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First Car Help!

I’ll be graduating from college soon and I’m hoping to purchase my first car after graduation.

Honestly, I don’t know much about cars.(If there’s a book/website I should look at to educate myself, I’d be happy to hear about it. ) I’m working with a college student budget, so I’m looking for something about $4,000. I’m not concerned about bells and whistles(boring and/or sort of ugly are fine) but more about safety, readability and repair costs. I’ve looked at the Consumer Reports list of best used vehicles and I’m leaning towards a Honda Civic or Accord.

What are your suggestions?
What questions should I ask before purchasing said car?
Should I be purchasing from a dealer or is purchasing from a private party okay?

Stay away from Hondas and Toyotas. They are excellent cars, but cost a lot. At $4000, you should look for the car in the best condition regardless of make or model. You might find a 2005 Cobalt, 2005 or earlier Cavalier, or a 2005 or earlier Focus. A 2005 Accord Sedan will be at least $2500 more than a 2005 Cobalt or Focus. A 2005 Civic will be around $1800 more.

Check out,, and They have estimated prices and general information about cars.

@jtsanders comparing an accord to a cobalt or focus isn’t fair

An accord is a midsize car and a cobalt or focus is a compact car

I would vote for the civic/accord. As with any used car, get it inspected by a good independent mechanic before purchase. If everything checks out well, then there is nothing wrong with purchasing from a private party. And, needless to say, if you buy from a dealer, don’t have them do the pre-purchase inspection.

Good luck!

I like Civic and Accords too, but I’m not sure you can find a good one for $4000. If $4K is all you have, then you buy a car for $3K and hold onto a $1000 for repairs in the first year you own a car. Used cars often have a problem that once you find it will require some money. Most old Honda’s you buy will likely need a timing belt job for instance, that’s $600 right there. Tires, brakes, plugs, etc. will all eat up money quickly.

Once you have found a car you like have a mechanic inspect it to give you a report on the car, this will cost you some money. Not doing an inspection could result in you buying a car with a serious problem, bad head gasket, poor compression, bad transmission, etc. Buying a used car is a tricky and risky business. Buying from a dealer is easier, buying from a private seller is usually where you get more car for the money.

Ford Taurus or Crown Victoria would make good choices. They’re plentiful and parts should be cheap to replace on them

“An accord is a midsize car and a cobalt or focus is a compact car”

The point is that for an Accord to equal a Cobalt, Focus or Cavalier in price, it has to be significantly older and will have many thousands more miles on it. @CCS is on a tight budget and this point is clearly relevant.

I own a 2005 Accord EX V6, bought new, and it has been a great car. I highly recommend looking at Accords as new cars, but not used ones. Especially when you have a tight budget. Unless you find a low mileage 2000 Accord or Civic owned by a little old lady from West Covina, I’d look somewhere else. BTW, older cars owned by senior citizens are often excellent choices. As a group, seniors take better car of their cars than 20-somethings.

Condition is everything in this price range. I agree with Uncle Turbo’s suggestion to keep a reserve for repairs that might be needed immediately or soon after purchase.

On your budget the Cobalt, Focus and Cavalier make more sense than Toyotas and Hondas. I would add a late model Hyundai Accent or Elantra with low mileage, a Mazda 3 or Protege.

Let me second the recommendation to get a pre-purchase inspection from a mechanic of your choice. You’ll be far less likely to buy a money pit that someone dumped because of problems.

I would consider a Focus for that money. It’s a good balance of cheap and good overall. Whereas Accords are nice (I have one) they will cost you more than your budget for a good one. If you can drive a manual, that could bring the cost down depending on the car. You may also want to consider the condition of the tires on the vehicle. If there are three or four different types on it, I’d pass since it wasn’t likely maintained well, and if they are well worn, budget something like $500 for a new set. You won’t do yourself any favors buying the super cheap tires either. Hope that helps

The Honda Civic/Accords are good choices. As would be a Toyota Corolla or Echo.