By on December 8, 2015

 

cheap car. shutterstock user Sisacorn

David writes:

Sajeev,

I have never written into an advice column, but have always wanted to. I hope you respond!

I think it’s important to separate your “wants” from your “needs”. Living this way and growing up in an urban area (Chicago), I never owned a car. Instead, I borrowed cars from friends or rode my bicycle. I have since moved to New Orleans, another urban center, but one with worse public transportation and access to grocery stores. Other things have changed in my life: I went from scraping by somewhere below the poverty line to making money somewhat above the poverty line.

I still bike to work because it’s easier. Last year, a friend offered to sell me her 1999 Ford Escort SE wagon for $900. She is terrible at maintaining anything, but she only owned the car a year and had some service records. Her father owned before her and spent some money on it between when it was new and now as it has 189,000 miles on the clock.

I felt confident I could get plenty of use out of it. In my year of ownership, I learned how to do brake jobs, replace ball joints and I felt pretty confident that this car would keep running. Yes, it was an underpowered econobox that most car nerds would scoff at, but I could carry six friends to the swimming hole one day and drive to Lowe’s or squeeze in some furniture I found on the street the next day.

Recently, my girlfriend and I drove it to South Florida. On the way back, we pulled it into a rest stop — and couldn’t pull out. It wouldn’t start. I figured it was the starter, but it turned out the valve in cylinder four had dropped. I guess this is a common problem in high mileage, third-generation Escorts. Sadly, I scrapped the Escort (my first car love) and we rented a car to take us the rest of the way home. It’s unfortunate because I know if this issue had happened closer to home I could have, with the help of the Ford Escort Forum, replaced the heads and gotten the car running again. Being stuck 600 miles from home really made fixing the Escort economically impossible.

My question Sajeev: I make a fairly steady (legal) income running my own business. I make cash (I have terrible credit because I defaulted on student loans) and could save enough money to buy another car. What should I get for, let’s say, $2,000 to $6,000? I want something with some room, that returns good fuel economy and can seat 4-5 humans conformable. I don’t need to drive it everyday, but I do want to be able to cross the country with it if I want. I feel confident in my ability to do much of the maintenance myself, but something simple would be good. I have considered Volvos, Ford Focus, Mazda3 and even the late to mid ’80s Panther-body LTD full sized station wagon — which would definitely get the worst miles per gallon but be pretty cool. The main thing is that it needs to be able to fit a roof rack and have a hatchback.

Sajeev answers:

Answering this query (sans getting all Larry Winget about it) is a little tough because it’s less about the car and more about the person. My apologies in advance if my advice is both inapplicable and douchey to any and all readers. 

I have friends (some are 24 Hours of LeMons racers, so they are brilliant wrenches) with cash businesses and cheap (under $5,000) rides, but I wonder if they’d prefer the option of financing a more expensive vehicle with really, really low miles. No short-term leases to solve long-term problems. Just a $15,000-ish ride with a warranty and less downtime needed for…anything.

Cheap cars have issues and needs. Your trip to Florida and numerous stories from LeMons racers driving to races are proof that the cheap stuff will interfere and/or ruin your trip.

While student loan debt is impossible to erase, consider steps to improve your credit while buying this beater. IDP and buying basics (fuel, food, etc.) on a credit card that you pay on time can help you improve your credit rating. I reckon that better credit will be important in your future, so take steps now to make that happen.

But that’s not the point of your question. On to the car…

At this price, buy the cleanest vehicle with the most complete service records. Seeing proof of new brakes, fresh tires, and tune-ups is great. A receipt for a transmission service at 75,000 miles is heaven sent. Buy anything mainstream from a Japanese (no Q45s), South Korean (no XG 350s) or American (no Cateras) automaker and you’ll be set. And preferably something with plentiful parts in junkyards: 10-year-old Foci, Cobalts, Corollas, 1998 and up Crown Victorias etc. are a smart use of your cash.

Maybe you’d turn into an E46 guru if the right one shows up, but don’t start hunting for 750iLs in your price range.

David, you seem able to put life into perspective with wisdom and humility. That will serve you well, and it was an honor to answer your first query to an advice column.

[Image: Shutterstock user Sisacorn]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

134 Comments on “Piston Slap: Wants vs. Needs?...”


  • avatar
    Alfisti

    2006 9-3 wagon. Ticks every box with the only question mark being reliability. The 06’s have proven to be very solid and whilst needing a little more care than a complete stripper, the bodies and under car mechanicals are very rust resilient.

    Much safer than many other options too.

    Dooooooo iiiittttttt.

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      What a great suggestion! Do you also give financial advice?

      Buy an eight year-old car from a defunct car company with issues as to parts availablity.

      Of course, New Orleans car boneyards are packed to the max with scrapped Saabs, so if you need a part, just whiz on down and unscrew whatever you need. Problemo solved, just like that!

      Get a used Camry that fits the budget.

      • 0 avatar
        seth1065

        Hey the saab is not a bad choice , you get good buys on brands that are gone, parts are not an issue and there were enough rich kids at Tulane that junk yards have parts, I would also say look for other brands that are one, maybe a Saturn, a Vibe, a Suzuzi,, you can buy a camary but your not gonna get a deal, better to buy a different car if cash is a issue, he can do the basics of car repair so that is a plus. Really he has to find someone who is selling a car they no longer want is older and took care of it. Good luck

        • 0 avatar
          Felix Hoenikker

          I second the Vibe. My son bought a 2005 Vibe 5 spd manual three years ago. It has been rock solid reliable and has only needed routine maintenance since he acquired it. Also, the Vibe uses Toyota running gear so parts are cheap and available anywhere.
          The Toyota Matrix is essentially the same car but carries a hefty stupidity tax relative to the Vibe

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        “Buy an eight year-old car from a defunct car company with issues as to parts availablity.”

