Seeking Advice: 1st Time Car Buyer

Hi All,

Boy do I need your help!

I’m a first-time car buyer and I am utterly overwhelmed by the amount of choices out there. Hoping that this community of auto enthusiasts can help me put a finer point on my search for the right car.

I’m 30 and live in Brooklyn, NY. I haven’t owned a car since I moved to Brooklyn in 2008, but now that my fiancé and I are getting married and looking at starting a family, we’re thinking that having a car for weekend trips would be GREAT. We can spend up to $15,000 on the car, but I’d like to stay closer to $10,000 and would be DELIGHTED if I could spend even less than that. I’m assuming I’ll buy used but am open to other suggestions.

A couple more tidbits about us and our auto-preferences…

  • Car will be mostly for weekend use. We will not be using this for daily commuting of any kind. Examples of our weekend trips include:
    - 45-minute drives to the beach
    - 2-hour drives to parents’ house in NJ
    - 4-hour drives to New England.
  • I really want a car with low maintenance costs. I can’t be spend a few hundred bucks every 6 months to keep this thing running smoothly/safely.
  • For environmental and cost-saving reasons, I’d very much like a car with great gas mileage. However if the cost of the car is low enough, the cost-saving
    point may be moot.
  • We see “space” as being important, but don’t have any specific big items to cart around regularly (bikes or surfboard can go on roof)
  • We love wagons
  • No REAL need for any kind of 4 wheel drive or AWD options, but might be to have
  • We don’t want something that looks cheap, but we don’t feel obligated to go for premium brands like Volvo or VW either
  • We currently like the idea of some of these: Prius, Subaru Outback, Honda Fit, Honda CR-V

Any suggestions you can offer would be MUCH appreciated!

Thanks so much!

I have had extremely good luck with Ford “Panthers”, Crown Vics, Grand Marq’s and Town Cars…This series of cars is steadfast and reliable. The more basic Crown Vics can be fixed by anyone if they ever need fixing…No longer in production, police and taxi fleets used them for many years because of their low operating costs. Somewhat cumbersome in city traffic, there is nothing like them out on the highway where they will deliver 25-27 MPG in safety and comfort. Stick with 2006 and newer models without the air suspension option if possible.

Of the cars you listed, I’d pick a Fit or a CRV. Good, reliable cars that are good on gas. $10k should get you a nice example of either one of them.

I vote with @shadowfax - the Fit would be best on gas, but could be a bit wearing on the longer trips.

When you make up your budget, don’t forget the high cost of insurance, and parking, and maintenance. Those will add up to perhaps $3-4k per year.

“something that looks cheap” ? that would not be on my list at all.

Thanks guys!

@BillRussell I’m ok on the insurance being additional. I was thinking up to 15k for the acquisition of the car (price, registration fees, etc.)

A hybrid won’t be cost-effective given the type of driving you describe, so I’d stay away from that unless you want one purely for environmental reasons. From your list, I’d be looking for a 2011 or 2012 CR-V. You should also be considering Kia and Hyundai, which have very good reliability these days but usually at a bit lower price than Honda and Toyota.

For information on predicted reliability, the Consumer Reports car issue is one of the better sources available.

For any used car, I strongly recommend taking it to a good local mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. A little money spent now can keep you from buying a car with major problems.

OP writes …

"I really want a car with low maintenance costs."

The cars you listed are all good choices for a first time car buyer. For low maintenance and repair costs, when choosing one, if possible

  • Avoid fob operated doors. Use a key instead.
  • Avoid power windows. Roll the windows up and down yourself
  • Avoid AC. If you need it, save up some $$$ in advance, so you can repair it when it breaks.
  • Avoid automatic or continuous variable transmissions. Choose a manual instead.
  • Avoid alarm systems, especially aftermarket alarms
  • Avoid 4wd or all wheel drive, instead choose front wheel drive
  • Avoid electronic gadgets such as blue tooth, fancy audio systems, etc
  • Air bags, fewer is better than more
  • Tire pressure monitoring systems, choose the indirect version that monitors the wheel speed
  • Front disc/rear drum brakes are less problematic than four-wheel disc brakes
  • Steel wheels rather than alloy, esp the kind of alloy that have the wide open spoke design
  • Avoid low profile and performance tires
  • Avoid American branded cars made in the 2008-2010 timeframe

GeorgeSanJose: I agree with most of your choices, BUT do you really think there exists any car that meets all the criteria? And that is later than 2005 ?

