First car purchase

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Hello all,my hand-me-down died and it’s time for me to make my first vehicle purchase.

I will be financing. I have about $2000 for a down payment and would like to keep monthly payments below $300. I’ll be using the car for commuting roughly 20 miles daily and the occasional road trip. My primary concerns are reliability and fuel efficiency.

I’m not a car person; I’m looking for recommendations to begin researching in earnest. I have a friend with a 06 Hyundai Elantra that I always thought was nice. Another has been telling me to get a Volkswagen diesel. Any information is appreciated.



I suspect the VW diesel will be more expensive to maintain versus the Hyundai. You don’t really drive enough to justify the added expense of a diesel vehicle, anyways.

As a matter of fact, most European cars will not be cheap to maintain properly.

I suggest logging onto Consumer Reports and checking out the reliability of any particular car you’re considering.

Cheap VWs are not a good deal. It looks like you can afford about $2,000 + 36 x $300 = $12,000, less interest, so say about $10,000. You should get a copy of the Consumer Reports car buying guide and see what’s a good match for your budget and needs.

What matters is cost per mile to own and operate. Nothing else matters. You are buying transportation, not a soul-mate…Shop around for a 2007-2008 Saturn…Unwanted, unloved and priced right…They were not bad cars…

I dunno, my Nephew bought a rental return Malibu with the 4 cyl. !00K engine and trans warranty. Gets close to 40 on the hywy, roomy, comfortable, back seat folds down for lumber or dog kennel, etc. And they are fairly cheap.

We’ve had success with Chevy Cobalts. I bought a 2010 with 14,500 miles for less than $10,000 last October. It’s run well since. I also have a 2009 Cobalt with 40,000 miles and it runs well too.

Definitely give the Hyundai’s and Kias a look. As well the Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Ford, and GM offerings in your price range. To reduce the cost, focus on a car w/ the functions you need, rather than you’d like to have in the best of all possible worlds. And pay att’n to the total cost of ownership, not just the purchase price. As mentioned above, Consumer Reports is a good place to start. They have a new car buyers guide, most bookstores would have it. Your local library probably has it too. One other resource is available too. When choosing between two cars, and can’t decide which, look at the Kelly Blue book of used car prices, see between the two of them which holds its price the best over time. That’s actual experienced buyers and sellers telling you how much they value the car. Best of luck.

I note the writer who wrote "I suspect the VW diesel will be more expensive to maintain versus the Hyundai. You don't really drive enough to justify the added expense of a diesel vehicle, anyways. - See more at: "

I suggest the writer does not have enough data to really offer you a good recommendation.  While I have had several VW's all over 100,000 miles and they have all proved very capable.  Of course one of the reasons I have had few problems is that I am careful and maintain my cars.  

I recommend taking your time and pick one that seems to fit ALL your needs and desires best. My choice may or may not be the same as your.

Good Luck

BTW I have had diesel VW for a long time (25+ years)

Good luck.


I’m glad to hear that you’ve been a happy VW diesel owner for 25+ years

But I’'m entitled to my opinion

And I am permitted to give recommendations

Nobody has to follow my advice

Or anybody else’s advice, for that matter

However, I must point out that there have been several people asking for advice that have been EXTREMELY happy with my recommendations. Some of them have even gone so far as to say that I was absolutely correct.

I’m not always right, but I do have my moments . . .

At least I’m not “calling you out” . . . like some other guys

I’ll leave the fighting to the guys in the ring

Speaking of being called out, I’m outside waiting, but where is that guy anyway??

Myself, I wasn’t a happy diesel owner but that was on the Olds diesel. Paid $800 extra for the engine in 81 and had to replace the engine after only 200K. And that was after $600 injector pump, $300 starter, and so on. And when its 20 below out, its not fun to have the car coughing on the highway wondering if you’re going to make it home or not as the fuel gels up. I know they are better now but still it needs a little more TLC just in my view.

