSX would be a better fit.
    Oh yes, a warning: as nice as luxury gadgets are, they can be a pain in cold weather conditions. Our loaded, “Scandinavian” Saab 9-5 SportCombi can be a real pain in winter — the parking sensors get covered with snow and beep incessantly every time the car goes into reverse, the pop-up doors for the headlight washers ice over and stick, and the power mirrors jam on occasion. That said, if the car were stored in a garage — as it should be — the winter would be less of a problem.

    • 0 avatar
      EChid

      Yeah, I am in partial agreement there. A Lincoln Zephyr would be good (although the 3.0 was never that good, but an MKZ is in her price range now). You get all the reliability/platform benefits of the Fusion with slower depreciation and more luxury.
      The Acura TSX is another great suggestion. Lovely sedan, with simple underpinnings that should work well for years to come.

  • avatar
    segfault

    If they’re in Canada, the Century probably doesn’t have long to go before it rusts to death.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      That really depends.  If you’re in the salt belt (eg, Niagara, through Hamilton, Toronto and up along the north shore of Lake Ontario) then yes.
       
      Anywhere else it’s often too cold to salt.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    Alot of people mistakenly believe that FWD with all season tires is better in winter than RWD with winter tires and traction control. They probably learned to drive on their dad’s 70s-80s era RWD sedan on the crapy tires of the day.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Front-drive has two advantages—at least for inexperienced or low-skill drivers—over RWD and AWD:
      One, you feel the loss of traction sooner: there’s a lightness and detachment in the steering rack that doesn’t show up in RWD/AWD until you’re in trouble
      Two, the instinctive “panic” reaction (back off the throttle, possibly brake) is exactly the right thing to do with FWD.  It’s not necessarily the case in AWD/RWD.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      FWD has additional advantages for skilled drivers, as the weight being over the driven wheels means that you can put down more power for any given tire capability. Ballasting can help a bit with RWD cars, but then you have extra mass when you want to stop or change direction. Traction control helps to a degree as well. My parents live at the bottom of a steep hill, and between our neighbors and our family we’ve had every drivetrain combination I can think of except rear engine with AWD. There are some days when front engine, rear wheel drive, traction control, and all season tires cannot get up the hill. On these days, one fears for the poor brakes, transmission, and ignition system. Back in the days before my mother bought a Porsche and tipped off a premium German car buying spree on our culdesac that only Chris Bangle could stop, many of us had various light FWD cars. None of them ever had a problem with the hill, and their arrival had brought an end to the ritual of snow tires and chains.

    • 0 avatar
      BunkerMan

      I have FWD with traction control in my Ion and I usually end up turning it off.  I’ve found that it is throttling the engine too much and the car doesn’t get anywhere.  Pulling out onto a main road in the snow is a dangerous situation if the car just won’t go.  In those cases, I turn the T/C off and happily spin up to speed.
      Don’t get me started on ABS on ice either…  I wish there was a switch to shut that off too.
      And yes, I am in a very snowy area of Canada, and I have studded snow tires.

    • 0 avatar
      EChid

      As usual psar, I agree. I’ve recently switched from a Japanese FWD to my first AWD Subie, and although it is good in the snow, it is almost too good. AWD makes you completely unaware of how slippery it is while accelerating, and then when it comes to turning corners or stopping reality kicks in and their is nothing you can do about it. FWD is far more communicative in winter, if its slippery, you will know all the time, and you are much more likely to drive accordingly. RWD may be similar to FWD, but then you have to know that weight is required in the rear, which a lot of people don’t know.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I’ve got an AWD CR-V and my wife is always teasing me about checking the brakes on slippery surfaces. She says i just want to slide (hello? ABS?). That’s the problem. You won’t know how slick it is until you turn or try to stop b/c it just goes and you may not know the AWD is on if you aren’t paying attention.
      My only seat pucker moment this winter was making a 90 degree turn with a Maxima sitting sideways in front of me waiting to turn out onto the street I was turning off of and I hit a patch of snow polished down to ice. CR-V just wanted to go straight and the ABS was on immediately. I got the turn done but had visions of T-boning the Maxima at 15 mph. Don’t even think my family knew I was tense…
      I like our AWD but have decided that here in the south I don’t need it very often. Even with FWD we’ll do fine and when we can’t go we’ll stay home. There was a time that we were in the bad weather more often, had jobs that weren’t very flexible and were doing a fair amount of dirt road/muddy field driving. Not so much lately. We’ll keep the ‘V and replace the other car with a newer FWD for long distance trips, keep the ‘V closer to home (over 200K miles).

