Replacing Ye Olde Pontiac



I’ve been driving my 99 Pontiac Sunfire sedan since high school. I love Bob, but it’s time to say goodbye. He’s gone 146,000 miles (still going), and while he doesn’t need any major maintenance, the compressor is shot (no A/C for four years), the gas gauge is broken, and the electronic odometer fritzes from time to time.

I don’t want to spend more than about $11,000, so my dream car (Mini Cooper) is out of reach, and so is the new Ford Fiesta. I’ve been looking at used Minis with manual transmissions (02-04, 40-70K miles), and I just don’t know if it’s a good call. I have a great mechanic to check it out for me, but I thought I would throw it out there and see if anyone had any thoughts.

Ideally, I want better than 35mpg highway, A/C, and fun to drive. Please don’t say Corolla! Thanks.


My son has a supercharged Cooper S with over 100K miles, and it still runs great. The car is a blast to drive, although it rides a bit roughly for my taste, and Mini prices remain high, even when used. Good resale value.

As with any used car, maintenance history is key.

A used Mazda3 might also be a good choice. Do you like the Scion tC? That’s another good car.

35 mpg is not that easy to find these days. Good luck.

You know a Mini requires premium gasoline, right?


The Mini is an expensive-to-own, not terribly reliable car (it’s made by BMW-- enough said!). If you have to do some creative financing just to buy one, you probably don’t want to pay to maintain one at this point in life.

I wasn’t even planning on recommending anything as exciting as the Corolla. I think a lot of us here are convinced that Hyundais and Kias (same company now) are the best buys out there. You might look at something like a Chevy Cobalt, which would be fairly similar to what you’ve got now (cheap, but a little sporty-ish).

But my advice to you is instead of irresponsibly buying a car you “want” now or wasting a bunch of money on a boring car you can afford but won’t really like, just spend a grand or so fixing the Pontiac and save the Mini for a few years down the road when you’ll have more to spend and the used prices on them will come down more. There’s going to be some cars similar to the Mini coming out in the next few years and I suspect these will eventually drive the prices down on the Minis, both new and used, and plus you might like one of those more!


How about a used Honda Fit Sport? More reliable than a Mini, good mpgs, fun, and practical.


I can’t decide on the Mini- I know the reliability on them isn’t fantastic, and that’s why I’ll definitely have my mechanic look at it first. I’m contemplating the Cobalt; I drove one as a rental and it was a little eerie how much it felt like my car- only nicer!

The issue with fixing the Pontiac is that I’ve spent the last three or so years waiting to get a better job so I could get the car I really wanted, which is why I never bothered to fix the A/C. I just refuse to spend any more money on nonessentials.

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment- I will definitely go look at the Hyundais, I think I’ve probably just been unfairly biased against them.


You can get a fairly new Ford Focus for $11K that might adequately answer all your questions.


fun to drive =/= 35mpg

Not sure your location, but a Miata might be worth a look.


On your budget I’d go for a Mazda 3 (Zoom Zoom), as much fun to drive as any Mini and affordable to operate. Minis are marginally reliable and cost 2-3 times as much to repair as your Sunfire did for the same item. For $11,000 you should be able to get a good one with low mileage. My son has one in bright red and it looks just right at the ski lodge, with a ski rack on top.

In all cases, have a good mechanic inspect it, before you put in an offer.


Just be aware when looking at numbers that new car interest rates are usually cheaper than used car rates…especially with some of the promotions going on. Be sure you don’t buy a used car for as much per month or more than you could get a new car for.

Look at the total costs and compare rather than just the sale prices.


You can get a base 2006 MINI Cooper without many options for about $11,000 and a well optioned 2005 for $11,000. If the 2002 to 2004 MINIs you see are over $11,000 you need to look elsewhere. BTW, these are private sale prices, not dealer.