By on November 8, 2011


Jerry writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

Hope everything’s going well over at TTAC. I’m submitting my 2nd question and hoping you guys have some insight to offer.

I currently drive an 06 xB, and I’ve been very happy with it. It’s fully paid off (I bought it used with cash), and it’s served as a great car for moving and helping friends move. When they were selling these, they really should’ve teamed up with IKEA to offer a gift card because this car is the ultimate IKEA-mobile.

A while back, I also wrote in to ask about a comfortable highway cruiser…I loved the panther suggestions, but I ended up with cold feet and didn’t buy one since gas prices have no upper-limit in sight. My situation hasn’t changed that much since then, except that I would like a safer ride since my girlfriend is driving a lot more now. Thankfully, she can drive stick, so that opens up a lot of good used options that aren’t as in as high a demand.

Initially, I was looking at the Ford Five Hundred because of Michael’s good reviews, but that led me down a rabbit hole to check out the Avalon as well. While boring, I know the Avalon is extremely comfortable, and I imagine the Five Hundred to be similar (will test drive one soon). But in my Craigslist stalking, I’ve also come across 2 cheap manual transmission Camrys, an 07 and an 09 for $11k and $14k respectively. The 07 has 69k miles and the 09 has 32k miles. Potentially, these might even drop a bit since most buyers seem interested in getting an auto. Do these seem like reasonable deals? I’m hoping to keep this next car for the next 4 years until my girlfriend graduates grad school and we can have a place with a garage. That’s when I’ll consider something more sporty and interesting.

Steve Answers:

The good price for the Camrys is really dependent on the features, condition and miles. That is unless it happens to be one of the thousands of wrecked and rebuilt Camrys that get shipped out every year to developing countries.

Those works of plaster caster art live up to the most famous buy-here pay-here dealership in the Memphis area. Who upon sitting with about 12 bikini bare babes in a hot tub and his birthday suit (covered with bubbles), says to his televised audience… ‘It’s all good!” He means it too…thousands of his customers pay for his unique commercials.

Just remember Jerry, “it’s all good!” until you get that monthly payment on top of your student debt. But seriously… why don’t you just let your girlfriend figure out what she wants in due time and go get it…or not.

Let her get a lot more time behind the wheel. Enjoy a few nice quiet romantic nights with a bottle of wine and old write-ups of New vs. Used. Actually make it Two Buck Chuck and a spaghetti dinner. She’s in grad school after all.

I have been in your shoes in the past, Jerry. So what did I do? I bought my then girlfriend, now wife, two vehicles along with one I razed from the dead.

Total cost of all three cars? $2000.

Total selling price of all three cars? $2300.

Total time with all three? Six years, four of which were after she got her degree.

If you must buy something, start with something inexpensive. Then follow my series on ‘How to Buy a Used Car” and make sure it has good crash safety ratings. Most non-enthusiasts are usually as happy in a $3000 car as they are in a $13000 car. Good luck!

Sajeev Answers:

Well that’s a tough act to follow.

Jerry, our Magic 8 ball can’t tell you if those Camrys are good deals, condition of the wear items and service records are a big factor in determining if a 3+ year old vehicle is a good value. But I will say that a stick shift Camcord might be right up your alley. As long as you are okay with the resale difficulties of such a boring vehicle with a not-boring transmission. That will be a tough re-sell, relatively speaking.

That said, I am totally down with you getting a 5-speed Camry. Or Accord, but I think a Camry LE is a far superior land yacht. My only point is that you can get a nicer/better/cleaner Panther for less or (usually) much less money, with a better ride and plenty of change in the bank for their significant fuel economy penalty.

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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24 Comments on “New or Used: Two Buck Chuck and a Spaghetti Dinner...”

  • avatar

    Look for a 10 year old, 100K mile Saab 9-5. You can fix it with most garage hand tools and very inexpensively. I’m getting 37 mpg all highway with a sticking caliper. Jump on a Saab forum for things to inspect as each car has it’s own characteristics.

  • avatar

    Q1: transmission

    If everyone involved is okay (or better) with a manual, then I’d get a manual.

    Q2: size

    And I wouldn’t go for a car as large as the Five Hundred unless the extra room is needed. For three usable rows plus viable cargo space, vehicles don’t get much smaller than the Freestyle / Taurus X. But it doesn’t sound like you need so much space.

    Q3: body style

    Will a sedan really fit your needs? You’ve been driving the Scion. No more need for the hatch?

    Q4: do they salt the roads where you live?

    In other words, if you bought a Mazda, would it rust after 5.5 years?

    Q5: seat comfort

    A good highway cruiser must have good seats. Seat comfort is highly subjective. So spend as much time as possible in the seat of any contender.

    Potential contenders:

    Chevrolet Malibu / Malibu Maxx — pre-2008 should be very cheap, I have a thing for the Maxx, reliability about average. The others below tend to be better than average.

