Buying a new car – Opinions & Suggestions are welcome!

Backstory: A trip to the Quicky Lube place led to the discovery of an oil leak in my 1996 pickup truck engine. First place I took it too said the leak was too extensive and wouldn’t work on it at all. They suggested some repairs that would cost about $1500. The second place I took it to said “No problem – we can fix it for about $2K. I then took it to my trusted mechanic and he said that it would cost approx $2K to fix it all up. Without repairs, the vehicle has about a year left, he says. He also offered to buy it for $2K. I’m already at my stop-loss point with this vehicle. A few years ago, I paid $2K for it, and I’ve already put at least that much back into in for miscellaneous repairs. I figure this is the time to look for a break-even point.

SO: Long story short, I’ve decided to buy another vehicle. This has actually been the plan for about a year now, so I’ve been preparing. My driving history is clear, I’ve been pre-approved for a loan from the credit union, and I’ve managed to pay off two semi-large debts this year. A quick run of the numbers and I know what I can afford. My max is $20K but would like to see how much under that I can go and still be happy.

So I’d like to ask for suggestions. I’m looking for value and safety more over aesthetics or features (don’t need back up cameras and baby proofing stuff and rear-seat DVDs). I’m not especially focused on getting a brand new car, but shooting for not more than 6 years old. Looking for a good bargain with some longevity. A co-worker sells used cars on the side, so he’s giving me all sorts of good pointers. He says stay away from Ford (due to maintenance issues) and he prefers Mazda, as confirmed in this thread. Another friend swears she will drive a Toyota until the day she dies because they’re tough to kill, but admits that’s all she’s ever driven. Something that I can keep for a good long time as long as I am regular on the maintenance and upkeep. I’m not rough on cars – I’m a pretty cautious driver. I’ve always heard good things about Honda, and their resale value is usually pretty high. I’m even considering buying from a rental fleet, because I know they get serviced on a regular basis. Anything seriously sporty is right out – I’m thinking Camry or Civic, not a Camaro or Challenger. Also, no SUVs. Just a simple basic sedan.

So what do y’all think? I’d like to hear about brand loyalties, stories of your best vehicle, lemons to stay away from, all that. Years ago, I know Hyundai used to be a joke, but they’ve really stepped up their production over the years. I’ve never known anybody who actually liked Mustangs who were over 30 years old. I’d like to take my time with this decision, but I would really like to drive away sometime before July.


Two most important questions to ask: Where is the spare, and how to change the headlights.
Some cars now come without spares. Really?

Other car designs have removing the car nose as the first step for bulb replacement. What part of “I don’t think so” comes to mind?

Stuff like this is info I need to know. Somebody in the other thread mentioned headlights not just burning out, but melting. The biggest problem with the oil repair is that the mechanic says it’s not so much the leak, but that he would have to pull out the entire engine to get to the right section of the engine block to do the fix. He said it’s a design flaw from the early years of this model. He’s not the first person to tell me this.

Stuff like this is what I want to avoid. I don’t want to have a great car for 5 years and then find out I’ll have to drop the transmission just to fix the spark plugs. (I know, ludicrous example, but that’s where I’m going) My parents had a Ford Pinto back in the day,and while I’m not expecting anything that dangerous, I’d just like to try to be informed.

More backstory: I haven’t had to purchase a vehicle since 1994. I bought a brand new Saturn when they were hot, and sold it later on when I figured out I didn’t need to drive anymore. So I haven’t paid attention to any trends in cars or safety features for years. Call me a rookie.

I have to ask; were you noticeably losing/burning oil before the quicky-lube told you that you have an oil leak? The reason I ask, is that oil leaks may be very hard and costly to repair, but still not be very serious. Do you have an oil puddle in your garage or driveway every night? Are you continually putting oil in because you’re fumigating the neighborhood with smoke as you drive buy?

I mean, it might cost you $2000 bucks to fix the oil leak, but if the leak isn’t very big, why not just keep it topped off and keep going? A quart of oil every 2-3 months is extraordinarily cheap relative to buying a new vehicle, or even getting the leak fixed. Plus, you could save the balance relative to a monthly car note and have a bigger down payment when you do end up having to pull the trigger and buy a new vehicle.
If you’re convinced that you should get another vehicle, I’d take your current one by Carmax for their estimate; they’ll buy it for that price, so you have a set floor that you know you can get for it.