        Saab parts availability isn’t an issue. Lots of reputable sources will overnight OEM parts to you.

        Obviously you won’t find as many junkyard parts, but if you are shopping there your car is a hobby, not transportation.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        @wmba: Your reply is coming from left field. The 2006 Saab 9-3 wagon is not an eight year old car from a defunct car company with issues as to parts availability. It is a nine or ten year old car from a defunct car company with issues as to parts availability, depending on its production date.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      So you got comment #1, and jumped shark with it. Bravo. He’s a relatively poor man who needs something RELIABLE, as it will be important in his life and his only car. Beat up POS Saab which was relatively -never- reliable and now has -no brand support- is not the answer.

      Go sit in the time out chair.

      • 0 avatar
        Alfisti

        This just is not true. The 2006+ 93’s sat firmly in JD Power’s top half reliability wise. The 03’s were a disaster and improved year on year to the point that the 06 should provide solid motoring. The 2007’s to 2009’s suffer from a valve issue so 06 is the sweet spot.

        It will seat 5, has a hatch, craigslist is full of roof racks, parts are not an issue, the body is sound and it won’t kill you on long trips like some of the other options being suggested.

        Not to mention, it’s the cheapest seriously safe car on the road, it’s built like a little tank.

        The only real issue is that they like a fresh battery every three years.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          So he should search for ONE model year of one model, in hopes he finds a good one, because they “should be reliable for 06 but every other year is awful because Saab.”

          Do you hear yourself? Ok, they’re in the top -half- of JD Power, where all the Japanese cars from the time still sit firmly above, you mean?

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            CoreyDL, you have how much PERSONAL experience with Saabs again?

            While I would not necessarily recommend a 9-3 (or any premium (ish) car) to someone in this position, I have owned one, they are bargains currently, and they are very good cars. Most of the wear parts are generic GM, Saab’s parts supply is not particularly problematic, and they are genuinely decent cars. Personally, I would want one NEWER than ’06 to get away from the Saab-specific stereo setup in favor of the generic GM headunit and nicer interior. Which may not look like much but works a lot better.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Okay, from now on we can only speak to cars we’ve personally owned.

            Comment count plummets, TTAC goes offline.

            Happy now?

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            So a Saab is a great car that just happens to share all of its mechanical components with generic GM stuff that is inferior to almost everything? No wonder you still like new BMWs.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I don’t think anyone could come up with a worse suggestion if they tried, outside of maybe an older Saab or a defunct French/Italian brand. Bravo

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        That’s the great thing about Saab. Most “experts” know they are unreliable, so they are cheap to buy. Meanwhile I know a bunch of people with 500K+ on their Saabs and very few issues other than regular maintenance. And that’s in the rust belt!

        Not saying that David should only look at Saabs, or that he shouldn’t exercise due diligence, but it is a decent option for a safe, cheap car that will last a long time if you maintain it.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          “Meanwhile I know a bunch of people with 500K+ on their Saabs”

          And I know a bunch of people with 300K+ on Land Rover Discovery models. Still doesn’t make them a good used recommendation.

          Saab is an orphan brand, they are no longer made. They are -not- as capable of cheap and easy motoring as Japanese models. Facts.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            Must be a geography thing. Here in the rust belt, a used Japanese car in that price range has the life-expectancy of a disposable razor.

            It’s not worth fixing with original parts, so you ignore the manageable stuff (collapsed seats, flaking paint, minor rust, worn-out shocks), do some cheap-ass maintenance (oil, aftermarket brakes and exhaust), use it until it rusts away, then buy another. It’s like leasing a car, with shorter terms and unpredictable payments.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            While this was true of cheap Japanese cars available in 2001, it’s not so true today. I live in the rust belt, and there’s plenty of salt here.

            Now, should he choose a cheap Mazda in that price range, or Subaru? No. But others should be fine.

          • 0 avatar
            Alfisti

            OP needs to seat 5 and wants a wagon. That leaves what in Japanese? A Mazda 6? That was my “sensible” option when i bought the 9-3, turns out the 6 is a time bomb, the engine is lunching itself with alarming regularity.

            Not to mention the Saab is safer, the engine is smoother with tons more torque, fuel economy is about the same, the Saab is way more comfortable …. only place the Mazda gets it done is handling.

            Agree re. anecdotes of “I know a guy”, but the JD Power numbers suggest the 06 9-3 is not any more unreliable than most mainstream vehicles.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            So, he wants 5 people, roof rack, hatchback.

            Clearly the answer then is Mazda wagon or Vibe/Matrix. End of story.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            At Corey:

            When I search for Saabs its quite typical to see something from ’01-onward with a ticking motor, just below 150k on the odometer.

            I’ve made a point to avoid them, they were trying out some “low friction” engine at that point that simply does not hold up.

            I’d go with a Toyota or Korean thing personally, later Hondas I’d avoid since they have headgasket issues (and still rust).

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Yep, thank you. Saab liked to half-bake new ideas and send them out the door.

