New or Used: A Used Car's Silent Ricochet?

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

Riddle me this, GradDad…(photo courtesy: Honda)

TTAC Commentator Silent Ricochet writes:

After almost 6 years and 55,000 mostly reliable miles, the Cavalier must go.

I knew the car was aging and I thought it could make it another year. I recently graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree back in May and since then my Cavalier has been on a steep decline in terms of safety and reliability.

Within the last month alone, I’ve blown three brake lines, the first of which almost resulted in my death. Today, I got the car on a lift for the first time since perhaps last summer in an attempt to fix my third blown brake line (for the rear brakes) and what my two mechanic friends and I saw was horrifying.

The amount of frame rot was staggering. The two of them, with their eyes wide and mouths agape, looked at each other and then looked at me. “Why the f**k are you driving this thing?” One asked. The other said “You shouldn’t be. I’m surprised your parents let you, to be honest.” I thought they were exaggerating. They weren’t. The rust is unbelievably bad.

I’m not looking to spend any more than $16,000 after taxes and registration. Here’s my criteria for a new vehicle:

· Japanese and reliable;

· Front-wheel drive;

· Great on gas;

· Manual transmissions are fun but an automatic seems like a smarter purchase (albeit more expensive);

· A hint of sportiness. Driving a beige Toyota Corolla with an uninspiring >2-liter engine and slushomatic isn’t something that really piques my interest. A zippy car that handles corners at least in a decent manner is my target;

· A bit bigger and mature enough for me to be taken seriously. Not a rusted, black 2-door Cavalier with tints and a muffler;

· Certified Pre-Owned, so I’ll be purchasing from a dealership.

Everything about what I mentioned above seems to ring true in a new(er) Mazda 3 or 6. Four doors doesn’t bother me anymore. Neither does the thought of a 5-door Hatchback. I’ve test driven both a 2013 Mazda 6 and Mazda 3 (sedan) and liked them both. The steering feel was crisp and responsive, the interiors were on par with what I expected (compared to say, a Chevy Cruze), the engines were perky and the automatic transmission was snappy and didn’t seem to hunt for gears with every adjustment of the throttle. The gas mileage in the Skyactiv equipped cars is impressive. They’re also sharp looking vehicles, which is always a plus.

Sajeev answers:

Ditch the used/CPO car route, since credit and job history is a problem to lenders. Because it will be even more of a concern (i.e. bend over for that impending interest rate) on the used side than new. CPO vehicles sometimes sport low APR promotions, that isn’t a sure bet. What is? Easier credit with a new car, and likely a very similar monthly payment. Don’t forget that recent college grad rebate!

But don’t get an automatic! Manual transmission vehicles at this price point are usually $1,000-ish cheaper, that’s a rather humongous percentage of the purchase price. If the OEM’s websites don’t lie, I’d get a stick shift Mazda 2/3, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa … and why aren’t you considering a row-it-your-own Hyundai Accent with their amazing warranty?

Steve writes:

Sajeev is 127.8 percent right when it comes to manual transmissions. You want cheap? Buy a stick and aim for a vehicle that doesn’t pump its sporty credentials.

I’m thinking more of a six- to eight-year-old sporty car with reasonable mileage, 100,000 miles or less, that comes from a part of the country where rust is relatively non-existent. Ebay is about to become your next best friend and I would only shop with sellers that have strong feedback ratings. I wouldn’t go full bore into a near-new car because your tastes and needs will likely change within the next five to seven years.

You’re starting out single and beginning to get financially established. I would opt for an older cream puff of a car that will easily make it through the second 100k. You should halve your budget and aim for a one way ticket to the sunny parts of the USA.

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

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  • BrunoT BrunoT on Oct 02, 2015

    Mazda6 touring with manual. It should be about that budget, and skip the CPO. It's still going to have some decent warranty on it and shouldn't have major problems for years. The price premium for certified cars could be $2,000 in that price range, a huge percentage of your budget. It's a marketing device on non-European cars.

  • Jonnyanalog Jonnyanalog on Oct 02, 2015

    congrats on the new ride Silent Ricochet! I recently had a 2015 Focus SE as a rental and it was a really nice car. I like the hatch better but overall, I was impressed with the interior quality, how quiet it was, and how good the ride/handling was. If I decide to replace my Escape I'd consider the Focus SE hatch.

  • SPPPP Too much individual choice in that program, maybe?
  • Eric I would like one of each, please. But make that a '641/2 Mustang and a 1970 240Z
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Funny comparison:
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Some insight.
  • Amwhalbi I know this is apples and oranges, but I'd rather have an Elantra N, a Jetta GLI or a Civic Si than either the Mustang or the Z.