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I’ve driven various 3100 and 3800 Buicks. The engine is by far the best thing about any of them. If the engine is shot, she sure isn’t going to miss the approximately assembled, costed out husk it died in.

    If you want to end up looking like a hero while your friend gets used to being able to complete every trip she takes while saving money on fuel and upkeep, go with her to the Honda dealer and negotiate aggressively. Point out that the next Civic is already on the car show circuit.  The Honda doesn’t have the potential to make you look like a fool because something expensive happens 1,700 miles past the warranty’s end, as happened to a friend of mine who bought a new 2.3 Duratech powered Ford. And friends don’t let friends buy Volkswagens for transportation. If she wanted a hobby and her passion was collecting soldering irons and Fluke multimeters, then by all means.

    • 0 avatar
      YYYYguy

      Amen.   I was just going to post:  “Go buy a Honda and be done with it.”   And “husk” is a great word for the old A-bodies.  What a depressing ride to be in.  Sometimes, it’s about being able to hold your head up high.  :)

      (edit) Mikey, you got me, shame on me. Both the A bodies and the W bodies could be classified as husks. :)
       

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      Speaking of holding your head high. If your going to slam GM products do a little research first. The Oshawa built “W” {the”A” has not been made since 1996} was known to be well assembled, and won many quality awards.

      A lot of people, have had a lot of years of trouble free service. Maybe that would explain why TTACs resident used car expert ,recomends,the young lady keep the car.

      Just saying.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Oh yeah. Hondas. Biodegradable. Weak trannies. Couldn’t certify horsepower specs. Couldn’t certify odometers. Electrical issues. VTEC head gasket issues.
       
      May as well get a Lada.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      At least now I know why people couldn’t tell I was being sarcastic about the Concorde yesterday. Hilarious.

    • 0 avatar
      Giltibo

      Oh Geozinger! You call Hondas biodegradable… I drove a Regal for years and you don’t know what frustration is until you have experienced their trannies (Mine failed at 100 000km, got overhauled, got replaced a few K later, then 2 other units failed in the next 100 000km) – I gave up at 220 000km after lots of other repairs.
      My wife drives a 2003 CR-V (K24 iVTEC), with over 200 000km and its powertrain purrs as good as new. We have never had to put any major repairs on that vehicle: Maintenance only (LOFs, Tires, Brakes, Rear Diff oil changed every 40K or so). I drive a 2008 Accord (also K24 iVTEC) that seems to follow the same trouble-free road…
      On another subject related to the Century mentioned in this article: 3.1 GMs are also notorious for failing head gaskets.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @CJ & Giltibo: Yes, there was some snark in my post, I really should have noted it. But all of those things I mentioned in my post are issues Hondas are known for. My personal favorite is the odometers that are found to be, ahem, “optomistic”, as they were several years back. Great for the leasing company, not so much you when you can’t figure out how you drove the car so much.
       
      What you folks can’t know is that I have a fair amount of history with Hondas, dating back to the 70’s. The cars are biodegradable, even the new ones. I’ve seen three year old Civics with rust bubbling underneath the paint, just this week. If we’re going to go to personal experiences with cars, my (then) girlfriend’s 78 Accord was a steaming pile of rust. My brother’s 2000 Ody was trans-eating beast. His concurrent Chrysler Concorde was a much better car (although, he bought his wife a new Civic last year for her birthday). My other brother’s ’02 Civic has trans issues, and has had them since early in the service history. His 88 Accord was no prize, either.
       
      Nice cars, but not without their issues.

    • 0 avatar
      EChid

      “approximately assembled”
      Hahahahahahah. Well put.
       
      And I agree on the VW thing. Especially if that Jetta has the 2.0T in it.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    I’m with Steve and a lot of the other posters above, what exactly is wrong with the Buick Century.  That car is one of the ultimate road roaches and if the issue is a motor swap there are a bazillion of them available on the cheap and the swap isn’t labor intensive for a shop to do.  That sure beats going up to your eyeballs in debt.

    Why are you trying to talk her into a Lexus IS250 AWD (used or otherwise).  None of the other cars on her shopping list are even remotely in that class, which indicates to me that the Lexus is probably way too much car for her to begin with.

    Rule number one with a woman – friend or not – don’t talk her into buying XYZ if she doesn’t want XYZ.  If buying something is going to be an utter disaster (gee, I really love the Dodge Caliber) than gentle guidance to steer away is of course granted, but the rest of the cars on the list sure aren’t bad.