            But soft cookies don’t work so well as durable goods.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            Ryoku75,

            There were no major changes in the Saab lineup in 2001. It’s easy to keep track because they only had 2 models.

            Some late-90s Saabs had oil sludge issues, but those were fixed with a factory-supplied update (still available). Any car still around presumably has the updated parts or wasn’t affected.

            You may or may not remember that Toyota had a huge oil sludge issue around the same time. They never offered a fix, and the affected cars have been recycled into toasters by now. Other brands were affected, but none to the extent that Toyota was. Google “Toyota oil sludge” if you don’t remember. There were new evap emissions standards at the time, which meant that a lot of stuff that used to be vented to the atmosphere ended-up in the sump.

            I never see any 10+ year-old Korean cars around, not sure why they have a good reliability reputation.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            At Heavy:

            I am aware of Toyotas sludge issues, and the whole sudden acceleration case.

            Like Saabs, I can always dodge a year and get something without those issues. Thankfully Toyotas dont tick at 100k.

            And I see old Hyundais more than I ever thought I would, older Saabs I frequently find on my junkyard visits.

    • 0 avatar
      BC

      I’ll second the Saab recommendation. Another option is a 2003-2008 Saab 9-5 wagon. The 9-5 is an older design and a little more straight forward than the new generation 9-3. Reliability issues are over-hyped. If you’re braver you can go 2000-2002 9-3 hatchback – also a good car if buying one properly maintained. A lot of people who knew a guy with a saab once feel compelled to offer their opinions about saab. Check out the forums and see what the actual owners say. Anyone with a middling technical knowledge and a willingness to research and do their own maintenance / repairs will do just fine if they buy a well maintained Saab.

    • 0 avatar
      phreshone

      Saab 9-5’s (post 2003) can easily be found in said price range. great highway cruiser, plenty of room, timing chain… spend some time replacing the vacuum hoses and you have a winner

    • 0 avatar
      mistahedges

      funny story. I actually found a Saab 9-3 wagon with a Manual for 2,200 on CL only 90,000 miles…. But I’m not sure while I do adore Saabs I would like to continue to adore them from a distance. -David

    • 0 avatar
      mistahedges

      Thanks for the advice and thanks Sajeev for taking the time to write me. I didn’t think your advice was to “douchy” and its something I’ll look into. Recently I decided I’m going to find a low mileage Lincoln Town Car. I like the look of the mid 90s models. I see them alot on CL, often owned by older people who took care of them and from what I understand they are reliable. I will take a hit in around town gas mileage but I usually ride my bicycle so that shouldn’t be a problem. I have also considered a GM with a 3800 V6 but I see the Lincolns more often and I prefer them. I also like the option to tow if I ever want to. Ford Focus wagon without the dreaded SPI is a consideration if one comes up for the right price I might do it. I have considered the vibe too but the Lincoln is calling to me. Vibes are kinda ugly. Call me weird but I like riding around in something that feels like a budget motel.

      I have something to say about the other “advice” offered by other commenters. I was driving my GF to visit her folks in South Florida. Everyone should be able to go on vacation from time to time. Especially with a women you love. Life is short.

      Education should be free for everyone. If the federal government has the resources to spend billions spying on its citizens and blowing up people in other countries with very expensive hardware we can send our citizens to college for free. Once the federal government does that I will start paying back my loans.

      Now stop judging strangers without knowing their story, it’s a waste of your time.

      -David

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        “Once the federal government does that I will start paying back my loans.”

        So you borrowed money with no intention of paying it back. You sir, are a big part of the problem. I’m ashamed to share my generation with people like you and their massive sense of misplaced entitlement.

        You borrow someone’s money (doesn’t matter who), you pay it back. Intentionally not doing so is stealing, and thus you’re a criminal. You don’t get to attach random strings to which the government must comply before you’ll deign to pay your obligation.

        And all that education you won’t pay for should have taught you the singular form of the female sex, which is “woman.”

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        “deadbeat” (noun) – a person who deliberately avoids paying debts

        bullseye for burgerman!

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        “Education should be free for everyone.”

        Agreed 1,000 % .

        “If the federal government has the resources to spend billions spying on its citizens and blowing up people in other countries with very expensive hardware we can send our citizens to college for free. Once the federal government does that I will start paying back my loans.”

        This means you knowingly STOLE money from other working pople who paid their way and now , yours too .

        You should be ashamed of your self .

        I’m not ‘ righteous ‘ nor is anyone else who now has to PAY YOUR BILL .

        I do hope you find a good vehicle as your Family needs it but you’re being dishonest here .

        Panther love is prolly the best way to go , cheap and durable , you clearly have plenty of ready cash ans you don’t think the fuel economy is important .

        Save your B.S. about the bicycle , I’d like to see you riding it when your Kids or wife need to see a Doctor .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    319583076

    Repay your student loans, deadbeat.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      I have to support this comment .

      I was dirt poor and am now Blue Collar but I never left any debt unpaid and never will .

      Even if you only send $35 / month , you should pay your god damned debts if you expect to be a good Citizen .

      Of course , if you were foolish enough to sign on to a cornithian college or other worthless rip off trade school , maybe you deserve some slack , I don’t know .

