I'm ready to buy a used car... but I have no idea what to look for and I need advice/recommendations

Hello cartalk, I’m a college student that’s been through hell and as a gift from my parents, they’re willing to buy me a car within the range of 13k USD ~ 16K USD on my birthday (2 months from now) they said that I can either choose new or used but I chose used because, well, it’s best value for the buck.

What I’m looking for is comfort, pleasure and luxury in my new-used car. I do a lot of commuting, I drive my sisters to school everyday so the backseat space is important and my university is 1hour-something away from my house.

I’m looking for something relatively new 2007~2010, I did my research and these cars fit my category quite well:

1) 2008/2009 Honda Accord

2) 2008+ Nissan Altima

3) 2008+ Nissan Maxima (kind of a stretch, but this car is amazing)

4) 2008+ Toyota Camry (least prefered)

More questions:

1) What should I look for in a used car? What should I be checking?

2)What questions do I ask the dealer?

3) Is there anything I need to know about used cars?

4) do you have any other recommendation for me?


The most common piece of advice on this URL for buying a used car is to find a trusted mechanic, and pay him to check out the car. And, if someone does not want to let you do that, walk away. Used cars vary widely in maintenance history, and that is perhaps the most important factor in buying a used car, not to mention wrecks, or being sold a flooded car.

Some say if you get some sort of extended warranty, that might negate the need for a mechanic’s inspection.

Of course, if somehow the seller is able to provide reliable maintenance records, that would help.

Also, some suggest finding a car from a private party, because dealer’s tend to soup up the price, hoping you think as a dealer they have a better car, which may or may not be true.

Who will you expect to employ you when you graduate? Honda, Nissan or Toyota or one of their car part or tooling suppliers? At $16,000 you are very close to being able to buy new. There is too much risk in buying used and the warranty that comes with new cars these days is something I like to have. Check out Chevrolet Cruze; looks like they finally got it right. Ford has their quality up these days too and is on a roll. Good fuel mileage will become even more popular as gas moves toward 5 bucks per gallon.

Shop at at least three different dealers. The right questions will become apparent and don’t fear walking away in spite of the pressure from a salesperson. You can always come back when you are ready to spend your money. You need to know how they will treat you in any situation. They need you a whole lot more than you need them but it will be well for you to treat a salesperson with a little respect as you might come back to buy a car when your final decision is made.

First I would say you have your priorities wrong. Your main concern should be safety & reliability, not comfort & luxury. I would buy used; 1 or 2 yrs. old. That way you get the depreciation off of the car. Many new car warranties are transferrable to the next owner also.

You have a great start and are asking the right questions. Generally, the best used cars I’ve found come from dealers but are also the most expensive. Others have good deals from rentals.
Our kids both finished college with Honda Accords the kept for many years after graduation.
I’m a fan of newer, even if higher mileage cars. I disagree with getting a new small car over a used well cared for Accord, which tends to have as high a satisfaction rating as anything you can buy. If value a comfort and longevity, they are the way to go through a Honda dealer with negotiating help from an experienced buyer. Second option are well cared for rental/lease cars
Fusions are very interesting new, but I still feel safer with your choices.
I know safety/reliability is important, but it’s included in your excellent first choices.
Private party sales “can” be the best buys, but you really have to have lots of car buying experience.
Be a hardliner and don’t love any car presented to you as a choice, it doesn’t love you back…

What about a 2009/2010 Honda Civic LX? I don’t care for the larger Accord, though you appear to. BTW, I have a 2005 Accord EX; similar in size to the 2010 Civic.

Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta, Chevy Cobalt, Mazda 2 and Mazda 3 can all be had for $16k brand new

“Comfort, pleasure and luxury?”

Young man, or young woman, you have your priorities in the wrong order.

That’s easy to do when someone else is paying the bill, but you should rethink this.

A good, or even semi-good, used car salesperson will rob you blind. You have no idea what you’re up against. They are trained, you are not.

Since you know nothing about cars, I suggest you find the least expensive NEW 4-door sedan or hatchback you can find, regardless of comfort, pleasure, or luxury, and buy it.

New cars come with warranties, and warranties are wonderful, especially for someone in your position.

Good luck.

Thank you for your advice, I’m looking for comfort at least because I had an accident that fractured my vertebrae and I do a lot of driving everyday, almost 3 hours everyday, so I figured that comfort should be at the top of my list.

I currently drive a 1999 Nissan sunny and this car really hurts my back after an hour long drive, it’s just awful.

Thanks again.

Thank you for your reply. Safety and reliability are indeed in my list, I didn’t include them because the cars that I have my eyes on pretty much have 4~5 stars in these categories, or so I have heard.

Isn’t the Honda civic really small? I’m looking for a more larger cars aka mid-size to large-size sedans.

If you spend three hours a day in a car and cart people around, you have my full support in your choices, regardless of your health conditions. We may be the only two that see your point, but “comfy” means supportive, supportive means alert, and alert means safety.
Your choices do that economically, safely and dependably. Pick out your color and enjoy.

If you have a back problem, it is imperative that you really spend some time testing the seats in cars for comfort. Luxury cars don’t necessarily make a car comfortable for a person. I had a classmate when I was in college back in the early 1960’s whose parents were quite well-to-do. This classmate had severe back problems and his parents told him he could purchase any car he wanted. After driving a lot of cars, including Cadillacs and Imperials, he bought a VW Beetle. He said it was the only vehicle which he could drive comfortably on road trips. At one time I owned a 1993 Oldsmobile 88 equipped with every possible option including power seats. I never could get comfortable in the car. We sold it and bought a Toyota 4Runner. The seats in the 4Runner give much more support and we are very comfortable on long trips.

Yeah, I’ll definitely take my time test driving every car and assessing how comfortable they are in the long run before buying.

The luxury car that I know, an 08 rides no better than our Chevrolet Cobalt and possibly even a little harder. Suspensions are all stiff now to get safer handling. If there are exceptions to that, I don’t know what they are. Our neighbor has a new Buick. Buicks used to have very soft suspensions resulting in what you might call a pillow soft ride but no longer. While I rode with him I listened to him complain about the hard ride of his new Buick as he was accustomed to Buicks of the past.

You might want to look into getting a good wheelchair cushion to sit on while you drive. These come in different qualities and it will cost you a little money but might help reduce the shock to your back making it possible to buy any car. A medical supply store might have a used one for you to try out.

The civic is bigger than the original Accord now. The small Honda is now the Fit, which is . . bigger than the original Civic. Car bloat hasn’t skipped Honda either :wink: