Advice on buying a Used Car

Hi all,

Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this.

I have been living abroad for the past 4 years and plan on returning back to Southern California in September 2009.

I need to purchase a car and would like to get your input on what type/model/make.

-My budget is $2000-2500.

-I’m 34, single male

-Will need to drive often

-Will need to visit clients (must be presentable)

-Will need to pickup girlfriends…

-Once in while would need to take my Mom/Grandma on trips to Vegas :slight_smile:

-Will need it for the next 3-4 years without major expenses.

What car would you recommend?


For your budget, you are looking for a 10 to 15 year old car. I have had very good luck with Buicks, particularly the LeSabre, of that era. My 34 year old son drives a '98. (How serious are you about wanting to pick up girls, and keeping Mom & Grandma happy? You choose.) Watch out for cars made by GM branches that may go out of business. Saturn and Pontiac have been mentioned, but I don’t think anything is set in stone yet.

Thanks for the Quick reply MG McAnick, Of course Mom/Grandma are the priority :).
But the LeSabre’s fuel consumption is a concern on California freeways.

Pick up a copy of Consumer Reports annual automotive issue (April 2009) or check the website if you can’t get a copy of the magazine ( ). There’s a lot of info about used vehicles (reliability etc). For instance, a quick check says for under $4,000 look at the 99 Subaru Impreza, 99 Toyota Corolla or 00 -01 Toyota Echo. There’s also a section telling you models to avoid. Good Luck and safe travels!

For $2000-$2500 a very difficult spot for next 3-4 years without major expenses. A car in that price range is typically old or well worn. After 8yrs/150k the likelyhood of “major” expenses whether deemed subjectively maintenance or repairs is much higher. People will chime in and say I got xxxx miles without major stuff but that is luck and fully dependent on previous driving style/type.

Also an automatic at that price range will total the vehicle if it fails. Most do last if taken care of previously but be aware.

Honestly in that price range I would recommend looking at the “situation” more of vehicle than make/model. I would avoid any European make as they are simply more to fix. Anything with Toyota/Honda badge will likely be overpriced or very high mileage in the used market and will be on par with a $1000 domestic(eg beater).

Stick to private sales with cars with known histories(maintenance) or driver.

Good luck,

Lesabre is a great choice for highways. 30MPG is typical with reasonable driving.

You’re asking a lot for $2,500, especially in Southern California. This is beater territory, not something with which to impress people. Good luck.

good points all, thank you.

I’m not sure how older people would handle getting in and out of a Corolla or Impreza.
My suggestion would be a smaller SUV so that it’d be easier to get in and out of for mom/grandma. Maybe an Escape or CRV with a 4cyl, but I can’t recall when either came out, so they may not have gone down to that price range yet. It’ll be more comfortable on those longer trips for all passengers, and you can carry a little bit more luggage/souvenirs than some cars

Does it have to be a luxury brand? You could get a 10-year old Camry or Accord that is a presentable car while giving you good gas mileage.

Any brand that is OK. I’m hoping to compile the opinions of posters here so that I can narrow it down to few brands/makes/models and once I’m back try to find a dealer or a private owner and go from there I guess.

A “dealer” car at this price range means auction cars with very random histories. They were likely purchased for $200-$700 had some money put into them for resale. There may be gems but you will never ever know. Given your budget and criteria I don’t think you have much room for betting. Stick to private sales.

good point Andrew.

You’re walking in a real mine field if you expect to find a very clean, reliable over 3-4 years vehicle for that amount of money.

It can be done but you’re going to need patience and the ability to really know what to look for when checking one out.

That being said, I agree with the Buick recommendation but “girlfriend bait” it’s not likely to be. :slight_smile:

The LeSabre is not the Chick Magnet I was hoping for, but… LOL

This strategy has worked very well for me:

On the other hand, if you are looking for a woman over the age of 75, a Buick IS a chick magnet!

In all seriousness, the Buick is a good choice though just for that reason. Many Buicks are owned by senior citizens so you can assume they have not been beaten into the asphalt like other makes and models.

The trick is footwork and patience. There are some good deals around; you just have to dig a bit.

If you want something a bit sportier in appearance you might consider the Fox bodied Mustangs of the 80s/early 90s. It’s unlikely you would find a clean GT for that amount of money but a clean 4 cylinder could probably be found with some digging.
Even a 3rd Generation Camaro (982-92) could possibly be found. The 3rd Gens are increasing in value over the last few years so those are a bit more iffy than the 4 cylinder Mustangs.

Cars can last a lot longer in SoCal than most other places. You can buy a 15 year old car, or even older if you are very picky. My preference is GM cars, but you could find an older Lexus, for instance, that would work well for you. I’d look for a 1995 Acura TL, 1997 Cadillac DeVille, 1997 Buick Riviera, 1997 Pontiac Bonneville, or a 1995 Lexus ES 300. Find an older driver selling it; they might be the first owner. That’s a plus.