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BEST CHEAP Winter Car College Student $3,000

Hi, I’m in the market for a car that does well in the snow but doesn’t break the bank. I live in Michigan and the winters can be pretty bad around here. Any suggestions for a cheap car good in snow? One that could last me a few years after graduation? Would like to stay in the 3,000 dollar range, I don’t need anything fancy just reliable and cheap to fix if the need arises. I currently have a 2003 VW Jetta that I would sell. The Jetta keeps needing repairs bc it wasn’t in the best shape when I bought it and I am tired of the repairs being pricey just because it’s a VW.

2003-2009 (9th generation) Toyota Corolla.Basically indestructibe.Avoid 2003 since it the first year this generation came out on the market.

Honda Civic. Cheap to run, cheap to fix, rarely needs fixing.

Is there something wrong with the Jetta ? 3000.00 just will not get you much of a vehicle these days .


…except for a LOT of repair bills.
Unless the OP has severely abused that Jetta, his most economical approach would be to keep that vehicle, install a set of 4 Michelin X-Ice winter tires, and maintain that Jetta according to the factory maintenance schedule.



a set of winter tires on spare wheels will run well under replacement+repairs costs

few years back I’ve got a set of Hankooks on alloy wheels from discounttiredirect for $650, then racked $120+ in rebates

Your current car plus snow tires?

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with good snow tires.

And calm, easy driving behaviors.
And staying home or finding alternative transport when the weather is bad.

If you’ll be living on campus, a good set of boots and a good jacket.

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It keeps needing pricey repairs, it wasn’t in the best shape when I bought it.

this is what what I was suspecting…

from what I read recently and heard from a couple of “happy owners”, VW/Audi quality is well below from what it used to be in 90s

unfortunately, $3K will not buy much of the car, unless you are ready to put more into repairs :frowning:

I would definitely look into a Corolla or Civic, but have a friend who can quickly sort through the cars to make a fist stab, before asking for a mechanic inspection. if you go directly to inspections, you will shell out $100 per inspection for every candidate car, and I suspect at $3K threshold, you will mostly not like what you will hear from mechanic, so this process can become expensive unless you or your friend can make a first filtering

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06 ford taurus. $1k with <150k miles. might leak a little coolant from timing cover. $15 gasket will fix it. and than oil pan gasket will leak. another $15. probably a dozen on CL right now for that money. yes there are small dealers that want 2995 but go private

Unless you commute to school, I consider a car a liability for the average college student. I’d rather invest the money in a good mountain bicycle, tire studs, and a nice thick snowmobile suit. Think of the money you’ll save on auto insurance and gym membership.

The worst problem for a car in Michigan, particularly a $3000 car, is rust. If your present car isn’t rusted, keep it on the road.

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I hate these type of threads. $3000 is totally unrealistic. Maybe 20 years ago…but not now. Oh you may find one that’s OK…but for every vehicle under $3000 that meets this criteria there are 99 that don’t.


back in 2012, my example with my first daughter’ first car was:

  • 2002 Nissan Sentra in “OK-ish” shape (AKA “good building foundation”) => $1,700 @ private party
  • parts&materials => $1,200
  • external labor => around $150 for tires mount/balance & alignment
  • my labor - ZERO, but would probably make something like another $2500 for quite a long list of items replaced/repaired

so, I’ve got a “under $3000 car” for her to drive for 3 years, then we swapped for decent 2007 Altima, which costed $5500 plus another $500 for similar type of arrangement to get it into top shape

I second @MikeInNH point that $3000 is totally unrealistic with small addition “unless you are ready to put your own elbow grease into it”

further, I would add Sentra into the list of cars to look at, but only non-CVT models and only with good inspection, as Nissans are generally less reliable in long term to compare to Toyota/Honda and are more beaten up from what I’ve seen in my sampling

Back in 1962, I thought $495 would buy a reasonably good car. I was driving a 1947 Pontiac that I bought for $75. It used oil, the transmission howled in first gear and I had sealed a cracked block with K & W seal. I replaced the 1947 Pontiac with a 1955 Pontiac that the local Rambler dealer had on his lot.The dealer’s mechanics had overhauled the engine. The 1955 was a standard shift. I reasoned that it should have been a trouble free car. It wasn’t. Apparently, the mechanic that did the overhaul hadn’t gotten all the sludge out of the engine and the passages in the studs that held the rocker arms would plug up and the rocker arms would chirp. The front bearing in the transmission failed. I was a graduate assistant working on my master’s degree at the time with a salary of $200 a month. I would have been better off keeping the 1947 Pontiac and doing some careful driving.
My parents were able to bail me out. They had a 1960 Rambler that was totaled and the insurance company of the party that hit the car found an equivalent Rambler at the dealer where I bought the 1955 Pontiac. My dad had a 1954 Buick that he was ready to trade. The dealer offered more for the 1955 Pontiac than the 1954 Buick, so I traded cars with my dad. I got a more reliable car and the Rambler dealer got his Pontiac back.

Of course we have no idea why you feel you need a car, so it’s not really fair to criticize you for wanting one or for having only $3,000 to buy it. But, before you do, compare the amount you’ll pay for the car, repairs, maintenance, fuel, registration, insurance, etc., with what you’d pay for rides with a ride service you get on your phone. Or, maybe you could drive for one of those companies and help pay for a better car. A cheap car is not cheap if you pay someone else to fix it, and fixing it yourself is usually very difficult without tools or a place to work. In school I knew how to keep a car running, but all winter it was too cold to work outside, and I had the bare minimum of tools and no money.

Find a one or two owner midsize or compact car that a senior citizen is selling. Seniors tend to take good care of their cars so that they last a long time, costing less to repair. I just sold a 12 year old Accord and they buyer was thrilled at how well the drive train ran. I’m a senior, BTW. An old neighbor sold one of his cars when he turned 70 and it was perfect. The car was about 14 years old and he kept it in immaculate condition. It’s all about condition and not so much brand when you look at older cars.

Let’s take another look at that VW. Tell us in dollars how much those pricey repairs are each year. And, do you get stuck in dangerous places or at night when it fails?

The brothers used to say if you kept an old car running, there was not much more depreciation, but maintenance and repairs would run a thousand dollars or more a year on an old car. Does anyone else remember that?

So, if it doesn’t really cost that much for repairs, in comparison to that thousand dollar figure, and you don’t get stuck in dangerous places when it does fail, as much as I dislike VW, it might be a better choice. Remember that thousand dollars a year, any car you buy for $3000 will also have that same annual cost.

There are some smart people here, and if that 1000 dollar figure no longer applies they will be correcting me any moment.

I’ve been driving my mother’s VW Jetta recently, and the way the throttle responds, it’s as if the engine is begging to be driven hard. It’s not an easy throttle to modulate at low speeds. Maybe it’s the transmission rather than the throttle. I can’t speak to why it drives the way it does, I can only describe the experience. That being said, I can now see why VW drivers have such an infamous reputation. Also, this throttle control issue makes this car a poor choice for winter driving car, because it’s difficult to drive it gently.

It’s a nice car, and it’s fun to drive when the roads aren’t crowded, but it’s not my style. I prefer a car that doesn’t seem to be designed to bring out my aggressive driving tendencies.

It’s also not a car I would ever buy for myself because of its reputation for expensive repairs, but so far, it’s been as reliable as my Civic was when it was the same age.

One last thing to consider is that, if I was looking for a good winter driving car, it would be something that doesn’t have low profile tires. It would be something I could easily outfit with a set of steel rims and winter tires. I wouldn’t want to fork over the money to buy winter tires that fit the stock rims on my mother’s Jetta and have tires mounted twice a year.