    The Mazda3 with a manual would be my pick.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    It sounds like the young lady wants a new set of wheels, which is between her and her financial institution. I’ve been in cash conservation mode for the last 18 months, which tends to skew your vision. With that skew, I’d be looking at a replacement 3.1 for the car.
     
    However, from the list you supplied, it sounds like she’s all over the place on what she wants to purchase. Maybe a little more time spent refining her needs and desires (other than to eliminate things that look like Grandma’s car).
     
    Good luck and Godspeed, because I really wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.

  • avatar
    jaje

    The car is a 2003 so newer style and has a lot of safety features in it.  Why sell it and then get hit with monthly payments for x # of months plus having to pay full insurance b/c it is on a loan or lease (can’t just run liability per your agreement)?  See if the engine can be rebuilt or get a rebuilt one put in on the cheap (as noted the 3.1 and 3.8 are quiet common…maybe have them put in the 3.8 if it is a really easy swap…maybe with the supercharger!!).  Anyway, fix up the car and keep it maintained and you’ll save thousands of dollars over the next couple of years.  And when gas prices do go up…you have the margin to afford those higher gas prices.

    Also to note the “need for AWD”. AWD is only needed for 2-3% of normal driving for most people. I’m not sure why we need to have this in modern cars b/c if (as said above) you get yourself a good set of spare wheels with good snow tires and have them put on before the winter hits…your car with ABS stops as well as any AWD car can and with snow tires you’ll probably have more than enough track to keep up with the AWD cars with compromise tires (all seasons). Plus you get better gas mileage in a FWD than in an AWD car and they are typically lighter and cheaper to fix with less issues.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      If you baby a GM 3.8 with the 4-speed it isn’t outrageous to get 18 or 19 MPG city and 28 to 30 MPG on the highway (MPG is US figures).  If they’re in the flat lands of Canada highway MPG would even be better.  I don’t know if the 3.1 would do any better.  Yes less displacement but has to work harder to move the chassis around (the GM 3.8 has tons of torque) so the benefit might be incremental.

      Still will hurt to fill it up if gas goes to say $1.50 a liter (CAD) or more, but it isn’t and obscene gas guzzler.  To replace it with say a Honda Civic you’re going to 24/35 MPG (again US) – you’re going to have to buy A LOT of gasoline to hash out the fuel savings versus a car payment.

    • 0 avatar
      scottcom36

      I think people who opine about AWD on here should be required to disclose their location and the annual snowfall total. I’m in Maine, and see on average seven feet of snow per year. Ten to twelve foot totals are not uncommon. And while I skate by in a 2WD pickup with light off road tires, I and most people in this area understand perfectly that an AWD is worth the money for many people. The peace of mind counts for a lot, especially for those who aren’t “car people”. And when that 3% of the time comes when you need AWD, you really REALLY need it and it’s worth every penny.

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      @ Scott: I lived most of my life in the country just south of Chicago, then in Iowa and also Michigan for several more years (~ 25 year).  I’ve been through many a major blizzard, icestorm, etc.  Somehow I did this with an ’85 Prelude or other FWD car.  No 4×4 or AWD.  Just FWD with decent snow tires.  I remember trying to get home from a late practice one night and having to stop several times to help shovel down a snow drift in the road, I know how to rock my car to get it out of a snowed in parking spot, and I’ve even helped pull out some friends from ditches in their older Detroit RWD cars with crappy all season tires.
       
      Now, if I had a 4×4 or AWD would it have been easier? Likely Yes (especially with good winter tires).  Now, did I need AWD? Not really as I made it fine through the worst weather (including our worst winters that gave us 8′-10′ of snow a year).  Did I need AWD for the 95% of the driving I did where the roads were not caked with snow?  Nope.  Address your needs versus your wants…satiate the needs, not the wants first.

    • 0 avatar
      car_guy2010

      I live in Vermont and have seen my share of nasty snowstorms.
      The kicker is that I have never bothered with snow tires or AWD. I know how to drive in the winter and I usually avoid the roads if there’s a really nasty snowstorm. Luckily, there’s decent public transit where I live and a cab is not too pricey if it’s necessary.
      My theory on AWD is that it gives people a false sense of security, which leads to them taking more risks in snowy weather. There were two incidents this winter of vehicles sliding off the roads. Guess what vehicles they were? AWD Subaru Foresters.
      I rest my case.

