Used Car Suggestions

Hello everyone. I’m a long-time Car Talk listener so I figured this is the first place I should come for auto advice. I’m soon to be in the market for a new-to-me used car. The following is my wishlist/criteria and I was hoping to get some tips and suggestions on potential makes/models/years that might fit the bill.

-$10,000 budget
-good gas mileage (I’ll probably be doing a good bit of commuting in the near future)
-likely a 4-door sedan
-reliability and longevity are highly preferable of course
-my current car ('04 Grand Cherokee) has heated leather seats, power everything, cruise control, etc. and it’d be nice to have some of these same extras (I don’t want the car to feel too “bare bones” or “cheap”)
-good looking and at least somewhat fun to drive if possible

Thanks for the help!

You might buy the latest issue of Consumer Reports, it the car guide issue. A used Honda Accord EX-L with the 4 cylinder engine would seem to meet most of your requirements.

Whatever you find, I highly recommend that you have the car inspected by a mechanic before buying it. A little money spent now might save you a lot of money down the road.

A Mazda6 or Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry, all with 4 cylinder engines, would be my choice. Reliability will be better than your Grand Cherokee, and gas mileage will be significantly better.

Most of these used come with auto, air, cruise, power windows and locks. I would avoid leather upholstery and power sun roofs.

As mentioned, have a good mechanic check it out.

Thanks everyone. I’m kind of digging the Mazda6. For similar years and mileages, the prices seem better than Hondas. I also think I prefer the more aggressive/sportier styling.

If you live in a large enough metro area, you can take some time to find one in great condition. Spend the $100 or so on a prepurchase inspection. You won’t want to do this often, so make sure you are serious about the car.

Yes, Mazdas are often a good deal relative to Hondas and Toyota. The reliability is comparable and they often drive better. The current Mazda6 is a very stylish car, but the previous generation, what you could afford, is also a very good car, if a bit anonymous. It’s certainly very roomy. The smaller Mazda3 is also a terrific car, and has been for many years. It will be a bit sportier feeling than the Mazda6, but not as quiet or smooth riding. It is still a super commuter car.

Thanks MarkM (and everyone else)! I was just about to ask if there were any opinions on Mazdas generally. The more I’ve read about the 6, the more I like about it. One of my general concerns though, with whatever car I go with, is reliability and longevity. I’d just hate to get a car that I’m going to have to sink thousands in within a year or two of buying it.

Unless you buy a really bad one I’d be shocked if you had to spend more than a couple hundred on normal wear items like brakes on a Mazda6. Find one that has been taken care of and you’ll be alright. There should be a Japanese car specialist that you can trust to take care of whatever you buy. A inspection before you buy is a good idea even if you have to pay $100+. A number of my co-workers have Mazda 6’s,most for many years and have no problems with them.

When you are buying used, your choices are somewhat limited, it also depends on which part of the country you are in. I would add the Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima and the Ford fusion to the list. These all depreciate more than Toyota/Honda and probably even Mazda. So given your budget, you might have better luck finding a lower mileage one.

If you prefer something beyond a Corolla or Civic so it feels a little nicer, better appointed, I’d recommend a used BMW, one of the various “3” series. Those are very nice looking, both inside and out. You’ll have to go quite a few years back to meet your budget, but they’re available as I see them on the used car lots as I drive by sometimes, many used BMW’s for less than $10K. BMW’s of that vintage are not known for reliability, but they’re still serviceable for a price.

Porsche Boxsters come to mind too, but again for the vintage you’d have as options, reliability might become a problem.

If reliability is highly important, enough that it rules out used BMW’s and Boxsters, but still you prefer something a little better appointed than a Corolla/Civic/Mazda, maybe a used Toyota Avalon would meet your needs.

Ford Fusion 4 banger

When choosing a car, be concerned about the availability of service. Most routine maintence can be handled by anyone but Hondas and Toyotas are in such huge numbers and have such good repair records regardless, they would be my recomended choices. If you have limited funds, the last thing you need to do is buy an expensive to maintain car. You need to get the best bang for the $10 k buck you have as it will be a car out of warranty. Use CR recommendations inthis price range and have a mechanic you can trust do a check before you buy the car. Expect some problems with any $10 k car but minimize them using the experience of others in CR surveys.

