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Better buy? 90 Mazda 626 or 80 Toyota corolla wagon...MOM needs new car!

Hello everyone!

I’m in dire need of a car with a budget of about 3000. My tranny just went out on my 86 Jimmy… and I’m a new mom and being stuck in the house isn’t always the most fun.

SO I’m looking craigslist… I’ve found a 1990 mazda 626 with a rebuilt transmission with 87,xxx miles on it… says it runs great… was driven by an elderly woman for many years.

but THEN… I set my eyes on a 1980 Toyota corolla wagon and I’m in Love… Has 110xxx miles on it… new carburator…and says its very reliable and runs great.

With child in tow I’m thinking safety but also I need something reliable and cheap to fix…I’ve had better luck with toyotas… not familiar with mazdas…

Help! Any suggestions? Thank you

A 1980 is practically an antique, and 1990, while better, is still old. Try this: go to and search for cars within, say, 50 miles of your zip code for $4000 or less (you can always offer less than the asking price), and model year 1996 or newer (that’s when the new computer controls became standardized). I found a good number near me.

In My Opinion, These Cars Are Too Old, Even With A $3000 Budget. Old Cars Have All Sorts Of Unexpected, Weird Problems. Look At “Newer” Vehicles (21st Century), Regardless Of Make / Model.

Condition and prior maintenance history are the most important features. Are you looking locally ? I don’t know Craigslist from a bale of hay.


You should be able to find a good 10 to 15 year old car for $3000. A 2000 or earlier Buick Century will meet your price requirement. A 2002 (last year) or earlier Chevrolet Prizm will also be in your price range. Don’t worry so much about brand or style of car as the condition. It’s all about how a car was cared for as it ages. Find a car with repair and maintenance records, and you may have a winner.

In addition to weird, unexpected problems, a 30 year old car is nowhere near the safety levels of a car that was built in the last 10 years or so.

As “a new Mom”, you should be very concerned with the safety (occupant protection) of the car in which you are transporting that infant, and since far safer cars are readily available, a 1980 Corolla is not something that you should seriously consider.

While a 1990 626 will undoubtedly provide somewhat better occupant protection than a 1980 Corolla, a 20 year old car still lags far behind cars built in the last decade.

For less than $4k, you should be able to locate a 2000-era Corolla or its clone, a Chevy Prizm. Both are very reliable and safe. Other possibilities for less than $4k include a 2000-era Honda Civic or a 2004-ish Hyundai Accent.

If you are interested in something a bit larger (for better occupant protection and easier installation of your child carrier), a 2000-era Mitsubishi Galant should be available in the same “under $4k” price category.

All of the above vehicles are included in the “Recommended Used Cars Under $4,000” category in the Consumer Reports Used Car Buyers Guide. Any of these vehicles would be far safer than the two that you are considering, and they should also be far more reliable.

Yes I know they are quite old… but locally those are the cars with the lowest mileage that are still affordable. Newer cars within the budget have really high mileage.

I’ll look some more tho. I keep thinking the 90’s was just last year… hah!

Thanks for your input

Well all honesty the 626 is the better car, but at the same time with 3000 in hand you can find something alot better even newer for about 1500

If you want something reliable, there’s no way you should be looking at cars that old. Those won’t be nearly as safe as newer cars also.

Thank you everyone for your comments. The safety is the most important… of course. I always think older cars feel more sturdy, but they dont have the airbags and all the other things newer cars have. I havent had a new car in a very very long time if ever… I guess that’s where I come off looking at such ancient cars!

Now, even with high mileage I should still be ok buying these cars you all mention, chevys buiks and the such?

Don’t worry too much about miles, a newer car with more miles is often the better buy. Once you identify a couple of candidates drop back for our (free, and worth it!) comments.

Also, for any given model car newer ones are safer and sturdier, pretty much always.

Both will need repair at some point. How many carb people are there out there. That tells you the difference in technology from 80 to 90.
I agree that the Mazda has a leg up. I would still include newer used Escorts and others recommended by VDC’s post reference. “I’m in love” with a car takes the mind away from decision making. The Corolla (or any car) doesn’t love you back.

