By on July 14, 2011


Brenden writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

My buddy is in college and needs a used set of wheels.  After 2 years of depending upon Baltimore’s awful public transportation system and the generosity of friends, roommates, frat brothers, and total strangers for car rides, his school work is starting to suffer and he’s decided to buy a car.  Unfortunately, his budget is about $2000.  His living situation and total lack of mechanical skills rule out anything German, Swedish, or otherwise maintenance intensive.

His criteria for the car are reliable/durable, fuel efficient, and cheap to run.  Working AC and heat would be a bonus, but he really only intends to drive the car about 15-20 minutes per day for school.  He has absolutely no pretensions about the car’s badge, perceived coolness, sporty driving dynamics, etc., but he probably won’t spring for a total crapcan like a metro or echo. Also, he’s currently unemployed, and I don’t think he intends to find a job due to his course load.

His prior cars have all been automatic Volvos, but he’s driven drunken frat brothers’ manual-equipped cars before, and he’s willing to drive a stick on a daily basis.  Any kind of repairs on a high mileage automatic would probably bankrupt him.  Personally I would never advise anyone to buy a high mileage automatic; I’d feel like I was telling them to buy a ticking time bomb.

My first advice for him was to budget at least $1000 for future repairs, maintenance, taxes, registration and insurance out of his original $2k. What are your recommendations/advice for finding a sub $1000 set of wheels that won’t kill my buddy with repair bills?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Saturn S cars – as long as he avoids the DOHC motors, which I’ve heard require head gasket replacements every 70k or so.
  • Geo/Chevy Prizm – it’s basically a toyota with heavier depreciation, and I haven’t heard of any ‘known’ issues with these cars.
  • Corolla/camry/Civic/Prelude/Accord – again, do you know of any issues with these cars for the 90’s models?  I checked Craigslist and autotrader and couldn’t find any examples of these within the $1000 price range.
  • Neon – I’ve heard that except for the last few model years, the Neons had head gasket issues, so I’m inclined to tell my buddy to avoid these.
  • Focus – no clue on these
  • Contour – Mondeo FTW!  Obviously, the I-4 motor.
  • Cavalier – again, no idea whether these had common problems

So, what advice can you offer regarding vehicle selection?  Buying from a dealership would be ideal, since it would be easier to take the car to his family mechanic for a pre-purchase checkup, but I think we’re going to end up on Craigslist and at auctions.  Assuming we can’t get any of our mechanically inclined buddies to show up, what checks can I reasonably perform on the cars to weed out total dogs?  Offhand, I know to check oil levels and check for oil frothiness/discoloration, check transmission and hydraulic fluids, coolant levels and colors, belts and chains, and to do things like run the AC, wipers, etc.

Steve answers:

I would avoid the dealership like a harsh case of psoriasis. You need to go to the private owner. As for the sub-$2000 car in this economy you should look for…

  1. No A/C: This automatically knocks off $500 to $1000 off the price
  2. The EXTRA car: Folks who already have one more car than they need will sell the leftover ride for cheap. I was able to buy a 10 year old Camry for $500 back in the days when I was getting started. Don’t bet on that happening in today’s times.
  3. Older folks: Owners who are middle-aged and beyond tend to be less abusive than younger folks. Feel free to visit some of the retirement communities in your area and you’ll see exactly what I mean. 4) Gas Guzzlers: Although any vehicle in good condition will do, your friend may actually come out ahead by buying an older vehicle that drinks gas but requires minimal maintenance.

The brand name is completely unimportant at this price point. What is important is that once your friend finds what will work, it is immediately taken to an independent mechanic for an inspection.

Once he buys the car he will want to bring the car back into ‘day one’ condition with it’s fluids. I would buy a Mityvac and replace all the fluids as soon as possible. $80 for a manual pumping Mityvac and about $50 in fluid and filters should be more than enough if his friends are willing to help him out. If not then let the mechanic do the work.

