Our second car is getting to the point that I don’t expect it to last much longer and definitely can’t justify the maintenance costs for such an old car. We’re looking to buy a used vehicle which I’ll use to run to school and a few other around town trips. It needs to be able to function as a backup for our #1 car (carry 1 carseat, do well in an Iowa winter). We, ideally, want something for under $3000, but we’re realistic enough to know we’ll probably have to go up a little bit. Any recommendations?
For $3000 you should be able to get into something like an eight to ten year old Taurus or Lumina with mileage under 100K.
Don’t forget, a $3000 car will also incur maintenance and repairs. The average US driver of such a car spends about $1200 per year on MAINTENANCE, REPAIRS AND TIRES. That’s based on driving about 15,000 miles per year. You can prorate that figure based on the amount you will drive the car.
I don’t know what you are spending now on those 3 items.
If you are planning to minimize your cost, stay away from:
Anything built in Germany or by a German company.
Any 4 wheel drive or all wheel drive.
Any car with a turbocharger or super charger
Any car with elaborate electronics
Any so-called luxury car (Cadillac, Lincoln, etc) since parts will be expensive and gas consumption high.
Any small car usuing premium gas.
I don’t know…$3k is not that much anymore. You might be able to find a decently priced, older, compact car from a private party for that, but it’s probably going to be high mileage and require plenty of maintenance, as higher mileage cars will. In that price range you might want to go American made because of price of maintenance and availability of parts. Toyota or Honda (they’re practically American) would be good, but you might have a hard time finding one for that cheap.
You might find a 2000 or earlier Chevy Prizm for less than $3000. It’s a rebadged Toyota Corolla and sells for a lot less than a comparable Corolla does.
In this price range, I think it’s best to stick to domestics, because unless you can find some oddity of globalization like jtsanders suggests, any Japanese car you can find in this price range is going to be very well-used. 10 or so year old Tauruses, Impalas, or Buicks should be findable in good shape in this price range and those would be what I would look for to get your best car for your buck.
Also budget in a set of snow tires if the car you find doesn’t come with them-- this is the #1 thing you can do to make your life easier in winter. Other than move to Florida.
You will have maintenance cost on any car. So if it is just that, and you are looking to save money, I would say keep what you have. On the other hand if you mean there are some expensive repairs or an expensive maintenance item, like maybe a timing belt coming up, I might agree agree.
IMHO $3000 is a serious gamble no matter what the make. What do you have, it may cheaper to drop money maintenance costs or so/year vs spending $3000 + the unknown items + maintenance lurking.
Rather than focusing on the manufacturer, look for a car, any car, that is in excellent condition. Any brand of car can be well used or abused after 10 years. You want a well-treated, one-owner car. Look for an older seller who is the first and only owner.
Since you won’t be putting many miles on it, I suggest a Crown Victoria or Mercury Grand Marquis. They are inexpensive and reliable.