College Student - First Car

Hey All,

My parents and I have finally decided that it’s time for me to get a car. They live about 1.5hrs away from campus, so that’s the commute I’d be taking (every other week?).

I need a reliable car that has good gas mileage. Any recommendations?
EDIT: I’d like for it to be a manual transmission car since I’m fond of driving them, it also keeps me engaged in driving.

McLaren MP4-12c.

If that’s out of your price range, let us know what your price range is and I’ll revise my recommendation :wink:

If you are talking new, I’d look at the Fiat 500. Used, just avoid Dodge Neon. Anything else with a manual transmission is in play. My 1st choice would be a Honda Civic, but used ones can be pricey. Make sure you have money for repairs for any used car purchased. Get a pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic (cost you about $100) as this will reduce the change of buying something with a bad motor.

Any used car with a manual transmission could need a clutch job fairly soon after you buy it, just keep that in mind. Depending on the brand and model car the cost varies, but few are less than $500, and some are over $1000 for a new clutch.

If you’re on a budget, you can get way more bang for your buck if you look at some unpopular choices. Lots of people will automatically suggest the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, but these are very pricey on the used car market because everybody wants them since they’re high on Consumer Reports’ list of “best bets” for a used car. I also can’t recommend any late '90s-early '00s Toyota Corolla unless it can be proven the engine was rebuilt with improved pistons to eliminate the very good chance you will end up with one that burns nearly as much oil as it does gasoline. Some good, unpopular choices include Chevy Cavalier/Cobalt, Pontiac Sunfire/G5, Ford Escort/ZX2/Focus. These are all cheap on the used car market and are generally pretty rugged and reliable, and all are available with a manual transmission. If you have more money to spend, you have much more choices, but you didn’t indicate a budget.

The one car to avoid like the plague is the Chevy Aveo (and its twin, the Pontiac G3).

These low-quality Korean-made cars featured outdated technology when they were introduced–and then they were not updated over the years. Essentially, they have nothing to recommend them–other than a low price.

They are underpowered, yet get only mediocre gas mileage; they handle poorly, yet also manage to ride harshly; and their poor reliability makes them the closest thing yet to a disposable car. Don’t be lured by the low price of these little cars.

I just bought a 2010 Chevy Cobalt LS with auto transmission for $10,000 - and only 14,500 miles. If it had a manual, it would have been less. Two of my children drive Cobalts, and they are happy with them. If your parents want a car in this price range, it’s worth looking for. Check dealer listings on line in your area and test drive one that meets your criteria. BTW, low mileage, like about Cobalt’s 7000 per year, can be a very good thing. The CarFax for ours showed 6 visits to the dealer and even mileage (19 miles/day) between visits. That even mileage told me that it hadn’t been off the road for an extended period.

Used corollas and civics are pricy for a reason. Though you can get better cars if maintained better, on average it is too safe a bet to recomend a used Corolla… I would buy one in a heartbeat…if it passed inspection by a mechanic I trusted. With 35 million sold and the biggest selling name plate of all time, you don’t have to be a genius to figure why. What you pay extra when you buy, you more then make up for when you trade over most models.

Besides the Corolla and Civic, consider the Honda Fit and the Toyota Yaris too. If you can get a used Toyota Echo in good shape and less than 150K miles, that’s what I’d do if I was trying to buy a used car on the cheap. In any event, stick with a popular econobox from a major brand, a make & model with a long history of reliable vehicles. Honda, Toyota, Ford, Nissan, GM, Scion. And with a manual xmission and as few unnecessary accessories as possible. Manual door locks, windows will usually save you a lot of money and grief. It isn’t that hard to twist a key, or rotate a window knob, right? All that will keep repair parts and labor costs to a minimum. Consumers Reports has a Used Car Guide that has all the info you need. Most bookstores and libraries have it.

Repair cost is a vital consideration for a dollar-challenged college student. I have a Corolla, and last summer had to replace a headlight bulb. It cost $12.95 for the bulb, which I easily replaced myself. Compare this to a friend of mine who had a headlight go out on her expensive-mobile. Fixing the headlight cost her close to $900.

Quote from dagosa regarding Toyota Corollas: "With 35 million sold and the biggest selling name plate of all time… " Unquote

That statement is complete rubbish. Toyota Corollas have changed over the years and are not what they once were, starting out with rear drive and later changing to front drive. It’s like saying that Ford has sold a gazillion cars since 1903 and is the biggest selling nameplate of all time which it might very well be using the same flawed logic.

I agree with buying a Chevrolet Cavalier or Cobalt. You can sneak under the tent,so to speak, with one of these. I have owned two Cavaliers, both bought new and received satisfaction for my money.

Get something comfortable if you’re going to be making that trip with any regularity. Getting 50mpg isn’t any fun if you’re having to stop every 10 minutes to stretch.

If you are looking for used, good luck with your search for stick shift; they’re not very popular anymore. Also, some mid-sized cars will get similar MPGs compared to their compact/sub-compact brethren

Ford Focus, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Elantra, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 3, Mazda 6, Chevy Malibu

What who…"completely rubbish " because I said the name plate has sold over 35 million ? You have other statistics I don’t know that say differently…or do you not know what NAME PLATE means. I’ll take that as a yes.
. Model names are changed when a car becomes less viable as a product to the manufacturer. Whether it evolves or changes is totally irrelevant as all cars have. Comparing Ford to,Corolla is faulty reasoning me thinks.

The Corolla name plate has sold 35 million whether you believe it or not, because the name plate is succesful. The reasons it is succesful have been the same, year after year after year after…Whether the motor changes or they add an mp3 output is totally not the point.