Right now your friends only concern should be to get good grades, great work experience, and a pathway to a good job. Don’t worry about the ‘type’ of car. Just by something that has been well kept and keep focused on the work and grades.

Sajeev answers:

Both your and Steve’s assessment are correct. Quite honestly, you will buy the first vehicle on Craigslist with a smattering of service records and a sub $1000 asking price.  And yes, anything European is entirely out of the question, but automatic transmissions are a hit or miss at this price point.  I would not rule them out, especially if you stick with slushboxes made by GM or the major Japanese brands.

From there I can only guess: any GM sedan, a non-Z car Nissan, or some other non-Honda and non-Toyota from Japan (i.e. resale value) is a good idea. In theory.  Or maybe an ex-cop car Panther, in reality.  Because, why the hell not?

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50 Comments on “New or Used: College Priorities, Automotive Compromises...”

  • avatar

    Oldsmobuick! Cheap to insure, cheap parts, decent highway gas mileage in many cases, choice of bucket or bench seat…

    What’s not to like?

    • 0 avatar

      Oldsmobiles stunningly hold what shred of resale value they have left. It will be very hard to find one under $2K that isn’t completely thrashed out.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Brand new 150cc Chinese scooter and a full set of rain gear. If he can drive stick he can learn to change oil. If he’s scared of Chinese reliability (it has improved REALLY, I own a 2009 Roketa.) Search for somebody with a fuel injected Yamaha scooter that they’re getting rid of, but with the recent increase in gas prices, that’s not likely. But still a college kid riding around town doesn’t need an actual CAR.

    • 0 avatar

      It snows in here in Baltimore in the winter. I like riding, too, but even with my upstate NY cold-tolerance I don’t do it all year.

      Then again, it’s only really a problem from December to February; he might be able to get by. Scooters are starting to get popular around here.

      Just remember: good gloves and good socks; it’s the extremities that get frostbite first.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. I’d still take a used Honda or Yamaha (or even an older UJM, if he’s willing to learn to shift it) over a Chinese scooter, but any of those are way more fun than any car you can buy for $2000, and you won’t take the hit on gas/insurance/parking that you would with a car on a college campus.

      • 0 avatar

        In order to not get cold on a scooter you need…wait for it…bicycle. 15-20 mins ride to school converts to .5 hr ride by bike. Winter? Just rode work commute in NYC last winter. Once my legs froze, but it was 6F that morning. Spend the savings on chicks and booze.

      • 0 avatar

        @tallnikita: If he likes crunchy girls, then a bicycle, a little extra muscle, the education he’s getting, and a knowledge of Baltimore’s surprisingly nice parks might do more to get him a girlfriend (or two) than a car.

        At least that’s how it looks to me, from on the far side of 30… :-)

    • 0 avatar

      I wholeheartedly second the scooter idea. It sounds like the good man can’t afford a car at any price. $1000/year for running costs is VERY optimistic when you include gas, and that’s assuming that he has good credit. Double it at least. With no income, it’s a roll of the dice at this price, and chances are that any car will cost him more than he has to spend. Which means that when it breaks down he’ll either sell/scrap it for a loss, or go (further?) into debt. Both bad options.

      For $1000 he can get a good scooter, as well as a full compliment of decent safety gear. (DOT full-face helmet, armored jacket, and gloves at all times. Seriously.) Used bikes of all sorts hold their value well, especially if he waits until fall to buy. The insurance will be dirt cheap – I paid $75/year on mine, and parking will likely be free – and much easier than urban car parking. Not sure what MD’s laws are in regards to mopeds, but he could likely save a few more bocks going that route.

  • avatar

    I’d go for the perennial A-body Cutlass Ciera or Century. You really can’t beat these things at that price point.

    The whole “In this economy…” thing is spot on. At least in Florida, anything with A/C is at least $1500 regardless of make, model, age, size, or body damage. I sold an ’86 Caravan with a shot transmission to a JUNKER for $450…so he could JUNK IT. Go figure.

