Buying first used car

HI. i’m a college student looking to buy my first used car. i want something fun, safe and cheap. was thinking of used Saab, but not sure which model/year is best, or maybe a volvo, either an old 240 or 850. any suggestions?

What kind of budget are you working with? No offense to Volvo and Saab, but they can be a higher maintenance cost car than other reliable choices, given your price range. What is your price range?

about $4000…

I have never heard anyone who found an older used Saab or Volvo to be a cheap car. Over the years, the few I knew who had them found a lot of expensive repairs. A new one may be reasonable for a while, but there is a reason the older used ones are cheap.

I also do not know of many $4000 cars that will be labeled as fun, at the same time being cheap.

With all due respect, brookes, you need to buy something simpler and more reliable. A $4000 Saab or Volvo will be a maintenance headache and a financial moneypit.

We assume you are not wealthy and are serious about your studies. You need something trouble-free and easy and cheap to fix. A Chevy Geo/Prism, older Mazda Protege, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan SEntra or even a Chevy Cavalier will be less disrupting to your studies and bank account.

In addition, Saab is in bankruptcy and will not be bailed out by GM, the US or Swedish government. Volvo is for sale by Ford to who knows. The future of both these car companies and parts supply is uncertain.

As others say, “fun”, “cheap to run”, and $4000 don’t go together when you are thinking Saab and Volvo.

guess I was thinking of safety, and saab and volvo are known for that.

Almost ALL cars are very safe now compared to what they were in the past. Years ago Volvos were safer cars and Saabs were considered “safe” before others had front wheel drive. Saabs are or were no safer than any other car. But they were easier to control.

If you are really concerned about safety here are a few tips:

  1. Equip your car with a good set of WINTER TIRES. They will improve handing immensely

  2. Keep your car well maintained

  3. Take a “defensive driving” course (about $100); most companies with a lot of drivers make them take this; it greatly reduces accidents.

  4. If you live in a cold part of the country, take a winter driving course (about $100) which allows you to drive on glaring ice and control the car.

  5. People talking on cellphones now cause as many accidents as drunks. DON’T TALK ON YOUR CELLPHONE WHILE DRIVING.

The time lag between reality and public opinion and belief is about 8+ years, and much longer for some people. Many people still believe Volvos are reliable and last longer than other cars. That stopped in the mid seventies. The same for safety. Even a subcompact today has 4 airbags, all sorts of safety gear, and your driving skills are now the BIGGEST CONTRIBUTOR to your safety!!!

I do a lot of work on risk analysis and real risk and perceived risk differ greatly. Ask your insurance agent for a good cheap rate on a Volvo or Saab (because they’re “safe”) and you will get a blank stare.

Hope you now have a better understanding of safety and risk.

I tend to agree with docnick’s suggestions for your price range and what would make a good, reliable, safe car for your price range. Sure, you may be like the millions of other college students who are driving Civics, Corollas, and Cavaliers, but they drive them for a reason. Where I am from, college students flock to the Cavalier. For your $4000 price range, your best bet may be the Cavalier. Heck, for $4000 you can probably get an '04 or '05 with relatively low miles. The same cannot be said of any of your other choices. Another benefit to boot is that the Cavalier was produced in such great numbers that they were actually pretty well built and are typically reliable and cheap to repair and insure. Try to find another car that you can get a complete (everything front and rear) brake job done on for less than $500…

Too much fluff, get the lowest mileage toyota or honda you can.

What part of the world are you driving in and how much will you be driving?

For $4k your choices are limited. People will post Toyota/Honda but have a $1000-$2000 premium for a name that is meaningless on a otherwise $2k-$3k car which means well worn out.

Mazda’s are cheaper and relatively fun to drive. Also take a peek at domestics and see if anything suits your fancy, they are quite cheap.

It’s good for a change to see some positive remarks about Cavaliers. I am on my second one, the first bought new in 1984 which I traded at 160,000 miles due to some rust which I can afford to not look at. The second one, a 1996 also bought new is running strong and like new at 130,000 miles. It would be an excellent car for you as the trade value is only about $500 to $1000. I can get a lot of miles of driving for that little money if I keep it but intend to trade it soon for a Cobalt. That small trade value verifies what I will say in the next paragraph about a lot of used car for the money.

I have seen it posted here that some college students like Cavaliers and I can guess why. You get a less used up car for the money than with a Honda/Toyota etc. I think that the reliability reputation pendulum has swung too far in favor of the Japanese brands and that creates an opportunity for people searching for good value.

I bought mine because my brother works at a Chevrolet garage, I like GM cars and my father drove them too, and can use my GM charge card credit for a discount.

It has been a reality that with an older car, the availability of more dealers can be an advantage while traveling far from home but it remains to be seen how many small town Chevrolet dealers will remain after the forthcoming changes. Honda, Toyota, Mazda dealers are rare in comparison. The nearest Toyota dealer from where I am right now is about 40 miles away and a Honda or Mazda dealer is even further away. There is a Chevrolet dealer about two miles away, another at 14 miles and yet another at 17 miles. Like I said, that may change.

Thank you everyone for responding!
I need to make a trip in it from Delaware to Maine and back this summer, but it will otherwise be used to make little trips around campus. I’ll look into the cavalier, but to be completely honest I think I might need something a little…different. No offense to cavaliers in any way. I’ll definitely look into toyotas/hondas.
What are your thoughts on Subarus?

Looking at a car that old you are looking at DIY or finding a good mechanic. Dealer proximity is not as big of a problem. It is a matter of luck about this price point, the chances of one or another can work out either way. The biggest thing you can do while looking at a used car is to have an independent party (mechanic) check out the car and make sure there is not a big buck repair in your near future.

Yes, I have a family friend who is also our mechanic all lined up ready to look at whatever car I pick. He’s also got experience working on foreign cars, so I should have all my bases covered. Thanks!

I’d be a little worried about a $4000 Subaru. The ones with 2.5l engines had gasket problems, and the AWD system is added complexity in an older car, something needing repairs. I also strongly recommend you not get a Saab or Volvo, given their repair problems. They are no longer significantly safer than other cars. Finally, buy no car with a turbo - instant problem on an older car.

A newer Ford Escort or Focus is worth a look

You can get a 2004 Cavalier for abound $4000, but a 2004 Corolla will be about $8000. You’ll have to look at a 1999 Corolla to get down to $4000. It’s the same deal with the Civic. The 2002 Focus can be found for about $4000. You need to decide whether you want a 10 year old popular car or a 5 year old car that is unpopular. At this point in your life, an unpopular ride might not be appealing from an emotional standpoint, but it certainly is from a money point of view. I’d test drive a Chevy Cavalier and a Pontiac Sunfire.

YOu are putting in very few miles and may want a lot of hauling capacity. A Crown Victoria or Grand Marquis might be for you. It is hard to beat the price, they are quite reliable, parts are readily available and inexpensive. They are easy to work on (again, economical). Grand Marquis are near the top of the least often stolen list.

A $4k Subaru will get a late 90’s model. If you find one in decent shape only get one with the 2.2L engine(pre 99 Legacy, most Impreza/Outback Sport) vs 2.5L(Forester, Legacy 99+, all Outback larger). Avoid any Subaru with 2.5L engine in your price range unless by some miracle 2005+.

Pay a mechanic for checkover. In an older model I would be leary of an automatic AWD. Auotmatic are extra sensitive to non-uniform wear tires and have a wear item called a electronic clutch pack. The manuals are significantly less prone to this as they use a simple pure mechanical device for AWD called a viscous coupling.