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Used car recommendation

Looking for a used car and have $6000 +/- to spend. Am interested in advice and recommendations about makes and models to look for - or stay away from. Any advice on how to gauge an acceptable number of miles driven would also be appreciated. Thanks

What are your needs and priorities? What would you sue the car for?

Consumer Reports provides a good list if used car best bets in various price ranges (your most likely would be $4000-$6000 or $6000-$8000):

Here’s the link:

Need the vehicle mostly for around the town driving in Charlotte NC, with occasional overnight travels in the mid-Atlantic states. Reliability and low maintenance are among the priorities.

Will check out the Consumer Reports link. Thanks much for the reply.

Your “safe bet” would probably be a 2003ish Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic or Mazda protege. If you want something slightly bigger and more comfortable for those overnight travels go one size up and get a 2001/2002 Camry or Accord. The Pontiac Vibe is also a very good, reliable and easily maintainable car.

I should also add that in this price range the vehicle history is much more important than make and model. While the CR list gives you some indication about “best bets”, a poorly maintained best bet does not help you much. I would look for a car with a complete maintenance history and have it checked out by and independent mechanic (a database of recommended ones is on this web site under Mechanics Files). The “best bets” also tend to be more expensive. I’d pick a well maintained car that is not on this list over a poorly maintained from that list. Chevy Cobalt, Ford Focus and the likes come to mind.

If you have a CR subscription you can also look up the reliability record for each model year of every car. So if you happen to find one that you like that will give you valuable info if it is a good car or not. For example, the early Ford Focus (2002-2003, I think) have spotty reliability but later on became quite good.

Hyundai Sonata.

I suggest that you test drive a 2004/2005 Chevy Malibu LS or LT. It’s a little homely, but it is reliable and won’t cost a lot to maintain. It should cost about the same for maintenance and repairs as a Corolla or Civic, and it is actually as large as a Camry or Accord. The Chevy should cost a bit more to repair, but it’s maintenance costs are a lot less.

I am curious about the 2003-2005 Sonata. CR is including it on its best bets list while says only post-2005 Sonatas are worth considering. Older ones just don’t drive well. MSN Autos reliability stats show that the 2004 were quite reliable. Can you elaborate which one you are recommending and why? I am really intrigued by the Sonata.

Hey there: want to thank all who have posted to my original query. I appreciate the guidance and advice and welcome any further thoughts. Best to all, tpr

Whatever you decide on, make sure it’s been taken care of! Many people drive a car for 100,000 miles are so and do just oil changes, then trade it in. Invest your time before you invest your money. Hope that helps.

Actually, the Focus has been good from 2003 on. 2000-2002 weren’t terribly unreliable vehicles, but were dinged because of a lot of recalls. 2003+ have hardly ever been recalled and been very reliable.

Odds are you can EASILY find a 2003 or newer Focus in good shape for under $6000.

Care is important but IMO, how it was driven is as much so. A qualified mechanic and body man can help a lot. Driven easily, a Corolla with long life coolant, plugs, timing chain etc. does very well with just oil changes and a filter (air and fuel) or two for the first 100k miles.

All Wheel drive, rubber timing belts, FWD automatic transmissions, these are the things that can get VERY expensive at the 100K mile mark…

P/U trucks and Crown Vics and their cousins can go 200K without too much worry…Remember, transmission failure means your basic FWD Rice Grinder is finished…Complex engine and drive systems can present you with staggering repair costs…

I would say look at the cars you like. Test drive them to make sure that feels right to you.

While there are differenced in reliability as reported and you should not ignore the reliability studies, but when looking at them, do keep in mind that there are no really good statistics on that. The problem is certain cars tend to attract certain kinds of people. A car that attracts people who are likely to take care of their car, are sure to show up towards the top of the list of reliable cars, even if there is no real difference in the cars.

Just for fun, I would like to do a blind study of this. The problem is it would be almost impossible to get the raw data.  It currently does not exist. 

I would be willing to bet that there would be a difference based solely on the color of the car.  Maybe not a big difference, but I would expect a real statical difference. 

Anyone out there want to fund my project?