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Finding a reliable car

I don’t have good luck with cars, new or used. Last year, my Dodge Caravan died and I bought a used Cavalier from my mechanic to tide me over till I could get a new car. The Cavalier didn’t last over a month. Then, I researched a lot and bought a 98 Civic, on all the lists as most reliable car. Since then, one year, I’ve put about 1000 dollars in repairs (brakes, axle boots, alternator, etc.) Now, it needs a new differential. The shop wants 2000 dollars for this. My regular mechanic said that it would need something with the baffles replaced eventually because it is shaking at times when it gets above 40 mph. Should I sink 2000 into this old car or just try to get a new one? I realize old cars need repairs, but it seems I am getting lemons that need too many repairs right away. Everyone says Hondas run forever–this one has 110,000 miles and just a little rust on the body, but I’m wondering if it was abused or in an accident and so I should just trash it (there are a few dents it came with.) What about selling it for parts? If Honda parts are so expensive, where could I take it to sell for parts? Thanks for your help as I am having a hard time getting credit, but I need a car and can’t keep pouring money into repairs.


You can find reliable used cars, but you have to look carefully. Cars that have been properly maintained by their owners are the ones that last the longest. Cars that have been abused, neglected, or involved in crashes are not good bets.

At 110k miles, your Civic should not need a new differential. The fact that it does suggests lack of proper maintenance, or abuse, somewhere along the line.

We can’t see the car, so it’s hard to say whether it’s worth keeping or not. Look at it this way; What can you buy for $1,000-2,000?

Brakes and axle boots are normal maintenance items. A new alternator is not really abnormal considering the mileage. I would want another opinion concerning the differential.

What about the timing belt? Has it been replaced? If not you have another rather large expense coming, and you can’t gamble because if the timing belt breaks it will damage internal parts of the engine, and all the other work will be in vain.

I would want to know about the timing belt before spending money on anything else.

I agree with mcparadise, and I would like to add some hints for the purchase of your next car.

Since a used car inevitably comes with a great deal of mystery concerning whether it was abused or babied, whether it was driven only for short distances or whether it was used mostly for highway driving–as well as other possible variables–the only “defense” for the purchaser is to have a thorough pre-purchase inspection performed, and also to be sure that the car comes with complete records of its maintenance.

Yes, I know that most people are so disorganized that they don’t retain invoices, but there are also some car owners who are so obsessive that they retain all maintenance records. (If you bought a car from me, it would even come with a chart detailing all maintenance in a very easy to read format.)

As mcparadise stated, the diagnosis of a bad differential indicates either abuse by the previous owner(s) or lack of maintenance. Thus, my suggestions could help you to avoid this type of situation with future cars.

The point raised by mcparadise regarding the timing belt is an excellent case in point. Unless you know for sure that the belt was already replaced at least once, then it is clearly very late for this service. Even though it might cost you $500. or so to replace the timing belt (and the water pump), failure to do so will inevitably result in catastrophic engine damage that would likely cost somewhere around $2,000. to repair.

All of this being said, I am also a bit concerned about the level of honesty of your mechanic. If he really said that he wants to “replace the baffles” (huh??) in order to remedy vibration of the car, then I think that you need a new mechanic who does not take advantage of the lack of automotive knowledge of his customers.

If I were you, I would seek a new mechanic at least for a second opinion regarding the recommended repairs. You also might want to ask the new mechanic about replacing the baffles, but just be prepared for him to fall on the floor while shaking with laughter.

Either ask friends, relatives and co-workers for recommendations on a new mechanic or use the home page of this site to search for mechanics in your zip code who have been recommended by forum members. And, don’t buy your next car without obtaining records of its maintenance. Even with those records, you should still have a potential car evaluated by a trusted mechanic.

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While the other posts are excellent, I just want to add a point…
you aren’t buying “lemons”, you’re buying old, inexpensive used cars. This needs to be done with extra care and you’ll need to accept that they may need some repairs. You don’t mention the year on the Caravan or the Cav, but the Civic was already ten years old when you bought it.

I’ve been around the car business a long time and am often asked this question. My answer: if somebody has a good reliable car…why would they sell it? I think that most of the good used cars out there never hit the open market. They get sold to family members, friends, neighbors, or snatched up by someone who works at the place where the car gets traded in.
If your mechanic sold you a car that lasted a month, you need a new mechanic! You can’t get much for $2000 anymore and 100K plus mileage is the point where most cars are going to need some repairs.
Talk to friends and ask them to be on the lookout for TWO things;#1 A GOOD technician to work on your car.#2. A decent car that is getting sold any number of reasons like…we need a minvan…Aunt Sally passed away… I hit the lottery. Those cars are out there, but you have to look and listen. After you think you have found a car; pay to have it checked out! (and do not use the baffle saleman!!)
Good luck

One OP ask’s “aren’t German cars immortal” another says"Everyone says Hondas run forever" there is no free lunch.

You went way bad on the Cavalier purchase, and I put three transmissions in a Caravan.

Sugestion is to buy cars that have been inspected,have less miles,maintiance records and accept that they all will need maintiance, and don’t but into the marketing so fully.

Find a really old person selling their car. They might be down sizing from two cars to one. They might want something that isn’t so low to the ground. Odds are they took great care of their car. They are just selling it because it doesn’t work for them anymore. But don’t just trust their age. Have it checked by a trusted mechanic to see what is wrong with it.

Example: My neighbor had a 12 year-old Honda Accord. It was in absolutely immaculate condition. But he wanted to sell it because he and his wife only needed one car, not two. This guy is a maintenance fanatic about everything; especially his cars. When he gets ready to sell his CR-V, I hope he tells me about it.

No car last forever skip the hype of Toyota/Honda.

After 8yrs or 150,000 miles you are much more likely to encounter repairs or odd maintenance no matter what the make. Buy something before that period your chances go way down of issues.

Many thanks to all who replied. very good advice. I will definitely try to find a better mechanic and do all the pre-buying work. I thought I was doing such a good job with all my internet research about the cars with the least amount of repairs, best safety, etc. It just proves that cars are like people and, I guess, you can’t generalize. BTW, how much is the average price for a good mechanic to do a thorough inspection before buying a used car? And VDC driver, let me know the next time you sell a car–those obsessive records sound pretty good. And thanks also about the timing belt recommendation. I do think that was replaced, but I will check my records. Thanks again!