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New (used) car recommendations

I’m looking to upgrade from my '94 Tercel to a newer, nicer used car with fewer miles, and am aiming to spend less than $5K. My instinct is to get another Toyota or a Honda, but they have such high resale values that I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth exploring other options. I know Hyundais are coming up in the world, but I still worry about their reliability (and their warranty incentive would not apply in my case). I’ve seen some reasonably priced used Saabs and Volvos, but they too seem to have mediocre dependability ratings. Are Hondas and Toyotas really that far ahead of the pack?

Saabs and Volvos may be cheap to buy, but they are expensive to maintain and repair. For $5k, I’d stick with Japanese or Korean cars.

Thanks. Are there other Asian cars that I should be looking at? Mazdas and Nissans seem to have inconsistent reliability ratings–i.e. it often seems to depend on the specific year and model.

As cream rises to the top, as miles and years accumlate Honda and Toyota rise up to the top. That’s why they cost more as used cars. Some say it is just the “perception” of longevity so you may want to look around.

A properly cared for domestic car would do better than a poorly maintained Honda. In used cars the care of previous owner(s) is very important. When all things are equal (which is never the case with a used car) I do believe a Honda or Toyota is a safer bet to last than other makes of cars.

Volvo’s, VW’s, Saab’s are much worse than average in needing more repairs and more expensive repairs.

As you will be informed, at $5K, you really can’t be assured that a more reliable car new will remain so used. You can play the odds, get consumer reports recommendations for cars in this range and start from there. Having said that, really anything can be considered an upgrade in performance from a 94 Tercel. There may be reasonably priced SAABs and Volvos, but their track record in not good even if perfectly maintained.
I’d stick with the top recommendations from CR and be very flexible. Something like a recommended used Focus for example, can be had in perhaps better condition than a more expensive but higher recommended Toyota. Good Luck !

For $5000, I’d look at 2004/2005 Hyundai Accents or 2004/2005 Chevy Cavalier. Both will be reliable if they were maintained well by the previous owners. Look mostly at whether a car was maintained well and then at the brand. You will have to go to a 2002 or earlier Civic to get to $5000; 2003 or earlier for a Corolla.

Hyundai Kia are right up there in reliablity now. A Mazda 3 or Nissan Sentra would also be safe choices. For me the price premium for used Toyota and Honda vehicles is a lagging indicator. The others have caught up or are close enough. I would not be afraid of the newer stuff from Detroit 3 either and their resale value is lower.

Ford Focus would be a good place to start, as would Mazda 3, Chevy Cobalt/Cavalier

For the same money, you will get a much newer car with lower miles if you look at a Chevy Malibu or Cobalt or Buick Century.

Used Hondas and Toyotas are great if the previous owner maintained them well. However they can be wildly overpriced because people think that they are better than they actually are.

Avoid European cars like the Black Plague!