    • 0 avatar
      YYYYguy

      @CarGuy_2010

      I agree.   You live in Vermont however….Subaru Foresters are about as common as dryer lint.  There is a much higher likelihood that Subarus will be involved in accidents in Vermont (or New Hampshire where it is the state car) 

  • avatar
    DougD

    Good heavens, Sanjeev is right on the money, if she thinks the Fusion drives nice, tell her to buy the Fusion and get out of the way.
    As the “car guy” in the family it’s bad enough making recommendations to relatives (which they never listen to) and to my Wife (which she listens to, but I have to live with the results) but I’d never, ever get involved in the kind of situation you’re describing.  Never.  Ever. 
    If you like it so much YOU buy the Lexus.  Foisting a used luxury car on a young lady is asking for trouble of many kinds.

  • avatar
    MrDot

    You guys recommending repairing the Buick are missing the point.  She clearly wants a new car, and the cooling issue is a means to an end.  Any of those new cars are fine, and the used Fusion SEL is a nice car for the price.

  • avatar
    pauldun170

    Casually thinks about all the times someone has gone out and bought a new car because their “old” car (as in old to them…not to anybody else) was “High mileage with a lot of problems.
    “It needs a lot of work”
    – What kinda of work?
    “It overheats”
    – Why does it overheat
    “Its something to do with the engine…I dont remember what the mechanic said…it just has all sorts of problems..”
    – Like what?
     
    “It needs something with the brakes and it hard to start in the morning. Listen, its just gone be a money pit and its not worth fixing it”
    – Ok….then go buy whatever you like.
     
    Summary: Person has owned “car A” for awhile and it is either a used hand me down or they just have had it forever. They have spent the past year watching their friends get new cars and they just dont like the way their car looks on them any more. So that paid for car which needs new rotors, a thermostat and a new battery automatically becomes an unreliable money pit so they can justify spending 30g+ on a shiney new car.
     
    New car recommendation withheld until more info provided on old car. Until then…I extend a “Buy the whatever hell you like. All new cars come with a warranty and are reliable. Enjoy your payments”
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      Good post, and good points.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      In all fairness, if people always did what made the most financial sense, I wouldn’t have any hobbies (all are money pits), I wouldn’t have a TV or computer at all, I would live in a 1 BR, 500sq ft house, I’d wear whatever clothes I got after I reached adulthood, I’d still drive my purple 1993 Impreza, etc, etc.  A majority of the things people spend their money on is not needed.  Considering I snowshoed back into the woods and camped saturday night in 18″ of snow and sub-20*F temps, all I really need is a good sleeping bag, snowshoes, a tent, some toasty toes, and a weapon to shoot the deer I spotted.  If someone wants a new car and they can afford it, by all means, have at it. 

  • avatar

    Steve, I think you’re way off base. She doesn’t want to fix the Buick, she wants something new and apparently can afford it. What person in their right mind who’s shopping for sporty small and mid-size cars would ever consider hanging on to one of these blandest-of-the-bland Buicks? She already said she doesn’t want a grandma car, and this thing is named after the average age of its drivers!

  • avatar
    threeer

    What Scott says up above fits my mother to a tee.  She’ll gladly drive the same car for 8-10 years (always paid for up front completely).  But once a car starts giving her issues, she begins to lose her trust and just doesn’t have the nerves to always worry…so she winds up buying a new car even though to most of the rest of us, the previous vehicle wasn’t beyond hope.  And who am I to argue with her?  She buys new once a decade or so, and always pays cash. 

    I agree with most of the other folks here..the IS is hugely out of place on the list provided.  The original post doesn’t specify if the $15-25,000 is cash or will be financed…as a huge Dave Ramsey fan, I’m not a fan of big car payments, so I’d be looking to recommend something three or so years old, and bring a healthy down payment.  The Fusion is a good example of a car that would serve her well.  We own a 2006 SE and have generally been pretty happy with it. 

  • avatar
    obbop

    Female buyer?
    Logic, common sense, rationality, etc. is NOT a part of the equation.
    Best to flee.
    The female unit who likely possesses the numerous mental defects implanted within her feeble thought processes and further hindered by massive amounts of indoctrination that has lead to excessive materialistic tendencies, the “precious princess” ego ideology and an ingrained belief she is wholly deserving of anything and everything she desires is most apt to select her vehicle based upon its color and if complements her iris/eye color and, to a lesser extent, her favorite attire.
    Assist any female at your own risk and even if you do guide her to the most reliable car possible ANY future problems, even self-caused problems/defects/etc. will be blamed upon you and she may even demand/insist that YOU cover any/all expenses.
    Exceptions exist but, in GENERAL, females are a fickle bunch and since so many insist they are  *cough* “equal” and “empowered” just let the “princesses” do their own shopping!!!!!!!!!!!
    Disgruntled Old Coot ™ with mega-decades of real-life experiences commences to retreat to shanty to avoid the wrath of those brainwashed by the pro-female anti-male agenda that has overwhelmed USA society.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Yup.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadFlorist

      “excessive materialistic tendencies”

      And so they buy cars as status symbols MORE than men?  And the ratio on the genders of those who buy exotics, what is it like 9:1 men?

      I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m just saying that these tendencies come less with ovaries, and more as simply a member of the cetain species of great bald ape that, as a social animal, devotes great attention to its status within the group.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      just let the “princesses” do their own shopping!!!!!!!!!!!

      Definitely sound advice.  I’m sure she can find a color she likes on her own.

  • avatar
    TR4

    Since when does overheating indicate the need for engine replacement?  Far more likely a problem with the radiator, thermostat, or cooling fan.  Repairing any of these should be well under a grand.  Since she doesn’t yet know what she wants, better to find an honest and competent mechanic to fix the Buick and give her time to make up her mind.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      LOL… I was hoping I wasn’t going to have to post that.
       
      A grand? This isn’t a Toyota. A thermostat is maybe $5. Even a water pump is under $20. The replacement antifreeze is going to cost more than the parts. Even if you had to buy all the tools before you got started, it shouldn’t cost more than about $200 if you’re even mildly competent.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      We went through this with my Grandmother’s Century. Don’t trust the idiot light on the dash saying it is low on coolant. Her coolant sensor was bad. Next her 3.1L had a leaky intake manifold. It cost about $650 to have a mechanic do all the work. I could do the work myself cheaper but she had more money than I had time. Her car was overheating as often as the car ran low on water.
      It was time to sell the car not because there was anything wrong with it but because her vision is bad now. The neighbor bought it and has been driving it to work ever since without a bit of trouble.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    OK a few FYI’s here.
    The helper is more or less offering second hand information… which is fine. But there are other questions that apparently have to be considered for this buyer.
    Why is it overheating? More times than not it’s a component rather than the engine itself. She should definitely get a second opinion on the cause.
    Has she liked the vehicle up to this point?
    What other things need to be done?
    Is she trying to save for a vacation, house, etc.?
    None of these things are mentioned, which is fine. If it were my money I would put a low mileage engine in it, use top quality components for everything else, and build my savings.
    Especially given it’s age. I just don’t see how or why you would chuck $25k into the great beyond when you already have a perfectly good car that can be repaired for probably no more than 10% of that cost.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      scottcom36

      Gosh, Steve, you really don’t get that people who know little about cars shudder at the thought of trying to keep a high mileage car on the road? Not everyone has a bunch of friends and relatives nearby to tote them around when the car is in the shop. And, unlike where you are, the specter of an unreliable car takes on a whole new meaning when the wind chill is 50 degrees below zero.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      1. Define high mileage.
      2. You are using an extreme example to make an extremist’s opinion. Throw in some fear and stereotyping, and you’re unintentionally encouraging what may be a bad decision.
      As has already been stated we need to get more information. A cheap repair may solve the overheating for all we know (a 2nd opinion from an independent shop would help her quite a bit here) and I have yet to see an engine replacement that went south.
      It’s a 7 year old car. Repair what’s needed or replace it. Catch up on all maintenance work and keep the rest in the bank. That is unless she lives in a rust laden area or has beat the Regal to death (which I doubt).

    • 0 avatar
      scottcom36

      1. I’d say it’s the lady’s decision what unacceptably high mileage is. In my case my truck has 170,000 miles. It’s starting to use a bit of oil, the clutch is near the end of its life, the differential is noisy, nearly all the front end parts are original and there’s some rust underneath. I’m sticking with it regardless, but I understand someone else seeing it differently.
      2. Not sure  what you mean by an extreme example. -50 wind chills aren’t unusual in much of Canada. Even if that is extreme, -20 doesn’t feel much better.

    • 0 avatar
      shortthrowsixspeed

      something tells me that you could say that the car had been used as the vessel for a car bombing and Mr. Lang would ask: “well, how much body damage is there?”

      I find, again, that it’s pretty ridiculous that people come to you guys for advice on a car to buy and you insist on answering that they should not buy one.

      i guess you can always get to the answer you want if you change the premise.  sheesh.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Sorry, but you’re jumping.
      The information given a few posts from the top wasn’t available until 70+ posts already had been made. Most of which encouraged these folks to keep the vehicle.
      If a car is worth more dead than alive, you sell it. A 7 to 8 year old vehicle typically is not.
       

