I have received an insurance settlement for a total loss on my 1996 Volvo Wagon. What would be the car/mileage recommendation to look for with a $3000 price tag?

In the $3k category, you will essentially be looking at old vehicles with a LOT of odometer mileage.
When you are in that type of situation, the way that a vehicle has been maintained is much more important than the actual make and model.

Hence–try to limit yourself to a vehicle that comes with full maintenance records that can be compared with the mfr’s maintenance schedule in order to verify good maintenance.
But, even with records of good maintenance, you will still need to have your mechanic inspect the car prior to purchase in order to detect collision damage and developing mechanical problems. Remember to budget at least $750 per yr for the ongoing repairs that a $3k car will need while you own it.

All of that being said, the makes and models that I would recommend include Ford Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis (the same car with different badges) and Buicks. The one brand to totally avoid is anything made by Volvo–but you probably know that already!

Back in my early used car buying days when I had limited funds, I carried a roll of tape with me to the used car lot. I put a strip of tape over the insignia with the make of the car and another strip of tape over the odometer. In these days, the odometers were often wound back so the reading didn’t mean anything. Also, the make in older cars doesn’t mean much. Back in the mid 1950s, my parents needed another car because my mother went back to the workforce. The common wisdom in those days was to purchase a Ford or Chevrolet–these were the popular cars. Well, the Fords and Chevrolets that were worth purchasing were out of my parents’ price range and the Fords or Chevrolets that were affordable to them were junk. My dad finally came home with a 1947 DeSoto coupe. The paint was faded, but it ran very well. Since the DeSoto was not a real popular car, he bought it for about half what a Chevrolet of the same make would cost. That car never had a major repair in the time they owned it. I was in 8th grade at the time and made some nasty remark about the DeSoto being a heap, The maroon paint was really faded. I was put to work for my comment with rubbing compound, polishing compound and wax. It took me two days, but when I was through, the car looked great. If you find a good car that may need a little TLC, you may have a real bargain.

When you buy new, you don’t expect repair. Be sure and budget for repairs and don’t expect it to be anything more then short term transportation. Rusted vehicles can be had really cheap but they can be unsafe. I would not fall into that trap. I would look for used fleet cars with high mileage.

$3,000 might make a nice downpayment on a $10,000 used car. I seriously doubt you can find reliable transportation for $3,000 these days.

I know it sucks to have an old reliable car you’ve been babying for years be totaled. It was worth more to you than the $3,000 you got, but it was only worth $3,000 to the insurance company.

With $10,000 I would be looking for a gently used Ford Focus.

Whitey, your avatar look pretty good for a guy that hasn’t eaten in six days. Unless six days ago you looked like I do now.

With 10 large I’d look for a Chevy Cobalt. We like ours.

The world is full of Ford Taurus/Mercury Sables (same car) with 100-150K on them for less than $3K. These cars have their issues, but are generally relatively low maintenance, reliable & easy to own.

When Caddyman comes around he will tell you to find a Ford Crown Vic. Big and funny looking, true, but very well built and reliable and available in reasonable condition in your price range.

So there are plenty of options out there and I don’t doubt that if you’re careful & take your time that you can get something that will be plenty reliable. The key, as noted, is what kind of shape they are in/how they’ve been cared for. What you need most is a mechanic that you trust to look at them. This will incur a little cost, but it is generally well worth it.

Just an update: I test drove a 2001 Ford Taurus Wagon. 170, 000 miles. New brakes (pads, rotors, calipers), minor rust on wheel well and just under the lift-gate window but otherwise, very clean inside and out. The service report stated that the front inner and outer tie rods and the rear outer tie rod are “loose”. When I questioned the salesperson, he commented that the service department didn’t feel it was a significant enough problem at this point to repair. My price is $3000 out the door. What say ye all?

I’d talk to the service guy directly. Sales guys don’t know squat about cars. Loose tie rods are a significant problem.

I say that, at least in my market, $3000 will get you a Taurus in way better shape than that with less miles. (There’s a used dealer in my area right now with a Taurus Wagon on the lot they are selling for about $3500 with no rust, perfectly clean and only 100K miles).

You’re apparently at some kind of dealer. Go to the private seller’s market (e.g. via Craigslist), arm yourself with a mechanic and you can do much better.

You need to negotiate more. NADA clean retail is 3025, and clean trade 1375. Your offer most likely should lie somewhere in between. When these tie rods must be repaired you will likely pay $200-300 each for the repair. The question is when, not whether. Factor that into your calculation.

In an expensive market (Baltimore/Washington) and if this car is loaded, the price is about $500 high for a car in clean condition. The suspension problems do not indicate clean condition. Take $1500 off, or $500 of and demand that the front inner and outer tie rods and the rear outer tie rod are repaired. It’s your money, make them earn it. Or keep looking.