Help me buy a new car

Anyone reading the pit will know Santa gave me a totaled car for christmas. So it’s car shopping time. I’ve never bought a car before (I’m lucky enough to have inherited my old car from my parents) I know nothing about financing or what to look for beyond my basic needs. I think I would like to get a new car. My mind first shifts towards a Matrix…but my green heart would love a prius. I don’t know yet if I can afford upwards of 20000 for a car. I really want a hatchback though because I transport music gear all the time.

Any thoughts?

You mentioned the Prius, so allow me to evangelize a moment. If your price threshold is $20K, the Prius is probably not be the car for you, but I have almost nothing but positive things to say about the two that I’ve owned. It is a decently comfortable vehicle, and it has more room than you might expect. With the back seat folded down, there is a good amount of cargo room. It is not a rocket ship, but I have never been concerned about merging onto the highway safely or doing any maneuvers I might want to do in my generally conservative driving style.

The mileage will depend a great deal on the kind of driving you do and the way you drive. The first Prius I owned was driven about 90 miles a day, mostly on the interstate and county highways. Over 30,000 miles (before I was in a wreck and totalled it), I averaged just over 50 mpg (I kept track of every tank of gas; this is the actual number). After that wreck, I replaced that Prius with another one. I also switched jobs, so my wife now drives the Prius since she drives more miles. I have not figured the overall mileage recently, but I’d estimate the current mileage is somewhere around 45-48 mpg. The difference is probaby due to my wife’s commute, which involves more idling in traffic, and her driving style, which is more aggressive.

I do have a few complaints about the car. The visibility out the back is not great, and the beeping warning that starts when I put the car in reverse is freakin’ annoying. But overall, I like the car quite a lot.

I don’t have any quantitative data on safety, but when I wrecked the first car in a near-head-on at 65 mph, I walked away with just a dislocated rib. From a pure operating cost standpoint, you might be better off with a small, high-mileage car (maybe a Yaris or something), but as I mentioned above, the Prius is a larger car, which might be attractive to you if you’re hauling stuff. Also, I drive ours the 400 miles from Cincy to St. Louis every 6 weeks or so, and it’s pretty comfortable for that.

Anyway, if your pocketbook will accept it, I encourage you to take a look at the Prius. If I were buying a car today, I’d look very seriously at one, but I’d also look at the smaller high-mileage cars that are out there now. I haven’t looked at new cars for a couple of years, so I don’t know what else is available.

Best of luck in your search. I hope you find something that fits your needs and budget.

Frankly with that budget I would buy a slightly used car. If it’s only a few years old it will feel like a new car and you will get a much better deal.

For economy cars Hondas and Toyotas are consistently ranked very high.

How is it on the highway? I usually drive home twice a month, and it’s about 250km.

I really know nothing. How much MPG would my old 2000 Grand Am have gone?

If you are looking at the Matrix, I suggest the Pontiac Vibe. It comes off the same assembly line as the Matrix, NUMMI. But since it’s a GM and not Toyo, the prices are usually cheaper.

We looked at one here in Colorado, a 2009, for around $16,000.

Stay away from 2003 Vibes as that is the first year for making them.

Surbey has a 2004 and really likes it. He drove out here from NW Indiana in it and got pretty good mpg’s.

So far, the only problem he has had is the resistor went out in the fan motor.

Are you asking about the Prius? I’d say it’s about like any other mid-sized car on the highway. It’s more comfortable and spacious than our 96 Corolla, but it’s not the lap of luxury. It will happily cruise at 70 mph all day, and you can pass the folks you need to pass, but it’s certainly not a sporty car. When I make my 400-mile highway drives, I set the cruise at about 68-70 mph, and I usually get 48-49 mpg over the trip.

If environmental issues are a primary concern, you can take a look at something like the EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide, which will help you compare the vehicles that are available. Are you in Canada? The EPA site is based on cars with US emission controls. The Canadian equivalent of the EPA might have a similar guide.

I forgot to add that I just recently went looking for a newer car. I was told by two different transmission places to NOT buy a car with a CVT (continuously variable transmission).

When the CVT goes, it all goes and according to the shop it’s about $5000 to fix.

I’m leasing a 2008 Saturn Aura XE that I really, really like. It’s my third Saturn and runs like a dream. It won the North American Car & Driver best-car award last year. Saturn also has a customer-oriented, no-haggle policy that may appeal to you. Check 'em out.

Just bought a Nissan Versa Hatchback. The Versa Sedan is a couple of grand cheaper. 26/31 MPG.

Scion TC

I should probably add more of why that is my choice.

It’s a hatchback. It has TONS of space. The back seats are roomy, and can recline, or be folded down. The car is in your price range. It’s super comfortable in the driver seat. It’s pretty fast. Good gas mileage. Pretty sweet looking too. And it holds it’s value quite well.

The Scion TC is a nice looking car, and I almost bought one for my daughter a couple years ago. I ended getting a Honda Civic Coupe instead. The Civic gets better gas mileage and is known for its reliability.

Another one you might look at is the Honda Fit. It’s not as sporty looking, but it’s surprisingly spacious inside. My father sold his Porche and bought a Fit so he could have something to haul lumber in. is a great site to research vehicles to see reviews, specs, prices, etc. Once you find a vehicle you want and price it out with options and other fees (destination charge, tax, title, license) you can take that total over to Bankrates auto loan calculator to see what kind of monthly payment you’ll be looking at.
Typical auto loans are 48 months. If you can pay it off with a 36 month loan even better. If you’re looking at a 5 or 6 year loan in order to afford the payments I’d recommend looking at a cheaper car. The problems with a 5-6 year loan are two-fold: 1) You’re going to pay a LOT more for the car with the additional interest, and 2) You run the risk of going upside-down with the car (at some point you will owe more on the car than it’s worth).

After doing some reviews it seems the Civic does have some pretty good feedback. Probably the best bet but the 3 are all right around the same area. It’d just depend on what you really want…

The Civic seems to cover about everything. Good price, gas mileage, features, etc… After reviewing it it seems to probably be the best choice, so far. But as I said, just depends what you’re really looking for in a car. There is a lot to choose from.

Be sure to test drive everything you’re interested in also… make sure you’re REALLY comfortable in it, you don’t want to later find that you traded comfort for an extra 3mpg on gas. Some cars can be really great but you’d be amazed at how uncomfortable some can be. I test drove a Pontiac G6 once and that was the most uncomfortable car I’d ever been in. TC is by far the most comfortable drive I’ve had.

What do people think of the Honda fit? It seems to have a good track record, decent storage, and good mileage.

I wouldn’t base a whole lot of my buying decision on a car’s gas mileage.

Say you really like a Civic that gets 30mpg and sells for $20,000 however there is a Prius that gets 50mpg but sells for $24,000.

You run the math at 15,000 miles/year over 5 years with a gas price of $3/gal and you get a savings of about $3,000. Still not enough to cover the extra $4K you paid for the Prius.

My wife and I just bought a Saturn Astra a couple of months ago. We love it, and we’ve managed to fit some big stuff in it so far. For example, when we bought a 5 cubic foot chest freezer at Best Buy, all we had to do was fold down the back seats and it fit in the hatch, box and all.

I can’t recommend this car highly enough.