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Looking for midsize used car, where to start?

I’m going to be buying a car (my first) in a few months and I’m trying to figure out where to start. I think I’d like a midsize (or possibly larger compact) car; something that can comfortably accommodate people in the back seat without jamming their knees up against the front seats.

I’d also like something that gets decent gas mileage (say, at least 30 MPG on the highway) and will be reliable. It should have a manual transmission and front-wheel drive. And, if possible, I’d like to get something without tons of miles on it.

My budget is tentatively capped at $6,000, but I wouldn’t say no to spending less. (I’m paying up front, no financing.)

So far I’ve been looking at Toyotas and Hondas because of their reliability, but after reading a few discussions here I realized that I might be able to get a better deal on something that doesn’t have quite the reputation they do.

Here’s my question: what would you recommend? I have plenty of time to look around and wait for deals, but I just don’t know what counts as a deal! What models should I consider, and what year/mileage range should I be looking at?

Many thanks,


Read Consumer Reports Used Car Buying Guide. It’s probably available at your local library.

With a maximum price of $6000, you should be more concerned with how the car was cared for than the brand. You will probably get your best deal on a Ford, Chevy or Chrysler midsize car. If the owner has all the receipts for repairs and maintenance or can show you a fluid and filter change log if they did their own work, then you have someting worth a second look. Take it to your mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection to see what it needs. If the car needs a safety inspection or smog inspection beofre the state will license it, get that done first, too. You don’t neccessarily need to get the work done before you buy it, but you do need to know how much it will cost.

My personal favorite in this group is the Chevy Malibu. It’s homely, but reliable and less expensive.

Hyundai Sonata. $6k buys a 2004/2005 with under 60k miles.


Consumer Reports is good place to start, but don’t start there. Visit as many dealers as possible. Just smile at them when they ask what they can do to sell you a car right now. Just offer $500.00 and when they say get serious, tell them they are not being serious when they want you to buy without comparing.

Note: Never ever give you car keys to any dealer or salesperson. You will not see your car again until they have spent the day trying to get you to sign.

There is nothing like actuarially seeing sitting in and test driving a car.

Also never pick the first one you see until after you have seen the rest.

A Mazda 6 or Hyundai Sonata has lower resale value than a Camry or Accord.

Seeing as it’s they’re first car, I don’t think they need to hand over any keys to the salesperson. :stuck_out_tongue:

Is that because they’re that much more likely to have problems, or is it because they just don’t have quite the reputation that Toyota and Honda have built?

Well, no, but it’s probably good to know for the future anyway. And I’ll make sure not to give them the keys to my bicycle, just in case they get really zealous about trade-ins. :slight_smile: (I’m sort of curious what their reaction would likely be to seeing me come cruising up on my bike…though I suppose I’ll find out soon enough!)

Thanks for the tips! I’ll definitely be asking about maintenance logs/receipts.

There is the problem with reputation. Older Hyundais were built terribly. But the newer ones are pretty nice. The 2006-2010 Sonatas are in your price range and while they may not be as good as the Camry and Accord, they undercut them on price. The 6 seems to be a bit better than the Sonata.

Thanks for the advice. Were Hyundai models before 2006 much better than previous years, or was it a gradual improvement? (In other words, if I see a 2003 or 2005 Sonata, should I be concerned about quality?)

Also, any thoughts on the Elantra? I’m considering a slightly smaller car, and I’m curious if it too is one I should be looking at.

(I’m also checking out the Mazda6, and it looks like a good contender too. Thanks again!)

As for the Mazda, the 2009 and newer models are holding their value well - the 2008 and older are the ones GSN_fan is pointing out…

And there they don’t hold their value as well as an Accord or Camry because of two primary reasons

  1. Consumer bias. They’ve heard Honda and Toyota are the best for so many years, it doesn’t matter so much if they shred transmissions like the 98-02 Accords… there is a premium on the price simply because of the logo. Mazda doesn’t get that same price bias

  2. The 2008 and older Mazda 6 were a SMALL midsize sedan. They were considerably smaller inside than most of their competition. As a result, Mazda had a harder time selling them and ended up selling a LOT of them to rental companies. That means that it was VERY easy to find low-mileage 1-2 year old Mazda 6s on dealer lots… and of course anytime you get an oversupply, that means you get lower prices.