  • avatar
    william442

    Shawn: Sajeev is correct. Spend some time out of town. Florida is nice right now.

  • avatar
    MrKiwi

    I’m in a similar situation, although not as imminent, and the Fusion is high on my list. (Actually I’ll probably be looking for advice in a while, when my Camry finally bites the dust.) Leaving aside the call of whether to replace the engine, I’d agree it sounds like she wants a new car (new to her, that is).

    She likes the ambient lighting of the Fiesta, and I know that the Fusion SEL comes with that as standard (although I don’t know if it goes back to the 2007 model year). Everything I’ve heard/read about the Fusion suggests it’s reliable, which is another criterion.

    One model I’ll add in for consideration (because it’s on my list to test drive) – Subaru Legacy. For an AWD car it gets great mileage.

  • avatar
    dingram01

    “That engine has been in an awful lot of vehicles.”
     
    Don’t you mean “that engine has been awful in a lot of vehicles?”  [Rimshot]
     
    Sorry, couldn’t resist.  Me personally?  I wouldn’t wade into the engine replacement scenario with one of these after my experiences trying to keep up with the problems in my then-girlfriend’s 3800 Bonneville.  Nothing against them per se, but there’s an age factor that affects not just the engine but a host of satellite parts, to the extent that if you’re unlucky she’ll seemingly never have that car out of the shop.
     
    I’d let her spend on the Focus and be done with it.  After first admonishing her not to be upset when she gets her yearly property tax bill on the new car.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave W

      I thought it was
      “that engine has been in a lot of awful vehicles”

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      You’re both right.
       
      Anything with a 3100 or 3800 is a poster child for the old axiom, “GM cars run bad longer than most cars run at all.”  The W- and H-body cars were laughably bad when they debuted and were never better than “barely acceptable” during their long lifespan.  But they were sorta comfortable, sorta powerful and sorta efficient, so the GM loyal mistake them for “good” automobiles.  But component and assembly quality was abysmal, and these cars all eventually hit the patented “GM Fail Point” where they become a complete basket case.  Sure, everybody has an anecdotal story about their brother’s 250,000 mile Lumina Euro 3.1, but, tell me, what does it look and sound like?
       
      Of course, the same could be said about plenty of other cars.  The 3.8 Taurus comes to mind.  Point is, if you can swing it, go for the new car once the problems start adding up and enjoy life with fewer headaches.

  • avatar
    DIYer

    I would recommend a Honda Civic or Accord, or a Toyota Prius or Camry.  These have the best overall reliability, safety, and resale value.  If you want a domestic manufacturer, consider Ford Fusion for reliability and safety, but it will depreciate faster.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    It’s been my experience that ladies are very suspicious of extensive re-work on their cars. If you can make a straigh swap with no mods, meaning no surprises, she may be O.K. if she wants to keep the car. If she cannot afford nothing else, well, repairs are the order of the day. If she is tired of her wheels and wants something else, there’s your answer.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    Shawn says ( the repairs it needs does not make financial sense) He must have gotten an estimate of the cost.  The 3.1 and 3.8 engines are very good but do have a gasket problem at higher milage. The coolant slowly leaks into the oil pan and by the time it over heats damage may have been done to the bearings. Steve’s used engine advice is right on.

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    If the radiator is full and the fan runs, swap the $30 thermostat, if only so the next owner of this car won’t have overheating problems. Then worry about the next car. If the WRX is too unreliable, then so is the Jetta. Get the Fusion or its Mazda 6 sibling.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Since when does overheating indicate the need for engine replacement?  Far more likely a problem with the radiator, thermostat, or cooling fan.

    any of the above could be issues, nowadays can buy a laser thermometer u can pinpoint the temp along the path, to see if any spot has no or much lesser heat.
    Laser T is pretty cheap ~$20,  try to pull thermostat first see  if heat issue still exist, or fan not run as needed it.
    Or wire fan directly see if the temp goes up at all, or turn on inside heater full to see if temp goes up too.
    But if she wanna new wheels God help her, I am sure she will find a way of spending the $$.