    Honda Accord

    Ford Fusion

    Mazda6, also available as a hatch or wagon (where roads aren’t salted)

    Nissan Altima

    Subaru Legacy / Outback. Best for where roads ARE salted or where a wagon would be better. But maintenance and repair costs can climb rapidly after 100k miles.

    Toyota Camry

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      The only unknown with getting a used manual tranny car of that age is what the previous owner(s) did with/to the clutch. No matter how good the car, a clutch abuser can really do damage after 3 or 4 years. These cars are relatively low miles for their age, which tells me they have been used in urban traffic. That equals lots of wear on a clutch.

  • avatar

    where you can buy a new base camry with stick for $19K, paying $14K for 32K first miles does not make sense. I had an earlier Camry stick shift, 2 door, and it was comfortable but after couple of years it got really old wafting over the potholes.

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    …..Jerry doesn’t mention the XB’s mileage, but he does seem to have some concerns (real or imagined) about it’s crash-worthiness, so I’d have to agree with Sajeev on this one……as a compromise, possibly a slightly older 5 speed Camry. Both Sajeev and Jerry may be surprised how quickly those supposedly undesirable 5 speeds got snapped up. Assuming that they were 4 cylinder models, their rarity may actually command a premium, especially with such reasonable odometer readings.
    As an aside, because of the time lags usually present in these reader questions, Jerry has probably made his move already. As a dealer it never ceased to amaze me how completely different a potential buyer’s ultimate purchase was from the car he first looked at on my lot (assuming he escaped my clutches in the first place, a regrettably frequent occurrence). There’s a million choices out there, everything from Hummer H1’s to Scion XB’s….whoops, he’s already had one of those.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the xB1’s crash ratings were 4 + 3 stars. It’s OK, but the xB1 is a pretty thinly-walled car. It doesn’t compare well in today’s ever-increasingly safety conscious market.

  • avatar

    How does one “raze” something from the dead? I’d like to see that.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      I think it was the spell checker

      Candidate for a Pullet Surprise
      by Mark Eckman and Jerrold H. Zar

      I have a spelling checker,
      It came with my PC.
      It plane lee marks four my revue
      Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

  • avatar

    BMW 528i (E39). Great highway cruiser and you can find them with a manual transmission for no more than $5k. If you need more utility than a sedan, they are also available as a wagon. If you really spend some time looking, you might even find a wagon with a manual transmission!

    I know these cars are older with more miles than what Jerry has looked at so far, but so long as everyone is suggesting cars in this price range I thought I would throw it out there. Camries and Accords make more sense in theory, but I think they are terrible values used. Overpriced. Tough to get a decent one for less than $5k.

    Gas mileage on a 528i is about 28-30 mpg on the highway. Obviously repairs will cost a bit more, but not quite as bad as you would think. Anything in that price range will need occasional work anyway.

  • avatar

    New Mazda6. Numerous examples on Autotrader $16-17k. Under warranty for the next 3-5 years. I think the Mazda6es are less prone to rust issues than other Mazda models (MK, correct me if I’m wrong).

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Honestly I think you should get something silly like a manual trans coupe while you can still be frivolous.


    Divorced Guy about to get Married Again

  • avatar

    An E39 costing just a bit more to maintain than a Camry or Accord? You must be kidding. At least here on Long Island, typical routine maintenance for my good friend’s ’01 530i seems about double for what I pay for my humble Honda vehicles and what my mom’s ’02 Camry runs.

    • 0 avatar

      “Just a bit” is understating it a bit, but I don’t think it is that bad relative to what you get. I have an E39 540, so I know exactly how bad it can be. That said, I have also owned camcords of similar vintage, and they weren’t in the same league.

      The way the used car market is right now, I’m basically looking at a camcord of the same age and miles as my 540 for what my car is worth. With that in mind, I’ll tolerate the repair costs.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Sadly, you’re probably right. I was going to add that there are two “known issues” with that engine. First, the valve cover gasket will eventually need replacing (which I have had done) and second, the cooling system components — radiator, expansion tank, water pump — are also suspect and can fail rather dramatically. My independent BMW mechanic (rated tops by the local BMWCCA) quoted me $2,000 for replacement of all of the aforementioned cooling system parts. Of course, if they fail and you run the engine dry, you’ll spend a lot more than that. Even the valve cover gasket was not a cheap job.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t forget the valley pan gasket on the V8s! The cooling system can fail dramatically (with the fan clutch on the main cooling fan being the most dramatic), but I think the dramatic failures are a bit overblown.

        When my waterpump finally gave up at 140k miles it was just weeping a bit. I drove the car 500 miles the weekend after I found out and took care of it on Monday.

        When my expansion tank failed, that did require a flatbed. I did at least make it to work though, and was able to hang out indoors while waiting for AAA. If I was more proactive, it wouldn’t have happened at all.

        Valve cover gaskets are certainly common, but not really a dire emergency. Also, lots of cars need valve cover gaskets in six figure mileage, not just bimmers.