  • avatar

    My friend recently bought a rust-free California 2002 Ford Interceptor/CopCar/Crown Vic with 112k miles for $2500. It’s been repainted (tuxedo black) and the tires are new. We spent a Sunday morning digging through a pick-n-pull for spare parts we knew he’d need someday soon — belts, hoses, a spare tire, window motor and switches — and some interior items (seat belts for the back seat, for instance). I think we spent less than $100 for the lot of it.

    Best $2500 car I’ve seen in ages. It should be rock-solid, the parts are everywhere, every mechanic in the world knows how to work on one, and they’re cheap to insure.

  • avatar

    I really wouldn’t rule anything out. What’s wrong with the 5 speed MKIII VW (Golf or Jetta)? Remember, they were sold in the MILLIONS, parts are super easy to get, lots of aftermarket support, and any college town has at least two mechanics to work on all the Euro cars that are bound to be there. Also don’t rule out an old Volvo 240. Cars don’t get any easier to work on than that. MKIV’s are maintenance intenstive and out of the price range, but MKIII’s are plentiful and easy (2.0 motors are sturdy and ancient).

    As far as automatic transmissions….as long as its a Euro or GM automatic, the fluid looks good, and it runs properly, why not? I’d stay away from any Japanese automatic unless it’s a Toyota.

    Just remember, most older cars need timing belts unless they are Nissans or Saabs.

    And, for the record, your friend would be LUCKY to find an Echo in his price range that ran well :)

    • 0 avatar

      Right badge…wrong model; a 5spd Passat GLX (pre-OBDII) is what you want.

      Bought one in college for $1200 (7yrs ago or so), slowly fixed it up, and managed to put over 250k miles on it. Didn’t look that great, the suspension was a bit worn & the ride suffered, and it didn’t have a lot of features you’d find on a newer car but it never ever broke down or left me stranded. It took me on some wild adventures, including both coasts.

      …loved that car.

  • avatar

    I think a Cavalier is a good bet honestly. My mom has an 05 Sunfire (Cavalier with a wing and fewer doors)that she’s had since 06. I’m not sure about the older ones though. She got it with 18k miles and now it has 68k on it. I know that it has had about 4 oil changes since then; I know because I have brought it in for every single one of the – maintenance is kind of an afterthought due to lack of funds.

    It hasn’t had any major issues and is chugging along in good order with only belt replacements and a trunk latch that decided to poo out after 2 years (replaced under warranty). It seems to chew through brake-pads though since the fronts have been replaced twice in the amount of time we’ve had it.

    An older 97ish Escort could also work and I think they’re fairly cheap. My dad had one of these, a 99, that gave him almost 100k pretty good miles (until my brother finally killed it by plowing it into a car at 65mph while texting).

    • 0 avatar

      If I were fitting out a college student with a J-body, I would go for the four door with the OHV 2.2 engine and the 4 speed autobox. Timing chain, so no belts other than the drive belts to worry about. The 4T40 autobox is about indestructible, and you can beat on the half-smallblock all day long. It ain’t powerful, but it’s noisy. It will keep them out of too much trouble, at least for speeding…

      The four door bodies resist rust much better than the coupes, and getting into the back seat is much easier. Also, insurance will be cheaper on a four door for a student under 25, no matter which car they choose. The rear seats fold down in the higher levels of trim, which make the car a fairly roomy cargo ship, but limited to smaller items due to no hatchback (WTF GM?).

      I would pop for any year after 1996 with that combination up until about 2003 when the Ecotec 2.2L became standard. I mention that because the Ecotec motored ones are fairly new and will cost more. I don’t think you’d find an Ecotec powered one for $2K unless it has some major damage somewhere. In my neck of the woods, the Ecotecs are all about $4-5K. YMMV.

