A new car

I need some new-to-me car buying advice! I commute about 20 mile each day, and I travel a lot–I may drive 4-5 hours away from home twice a month or more. I want a reliable car with decent gas mileage that’s not too expensive, but I have no idea where to start. Please help!

Consumer reports new car buying guide and used car buying guide are good sources of information. Not-too-expensive reliable cars include the Toyota Corolla, Honda Fit, and Hyundai Elantra

A budget would be a good place to start. Ford Fusion or Focus, Mazda 3 or 6, newer Chevy Malibu(05+ I think is when they got really good) or Cobalt, cavalier, prizm, Pontiac Vibe
The lower your budget(say less than $5000), the more maintenance is important than the badge of the car. Always have a car checked out by a mechanic before you buy the vehicle. If they won’t let you do that, then walk away.

Please consider a used Honda Accord or Toyota Camry from a Toyota/Honda dealer. I highly recommend them over smaller Corollas and Civics for people who spend lots of time in a car. The mileage is not quite as good but still very reasonable, and they are much more quiet, comfortable and comparable in price a year or two older. Float in one over a puddle jumper, and at least do yourself a favor and try one out. Best reliability used of ANY car in it’s class over the last ten years collectively. A little more $$$$, but you’re worth it.
Teachers deserve to treat themselves a little better than budget cars. The Accord especially, you can look forward to driving after dealing with those “little darlings” all day.

Look at 2 - 4 year-old Japanese cars – Honda, Nissan, Lexus, Infiniti, Toyota, Subaru, etc. The Hyundai Sonata is one of the best values in used cars these days. I would never recommend buying a new car (unless you won the lottery).


Whatever else you try on for size, also include a Subaru Legacy wagon.

What’s your budget? What kind of climate/weather? Hills or flat terrain?

Start with Japanese makes, but if you live in a state that uses road salt, watch for rust (they all had rust problems worse than US or German makes until at least the late 90s). It is difficult to go wrong with any of them.

If you’re looking to spend less than about 5 grand, don’t even bother with dealers, you are about 90 percent likely to get screwed. You’ll get screwed over 5 grand too, but the cheaper the car, proportionally the worse it’ll be.

Just look for anything you like in your price range in your area, and check Carsurvey.org to see what owners have said about it. If there’s more than about 1/4 frowny faces, cross it off your list.

I’ve seen 4 sources for reliability information: Consumer Reports, Edmunds.com, jdpower.com, and msnautos.com. They all seem to say the same thing, but in different ways. msnautos thinks just about every car is highly reliable, yet CR reserves that accolade fro only a few cars. The difference is in how they treat failure rate. CR only rates a car with top reliability if it has a 1% or less failure rate; the highly unreliable ones have a rate higher than 3%. msnautos seems to thing that 3% is just fine. edmunds.com takes it a step further by providing an estimate of the cost to own a car, including financing, depreciation, maintenance, repairs (reliability), and insurance over 5 years. msnautos shows the problem and estimates the cost to fix it if it occurs more than infrequently.

If you are willing to take the time to learn about the cars that fit your criteria, you can make a more informed decision. I’d start by looking at a car site like cars.com, kbb.com, vehix.com or edmunds.com to see what is available and what the price might be. This can narrow the list down. Then investigate reliability and mileage. When the list is small enough for you, start test driving cars.

Thanks for all the helpful advice!
I live in a hilly place, and we don’t get much snow. I put a lot of highway miles on my car, though, and will be living in the DC/Baltimore area within the next year, so, flatter terrain, colder, sometimes it snows. I’m looking for cars in the $8000-$12000 range–I have an '04 Jetta to trade (hence getting a different car; I’ve had a lot of problems with it).
I have a place to start now; Thanks again! Continued advice is appreciated.

I’d start with a used Fusion, 06 was the first year they were made and 10k is about what a 4cyl model should go for. A Malibu of the same year should go for slightly less, unless you want a v6 model. An 06 Accord will cost about 11k for the value package(if you can find one)

Be sure to try the car on for fit just as you try on a pair of shoes. This is particularly important if you are commuting 20 miles each day and may drive 4 to 5 hours at a stretch. The institution where I teach has Honda Civic Hybrids in its fleet. I was assigned to one for a trip of 150 miles from my home. The car ran well and got good mileage, but the seat wasn’t comfortable for me. Just last month, I made a trip 250 miles from home to presnt a paper at a conference. My institution rented a Nisan Sentra and I found the seats to be quite comfortable for me. On the other hand, my co-author liked the Honda Civic Hybrid better than the Nissan Sentra we drove this year. I’m tall and she is short.

At any rate, use Consumer Reports to narrow down your list of cars and then check your selections for fit.

Please? Being polite is good but I have to assume that you are working for an oriental car maker or else have stock holdings in Honda and Toyota and will profit accordingly. On the other hand, buying used oriental or foreign cars has a much smaller negative impact on employment of US engineers, designers and stockholders than buying new foreign cars.

The oft repeated advice to go Japanese holds. You cannot go wrong with any Japanese car that would legitimately fall in that price range. Be warned, Suzuki was selling Daewoos for a few years, and they are crap. (Don’t get a Reno, Forenza, or Verona) The Chevy Aveo is also a Daewoo and to be avoided.

