CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Opinions needed, getting a new car

Hey all,
I’m new here. Not a car aficionado. My car got destroyed by a wayward tree limb awhile back and I’m in the market for another car. Goin’ used. At the moment, my top 2 choices are a 2001 Mercury Sable and a 2005 Dodge Stratus. I’ve asked a couple people who know a little about cars and both lean toward the Sable. I’ve been told it’s more reliable and the parts are cheaper than Dodge. So normally the case would be closed. Here’s the rub. I work a job where I’m driving a lot and so I need something with decent gas mileage. From what I’ve seen online, the Sable only gets 17 city and 25 hwy while the Stratus gets about 22 and 30. So my question is, is it worth the gas mileage to go for the Stratus? Thanks for the help.

I’d be surprised if the actual mpg difference was that big. You can get mpg info at www.fueleconomy.gov. If you’re looking at a 2001 Sable, also look at the Taurus, they’re identical underneath the trim.

Based upon your two cars under consideration, you are not a car guy and looking for cheap transportation. In that case, the make and model do not matter as much as how was the car driven and how was it maintained. Look for an average mileage, one owner car with all service records. Don’t forget to get a pre-purchase inspection.

I’d put a used low mileage, one owner, Hyundai Sonata high on the list. Most basic Asian cars have better long term reliability then US cars.

Good luck!

With the low interest rates we have now and what I consider the best selection of affordable compact cars you should at least think new with warranty since you drive a lot.

If you need the size, pick the one in the best condition and pay a mechanic to do a prepurchase inspection for $100 or so. It will be the best $100 you’ve spent in a long time. What is the mileage on the cars, BTW? If you don’t need a larger car, look at compact cars in your price range. The last few years of the Chevy Cavalier were good from a reliability standpoint.

6 of one, half dozen of the other. Of the two you are considering, I’d choose the Stratus because it is 4 years newer. The plastic and rubber parts, including critical belts and seals, degrade with time. Other things being equal, the car’s age is more important than how many miles is on the meter, provided the routine maintenance has been done on schedule.

Here’s another vote for the Stratus.

Why is it that every time someone asks us to help them choose between two used cars both choices are terrible?

Not much of a choice, but the '05 Stratus is simply a bad car. I guess that means my vote is for the Sable.

Try to find Grampa’s 2005 Buick and buy that instead.

I agree with the Buick suggestion. At that price range, gas mileage is the least of your worries. One transmission rebuilt can wipe out 5 years of gas savings easily, esp with today’s low prices.
Both cars listed above are generally not reliable, might be good for someone who knows how to fix some of the problems but if that is not you, then look for something else.

At $3/gal…it costs 10 cents to drive the Stratus a mile…and 12 cents to drive the Taurus. Even if you drive 20,000 miles a year…that’s about a buck a day. I can’t see basing my car-buying decision on margins that thin!

The cars are 15 and 10 years old respectively so it’s a wild guess as to which one will be more reliable. Of the 2 I’d take the Sable, all things roughly equal, and odds are the Stratus is due for a timing belt.

Given the age (and likely mileage) these two must be dirt cheap. I’d keep looking as there must be other super cheap cars nearby that are a little nicer than these two. Some are likely to even have better fuel economy.

However, if these really are your best options, I wouldn’t worry about parts costs. Both were made for years and share a lot of mechanical bits with other common models. Used parts should be cheap and readily available and plenty of mechanics will have experience with these.

In your shoes condition is all that should matter. Minor differences in gas mileage like this aren’t going to matter compared to the other costs of driving. A nicer car that dies in a month is still a dead car, so have a mechanic at least give a quick once-over to anything you’re serious about. If you can drive one, a manual transmission is a bit less risky than an automatic, which can turn into a box of metal scrap in seconds, especially if not well maintained. In an older car the odds of excellent maintenance and complete records get awfully slim, so pick a simple car, especially one that has mostly older drivers. The Sable is a good choice for that reason alone. I suspect its buyers were several years older than buyers of the effectively identical Taurus. Buick buyers are older than Chevy drivers.

The best thing you can do for yourself is, get a few back issues of Consumer Reports buyer guide issues and research these cars and others you may want to include in your new car search. Otherwise, you will repeat SMB 's evaluation of this particular situation. You can’t expect to save money by buying an “unreliable” car that gets better mileage. A couple of repair bills eats up any savings you can expect. When buying cheaper cars, look for reliability first, then economy as a secondary factor.

While I’m not a dodge guy, I hear terrible things about the Stratus in general. And there were apparently many dodge engines that had severe sludge problems. I’m pretty sure the Stratus had one as an option.

I heard that the Stratus was basically built as a throwaway car. While mopar would never admit this, there may be some truth to it

We have tons of Taurus in our fleet . . . mechanically identical to the Sable. While they’re not very exciting, they usually aren’t very difficult to diagnose and repair. I don’t recall seeing too many engine and/or transmission problems.

Actually, Buicks get pretty good mileage if you want to expand your horizons a little. When you calculate the annual cost difference between 25 and 30 mpg, really not much to speak of.