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Car shopping: need help please


My name is Josh and I am a college student looking to buy an excellent Used car!

Please note: I am only interested in the following 3 Cars

They are USED from 1998 - 2001 car Models

I am having difficulties deciding which one is the Best in terms of RELIABILITY, SAFETY and LONGEVITY

The 3 Cars: BMW 3 Series 1997 - 1999; LEXUS LS 1997 - 1999; and VOLVO s40, or VOLVO s 80 - 1999 - 2001

What I would like please is a recommendation and your opinions on these 3 Cars ??

Thank you for your time, Josh M : )

I hate to be a buzzkill Josh but none of those cars are a great choice for a college student (unless you have a trust fund). Being luxury cars repairs and maitance will be very expensive.


I have taken this into consideration. This is not about me being a student this is about me and I will buy one of these 3 Cars and I do need a recommendation please !

Thank You , Josh

All nice cars, and all are on the pricey side to maintain and repair.

This is not a scientific based answer but here’s how I’d rank them.

  1. Lexus
  2. BMW
  3. Volvo

Of these 3 choices I believe the Volvo’s would be much more expensive in the age and mileage range you are considering. I’d just flat out drop Volvo from consideration. Of the other 2 it depends on how well the car passes a pre-inspection by a qualified mechanic. Cars this age have a lot of “unknown’s” regarding their past service history. The more you can find out and document a good service history the better.

If you can handle manual transmissions I’d recommend a stick. An auto transmission in these cars is very expensive to repair, rebuild, or replace.

This recommendation has nothing to do with you being a college student. My feeling about Volvo’s is based on spending lots of money on a '98 an '00 "Volvo which is more normal than unique.

Josh; you are asking for OUR ADVICE and you are only considering three cars?

Some questions first:

  1. Are you a WEALTHY college stduent?

  2. Are you mechanically inclined to cope with tempermental and complicated cars?

  3. What is the climate where your college is located?

  4. Can you park indoors or does the car have to sit outside?

  5. Will you depend on the car for daily transportation?

First your choices:

  1. BMW series 3, 1997; what is the mileage and do you have all the maintenace records? This car is OK for a wealthy ENGINEERING student who does not depend on it for daily transportation.

  2. Lexus; what model??? Again you need to be well off to be able to pay for the needed maintenance. This is a very reliable car and would be good daily transportation IF THE MAINTENANCE HAS BEEN KEPT UP.

  3. Volvo; these cars need regular EXPENSIVE maintenance Don’t buy one if you do not have the complete maintenance records. It helps to be an engineering student.

Josh; here is what most of us would recommend, assuming you are NOT WEALTHY, NOT AN ENGINEERING STUDENT, and depend on the car for daily transportation.

  1. A 4-5 year old, low mileage Hyundai Elantra

  2. A 6-7 year old Honda Civic, low mileage

  3. A 6-7 year old Toyota Corolla, low mileage

  4. A 6 Year old Mazda Protege, low mileage

  5. A 2004 Mazda 3, with low mileage

The above cars are easy to maintain, very reliable, and have good gas mileage. And as I remember from my student days, easy starting and a good heater were some of the most important qualities.

In all case, you need to check how much maintenance has been done, and have a qualified mechanic check out the car to make sure it is sound.

Personally, I went through college driving a 10 year old Chevy and the money I saved by not driving an exotic car allowed me to have as many dates as I had time for. Women (the ones worth dating) don’t care what you drive, as long as it looks clean, starts easy and has a good heater. If you are in the South, make sure it has a good air conditioner.

If you are worried about status, at the universities I went to, the best way to status was to make the Dean’s list.

The final choice is yours, of course, but there are some cars I would recommend you steer clear of:

  1. Subarus
  2. Ford Focus
  3. Older Hyundai Sonata
  4. Chevy Cavalier
  5. Any Chrysler product.
  6. Any Jeep model
  7. Any older Kia model

P.S. I would only recommend the Lexus, provided it was mechanically inspected. The other two will distract you from your studies, no matter how much money you have.

You have been given good advice. Being a college student you should be open to listening and learning.

