New or Used: Condition, Condition, Condition!

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used condition condition condition

TTAC Commentator Supaman writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

Got another head scratcher for you. A friend of mine was involved in an accident over the previous weekend which totaled her car (2006 Corolla S). She still had a year’s worth of payments left and the money she gets back from insurance leaves her with a smidge of $4000.

She doesn’t have the credit rating to get a financing on a new car which leaves her with under 5 grand to get a used one. She dislikes the idea of anything “used” as reliability is her main concern but after giving her a reality check she’s decided to reluctantly go along (not that she has a choice since she NEEDS a vehicle). Question here is of the cars I’ve looked at (most in the 100k mileage range) which would be best? American? Japanese? I was in a similar situation in 2006 when my car was totaled and after 4 days of relentless searching I found a diamond in the vein of a 2002 Hyundai Elantra with less than 50k miles for $3000. I’m not sure if she’ll be so lucky but if you have any suggestions it’d be greatly appreciated.

Sajeev Answers:

In situations like these, the condition of the vehicle is far more important than the brand on the grille. That said, don’t run off and buy a “creampuff” E38 BMW just because it fits in the price range…that would be quite the mistake!

American? Maybe. Japanese? Probably. European? Not a chance!

Stick with commonplace models with a large following in the aftermarket. Busted marker light? You can easily get a Chinese knock off lense for an Camry on eBay. And more than likely, you always will! Even the oddball Mercury Montego isn’t a bad idea…though the taillights are a little on the unique side.

Stick with a mainstream family sedan with as much service history you can find. That’s always a safe bet at this price point.

Steve answers:

Retail vehicles are priced based on their year, model, and mileage. But they should always be bought based on their condition, condition, and condition.

We have already developed a car buying series at TTAC that the B&B help revise every year. Here is the four part series for your friend: 1 2 3 4 .

Let her read up on that first. As for specific vehicles, what you really should look for are consumer reviews on carsurvey and other sites where consumers offer written feedback on their vehicles. Some older cars are cheap for a reason (Older Chryslers with the 2.7 Liter V6) while others are unpopular but reliable (Regals, 2000- 2006 Tauruses with Vulcan V6’s, etc.)

One other thing. You may want to start with people the two of you know instead of the great wide world that is Autotrader and Craigslist. Prices are already high due to the upcoming tax season and at least in Atlanta, the average $4000 car will be around 10 years old and have around 120k miles. Toyotas and Hondas are a bit more pricey along with luxury cars obviously. Suzukis and Mitsubishis will often be less costly along with anything out there that is dead or dying.

Good luck!

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

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4 of 36 comments
  • Cutchemist42 Cutchemist42 on Jan 17, 2012

    Protege5 as long as its not rusted out. I know I got mine for $4900.

  • Russycle Russycle on Jan 17, 2012

    The last-gen Escorts seem to be overlooked and underpriced. They're getting pretty long in the tooth since 2002 was the last year for them, but there's probably a few low-mile creampuffs left. The legendary Blue-haired Panther may be your best bet.

    • See 1 previous
    • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Jan 18, 2012

      @PrincipalDan Yup only the ZX2 made it to 2002 and by then it had lost its Escort prefix.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