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Buy new or used?

my daughter in college needs a car. we have $5000.00 she drives back and forth in winter, etc. should we buy an old honda, toyota or such (which will need repairs)…OR buy a new reliable 0% dwn 0% financing car, put the $ in an acct. and try to add to it now and then, make pymts and have reliability? she will graduate in 3 semesters and maybe find a job? thanks for any ideas, louann

An important question: How far does she drive? If she lives at home and is commuting a short distance, my suggestion would be to buy a car for no more than $4000 and use the remaining $1000 for any necessary repairs such as brakes or tires. I don’t like financing anything and if you can hold out for three semesters, maybe an older car might just do the trick.

“Your daughter needs a car.” We decided, ours did too during her senior year of college. It’s not necessary that you buy a $5000 clunker or a new car. There are cars in the closer to $10,000 range as used cars that offer excellent reliability. Financing $5k is easier with the idea it will be signed over to her at the right time when she could take over the payments.

When we bought the car for our daughter our thought was, it was her’s to use for that time, but if she could not or would not assume the responsibility, it was something we could use. A kind of reverse mentality to making the car practical for her, it had to be practical for all including her younger bother. I chose a car that “we” could live with, not just her. She had some input, but the decision was her mother’s and mine and not hers on make and model. She wanted a Volvo…we laughed and said she could buy one with her own money; later we she had a job.

We settled upon a used Accord for $10k (not in her color) , that she kept after graduation for over 10 years and 200k miles and it served her well.

A great deal depends on how far and how often she’ll be driving it, what the driving environment is, and your ability to rescue her on command. If she’ll be driving around Chicago, for example, you’ll want something super reliable. Or Minnesota or the Dakotas, where a breakdown in winter could be life threatening.

If it’s not too far and a safe environment, and you can rescue her readily, a used Civic would be great.

Whatever you get her, add a AAA membership and, if she doesn’t already have one, a cell phone.


Buy a used, unpopular car with decent reliability. I suggest a 2005 or 2006 Chevy Malibu LT. The 2006 LT with the 6-cylinder costs about as much as a 2004 Accord 4-cyl to maintain; they are the same initial cost. Actually, the Honda is a bit more. The 6-cyl Accord costs a little more to run, but it is about $1000 more. She’ll be happy to have anything. As a dad of 3 driving daughters, I know. BTW, the 2005 Malibu LT 6-cyl will cost just a couple hundred bucks more over 5 years, and will save a grand or more in purchase price.

A new car is a luxury for those who can afford it. A much better value for the money is a well-maintained car that’s two to three years old, which should still be quite reliable if you do your homework and pick a good model.

For myself, I always go to my mechanic and ask him for the name of a customer who is selling a car that matches my specifications. Then he inspects it and gives me an estimate of the cost of necessary repairs. With that and a Blue Book price, I have a basis for bargaining.

The largest expense on a new car is depreciation. On the other hand, if you can get a clunker and trade it in under current rules, $4500 is a substantial discount.

If you can wait a few months I’d buy nothing at the moment. All the new cars with good mpg are selling out at the dealers due to the cash for clunkers program. Without a clunker to turn in, I don’t think this is a good time to get a deal on a smaller fuel efficient car.

As far as used cars go it seems the used car lots have a low inventory as well. Most of the lots I see have about 1/2 cars on the lot they used to have. Not a good time to get a deal on a used car either. December is traditionally a slow sales month for car sales. Perhaps by then you can shop for a car.

In the meantime keep looking for a nice car from a private seller, perhaps a friend selling a car. If not, you can shop the dealers in a better enviornment after the smoke clears from the current mob scene in the auto business.

I hear the argument for cars with reliability less than Accords/Camrys as the total outlay is suppose to be as good or better. When it came to my daughter/son driving in possibly unsafe places, we opt for Accords because a break down in a high crime area has no comparison to cost savings. I don’t even consider that side of the debate…any breakdown is unsafe and the most reliable car I can afford is the one they will get. This along with provisions for proper maintenance, and the family sleeps a little better when the kids are away.

I respect others for their similar feelings for Fords and Chevys who have likewise given them good service and feel equally content with their kids in Malibus and Taurus.

Again, I think that the car you choose depends on your daughter’s needs. My son went to college about 45 minutes from where we live and didn’t need to to interstate driving. He took the 1978 Cutlass which was 14 years old at the time. The next year, he participated in an Appalachian studies program and needed to travel on I-75, a very busy interstate. We sent him out in a 1988 Ford Taurus which was then 5 years old, but we had owned it for a long time and had kept it maintained. My son is not mechanically inclined, but both vehicles served him well with no breakdowns. I certainly would not let him take the old Oldsmobile on I-75 so that was the reason for the Taurus which was 10 years newer.

I noted a few recommendations for Accords. As a dedicated Honda driver from my first car, I can attest to the reliability, easy maintenance, and inexpensive repairs on Hondas, but would suggest, as a more economical choice, the Civic model. I just purchased my first Accord and, although I love the increase in power, don’t like the increase in expense. The Civic is just as reliable, they run forever, just like an Accord, but are less expensive in all areas, from initial outlay to insurance to gas. I kept my 2001 Civic as a commuter car, it has estimated milage of 200,000 (cluster gage has been broken for 3yrs), it’s Kelly Blue Book value was $4000 or so, and I still drive it to work every day. You should be able to find something similar for the extra $1000, and I agree with the comment about avoiding financing. It will be cheaper to pay for regular maintenance and a repair or two than to finance an additional $5000, plus the increased insurance, and increased gas for an Accord over a Civic. Hondas hold their value and are rarely a repair nightmare. Go Civic!!

Allow me to update my post about my 2001 Civic - mine has both unreliable milage (broken gage) and I drive an unusually high milage. So, if you consider a Civic, I would buy a somewhat newer model with much less milage - but I still think you can get a good deal. Mabye a 2005 with less than 80,000 for about $6000? And a private sale will probably be cheaper than a dealer - if you have a regular mechanic (not a dealer shop) they sometimes have a posting board for customers who have had their cars serviced there, for private purchases, and the mechanic can attest to the condition - mine does.

I suggest a one owner Civic with under 110k miles that has had the timing belt changed at about 80K miles and is less than 12 years old. It should be good for about 3 years/50k miles with minimum normal maintenance costs (oil, brakes and the likes).

Your local Honda dealer (maybe a service writer) might be able to suggest someone that is thinking about selling. Then you might even be able to get the service records.