Advice on buying a used car?

So I’m looking at buying a used car, and am leaning towards a Honda or possibly a Toyota. I owned a 1990 Civic for a few years and loved that car, so I’ll probably go with Honda again. My question is would it be better to get a newer car with higher miles, or an older Car with lower miles? My budget is around $5,500. For example, I found a 1980 Prelude with only 46k, which is pretty comparable in price to an early 2000’s civic or accord with over 150k. I know Hondas have a reputation for running forever, and 46k is pretty low, but a car that’s 35 years old can’t really be that reliable, right? Any insight would be appreciated, thanks!

A mechanic inspection and maintenance records are probably the 2 most important things in my book. A poorly maintained newer car is worse than a well maintained older car. An 80 is going to be trouble due to age I think, So pending above posted factors ditch the 80 from consideration. I have found budgeting for used car purchase assume maintainence is needed, not limited to but including brakes, tires, timing belt, coolant flush, trans service, and tuneup, plugs etc. Do not assume you buy a used car and you can skate on for years cost free.

Run away from a 1980 Prelude. Ancient engine controls, lots goes wrong with time, low miles is a negative. Look at the best car you can get 1996 or newer.

$5,500 should put you in a 2005 - 2008 Civic.

The Prelude is just too old to be reliable as a daily driver. It might make a great weekend hobby car, but I don’t think that is what you are looking for.

I don’t even think a 1980 Prelude would be comfortable as a daily driver

Newer cars have many more safety features

that alone is a reason to stay away from the 1980 Prelude

$5500 wouldn’t get you into a 2008 Civic in my neck of the woods, for what it’s worth

With that budget you might have to rethink the Honda/Toyota choice. You can get a newer lower mileage car from a different brand and overall would probably be a more reliable transportation. Think Ford Focus, Chevy Cobolt, Hyunda Elantra, Kia Sephia/Forte.

We have lots of Ford Focuses in our fleet, and I think it would make a decent used car, in that price range mentioned

I think OP would find the Focus more comfortable and fun to drive, versus the 1980 Prelude

Also safer, more reliable, easier to work on and diagnose

And just about any shop would be fine working on the car

Unlike a 1980 Prelude

I have a 2005 Accord EX v6 with 150,000 miles, and it would sell for about $5700 at a dealer and $4500 in a private sale. I wouldn’t buy anything older than the mid-2000s. As mentioned above, you can find other brands that will sell for a similar price and a couple-a-three years newer. At this age, condition is much more important than the brand. You might find a 10 year old Honda in great condition that meets your needs, but you also might find another brand, like ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai, or Kia.

I think higher miles, newer car is the better combo. If a relatively new car has a lot of miles on the clock, those are likely freeway miles. How else are you gonna get a lot of miles in a short period of time? Not much brake use or shifting or even steering on the freeway. Just point the end of the car the direction you want, press on the pedal, and go. Freeway miles are very easy on a car.

Back in the late 80s I used to see a number of those Preludes. Over time they were prone to ignition switch failures and they have the somewhat nightmarish carburetors with a mile of vacuum line and a dozen or so solenoids controlling various carb functions.
You do not EVEN want to have to get into the carbs on those unless you’re knowledgeable and patient.

There’s also the question of whether that car still has a 35 year old timing belt on it along with an assortment of other 35 year old rubber parts.

My vote is for something newer even if it does have higher miles.

I agree. I have a 2002 Sienna which is a great car, has 217,000 miles. I have to get rid of it because of immigration issues in Mexico, and will give it to my son. I expect it to go to 300,000 miles. Current Kelly Blue Book is around $2500. But, it is not for sale.

The problem is, though mine has been rigorously maintained and mostly driven on the highway, when you look at used cars they mostly have not been rigorously maintained and can break you quickly.

I think like others here that anything older than 2005, or ten years old, is asking for trouble, just for age, unless as I said they have been rigorously maintained.

I personally am not so concerned about safety issues. I have been on this planet over 70 years and have not been killed yet. The biggest safety feature is in the brain of the driver. A safety conscious, defensive driver in a 1980 is probably statistically safer than an idiot with a new car.

But, for most folks, 1980 is just plain too old.

As far as Fords, and Chevrolets, you need to see Consumer’s Report. They have good models and models with very bad reliability figures. The fact that any Ford or Chevrolet model is good is a much needed improvement that I am glad to see. it didn’t used to be that way.

There list also the matter of how you intend to use the car. If you expect to keep it until it dies, make sure you buy a reasonably modern car that won’t be an antique by the time you’re done with it. Cars do most of their depreciating in the first few years, and after that prices more accurately reflect the amount of use still left in the car. As cars get very old or very high mileage the repair costs can get high and you can end up spending too much for an unreliable car. If you only expect to drive a modest amount (as many city drivers do), you can buy something a bit older or higher mileage, but only if it has been well maintained. A car with 100,000 miles can still be going strong for a long time if you only drive a few thousand miles per year.

Like George said, I wouldn’t be too bothered by relatively high mileage in a car that’s not very old. That usually just means the owner had a long commute. Freeway miles are easy on a car.

Older cars with low mileage totals pose too many questions, unless you have a lot of certainty that it was just the car or a little old lady who didn’t drive much. And then you need to be sure she kept up with the maintenance. Whoever ends up with my mother’s car will be a very lucky person.