A nice reliable car could be found for a couple of grand but it’s going to require a lot of footwork, patience, a bit of luck, and the real stickler; knowing in a mechanical sense exactly what you’re looking at and for along with knowing when to run.
Good luck. I wish I had the magic formula, but for cars that cheap, getting a “good” one comes down to luck (and doing your homework) . Japanese small cars were more reliable than almost anything else, but buyers know that and it’s reflected in list prices. A few Japanese cars were sold disguised as American cars. In the era you’re looking at consider the Dodge/Plymouth Colt, actually a pretty decent Mitsubishi. The Chevy Nova of the nineties was essentially a Corolla (it was later badged a Geo Prizm), and the tiny Chevy/Geo Metro is really a Suzuki Swift (it also sold under that name, in very small numbers). These cars aren’t valued as highly as Toyotas and Civics, but are decent basic transportation. Most sold well enough that you might still find them around. Of American cars, the Cavalier is OK if you don’t need a roomy back seat (unlikely). An Escort from late in its run might also be OK. It took a while for American companies to get the bugs out. I like the newer Focus better than the Escort it replaced, but I’d stay away from its first years.
My vote is for the Toyota, but also take a look at some buicks. I had a friend who had a 93 century that you could not kill. The car ended up being totaled when he was t-boned. He was fine. The buicks seem to make a long lasting engine, and they’re sort’ve an under the radar car. Less desirable to the general younger public. Whatever you get, check the oil on the dipstick and under the oil cap for any junk baked on. Check the trans fluid while it’s running after your test drive.
Look for a geezer-owned Crown Vic or Grand Marq (same basic car). They can be had cheap and deliver steadfast reliability. They are easy to work on…Try to avoid the air suspension option if you can as that can be troublesome in high-mileage, older cars…You might find one with an air-ride failure VERY cheap…No problem, the air-bags can be replaced with stock springs for $200-$300…
The problem with geezer-owned cars is that they’ve usually been driven very little for the last few years before they’re sold. Some haven’t been used at all for month or years. All of that inactivity is hard on a car. If you want to buy such a car, have it checked out thoroughly by a mechanic for signs of disuse. If you end up buying be prepared to deal with replacing fluids and belts and checking hoses carefully. Once you get it cleaned out and the rubber bits replaced, you might have a good car. What you won’t have is a car that is better than one that was driven regularly, mostly in the freeway, and mostly longer trips, but not adding up to a lot of miles in total. That’s the dream car. Oh, and all maintenance done and documented.
Some great Honda’s round $2,000 in Miami on Carfax - http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/Used-Honda--33101/sort-1 It’s not a Honda civic but the 1992 Honda Accord LX looks pretty good, and if your in a hurry is a really good price too! Could be an in between car?
You’re talking about buying a 12 to 15 year old used for under 2 grand. All bets are off when picking one over the other as to reliability.
The main factors are the car’s maintenance history, how it was driven, and where it spent most of its life. Those things are often very difficult or impossible to determine.
I very much agree with this.
In this price range, you’re taking a complete gamble. You might end up with a car that gets you by for a few more years or you might end up with a money pit. It’s best if you realize this from the start.
If it is a private sale (as many are in that price range) don’t forget taxes and other fees that a dealership takes care of. The buyer is usually responsible for paying sales tax, so keep that in mind. The advantage of a private sale is that the prior owner is right there and you can ask him questions. Ask about maintenance records. If unavailable ask where he had work done and right all that down. If you go back to them for other records you may be able to get some info from them to start building up more complete maintenance records. of course, this only works if they’ve had the car for some time.
Look for a Vic or a Marq…Many are Geezer owned and available cheap…They are reliable and repairable…Think of them as an F-150 with nice coach-work…
Caddyman means a Ford Crown Victoria or Mercury Grand Marquis. Just in case you don’t hang out in police or cab company garages. Around here odds are overwhelming that such a car would have been some kind of fleet car (cab, police, other government) . There were very few sales of either one to individuals in the last 20 years, though in Florida there might be a few more. My mother lived in a big retirement community. Most of the cars were not much different than those outside the gate, though there a few more traditional big cars. They were still outnumbered easily by Accords and Camrys and similar. My mother’s Civic was not unusual.
Why was this question allowed to be posted on the CarTalk front page? Is anyone screening the questions?
I think it was a valid question
In the “General” thread section, you can post almost anything you want…This thread fits right in…
Not owning a car will save you lots of money. I grew up in car-crazy Los Angeles. I couldn’t afford a car when I went to college at Berkeley. I thought the world was ending. After a couple of weeks living in Berkeley, I discovered that a car is a liability there, not an asset.
Zipcar is perfect for college students. Cheaper than owning and great for running errands. Only the kids close enough to take their laundry home for washing.