Of those 3, I’d say the BMW. If I were your age I’d want the BMW for the fun driving experience. The other 2 are too staid.

Volvos…do this and it’ll be like supporting a child.

BMWs, again, an expensive choice. My son has had two and won’t get one again unless he wins the lottery.

Lexus, as long as the mileage is below 150,000 and the vehicle is in good shape and has been properly maintained it should provide you with many reliable miles, and repairs are a big part of cost of ownership.

Of these three Lexus would be my vote hands-down.

Whatever you decide, be sure you spend an extra $100 up front and get it thoroughly gone over by a trusted family mechanic (or local mechanic if you’re too far from home).

Yes, buy the Lexus and enjoy your overpriced Camry

bs–The Lexus model that is mechanically identical to a Camry is the ES.
The rear-wheel drive Lexus LS that the OP mentioned is totally different from a Camry in every way.

whoops, sorry.
it’s kinda hard to keep track of what’s what in the lexus/toyota world


I have taken this into consideration. This is not about me being a student this is about me and I will buy one of these 3 Cars and I do need a recommendation please !

Thank You , Josh [/b]

Josh is not listening to your sage advice beyond these three models and has decided that panache is as important and more so than reliability and longevity.
Josh has made a good start in his decision to fit in with the crowd he hangs with. Go with the flow guys.

So Josh…go Lexus. At least you have a fighting chance of having the longest lived car at the best price if per chance you find some of the parts coincide with a Toyota’s. But we won’t tell on you…it’s a Lexus, really.

Find the car in the best condition among this group and it will be the most reliable, long-lived car. Most of the kinks will be ironed out of a 10-year old car. If the car had one owner and all the maintenance records are available, that’s a plus, and many would say a must. If it’s in cherry condition, it might have bee detailed to hide flaws. The pedals should look like they have 10 years of wear on them. It’s fine and even preferred to find a clean car, but watch out for too much prep.

If I were buying it, I’d think BMW first, then Lexus, then Volvo. I’d stay away from the sluggish 318, though. Does it have to be a 4-door, or would a Lexus SC be OK?

Help me understand your priorities. You opening post places a priority on RELIABILITY, SAFETY and LONGEVITY, and yet your search is focused on a limited set of older cars.

Assuming you’re buying a car because you want transportation, your priorities make it sound like you don’t want to be spending lots of time or money on repairs.

If your choice is truly limited to the three cars you mention, how much time and money are you willing to invest in repairs to keep the vehicle reliable, safe and long lived?

The rear-wheel drive Lexus LS that the OP mentioned is totally different from a Camry in every way.

Regardless that one is rear wheel drive and one is front. I would argue that many suspension components, electronics as well as individual parts in the obviously different front drive vs rear drive chassis difference, are EXACTLY the same.
I do not believe they are totally different in every way…it would be “engineering and cost effectiveness” suicide NOT to use some proven Camry technology and parts in a Lexus; as long as it was hidden from view of Josh and friends.

In the exaggerated words of the parts man at our local Lexus/Toyota dealership; "Toyota makes two vehicles…a Camry and a Truck, and everything else is their derivative."
I would also argue that ALL car makers try to do the same…with varying degrees of success.
“The Leggo block concept” is important…

Get an online subscription to Consumer Reports. They sample a lot of owners. I always have the same problems noted in the write up. Look for a car with all red circles; avoid black ones.

I have the 2001 S40. It has required a lot of expensive repairs, all before 100K miles. It’s is a peppy car, but I’d say 01 S40 is quirky. When purchased for 3 new drivers, it was the only one in it’s size class to have front and side air bags.


  1. Both CV joints (new axles installed)
  2. Both O2 sensors
  3. Mass Air Flow sensor (and a PROM update)
  4. Sway bar bushings

I am now getting “bad catalytic converter codes.” That’s like $1,200, if it is true.

And, all this is before the change timing belt due at 105K miles.

I have never had any of this stuff go bad on other cars with like mileage.

In contrast, our 2004 Honda Pilot had the first part go bad: a tie rod end at 85K miles.