Used car for ~13k

Hello Community,

DW and I are in the middle of a phase transition in our lives:

  • Expecting our first child at the end of the year
  • Moving to our condo next month (bought our first home) with a covered parking spot
  • Need to get a car as the condo is not in as accessible an area as where we currently rent

and I need your collective wisdom to decide which car to buy.

We live in the Greater Boston area.

We would have ideally liked to spend 10k on a used car but it’s hard to find anything even semi-decent in that price range these days. We don’t want to splurge on a car because:

  • We are very new drivers with ~1 year of driving experience each in our mid-30s
  • We would much rather have the cash invested in the market than pay top dollar for a depreciating asset
  • Our time horizon for ownership at this point is five years
  • Our driving is generally for leisure. Both DW and I work from home. There might be sporadic long drives for client appointments. Most of the driving will be for long drives over weekends, grocery runs, and doctor’s appointment. I really enjoy driving.

We have arbitrarily increased our budget to 13k. The following options have opened up for us at this price point:

  1. 2007 Lexus RX 350 with 80k-130k miles
  2. 2011 - 2012 Toyota RAV4s with 80k - 130k miles
  3. 2010 - 2011 Honda CR-Vs with 100k - 130k miles

I considered getting a 2017 Camry SE with 80k miles but didn’t enjoy the car when I actually checked it out. I really liked the RAV4 and will check out the Lexus soon. I’m avoiding CR-Vs from that time frame because of their disrepute.


  1. Should I buy the 2007 Lexus RX 350 at this inflated price point (KBB value is 9.5k)? It’s a 15-yo old, although that has a stellar reputation from what I can tell.
  2. I liked the RAV4. I’ll strongly consider buying it if the Lexus doesn’t pan out.
  3. At ~22mg, should I consider these gas guzzlers?
  4. Are there other options I should consider – such as getting a lease or buying a new car?

Thank you,


I don’t think any of these SUVs are a good deal for their age and mileage. Also, you live in a region where rust is a problem, so buying an old (but not cheap) car is not a good idea. An 11 to 15 year old model is going to have no warranty, and is likely to need major repairs or deferred maintenance, which further increased the cost. As it ages further, and rust and corrosion progress, these costs will rapidly increase.

If you lived in a region where cars don’t rust, such as here in Arizona, then I’d tell you to get a 1997-2001 Camry or a 2003-2004 Corolla. Need something bigger? I’d recommend a 1996-2007 Dodge Caravan or Plymouth/Chrysler Voyager. But since you live in a region where cars that old are unlikely to be roadworthy, that is not really an option–unless you want to buy sight unseen from the Southwest and have it shipped. That might actually still be a good deal, since used car prices for newer models are so grossly inflated right now.

This is a rare case where I would suggest to buy the cheapest new vehicle you can find which meets your needs, and finance it. If you can get by with a compact car, look at the Mitsubishi Mirage. Need something bigger? How about a Hyundai Accent or Kia Rio, both of which are available in sedan and hatchback versions?

Since May of 2021 you have asked about 5 different use vehicles . The answers are going to be the same . Have what ever you choose inspected by an independent shop if the seller will let you do that . You seem concerned a fuel mileage so why even look at SUV’s .

Expecting a 13000.00 used vehicle to last 5 years is a little unrealistic these days .

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Are there no car-share services where you live? Paying by the hour for a chore runner is not a bad plan, and just rent a car for the weekend trips. No insurance fees, no maintenance costs, no registration fees.

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This is a terrible plan, and far costlier than the monthly cost to own a new, under-warranty economy car…all while owning nothing.

Lease a new car for three years, it will be under full warranty for the term of the lease and you will not have a chunk of your cash tied up in a depreciating asset.

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Where did you get the idea that Hondas are unreliable? I’ve had two, my wife one, and my daughter has a CR-V and all have been reliable. Edmunds rates repairs even between the RAV4 and the CR-V.

More important is how well they have been maintained, especially for a 12 or more year old vehicle. Find one you like and pay a mechanic you trust for a pre-purchase inspection. It’s well worth the cost.

