So I Have To Buy A New Car - Help!

My old car, a hand-me-down from my folks, has finally died. It’s time to go buy a new car, which I’ve never done before. (Note: when I say “new” I mean “new to me.” It could be a little used. Not too used tho.)

So I’m looking for a car roughly around the size of a Civic sedan. Cavalier? I dunno. Anyway, it does have to be a sedan - I will not drive a van or SUV, and that’s my only style limitation. The only options it absolutely must have are air conditioning and automatic transmission. My priorities in purchasing a car are

  1. Safety
  2. Reliability
  3. Price

I’ll buy any model. GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, Suzuki, Saturn, you name it. Maybe not a Kia.

I need recommendations:

  1. Based on my basic criteria, does anyone know any cars that might fit the bill?

  2. Does anyone have any direct experience with some vehicles like these?

  3. Any tips on buying cars?

Yes. See my post earlier today.!!!

Take it from me take along a mechanic. Or buy at a garage with a warranty.

Someone must have see me coming


Hey Rick. A couple of good choices for you might be:

Ford Focus (there’s a four door sedan as well as two and four door hatchbacks)

Saturn SL series

Toyota Corolla

Honda Civic

Nissan Altima

If you don’t want to spend the bucks for a new car, look for a certified used car from a dealer for the make you’re shopping for. They’re usually in pretty good shape, they come with a warranty, and the prices are usually pretty good.

Good luck and let us know what you find.


Civic owner/lover here. I’ve got a 4 year old Civic Coupe (bought it new), it’s got over 80,000 miles and I have had absolutely zero trouble with the thing. It is as reliable a car as I have ever owned, with 100% reliability over the time that I have owned it. If you want reliability, it’s tough to beat a Honda.

The Coupe is very tight on rear seat space, but the Sedan has more headroom, I have a friend with one, and find the back seat A-OK (I’m 5’11").

Thing is, the Honda’s tend to be pricier for the overall size, power, and features of the car, even used. I personally think it is more than worth it, considering the number of failures I’ve heard of from friends with their cars.

You also might want to check out buying a slightly used card form a car rental place. We bought a 2000 Mazda 626 from Enterprise Rent-a-car last year that had 10,000 miles on it. We got the balance of the new car warranty and they (Enterprise) fixed a couple of things we found wrong with the car at their cost. Major stuff too, a ball joint (IIRC) and a new rear window. Their cars will (I think) always have automatic trannys and air. They will also have the smallest available engine, however. Anyway, we didn’t get a great bargain, but we got a decent used car at a pretty fair price. As always caveat emptor.

BTW, their dorky commercials aside, Mazda makes pretty good cars.

Second. You simply cannot go wrong with a Corolla.

I have a 2000 SL2, which I’m very fond of. I think I ended up getting the best car in that price range. It definitely covers the three bullets in the OP (Safety, Reliability, Price).

It does give up some style points to other cars, but is very reliable (thus far) and fun to drive.

If this is a first-time buying decision, the people at Saturn (in my experience) are top-notch to work with. They really never pressured me at any point, and gave me a haggle-free experience (due to the no-haggle sticker price).

General car guy here…I love giving car advice :smiley:

Here’s my opinion on a variety of cars in the smaller-sedan category:

Toyota Corolla: Great reputation (don’t worry about the engine failure problems on the Camrys and Siennas, that’s a different engine), all-new 2003 model is available now, plenty of features, should last a long time. Cons include relatively high price.

Toyota Echo: Slightly smaller than the Corolla, probably equally reliable, and a few $1000s cheaper. If you like Toyotas and you want a true budget model, this is it. Cons: Some think it’s ugly, maybe a little small.

Honda Civic: Great reputation, easy ordering (no stinking option packages!). Cons: Relatively high price.

Hyundai Elantra: Very low price for its size and feature content. Questionable reputation, but it’s getting great reviews from all the car magazines and such. Worth looking at.

Ford Focus: Known for its sporty handling and “European” design. Prices are reasonable, not the lowest or highest in the class. Cons include questionable quality/reliability.

Suzuki Esteem: A decent vehicle. Reliable, but nothing special. 2002 is its last model year, so you can probably get them cheap.

Suzuki Aerio: New for 2002, will replace the Esteem, which is being phased out. Getting good reviews, expect reasonably good reliability. Has the Focus/Echo “tall sedan” look that some think is ugly.