George you may be the only person in the world who would use your goofy list.

@“Volvo V70” … Remember, I didn’t invoke the reliability and low maintenance costs question, that was the OP. I just gave my opinion. And the evidence seems to say that I’m not the singular person in the entire world who would use that “goofy” list, for example see BillRussell 's post above …

@BillRussell … re: if there are any such cars like that made after 2005?? … well, the OP has to choose from among what is available, not what they wish was available. I think OP can find a car which has many of those reliability features, although I doubt it is possible to find one with all of those features.

Hi guys. Thanks again for weighing in!

I just went to a Honda certified pre-owned dealership to test drive the CR-V. Very nice!

However I was surprised by the prices… $18.6k and up for 2011 and later. Leaves me wondering…

Is certified pre-owned worth the extra cost?

@BillRussel? @GeorgeSanJose? @lion9car?

Sorry, I don’t have any experience with that term myself. Almost $19 k for a 2011 CR-V does seem a little steep. I suppose there may be a reason, maybe the options or that it is in excellent condition or low mileage. But if I was spending that amount, I’d want a newer car than a 2011.

If you are willing to put up with an automatic, have you sampled one of those rental car places that sells the rental cars they’ve put out to pasture? Might be worth it, if only for a price comparision. Some folks have posted here they’ve had good results buying used rental cars. And in my area at least those places have a pretty good selection of cars in the 2-4 year old range.

Thanks @GeorgeSanJose!

The CPO pricing is mostly about the extended factory warranty and (I’m guessing) the lower miles. I’m seeing asking prices for 2007 up to 2010 CRV’s with 100,000 miles or a little less on them on around the Seattle/Tacoma area. You’d be looking at a high mileage one for closer to $10,000 but it may be different in your part of the country.

My dad has had a 2007 CRV EX-L since November 2006 and hasn’t had to put big money into it except for the $800 or so for a set of new tires from Costco a few years ago. Basically oil changes and normal wear items otherwise. He wanted a Honda after 18yrs with a very unreliable Plymouth Minivan and the CRV has delivered the trouble free ownership he expected.

I would add to GeorgeSanJose’s list:
only the old standard interchangeable headlights
real bumpers able to withstand a 5 MPH collision with minimal damage.
no lights inset in the bumpers
real gages for engine temperature, fuel level, oil level, battery voltage.

CPO cars are typically much newer than you can afford. You probably don’t want to spend a lot of time looking at them unless you up your acquisition cost.

Will you pay for parking? If so, you might want to reconsider buying a car. Upkeep, insurance, parking, and other expenses wight make renting attractive. When I graduated from college, I interviewed in lower Manhattan for a job. I found that I could park my car for $350/month. But that was over 40 years ago. That was almost as much as the rent for an efficiency in Midtown at the time. If parking is $1000/month or more, you could spend $200/weekend on car rentals and would not have to pay for anything but gas and insurance when you rent. You know your situation and desires best. Maybe buying a car makes sense for you. But the reliability of a rental is unparalleled. If it does leave you along the road, the rental company will bring a car to you and deal with the breakdown.

Stick shift, manual windows, no A/C, no bags, steel wheels, rear drum brakes…Not going to happen…

“only the old standard interchangeable headlights”

So now we’re talking sealed beams

That narrows it down to . . .

A base model Ford F250 from a few years ago

A pretty old car

Or a truck so big that it requires a commercial drivers license

I agree that a CPO car with extended factory warranty doesn’t make financial sense. There are so many incentives, rebates, etc. on new cars, that you’d be better off spending a little more for a new car. Or buy a non-CPO car for significantly less money

Extended warranty is a money-loser for the buyer, and almost pure profit for the seller

I have not seen a car with no fob or manual windows for a while, not sure if the OP will find one.

The 2011 CRV you looked at is overpriced because Honda’s (& Toyota’s) have high resale value. I am guessing if you negotiate well, you can get the 2015 brand new CRV for around $21K +/-.

If you want a smaller crossover, the Kia Sportage and the Hyundai Tucson might be better priced. At less than 15K, anything you get would probably have 50+K miles on it.

I also agree with above on looking into rental cars. How many times a year do you think you are going to do this road trip. If the car is going to sit somewhere and not be driven, it adds to the wear and tear. You have 2-3 months of beach season and a few holidays. You also have some decent public transportation options not available in most other parts of US.

We lived in CT for a while and even though we had a car, we preferred to take the train to the city. No traffic, no parking hassle, no toll.