Teen driver looking for a reliable first car!

Hey everybody!

So, I’m a high school student and looking for a first car. After observing the Consumer Reports “Best Used Cars to Buy” list I have picked 3 models of which I have found listings for on Craigslist. They all have low miles and are around the same price. So, I need some insight on which model would be the best and what the pros and cons of each vehicle would be. The models are

2007 Hyundai Elantra (sedan)
2007 Hyundai Sonata (sedan)
2006 Honda Civic DX (sedan)

Thanks for your time!

You can read a bunch of owners reviews on each of these cars here:

Enter the year, make, model, and trim level under the “Appraise a Used Car” heading, then click the blue “Appraise it” button. On the next page you’ll see a photo of the car, and to the right of it a link that says “Research the 2007 Hundai Elantra,” or whatever car it is. Click on that link and you’ll get maybe a hundred short reviews from actual owners of that year/model car.

These will give you an excellent feel for the “average” rating of each car and an idea of any recurring problems to watch for in each vehicle.

Thanks! I wasn’t aware of this feature on Edmunds!

Yeah, they bury that “research” link so it’s practically impossible to find unless you know where to look.

Those are all good cars. The Sonata is a size bigger than the Elantra and typically comes with more extras. Its gas mileage might be a little lower, but that probably won’t be a big deal unless you expect to have a super long commute in the future. I like that generation of Sonata quite a lot better than that Elantra, which is a cheaper feeling car. The Sonata is just bigger, quieter, and better looking. The back seat is considerably roomier than the other two. My mother has a Civic of that generation and it has been very good to her. I always enjoy riding in that car, though hers is a top-spec EX and you’re looking at a more basic DX. However, the basic car isn’t all that different. The DX won’t have a sunroof or the nicer upholstery, but it will drive just fine and be very well made.

If all else was equal (miles, condition) I’d probably take the Sonata first, Civic second, and Elantra last. But it really comes down to condition as any of these could be a perfectly maintained gem or an abused lump of coal. The Civic has almost always been a good, solid car. Hyundai made a lot of bad cars before getting it together, but that Sonata is a good car, and the Elantra a decent one. You need to line up a mechanic who can do a basic inspection of any car you’re interested in. Have him look at whichever heads up your mental list and pay deep attention to work he says needs to be done now or very soon. Get rough cost estimates from him for the work (make it clear you’re not seeking bids, just want numbers to compare cars.)

Go find a Toyota Camry/Corrolla. Hyundai will get you with inflated replacement part prices (which it will need plenty of). Honda civic will be a little bit better however they have week transmissions and egr/cooling issues.


My in-laws have had good luck with Elantras over the years. If any of these cars have timing belts they are due for replacement. If the seller claims the belt replacement has been done insist on documentation for the repair. Otherwise budget ~$500 to $1000 for timing belt, tensioner, seals, and water pump replacement.

Get an insurance estimate before you buy. I picked up a new 2010 Cobalt and was surprised how much it cost to insure compared to the family minivan and SUV . Here is an insurance calculator to estimate insurance costs.



I’ve owned both a 2005 Elantra sedan and a 2009 Elantra sedan. Both have been terrific – comfortable enough (I’m about 5:11) and extremely reliable, requiring pretty much just routine maintenance (e.g. a timing belt at about 100,000 miles.). Good luck in your search!

What’s going to be the determining factor is how they were maintained.

You could have the best built car in the world…and if it wasn’t maintained properly…it’ll be worthless. You’re looking at vehicles that are 7-8 years old.

#1 - Look at the service history.
#2 - Get then thoroughly inspected before you buy. If the seller baulks at letting you get it inspected from a good mechanic…then walk.
#3 - Look for know issues and see if these vehicles have them.
#4 - If a timing belt, find out when it was replaced last. If it’s near that time again…deduct that cost from the price.
#5 - Any maintenance that seller doesn’t have records for then assume it was never done.

I would add the Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, Mazda3 and Mazda2 to your list. They will be much less expensive than those on your list for the same amount of car.

The Accent of that era was much smaller (and worse) than the current one. The Mazda2 hasn’t been made long enough, only 3 or 4 years. The Yaris is smaller than the cars you listed, and it isn’t rated highly for its amenities, handling, or overall niceness, but it is very reliable basic transportation. The Mazda3 is a very fine car in the same size class as the Civic and Elantra. Lovely car and very reliable (when maintained). I assume you’ve asked about those cars because they were available. People living a long ways from a major city have to make do with what’s available locally.

As you get into it, you may want to think about purchase price. You will find that most Civics are expensive enough that you will have to get one that is a year or two older than a comparable car that is reliable, but does not have the Honda mystique that inflates the price. This is no knock on Hondas. Mine has been rock solid for 10 years. But I don’t think I would buy a used one with so many good alternatives.

Stay away from the 2006 Civic

That model has problems with the engine. The engine block cracks. The next 2 model years are also affected

I would go for the Sonata

When I was a teen I did not care about reliability, only if the car would appeal to girls.


Hey guys thanks for the feedback! I will definitely look into the corollas and camrys. The mazda 3’s I have found have been a bit too expensive unfortunately, and I do have a mechanic on hand to look at cars.

Also, if I may, I’d like to look into another 2 models and see what you guys think.

2008 Ford Focus Sedan
2004 Volvo S60

Thanks a bunch!

Why not add a Corolla to the list. It is the most widely sold nameplate Ever in compact cars for many reasons. They are reliable, cheap fix and easy to find. We ran three if them through "kid use " when they were at home. It was one of the few good car decisions we ever made. I agree with @MikeInNh that condition trumps make when searching for an older car. Corollas with their shear numbers, just give you a better chance of finding one of the more reliable cars made, to begin with. That strategy (looking for and buying reliable older cars) is recommended by CR and I agree.

The Focus should be fine as long as It was well cared for. Did you test drive it?

The only way most people on here would recommend a Volvo would be if it were free, and even then they might still balk at it.