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New Car Suggestions?

Last week I got my car ('96 Nissan 200sx) back from the mechanic, and he gave me a laundry list of things that should be done, costing more than the value of the car. So I figure it gives me the perfect excuse to be a new, er used, car.

I’m looking for a used car that is going to be relatively unique (in a creative industry, so having a different car is a huge bonus), while also very fun to drive (the 200sx was ok, but I’m looking for something better). In addition, I do a bit of mountain driving to ski areas above Los Angeles. I am currently looking for two types of cars, and was wondering if anyone has any suggestions.

1.) An ultra-reliable car, for around $5k, which will be cheap to maintain if any repairs come up. (Or it will never break down, so repair costs don’t matter). I will be looking for something from the mid 90’s to early 2000’s, that I could easily find without having more that 150k miles on it. I would prefer something that has decent power, manual transmission, and convertible is a plus. Cars I am currently considering in this category are:

Honda Prelude (1997-01)

Honda Del Sol (1995-97)

Toyota Celica Convertible (1996-98)

Toyota MR2

2.) A fun classicish car, for around $3k, that beyond regular maintenance (oil, brakes, tires), I would only have to put in about $700 per year in other upkeep/fixing. I’m thinking something along the lines of a Mercedes or Porsche from the late 70’s, 80’s or early 90’s. Preferably something that is on the edge of going classic, and that is worth keeping up and hanging on to for the next 10-20 years, first as a daily driver, and then later as a collector.

Looking forward to seeing your suggestions!

[b] An ultra-reliable car, for around $5k, which will be cheap to maintain[/b]

This is not a specific, it is any car who's owner takes good car of their car and has all the prescribed maintenance done and does not let the little stuff build up an maybe cause bigger stuff.  While there are differences in different makes and models, I am a firm believer that the real difference is the owner.

You can forget the #2 plan for a fun classicish car; the maintanence and repairs are going to be super high. Reliable, not likely from this group.

The cars in #1 were all good reliable cars when new. You are looking at these cars 10+ years after they were new. Ultra reliable, and low repair bills from cars this old seem like a fairy tale. If you spend $5K for one of these cars, figure on spending some money on repairs, like $1,500. If you don’t have money for repairs then spend $3,500 on the car and hold the $1,500 for repairs.

“Or it will never break down, so repair costs don’t matter” This does not exist!

For a daily driver, a Hyundai Sonata may be the best deal around $5k. A five-year-old one will have Honda/Toyota reliability at a lower purchase price. Annual maintenance will be about the same for any Asian car.

A $3k Mercedes or Porsche will be a basket case. Plan on at least $10k for one that will not be a restoration project. And, $3k per year in maintenance. These are weekend cars, not daily drivers.


Don’t expect anything to be reliable for $5000 or less. At least reliable in that you don’t have to put much into it. What would be repair items on 5 year old cars will be maintenance items on whatever you buy. Batteries, starters, alternators, ignitions, suspension; these are all items that you should expect to replace.

That said, how many seats do you want? Do you need trunk space at all? If the answer is 2 and none, consider the MR2. But it will have be be a high mileage car, since they didn’t start building them again until 2000.

Hey, I wanted to say thanks for all the input. It looks like I maybe be expecting a bit too much out of a car in my price range…

Additional input and ideas on cars too look into would definitely be beneficial.

In answer to jtsanders, trunk space and two seaters are not a problem for me. It’s usually just me driving.

Maybe you should consider 2 cars from the 90s. You can get a 1997 del Sol for about $2200 and a 1997 Prelude for around $2700. For $5000 you have 2 cars, and at least one should be running when you need it.

The Toyota Celica is likely your best choice. It has the following Reliability Percentranks for the respective year:

1994: 0.99 (on a scale from 0.00 to 1.00)
1995: 0.90
1996: 0.87
1997: 0.85.

I drive a 1984 Toyota Corolla liftback that I purchased new. It thought it remarkably reliable (after owning a couple of new GM vehicles), but it seems about as reliable today at 547,000+ as it was in the 1980s and 1990s.