      -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        (partly off-topic)

        Nate – I agree with your sentiment, but I think the blame placed solely on for-profit schools is a convenient distraction. They deserve blame, but so do the many non-profits who charge top dollar, provide the students with amenities and housing they can’t afford and then graduate them with grievance studies degrees that are worthless in the marketplace. The stereotype of the barrista with an MA degree has a basis in reality. I stopped doing alumni interviews when a young lady wanted to get a degree in communications and semiotics at a retail cost of about $250K. How could I talk up that opportunity – hell, they even had a couple of courses in Marxist cant as part of the concentration courses. There are some good for-profits and there are plenty of non-profits who do a disservice to their students (aka ‘marks’).

    • 0 avatar
      jeanbaptiste

      He’s too busy going on Florida vacations to do that. Plus why have integrity? It’s over rated.

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      Seems a bit rough calling the guy a deadbeat. This being a forum to ask for and receive advice on cars, I thought that something like “Try a last model year Saturn SW2, be sure to keep it full of oil” might be a little more useful than smearing the guy’s nose in his own doo-doo.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      I think Sajeev put it better. But you’re right. I was sucked in by the picture of the Cockroach of the Road™ (I owe Geozinger a beer), but then I was let down by reading about one of the many reasons my student loan rates were higher than they should have been.

      Oh and buy a J-body or Delta Platform vehicle. Indestructible and parts are a dime a dozen.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Hey Tresmonos! Thanks for the shout out. I will take payment in a nice Atwater Decadent Chocolate Stout, sil vous plais?

        Actually, I agree with your statement about the J or Delta bodies. Historically low values right at the moment and as sophisticated and reliable as an ox-cart. Well, at least most of them are.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Abandon all decency, ye who enter here.

      Being a sanctimonious judgmental prick puts you way lower on the totem pole of character than this guy. He at least realized he made a mistake. Not sure why having defaulted on a loan once means someone can never enjoy life ever again.

      Were you raised in a Protestant household?

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        It definitely wasn’t Lutheran. If we have something mean but true to say, we’re supposed to keep it to ourselves.

        • 0 avatar
          RideHeight

          If I were religious I’d go for Lutheranism.

          Respect the hell out of what the guy did. He sure got the papists’ undies in a bunch, didn’t he?

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            We’re the only denomination where the founder was a firebrand and the confessors are all milquetoasts, at least in public. We’ve pretty much denounced everything Luther said about the Jews, and depending on which synod you’re in, the Papists as well.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            I don’t fear Jews but those effing papists will *always* need watching!

          • 0 avatar
            geozinger

            Dr. Zhivago: Being raised Roman Catholic but later becoming Lutheran, I believe I have a unique perspective on some of these matters. Luther may have been a firebrand in his time, but we should not forget that his “protest” launched a nasty internecine war, the German Peasant’s War (and a few other revolts) which Luther himself condemned. You can see where an attitude of conciliation and humility of later leaders may have come from if you were the ones held responsible for atrocities committed in your church founder’s name resulting in the deaths of thousands. I can’t say I blame them.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          As someone that grew up Catholic I think I’m supposed to feel bad about my sinful negative thoughts about the OP and keep them in forever. Because, I’m not going to Confession/Reconciliation.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Since I’M now paying for the student loans the OP defaulted on (assuming they were government guaranteed)it is hard to find much sympathy for his automotive travails. Bonus points for the failure taking place while he was on vacation.

      Bad credit follows you around for a long time and student loan defaults follow you forever. Unless you want to drive sh!tbox cars for the rest of your life you need to make some effort to pay your debts. If you don’t want to do that welcome to the beater car lifestyle; you could have had that without bothering to go to college.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      I’ll second that and raise you by calling him a dirtbag.

    • 0 avatar
      06V66speed

      Great, great.

      But seriously. Humiliating the guy is a dick move.

      Sorry… not sorry.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        I didn’t humiliate anyone .

        I had to wear thrift store clothes most of my life because I paid my bills and made sure my Son and (ex) Wife didn’t have to nor did they ever go hungry .

        We didn’t take vacations nor go to movies etc. because that’s what you do when you’re an ‘ adult ‘ who decides to have kids when you’re young and uneducated .

        If that makes me or him a ‘ dick ‘ , so be it .

        I owe no one anything financially .

        I *do* have a HUGE lifelong debt to all those past and present who helped me along the way , I am raising other folk’s kids now and no , I don’t get paid for it , every one of these kids knows to man up and never steal lie or cheat if they want to stay in our nice clean comfy house with cable etc.

        Work calls .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar

          Good for you. Want a cookie?

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            You sir, are a big part of the problem.

            I guess in your world it’s fine to ‘ borrow ‘ money you have never had any intention of paying back , that’s what he posted…..

            -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Nate, I’m not defending anyone, but that is the real world for you.

            People borrow money that they cannot ever hope to repay and then let the taxpayers suffer the loss when they default.

            Our business was able to capitalize on that somewhat by picking up two foreclosed houses for 2/3 of fair-market value.

            Student loans are just a variation on the same theme.

            The current administration is planning to forgive many of these student loans of one minority and let the US taxpayers suffer the loss.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Understood HDC ~

            My Brother who lives in Rural Maine used to be quite wealthy and lost his retirement funds chasing stocks , he’s quite the Carpenter so he’s been buying up the foreclosed houses and re habbing them , once in a while someone with a job comes along and he makes some $ back in rental .

            Taking advantage of auctions isn’t stealing , I did it for a few decades , bought impounds and what not , made passable $ and never cheated anyone .

            -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Nate, rehabbing, remodeling and refurbishing homes is what I did for my father-in-law’s realty business from 1 July 1985 to 31 Dec 2014.

            He bought them, I rehabbed/rebuilt them. Then he rented them out.