And falling in love with a car can lead to disaster down the road, especially with cars as old as these.

I gotta ask, did you add an extra 0 on to your budget numbers? I ask because the Corolla wagon would be worth three HUNDRED at most in my book.
Though, if it is three thousand, my suggestions would be an old Crown Victoria or Taurus. Those should offer a newer vehicle for the money. Heck, if you can find an old Buick Roadmaster for that, that would be the perfect match. :smiley:

That’s a good point. For that amount of money, trying to get an economy car at the expense of getting a reliable, could eat up gas savings in repairs. Another vote for including all cars in the search, Taurus, CVs, and all.

Both Taurus and CV will get about 25mpg on the highway, and going from an 86 GMC Jimmy, that might be an increase in mileage. Maybe even find a Taurus wagon

For safe, cheap, reliable, and cheap to fix on a $3000 budget, your best bets are going to be 10 to 15 year old domestics. A lot of people will sing the praises of the reliability of Hondas and Toyotas, but from what I have seen, a $3000 Honda or Toyota will need a lot of work to make road worthy and up to date on maintenance. Pricing out a timing belt job (a regular preventive maintenance item) will send many budget-conscious people with limited funds running in the opposite direction.

Look at domestics like some of the previously mentioned ones such as Buick Century, Ford Taurus, Chevy Cavalier, Ford Escort, Crown Victoria, etc. I do like the recommendation someone made for a Buick Roadmaster, but while that LT1 350 will be fun to drive, performing a basic ignition system tuneup will be a real pain in the wallet. Tuneup parts for that Opti-Spark 2 ignition system run about as much as a timing belt/water pump job on a typical Honda. If this job was recently done on a Roadmaster, however, I would be all over that deal. Those systems, once made new again, are usually good for 100k miles.

The Prizm is the same car as the Toyota Corolla. They were both built at the same plant in California. The Buick Century is a safe car for a family. It is larger than the Prizm, and larger usually means safer. You might find a 2002 or earlier Chevy Malibu or 2003 or earlier Ford Focus. Almost any car can be a reliable car if it was well taken care of.

My grandfather always told me I used the word “love” too loosely… This must be a perfect example!

Ok… I was always partial towards japanese cars… just from what my pops always said, but I will take everyone’s word for it and check out some domestic ones as well…

The Jimmy was my first american car… I really enjoyed driving it when it shifted past 3rd gear… and Yes…referring to a post above this one it truly was a gas guzzler so anything better than 15 mpg would be appreciated.

Ok Im beginning my search once again… Thank you all so much. I’ll be back in a few.

Wait… maybe you all should see how sweet this corolla wagon is…

Still no?

No I know… not safe. a girl can dream right!?

Alright folks, I’m swimming in used cars.

What are your thoughts on Volvo’s and Subaru’s? Saw a couple in the early 2000’s with low miles priced within the 3K range.
Probably expensive to fix, is my guess.
And what’s the deal with landrovers… found a 96 with 69K miles for 4 grand…

Ok I like the idea of the honda CRV… however found a 98 for $3900 but whopping 239K miles… but new belts… worth it? or overpriced…
02 Hyundai accent with 82K for $2999.
98 Chevy malibu with 84K for $2900 , 03 malibu with 142K miles for 3 grand.
99 Jetta VW for $2999
98 Corolla with 147K for $2993
01 Prizm for $3500 with 96K
There were some ford escort wagons for 3500 and some early 2000 mazda protoges as well.
There are tons… THese were my top choices… Honda’s seemed overpriced for the crazy high mileage.

Boyfriend is really against the Buicks and the bigger cars…
and his thought on putting 4 grand on a new car was something like… if Im gonna put down 4 thousand on a used car, might as well use that as downpayment on new car… But I dont think I can afford payments.

A million thanks.

Thats alot to look at… Im leaning toward the 02 accent. Were hyundai’s made well in those early years? I know someone mentioned to lean towards an 04… but they were just over my price range… in the 4000 realm.