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Buying a new (used) car - Help!

Hi, guys,

My Ford Escort lasted about 11 years, but she’s gone where the good cars go. Now, I’m in the market for a used Volvo. Do you guys have models I should beware of/be on the lookout for? I don’t have a ton of cash, so I probably won’t be looking at anything from this decade. Alternately, if there is an especially good, reliable older model car you could recommend - that would be fantastic, too.


Richard Church

If you don’t have a ton of cash, then you certainly shouldn’t be looking at ANY Volvos.

While they are under warranty, Volvos can be an enjoyable experience for the owner.
However, once the warranty is over, the owner can look forward to a higher than average incidence of both electronic and mechanical problems AND a significantly higher than average cost for repairing those problems.

Despite their reputation among some folks, Volvos are neither reliable nor cheap to own once they begin to age. And, in case you think that this high maintenance & repair cost is worthwhile, given Volvo’s “safety advantage”, that advantage disappeared many years ago as other car makers caught up with–and in some cases passed–Volvo in terms of safety.

If you are looking for an older car, the most important thing to look for, no matter what make or model, is full maintenance records. The difference in how much it will cost you to keep an older car running is, to a VERY great extent, impacted by how well the car was maintained.

All of that being said, if you want to look at “foreign” cars, you should avoid all European models, as they have the worst record for frequency of repair. Try to stay focused on US, Japanese, and Korean brands.

Makes and models to look for include:

Honda Civic
Honda Accord
Toyota Corolla
Toyota Camry
Geo/Chevrolet Prizm (mechanical twins of the Toyota Corolla)
Subaru Impreza
Acura Integra
Hyunda Accent
Hyundai Sonata
Ford Focus
Ford Crown Victoria
Buick Century/Regal

What’s the budget? $5000? $7000? $2000?

Agree; the above list comprises good cars that do not cost an arm and a leg to keep going. In general avoid low volume production cars since parts will cost more and it’s harder to find a good mechanic.

If you are watching the pennies, avoid any Volkswagen, Subaru, Volvo, any car with a turbo charger, and of course soon to be orphans like Saturns.

Thanks for the swift replies, all. Didn’t expect such a quick turnaround.

bscar budget is probably in the $2-3K range. I haven’t had car payments in awhile, and would like to avoid them, if possible.

A 2001/2002 Chevrolet Prizm with a 4-speed auto transmission is in your price range. The equivalent Toyota Corolla will cost 50% more than the identical Prizm. Not similar, but identical. They were assembled from the same parts on the same assembly line. Only the name tags are different.

The thing with older Volvo’s (you are talking '95 to '00 with your budget) is the bodies still look good, the paint is usually in good shape, and the seats are still comfy. The bad thing is the electrical system (switches, relays, solenoids) will have a lot of gremlins, and the mechanicals will need frequent and very expensive repairs.

I owned an '98 V70XC wagon and the repair bills were often $2,500 to 3,000 and these kinds of bill were once or twice a year occurances. Eventually I just couldn’t see spending that kind of money.

If you must have an older Volvo be ready for repairs with a budget of about $3,000 a year. Don’t use a Volvo dealer, unless you want to budget $6,000 a year for repairs. Do find a good independant Volvo knowledgeable mechanic, you will give him some business. Stay away from any AWD Volvo’s. They have complicated systems and the front to rear drive shaft was about $800 just for the part.

Thanks. From what I’m hearing here, I think I’m going to steer clear of Volvos and possibly refer to VDCdriver’s list.

That said, and opinions on older model Mercedes? Same type of problems? I hear they run like tanks but, expensive parts/repairs are outside my means.

BTW - Thanks for all the great feedback. As you can probably tell, I’m not car expert.

I would check out the High Mileage Cars, Toyota Age Equivalents, and Toyota Mileage Equivalents on (Disclosure: This is my website.)

Also, I personally drive a 1984 Toyota Corolla liftback with 547,000+ miles which I bought new and which I find about as reliable in the 2000s as in the 1990s and 1980s (and far more reliable than my two earlier GM vehicles which also were purchased new and which were disposed of within 4 years).

Having said this, I have driven a number of used Toyota vehicles, all of which I would find unacceptable (save the Prius), if I were in the used car market. Consequently, I would buy a new vehicle. If limited in the resources available for a vehicle, I would likely buy one of the following:

a Toyota Yaris 4-door hatchback,
a Scion xD, or
a Honda Fit,

and would likely buy one of the foregoing even if not limited in resources.

However, as a Ford shareholder, I (as well as my wife, daughter, puppy, and two cats) would sincerely appreciate your considering a Ford.

Older MB’s don’t break down as frequently as Volvo’s, but when they do the repair costs are high. On your budget it would be a very old MB and therefore likely to cost more to keep on the road than you’d want to spend.

In older cars you do best with the most basic “no frills” models you can find. Things like dual zone AC, power windows, power locks, power seats, moonroofs, etc. are the things that break and cost money to fix. So, you end up with a luxury old car with a window or two that won’t operate, no AC, and a seat stuck in one place.

The more gadgets a car has when new, are just more items that break down in an old car.

Save Your Money. $2500 To $3000 Isn’t Enough To Go Car Shopping With When Wanting To “Cash Out” On A Reliable Car. All You Have Is The Idea. You’ll Just Delay A Car’s Journey To The Crusher. Get 5 To 10 Grand Rounded-Up And Get Back With Us.


What VDCdriver said.

While not the prettiest vehicle, a Crown Victoria or Taurus will likely get you the newest vehicle in your 2~3k budget. In that price range the condition of the car is more important than the badge on it.
While time consuming and most likely frustrating, taking the vehicle to a mechanic before you buy will save you loads down the road.

You’re not going to get anything terribly reliable in that price range, no matter what make you buy. As others have said, try to find a car with maintenance records. Make sure you get a pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic.