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Cheap car needed for new driver

My daughter tore the front bumber and fender off our Highlander last week, with her license in hand for just a month.
My logic is to get a very inexpensive honda civic or accord, (high mileage) or like product, and I want to get 30-40k miles out of this car in the next 4 years without having to replace major components. And I don’t care what happens to the body. It will be donated to CarTalk after that period.

  • When do the transmissions generally go in this class of car, or do I not need to worry about this anymore.
  • I sense that all timing belts are getting replaced around the 100K mark, based on what I see on Craigslist. Should I only look at a vehicle that has had the timing belt already replaced?
  • I see several Civic sedans available for $4-5K from the 1997-2000 vintages. Should I consider a cutoff on age?
  • What else besides the Trans and timing belt are big cost items even for these small cars.
  • Should I consider a specific mileage cutoff? I see lots of Civics with 100-150K miles on them, which appear to be in fine shape. What am I missing?

Any insight you can provide would be helpful, as well as other cars that have equal or superior reliability than Honda.

Many thanks.

Your experience already shows you that crash protection is important for a teen driver, so make sure whatever you buy has side airbags. This will eliminate the older cars.

A civic would be good. Get the slowest car you can find. Don’t get the Si version, or one that someone stuck a turbo on or anything. She’s already shown that she is not yet a good driver.

As to getting a guaranteed 40k miles out of a 100k mile-old car - - no way to guarantee that at all. Things break, even on well-maintained vehicles, and you have no idea how well a used car was really maintained.

These cars have given yeoman service to our kids when strapped for cash. Two used Accords with 100 k miles that went to well over 200 k miles with no major repairs and 3 Novas/ Prisms/ bought new whose mileage when traded ranged from 190 k miles to over 250 k miles. NONE had any major repair.

For me, I bought 4 Toyota pick ups, used, that gave me 100k plus addition miles each with no major repairs. There are lots of other good cars out there. This is just a small sample of the vehicles that can be classified as cheap cars that lasted for us.

Here’s a thought; have her help you find a good used Civic and cosign a loan for it, letting her be responsible for the car payments. make a deal with her that if she defaults on the you’ll take over owbership of the car and she’ll be without. That teach responsibility, give her credit, and make taking care of the car (and care when driving) a requirement of her ownership. Besides, you’ll be able to get her a better car that way. I’m sur her safety must be a top criterion.

Our daughter inherited a Saturn, I think it might be a viable option.

Inherited anything are indeed viable options.

I would avoid Toyota and Honda. They are fine cars and command a high premium. Instead, I would look at 2000-2005 mid-size cars, like Buick Century, Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Malibu. You might even go up in size to an Olds 88, Buick Le Sabre, or Ford Crowne Victoria. The larger cars will get about the same mileage\as the mid-size cars (GM, anyway). Since they are unpopular, they will be less expensive. This allows you to buy newer and with lower total mileage. If you want a compact car, look at Chevy Cavalier from the same years. It will be even less expensive. My daughters were never excited about the 1998 Buick Regal they got (and still get) to drive, but it delivers the mail.

We let our son set off for college in a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon that was 14 years old. I bought the car new in 1978. It was approaching 170,000 miles but he had no problems that he couldn’t handle. In his second year, he went on an intership program that involved 350 miles of interstate driving, so I put him in a 1988 Taurus. He wasn’t very happy about giving up the Oldsmobile–claimed that he and that car understood each other. The Taurus was a good choice then and I think a good used Taurus today still might be a good choice.

Lots of cheap good cars, if appearance and age is not a problem. I would look for a Mazda Protege, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Accent, Hyundai Elantra, even a Chevy Cobalt in good condition. Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas tend to overpriced.

Last month we sold our old Nissan Sentra (1994) for $750. Mechanically is was very good, just some rust spots.

Myself and family members have had good luck with Honda Civics and Accords as older used cars. The health of the motor is easier to get a handle on, but the condition of the automatic transmissions is always just a guess. No guarantee of going 40K. Generally the bodies and interiors hold up well, but rust can be an issue in areas of heavy snow and road salting.

If you can find a manual transmission this is a good car for a young “learning” driver. You have to engage the brain to shift, and clutch. Indeed it discourages distractions like texting and phone talking while driving.

Corollas tend to cost more for a good reason…customers feel (enough have bought into ) they have more life left. Just as an example, comparing a Corolla to a Cobalt, each with 50K miles, statistically, Corollas have a longer life with fewer repairs. Come trade in time, you still have a more valuable car. Generally speaking, a more reliable car in many situations, is a safer car. You just can’t pick and choose when a break down will occur. Lastly, the shear volume of these cars on the road means you have a better chance of finding parts and labor.

Now, if you inherit a Cobalt vs buying a Corolla…you make a much stronger case for the “cheaper”, less reliable Cobalt. If the Corolla you are comparing is a terrorist survivor vehicle with little or no maintenance, again, the Cobalt has the advantage

Intelefix estimates that a 2007 Corolla will average $2943 in repairs over 5 years, while the 2007 Cobalt will average $3183. But the base 2007 Corolla will cost about $1360 more to buy than the base 2007 Cobalt. Add to that the extra $1053 for maintenance over 5 years for the Corolla. It seems to me that the Cobalt looks quite good in comparison.

Good numbers JT, but my argument that you can’t pick and choose when and where a car will break down, makes the more reliable car, safer. Also, over the next 5 years puts both cars at the plus or minus 100k miles. In my experience, the difference in reliability begins to widen even more…equal maintenance assumed. Plus, you omitt what each will be WORTH after 5 years. That can make up for initial cost differences. I have NO problems selling used Toyotas at top market values. I do not believe the same can be said by used Cobalt owners. Trade in values are actually more of an indicator.

This article relates the nature of the repairs between the two in one important area and how safety cannot be measured in just dollars and cents for maintenance.

When do the transmissions generally go in this class of car

Same answer to all makes and class of car.  The transmission will last a nice long time <b>IF</b> it is serviced.  Most people assume a transmission requires no service.  

The car manufacturers design the transmission to last the life of the warranty and not much more. What they don’t tell you is that IF you change the transmission fluid at about every 40,000 miles your transmission will likely last a lot longer for only a few more dollars in maintenance cost.

Find a good local INDEPENDENT mechanic (check with friends etc. to find a good independent mechanic (note some. but not all dealers have good mechanics, but said to say, too many don’t. Never use a quick oil change place.

@dagosa, those good numbers may show that the Corolla is overvalued by the public compared to the cost of keeping tit on the road when compared to other, similar cars. Your equally nice numbers likely show that any new car model has problems when first introduced. The first model year for the Cobalt was 2005. The first model year for the Corolla was 1988 and a compact car; 1966 as a sub-compact. Notice that after two years the number of complaints about the Cobalt steering dropped dramatically.

Mr. Meehan’s advice bears repeating, as it is extremely relevant:

Same answer to all makes and class of car. The transmission will last a nice long time IF it is serviced. Most people assume a transmission requires no service.

The car manufacturers design the transmission to last the life of the warranty and not much more. What they don’t tell you is that IF you change the transmission fluid at about every 40,000 miles your transmission will likely last a lot longer for only a few more dollars in maintenance cost.

The only thing I will add is that elapsed time is just as important as odometer mileage.
As a result, I change my trans fluid every 3 yrs or 30k miles–whichever comes first.

Nowadays, as a result of retirement, I don’t put on as many miles as when I was commuting 50+ miles per day to work, so now I use the elapsed time value, rather than the odometer mileage value. With this regimen, I have never had a transmission failure on any of my cars.