They were selling comparibly well to ALL other cars in it’s class with fwd, rwd, with a 1.6 later with a 1.8 and when they threw in the 2.4, they worked like a corolla should in Toyota’s scheme. Do you get it ? They GM, changed the name Cavalier in 2005 for good reasons. GM didn’t think it was viable as a name plate. If it has tested,rated and sold as well as a comparable Corolla, 35 million, me thinks you would still see the name plate, “Cavalier” on the market. If GM had sold better cars, including the Cavalier, it might not have needed a bailout. Notice…ford still sells the F150 name plate too…for the same reason. But there is a good reason you won’t see the Pinto name plate return soon.

Btw, Toyota does not sell the Echo name plate for good reason and I wouldn’t recomend a used one regardless of how reliable car they were. They had a deserved reputation for hard riding, high revving econo box that didn’t sell well and had low resale value…and I still don’t recomend the replacement Yaris. It’s not ready for prime time either IMO.

No matter what car is chosen, my opinion is that it should be inexpensive, basic transportation.
One does want too nice a car left in a dorm parking lot because colleges are full of uncaring people or comedians… :frowning:

Good Point OK4450

Dagosa is correct–more Corollas have been sold than any other model in the USA including the original Beetle and the Model T.

Has the OP left the building?

Ok makes a good point. The strategy we used with our kids for college parking lot was, keep the inside clean but let the outside dirty up. We removed all the decals and name plaques from the car they shared. It was a dull grey to begin with, so I would recomend a boring color as well. If you get a dent and it doesn’t affect performance, leave it there. Put nothing on or in the car to draw attention. Leave clothing in the back you can use to hide anything of value if you must leave there. No one would park anywhere near my son’s car but it had no rust and ran great for over 300k miles. Peeling and faded paint is a plus.

It work so well for my son, when my daughter’s turn to take it to her school rotated around, she refused, much to the relief of my son.

Dagosa, my 1971 Toyota Corolla 1.6 with rear drive was the worst car that I have ever owned. Things broke on that car that did not give me trouble with previous cars and cars owned since. Rather than change the nameplate, Toyota toughed it out, possibly did not have the marketing sense to change the nameplate or else did not yet sell enough Corollas to matter. They may have gotten higher up on their car making learning curve by now but I was an early victim of their inexperience. Corolla in 1971 does not equate to Corolla in 2012 except in name. I will also say that Ford in 1903 does not equate to Ford in 2012 except in name. Want to hear it again? Chevrolet in 1911 does not equate to Chevrolet in 2012.

Chevrolet and Ford are corporate endities. Corolla and Cavalier are name plates and neither is incorporated. We can’t conflate Ford with Corolla.
If consumer reports and all other non profit auto testing say that the Corolla brand as a used car is among the better buys, I agree with them. Of course your testing sample of one 1971 Corolla and two Cavs compared to selling thirty five million cars under one name is invalid. The Corolla name is marketed as being among the most dependable and having better then most resale value in the Compact field.

You are mistaken when you keep comparing cars of different decades. Cars are compared to their contemporaries and Corolla named cars do much better in tat respect then most in the compact field. I think Toyota’s marketing decisions are best left to them and not you or I. A Cavalier may be a decent car in many ways but you will not find a history of satisfaction anywhere near as extensive as the Corolla branded cars; unless you still want to mistakenly compare a 71 Corolla with a 2005 Cav. Of Course, my opinion is only in part due to the conversations with my cousin and other relatives and friends who own and manage 6 different car dealerships and more dozen brands…including GM cars. By the way, I would not recomend that OP buy a 1971, or even a 1986 Corolla.

One more for the OP. You might want to stay with brands such as Chevrolet or Ford who have dealers in many more small towns in the US than the import brands. You can get many parts from car part stores but once in a while they will not be able to get a part; will say: “Dealer Only”. If you will be driving an older car to and from school, you could explore this more for yourself.

If you are purchasing a used car, particularly a used car more than 6 or 7 years old, the condition of the car is more important than the nameplate. Condition is also more important than the epa rated gasoline mileage for your type of driving–a commute home every other weekend. Toyotas do have good reputations, but are not entirely trouble free. I have a meticulously maintained Toyota 4Runner, but had to replace a front hub at 75,000 miles due to a bad bearing at the cost of over $500. I have a 2011 Toyota Sienna and I am going to have to buy new tires this coming week. The original equipment tires are worn out at 35,000 miles even though I have maintained the proper inflation pressure and have rotated the tires every 5000 miles. The original equipment tires on my previous minivan–a 2006 Chevrolet Uplander–were still good at 60,000 miles. The point is that any used car may need some repair–you can’t avoild it by purchasing a specific make.
If you are looking for transportation, don’t concern yourself with the make or whether the car has a manual or automatic transmission. My parents had to buy a second car when my mother went back to work in 1954. The common knowledge back then was to buy a Chevrolet or Ford just as today the common knowledge suggests that one should buy a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic. Well, the Chevrolets and Fords that were in good condition were out of my dad’s price range and the Chevrolets and Fords he could afford were ready for the junk yard. However, my dad got a good buy on a 1947 DeSoto coupe with the inefficient “lift and clunk” semiautomatic transmission–he preferred a manual transmission. That DeSoto turned out to be a very reliable car–never failed to start, used no oil and nothing ever failed mechanically while he owned the car. The extra gasoline it consumed over a Ford or Chevrolet was more than made up in its freedom from repair.