            I was Manual Labor. I did all the hiring-in of the labor, much of the electrical, carpentry, brick, tile and masonry work, but left the plumbing up to the guys who had the truck full of spares and parts.

            All of our homes are either rented out or otherwise occupied, like where I am living now.

            Auctions and Estate Sales were two venues where I picked up a lot of good stuff over the decades.

            My prized possessions are an AccuBanker D64 and the huge number of firearms I bought for scratch. Some are truly collector’s items. Others, high quality tools of law enforcement.

            In fact, just today I sold several guns from my collection to people who pressed me for them. Made money on every single one of them I sold.

            Guns are one of those commodities always highly sought after and gun stores often don’t have what the people are looking for. Often, collectors do.

  • avatar
    vvk

    It is important to keep safety in mind. My family just survived a terrible head-on collision in our E46 BMW. The car protected its passengers perfectly, with safety sell remaining completely intact, pedals collapsing and airbags doing their job. There were no sharp objects inside, the glass did not explode all over and the steering column stayed in position. The straight six slid under the car the way it was supposed to. The other car, a V-6 Toyota Camry, did not do so well :(

    Buy a solid midsize sedan with no prior accidents, the newer the better. If you learn to do basic repairs, you can really save a lot of money and lower your cost of ownership. Choose something that is easy to repair.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Since you’ve got a little wrenching experience – you might even do well buying from a private party. Just trust your instincts and your senses.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    gm 3800 v6 powered sedan (go with Buick), ford panther, or ford taurus.

    These are good because they’ve got a rep for decent reliability AND they’re cheap because they were sold so much to fleets, thus driving down the resale value. If you got japanese you’re gonna get high miles with low price.

    Also don’t be afraid of rebuilt titles. My grand marquis was a rebuild. I’ve put 100k on it now and only paid $3700 for it 4 years ago. Aside from a few front-end issues (ball joints, tie rod ends, swaybar linkage) it’s been great. I had a 94 Regal for 5 years and it went up to 200k before getting rear ended with minimal problems.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      When I read the comment about the Saab, I thought nobody could make a worse suggestion. Then you suggest a rebuilt title. Absolutely awful advice. There can’t be anything more unpredictable than a rebuilt car.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        I once checked out a “re-built” car or two, it was fun having bumpers that were held on just by plastic straps, failing ABS and SRS computers, rattles from the engine bay, dents galore, broken interior knobs…

        They were all Hondas, even as solid as they are a “re-build” and 20 years will turn them into brand new Cavaliers. I wouldn’t pay anymore than $500 for a “re-build”, as they are just ex-scrapyard cars.

        “I had a 94 Regal for 5 years and it went up to 200k before getting rear ended with minimal problems.”

        Thats the best kind of rear-end collision, the one without problems!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Since manufacturer financing is out, which is what I would have recommended, for as Jack has demonstrated it takes more disposable income to own and operate a ‘beater’ than an inexpensive new car, then I would recommend that he purchases ……….. a Dodge Caravan.

    You can get them cheap. There are lots available. They are relatively simple to work on. They easily fit 6. Plus any furniture you want to carry. And a roof rack.

    Call Steve Lang, he may have access to some base model Caravans. :-)

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I just went through this exercise myself recently. My DD was damaged by a deer strike and I was looking for something with more cargo capacity. Nothing else made sense to me other than some sort of LWB minivan. Since it’s going to be my pickup truck and toy hauler all in one and I drive little more than 7K miles/year, I set a real low price threshold of no more than $5K.

      I originally started looking at Mopar minivans, but I’m also familiar with the GM U-vans. I purposely ignored the Ford minis due to severe rust issues and the Japanese vans due to cost issues. I ended up finding a 147K mile 2004 Olds Silhouette GLS for about $2700 at a local dealer who wanted it off his lot.

      But the OP is down South, so all of these vans could be considered. I would agree with Arthur Dailey here, the Mopar minivan would be the best bet. The others depend upon just how much you are willing to risk in terms of reliability and repairs.

      As an aside, folks here are really judgmental and sarcastic. We have only a tiny window into this person’s life and are willing to make all kinds of snide remarks about the guy for a cheap laugh. Some of us on this board have been in hard times and fought their way back up. Maybe this person is doing the same. I sincerely hope you don’t find yourselves in similar circumstances.

  • avatar
    yesthatsteve

    The OP should keep in mind that some 2000-2004 Foci also have the valve seat problem. When looking in that range of model years, those with “2.0 Split Port” stamped on an unpolished aluminum valve cover are the ones to keep an eye out for. If the head has been repaired, then you should be fine. If not, then plan for it.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Here’s my recs:

    -Japanese
    -Close-to-original owner (perhaps elderly)
    -Has records
    -Unloved brand with sister car in loved brand: Vibe, Prizm
    -Nothing which is not Japanese
    -A 4-cyl or 6 from Toyota, or a VQ6 from Nissan
    -Hit em where they ain’t – Avalon, Maxima/I30/I35
    -No Subaru

    Your situation is rather tenuous RE: income, credit, cash flow. You don’t need to be adventurous, you need something simple and stable.

    Old BMW and old Saab/Volvo is NEVER the answer to your quandary.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      So…you are saying used 7-series with the V12, right?

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The trouble is, those Japanese cars cost too much. Especially in places where they don’t rust. Nor, IMHO, are they as reliable as legend would have it when they are old, gray, and neglected.

