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A good used car

What would be a good used car, about a 2005 or so, for a graduating college student who is going on to graduate school? Our old 1997 LeSabre that he was driving back and forth to college just died. We want something good on gas and reliable that will last for five or six years or more.

You didn’t give a budget, so there are lots of possibles. Buying a used car is a shot in the dark so the more you know about the subject car the better. A car with complete service records and history is ideal.

You could look at small cars that are for sale by rental companies; Enterprise, Hertz, etc. Usually they are maintained (oil changes etc.) dependably and you can get a newer car for a decent price.

For example, a Dodge Caliper isn’t that great a car, but it works and lots of rental companies bought them and they resell them at pretty attractive low prices. You could get a 2 year old Caliper likely for less than a 5 year old Camry and the Caliper would have about 1/2 the miles racked up. The Caliper has seats that fold down and can hold the stuff needed to move in and out of dorms and apartments while still in school.

My advice then is to check out cars being sold by rental car companies. Whatever car you choose have an independant mechanic inspect it before you finalize the sale.

Oops - sorry about that. We want to stay between $7,000 and $8,000.

You did not bother to tell us your preferred price range, but…based on the “reliable used car recommendations” in the most recent issue of Consumer Reports, coupled with your requirement for good gas mileage, here are some recommendations in the $8k-$10k price range:

'05 Buick LeSabre
’05 Ford Crown Victoria
’07 Ford Focus
’07 Ford Taurus
’05 Honda Civic
’04-'05 Civic Hybrid
’03 Honda CR-V
’03-'04 Honda Accord
’06 Hyundai Sonata (4 cylinder)
'08 Hyundai Accent
’07 Kia Optima
’04-'05 Mazda 3
’05 Mazda 6 (4 cylinder)
'03 Nissan Altima
’05-'06 Pontiac Vibe
’05 Scion tC
’06 Scion xA
’05 Scion xB
’05 Subaru Impreza
’04 Toyota Celica
’05 Toyota Corolla
’04 Toyota Prius
’07 Toyota Yaris

However, no matter how reliable these vehicles are historically, you need to have any prospective used car purchase inspected by your own mechanic in order to verify its condition prior to purchase. And, since many of these cars use timing belts that need to be replaced at ~105k miles or 8 years (whichever comes first), you should try to focus on getting maintenance records for any of these cars–but especially for one approaching 100k miles.

At this price point you might be looking at older cars than 2005, or higher mileage cars. Hold back some money in reserve for repairs and stuff like new struts, brakes, and tires. Many used cars need about $2,000 in work not long after you buy them.

One item is the timing belt which is about $700 to replace. Many cars use them and they need changing at anywhere from 60K to 110K miles or 7 to 8 years whichever comes first depending on the manufacturer. So any car with 60K or more miles you need to know if and when the timing belt has been changed, or when it is due for a change. Failure to change a belt could result in a completely ruined motor if it breaks.

That is just insane advice. I worked for a rental car company and would NEVER buy a car that came from there. Sure, the fluids are changed, but that doesn’t mean the car has been “maintained”, or that constant abuse will not lead to shorter life. DO NOT buy any of these–EVER.
Besides, it is Dodge Caliber, not Caliper.

Used small pick up trucks are an option you dont mention. The advantages are that they are generally simpler to maintain. If he is single and does not carry passengers very often or very many it can be a good way to go. ford now makes very relialbe and good quality small trucks, and has done for about 15 years. Toyota used to, but not so much lately because of market saturation and other things. I would still avoid small chevys. Nissan used to make great small trucks.

One consideration might be whether there is a dealer in the town where your son is going to graduate school if certain parts are needed that aren’t available in the auto parts places. I had a 1965 Rambler when I went to graduate school for the second time. The town didn’t have a Rambler dealer. I had to have the manual transmission rebuilt due to a broken snap ring on one of the synchronizers. The car was out of service for a week while the parts were sent by bus from a Rambler agency in another city. In the college city of 60,000 where I teach, there is no VW or Mazda dealership.

Choosing a car for a graduate student today is much more complicated than it was in my time period. In the early 1960’s the car of choice was a Volkswagen Beetle (I couldn’t afford one–I had a $75 Pontiac and then moved up to a 1954 Buick). In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the VW Beetle was still the vehicle of choice for graduate students. However, I was driving a Rambler. Chrysler’s marketing department should have figured out how to have made the Neon a cool car for college students, but Chrysler missed the boat on this one.

Here we go again; number one choice for me is a used Ford Focus…the cheapest decent car, with parts availability anywhere, you can buy IMO. Bet there are lots around to shop from.

I think you have something there. Maybe for this generation of college students, the Ford Focus will replace the VW Beetle of the students of my generation.

Well, when I was an undergrad I had a '71 Nova. My dad could always keep my car running. He would tune it up and could do brakes, exhaust, tires, and everything. That car could do 110 MPH on a straight-away and it only had a 283 with a 2bbl carb and a regular power-glide automatic transmission in it. Sadly, I married a city kid with no mechanical wherewithal and we’ve always bought new cars. The '97 LeSabre was a beautiful car when it was new, but the boys beat it TO DEATH! I’m still mourning its loss. That was the best-riding car I’ve ever owned. It’s very sad to see it gone.

Yep…in the list that VDC graciously provided, in the 8-10K range, you can get a 2007, as new as any other car except Kia and Yaris and is rated higher than either by CR…Taurus would be OK but reliability hasn’t been as good…You’re right, the “new” VW Beetle.

While the norm would be to recommend Honda/Toyota, those cars will yield higher mileage or older model years over their domestic counterparts.
Cavalier/Cobalt(they switched in 05), Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra. If you’re looking for a bigger car, a Crown Victoria/Sable is a good choice, as is an Impala or Malibu.

I’d avoid the 2007 Taurus simply because they were only sold to fleet customers and built in a factory by workers who already knew they were losing their jobs. It’s also the only Taurus model year in recent history that really actually deserves the “not as good” reliability stigma… Even then it wasn’t terrible, but the earlier ones and later ones were all actually very reliable vehicles.

In the $10k price range, though, you can now pick up some Fusions used. The list prices online are all too high, but there are a lot of dealers putting the 06s down at $11,000 or so with reasonable mileage. One local used dealer lists an 08 with 129,000 miles for $8k.

I’d hate to imagine what would lead someone to drive a car that much. But you’re fairly safe in assuming those are highway miles!

Ford Focus. Best bang for the buck in used cars. Reliable, and cheap to maintain. Even cheaper if you can drive a stick shift.