  • avatar
    findude

    The helper’s task here is to help the woman decide what she wants, not to pick for her.  When it’s over, she has to believe it was her decision.
    Line up a few different cars in her price range at nearby dealers, then both of you take a day off. Start with a good breakfast and drive two different cars.  Be very polite at the dealers and explain that you are in the exploratory phase. Ask for their business cards, etc. and walk away with brochures as well as the best commitment on price the salespeople will give someone who is walking away but promises to buy a car from someone within a couple of weeks. Then have a nice lunch at a place you know she likes.  Drive another two cars and swing by a coffee house for a latte. Drive one or two more and have a nice dinner to go over notes and identify the pros/cons of each vehicle. If red cars suit her, say so. If silver gives her more of that understated elegance she craves, support that.  If bluetooth is a dealbreaker, nota bene.  Gotta have seat heaters, then cross the other cars off the list. You get the idea.  The helper must give her what she really wants: his time.
    The woman has sought advice at an urgent time from not any male but from this particular one. This scenario is not about a car but about a relationship. To demonstrate, let’s remove the “noise” from the first paragraph above:
    … problem is, she has no idea what she wants! This is a fairly urgent matter … because she  …  has been overheating with alarming frequency … needs do not make … sense at this point.

  • avatar
    pauldun170

    “She has no idea what she wants”
     
    I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked since I’m a known “car guy” in the circles I travel. Its usually the same conversation. Every once in awhile I come across a girl who is a “car person”.
    Lets be honest…trim doesn’t matter. Chances are she will want an automatic car that “looks cute” but has to have enough power to on the highway. Maybe navigation or some other toy “and it has to be safe with lots of airbags. AND be good on gas”.
    If they are young they might toss in “I want something sporty” which means it has to look “sporty.” What this usually means it should have a spoiler option or some other add on.
    (Reminds me of an exchange on Consumer reports forum where someone explained that having a nice radio makes a car “sporty”)
    Lets look at the list:
    2011 Scion Tc – Sure why not…
    2011 Ford Fiesta – Sure why not…
    2011 Honda Civic – Sure why not…
    2011 Mazda3 – Sure why not…
    2007 Ford Fusion – Sure why not…
    2007 VW Jetta 2.5L – Sure why not…(snickers)
    2007 Lexus IS250 AWD. – Sure why not…
     
    Whats the matter…got something against Hyundai?
    Scared of Nissan dealerships?
    Need AWD…why not visit a Subaru dealership?
    Don’t recommend cars to someone who doesn’t know what they want. Recommend dealerships with lots of different cars on the lot. Don’t toss models…toss makes at her.

    • 0 avatar
      aspade

      Exactly.
       
      OP showed her a couple perfectly good cars.  She “loved” the cute TC.  Or the cute lights in the Fiesta.  Or whatever.  Stop right there.  Don’t look up additional cars.  Don’t look for something you missed.  Just buy it.
       
      Bringing additional models into the conversation just extends the indecision.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Too much missing information.  Is the IS250 big enough for her?  It’s smaller inside than every other car on the list but the Scion. As someone who cross-shopped the IS250 AWD a lot last year, it just isn’t worth the price premium over an Acura TSX.   If she likes the Civic, and the “luxury” of the Jetta, why not a dead reliable but still sporty TSX?  2008-09 certified used should be easily in range.
    I think the 2007 Fusion is starting to look dated already.  You should be able to find a 2010 in her price range with a 4 cyl.   The interior was vastly upgraded in 2010.  But it’s much bigger than every other car you list here.  I think the TSX is almost ideal in this range, and as a premium brand, an 08 with certified will have as much warranty as any of those “new” cars.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Obviously you are a Lexus fan or you wouldnt keep harping on it.  NO, a used Lexus is NOT her best bet, even used they are overpriced and maintenance items are expensive.  And for the huge majority of posters telling her to fix her high mileage Buick Octogenarian… wrong again.  Single girls with money to buy new cars dont fix old cars, especially old-people cars like a Century.

    The VW… no, stay away from it, any VW without a turbo isnt worth the effort.  And I am telling you, she doesnt want a Fusion.  Even the SE with the blue seats never be sporty or cute or cool, it is basically the modern version of the Century.  You are clearly too practical for this girl, you better get with it if you want to get some…  :)

    Let her buy a brand new car.  She will love it, she isnt looking at overpriced cars, she chose all practical, cool, sporty and fun cars that are reliable and economical to own.  She will get the perfect color and the perfect options and the new car warranty and new car smell and she will be very happy.  The Honda is bland, my preference is for either the Mazda or the Scion, with the Mazda getting the nod if its a hatch for the extra utility.  Something else she might like is the Forte Koup SX… I was very impressed with the build quality and driving dynamics, it looks good and is a cpl grand cheaper than a Mazda3 hatch, plus it comes with the awesome warranty.