Thanks everybody. As much as I would love a performance German car, it’s not in the cards at the moment. I’m young, though, and I will have my Audi someday, but I need a car that’s more practical and reliable right now. At the same time, I don’t want something completely bland and soulless. It feels like every other car I see on the road, now that I’m paying attention, is an Accord/Civic or a Camry. This is, of course, a testament to their quality and reliability but I wouldn’t mind something that’s just a little different. The Mazda6 seems to strike the right balance. From what I’ve read, they’re comparable in reliability to Hondas/Toyotas. They’re much better looking (in my opinion), I hear they’re more fun to drive, and I can get a newer/lower mileage model in the same price range. I live in a fairly large metro area, so I’m not too concerned about struggling to find a competent mechanic. I think I’m going to test drive a 2009 model later this week just to see if I like it generally and I’ll go from there. That being said, I’m certainly not ruling any other car out definitively, but the Mazda is pulling hard.

@texases provided a graph in another thread that plots reliability over the first 10 or so years of ownership of major brands. BMW and Mercedes Benz were better than many major brands; about in the middle to below average in the number of problems. In this case, lower numbers are better, BTW. Honda a Toyota are way below average.

Sounds like you are on the right track OP! Best of luck.

Look at the Ford Fusion SEL.

The Fusion (the older one) is actually based on the Mazda6. Ford stretched the wheelbase slightly and put a boxy body on it, and voila, a Fusion. It is a super reliable car with the four cylinder engine. The six in both the Fusion and older Mazda6 models was a Ford engine that had a lesser reputation. For that car the four was quite adequate. I prefer the styling of the Mazda, the Fusion’s chrome barred grille being a bit much. It also came as a Mercury Milan with a more understated grille. The Fusion outsold the Mazda6 by a bunch in those years so you’re more likely to find a good deal on the Ford, but as you’re in a larger market the Mazda won’t be too hard to find.

Former rentals can be a good deal if you can find someone selling the model you want. Fusions were very common in rental fleets and I did have a Mazda6 once, so there might be some around. Rentals tend to be two-to-four years old and have fairly high mileage for their ages. The big rental firms have their sales inventory online so it’s easy to see what they have. It’s also nice that most sell at fixed prices. They also typically keep good maintenance records.

I wouldn’t worry about reliability if a Mazda6 has been decently maintained. Both the Mazda and the 1st generation Fusion have excellent reputations, quite comparable to other mid-sized Japanese models (even if not made in Japan). If I were in the market for something of that Ilk they’d be way up on my shopping list, though I’d probably buy a Mazda3 hatchback as I’m quite partial to hatches and there hasn’t been a Mazda6 hatch or wagon for quite a few years. Back when (2005-2008, approximately) I coveted the Mazda6 wagon seriously. If you see a pearlescent off white one, my heart was lost to it many years ago. Alas, it only came with the six, but I don’t demand perfection in a lover. As you might have guessed that’s one of my all-time favorites. Such a pretty car. The hatchback was sweet, too, if not as captivating as the wagon. The 2009-2012 generation is what you’re likely to see. It only came as a sedan and the styling was not quite as pretty. It was quite a bit roomier and is a very fine car, just not my great love.

Mazda is one of my favorite automakers. For a smaller company they make wonderfully engineered cars with a lot of style that also drive very well. Unfortunately, they are having a tougher time now than when Ford owned a big chunk of the company and was paying Mazda quite a lot to develop small cars for the US market. Now Ford is having Ford of Europe develop all their small cars. So Mazda has to pay all their development costs themselves or find other partners. They did that with the new Miata, which is also providing the underpinnings for an upcoming Alfa Romeo roadster. Fiat didn’t have a suitable rear-drive small platform so paid Mazda for theirs. The engines will be Italian.

Eventually Mazda will likely be bought by some much bigger automaker as they have very attractive engine technology that gives excellent fuel economy and make mainly smaller carss. As corporate fuel economy standards get harder to achieve, buying Mazda could give another maker a way of getting their CAFE down by bringing all those little Mazdas into their stable, in addition to giving them especially efficient engines. Mercedes would be a reasonable candidate, if they could overcome their excessive pride (as they didn’t in taking over Chrysler).

Other interesting cars are the Hyundai Sonata and its close relative, the Kia Optima. The older Optimas, before 2011, are good cars, but utterly anonymous. They look like they were designed to be forgotten immediately. Sonatas of that era are pleasant enough, with styling much like an older Audi. However, the more recent Optima is possibly the most German looking Asian car ever made (their lead designer came from Audi). It’s a very sleek car and reasonably reliable, too, but prices should be quite decent. The Sonata of that same generation is also a very nice car, if not quite as classy as the Optima. Neither will have quite the fuel economy of the Mazda, but they are OK, and very nicely equipped for their price. The Nissan Altman is another reasonably nice option, with some years better than others, but most OK. These would be better choices with a manual transmission as Nissan was an early CVT adopter and they have sometimes proven troublesome.