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Buying my first car, how old is too old?

I have made it into my mid-20s without ever having to own a car, but now I’m in the Pacific Northwest and need something to get around town occasionally and out the mountains on weekend. I have my eye on a used Honda CRV or Toyota Rav4. What I want to know is how old is too old and will be expensive to fix? And the same with miles, how many is too many? And finally, any advice between those 2 models? Toyota wins on reliability but Honda wins for safety (according to consumer reports). Any advice would be appreciated, thanks!

I think it makes a lot more sense to decide/determine what your budget is first. If you figure out what you can afford to buy and/or monthly payment, your options will kind of narrow on their own. It may turn out you can afford a newer used CRV or RAV4, or, if you’ve been totally unrealistic before, you may find out you need to look at another type of vehicle altogether.

Good luck.

Thanks, I should have specified. My budget is about $12,000-$13,500, so 2005 and older models tend to fall into that range.

It’s hard to go wrong with a budget like that, but be sure to have potential vehicles inspected by a mechanic, or at least a mechanically inclined friend or family member before you buy. Maintenance records trump odometer mileage in my book. I would rather buy a well maintained vehicle with 100,000 miles on it than a poorly maintained one with 40,000 miles, and there’s more to maintenance than oil changes. Check the owner’s manual to learn more about the maintenance schedule of whatever you are buying, and compare the schedule with the maintenance records. Lastly, keep an open mind about what specific vehicles you are considering. For a small SUV, also consider the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute cookie cutters. They are pretty trouble free, and you can probably get a nicer, newer, cheaper one than a CR-V or RAV4.

thanks! that’s really helpful. I was also really concerned with efficiency (I know, that’s kind of an oxymoron with an SUV), so I limited my search to vehicles that get at least 20 mpgs. So I think that rules out the escape and tribute, but I’ll keep them in mind!

One-stop shopping fur gas mileage here:

Pick a year and the SUV class and you will see them in order of highest to lowest city mileage

You have one advantage, the older used cars are likely to be in better shape than on the other coast. Less rust in the Pacific Northwest.

Good Luck

Fuel economy is no reason to avoid the Escape in favor of the CR-V or Rav4. If you look at real-world owner reports at, you’ll see that owners are reporting the following mpg for 2WD, 4cyl, AT 2010 models:

  1. Ford Escape: 26.5 mpg
  2. Honda CR-V: 25.8 mpg
  3. Toyota Rav4: 23.9 mpg

With your $12,500 to 13,000 budget I’d advise you to look at CRV’a and Rav4’s in the $11,000 price area. This gives you some money to spend on tires and repairs that is common with older cars. Say a 2003 CRV with about 100K miles should have plenty of life left and cost about $6,000 to 8,000.

Make sure you know if the car has a timing belt or not. If it does many older cars will need a timing belt job shortly after you buy it.

thanks, that’s exactly what i did. got a 2004 honda crv ex (fully loaded) with 100,000 for $11,700. I hope it was the right choice!