Car shopping


I’m in the market for a new or lightly used, inexpensive, extremely reliable small car with good gas mileage. I currently drive a 2000 Ford Focus which I love except that I’ve been exceedingly disappointed in it’s reliability. Any thoughts as to what I should look at and when the best time to shop would be.


Those early Focus cars were dreaded for having too many bugs. But since about 2004 Ford has corrected everything it should have caught in the earlier years. Now the Focus is a well-regarded car. If your current beast suits your needs, consider another Focus.

But don’t test drive the Mazda3 or you’ll have to say good-bye to Focus forever.


I would recommend a Corolla if you are 5’6" or not much bigger, as there isn’t any room in one. The Yaris is about the same inside too. They both run alright after a few thousand miles when they stop jumping forward as much. Now is the best time to shop. I always liked the Camry Solaras looks.


Also consider Honda Fit and Civic.


It’s more important to be an informed consumer than try to buy at the right time of the month (the end, on a Friday or Saturday night). If you want a new Focus, for instance, be familiar with competing models. Talk about what you like about the Focus, but also talk about the competitor’s plusses. Let the salesman start talking money. And know the MSRPs and invoice costs for the car and each option you want. Expect to pay a few hundred more than the invoice cost, unless the car is popular.


Thanks so much. Good to know that they’ve improved the Focus though I’m not sure I have the stomach to try again. Too bad though as it’s a fun little car to drive.


Thanks for the input. I like the design of the Yaris so perhaps I should give both the Corolla and Yaris a test drive.


Thanks for the tips. I’ll do my homework before talking with salesmen!


Check out the Mazda3. They are very fun to drive and have a great reliability record. Consumer Reports raves about them and anyone I know who has one loves it.


I got a Ford Windstar the first year they came out, because it was so pretty & comfortable. But then the troubles started, alarms blinking, check engine lights flashing, etc. Finally the engine went out, after we replaced the gaskets at our own expense because we had too many miles for the recall. I will say Ford was great; put in a new engine and everything. When the check engine lights kept flashing, I traded it in. My 2000 has been terrific. Moral to the story? Don’t buy a model when it first comes out, but you don’t have to be afraid after that!


Thanks! I’ll do that.


There are a number of good, inexpensive and fun to drive cars around. My order of choice (knowing you liked driving the Focus) would be:

  1. Mazda 3. My son has one in blazing red; it’s the coooolest car of the bunch.
  2. Toyota Corolla. Fun to drive for normal size persons; don’t buy one if you are 6 ft tall.
  3. Honda Civic; Three of the 5 top executives at Honda are car nuts, and Hondas have always been fun to drive and reliable.
  4. Hyundai Elantra; the new model is much more refined than the previous, which was a very reliable car. Hyundai warranty is the best in the business. A lot of car for the money.

The above all cost about the same and are about the same size. One size smaller are the Toyota Yaris and the Honda Fit. The Fit is a blast to drive around the city, but both it and the Yaris are not good long distance cars.

Do not buy any Volkswagen, Kia,Mitsubishi, or other unknown and unproven model if you want to avoid the Focus problems. Volkswagens are not only unreliable but expensive to repair!! Avoid any GM model made in Korea by Daewoo, which they own now. They are cute cars but only one notch above biodegradable. Likewise the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn are mediocre cars with a spotty reliability record. The only good small car Chevrolet dealers ever sold was the GEO Prism, which was really a Toyota Corolla dressed up as a Chevy. The Focus is a much better car now, but the Mazda 3 costs only $700 more new, and it has light years better quality.



Hyundai and Kia merged in 1999. If you don’t like Kia, how can you like Hyundai?

I also dispute your assertions about the other cars you mentioned. They are all of similar quality, good or bad. has a feature called True Cost to Own. If you just look at estimated repairs for new cars over the next 5 years, you can get an evaluation of quality for the first 75,000 miles or so. The repair costs are derived from the extended warranty cost. It’s reasonable to assume that the profit and sales costs are the same for all extended warranties, so the actual repair estimates are all that is left. Here are a few 5-year repair cost estimates for some small cars:

Honda Fit: $797
Toyota Yaris: $797
Mazda3: $884
Chevy Aveo: $890
Ford Focus: $910

The yearly difference in average expected repair cost is about $20 max. And the Mazda3, while in the same class as the Fit and Yaris, is by no means significantly better than the Aveo or Focus. Either they are all “a notch above biodegradable” or they are all excellent choices. I prefer to think of them as excellent choices, including your favorite Mazda3.

  1. Honda Civic; Three of the 5 top executives at Honda are car nuts, and Hondas have always been fun to drive and reliable.

I digress. I test drove a new civic and about fell asleep because it was so boring of a ride.


Buy a newer (2005+) Focus used. Being domestic they have poor resale making them great bargains used. In 2000 they had poorer reliability but in 2005+ there reliability was average-above average. Don’t bother buying new depreciation is excessive on these cars.

You already love the car and it will only be improved slightly in 2005 beyond the reliability. You’ll do far better than purchasing a Honda/Toyota since they are overpriced in the lightly used department.


Agree with you above cost figures from Edmunds; however, the historical frequency and probability of these repairs is much higher in the cars with lower reliability history. Edmunds is not known for predicting reliability, only what it costs to fix. Companies who use these figures find them useful, since they only keep their cars about 3 years; most cars are OK the first 3 years. J D Power would be a better choice to consult for long term reliability, as is Consumer Reports. Also, although Kia is now owned by Hyundai, they still have a long way to go to close the gap in quality with Hyundai. The Aveo is a small car, like the Yaris and Fit, but has significantlyly lower life expectancy. The Mazda 3 is in the same class as Civic, Corolla, and Elantra.