Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Advice for a girl with a budget

I am currently driving a 98 Dodge Neon. I have been driving this car since i was 16 and, 6 years later, I’m more than ready for a new one. I would rather not have a car payment and I have a limited budget of about $5000. I drive an hour each way to school 5 days a week so I’m looking for a used car that I would enjoy being in for 2 hours everyday that gets decent gas mileage. I was considering a Hyundai Elantra Hatchback (2004-2006 range. Though, reviews that i have read are mixed, I have heard that they offer a lot in terms of options for the price.

Any suggestions for this girl with a budget?

Also, what do you think about getting a car that has higher miles but has had much of the common 100k mile repairs done?

What’s wrong with your current car? I ask because $5000 and below is the territory in which you are taking a gamble. The car might turn out to be great, or it might need a lot of work which is tough to do on a budget. If you’re just tired of your current car, I’d advise sticking with it a couple more years until you can save more money.

Agree; the Neon is worth very little, and if it still runs reasonably reliable, keep using it and save up for a better car.

Nothing wrong with an Elantra that HAS BEEN WELL MAINTAINED. You need written proof of that!

In general,with Foreign made cars, get the one with the LEAST extras. Forget sliding roofs, expensive custom wheels, heated seats, and all those other things that post a great deal to fix when they break.

With your Neon, the key areas to watch are the cooling system (check level frequently, and flush every 50,000 miles), the transmission (automatic) which has to have its fluid and filter changed every 30,00 miles, and check the engine oil level every at second tank full of gas.

A $5000 used car is problable a worse gamble than keeping your current car.

As far as I know it has an oil leak and some cosmetic problems (Chipped paint, some rust inside and out, left tail light has a hole in it that has been taped) The driver side door hangs so you have to slam it shut to make sure it closes all the way. I cant use one of the back doors because i have small piece of cardboard closed into the jam to press on a little button that makes the inside light turn off when the doors are closed. You can’t see the cardboard at all when the door is closed, but when I open the door it falls out and is a real pain to shut the door and keep the cardboard in place at the same time. So I just avoid using that door all together. Also, the windows don’t sound like they are rolled up all the way even when they are, so when I’m driving it sounds like each of them are rolled down just a crack.

Sometime this weekend I’m having a mechanic look at the oil leak to see where, exactly, it is leaking so we can fix that. He’s going to check out the car overall as well to see if there are any other problems which, by the sounds of the car, he may find.

I know some of the stuff are just annoying things that don’t effect how the car runs so i could potentially keep driving it. But I think you’re right in saying I’m pretty much tired of it.

Is it a bad idea to consider a nice used car like a volvo or a saab that may have high miles but is in my price range and has had common repairs and replacements done already?

With your budget don’t come NEAR a Volvo or Saab, even if a relative GIVES you one. Any repair on either one of those will cost much more than your Neon is worth.

My parents saved a Time magazine that came out when WW II ended in 1945. On the back cover was a Chevrolet advertisement that said that production of new Chevrolets would begin soon. (No cars were produced from about February of 1942 until late 1945). At the end of the advertisement, there was a statement in large print that read: “Continue to conserve your present car”.

Well, cars aren’t in short supply, but your cash reserves are. Since your car is running, keep up General Motor’s 1945 advice and “Continue to conserve your present car”. Your $5000 should be drawing some interest and when you finish school and have a good job, you can then purchase that newer car.

$5k buys a decent Hyundai Sonata.

I’d wait till your mechanic takes a look and agree milking it further may be best. Otherwise, the door problem, could be minor fixes if they are just door jam adjustments (from frequent guest slammings) or cheap hardware replacements.

$5K can potentially get you a better car, but certainly not from SAAB or Volvo. But you may have to be able to think/buy on the run at some point. Check CR on the most reliable $5K brands you should look at. From there, it’s a maintenance recognition issue. If recognizing it is not a strong point with you, you need to arm yourself with someone who is a little bit of a car nut to advise you. But I would look ONLY within a certain group of cars recommended by CR to enhance your prospects.

For now though, the Neon is worth little and so is worth milking until the next big repair bill kills it in cost. So, prepare to buy, and do your research until forced to dump the Neon.

Go to the dealership and get a bottle of touchup paint. that takes care of the chips.

Get some superglue and glue the cardboard in place. Now you can use the door.

The left tail light can be replaced cheaply by getting one from a junk yard.

From what you’ve said, it’d be better if you waited while saving money, and then got yourself something good, like a lightly-used Civic. Save another 5k and your options will open up.

I get the “I’m tired of this heap.” I’ve had it myself in previous cars. But at sub-$5k, you’re most likely to be trading the crap you hate on your current car for new crap you’ll hate just as much. A $5k car is not going to be in perfect condition.

Have the same mechanic looking at the oil leak look at the doors. Sagging doors can be adjusted to not sag so much - usually cheaply, unless there is major damage, worth having it looked at.

For the back door, remove the switch, and cut it out, twist and tape the wires together and tuck into the door. The light won’t go on when you use that one door, but you’ll be able to use it again - or, again, have the mechanic fix it for $15 bucks.

Try to hang in with the Neon for now. If you spend your $5000, you won’t have much left, and making money as a student is not easy. Let us know what the oil leak is. If you don’t put in more than a quart each month, it might be better to just buy the oil and pour as needed. Think of it as an oil change while you drive.

But still get regular changes, since the gunk is still in there and the filter needs changing