Good advice from bump. How long can you still drive your truck, and how much oil does it consume or leak?

If you do want to buy a car, I’d say you are most likely looking at used if you want to stay well under $20k. My advice for buying used: do not buy a Honda, Toyota or Subaru. Yes, they are good, reliable brands. But they hold their values too well to buy used, and there isn’t enough of a discount to buy one that is used. Instead, look at Mazda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia and Ford. I don’t like VW, GM or Chrysler vehicles, which is why I didn’t include them. If you want a good sedan, look at Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima or Ford Fusion that are two or three years old.

How many people it needs to carry? Do you need something Civic sized or Accord sized? Where are you going to be driving it? In the city, the suburbs, or a rural area?

I have a Mazda6 that I’m happy with although it is a pain in the butt to parallel park. I would consider a Hyundai just for the warranty.

If you’re buying a relatively new used car, the trouble with brands like Honda and Toyota is that because they do hold their value so well they’re not great buys used. There certainly was a time when that big depreciation difference might have been justified by quality and longevity, but those days are long gone. There’s very few genuinely bad cars sold today, and the difference between the best-of-the-best (which Honda and Toyota perhaps still are) and the other mainstream brands is minuscule.

A good resource is if you can get onto the Consumer Reports used car guide. My local library lets you log in with your library card number. Though like I said above, it won’t really narrow things down much. I’ll identify the few stinkers out there, but most cars are basically close enough to each other that reliability isn’t really a decisive factor. You just have to go put your butt in seats to see which ones you like.

You can always go to a junkyard and buy a wheel and put a used tire on it. I have done this with my last few cars that came with donut spares. You can buy a jack at Walmart for about $20, and it will be better than any jack the car might have come with. Make sure the trunk is big enough, though.

I have worked in a couple of garages, and European cars are often very difficult to work on, so if you buy a European car, plan on taking it to a make-specific garage, otherwise they won’t have parts in stock, it will take a long time, and basically, the mechanics will *dislike *working on it, which may lead to slightly sloppy work even if they don’t mean to do it.

Oh, if you buy a used car, take it to a mechanic and get it looked at. Even if they charge a fee, it’s worth it-- don’t think of it as money invested in that particular car, think of it as money invested in the car you eventually buy

The thread you referenced was mine. Believe me I’ve done a lot of research on this. Mostly I look at Kelly Blue book and Motor Trend reviews. And Consumer Reports. I have a subscription so if you want to know how any particular models are rated, I can look it up and tell you.

First question IMO is size. For a compact sedan, you best choices are the Mazda3, Honda Civic, or the Subaru Impreza. Another up and comer is the Chevy Cruz. I picked the Mazda because I liked the way it felt driving best. The downside is that its interior, particularly the back seat is a bit more cramped. Also, it has a relatively small trunk. On the plus side, I have fit 4 pretty big passengers in it, and all their carry on luggage fit into my trunk. The Civic is a smoother and quieter ride with more interior space.

Mid-sized sedan? Chevy Impala, Mazda6 and Toyota Camry.

What else might you looking for? A roadster-- the new Mazda Miyata kicks everything else’s ass.
There are s few choices for small SUVs/crossovers. Mostly Mazdas and Subarus.

If you don’t have any sort of car in mind, get a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic. They are generally cheap to drive and maintain.

I’m looking for myself right now also, and I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen about the Hyundai Elantra circa 2012ish. There’s a hatchback version they did for a bit called Elantra Touring that’s running about 10-13K in my part of the US, and I’m partial to station wagons. A quick check shows a normal Elantra at about 9-11 depending on miles.

But if you are able to go a higher in price, or to look for something a bit older, I second the suggestions for a Subaru or a Civic or Camry. All of those are cars that I have owned or driven for a LOOONG time in my life before, and would absolutely in a heartbeat buy a good one, but I want something less than 5 years old, and the ones around here are all out of my price range when they’re still that young. :frowning:

Buy New. Buy a Honda Fit. Hondas are very reliable.

