Deciding on a Car

I am looking to buy a car so that I can commute to and from an internship this summer. It’s about 30-40 miles each way. Also, I’d be using it to visit my girlfriend on the weekends, 60 miles, during the summer as well as during the school year.

Ideally, I’d like to spend no more than $8000, though if I can save more money on gas by paying a little bit more, I wouldn’t be completely opposed.

At the moment, I’m trying to figure out what cars I should be looking at. I’d prefer a sedan over a hatchback or a wagon.

I’ve been looking at the following cars: Ford Focus, Toyota Prius, VW Passat, and Honda Accord/Civic.

Any recommendations as to other cars to look at, or what to look for in the ones listed above?

Thanks in advance!

Stop by the local bookstore, pick up a Consumer Reports Used Car Buyers’ Guide, and let the data be your guide. Look carefully at whatever you find for evidence of abuse, neglect, accident damage, or somethiung that just doesn’t look right. If you take the time to look, it usually becomes obvious. I looked at a car for a friend a few years back that was 10 years old allegedly had less than 50,000 miles. The steering wheel, the shifter (automatic), the pedals, the seat, and even the side of the console and the kickpanel clearly showed that it had far, far more than the mileage presented. You cannot wear the shifter or the steering wheel bald and shiney in 50,000 miles.

Then have whatever you choose thoroughly gone over by your mechanic.

I posted a thread of what people would include if they built their own car. I was truely amazed at the wide variety of preferences, needs, and desires. What might be perfect for me would be totally wrong for others. For this reason I refer people to CR rather than make specific recommendations. We’re all different, and by very wide margins.

If you have about $8000, I would remove the Prius and both Hondas. You will spend thousands more than a comparable Focus. Add the Chevy Cobalt LS and LT sedans to the list. You could get a 2007 or earlier Cobalt for that price. A 2008 Kia Rio LX is less than $8000 even from a dealer.

with that many miles a day, I’d be more concerned with driving comfort than saving fuel; it’d be a nice plus though. Used Crown Vics can be had for cheap and are nice highway commuters while returning ~25mpg highway.

In the last year and a half my twin daughters bought 3-4 year old Cobalts with automatics, 40k miles and spent less than 7500 for each. Corollas were easily 2500 to 4000 more. 38 mpg and cheap insurance.

I would recommend the Chevy Cobalt also. I have never owned one but I have to listen to my uncle talk endlessly about his. There must be something good about them because he usually dumps a vehicle in about 6 months. He’s had his Cobalt for 3 years and has taken several long trips with it with no problems. He bought it when it was 3 years old.

A 4-cylinder stick shift pick-up will deliver the lowest cost per mile to operate and when you sell it (if you sell it) it will return most of your “investment”…A small P/U can be VERY handy…

Should repairs be needed, they tend to be the simple, basic things that ANY mechanic can deal with for a reasonable amount of money…

Know this…For $8K, you are going to get a vehicle with over 100K miles and an automatic transmission that should it fail, usually sends the car to the scrapper…It’s the weak knee of FWD/AWD cars…Also, be shy about those that use rubber timing belts, another trip-wire to the bone yard…

“Know this…For $8K, you are going to get a vehicle with over 100K miles …”

Only if it is a Honda or Toyota.

While “SOME” fwd vehicles had a few problems with transmissions for 1-2 years…Well over 99% of them had 0 problems…even well past 200 or even 300k miles.

If a timing belt breaks on an interference engine then there’s a very good chance you need a new engine. As long as the belt is changed per maintenance schedule this is NOT a problem. If it was a problem…then there wouldn’t be 90% of all Hondas sold in the 90’s still running.

Maintenance records are going to be the key.

For those of you pushing the Cobalt I submit the following, according to Consumer Reports review of the Cobalt/Cavalier:

“The Cavalier is crude, noisy, cramped, and uncomfortable. A more modern but still buzzy powerplant arrived in 2003. Interior pieces are flimsy and fit poorly, and seating is cramped and uncomfortable. Poor crash-test results are a concern. The Cobalt replaced the Cavalier for 2005. The 2.2-liter engine is spirited but noisy and relatively thirsty for a small car. The ride is steady, but the steering is too light at low speeds and handling isn’t particularly agile. The supercharged SS model is quick and sporty. Crash-test scores are better, but the Cobalt still received a Poor rating in the IIHS side-crash test when tested without side air bags, but later models with curtain air bags scored Acceptable. A turbocharged Cobalt SS arrived in 2008. The Cobalt was replaced, and greatly improved on, by the 2011 Cruze.”

I highly recommend buying a copy of CR’s buying guide as mountainbike suggested. I totally ignored their advice on my last used car purchase (VW) but I have a thing for German cars. =P

CR ratings are highly compressed. An excellent rating is less than 1% reporting problems. A poor rating is greater than 3% problem rate. If we wanted to buy our 2009 Cobalt LT sedan from a dealer, it would cost about $12,750. The similar Civic EX would cost about $14,900. If the difference is worth it to you, then consider the Civic. The Accord is a lot more expensive and not worth comparing on a cost basis. I own a 2005 Accord EX-V6 and I think it’s a terrific car. But there are a lot of options available that are almost as good if cost is a large consideration. BTW, MSN Autos rates both the Civic and Cobalt with outstanding reliability. If you consider the CR and MSN ratings together, it seems that CRs ratings compression is a big reason for the difference in ratings.

The CR ratings are accurate, but the difference in opinion is as to how IMPORTANT that is. If you compare a Dodge Caravan with a Honda Odessey or Toyota Sienna, the Dodge sells for just over $20,000 and the others for about $30,000 with similar equipment.

For a retired couple who do not drive much, the Dodge would be the better choice, since the car will likely outlast them. If the vehicle is used to drive a large number of miles per year, the Honda and Toyota are both more reliable and will last longer.

We have 4 friends who started out with Chrysler product minivans, then converted to Honda Odesseys. They paid a lot more, but do not regret their choice.

A friend of my wife has a Dodge Caravan and at only 51,000 miles the heater controls (air gate) are not working correctly (loose), the rear hatch won’t close properly, seats are very hard to adjust and a number of other minor items are starting to fail. This vehicle has been driven sedately and never abused. She will still drive cheaply even when repairing all these items. When you drive 51,000 miles in 7 years you don’t need a 250,000 mile vehicle.

I’m sure that CR’s ratings are accurate. It’s the way they present them that I’m unhappy with. If outstanding to poor is no more than 3%, then it is difficult to make informed decisions. Grouping a car with a 3% problem rate with something with a significantly higher rate, like a Range Rover, is not much of a help. I would prefer that they provide a percentage than their rating. I stopped paying attention to their ratings about 10 years ago.

I would include a Toyota Corolla. One of the most reliable and economical non hybrid cars ever made. They are boring but fairly comfortable to drive. As an economical commuter car, they have few peers. There should be a bunch around in your price range. If you like a standard transmission, they perform even better.

So you find a Cobalt listed on Craigslist, take a copy of the CR negative report with you, confront the owner with the reality of his situation, his car is one of the all-time biggest POS ever made, and offer him $600 for it only because you feel sorry for him…Please let us know how this strategy works out…

Should I sell my 2005 Pontiac GTO, with 23000 miles, in excellant shape? I’m thinking of upgrading to a 07’ or 08’ corvette with the 6.2 liter.

Ah, but CR does not accept any advertising money from companies nor do they allow their ratings to be used in advertising. I suspected I’d see car ads when I went to MSN Autos - see below. Chevy was the first ad that popped up haha. Could you trust them to be totally objective reviewing vehicles when they accept money from carmakers? Does MSN Autos buy all their vehicles anonymously like CR does? Doubtful.

Where did you get these “ratings compression” figures you mentioned? Need more info! =P

BringBack914 - MSN autos doesn’t test vehicles for reliability, and neither does Consumer Reports. CR gets its data from owners via a voluntary survey of subscribers, who define whether or not they consider a problem they encountered to be serious. MSN gets its data from mechanics’ repair files to show what problems they are encountering as well as the cost to repair. Other sites use the exact same data that MSN uses (I believe it might be CarMD doing the actual reporting). I haven’t seen a single one filtering the data to make it preferable for someone buying ad space.

So what does all that mean?

Well, CR has the lack of paid advertising claim, but they also rely on people buying subscriptions to make ends meet, and to sell subscriptions, they have a need to make the ratings look important - hence the restructuring, or compression, of ratings over the years to the point where you can have a solid black rating now and still have been what was above average 15 years ago. They also have flawed survey methodology where you have a self-selected population of respondents defining their own responses. You can’t tell from their rating if that is a $50 problem or a $5000 problem. While they have a lot of people responding, there are thousands of model/year combos they’re trying to evaluate, so there are not a lot of responses on many models, bringing the statistical significance of two differently rated vehicles into question.

On the MSN side, you have the impression of ads working against them, though there is no evidence to support that claim. You have a smaller number of people providing data (about 3,000, IIRC), but each person comes into contact with potentially hundreds of vehicles. That’s still a smaller sample, meaning they might miss some things. But they are less likely to classify an ordinary wear item as a serious reliability issue. They also provide dollar cost estimates for the repair, so you can tell if it is a $50 or $5000 problem.

Is one better than the other? Not really. They BOTH have their uses. I use CR to find the vehicles with solid black ratings and avoid them. But to tell the difference between an average rating in CR with an excellent rating? I turn to MSN and others. Then I’ll know if it is a cheap repair or an expensive one, or if there really seems to be a difference at all. You’ll also catch reports that make no sense - like the Ford Fusion’s 2.5L I-4 coming in as more reliable per CR than the Mazda6’s 2.5L I-4, when in fact they are the same engine.

We’ve had this discussion several times before. In the past, when all full size GM cars were “cookie cutter” the same, the reliability figures came is as 1. Buick, 2. Olsmobile, 3. Chevrolet, and 4. Pontiac. There was a significant difference between virtually the same cars. Why???

It turned out the use and type of driver these cars were exposed to. Buicks were bought by older, more conservative drivers, Oldmobiles by “Dick Van Patten” family type drivers, Chevrolets were most used for business by salesmen and as company cars, and Pontiac sold … ATTITUDE and PERFORMANCE!! My son worked with a typical aggressive Pontiac driver and this guy’s car, a Pontiac, was constantly being fixed.

All in all, I use the CR ratings to ferret out the solid black items and avoid cars so rated.

The recently developed ratings by True Delta tell you a lot more; they give you visits to the shop, cost of repairs (not regular maintenance), warranty repairs, and repairs per 10,000 miles or so. The findings parrallel those of CR, but are more timely (quarterly) and allow the user to judge the severity of those repairs.

Used together, I find them very useful.

All in all, I use the CR ratings to ferret out the solid black items and avoid cars so rated.

CR is GREAT for that. I use CR as ONE resource in buying a car. The last car we bought was my wifes Lexus Es-350. We had several vehicles in mind to look at (even a couple American cars). I must have spent 40-50 hours of research to narrow the list down to just 4 vehicles. Then we test drove them and my wife chose the Lexus. Buying a car is a very expensive purchase. Spend the time doing the research.