      As always, have the car checked by a competent mechanic. With these cars being on the lower end of the spectrum, many are treated poorly and the repair frequency will prove it. Although if you can score Grandma’s grey-bumpered Cavy, cheers! If you need to fix one, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. They’re pretty simple to fix, parts are cheap and most any mechanic that’s breathing should be able to repair.

      I get about 26MPG in mixed city/freeway driving with mine. My daughter has an Ecotec equipped version and her mileage is only slightly higher, but it performs much better.

  • avatar

    I got a ’92 SSEi in Florida with working A/C for $900 last October.

    Now the owner did look like she treated crystal meth like an important food group, and I did invest some to make it more road worthy (but it could have rolled okay in the condition I bought it in)

    So it isn’t impossible.

    I would say that his best bet would probably be Chrysler M-bodies, Panthers, retired work vans, Vulcan 3.0L Taurus/Sable, and GM vehicles powered by either early versions of the FWD 3.8L V6 (LG3, LN3, L27) or the 3.3L V6 (LG7). However, none of these are known for their stellar fuel economy.

    If he has just got to get good fuel economy then go with the Saturn or Prizm.

  • avatar

    I’ve had two and still have one. Both DOHC without any problems. The current one just turned over 140,000.

    My friend has a SOHC Saturn that is five years older, has more miles on it, yet still goes and goes and goes!

    Purchase prices tend to be below $2000. A lot of these Saturns have a long history of dealer maintanence. It was just a part of their sales pitch. The folks who bought them paid top dollar for them willingly and took care of them.

    They do not rust and they still look good. The 1996-2002 era does not look dated.

    • 0 avatar

      These would be my second choice. They’re pretty darn indestructable, as anything that survives my brother in-law’s driving pattern can’t be all bad. I prefer the first series, but those are getting pretty old by now. But they always look good…

    • 0 avatar

      My mom bought a 1996 Saturn for $2k and drove it for over 5 years and all over the country. She budgeted to maintain it (and it did require some maintenance), but it lasted a lot longer than *I* expected it, and was still running well. I don’t remember the mileage.

      She finally sold it for $500 with a fully disclosed slipping transmission to her neighbor, a member of a large and mechanically-inclined Mexican family where some brother or cousin had volunteered to fix/replace the transmission for the buyer and get it back on the road. Given the skill and persistance of the Mexican mechanics I’ve met (especially on 10 year old cars), that Saturn will be on the road for a long time to come.

      This car was a very good buy for my mother, and I wouldn’t hesitate it to recommend it to the fellow in this article, and it meets all of those requirements.

      The gotcha is that old cars (even good ones) require substantial maintenance, so he should be expecting to spend more than $1000/year on maintenance. The fact that he can get by with public transportation when he has to, though, takes some of the pressure off of the maintenance if he can’t afford a repair. He’ll probably do fine. And, if spending $2k on a car + $1000/year doesn’t seem appealing, bicycles + public transportation are good options. I use both regularly, even though I have two excellently maintained vehicles sitting in my driveway — since they’re easier than parking at work, and since it’s nice to see my neighbors and/or be outside on a beautiful day.

  • avatar

    I’m actually looking for a beater in the 3k range to save our other two cars from some daily commuting miles.

    I’ll probably wait until this time next year however to actually pull the trigger as by then, prices will have come down and the post tax refund bump in prices should be over.

    Anyway, here are a few cars I will target when the time comes.

    Early 2000’s Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable
    (if I’m feeling lucky at the time) Non-turbo Volvo S70, or maybe even its predecessor the 850
    early 2000’s Mercury Cougar
    early 2000’s Mazda Protege
    late 90’s Nissan Maxima

  • avatar

    Huhh, Hello! Move in campus or very close to campus and walk.

    Unemployment and owning a car is a bad mix. He needs to put his money and efforts into finding a better living arrangement. With that course load the last thing he needs is a broken timing belt, transmission repair and a myriad other things that go wrong and get his attention away from putting 100% into his schooling.

    • 0 avatar

      Rent within walking distance of campus is universally at least double rent outside of reasonable walking distance. This goes for every college.

      I got through college with a bicycle (yes, riding a bicycle through driving snow in upstate New York is better than riding the bus) but that isn’t for everyone.

      (Joke I heard around here recently: It’s nice and easy to get a bike in Baltimore: just go up to any busy intersection where a lot of bikes are stopped and yell “Dude, that’s my bike!” at the top of your lungs. At least five people will drop their bikes and run, and you can pick which one suits you best.)

  • avatar

    This isn’t mission impossible, but its hard. Being not mechanically inclined implies someone should go with him to help kick the tires. A vehicle inspection isn’t worth it at this price point.

    GM A-bodies with a manual or auto. Maybe find an ancient Ford Taurus with a 3.0 and a 5 speed manual (for real!). End of the line Ford Escort with manual. Old GM W-body with the 3.8L Series I engine (Series II had gasket issues).

    Around here if it runs, passes emissions, has heat and AC, and gets better than 20 MPG, its worth $2.5K to $3.0K. This would be near mission impossible in this region.

    If the heater doesn’t work (fan blows no heat), it could implies a blocked heater core, which implies improperly circulating coolant, which implies a disaster ready to happen at any moment.

    • 0 avatar

      The only Taurus with a 3.0 and a 5sp MT is the SHO the MT5 was a 2.5 4cyl.

    • 0 avatar

      He might become mechanically inclined real fast. If this weren’t the Internet, I’d go out and buy him a Chiltons or Haines manual after he brought the car home, and tell him to skim it cover to cover so that he knows what he can and can’t do.

      P.S. For those who are not mechanically inclined, DIY repair manuals for specific cars are available at auto parts stores. If you can’t find it, just ask the guy (or girl) behind the counter (when they get off the phone). It’s one of the best purchases you can make if you match the description of the fellow in this article. If you really have no clue, get 2-3 friends and a socket set, and work through it together — you’ll all be better people by the end.

  • avatar

    Man oh man! If you can’t obtain a vehicle like the one featured in the photo above – a REAL LINCOLN – get a bicycle. If you need a car that bad, an old Cavalier, Cobalt, Focus will do just dandy.

  • avatar

    Look for a two to ten year old under 500cc standard or cruiser motorcycle on Criaglist. Take a friend who rides bikes with you. Go only for Hondas, Kawasakis, Suzukis or Yamahas. Avoid anything else used in this price range. Avoid sportbikes, they’re uncomfortable to ride in the city and have been abused if they’re this cheap. Budget $100 for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation riding course, $100-200 for a helmet & $300 for a slide suit. I searched Craiglist and one of the first posts was for a Honda Nighthawk for $1000. My roommate bought his Vulcan 500 for $600.

    • 0 avatar

      I was going to suggest the same. 50cc mopeds don’t even require a bike license I believe and can be had new for under $1000. He can bum rides on the really bad days.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Or maybe an ex-cop car Panther, in reality. Because, why the hell not?”

    Elwood: You don’t like it?
    Jake: No I don’t like it…
    [Elwood Blues floors the pedal and jumps over an open drawbridge]
    Jake: Car’s got a lot of pickup.
    Elwood: It’s got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it’s got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say, is it the new Bluesmobile or what?
    [a brief thinking pause while Jake attempts to light a cigarette]
    Jake: Fix the cigarette lighter.

    • 0 avatar

      Now I really have to watch that movie again ’cause, “(I’m) on a mission from God.”

      I have to say my favorite part was in the music club/bar/whatever, where they ask, “what kind of music you got here?” and the waitress/hostess says, “oh. We’ve got both kinds, country and western.”

      Oh wait, what were we talking about.

  • avatar

    Ah, my specialty. I’d recommend a Focus (I loved the 2006 I drove last year:, but for $2000 you would be getting an early model….troublesome cars indeed, or so I’m told.

