A good used car in the $5K range

I saw Tom & Ray’s list of the 10 cars they hate…because they rarely need maintenance. What I want to know is how concerned should I be about vehicles that have 100-150K of miles on them? Any car in the $5K range will be around 9-10 years old and likely to be high-mileage…or has the definition of high mileage gone up along with gas prices? Thoughts? Opinions (informed or otherwise)?

Always a concern as you are completely dependent upon the the driving habits and prior maintenance of the previous owner. Most cars have plenty of life left. Our kids when starting out bought used Accords with 100k and had little trouble getting another 50 to 100k miles out of them. Corollas gave us the same service when bought new and subsequent owners we sold them to easily past 200k. But, they got well maintained cars. So it’s a combination of the two factors, reliable cars and good maintenance.

Your biggest concerns will not be motor and transmission repair. It will things like AC, power locks and windows etc. They cost lots to repair so getting basic models W/O some of these options helps. Failing power windows in the winter on an old car whose parts are hard to find can be tough. The other big concern is body rust if you live in the salt belt. Inspect diligently for that before you buy.

You have now entered the junker stage as these older cars age. Keep a supply of duct tape and know the local inspection laws with a good independent mechanic you can trust as on call.

I feel a need to correct you, DJD. Every car needs frequent maintenance. Tom and Ray dislike those cars because they rarely need to be repaired.

Keeping any car reliable means doing more than just oil changes, and even the most reliable car, if neglected, ban turn into a large money pit.

T&R would have been more accurate to say that they hate those cars because they rarely need repairs. The word “maintenance” was inaccurate. All vehicles need maintenance. And, typically, the ones still being used as daily drivers at 300,000 miles have had a lot more of it than those that are not.

Yeah, the term “high mileage” has definitely changed in its meaning. In the '60s “high mileage” meant APPROACHING 100,000 miles. Now high mileage means over 200,000 miles. Some would say that it means even more miles that that.

There are 5 things that contribute to a vehicle lasting a long time.
One is good design.
Two is good manufacture.
Three is good and routine maintenance.
Four is not having been abused.
Five is that when something DOES break, it gets fixed immediately.

The first two can be determined with some confidence by looking at teh comparisons in consumer rating magazines with reliability rating. Consumer Reports is perhaps the most commonly used.

Three four and five is up to you. I ran into a neighbor recently who has a blown headgasket on a Toyota Echo. When he told me I said “overheated it, did you?”. He admitted that he had. Over and over and over. And he kept on driving it. Now the engine is toast. It’s already started seizing at the bearings, although it’s not seized solid yet. Had he gotten the problem repaired immediately, the car would no doubt have many years of good use left.

Try to find something on the simple end of the spectrum that has been well maintained. If the owner has all the receipts for maintenance and repairs, that’s a great first step. It will allow you to see when the fluids were changed and decide how well it was maintained. If it has a timing belt, the receipts will tell you when and if it was replaced. The age and mileage you are considering might indicate a belt change soon. Unpopular cars also plummet in value more quickly. You can find a 2004/2005 Chevy Cavalier LS sedan for about $5000, even with less than 100,000 miles on it - and an auto transmission.