      Given he needs a hatch, I would recommend a Volvo 745/945. Especially as he says he can turn a wrench. They are the car that people who like Panthers think Panthers are. And much, much safer and far more comfortable than a Japanese tin box in the same price range.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I would also add as simple and basic as possible. Manual windows and locks are a plus. A base Nissan Sentra is a decent option. The Ranger mentioned above would also be cheaper and more reliable than just about anything if you can accept the lack of passenger room.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Only thing is those later Japanese cars can be pricey, there are a few more models I’d suggest avoiding too:

      -Honda Accord V6/Oddessy: Notoriously unreliable automatics
      -Mazda 626: Unreliable Automatics, again!
      -Mazda Protege: These can rust badly if you live in the salty lands, they will rust worse than a VW left to sit in a river for 40+ years.
      -Toyota Corolla 3-Speed: Mediocre mpg with a high price tag

      An old 945-late 745 wouldn’t be a bad buy either, they don’t rust and you can avoid those stupid automatic seatbelts.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Apparently I do not have permission to edit my own comment!

        I want to add that I’m a little iffy on Nissans, Maximas can get some pretty good odometer numbers, but on lesser Nissans, several people I know have had to invest a bit into them to keep going.

    • 0 avatar
      Dann

      “…or a VQ6 from Nissan”
      Not sure if I’d recommend a modern VQ for a budget purchase, considering the timing chain/chain tensioner issues that affect the VQ35 & VQ40 engines.
      An older VQ30 from a A32 or A33 Maxima, perhaps.

      A 5S-FE or maintained 1MZ-engined Camry would also be ideal, even if it is slightly older.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Living above the poverty line now? Good. Keep your bike – it’s a lot warmer in New Orleans and you’ll use it a lot more.

    As for a car, a Chevy Cobalt and Ford Focus are good choices. A Japanese car is too expensive, I’m afraid, and you certainly don’t want to have too much of your finances tied up in a set of wheels for now.

    Save, save, save for the future and plan accordingly. Hey! there’s that cute old green streetcar that runs on St. Charles St., so perhaps you can use that on occasion!

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      1st GEN Focus does seem to be a good choice. The idiot across the street owns one that looks like it was used to film an episode of The Walking Dead. Body damage, no wheel covers, dirty, but the damned thing always fires up. Engine sounds a bit dodgy but it doesn’t smoke and he’s always coming and going to his dead end job.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Just get used to replacing power window brackets, that aside first-gen Focus’s are pretty reliable cars.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          On Zetec powered cars, there are three plastic cooling system components that have about a five year life, the thermostat housing, the crossover pipe over the radiator, and the coupler in the long heater hose.

          Use FoMoCo parts when replacing these, the no name parts store items fit poorly and don’t last.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Go with a W Buick with the 3800. I know you live in the south, but its still worth your time to have a good look underneath, regardless of what vehicle you settle on.

    Any vehicle that has spent anytime in rust country, can have brake, and fuel line, and even sub frame rust. $$$$$$

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    A quick look on Ebay shows a 2003 CR-V, 97k, $5950. Reliable, durable, reasonable to maintain. You have your passenger and cargo capacity.

    And start paying on your student loan again. Do not assume you “defaulted”, and that although the lender is unhappy about it, the loan has gone away. You are “in default” but the loan is still open. With the exception of taxes and maybe child support, no debt is harder to discharge than a student loan.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      2003 CR-V, 97k, $5950

      That’s a lot of money for a 13-year-old car.

      • 0 avatar
        Fordson

        Exactly. And that is the problem with any “nothing that is not Japanese” recommendation that would have this guy paying $6k for a car that was built 13 years and 100,000 miles ago and cost around $20k brand new.

        2005-2007 Focus 5-door hatchback. You should be able to find one that was maybe somebody’s second car with miles in the 80s for around $3,000-3,500. buy local and rust won’t be an issue. Budget $75/month for repairs, since you do your own work, for the most part.

        Done.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        “That’s a lot of money for a 13-year-old car.”

        Well you get what you pay for. 2nd gen CRVs have incredible interior space, and one of the best long term reliability histories out there. Their single true Achilles heel is the A/C compressor, there was a class action lawsuit due to them shredding their innards and contaminating the rest of the system with metal shards. That is quite literally the only failure prone component on the entire vehicle.

        Aside from that, the K24 is as reliable as the sunrise and is chain driven, transmissions aren’t known to really give many problems, suspensions are reasonably durable, no weird electrical/power accessories issues. Pick up a fwd model to save some cash and reduce complexity (no rear diff lube changes, no driveshaft u joints to wear out).

        Ford Focus hatch doesn’t have that much room, not relative to a escort wagon anyways, nor will it be as reliable as a CRV at this age.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    You need a Transit Connect. 2010 and 2011 versions are falling into your price range.

  • avatar
    omer333

    While I get wanting a car, you might do better with looking into a used truck. In 2001 I picked up a 1993 Ford Ranger extra-cab for $2500. The only things I replaced during my four years of ownership were the waterpump, fuel tank, serpentine belt, and tires.

