Used car purchase

I am a college student shopping for a ‘new’ used car.

I am on a very fixed purchase budget (only $6,000 including tax, tags, title).

Right now I have two cars I am interest in. The first one is a 1999 Subaru Impreza Outback with 80,500 miles.

According to the Carfax and AutoCheck records, it was a single owner car, served as a corporate vehicle and appears to have been regularly serviced at the original dealer’s shop. However, my concern is that some reports have said that this model can have problems with the catalytic converter in its later years.

The second car is a 2003 Hyundai Elantra with 69,000 miles. This car has had 2 owners. Elantras after 2002 typically have good ratings. However, Hyundai just issued a recall concerning front sub-frame corrosion in this model. I am a little bit worried about the fact that the vehicle was offered up for sale about a month after this recall was issued. Since, I live in a place with long winters and frequent road salting, this is obviously a crucial concern.

My questions are 1)What signs should I look for when test-driving the cars? 2) In your experience, which make/model is more reliable?

A couple of observations:
Impreza: is overdue for timing belt due to age ($500-700). Ask if work got done or deduct from your offering price
Elantra: I think it should have had a timing belt change at 60K miles. Ask for proof of the work.

I would be inclined to go for a the lower mileage, younger car. While the Impreza is nice, there are potential AWD issues if Subaru guidance concerning tires was not followed.

Choose one, and have a trusted independent mechanic go over it stem to stern. Use that info to lower the price or get stuff fixed before you buy. Make sure he is aware of your individual concerns about the car.

Consumer Reports rates the Impreza as the more reliable car, overall.

Thanks, this is really good info. How should I go about getting the dealer to let me take the car to an independent mechanic?

If you have been in contact with a salesman, call him and tell them what your intent is. Once an agreement to release car is made, then call and make an appointment with your trusted mechanic. If they react negatively, then walk. They may try to talk you out of it, or place unreasonable demands (don’t sign any deposit or sales contract) to discourage you. Much depends on the dealer. Sometimes taking Dad with you (“collateral” & confidence building) helps out on your end, since you are still fairly young.

Do your used car homework by getting a feel for the car’s value by consulting, and You will get varying numbers, but the results are generally informative. Start at trade value; the used car market still appears to be down, so the dealer should be happy to deal with you (this is also where a parent or older, more experienced friend will help out).

Every car I have purchased since 1991 has gone easily to 100K miles by following the maintenance schedule for the car. I think the Elantra may be a better choice for you because it is FWD; timing belt if done now, won’t be due to 60K more miles.

Because of its age, the Impreza may need other work like brakes, rubber parts deteriorating, etc, and there may be a general lack of confidence that the Subaru guidance on tires may not have been followed.

The Elantra probably won’t have these issues until later, although at 69K if brake pads have not been changed out yet, then you are due for at least a front brake job. These are the kinds of things a good mechanic can spot. also need to verify if a 60K service was done on the Elantra, all tasks per the owner’s manual – if not, plan on deducting from your offer, or getting that work done before your purchase.

My mom has a Impreza that has been a very good car no problems with anything and the all wheel drive no problems. A friend of mine, his mom has a 2000 Impreza sport wagon with all wheel drive it has almost 160k on it and it runs like a top. The catalytic converter needed to be replaced at 150k.

Yet Another Buyer With Champagne Taste On A Beer Budget ?

With a very fixed purchase budget of $6,000 OTD then you’re not really shopping for a $6,000 used car. You are probably more in the $4,500 to $5,000 range.

After some money goes to tax, tags, etcetera, you’ll want some money held back to cover some tweaking after you’ve had a chance to drive it a little. It’s very rare to find a used car that doesn’t need some TLC.

My advice is to be more open-minded. Why limit yourself to old Asian cars with questionable reliability and durability ?

For low budget buyers it’s best to look for the newest, lowest miles, best condition car you can find that fits your budget first and a certain make / model, color, last.
Condition is King.

Don’t forget to check crash ratings / safety. You’ll want to get to graduation in one piece.

I suggest opening your mind to a bigger spectrum of cars and I’ll bet you get more help, here.


Never put much faith into CF/Autocheck records, surveys, ratings, etc. The info is often wrong, incomplete, or very hazy at best.

One car is 12 years old, the other 7, and all bets are off as to which car would be the best buy. Based on automotive history and mileage I’d take the Hyundai if it was one or the other.

That said, I’d look for something else. You might consider a Buick for the simple reason that many are owned by elderly people who drive them gently and very little. They’re reliable, easy to service, and get very good fuel mileage and with your budget you should be able to find a very nice one and bank the remainder.

I stopped at Wal Mart the other evening and someone had parked an '02 Buick in the handicapped space. (AARP sticker, Disabled badge, etc.)
This car had a For Sale sign on and they were asking 3000 dollars for it. This car appeared as new both inside and out and while I could not determine the mileage it was apparently very low based on a number of things. Not a door ding, rock chip, or smudge anywhere and except for the fact I’ve got 5 cars I would definitely have considered buying this one.
This car would have been right at home on a dealer showroom floor with the new cars.