Best $12000 car to buy to avoid calling in to Car Talk?

Hey folks, I’m a newbie here, but as far as I can find there isn’t a discussion answering my question.
I bought a 2000 Passat last year and since then I’ve put about $7000 into repairs, which is more than double what I paid for the darn thing. Since I bought it I’ve learned that VW suffered some reliability problems in that era. The math works out that I could’ve been financing a warrantied pre-owned car for all that time, presumably not costing much (if anything) in repairs. So that’s what I’m thinking of doing. I’m looking at the cheaper end of certified pre-owned, which seems to be about $13000. Here’s what I’m hoping you folks might be kind enough to help me with:

  • What brands and models (and years) should I be focusing on? I want something that is efficient and can carry big stuff, ie: small SUVs, big hatchbacks or (ideally) station wagons. I’d love AWD, but aside from VW and Subaru there’s not a lot out there, I know. I’m toying with the idea of a small cargo van or truck like a Transit Connect or Frontier as well…
  • Is buying certified really worth it? I know I’m looking at at least a couple of grand more for it, but, like I said, I’m presuming that it means I won’t be visiting the shop often. I’ve only ever bought cars from individuals in the past.

I did find this article ( which is helpful, and I’m looking through consumer reports, but it can’t hurt to get you folks’ ideas, can it?

right now what I’ve read is pushing me towards Honda and Toyota, but I can’t seem to let go of the idea of a Subaru being a good plan. I also am pretty into VWs, but maybe a different era?


Certified Used Car means that it is a used car and that is all it means. You have been severely burned on a used car so why are you even thinking about another. New has full warranty and better financing and look a the manufactures build your own web sites.

Used cars are always a minefield. There’s no guarantee that a 30k dollar used car is not a rolling hunk of problematic junk. Much depends on how those miles were put on there.

As to certified, that varies and may or may not mean anything. One dealer I worked for sold certified used cars. So who did the certifying? It certainly wasn’t the mechanics in the service department who never saw a one of them unless the customer came back with a complaint post-sale.

We’re pretty sure their “Certification Program” was being done by the washroom guys who would wash the exterior, vacuum it out, check the engine oil, and proclaim it good to go.

Personally, I’m not as down on VWs as many others are and that opinion is strictly based on what I saw as a VW mechanic for 2 dealerships. You bought a 15 year old used car with an unknown maintenance and driving habit history and any 15 year old used car can be very problematic.

Given the brands mentioned, I tend to lean towards the Subaru.

The cartalk shows are all reruns now, so you can’t call in-you are safe there :slight_smile:

Now as far as CPO, I tend to prefer them, but I buy them from the manufacturer’s dealer and they usually come with extra warranty, I am more interested to the full coverage warranty which is usually at least one year. I still research the car as it was any other used car and take everything with a grain of salt and walk away if I see any red flags.

You budget might be too low for CPO esp a Subaru, worse for Honda/Toyota. If you can do without AWD, you might get a good deal on a used Hyundai or Kia sedan and actually might be able to get a CPO in that price range. Otherwise, might look into the previous body style Ford Escape for a roomy CUV.

I think you need to figure out what kind of vehicle you want before getting too much further along. There are an enormous number of vans/trucks/crossovers/wagons that could meet your needs, including many good ones (OK, not many wagons, other than the Subaru Outback/Legacy.) The Japanese makes typically have superior reliability, but not every model is equally good. Recent Korean models are about as good as some Japanese models. Unfortunately, Toyota, Honda, and Subaru are the brands everyone values, so used prices tend to be higher. A Mazda, Hyundai, or Kia will likely be cheaper and may be quite fine. I’d stay away from Nissan as they seem to have slipped out of the first tier since Renault bought them. As for CPO, I wouldn’t necessarily expect the car to be any better, so figure what it gets you. If it really adds thousands to the price, it’s unlikely to pay for itself if you’re buying a quality product.

My middle son bought a certified Mazda with less then 20k miles. I still had the vehicle thoroughly inspected. The one thing the certified Mazda gave him was the 100k mile warranty and the 2 year road-side assistance. Nice car. Something I would have bought…far superior then my first car (Vega).

We bought a 2011 Hyundai Elantra touring wagon for 13000 a few years ago. We so far I love it it gets 34 MPGs. We can fit two car seats and to 80 pound dogs in it simultaneously. It has a luggage rack so I have taken canoes and 4 by 8 sheets of plywood on top. So far we have had No issues and all maintenance seems to be easy to do with cheap parts.

Thanks for all the wisdom, folks. I’d love to hear more.
All of the skepticism around the value of CPO, and what you all and others are telling me about dealerships undercutting a trade’s value, has me wondering. Maybe I should try taking out a line of credit and keep throwing money at the Passat. It may well cost less in the long run, maybe.
Or I might be best off taking that credit and buying something that has a great reputation, like a Fit or Matrix, (though they seem rare) from an individual or small dealership.

Nolan, you are missing the point. Used cars are a gamble. You don’t sound like an informed buyer. As another poster said you should decide what you need a vehicle to do. A credit line and a vehicle loan are two different things. You might even be someone that a lease makes sense. Just because you think something has a great reputation does not mean they are all trouble free.

For what you want at $13,000, it will have to be old enough that CPO won’t likely be available. You might find a high mileage Mazda 2013 CX-5 (60,000+miles) for around $13,000. My daughter has a CX-5 Sport and is very happy with it. Her’s has the 2L engine and automatic. Reviews said it is underpowered, but I think the power is adequate.

