CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Taurus or Neon

Hello everyone. I’m looking for used car buying advice. Son is in college and needs cheap reliable transportation. I am considering two cars from private parties. One is a very clean 2002 Ford Taurus with 142,000 miles,new tires, fuel pump, battery, cables, and belts. The other is an immaculate 1995 Dodge Neon one owner, garaged, grandma car with 93,000 miles. Both are $1900 obo. Both have been recently serviced. My kid is several hours away so it is difficult for me to fix or maintain a car with him. Costs for minor repairs at a shop can get pricey fast. Which of these two cars would be less likely to need repairs over the next two years. Reliability is key issue here.

Of the two, I’d go with the Neon. I think the cost of ownership is likely to be lower.
But I won’t kid you, I don’t consider either to be a great choice.

The Neon is pretty much 20 years old and was an awful car when it was new. I’d go with the Taurus.

Taurus is newer and better quality car, so I’d take the Taurus.

I reluctantly vote for the Taurus as the least of two evils. Neither is a good choice. A Hyundai Accent, Mazda Protégé or even a Chevy Cobalt would be a better student car.

My vote is for the Taurus considering the new tires, battery, fuel punp, and so on. It could be that the Neon may be due for a timing belt job; something the Taurus won’t have to face.

Cheap and reliable ? If that were possible, that car would sell to the exclusivity of every car made. Used cars and their reliability depend on two things; a reliably manufactured car, which a Neon was not and the Taurus was just average, and maintenance before you buy it. No way an unreliable car new can be made reliable. Look for cars with long term reliability…Corollas, Civics, etc. according to CR, then try to find one with at least a maintenance record you can live with. Inexpensive cars and reliability still start first with cars that were well made to begin with. Your car choices were and are cheap, and that’s about it.

@Docnick says it about right…we can reluctantly vote for the lesser of two evils…the Taurus.

Taurus. It will be more reliable and easier to service in the long run (from a mechanic’s perspective) and will also hold more stuff as he moves from place to place and makes trips home for the holidays.

It will also hold up better to the abuse gotten from late-night beer and burger runs and being loaned out to fraternity brothers for dates.

The Taurus can be the better vehicle but unfortunately this one is a 2002. I’d pass on it because of reliability issues with the transmissions of that era. I wouldn’t even consider the Neon. You should be able to find a good Nissan Sentra or Toyota Corolla for that kind of money.

If you are really concerned about expensive maintenance from afar, you have to spend much more money then $1900, research cars with excellent reliability according to CR and others and have it checked by a mechanic you can trust. There are NO cheap, reliable cars unless you can do a lot of maintenance yourself or are extremely lucky. We went through three Corollas (types, Nova and Prisms) over 20 years raising kids and sending them on their way with them as hand me downs. They were tanks and only required routine maintenance. Both our kids when on their own, each later bought used Accords with over 100k miles and drove them for over 100k more. They are both comfortable running high mileage “reliable to begin with” cars. The key is, you need to start with a reliable car. Neons and Taurus that year…roll the dice and hope you feel lucky.

@3cs‌

Of those 2 vehicles, the Taurus is the better choice, based on the fuel pump, batteries and tires

Pay a mechanic to inspect it before buying. Just tell him you want to buy it, what does he think of the vehicle’s condition?

If you do get it, pretend it never got any maintenance. These are some things you should do immediately

Transmission fluid and filter change . . . NO FLUSH
engine oil and filter change
brake fluid flush
coolant drain and refill . . . might be a good time to throw a cap and thermostat at it now

Whatever you do get, make absolutely sure somebody puts the car up on the lift and inspects very carefully for rust

Hi All. Thanks for the great responses. I appreciate all of the input.

@3cs‌

Are you capable of doing a thorough inspection yourself?

Are the respective owners willing to have a mechanic inspect their cars?

Call them up and swing it by them. If they’re not willing to have a mechanic inspect their car, then it’s up to you do do the inspection yourself, or trust your gut.

Taurus is a better car than its given credit for, IMOO.

Hard pass on Neon, those cars were not any good as soon as the factory paint dried.

Taurus.
I seldom see '96-'99 Neons on the road. I see Tauruses of that era all the time.

I’d also take them Taurus as they better made car. The Neon is cheap and flimsy. As basic low mileage transportation it makes sense, but your grandma car is old and has quite a few miles on it.

The Taurus is a better built car with fewer vices. It isn’t wonderful, but it’s a typical American family car of its era. Not very impressive, but straightforward and cheap to repair. I’d have the Taurus gone over to see what repairs are essential to make it safe and keep it running for another 50k miles. Taurus parts and repairs are cheap enough that I’d consider getting it into better shape than most typical cars.

I’ve always liked the straightforward family car feel of the Taurus, even when they looked like spaceships. It’s one of Ford’s real better ideas of the last 30 years. Not so much the current Taurus, though I’m feeling better about it than I was. Maybe it’s growing on me (not the styling so much.)