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Budget car for a budget road trip

Hey there,

Me and two other guys are about to set off on a 5,000 mile trip from Chicago, which will end up in Texas. The budget is fairly tight and we are looking for bargains.Ideally we want to spend up to $3000 on a vehicle. I think iv’e heard most of the pitfalls and reasons not to do it so constructive advice to make the whole thing work would be much appreciated! Two cars we’ve identified are a 2000 Toyota Camry, Mileage: 84000 and a 2002 Honda Accord Mileage: 110000. We’re from the UK and were looking for a bit of guidance on potential deals, top budget cars etc.

We’ve had great responses using forums this far and hope you could help us too.

Many Thanks

PS - the budget we have could go up a little but not massively and we have looked into renting options and they just aren’t viable.

The smart thing to do is rent.

The chances of a $3000 used car having the kind of reliability you’re seeking are slim…very slim.

I’m in agreement with mountainbike as usual. For mechanical peace of mind let the rental company worry about things.

Some months back my oldest son who lives in Utah came down in a rental car as the tires he had ordered for his car has not arrived yet.
He rented a Ford Focus for something like 250 dollars for the entire week and it got 36 MPG besides.

What are the options that make renting a car not viable?

Do you have a residence in Chicago now? If not, you may have major issues registering the car and getting insurance, so I hope you’ve already resolved all of that.

Does your budget include the cost of registration, sales tax, and insurance? If not, then you really have more like $2,000 to spend on the car itself.

Whatever you buy in that price range, you’ll have to assume there’s a decent chance it will break down on you along the way. If you’ll be driving in a lot of rural and remote areas, then sticking with American brands would give you the best chance of an easy repair, although Honda and Toyota would be the top choices out of the non-American brands. A membership in AAA might be a good idea. Keep in mind that cellphone coverage may be spotty along your route; the bigger carriers are usually better in this regard.

Definitely have the car inspected by a mechanic before you buy it. Even though money is tight, this is money well spent.

Hopefully you can leave enough time to drive the car around town for a bit before you set off on your trip.

Take the bus (very cheap) and rent a small cheap car (such as from Rent a Wreck) if and where you want to see specific areas such as the Rocky Mountain Parks. Your budget will not get you a reliable car.

You can rent a Grand Cherokee for 2 weeks for about $900. A month would be about $1800. I realize that you could sell the car after your trip, but if you don’t have a lot of time to sell the car, you will have to take a loss - maybe a $1000 or so to sell quickly. Renting looks attractive.

Both cars are decent cars. I can’t tell you one over the other since I have no idea how the cars have been cared for by previous owners. Of the two I know the Accord is prone to auto transmission problems. Add potential lack of transmission maintenance to that and I can’t go with the Accord. The Camry transmission could also be neglected, but at least is tends to hold up better than the Accord transmission. Therefore the Camry.

If the Accord has a 5 spd. manual, then I’m back to the Accord. This all assumes you can handle the details of buying and getting the car registered and inspected. What you have going for you is you only need the car to last a few months and 5 to 10K miles. Any car might hold up so long, but then again…

My vote leans towards Camry due to better chances with transmission. Also an 02 Accord has a timing belt that is due and likely not performed by current owner. Snapped your car turns to instant junk.

Ex-cop Crown Vic.

You can get these probably cheaper (for equivalent condition) than either of the asian cars mentioned. Also, if you break down, any repair shop will be able to handle it. Plus (and do not dismiss this) two foreigners, with “funny-sounding” accents, will probably get far more amicable treatment in the “deep South” if you’re driving domestic. (If you think I’m kidding, watch the “Top Gear” episode where they drive across Alabama.)

Plus, the Crown Vic is (for better or worse) a very “American” car, well-befitting an American road trip…and even though these heavy RWD cars get bad MPGs in the city, they do surprisingly well on the highway.

Very slim? oh ye of little faith. Ive done this many time and 1000s of miles

make that 10s of 1000s of miles

Run with the Camry. Have it looked over by a mechanic. Have fun! :slight_smile:

These are, beyond all doubt, the most car for your money and the best road trip cars. They get 24-25 MPG on the road. No rubber timing belts or fragile transmissions to worry about. If you don’t like this one, there are 20,000 more to choose from at dealers across the country. When your trip is over, you sell it for what you paid for it.

If you must buy a car instead of rent then count my vote for the Crown Vic too. Reliable, good gas mileage, and if a problem develops just about everyone on the planet can service it; and NO timing belt to worry about snapping when you’re 50 miles out of Chicago.

Plus there’s a ton of room.

Do you have a car already but want a different car for the trip? If you already have a car, I would want to consider it first. Any older car you buy is a risk of problems that the current owner knows about and is trying to sell it for that reason. Your own car you know the problems and can address them before the trip.

What did you find when looking for rentals? Many cities have a “rent a wreck” Those are cars that look bad and might have a window that will not go down etc, but they rent cheap and may well fit your needs.

IF any US shop cannot handle the Accord or Camry they are in the twilight zone. Those two cars have been either #1 or #2 in sales for at least the last 20-25 years

Thanks a lot for all the response guys.

@the same mountain bike and others - the road trip is going to be over 3 months which means the rental prices are a little too expensive. Even with rent-a-wreck it is above $5000 dollars as we would be dropping of at another place as well as the amount of time we will be renting for.

@lion9car - No, we dont live in Chicago at the moment. The plan is to give the registration a try (we have fully researched this on forums, official websites etc) - if there is an issue in Chicago, then we would go to Wisconscin to buy a car as the registration process there is a little easier and can be done with a PO Box, which we can have the title forwarded to a friend in Austin when we want to sell the car there. There is also an option of receiving the title via email so hopefully we can do this which would solve a few of our issues.

@meanjoe75fan - thanks for the ‘American car’ tip, it’s definately something we will look into.

@Peacefrog - thanks for the response, this is the attitude that we have!

Thanks to all those for the car advice about the 2 cars I asked about, particularly Caddyman for the link. Before we buy anything we are definately going to get the car looked over by a mechanic and we will be getting AAA for the journey.
If anyone else has any more tips, concerns, tips please get in touch, the more input the better.

Thanks again all