Newbie to newbie, I’d recommend narrowing it down to a couple vehicles and then it becomes all about the deal. Your second or third choice might be more attractive because of price. Do as much reading as possible on the forums to see what others have experienced as far as maintenance issues on a particular model. Any used vehicle is a gamble, you just want to lower the odds of having the type of catastrophic repair bills you went through with this car.

“Used cars are a gamble.”

True. I’ve bought lots of them, the latest a couple months ago. They can be a gamble because they may not have been properly driven or maintained, they can have no warranty, and they could have been crashed and repaired.

However, many of my used cars were CPO vehicles, and quite a bit less a gamble, not because there is something magical about being supposedly inspected and certified, but because of the Warranty Coverage. As I’ve mentioned before, if a buyer buys a low-miles CPO with some factory warranty remaining, both drive-train and bumper-to-bumper then the risk is low.

An inspection is probably still a good idea, although I do my own. Make sure the car hasn’t been crashed and repaired, also. Problems related to accidents are not covered by warranty.

When I bough my wife’s Impala, a year old with just under 10,000 miles, I received the remainder of the 60 month/100,000 mile drivetrain warranty and since it was GM Certified,12 months/12,000 miles was added to the 36 month/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, giving me 48 months/48,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage. That’s better than on a new car! I saved thousands of dollars on that purchase, an almost new (still had the new car smell) car for $12,000. Since then I believe GM has cut back on their drivetrain warranty.

Anyway, consider Certified Used for peace of mind warranty coverage. Check what the different manufacturers have to offer. The CPO programs vary by make and sometimes by model-year.


To bank on CSA’s logic for CPO;

I like them because I know why the newer car was traded in. Usually they are lease returns. If the car was lemon law car or had recurring issues that the owner got tired of trying to fix, the manufacturer’s dealer would have access to the repair records and would not sell them as CPO. Usually they send these cars to auctions.

Now if I were buying an older car with higher mileage, I would prefer to buy it from the previous owner.

I prefer to buy private party, because 1) much cheaper, and 2) people (often) don’t want to burn somebody face-to-face, like a “pro” might. (Of course, there are those who’d “steal the pennies from a dead man’s eyes”…how good are you at reading people? Can you sniff out a bluff in poker?)

Is your VW currently in good shape . . . I would hope so, after all the money you’ve sunk into it

How about driving it for awhile longer?

Every month that goes without a repair, set money aside for the next car

What if you are able to have 2 or 3 years of cheap driving . . . ?

My brother did just that. He drove a real pos car for a few years. It had burnt up paint, was slow, but pretty reliable and cheap to operate. It enabled him to save for the next car, one that he really likes

Note . . . tires, brakes, oil change, timing belt, etc. are not really repairs. That’s maintenance and wear and tear.

That said, the next time the VW needs a major repair, drop it like a hot potato. Get whatever you can for it, and don’t look back

DB4690 gives sensible advice. If the Passat doesn’t need anything right now, keep on driving. Given its age it has minimal resale value, running or not. In the meanwhile do some research and thinking about your needs so you’ll have some specific models in mind for when you do need to buy, as it could happen unexpectedly. The last thing you want to have to do is spend days looking at inappropriate vehicles because you still don’t know what you want. If you’re in an area with few used cars available you might want a long list of possible models, but if you’re in a major city you can be picked. Given your limited budget it may not work for you, but another good way of getting a used car is the rental fleet sakes lots. They always have a decent selection and most have fixed prices, so you don’t have to spend hours being yanked around. If you’re desperate for a vehicle it’s an especially good way to buy as they won’t take advantage of you if they sense your need. The cars they have are all equipped about the same, without a lot of frills, so if you insist on a nav system and a fancy audio system you won’t find them, but if you want basic transport, you’ll have some reasonable choices.

U drive a 15 yr old car. Why not treat yourself to a newer car? Many folks here seem to want to go thru life spending as little as possible on cars. Buy new, drive it to junkyard. Cheapest per mile plan. But boring. Some folks buy new cars every 3 yrs. why? Cuz they can. U bought a POS VW. Should have bought a 2000 accord. Would have spent $300 on repairs.

Not easy to figure out what to do, I know. You took a big smart step by coming here to seek advice. Quite a few really sharp, very knowledge people here willing to help. What you’ve gone through has now become an excellent tool to guide your future car buying choices. I know of that which I speak. You see, I am a true genius. I’ve been learning from all my mistakes and no one has made as many blunders as I, therefore, I’m brilliant!

I guess you have about $10,000 in the Passat. Maybe she will run pretty well for a while now, you know? BTW, did you buy it from a dealer? If so, did they offer a 30 day warranty on it, or was it as is? IOW, were any of the repairs partially covered by a warranty? Have you ever mentioned the expenses you’ve had with it to the seller? It is possible he may offer some assistance in the future.

Subies are nice, especially in snow. Changing the timing belt on time is essential, in my experience.

I’d add buy Japanese or Hyundai and avoid the big 3 NA brands or VW. Maybe it’s anecdotal but I hear so many horror stories from people spending ridiculous money keeping their VW on the road.

Thanks for all your help, folks! I decided to disregard most of y’all’s advice, and got a 2010 TDI Golf wagon with an extended warranty. The recent emissions ‘scandal’ doesn’t mean much where I live, because we don’t have emissions standards. It looks solid, and if (almost) anything happens, it’s covered.
Now then, anyone want to buy an iffy 2000 Passat wagon for a grand? It’s eagerly waiting your tinkering in Manitoba (that’s north of North Dakota and Minnesota.)