Grad student seeks car suggestions

I’m driving a 14 year old Volvo 850 Sedan. It’s the only car I’ve ever owned and I love it! But my mechanics have advised that I begin thinking about a new car…oh no!! Looking for suggestions–I’ll be buying used–I am in grad school (so not a lot of money), I own a Great Pyrenees dog (she’s a big girl!), and I have a 60 lb-ish ocean-going kayak that I hope to dust off and actually use this summer. Looking for suggestions for a vehicle that would be good on gas and easy on my fraying pocket book!

What is your budget, makes a big difference?

What are the problems with the Volvo? What would it cost to get it back into tip tip shape?

The problem with buying a used car is you have no idea how the previous owner maintained it, and you may have lots of repair expenses.

Good questions…Volvo needs 2 new head light assemblies, the catalytic converter has shaken a piece loose inside, and there’s a problem with the exhaust …uh, I think manifold? My mechanic is willing to fix it all, but with a driver’s seat welded into place, an odometer that hasn’t worked in over a year (we estimate mileage at about 300,000), and other cosmetic stuff (about which I don’t really care) my mechanic is giving me some warning. So repairs would be in the thousands of dollars. He’s confident my car will make it into summer but wanted to give me time to think and look around.

My budget…well…I go back and forth between thinking I could max out at around $15,000 OR I need to buy a car without a loan…and that would mean about $5000. Given the loans I’m accumulating earning this doctorate, probably $5000 is the more realistic option. sigh…

Just shop around for something well maintained in the under $5000 range, never borrow money to buy a car. In that price range, condition, maintenance, and mileage are more important than make/model. If you are on a budget, you probably don’t want a newer volvo (ford) anyway. Your best deal may be one of the less popular ricers or a used domestic geezer-mobile (buick, crown vic, whatever).

“less popular ricers”??? I don’t know what that means…

All I meant was that popular asian car models can be very overpriced (everyone wants a toyota/honda), so for $5000 you will end up buying something with very high miles. You are likely to get more car for the money if you shop for something that’s less popular at the moment. Also, you can probably find a decent deal on something with cosmetic issues (i.e., ugly) that is in good mechanical condition. Whatever you find, have your mechanic take a look first.

ah. yes…mechanic taking a look is a must because I’m not knowledgeable about cars…

Grad school is a short time in life. I personally would keep this relic rolling and look for new wheels when you graduate with a job(good paying? :slight_smile: ) Buying something with little budget and unknown may cost you far more. You will get no money selling this likey.

Alternatively a gently used Ford Crown Victoria(usually taxi/police car or old persons mobile) can be had for little money with low mileage. They are quite reliable and inexpensive to fix. They will accommodate dogs quite well.

how about a scion xB? around $10,000 30 mpg

large inside, room for all your stuff, and small engine, easy on gas.

and a set of yakima racks will let y ou lug the kayak around on your ocean voyages.

You have not told us your major in graduate school. This makes a difference in the car you should drive. In the short lived television show, “The Education of Max Bickford”, the character played by Richard Dreyfuss, a humanities professor, drove a Volvo. If you are majoring in any of the humanities, keep the Volvo. On the other hand, in “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, the music teacher played by Richard Dreyfuss drove a Chevrolet Corvair. If you are in the arts, you should seek out a Corvair.

I don’t know how many miles you drive a year, but graduate school doesn’t go on forever. Take my word for it. Ultimately, you will be earning a good living, unless you go into teaching (you have my word on that as well). My suggestion would be to make certain that the Volvo is safe to drive, keep up the maintenance and hope for the best. On University campuses, there are always cars for sale if the Volvo dies. A faculty member may be going or sabbatical or a student may take a year off to go overseas. You may be able to pick up a car that will be satisfactory for you and your dog (perhaps a used minivan) at a good price that you can replace when you leave the graduate school cocoon and join the work force.

The two cars in my motor pool are a 99 Ranger and a 98 Taurus wagon. They both work great for the two dogs and canoe that I have. Both were under 50k miles at the time of purchase and were pretty cheap; $3,500 for the Ranger and cap, and $4,700 for the Taurus wagon. They work great for the trips I take to our cabin ~14 hour drive from my home, the pooches have pleanty of room.

Oh no…my major?! Well if you think teachers don’t make a lot of money (I was one!) you can guess that a teacher of teachers isn’t going to make much either! Yup…that’s right, I gave up my high school teacher’s now seemingly big fat pay cheque for a grad assistantship and more student loans than I think quills Shakespeare went through as he scratched out his plays AND sonnets! And that’s so that I can be a literacy prof and work with middle and high school English teachers. Genius.

I’m sentimentally attached to this car…it’s 14 and I’ve had it for 12 of those years…she’s driven across the continent twice, FL-ME and back, and countless trips to Canada (hence spelling of “cheque”) to see my parents, and my original 1999 Appalachian Trail Conference sticker will never be transferable from her bumper. What can I say? My brother’s the logical engineer and I’m the emotional poet. :slight_smile:

Chances are, it will cost less than $5000 to keep your Volvo on the road for a number of more years. Assuming you were to get a $5k car, you’d have to figure spending still another $800-$1000 a year in repairs, which you’d spend on your Volvo, maybe less. Since you know what repairs and maintenance have been done to your car, you have a good idea of what it won’t need anytime in the near future. A new-to-you car, you’d have no idea what repairs or maintenance (if any) had been done. The wisest and most financially prudent course of action is to stick with the car which has problems you know, as opposed to one that has problems you don’t know about. Also, you’ll get pretty much nothing on trade-in. Despite the sentimental value, your car is not worth very much money to a dealer.

However, should you ultimately decide to purchase another car, I’d suggest looking at used Hyundais, newer than 2000, particularly the Sonata. Since 2000, Hyundai has had good to great reliability, fast depreciation (good for used car buyers,) as well as a good mix of accessories. Prior to 2000, though, Hyundais have much worse reliability. The Crown Vic suggestions are good, too. It might make a perfect dog car if you can get an ex-police Crown Vic with the cage still in the back (or maybe if you’re lucky you might find an ex-K9 unit.)

In any case, though, keeping the car you have is the cheapest option.

I must tell you that there is no hope. I took the same route that you are planning to take. I teach in a university and I still drive the same car that I bought in October of 1978. I was the original owner, so the car is 30 years old. Your Volvo is just a pup at age 14. I make certain that I drive my 30 year old car past the administration building a couple of times a week and to any function where I need to point out how poorly teachers are paid.

On the other hand, I can’t complain too loudly. I was offered a position with a major corporation at three times the salary I was earning in university teaching and I turned it down. It’s very gratifying to me to see younger people like you wanting to pursue a doctorate and work with future teachers.

I agree with the other posts who are encouraging you not to go into debt for an automobile if you can help it. I bought a 1947 Pontiac for $75 that was 15 years old when I went to graduate school the first time. By my second trip to graduate school for my doctorate, I had a five year old Rambler. It developed a transmission problem and was difficult to shift into gear without grinding the gears. I debated whether to repair the transmission for $150 (quite a chunk of change in 1970) or purchase a better car. I elected to have the manual transmission repaired in the Rambler and that was a good decision. I completed the rest of my doctorate and had even taken out a mortgage for a house before I sold the Rambler and bought a better car. I’ll stick with my advice to stay with the Volvo if it is safe to drive. Besides, it gives the proper “image” for a professor of English or English education.

Thank you all for the comments/observations/ and erudite questions! You’ve helped me think about this and I have to say, I think I’ll be trying to keep my Volvo on the road. :slight_smile:

I think that you are making a good choice in trying to keep it going, though parts for Volvos are pricey. If it does take a dirt bath on you don’t forget about the Crown Victoria’s sister vehicle, Grand Marquis. It is an even more dull vehicle if you dare to be dull.

Try to find a 2001 or 2002 Chevrolet Prizm with a 4-speed automatic transmission. The 2002 should be about $4800 in clean condition (some wear, no major problems). It’s a Toyota Corolla with a different badge and costs about $1500 less than an equivalent Corolla. Your dog can have the back seat and you can throw a roof rack on it for your kayak.

P.S. No Loans! You might consider a very modest loan on a car once you establish yourself after graduate school. For now, stay cheap.

No such thing as a ‘gently used’ Crown Vic ex-taxi or police car.

I say keep the Volvo, fix only what is necessary, and just put up with the welded seat and minor cosmetic problems.
You can find parts for a reasonable price on eBay.


Exhaust manifold

If the manifold has a crack and the flaw is accessible, a welding shop can probably fix that on the cheap without even removing it.
If you go the eBay route, and are not a registered user, the main thing is to read the descriptions carefully, verify any shipping charges BEFORE bidding, and only deal with reputable sellers with a high positive feedback rating. A rating of 97% is NOT good. Stick with 98.5 or higher.

It seems to me with a little footwork any repairs you urgently need could be done for far less than the thousands mentioned.
JMHO and hope it helps.