There ya go.

Seriously, OP, are you looking more for a fun driving experience, or a reliable workhorse? That’s not to say a fun to drive car can’t also be reliable, but there are more practical choices to consider for workhorses.

A lot of people around here seem to agree with you. I see a bunch of them around here every time I drive. The other car that seems to be everywhere is the Prius. Nobody buys it for fun, though. Somebody told me that Priuses sell here more per capita than any other city in the US – no idea if this is true.

Oh yeah, for a wild card, how about a Tesla S? Ok it’s a hundred grand, but you’ll never pay a penny for fuel so long as you own it and Tesla doesn’t go bankrupt. Recharging at their stations is free, and the performance is just crazy good. For fun, test drive one even if you have no plan to buy one. I did, and it was great fun.

My completely unbiased advice as an owner of a Honda Fit is to buy one, new. You mentioned that you were considering used cars up to six years old. But the technology changes so quickly that I think you’re better off and safer in a new car. And you can get a new Fit, fully equipped, for about $20,000.

Thanks to all for the responses.

Bump: You asked if the oil leak is serious. Not so much, but the mechanics all say it is consistent. I found out about it the first time I had the vehicle serviced, but at that time they were suggesting much more than $2K worth of work at that time, so I dismissed all of it as just signs of vehicle age. It’s not crippling, but I do have to keep an eye on it and top it off every once in a while. And it’s not just the oil. There are plenty of other little issues (A/C leak, speakers on right side clip in and out, some electrical thing with the wipers, and more). Little stuff, but put it all together and I think it’s just about time for the big upgrade.

My trusted mechanic gave me a general estimate if I want to sell it to him, and he’s made me a great offer to put any vehicle I might consider buying up on a lift and check it out for me. Like I said, he’s a good guy. I’ve got an appointment at Carmax later today to have them give me another option, and it’ll give me a chance to walk around and putt this butt in a few seats. Just to get a baseline for comfort.

Boyo Jim, it’s funny you mentioned the Impala. Yesterday, I saw two different mostly-new models in the parking lot. Just from walking around the outsides of both, I could tell the interiors were very different. Definitely need to do some back seat research as well on this. Bob knows I don’t want to be hearing gripes from the back seat all the way to the beach. I’m not a small dude and two of my friends are over 6’ tall, so I’m going for roomy versus compact.

Basically, this will be a daily commute vehicle. Just to and from work, daily groceries and what not - A single guy w/ buds type of vehicle, not a family taxi. I don’t usually take road trips. Maybe once a year, and even so, it’s usually a coin flip for who drives. Mainly city driving, not a lot of long road hauls. That’s why I’m looking at something with a more slender body rather than a hybrid or SUV type thing. Definitely not a big honkin’ truck like all the other Texas folks have. I’m not looking to navigate a Land Yacht through the parking garage at work. I am looking for comfort while driving, but I don’t need anything to help me practice my Fast and Furious drift moves.

Thanks again, everybody! I’m off to Carmax for that estimate. Keep y’all posted.

If it’s not too late: every Toyota I’ve ever driven or ridden in has hurt my back. Even the Prius I drive now (that has supposed lumbar support) hurts my back after about 20 miles. The Honda CR-V I owned was pretty comfortable.

Well, got a MUCH lower offer from Carmax than I thought. Glad to see I’m not in a rush.

But I did get a chance to wander the parking lot, sit in a lot of cars and kick a lot of tires, so to say. Lots of good options out there. Saw a lot of Nissans, which I did not consider earlier. Took a lot of pictures. Some good Hondas out there as well. I may begin to be swayed. Still lots of homework to do. I think tomorrow I may hang around a few dealerships just to snoop around.

Like I said, I don’t think I’ll be making my way to the final choice before the end of May So, there it goes.

A lot of smaller later-made cars forgo the spare in exchange for performance. A spare would provide weight needed for traction in winter, but you can also get that traction with a big bag of kitty litter.

My 2013 Kia Soul didn’t come with a spare, but a can of Fix-A-Flat.

There’s nothing stopping me from purchasing a donut and a 4-way jack and putting it in the space where the donut goes. Amazon sells a spare tire set for the Soul that starts IIRC around $100.