Need a reliable car for my teenager

I have very little money and need a reliable car for my teenaged daughter to drive to school. We want one that is pre-computer that she can maintain. Parts availability is a must. It will NOT be driven on the freeway. Any ideas?

We live in Houston which is HOT!!!

“Pre-computer” may be a near impossibility and may cause reliability/maintainability/parts availability issues in other ways. My kids successfully drove Corollas and mid-sized US cars during their early driving years.

Something like a moderately used Malibu or Cobalt would probably work out well, as would equivalent Ford models. Since they are not in as much demand as Corollas or Civics, the pricing is probably more favorable.

Nearly all of today’s cars are more reliable than their “pre-computer” predecessors. I know I certainly do less maintenance on my cars today, than in the 1970’s or 1980’s.

Take a good look at the April 10 Consumer reports Car Buying issue. It has cars that historically have a good track record and those who don’t.

Honestly I think you should look for a private sale of a low desire domestic branded vehicle with working AC. Buick and Chevy/Pontiac come to mind.

Pre computer is silly. IMHO those cars are far less reliable and at least 20 yrs old.

I Agree With Andrew’s Comments And Will Add My Own. I Have Put One Driver Through Teenage Years And Am About To Do Another One, Myself. She Starts Driver’s Training On Monday.

I looked for safety first when shopping for my son’s car and he wound up taking it away to college, far from home. He still drives his Chevrolet Impala. I will do the same with my daughter.

After safety you can look at reliability and other features. My son’s car has 5-star crash ratings, front and side air-bags, and gets 30 MPG Hwy. It’s not bad looking, either. It has a spoiler, alloy wheels, leather interior . . .

Get a car with a computer, in fact get a car 1996 or newer. It will have OBD2 computer diagnostics. Your daughter will have an easier time maintaining it. The car will help her. She can either get diagnostic codes read for free at an auto parts store or receive a $50 gift of a code reader at some point and read her own codes at home.

Your family will go through several cars in its lifetime. Cars can be replaced, but not the people. Buy something safe. You’ll sleep better. Talk cars with your insurance agent.

From parent to parent,

If you are one of those people who says that “they just don’t build them like they used to”, my response is–“Yes, thank God”.

Going “pre-computer” really means getting a car that was made before the '80s.
Cars of the '70s were particularly unreliable when they were new, and–trust me–these cars did not get better as they aged.

And, cars of that era were also not particularly safe, as compared to cars made in the '90s and later. You also want it to be reliable and to have very good parts availability. You even want this old car to have very good A/C, despite the fact that the refrigerant for those old A/C systems is no longer made. Put it all together and I believe that your requirements are not compatible and are–ultimately–not possible.

Rather than taking a Luddite approach to selecting a car, I suggest that you buy a copy of the Consumer Reports Used Car Buyers’ Guide. This publication will allow you to see which makes and models have better than average reliability ratings. A more modern car with a better than average reliability rating will be lightyears ahead of a “pre-computer” car in terms of reliability, durability, and safety.

Whatever you buy, make sure that you have the opportunity to view the maintenance records and that you have it inspected by your own mechanic prior to purchase.

Pre-computer shows my age. Luddite --OUCH! I did not know about the Consumer Reports Used Car Buyers’ Guide. That will be my next step.

Thanks for your tips.

There is not much you can do now.  They may be dependent on money but they are out of your control.  The influence you had over the last 18 years, hopefully was good.  

Don't worry.  Both my kids did great when they left the nest.  

Pre-Computer means almost pre-historic.  You don't want that.  Modern cars are more reliable, require less service and are not too hard to do must things.  Air bags etc are the kind of things that could keep her alive in an accident.  

[i] It will NOT be driven on the freeway.  [/i]   Want to bet on that? However it makes no difference, old or new.

A 4 cylinder P/U with a stick shift. She will be the most popular girl at school. These trucks are in TREMENDOUS demand down in Mexico, so finding one in Houston may be difficult. As others have correctly said, FORGET the old “pre-computer” beaters. They are not safe or reliable and the A/C almost never works. Stick with '98 and newer. Avoid anything with an automatic transmission or rubber timing belt and you will avoid the worst mechanical nightmares…

Type “16 year old daughter” into the search box of this board to see many inquiries like yours.

I have a pre-computer age car and even with 52 years of driving experience, I wouldn’t drive the car any distance, nor would I sell the car to a young person. The car is a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon that I purchased new. Fortunately, I purchased the factory service manuals. When I take it to a garage, I find the technicians all hiding in empty oil drums. While spark plugs, oil filters, etc are available, I had to order a wiper arm from wrecking yard in California. I couldn’t purchase a door hinge from the dealer and this was ten years ago. When the car was only 14 years old, I let my son take the car to the college he attended which was 50 miles away and involved no interstate driving. The next year my son went on an Appalachian studies program and had 400 miles of interstate driving to his location. I put him in a much newer Ford Taurus, even though he claimed that he and the old Oldsmobile loved each other and the Oldsmobile wouldn’t let him down. Just after he left in the Taurus, the lock cylinder for the ignition bound up. Had my son been at a rest stop on the interstate, he might still be sitting there. Many things can stop an older vehicle. My son purchased an old Ford pickup truck from an elderly member of his church which he was donating to a children’s home for a tax write-off. His wife’s brother-in-law is an ASE certified mechanic and rebuilt the carburetor. Yet, 60 miles from his house, the truck quit. Fortunately, I had a distant relative in town that steered my son to an old time mechanic. It turned out that there was rust in the gas tank that caused the engine to stop. I don’t think you want your daughter in a pre-computer (pre-historic) vehicle.
Other posts have given you some good suggestions. I might add that a Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable in good condition might be an alternative to consider.

I will recommend something no one else has; talk to your insurance agent before deciding anything.
Any “pre-computer” era that has readily available parts will either be expensive to buy, or expensive to make road worthy(i.e. rust repair, engine work, fuel line replacement, etc). A Mustang or Camaro will have plenty of parts available for it, but good luck finding one for ‘very little money’, and if you do, it’ll be rusty or missing an interior, or won’t even run. Can she replace suspension parts or do brake work, or overhaul an engine?
Caddyman’s suggestion of a 4cyl. pickup makes sense, but since it is popular across the border, it will likely be a target for theft

The major issue with a pickup and teenagers is they will fill the back with kids and the potential for a mishap is high.

1995-1997 Toyota Corolla or Geo Prizm These cars are computer controlled but simple. Older years will use R12 refrigerant with obsolete A/C parts that may not be available. Newer modals have aluminum engines.

Keep in mind a much newer car will be safer

If I understand correctly, the real goal os to get her something reliable AND she can maintain. Toward that end, let me make a few suggestions for ease of maintenance.

Others have pointed out, and I agree wholeheartedly, that modern computer-controlled fuel injected vehicels are far more reliabel and maintenance free than the old carbed vehicles I grew up with. The difference is so great as to be indescribable. And new cars are far safer too.

As to maintenace, the easiest vehicle to maintain is a RWD 4-cylinder small pickup truck with few options. Access to everything that needs routine maintenance is far, far easier. Plugs are easy to change, belts are easy to change, water pumps are easy to change,…basically all the parts are simply much easier to get at. Transversely mounted engines can be horrible to even change a simple serpentine belt on. Transverse V6 engines can be horrible to access the plugs in the rear bank.

Beyond that, small pickups are often configured with shock absobers rather than struts. Shocks are far cheaper and far easier to change than struts. And, changing shocks does not involve realigning the vehicle. Bottom line: shocks = much less cost and easier maintenance than struts.

And small trucks are often more forgiving of errors. They’re tougher.

Their “Archilly’s Heel” is that they’re light on the rear end. That makes more understeer and a greater tendency for spin out, as well as making traction more difficult in winter weather. If you live in an area that gets snow, you’ll want to secure some added weight in the bed for the winters. And always get good tires.