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I am looking for a used car which will be easy to work on myself at home

So as you all know, I like to drive cars which have very basic features, and none of the high-tech BS which has become common today. Specifically, I want non-powered windows and seats, no sunroof/moonroof, no alarm or immobilizer system, no touch screens, no “drive by wire” throttle body, no electric power steering, and nothing which communicates wirelessly with a remote server or acts to override the driver’s inputs.

I also need this car to be easy enough to work on that I could perform routine maintenance and even many kinds of repairs myself at home using a floor jack, jack stands, and standard tools. By “easy enough”, I mean that this car should be no more difficult than say a 4-cylinder Caravan/Voyager or Spirit/Acclaim to do things such as replace the timing belt kit, replace the water pump, replace the radiator and coolant hoses, replace the accessory belt(s) and tensioner(s), replace the spark plugs and ignition wires, change the transmission fluid and filter, replace gaskets and seals, etc. So no multiple timing chains, no unreasonably difficult timing belts, and no internal water pump driven by a timing chain.

A search of the local Craigslist shows the following vehicles, which offer the features I need, all with approximately 140,000 to 150,000 miles:

  1. 1998 Ford Escort with the SOHC engine
  2. 1996 Toyota Corolla
  3. 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier
  4. 1999 Chevrolet Metro with the 4-cylinder engine
  5. 2005 Kia Rio
  6. 1999 Toyota Corolla

All of these cars are similar in cost and appear to be in excellent condition, and I would be happy driving any of these models. So it’s just a matter of deciding which will provide the easiest DIY maintenance and servicing. Any advice (besides “don’t buy a car that old”)?

1999 Toyota Corolla VE .The VE trim is the most basic and offers all the criteria you asked. I sold my 99 CE last year for a good amount and was very reliable.


All of the cars listed have OBD2 and are fuel injected which means they have … gasp… computers! That very well means they have security systems of some kind.

That would seem to violate your DIY wishes.

DIY with electronics and computers DO go together. I work on all my cars and the oldest is a throttle by wire, electronically loaded 2004 model with power everything. It just requires some personal research and education.

If you want mechanical cars, I’d suggest you back up another 2 decades and search for a carbureted, pre electronic controls car. Some of those 70s cars can be vacuum driven nightmares but they are all mechanical. The large cars have lots of room to work on them. Maybe slip back into the late 60s where the most complicated thing is a pcv valve.


Everyone of those vehicles could have a problem that can’t be repaired by a DIY person . Plus not every part will be easily obtained . None of them were what I would call great vehicles even when new .

The 96 and 99 Corolla’s are extremely reliable vehicles.


Agree… I would not hesitate to buy one to turn into a 24 hour of LeMons race car!

LeMons is the $500 car endurance racing series. These and Camrys of the same vintage are darn near bulletproof.


You need a place to work. And tools. And a lift. Buy a property with an out building and have a shop. Then look for cars to work on.

I’d pick a Corolla, fairly simple and great parts availability.


A lift? Really? I’ve been working on cars for DECADES without a lift. A lift is convenient…but not a necessity.


If I had access to a lift and a shop, then just about any car would be easy to work on, right? A professional mechanic doesn’t spend 2 days to replace the timing belt on an economy car, but that’s how long it takes when you’re doing it on the ground with a floor jack and jack stands.

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Eh, how about a car with a Flathead six? Just points and plugs at least annually.
Learn to rebuild a carburetor, badda bing, badda bong easy peasy.


I dunno but as I age I think more in terms of the easiest car to work on is one that requires no work. So it’s either something like my FIL’s 61 Chevy pick up or a new one on warranty. Remember the older the car, the more likely parts will become obsolete and not available regardless of how basic the vehicle. Maybe buy two with one for parts.

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Another vote here for a Corolla.


Toyota actually puts in an effort to make the Corolla one of the easiest cars to work on. I believe that a Corolla 2003 or newer will be fly by wire, but that is a very reliable system so it should not give you any trouble. The 4 cylinder Tacoma is also fairly easy to work on.

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Many years ago, there was an article in either Popular Science or Popular Mechanics (I subscribed to both in those days) on this very topic. They interviewed a retirement-age Ford engineer who said that he “feared” the coming of new technology with cars.

So, before he retired, he bought three identical Mavericks, using his corporate discount. His plan was to drive one and save the other two for mechanical and body parts when he needed them. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t have chosen a model that was a bit more reliable than the Maverick.

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I wonder what his wife had to say about that? Like my mother used to say “look at what the cat dragged in”. Heh heh heh. :crazy_face:


Given those options my choice would be either of the Toyotas but none of these would be significantly “easier” or “harder” than other better options.

Yeah a 4cyl in a small car does give you a bit more room to work than a 6 but it’s not like the space you had in a 57 Chevy. As far as complexity, for all the things you outlined, as long as you stay away from the high end, “bleeding edge technology” models, repairs are all about the same.

On the other hand, on a 20 year old car I can practically guarantee that every screw and nut has been rusted solid and will have to be cut off or drilled out and any rubber seals will no longer seal.
And after you’ve finally gotten to the part, as Bing pointed out, after 10 years parts supplies become harder to find and more expensive.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t consider an older, simpler car, just that you should expect it to be harder and more expensive to maintain than a similar newer car.

Or the base 99 Civic.They were pretty reliable and easy to work on.

I’ve had a 1999 Civic EX 5 speed 4-door since new and it’s been a great car.

OP didn’t have Civic on his list. My hunch is the Corolla is somewhat simpler than the Civic, but I haven’t had my hands on a Corolla since my 1983 wagon got invaded by mice one winter while in storage. Curtains for that one.

Prediction - Person buys easy to work on vehicle - then what breaks is the most difficult and hard to find part to replace. :wink: