Ideas for a new car

Hey, guys,
I currently own a 1998 Chevy Cavalier. Isn’t my most glamorous choice, but it’s ran great since I’ve had it. No problems, especially with the way I service the engine. However, I bought it with some decent rust and in these Chicago winters, it’s spread quite a bit. The actual frame is now rusting out and is now a safety hazard worth far more than I’d like to spend on the car.
Needless to say, I need to look for a new one. I was thinking about a mid-2000’s Volkswagen Jetta or Passat.
I’m on a little bit of a budget going off to college in five months, and I’ve always trusted the German cars. What do you guys think? Thanks in advance!

I’d put German cars behind Japanese, Korean, and US cars if reliability is a major concern. Consumer Reports just came out with their car buyers guide, it has lots of info on car reliability and it has used car recommendations for various budgets.

Depending on what you have to spend, buy a used Corolla. Then go to a local body shop and ask them about “oiling” inner body panels. You will have to do it yourself but many body people do it to their own cars each year. Use “Green” or G-Oil biodegradable oil and never see rust again where you can get to it. BTW, you have no frame in your Cavalier as we know it. You have box members welded into the unibody construction. This type of yearly rust proofing works wonders with unibody, better then you can do with a real frame. There are other models other then a Corolla as @texases indicates by his reference that are just as good. Corollas are just so numerous and been around so long, you will have parts and maintenance options second to none. You have always trusted German car’s ? How many have you actually owned ?

Why German cars? You might find a budget busting suprise when a problem crops up,Dag has the handle on the rusting situation,forget a cheap Honda they are just to difficult to find the Toyotas are just as bad around here if you find a Corolla for sale,you better look at it real close,however keep an open mind on the domestics I feel there has to be a small coupe or sedan type thats fairly reliable,you mention good luck with a Cavalier,If I was you,the GMs would be on my scope,Heaven forbid if you got a “deconverted” tuner import car,Good luck,When you get established with a positive cash flow,you can get the car of your dreams-Kevin

Consider a 2010 Cobalt LT. Edmunds says that the expected 5 year maintenance and repair costs should be about $7100. A comparable Corolla will have 5 year M&R costs of about $6800. That’s quite close. But a comparable Corolla XLE will cost about $3000 more to buy. A 2010 Cobalt LT with 45,000 miles will be about $10,000 from a dealer with auto transmission, heated seats,ABS and traction control. We have a 2009 and 2010 Cobalt and they have been reliable for us.

I too would recommend against German cars if reliability and cost of ownership are primary criteria. Pick up a Consumer Reports Used Car Buyer’s Guide at the local bookstore and judge for yourself.

I’ve never actually owned a Volkswagen, but a couple of my aunts and uncles do as well as many of my friend’s parents. I’ve never heard of any of their cars needing big time and unexpected repairs and they are all somewhat high mileage (100,000+) cars. Also, what did you mean when you were talking about the rust? Is there a cost-effective way of using it?

Also, to everyone else- I’ve read a bit on Volkswagens and based on your comments as well as everyone else’s that I’ve talked to, I’m starting to get the idea that maybe a Volkswagen might not be my best choice. I think I might look at domestic as kmccune suggested.

@Matt922: Consider that the people you mention are all a generation older than you, and…perhaps…occupy a different rung on the socioeconomic ladder. Teutonic rides can be reliable (after a fashion), but expenses are in a different league. Go to an online parts website and price 5 random replacment parts for your current Cavalier, then for a Jetta. See what I mean?

Also, “conventional wisdom” says that EU makes didn’t handle the switch to electronics all that well, and that VW, in particular, has been decontenting their cars in search of market share. Make of that what you will.

@Matt922 - I owned both a Scirocco and a GTI, 14 years total, they were fine, but between 1990 and 2005 VW reliability was poor overall. Newer models appear to be better, but they have a lot to prove. Why not buy a brand with a better track record?

"I’ve always trusted the German cars. What do you guys think?"

I think that you are misinformed.
Is that too blunt?
I’m sorry, but you asked what we think, and I gave my thoughts to you.

Statistically, Japanese and American makes have far better longevity and reliability than VWs.

Some German makes/models/years are more reliable than others. VW TDI’s – at least in certain years – seem to get pretty good reliability ratings for example. And there are non-diesel versions too that are rated ok reliability-wise. One problem for you, since you mention budget problems, is that reliability isn’t only what you want. Even the most reliable cars still need occasional servicing. You want both reliability and a car that is inexpensive to service. Cars that are inexpensive to service tend to have a large sales volume, b/c that makes parts widely available and therefore priced competitively. And there are many shops to choose from when service is required. Suggest you locate a copy of Consumer Reports Guide to Used Cars and see what they say about any car you are thinking of buying.