  • avatar
    anchke

    Do this: 
    Since she has indicated interest in a Civic, praise her for the choice and tell her you’ll accompany her on a test drive. Once there, subtly nudge her consideration toward an awd CR-V. If she has the dough, she can look at the EXL leather w sunroof. If not, she can go with an EX with cloth and sunroof. There are very good reasons Honda sells a lot of CR-Vs, many of them to members of the female persuasion.

    Remind her that a car purchase is actually two purchases — the car and the financing. Handled properly, this nugget will make her think you might be pretty smart, for a guy.

    Give positive feedback when she makes her choice.

    Some don’ts:

    Avoid blatantly declarative sentences.

    If she seems to be having a problem with the salesman, don’t take over, just stall for time by asking an open ended question to let her regain her wits.

    If you agree with her choice, tell her she “looks great” in the car. “There’s just something about this car that seems to fit you.”  You can use this repeatedly, and she won’t mind. Women (and many men) regard a car as an accessory.

    Avoid impulsive decisions to subsidize her purchase. Instead praise her ability to stand on her own two feet.

    Good luck. You’re on thin ice.

  • avatar
    beken

    Get away from the Buick fast, before it really costs you…and not just in the engine either.   I had one.  Will never buy a GM car again.  As it got older, I replaced all wheel bolts, melting plastic light bulb sockets, steering rack, gauge cluster ($$$), head gaskets,  stereo,  fuel pump(s), water pumps, battery cable terminals.  This car literally takes it upon itself to commit hare kare with you in it.   Ask my friends, I maintain my cars meticulously, but the Buick Century was one that would not stay together.  Ask my dealer (who is no longer there, BTW), they even abandoned me and told me to take my car somewhere else.  They got so tired of seeing my car.
    Now to be constructive, for a small relatively economical car, a friend of mine bought a Mazda 3 and I really like it.  The Honda Civic ain’t bad either but I found the last time I took a friend to buy a Honda (she bought a Honda Fit), I felt the dealer there treated her with almost as much arrogance and contempt as the last GM dealer I dealt with so Honda needs to be careful.
     
     

  • avatar
    spyked

    If you are seriously concerned about “reliability” – stay away from the IS250.  I had an IS250 AWD, 2007 model.  It needed the top of the engine rebuilt for cold start clatter well before 20k miles.  Also needed the dash removed for rattles and the compass stopped working.  It was in the shop a lot.  The dealer said the 2.5 and 3.5 engines in a few of the other Lexus models were doing the same thing at start up.  If your friend is ever going to have the car out of warranty, she will need some serious cash.  The Jetta 2.5 is more solid and reliable, and cheaper to maintain if/when it ever needs service (so many Euro specialist around in upper part of continent).

    One last thing – if she really likes the Fusion, show her the more refined looking version – the Mercury Milan.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    How did she end up with a Buick Century anyway?  Did her grandfather leave it to her in his will, or what?

  • avatar
    neevers1

    If you care AT ALL about reliably, DO NOT BUY THE VOLKSWAGEN, repeat DO NOT BUY THE VOLKSWAGEN, other than that, Fiesta, Acura TSX, new Focus, new Focus, new Focus.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    You know, she could save a ton of money and buy a used 2007 or so Buick that will give many more years of service.  That is assuming she really just wants reliable wheels.  if she wants something special, just go for it, pay up and be done with it.  Fixing a high mileage car is not for everybody.  And for what it is worth, our extended family’s 1999 and 2000 Centurys were well made on the outside and under the hood.  Inside, the dash and controls were, um, cheap.  Both cars had the intake and rotted brake lines.  Seems to be the norm for these cars.  No other repairs to speak of; well over 120K on each…

  • avatar
    BigDuke6

    Canadian winters rule out anything rear wheel drive.
    Says who?  :)
    86er I’m with you on that…. One of the best winter cars I had was a Nissan 240SX (rear drive with LSD) and snow tires on all four corners. Handled like a rallye car, and I never got stuck In Southern Ontario winters.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    I’d tell her to get the Civic and call it a day.  I wouldn’t wish a Volkswagen on my enemy.  And don’t try selling someone who’s clearly not the big into cars (come on, she’s driving a Century) on some overpriced, used premium car.  Or telling everyone and their brother they need an all-wheel-drive, manual-shift, turbodiesel sport wagon.  Give practical advice, don’t try putting people into your ideal car.
     
    Also, I can’t believe how many people here would put a new engine in what is probably a completely ragged-out Buick.  Of course it’s cheaper, but at some point you just start throwing good money after bad.  You’re still left with an old, not-dependable car.  If they’re interested in a new vehicle and can afford it, let ’em do it.  Personally, engine or transmission failure is where I throw in the towel on a vehicle.

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