    Go with a fleet model from a trucking company, like a Kenworth dealer, they always do the maintenance on the company vehicles.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I had the misfortune to be in a hailstorm with 3 inch stones. I went around for the next week putting my card on interesting cars to see if they would sell to me for the agreed salvage value of $975 Canadian. I got three excellent cars cheap for the family – 2002 Buick Regal GS (60k) 2004 Vibe Wagon (88k) and the outlier, a 2004 Jaguar XJ8. We are three+ years in and all are still talking to me. The cars are mostly still pockmarked, but no one notices when sitting behind the wheel as I got new hoods for all and had them color matched, anticipating the anarchy, and all mirrors and lenses etc., were re-done. Five thousand dollars to re-horse three families. I have broken my arm at least three times in the ensuing years congratulating myself. Co-Part?

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Here’s an idea: go to the cars/trucks section of Craigslist and type in the word “estate” or “deceased”. The cars you will see belong to someone who recently died and are being sold by a relative or lawyer, who will be happy to take any reasonable, cash offer to take the car off their hands.

    You will see a lot of Buicks and Caddys and maybe a Mercury or Camry/Corolla. They will likely be well cared for (at least until recently) and low miles.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    02-06 Escape/Tribute/Mariner fwd I4. The V6 has more maintenance headaches, and the ground clearance is nice for when roads get flooded (and they often do after a good rainstorm). Manual or automatic. My downtown driver (not a beater) is an 02 V6 model and besides some deals going bad, it’s been good. It was also free from a family member in Houston. The V6 is necessary up here in Idaho but the 4 would be fine in the Gulf region.

    Plus, it’s a parts-bin vehicle!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    It is a bit of a unicorn in the way it is configured, but not in totality (if that makes sense).

    2004-05 Mazda6 5-door with the 4-banger and a 5-speed manual.

    Practical (like the wagon features you loved), can be had for the high end of your price range (people don’t like manuals or hatchbacks) and in that particular configuration, as reliable as the sunrise.

    Mazda6 parts for the mechanicals aren’t hard to find and the car isn’t a nightmare to self wrench. The hard part will be finding one in this particular configuration – but they are out there.

  • avatar
    groland

    I would recommend anyone with back problems look to Volvo and BMW cars. We bought a 1995 Volvo 850 and the dealer said that for the design of the seats, Volvo consulted orthopedics professionals and the seats gave amazing back support for the life of the car. My current car, a 2011 BMW 3 series with sport seats has incredibly comfortable seats, configurable in almost every dimension with power seat option.

    It’s not just about the suspension, but also the quality of the seats!

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      The 850 is the very car that got Volvo sold to Ford, good seats but they rip easily, the car around those seats will cost a good sum to keep going should the CEL light trigger.

  • avatar
    Bad Driver

    Chevy Impala. Roomy interior, decent gas mileage, rock solid reliability. Plenty to choose from at low prices. Stay away from anything premium, Toyotas and Hondas as those are going to be old and overpriced.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    All of the expressed opinions and solutions are great in that they apply to the commentator’s experience and needs. A salvage title SAAB is a good investment if you get it for 5% of wholesale and are able to maintain a $5000 rental and deposit fund with your savings. I think the opinions about the school loans are specious and mean spirited and ultimately not on topic. But, I cannot help but ask what people are thinking when they sign up for a $15,000 “degree” program that takes nine months and all you have is medical coding knowledge? In the 400 years of American post core education, do people really think the “University” of Phoenix has found the holy grail of compressed educational technique? And what about the dismal employment rates these companies have? Does every 18 year old believe he/she is the exception? I am genuinely curious, not trying to denigrate anyone.

  • avatar
    kit4

    1987-1991 Camry in wagon if that’s what you want. Bulletproof.

  • avatar
    pbxtech

    Buy an older LaSabre with the 3800 in it. You will save the extra gas money on insurance. No matter what you do, especially with bad credit, check with your insurance agent. Keep in mind old Buicks are invisible to law enforcement.

  • avatar
    DougD

    Well, I’ll put in a word for Gen1 Focus with a 5-Speed and a Zetec twin-cam motor. These cars are usually killed by rust, auto trans failure or a dropped valve seat. Rust probably isn’t much of an issue in your neck of the woods, and the Zetec motor isn’t known for dropping valve seats.

    We bought our 2001 ZTS in 2003, and although many of my co-workers drive new German cars I arrive at work just as happy in the Focus. Or maybe happier because I haven’t had a car payment in 10 years. It’s a bit needier now but the junkyards are full of them, it’s still reliable, comfortable, and at this point it’s basically free.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Is there a GM 3800 with a hatch?
    I like the Vibe suggestion, but only if it’s salt free.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Oh oh!

    Can the Rondo or i30 be had at this price level? I always fancied the i30.

  • avatar
    Dann

    I’d go a for a maintained, relatively low mileage example of one the following:

    Late 1st gen RAV4
    XV20 Camry (either the 4 or V6)
    1st gen Avalon
    2001-2010 Elantra
    2006-2010 Sonata (either the 4 or V6)
    A32 or A33 Maxima

    Hardly exciting propositions and getting a bit long in the tooth, but their reliability is solid.

  • avatar
    MWolf

    I vote something 3800-ish. You can get them cheap, they are reliable (short of the intake gaskets on some models because of Dexcool, but feel free to swap that crap out for regular old green coolant), and they came in several different vehicles. Finding one that floats your boat should be easy. GM might not be perfect, but that was a good engine. Parts galore in any salvage yard if you get a more popular model with a 3800 in it.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Getting back to smallish, affordable, used hatchback/wagons, the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix are great, but there don’t seem to be that many left around.

    The already mentioned Ford Focus Wagon or ZX5 Hatchback are certainly worth considering, as well as the:

    Dodge Caliber
    Hyundai Elantra Touring
    Kia Rondo (It looks like it was styled by cartoonists from “The Simpsons,” not that that’s a bad thing.)