Kia Spectra: Probably not as bad as people think, but not best in class, either. Very low price and reasonably high content. Expect slightly below average quality/reliability; maybe you’ll get a good one and be pleasantly surprised.

Dodge Neon: An average choice. Low price, especially now that Chrysler Group is offering huge incentives. Nicely styled, in most people’s opinion. Not a particularly powerful or sporty car, but you may not care about that. Chrysler reliability is still a little questionable.

Chevy Cavalier: You probably don’t want one of these. Price is low and feature content is decent, but it’s basically a brand new 1982 model. Good if you like simple vehicles and you want to do your own maintenance and repairs, but if you want refinement and modernity, this isn’t it.

Pontiac Sunfire: Basically the same car as the Cavalier. It has a little more going for it (more features, sportier styling), but still not a great car.

VW Jetta: A fairly large compact car. Decent feature content, but high price. Initial quality is good, but expect only average long-term reliability.

Mitsubishi Lancer: New for 2002. A better car than the previous Mirage; worth looking at. Particularly good safety ratings. Price is a little high if you want all the features. Mitsu reliability is good, but not as good as other Japanese makes.

Mazda Protege: Known for sporty handling. More powerful 2.0L engine is standard on all Proteges for 2002. A fairly old design underneath, so it may seem a little rough, but supposedly a fun car to drive.

Nissan Sentra: One of the most boring-looking cars in this class, but at least it’s not ugly. Quality should be good; price is reasonable. Particularly annoying option package configuration (all Nissans have this problem).

I think that covers just about all the possibilities. Good luck.

-Andrew L

Oops, I forgot to talk about Saturn. I don’t really recommend the 2002 S-Series, only because the all-new 2003 ION, which will be replacing the S-Series, looks like it’s going to be a great car. If you buy an S-Series now, you’ll kick yourself when you see the ION! But if you’re willing to take that risk, the S-Series is definitely a good choice in terms of customer service and buying experience, and has decent reliability. Just expect 1991 levels of refinement, because that’s when the S was introduced and it hasn’t changed much since.

-Andrew L

As a former service advisor for a Chrysler dealership, IMHO, do NOT buy a neon. New or old. Trust me on this, you do not need the problems these cars have.

Ever seen <i>“The Money Pit”</i> a house, I know, but you get the idea!

Thanks for your help, everyone. njufoic, a lot of your assessments were bang on.

I ended up getting a pretty good lease deal on a Hyundai Elantra VE. Hell of a little car; all the options and decent pickup. The test drive impressed me. It’s comfortable for a car its size, handles well, and went nicely on a freeway (conveniently, the 403 is just a minute from the dealership.) Fast brakes seemed very good and controllable, and the automatic tranny shifted pretty well getting onto the highway. The 2.0L/140HP engine will make business travel a little easier on the car. I spoke to their maintenance department and got a feel for the customer service I’d receive, and figured I’d try it. It helped that they threw in a sunroof and had the best financing rates of the dealers we looked at.

I’ll tell you one thing; I’m glad I researched. I also brought Mrs. RickJay and my Dad with me, and team buying helps.

The Corolla was nice but overpriced and had no options; no power windows, locks, or cruise, which sort of blows. With the options I wanted it was way too pricey. I was disappointed by the Civic, which had more options than the Corolla but was WAY less comfortable than I had expected and had a wimpy engine. The seat was too small and the panel on the driver’s side door extrudes into the cabin and bumps against your left leg. The Chevy dealership was terrible, so screw them, and the Nissans were too pricey.

The car that shocked me was the Echo. If you actually put all the reasonable options on it it’s expensive as hell and you’re still driving a car that looks like the lead character in a children’s picture book called “Cuthbert the Car Saves the Day!” I don’t really care about having a stylish car, but I have my limits.

Anyway, I’ll run an update of my First New Car experiences.

Good luck with the Elantra. I think it will be a good car. The Edmunds car review people have been long-term-testing an Elantra for about a year, and have almost no complaints. I’ve been telling people for years that Hyundai would one day become a respectable manufacturer, and I think that has finally happened.

-Andrew L

I like for research on pricing. Customer Reports magazine is excellent. is great for a VIN nbr search.