    Honestly, my first thought — one that’s been tossed around on this thread already — would be to get the best GM A-body you could find. Cheap to buy, run, insure, and easy to get parts for. Here in Southwestern Ontario, you can get a clean, relatively low mileage Ciera for six or seven hundred bucks. Find a wagon, if you can, for the versatility.

    What about a Taurus?

  • avatar

    If the friend belongs to a fraternity with any kind of history, I suggest making a beggar’s appeal to the local network. There may well be someone who is doing well that would give a frat brother a giveaway deal on some wheels.

  • avatar

    An echo may be a humble little vehicle, but it’s NOT a crapcan. It’s probably more reliable than a lot of other cars. (I disagree with Steve that the brand isn’t an issue for such old cars.) A friend of mine, a professor of mechanical engineering at Cornell, had one for years. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for your friend if a bicycle doesn’t suffice.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Anything with the name Toyota and Honda goes for a very stiff premium in the used car markets. If you can find a good Toyota Echo in today’s market for $2k then buy it. Quick. I will gladly pay a $500 premium for every one you get that’s worth a flip. By the way, the last base Y2k Echo I saw at a sale went for $4700.

      When you buy at the lowest segment of the market ($2000 and under) you are not so much buying a ‘car’ as you are buying the prior owners maintenance and driving habits.

      It’s much like a baseball team. The one variable that matters the most by the time you reach the 7th inning is the pitcher. Owners are pitchers in this segment of the market. If the pitcher was crappy… it doesn’t matter if the 1927 New York Yankees were helping him on the field. They will lose the game.

      Likewise when someone picks up the phone and hears rebuilders (in their authentic accents) tell a consumer that their Toyota Camry is, “A really, really good car!” I have to laugh at the absurdity of it.

      The car may be a Frankenstein made out of two to three other Camry’s from the nearby salvage sale. But in the end the folks that buy these cars are ALWAYS buying a brand above all else and that’s always the wrong decision.

      If you think I’m exaggerating with the Camry comparison feel free to call a few ‘owners’ who are selling them. You will find that the market for these coveted brands is far more vast than you realize.

      He needs to find a good owner and a healthy discount in the price. If he applies my advice he will have a better shot than most.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree.

        I once plotted used car prices divided by a sum of Consumer Reports reliability scores. I assigned 0 to low scores and a 5 to the high scores and summed all of the categories), and divided the price by that score. I came out with some interesting results. I don’t have the price, though, but I bought a used Ford Ranger after that exercise, believing that it was more CR reliability PER DOLLAR, even though the Hondas and Toyotas ranked higher on total reliability. This pretty much matches my intuition on the matter, Steven lang’s statement, too.

        I was single and mathematically inclined at the time, and this exercise took a lot of time. I only entered the data for cars I was considering into the spreadsheet — so I can only recommend this exercise for the single and geeky. Though I guess the TrueDelta guy who posts here does something similar for a living, so his website may have some insights as well.

  • avatar

    Ford Escort with the 1.9 or the 2.0. Avoid the 1.8.

    Super cheap to own, straightforward to repair. You can get a pretty nice one with records for $2000.

  • avatar

    People, Newsflash: Maryland has a REAL 1-shot comprehensive inspection upon ownership transfer (new title). Nothing afterwards. Virginia, on the other hand, has the once/year bs type inspection. The Maryland inspections gigs you on anything that can be construed or misconstrued as safety related equipment. So first and foremost make sure MD inspection is part of the purchase price or you are in jeopardy, and since this is a hassle it decreases private party sales and increases asking price. Solution: Buick Century. Flatlined at 5 years old, 50,000 miles and $5k and MD inspected for up until carmegeddon. But since you said student, you might also have time to read

  • avatar

    Is this really so hard? Two and a half years ago, a moving truck totaled my beaten up 97 Prizm; I kept it, put a new taillight into the dent where the old taillight used to be, got a salvage title, and the ugly thing (as a second car) has run another two and a half years and 10K miles with only oil changes… Those have been *very* cheap miles!

  • avatar

    Any A-body GM with Buick 3300V6 from a senior citizen. About 1.5 years ago bought one really mint ’93 Century with 120 Kmiles for 1100 CAD for a friend. The thing changed hands twice since then but still runs without a single problem.

    Chrysler/Eagle/whatever with 3.3 or 3.5 engine

    A Dodge minivan.

    A body-on-frame full-sizer (Panther or the pre-91 Caprice/Impala).

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    A Crown Vic P71 has the writer’s buddy’s name all over it, start looking in the papers for local gov’t auctions or on websites of the same purpose. With that requirement set (which is scarily similar to mine) I wouldn’t even be afraid of a well/fleet maintained example with 175-200K on it.

  • avatar

    Panther Panther Panther, but not a P71, a civilian model is much easier to live with. Just today I was behind a 95-97 Crown Vic with a for sale sign in the window “Low Miles” $1300 obo. The portions I could see were straight the paint was in good condition.

    The 2v 4.6 will go for 350K if the oil is changed every other year or so, the trans will last 200K-300K IF you do a proper service, IE drain the converter with it’s drain plug, every 100K or so.

    The Vulcan 3.0 powered Taurus/Sable is another good choice as are the last of the Escorts particularly the wagon.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine bought a 2002 Ford Windstar for $2,000 with A/C, A/T transmission (obviously) and it looked pretty darn new. It only had 40,000 miles on the clock, too.
    Minivans aren’t really my thing, but if I hadn’t much cash to get a decent car, i’d go for one.

    You could also look at Ford Rangers and Mazda B-series trucks. They’re pretty reliable and cheap.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I’d say Isuzu Stylus S or XS. If it was properly treated by its previous owners, these things are reliable, have good fuel economy and treated well, go forever.

    At this point, a Neon should have had its head gasket already replaced at least once. I’d hit it too.

    A Geo Prizm as stated above is a good option. In one of the forumZ I frequent, there’s a guy with one with 400K+ miles and still going. You get a better looking Corolla without the snob.

    Back in my country Daewoo cars, Nubira and Lanos, have proven to be strong enough to resist taxi duty. A 1st gent Hyundai Accent is another option.

    I’d look also for plenty of junkyard parts availability.

    Good luck.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Athos has a great point and one I was going to make anyway.

    Try to find a Daewoo Nubira or Daewoo Leganza (mid-sized). They are “orphans” (but parts can be had and Suzuki sold versions of them after Daewoo was yanked out of country by then new-owner GM in 2003).

    We bought a “new” (25 miles) used Daewoo from a huge car dealer in 2003 for quite literally 1/2 of retail (it’s a long story) and knew we were taking a chance. Oddly enough, it was one of the top 5 cars we’ve ever owned for reliability, etc.

    The engine is a proven GM Holden, the automatic is a proven ZF automatic. The a/c will probably even work.

    HOWEVER the cam belts MUST be changed at 70,000 miles and so if the car has more miles than that, either ensure the job was done or immediately schedule the job (at the cost of about $600).

    The only other thing I can think of is that the soft vinyl dashboard top on the Leganza WILL have cracked. Deal with it.

    Go to or and I bet you’ll find some within range of a bus ride.

    Another reliable non-orphan is the Suzuki Esteem compacts and Aerio compacts – both very good.

    Given his low miles per year driven, he might also try to find any Isuzu at all (especially good are the rebadged minivans actually manufactured by Honda). This was the Oasis, built from 1996 to 1999.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      Some of the Daewoo cars share parts with the Aveo, and most of the electronic stuff is usually std GM fare.

      Agree on the belt change. The engines on those things snap them and bend valves

  • avatar

    Where does he go to school? There are several German and Swedish specialty shops right around the Hopkins Homewood campus. Big surprise. What is a surprise is that most of them are fair and honest.

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