Since the Old Man Honda died (in 1999?), honda has been circling the drain in terms of quality so I would definitely stay away from it. Lexus is nice but - based on your priorities (we may argue about stock being a winning proposition for a small individual investor but that’s not the issue at hand), paying extra for an older and more complex vehicle with higher mileage that - being as perfect as Lexus is - still may represent problems here and there and - again - I assume you are not in the position to fix it yourself so you’ll be at the mercy of all kinds of “professionals”. Definitely not a winning proposition.
The remaining - SOUND - option is Rav4.
My $0.02

Wouldn’t the same wisdom of conserving money in the bank apply to buying a car with a loan? The monthly cost is roughly the same, and although the loan will outlast the bumper-to-bumper warranty, it should not outlast the powertrain warranty. The only difference is that with a loan, you will eventually own the car, with a lease you never own anything.

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My opinion. All good cars.
The Lexus very expensive if it breaks.
The Honda ( if it’s CVT ? ) weak transmission compared to Toyota.

On your budget I’d learn to like the newer 2017 Camry.

*****And as stated previously, have a qualified mechanic check it out first.

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Hello Community,

A quick update.

I was able to buy a 2011 RAV4 v6 with 83k miles for 13,700/- last year. I traveled across a couple of states and had it inspected by a mechanic before the purchase.

I have driven it for about 12k miles so far and loved every moment of it. No maintenance required apart from oil changes.

I am thankful to you for your advice. It took me a while, but I eventually landed on something I needed as well as wanted.



Good for you, proves it is still possible even in the Covid-era to purchase a good quality used car for a reasonable price. Now your goal I presume is to keep it good shape & working well without incurring major repair expenses. Toward this end, suggest to error on the side of doing the maintenance jobs (oil & filter changes, etc) too often than not often enough. Remember, the manufacturer has a conflict of interest to recommend less frequent maintenance, b/c they don’t want you to drive this car for 200K miles before buying another. Their profit incentive requires them to think “100K miles is good enough, then the owner will have to come to us to buy another car.”

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Thank you for the advice. I realize my car will take care of me if I take care of her (yes, it’s a she and also has a name).

I will be delighted if I can drive this car for 300k miles.

As an aside, this is my first car and took me over a year of legwork combined with lots of bungling to get it right. When I went to register the car, the officer told me I paid $500 less than its NADA value, which was a pleasant surprise.

One thing I would love to do is improve the gas mileage. I do a lot of my driving on city roads and still am heavy-footed having driven only for a couple of years so far (I started quite late). It has dropped from 23.2 to 22.3 over past year with my driving. I will be thankful for any tips to get it back up.

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Proper tire inflation and keeping up with maintenance along with less spirited driving will provide the best gas mileage. There is nothing on the market that improve gas mileage no matter what the label says.


In addition to less “spirited” acceleration, not tailgating other vehicles can help significantly. If the OP doesn’t know why this is the case, then he can ask for an explanation.

Also, don’t warm-up the engine for more than… maybe… 30 seconds before driving. Then, just drive very conservatively until the engine warms up.

Additionally, taking the excess junk out of the trunk in order to lighten the load will help–to a small extent. And, if this Rav has crossbars mounted on a roof rack, removing the crossbars will also help… to a very tiny extent.

Someone said a $13k car won’t last 5 years.
Which means what? Car is scrap after 5 years?
Blown motor? Bad trans? Rusted frame?

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Even then on many vehicles they used cheap bottom paint, so by the time you bring it north the paint has already failed after 12 years in the south and it will be completely rusted in the next 5 years.

These are very helpful tips, thank you. I have guilty of all these mistakes.

Can you tell me why tailgating causes the mileage to suffer? I assume it’s because of the need to drive faster than necessary and apply brakes suddenly with force but I could be wrong.

FWIW, I drive in the Boston area where people would literally drive on top of each other if they could.

When somebody tailgates another vehicle, he inevitably winds-up braking very often and then compensating for the braking by hitting the gas again. Instead, by just driving at a greater distance, you will likely not have to brake anywhere near as often, and your engine will operate at more steady RPMs. The result will be better gas mileage and additional life from your brake pads.


The trick is to know how closely to follow the car in front without having bad drivers in the lanes next to you constantly fitting into the tight space in front of you and making you tailgate. That’s a problem in DC/Baltimore metro traffic too.

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