    The real underdog that David should consider is the Chrysler PT Cruiser. (Especially in brown, if you can find one.) The retro-styling hasn’t aged especially well, but it does stand out. Where I live, the PT Cruiser was especially popular with senior citizens who liked, and related to, its retro-styling, as well as its fairly high seating position. It’s a classic “grandma car.”

    There are now quite a few well-maintained, low mileage PT Cruisers turning up in turning on Craigslist and in newspaper classified ads offered by senior citizens who have come to realize that they can’t (safely) drive anymore; and also by family members looking to sell Grandma or Grandpa’s old car after he or she has exited onto that Interstate in the sky.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    If ever the answer was Panther this is it. Now it is going to vary from area to area but in my area you can get a good P71 for $1000-$3000. It all depends of course on the year miles and condition. It also varies a lot by the venue. Exactly how they are equipped also varies by agency.

    Black and whites are the cheapest, all white in the middle and ones in a color are the most expensive.

    My last purchases.

    03 62K $500 no wiper assembly vinyl rear seat, excessive adhesive residue, twin spots, poor tires. All said with some like new used winter tires tires tax license the missing wiper components along with the components to make the rear doors operate from the inside and I’m into it for $1100, so far 19k miles have been put on it with only oil changes though it will need brakes soon. Now my Daughter’s college car.

    05 104K $1250 5 brand new tires, new brakes, vinyl rear seat, some adhesive residue, push bar, inactive rear doors. The 5 brand new tires went to my Daughter’s car. I put some used Mustang 17″ tires and wheels on it. All in $1850, but my daughter’s car got 5 new tires to go with the winter tires. My brother bought from me for his girlfriend’s son. I put 7K on it and did one oil change.

    05 105K $1500 Unmarked, vinyl rear seat, active doors, never had a cage or light bar, tinted, tires 75% twin spots and a push bar. All in $1750.

    In the earlier cars the side air bags are optional but the later cars had them standard.

    For minimal use the mpg penalty will not be that and they are cheap to fix, have tons of forum support.

    There is no newer car that you know was maintained well, doesn’t have a salvage title, excessive mileage ect. Find all the auctions that sell them in your area and watch what they sell for while you save up your money. That way you’ll get a feel for what is available at the different places and what the prices usually run at that particular venue.

    Around here there are 5 main venues. 3 private yards that take consignments from local agencies that have continuous or monthly sales, the county holds their own twice a year, and the state and many smaller agencies use PublicSurplus.com.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      A little larger than he wants Eric, (actually I guess he likes LTCs also)but I was feeling much the same way about my 2nd hand 4runner. Steve Lang has that data base on long lasting vehicles and the 4runner is in the top ten. In two years I have only replaced a broken speedometer cable. Planning on keeping it as long as I can. Thinking back, being a 5 passenger is about the only place it falls short.

  • avatar
    matador

    Scoutdude has left a lot of great advice on my thread. My needs are a little different, but I received a lot of great advice for a similar price range.

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/11/junkyard-find-1965-ford-thunderbird-landau-hardtop-coupe/#comment-6743649

    I’d read through that thread. There’s a ton of good stuff in there!

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Ford Taurus Wagon. Good: Cheap to buy, cheap to run, parts are easy to get, third row seat, seats 5 in the first two rows, roomy. Bad: ugly, mediocre fuel economy.

    I found an ’02 with 25k miles on it from an old lady two years ago. I paid $4,500 but the car was spotless, loaded (SEL model with leather) and even had new tires. My only repair to date has been new tailgate lifts, those hydraulic rods that hold up the hatch. $14 for a pair on eBay.

    I don’t love it, but in the wants vs needs equation, it’s a winner.

    Keep an eye on Craigslist for something with low miles and maintenance records. At this price point, you’re buying the previous owner, not the model of the car. Don’t buy from a dealer because you don’t know who had it and how they treated it.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I vote ovoid Taurus (early 200s), or something 3800 on the GM side.

  • avatar
    packardhell1

    I have to suggest a minivan. Go for one with a good service history. I just bought a 2004 Odyssey, excellent service history, new tires/brakes, leather, and is in good condition for $2,600. It does have 208k on the odometer but it runs and drives wonderfully. C’mon, what friends wouldn’t be impressed with dual sliding power doors and a magic seat? It can fit a bike inside and has a hitch to fit a bike rack.

    We also have a 1998 Caravan. It was only $1,800 last year and is more of a beater. However, the A/C works, it averages 20 MPG with the 3.8, and it is so ugly with peeling clear coat that NOBODY will want to steal it. It has been easy to work on and parts are crazy cheap/plentiful.

  • avatar
    Blaz

    2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring Hatchback – nice and cheap, resembles his former car.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • akear: This is one of the few new vehicles GM has not screwed up. I just wince when I see a GM pickup truck drive by....
  • akear: Yet another American icon falls. I thought America was suppose to be good at making trucks.
  • DenverMike: Actually, unlike normal SuperCabs, the Raptor SCab has the 5.5 ft bed, same as the SuperCrew. But the...
  • RHD: Try a Toyota 4Runner. You can’t fix it with a screwdriver and a sledge hammer in the middle of a swamp,...
  • ajla: When did they say that? Shelby, Roush and Saleen all offer hopped-up F-150s right now. The Shelby and Saleen...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber