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Buying a used AWD vehicle in a hilly, weather-y place. Need advice!


I am getting my tax return. I am a 24 year old female (yes, female…) college student, and I have never owned or bought a vehicle. In fact, I’m a new driver. My dad has worked on cars his whole life and knows them inside and out, but he also tends to Gary-rig (Gary is his name) everything, and the cars he buys craps out within a few years. I don’t think I can trust him really, because he will see every odd car as something that can be sort of fixed as a project, rather than not good choices.

In any case, I was thinking of buying a car with my tax return. I will have a total of 4k to put towards it. I want to keep 1k in the bank for the inevitable tweaks the used vehicle will need.

My Funds: 3k-3.5k max

Weather: I live in a place with sometimes severe weather and little flat ground. It can hit -5 degrees in the winter ever so often, and get a few feet of snow. The next day, it can be 45 and sunny. During summer, it can be over 100 on extreme days. The city authorities are good about salting the roads and keeping them clear, but I still would like AWD or 4WD. I could also learn how to drive a front or real wheel drive car in the snow, but…I worry about that being less safe or less capable of handling, especially since nearly every road has a grade to it.

Use/Commute: My workplace is 4.6 miles away according to Google Maps. I would be going there 4-5 times a week. It has about a 10% grade the whole way. There are no flat places in this 110 square mile town, besides the freeway or the street going through the center of it. I would want a decent MPG considering the hilly-ness of this place and how the gas use will skyrocket just based on that.

Other than work, I would go to the grocery store once a month (5miles away) and possibly the mall once a month (7 miles away). Add another 15 miles of driving for random leisure, and a one-hour, yearly drive up a mountain, and that’s all I’d be using it for.

I KNOW there will be no end-all-be-all car to fulfill all of my needs, and at a budget of 3k-3.5k, I will DEFINITELY need to make some sacrifices. Still, I know there are some choices that are better than the rest out there. What model/make should I be looking for? What car issues should I keep an eye out for, considering that the used cars will likely have lived their whole lives in this hilly, weather-y place? What car would best balance all of my needs (snow driveable, good gas mileage, low repair costs, AKA holy grail-esque)? I dont care much about the car, except that it WORKS and will not screw me over one day on the way to work.

Thank you very much for your input! I am looking forward to it, and use it!

I have never recommended a subaru to anyone, but I think it may be the car for you.

I’ve lived in Colorado for 35+ years and have seen a lot of wintery, mountain driving. I’d normally recommend a Subaru, RAV 4, CRV, etc., but decent ones will cost $5,000 - $ 7,000. With your limited budget, I’d recommend a decent FWD sedan and four real winter tires.

Four wheel drive vehicles in your price would be a Suzuki Aerio with 150K plus miles on the clock, also maybe a Jeep cherokee with 150K plus miles. Unfortunately your in a scary price range were there is a hole lot of junk, and your chances of getting burned is pretty high.

Like others have suggested you should probably settle on a front wheel economy car with a good set of snow tires.

You don’t need AWD or 4WD. In fact, FWD will be fine, AWD and 4WD just add mechanical complexity. In the $3.5K price range you don’t need more and higher repair bills. Get a FWD regular car and if you need to drive in significant winter conditions, then you get winter tires. I have an '03 Honda Civic (that is in your price range) and with winter tires I have no problems and I live in a hilly, snowy area.

You will pay a big premium for an AWD vehicle just because of where you live. Everybody wants one…But AWD/4WD vehicles tend to have higher maintenance costs…If the drive system should develop problems, they can be very expensive to fix…Think transmissions, transfer cases and drive shafts…Lots of moving parts, expensive parts…I found this Jeep, but with 191K miles, It’s WAY overpriced…

OP can also check out, just enter a car and price range to get an idea whats available in her price range.

A 2004/2005 Chevy Cavalier is unpopular, and will be priced accordingly. They are reliable cars as long as they were maintained well. The Kia Rio sedan is another possibility for the 2004/2005 model years. Toyotas and Hondas are excellent cars, but they have high resale prices. You’d have to get a 2001 or so to get comparable prices to the two cars I mentioned.

Still, condition is always the most important thing. Better an older, well maintained car than a newer one with few oil changes. Even though you don’t want Dad to work on it, maybe he can at least check it for you before you buy it to see if there are any problems. If he can’t get it on a lift and do compression tests, you should pay someone to do it.

Thank you all! I was also looking at Honda Civics, and other asian made vehicles. I found this:

but I think it’s too good of a steal to be not…infected…with… crappyess. I emailed her and asked her for a vehicle report.

What do you think of this one:

I mean, if its totally rebuilt (well) then, awesome, but… If it wasnt rebuilt well, then that could be a LOT of trouble.

I also don’t know if these vehicles are FWD though. Thank you all for your advice; I am listening to every one of you!

