Need car, fast! Small budget = headache! Advice?

I am a commuting college student (about 40 miles each way to school) and need a car. I was rear-ended in my cheap '92 Ford Probe last week, and find myself with a small budget looking for something safe/reliable/roomy.

Admittedly, my budget is much larger than it was in previous purchasing instances, but it’s still only about $5,000-$6,000. And, apparently that isn’t much money to dealers, as I walked onto a lot yesterday and pretty much got laughed at when I told a salesman my budget. And then he walked away!! The nerve!

So… here’s my question(s)… what do I buy? My dad says if I get a 4 cylinder, to stick with a European car (probably VW), BUT I’d almost like a small SUV, as sometimes the winter weather here can be horrendous. My dad also says that anything with more than 100 thousand miles is sort of a waste of money because they’re pretty worn out already. Is this true? Or is my father living in the vehicular stone age?? What should my limit be for mileage on a used car? Age limit?

Car wishlist:


4 door

minimal digital stuff (no digital instrument panel)

remote start (I can have this installed myself)


cd player

I recently found a 1995 VW Golf w/ 62K miles on it for $5400, worth it? Or keep looking? It is a bit too small for my purposes, and it’s older, but the mileage is just so low!!

HELP! Any advice is welcome!!!

a lot has to do with more how well it was taken care of, take it to a mechanic and pay them to inspect the vehicle before you buy it. A used Subaru will fit the awd needs

Check the bulletin boards around the college you attend. This time of the year there may be a faculty member going on sabbatical that wants to sell an automobile or a student graduating at the end of the fall term and is going overseas. In your price range, buy a vehicle for its condition more than the make. The 2008 Buying Guide for Consumer Reports lists what seem to have been reliable vehicles for under $4000 and in the $4000-$6000 price range.

Unless you get a lot of snow and they don’t plow at all, you really don’t need an SUV or 4WD. SUV’s as a class do tend to have a little more ground clearance, but not all of them do and if they plow your area, you don’t need it. 4WD is handy for getting out of that ditch you slid into, but it is of no help in keeping out of the ditch to begin with.

A set of four winter tyres will do a lot more for you. They will not only help you get out of the ditch, but help keep you from going in.

The asking price is well over twice what the car is worth. You probably can’t negotiate the price down low enough to be a fair buy.

Look at a Chevy Prizm. It was last sold in 2002, but it is identical to the Toyota Corolla. There will be no problems finding parts. A 2002 or earlier should be under $5000 with the AM/FM/CD and a 4-speed automatic transmission. Expect to pay $1000 more on a used car dealer’s lot.

BTW, did you visit only new car dealers? They tend to keep only the newer used cars on their lot. A car this old would only be available on a used car only lot or in a private sale.

If you are a student on a small budget, get the simplest and most reliable car that is INEXPENSIVE TO FIX. This immediately excludes ant European car, especially a Volkwagen.

For your budget, a used Corolla, Chevy Prism, older Hinda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Echo (if you can find one), Nissan Sentra, Mazda 323 or Protege, and even a well maintained Ford Escort. Stay away from 4 wheel drives, Power windows, sliding roofs and other extras that will cost a lot to fix when the car ages.

A private sale from the classifeds will yield a good number of prospects at good prices. Go with someone who knows cars.

Thanks! You have all been SOOOO helpful.

Right now I’m looking at a 2004 Saturn Ion w/ 63K miles on it, and they are asking $6900 for it. I would definitely need them to come down in price a bit, but it looks like a good car. No power windows/locks. It seems a bit small, but for the price, it might be just the right thing. Any thoughts on Saturns?

Just get something built by honda or toyota and you will be a happy camper.

The only weak point I have heard about is head gasket problems. If you decide to buy the car, and have proof it has been well maintained, you should have it checked for this. A mechanic can do a pressure test to see if everything is OK. I would offer a bit less; these cars have much lower resale value than Toyotas and Hondas. Don’t know whether this car has a timing belt, but if it does, make sure was changed recently, or do it right away.

Don’t buy any European car from the mid 90’s unless you live in Europe. Corolla or Prizm or Civic if you want it to keep starting running and not costing. The new buying guide from C.R. is on sale right now for around twelve dollars at book stores. It could save you from a bad bet. See if the word hassle is in the dictionary. College students used to use it a lot in the 60’s- 70’s. The definition may direct you to page 181, CR good bets and bad bets. Don’t buy a loser. And be independent from relatives off the cuff info.