        The valley pan gasket is a real killer. Lots of parts have to come off to get to it totaling about 8 hours of labor. Mine has been leaking slowly enough that I just top off coolant every 1200 miles or so. I’ve been driving with this condition since it was officially diagnosed last December.

        Moral of the story is they don’t typically blow up and leave you at the side of the road. They are also quite predictable in their failures with a strong DIY community to point out all the flaws at their various intervals. You can plan repairs accordingly.

        It definitely costs to keep them daily driver reliable, but there isn’t much of an excuse for unplanned downtime. My car has cost me to keep it running well; however, with the used car market the way it is, I would still consider buying another E39.

  • avatar

    So the OP thinks more metal between you and a crash waiting to happen makes you safer ? Sorry but I disagree with that mindset . I’ve always believed that the safest thing you can put in a car is a safe driver . Maybe that comes from decades of being a motorcyclist and becoming used to having wide vision and anticipating what the other motorists on the road might do , but it becomes a habit that you can’t break after a few people darn near cut you off ! I’ll never give up mpg for a gas guzzling pig on wheels ! Just MHO of course .

    • 0 avatar

      The “more metal” mindset drives me nuts as well, but for different reasons. Smaller cars can still be engineered to have a safe passenger compartment. Assuming you need an SUV to be safe can lead to some misguided decisions. Take a look at crash test scores and you see plenty of SUVs that don’t perform very well.

      You are right that an attentive driver in a vehicle that can avoid an accident is best. Failing that, you can have efficient cars that are still crash worthy.

    • 0 avatar

      So the OP thinks more metal between you and a crash waiting to happen makes you safer ?

      Statistically, he would be right about that.

      Maybe that comes from decades of being a motorcyclist and becoming used to having wide vision and anticipating what the other motorists on the road might do

      The fatality rate for motorcyclists is almost 30 times higher than the norm. Take away crush space, and more people die.

      • 0 avatar

        Statisticlly, most motorcycle accidents are caused by unobservant car drivers… read the Hurt report.

      • 0 avatar

        Per NHTSA, for motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes involving at least one other vehicle:

        > Alcohol involvement among motorcycle operators killed was almost 2.5 times the alcohol involvement of the passenger vehicle drivers involved in these crashes.

        > Nearly one-fourth (24%) of the motorcycle operators killed in two-vehicle crashes involving passenger vehicles, had an invalid license at the time of the crash compared to 8 percent of the passenger vehicle drivers.

        > Of the motorcycle operators who were killed in these crashes, 27 percent were speeding at the time of the crash compared to 4 percent of the passenger vehicle drivers.

        > Of the motorcycle operators killed in two-vehicle crashes involving passenger vehicles, 49 percent had a previous driving violation recorded on their license at the time of the crash.

        And more than half of motorcycle fatal crashes are single-vehicle accidents. Of those, over 40% were DUI.

        I know that martyrdom is popular among motorcyclists, but those who are involved in crashes appear to be worse than the average car driver, and they suffer the brunt of a lack of crush space. Without a barrier and an airbag to protect you at speed, death is far more likely.

    • 0 avatar

      Then I will die on two wheels doing what makes me happy and I am not a bar to barroom cruiser drunk or a sport bike squid . Those are where most of those stats come from . Everyone is going to die , why worry about vehicles when most die of heart disease or cancer ? If everyone rode bikes there would be a whole lot less accidents just from the awareness factor or being on a bike . Of course that’s just MHO !

      • 0 avatar

        If everyone rode bikes there would be a whole lot less accidents just from the awareness factor or being on a bike

        The data not only doesn’t match your opinion, it confirms the opposite.

  • avatar

    The main safety issue with the first-gen xB is that it has no side airbags. These are a must in any side impact crash. I personally don’t buy into the notion that you can avoid any crash, but that doesn’t mean I buy the largest vehicle available either.

    Both Camrys in question have side curtain airbags for front and rear occupants and side thorax airbags for front seat occupants. The car has an excellent crash test record, and a manual transmission is quite rare. In fact, the new ’12 model no longer offers a manual.

    The car is decently sized and it will get good mileage with a manual plus 4-cylinder (the V6/manual combo went away a couple of generations back).

    If in good condition (and after a check by a mechanic before buying), I’d seriously look into either one, but especially the newer one. But as others have noted, if you plan to sell it in the near future, expect a VERY long wait for a buyer. Manuals just aren’t popular in this class of car.

  • avatar

    I would not go to a sedan after owning a hatch. Consider a bigger hatch like the golf / mazda 3 / focus or Versa. Most of these cars are better cruisers than people think and still give you good utility space that you are used to. On the safety topic. Consider that smaller cars are lighter and handle better because of better breaking and less inertia. Most accidents that require a bigger car to survive will kill you anyway.
    I am with the defensive driving crowd and believe there would be far less accidents on the roads if more people drove defensively instead of going out and buying a 4 ton SUV and driving as they wish, because they will survive.

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