Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

New-used car reccomendations?

I’d like some reccomendations for what people consider to be a good used car to invest in, with these 4 criteria. 1. under $4000.00. 2. 25-30, or better mpg. 3. Reliable. 4. cargo Space - example, I like volvo and subaru wagons a lot. Input? Suggestions? Comments on how I’m dreaming to find anything worthwhile? Thanks!

A Volvo wagon for under $4,000 will be older and will cost you a bundle in repairs. Definately not an investment, rather a “money pit”.

A Subaru is a better choice, but they have expensive repairs too. Just not as often as the Volvo. I won’t call either an investment.

Sorry to tell you this, but $4,000 doesn’t get much of a car these days. In this price range your most important criteria is how well the previous owner(s) maintained the car. The more you can learn about the car’s service history the better.

Whatever you buy, have a mechanic inspect it before you buy it. Have about $1,000 to $2,000 for repairs in the first year you own it. The seller isn’t likely to put on the new brakes, struts, or timing belt the car needs, so these things will be up to the new owner.

A 2000 Volvo V40 might work for you, but it’s 10 years old and only gets 2 MPG average. A 2002 Ford Focus wagon or hatchback is another possibility. The Focus should be more reliable and gets an average of 25 MPG as a wagon and 28 MPG as a hatchback.

First, you have to realize that “under $4,000” and “reliable” are not normally used in the same sentence unless the word reliable is preceded by “not”. Like it or not, any car that you purchase for less than $4k is going to be over 10 years old and is in the age and odometer mileage category where repairs will be a fairly commonplace occurrence for you. I am not saying that all of these repairs will be of the “break the bank” category, but they will likely be frequent, no matter what make of car you buy.

Using the criteria that you mentioned, I would suggest that you look at Subaru Impreza wagons. They are cheaper and more economical than Legacy/Outback wagons and are more reliable. The engines on Imprezas are not subject to the head gasket problems, which Legacies and Outbacks are subject to.

Another one to look at is the Ford Escort wagon. It is more economical than the Subaru.

Volvos are extremely expensive to repair, and as Volvos age, they do tend to need a lot of repairs. The absolute worst car that I ever owned was a Volvo, so I am not of the Volvo=reliability camp.

But, no matter what you might decide to buy, have it checked out by a mechanic of your choice prior to purchase. This will likely cost you ~$100, but it could save you from buying a car that looks good and drives satisfactorily but has expensive problems lurking.

And, remember that if the car that you buy has a timing belt (which most of them will), these belts need to be replaced (depending on the make of car) every 5-7 years/90,000-105,000 miles. If you cannot verify through repair invoices that a potential purchase had the timing belt replaced within the last few years, then you have to assume that it has never been changed, and you will need to spend anywhere from $400-$600 to have the timing belt, belt tensioners, and water pump replaced a.s.a.p. after purchase.

Unfortunately, a huge percentage of car owners do not maintain their cars properly. The original owner may successfully “dodge a bullet”, but the subsequent owner(s) will pay the price with more repairs as a result of the first owner’s poor maintenance habits. Have your “ideal car” checked out by your mechanic prior to purchase! And, don’t spend your entire savings on the car. Retain at least a few hundred $$ for your “repair account”, for the inevitable repairs.

“A 2000 Volvo V40 might work for you, but it’s 10 years old and only gets 2 MPG average.”

Wow! And I thought that a Bentley was a gas hog!


All reccomendations are gladly received, and at this point, I’m only researching before seriously shopping. The fact that I “like” volvos and subarus (having had both before) doesn’t mean I’m locked into only condisering them, so the comments about the escort are good to know.

We have a '94 ford aerostar which we bought for about $2500, roughly 4 years ago, with few/minimal problems. In the case of volvos, I’ve done my share of work on them, including replacing every major part counting the timing gear (not belt in this case), and head gasket) - learned everything I know, in fact. If one is willign to buy the parts, and do the work themselves, it’s much less expensive. So says me, w/ a strong sense of financial self-preservation! SMILES

Thank you for the input, any and all is appreciated!

“Champagne Taste” . . . “Beer Budget” Advice.

Comments on how I’m dreaming to find anything worthwhile?

I would suggest to keep dreaming about the day that you can buy a Volvo or Subaru wagon. Reality check: $4,000 buys you pretty basic transportation and the choice of vehicle may be decided more by the seller than the buyer.

Now, with that in mind, two years ago I tried to buy a $4,000-$5,000 car for my college student son. I wanted something more dependable than his 16 year old car. It had to be safe! MPG was important, but safety was #1 and it had to be “acceptable” to chicks ($4,000 doesn’t buy much of a “chick magnet”).

It took some searching and test driving until I found a six year old (seven model years) Chevrolet Impala LS 3.8L with just over 100K miles. It gets 30+MPG highway, has leather, spoiler, alloys, driver information center, good tires, etcetera. It was well maintained and clean and everything works! It has a good crash rating and front air bags and driver’s “side” air bag. I paid $4,000 from a private individual.

Save out some money for incidentals after your purchase. I found some things to “tweak” and put about $300 in it to make it “perfect” before delivering it to my son.

The engine in this car has a timing chain, rather than a timing belt. This car has proven to be an ideal car during the past two years.

I would recommend keeping an open mind. We have had this discussion here before and I would think most people who frequent this site would say that at this price level it’s more important to find a car that was well-maintained and in good condition than it is to go after a certain make/model. Keep an open mind.


P.S. I forgot cargo space. One can fold down half or all of the rear seat back and make the space provided by the large trunk even larger.

You might go to, say,, put in your price range and type of vehicle (use ‘advanced search’), and see what pops up. Around here, it’s lots of PT Cruisers, plus odds and ends other wagons. Find some that interest you, then come back for some more specific recommendations. The more specific you are, the more we can help.

The Ford Escort and Focus that others have suggested seem to be undervalued, at least they were when friends of mine were buying for their daughters. You will be able to get a much newer and less worn out Focus or Escort than any Volvo or Subaru for $4000. Hey, I like Subarus and Volvos, too. But fuel mileage is not Subaru’s strongest suit, and reliability isn’t Volvo’s.