Just my 2 cents, but I worked for 2 VW dealers and never saw the diesels as being any more problematic than any other car on the road.

When problems did surface it was usually due to high miles or neglect. Running an engine out of oil, never changing the oil, ignoring a timing belt change, or suffering diesel fuel problems is not a fault of the car although a fair number of diesel owners looked at it that way.

Diesels and gassers these days are about equal, as far as basics go: high compression, turbos, EFI, complex engine controls and pollution controls. I think they’ll be about equally reliable.

What I don’t think is that modern diesels in cars will be any more reliable than gassers. No ‘500,000 miles is easy in diesels’, or ‘oh, a diesel’s just getting broken in at 200,000 miles’.


Did that olds diesel use the Stanadyne system?

@db4690 “Did that olds diesel use the Stanadyne system?”

Yep. That was it. Finally got to the point where I’d install them myself. Last summer I cleaned the garage out and among my old parts found an old pump. Took it to the auto recycler with other scrap thinking they may want to treat it special for rebuilding. The kid just threw the pump into the dirty aluminum pail not knowing what he had.

Those Olds diesel blocks have become desireable now for Olds performance enthusiasts because they were beefed up beyond the standard 350 block. This included a better oiling system, and thicker main bearing webs. They also had thicker cylinder walls, and bigger dia head bolts. They’ve become more rare at time marches on, and the price has gone up accordingly. But they make it possible to build a near bullet proof Olds racing motor.


When I was working on the army base, in the depot, the HMMWVs and the GMC pickups of the era were all outfitted with the 6.2 diesel, and they all used the Stanadyne.

One “shop” only rebuilt those engines. All day long. Every day. Since that was the only thing they did, they could eventually do it in their sleep.


Occasionally some of those pickups would be offered for sale to base personnel. They ALWAYS fetched very high prices. This was in the 90s, and the trucks being sold were probably 15 years old at the time.

I am sure a lot of people will disagree, especially since you are not a car guy, but for about 2500 it is possible to get reliable used car, and have NO car payment at all. you have to shop around, not jump at the first car you see, and have some one knowledgeable drive and or inspect the car. I have had good luck with well maintained mercury cougars, but that’s just one option. you should be able to drive such a car for 3 yrs without major repairs and put that 300 in the bank for the next 3 yrs. then you ll have a nice chunk of change to get something really nice, and instead of paying interest you ll be collecting it! just a thought from someone who has never made a car payment. ever. of course I ve never owned a new car either, but they ve all been new to me.
good luck

Consumer Reports really loves the diesel Golf, but the reliability ratings are nothing special. Average, which is enough for CR to recommend a car. The fuel mileage of those diesels is outstanding, but to make that pay you’d need to be driving more than you do. Those are great cars for people who drive a lot of freeway miles. Otherwise, I’d be looking for a reliable car that isn’t super popular. The Pontiac Vibe is essentially the same as a Toyota Matrix, without the more desirable nameplate. The Mazda3 is a good bet. Or a Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Mitsubishi Lancer, or Ford Focus. Cars that aren’t by Toyota/Honda/Subaru, but are similarly good, basic cars.

The Pontiac Vibe and the Toyota Matrix were made in the same plant in California as a joint venture. The plant closed a few years ago so aren’t being made anymore. I tried a Vibe out but didn’t like it and got a G6 instead. I rented a Mazda 3. It was on the most fun list. I didn’t think it was a bad car but not particularly great. Guess it just depends on what you like and what feels good to you.

@MarkM, If CR says reliability is average, most people would consider it very good. In order to achieve an average rating, the number of complaints has to be between 2.5 and 3.5%, IIRC. Anything with more than 5% complaints is much worse than average. I consider their ratings misleading, but I will give them credit for telling you their method if you are willing to read the fine print. If the Golf TDI got an average rating, I would not hesitate to buy one if it passed a pre-purchase inspection.