Hyundai = Good, particularly after about 03 or 04. Some people have had mysteriously bad fuel economy with their Accents, and dealers have been unable to diagnose it. Kia sells basically the same cars as Hyundai, but with different bodywork, and made in different factories. It’s basically like German VW vs Mexican VW. Hyundai > Kia. But Kia is better than they used to be, too. Depreciation on the Korean and American cars is your friend.

There isn’t much from GM or Ford to avoid, either, if you’re looking in the last few years. The Focus doesn’t suck anymore, and you could get an almost new one for your price. There are no Chryslers to meet your criteria. For GM, any model of which they are currently selling the same generation should be more or less okay if the fuel economy is right. For earlier stuff, you want any of the following platforms: Epsilon, W, Delta. Everything else is either big cars without much in the way of fuel-sipping options, old and way below your price range, or unreliable crap. And the Delta cars (Ion, G5 and Cobalt) aren’t exactly the most exciting things to drive in their base models.

VWs have supposedly gotten a lot better in the 2 generations since your Jetta. But I can understand you not wanting another. VWs and the Mini are about it for fuel efficient European cars in your price range.

Check Carsurvey.org to find out if any particular car you’re looking at is likely to be more hassle than its worth.

i don’t understand that response when the mustang was redesigned by a Japanese designer. he wasn’t born from the states my friend and ford benefited greatly from that design.

anywhoo, i like toyotas because they’re the basics of a lexus. now i find lexus a waste when an ‘is’ becomes a camry. i would buy an 06’ camry because it is decent and stylist. if you decide not to remember… NEVER buy new!!!

Please? Being polite is good but I have to assume that you are working for an oriental car maker or else have stock holdings in Honda and Toyota and will profit accordingly.

A little late but this has to be answered. Let’s sell a fellow teacher (was one) down the road just to encourage her to buy an unproven product just because it carries an American sounding name. You support stockholders, I support American made Accords and Camrys , and the workers that make them, the two premier mid size sedans of the last ten years. The “please” was to consider those over compacts, previously mentioned Civics and Corollas.

BTW, having stock in Honda/Toyota in the past ten years looks a little more profitable.

How about; "please’ consider the midsize variants over the compacts recommended.

  1. The American way is whoever works harder is supposed to make more money, and whoever sells junk is supposed to go out of business. I am a believer in personal freedom, so if someone wants to buy inferior junk just because the headquarters is located some place they like, or to create employment for those who helped make inferior cars, that is their business, I guess. But, I do not think anyone should be criticized because they want the best car they can get, and it happens to be foreign, whatever that means these days.

I guarantee you, if I were stuck along the highway in the mountains of Mexico, because I bought a car not for driving, but for creating employment for companies which made inferior cars, I would not feel real good about it.

I have told the story of my SIL’s class mate in the late 80’s, who got his first auto industry engineering job, for a very large American car company. His internship was ‘equalizing’ cars. They knew how long the motors were going to last, and they wanted everything, including hinges and any other car part, to fail about the same time. He finished his internship and bailed. He said he didn’t get an engineering degree to design cars to fail.

Yeah, maybe they are making better cars now, but who cares? They sold junk deliberately well into the 90’s, while the Japanese cars were being examined to see any way to make them last longer. Suddenly, they realize they are about to go out of business, and they want us to forget about 30 years of total abuse and arrogance. That is like a woman agreeing to marry a man who beat his first five wives, because he isn’t doing it any more. Maybe.

It is the American way for the American car companies to go out of business, because they worked hard to destroy their own market, assuming stupid customers would always buy American no matter how cruddy they were so reliability didn’t matter.

It is sad, and I agree. Demming offered to tell them how to make good cars, and they showed him the door, while Japan worshiped him almost as a God.

I am glad US workers are being paid to produce Honda and Toyotas, and as poor management companies go out of business, more workers than ever will be paid to produce good cars.

  1. Seat problems. We fixed it so well that I never think to mention the seat in my 2002 Sienna was horrible. I simply could not drive that car across country. So, after some study, my wife got foam wedges of the size the seat, and sewed cloth covers over them, and it solved the problem totally. the back of my knees hurt really bad, something in the design or shape of the seat. I have 164,000 miles on not only the car, but also the foam pad.

I suggest you avoid Toyotas and Hondas. They are fine cars, but they are very popular in Central MD. My car, a 2005 Accord EX V6 will set you back $14,000 to $15,000 (no, you can’t have it, even at that price). A top-of-the-line 2005 Chevy Malibu LT V6 will be under $10,000. It’s got tired styling, but is otherwise is an excellent car. You can save 5-grand by shunning the cute boy and going with the homely one. Both will provide exemplary service. BTW, welcome hone! I love it here!

I would stay away from the Mazda 3. Our 2007 Mazda 3 with only 51,000 miles (That’s right 1,000 past warantee) has bit the dust. The clutch went (Never had a clutch that didn’t last me 100,000) then after it was repaired it was returned with a clicking noise and I am now told that I need a new engine. Of course the new engine cost about what the car is worth so I am not sure what to do. I know this is just one car but when i tried to contact mazda for help I was treated very rudely and sent on my way. No support what-so-ever. Buying one used is just not worth the risk!

You bought yours used? If so, then it may have been the previous owner’s problem. If you bought new, dunno what to tell ya. There’s probably more to this story than this, so I’m just gonna leave it at that.
Also, if you approach corporate with an attitude, you’ll most likely be sent on your way. From what I’ve heard, Mazda is pretty good with their customers.