#1 has to have some issues. Maybe you are buying a loan. Call and ask about it, but it is highly unlikely that you can afford this CR-V. #2 is 20 years old. Forget it for daily transportation, no matter what the owner did to it. Keep looking. Think Cavalier or Rio.

There are a lot of scams on Craigslist you need to be very careful

Look at the bulletin boards on your campus where students and faculty post automobiles and other items they want to sell. Some colleges even have a website for these postings. There are often students going abroad or faculty going on sabbatical that are disposing of a car.

I would just look for a plain ole front wheel drive. You don’t need all wheel except rarely and will be more expensive to drive and maintain. Subs have a lot of head gasket problems I’m told.

Also, you shouldn’t be having that much money withheld by the government to get that kind of refund. Its an interest free loan and you need the money worse than them.

Also agree on the Craigslist part. You never know who you’re dealing with. One person in this area was murdered responding to a Craigslist ad-it was just a come on. Never go to their place. Never alone, etc.

A dose of reality…The absolute best option, is to have dad, if he will, supply one of his cars for free and keep a cell phone handy. You really can’t afford a car as a student when you depend upon tax returns for discretionary income. Trust me…dad IS your best option ! But if you insist blowing your money…

If all you have to spend is $3k, forget awd. It’s an added expense both in purchase and repair down the road, you cannot afford. Look for a used compact and get snow tires. Stay away from used Jeeps like a plague. Get a copy of CR buyers guide and be ready to buy anything that pops up on the list in this range that offers the best bang for te buck. If you can drive a standard, that helps open up more options. Btw, any car in this price range could potentially “screw you over on the way to work”. It’s the near junker world of comparibly unreliable cars, unless you are lucky enough to be dating a real mechanic.

You need to focus on good tires and a good battery once you buy the car with what little money you have left. Don’t think that awd will allow you to get away with crappy tires. You are more likely to have problems with the added speed they can travel. You commute on paved roads that are well maintained. You don’t need it and “your likes” are totally irrelevant in this price range. Welcome to the unforgiving world of car ownership ! If you don’t go with the “dad” option, you will be working to support your car.

With that very very limited budget no way can you expect to buy a awd or 4wd vehicle in decent shape. For that money you’re looking at a Awd vehicle that’s 10 years old and has about 200k miles. Either spend more money for a better vehicle…or lower your standards.

I have to agree with those who stated that you are not likely to find a reliable used car in this price range, and your chance of finding a decent AWD vehicle in this price range is even less likely.

Any used car is only as good as the maintenance that the previous owner put into it, and–unfortunately–one of the types of maintenance that many AWD vehicle owners tend to skip (or to do on an uneven basis) is tire rotation. Unless you can locate a vehicle that comes with full maintenance records, you would have no way of knowing whether its tires have consistently been rotated at the same mileage intervals (every 5k or every 7.5k miles) during its entire life, and if this has not been done faithfully, you will potentially be looking at very expensive repairs to the AWD mechanism.

And even if the tires were rotated properly, you would have no way of knowing if the previous owner ever ran the car with mismatched tires, which would have the same damaging effect on the AWD mechanism. And, of course, that type of repair would be over and above the ongoing repairs that any vehicle in this price class would need.

So, my advice is to forget about AWD, and/or wait until you have saved a few thousand dollars more so that you can get a vehicle with fewer miles on the odometer and–hopefully–evidence of proper maintenance.

As to, “I was thinking of buying a car with my tax return”.
I assume that you are referring to a tax refund.

Your tax return is the document that you file with the IRS, preparatory to either paying additional taxes or receiving a tax refund.

Yes, you can accuse me of being a “grammar Nazi” if you wish, but when it comes time for job interviews, you will be much more employable if you can express yourself without confusing people as to what you are trying to say.


Sincere good luck with your car quest!

On your budget, forget 4 wheel drive or AWD. You can buy a simple econobox with low mileage and invest in a good set of winter tires. A Hyundai Accent, Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Cobalt, Chevy Cavalier come to mind. Make sure you get it checked out and the maintenance has been done as needed.

If you extend your search out to 100 miles or so, you might find a better deal on an AWD vehicle. With enough searching, you could find a decent A/4WD, but it’ll take awhile. Put your refund in the bank and let it draw interest while you search.

Know that if you do find one, pay particular attention to the tires on the vehicle. If the tires are mismatched(different brands), don’t even bother making an offer on the vehicle. Some AWD systems are pretty picky about that and can cost quite a bit of money when something fails inside the transfer case.

That dirt cheap Honda CR-V in Reno is also advertised in Tucson;

In Las Vegas;

In Colorodo Springs;

That is a good example of someone fishing for a victim. When the contact information appears in the photo it won’t show up in a search. When shopping on CL I always perform a search on the sellers phone number to see how many cars they have for sale, I don’t bother calling the street hustlers with 8 clunker for sale.

One of the common scams on CL is the promise that as soon as you send the money, they will have the car shipped to you. That car does not even exist, but your money does until you send it.