There are so many cars that are more reliable and cheaper to keep running that it’s hard to recommend a VW except to someone with enough money it doesn’t matter. I have here the brand new Consumer Reports car issue. They list a bunch of used car picks, but most are late models and probably above your budget. A couple that stand out for me are the Scion xB and the Pontiac Vibe. Both are Toyotas by any other name and very reliable. The Scion xA and xD should also do well. The Vibe is essentially identical to the Toyota Matrix, which is just a tall Corolla wagon. The Pontiac brand depresses the prices. They also like the previous generation of the Hyundai Sonata, somewhat bigger and quite pleasant.

The Civic and Corolla sell for a premium, but there are other good cars from the Japanese brands. The Honda Fit has been in the top CR reliability ranking for all seven years it has been sold here. No other car can do better. It’s not a car I would pick for driving long distances, but for shorter distances and around town it’s perfect, with an astounding amount of room for such a small car. The first generation Fit is very much like the current one, so any year is worth a look. The Mazda3 is excellent and popular, without commanding Honda or Toyota premiums. The bigger Mazda6 is also a fine car and not very popular, so prices seem reasonable. I’m less fond of Nissans, but a Sentra or Altima at a good price would be OK. Of domestics I’d probably go with a Focus. The Cobalt is probably fine, but the back seat is too cramped for me. If you don’t use it, not a problem. The Chevy HHR is essentially a Cobalt wagon with retro styling and is quite practical. It didn’t sell very well, but the rental fleets had a bunch so they have to be out there.

As a seasoned mechanic, I can tell you . . . a used european car is an extremely poor choice for a college student on a budget

They are far less reliable than Toyotas and Hondas

I recommend from among the following . . . Accord, Civic, Corolla, Camry

These cars are all boring, but reliable

Boring and reliable is exactly the right car for a college student on a budget

Agree with the others. Avoid VW’s. Honda or Toyota is the way to go on a budget.

Honda and Toyota are way too expensive as a used car for a student on a budget. The premium to buy one is astronomical and unjustified. BTW, I own a 2005 Accord. I bought it new, of course. Then it makes good sense.

I guess it depends on where you live. Around here there are plenty of Civics and Corollas for sale in the same price range as comparable Jettas, for example.

Hyundai Sonata
Hyundai Elantra
Mazda 3
Mazda 6
Ford Focus
Ford Fusion
Buick sedan(they’ve changed names so many times I’ve forgotten what they’ve been called recently)

I recommend mid-sized cars as well as compacts as you could get lucky and get more car for the same amount of money as a compact. ALL compact cars are in great demand because of their MPG, and a mid sized car might get a few less mpg, and aren’t as in demand as their smaller brothers.

You do seem to have a history with the German cars, at least by proxy. :wink:
There are cars that will give a solid history of good reliability for the major components. But, there are European brands which in the past, as they age can have more electrical problems for example. The idea of consulting CR before you buy is to take advantage of a larger sample of owners of these cars then the few observed by you. Nothing is engraved in stone as far as reliability is concerned, but using CR at least as a reference can only help.

Off topic I know, but this just happened and is related to @Matt92 concern for rust. I have a friend who works at a local golf club. Have known him for years. Five years ago I mentioned to him about treating his car for rust. This was after he said he may have to get ten more years out of it as he doesn’t put many miles on it and he thought he could do it easily. But, he just kept putting the rust prevention treatment off. This year, he came to me and asked if there is anything I can do about the rear fenders which are rusting through. He’s afraid it might not get through another inspection. It runs like a top, is a 2003 with less then 70k miles in otherwise excellent mechanical shape and is headed for the glue factory. I told him…" I’m not a body shop. We’ll try, but remember, it’s like giving up smoking and changing your diet after you found out you had cancer. We can extend the life of the car some but it’s too bad it ever got this far. "
No one seems to care till it’s too late. Cost effective ? 30 minutes of your time, once a year and one quart of biodegradable oil. You can add a decade ( at least) to the life of the body parts you choose to treat. That’s a savings of thousands of dollars. Is that cost effective enough ?

I just did a search on, no difference in prices between used Jettas, Civics, and Corollas. That puts the Corollas and Civics ahead of the Jetta.