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Used cars suitable for bad roads!

Dear CarTalk Community Members

This is Nima from Philippines. I’m about to buy an used car for my family here. We’re three, and our kid is still baby! I have three options which meet my budget, Toyota corolla 2011, Toyota Camry 2007, and Mazda 3 2010. Considering bad roads of the Philippines, which car do you suggest me to buy? I also prefer to have a car with lowest maintenance costs and reasonable comfort.

Thanks a lot.

Yours faithfully,

All three are models with excellent engineering and good reliability records, but with ANY used car, the way that it was maintained by the previous owner is just as important–if not more important–than the make and model of car. In other words, a negligent owner can take an otherwise excellent car and turn it into one with poor reliability and poor durability by ignoring required maintenance. And–trust me–there are a LOT of people who skip required maintenance and then pass along the bad outcomes to the next owner of the car.

Ideally, you would be able to see copies of the maintenance records of these cars in order to see just how well they were maintained, but if that isn’t possible, it would be well worth a few pesos to have your own mechanic inspect a car that you plan to buy BEFORE you buy it. A good mechanic can spot potential trouble spots and prevent you from buying a car that would give you a lot of headaches and a lot of repair expenses.

All of that being said, if I was to choose among those models, I would choose the Camry, simply because I believe that its construction is a bit more robust than the construction of the smaller Corolla and Mazda 3. However, they are all good cars and ultimately your choice of which one to buy should probably come down to the question of which one your mechanic believes to be in the best mechanical condition.

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Hi Nima. All three cars are good cars. The Corolla is generally regarded as the world’s best compact car from a maintenance and durability point of view.

We lived 5 years in Malaysia and I travelled all over that country. The Corolla was considered a favorite family car, although I had a company supplied Proton Waja, a local vehicle not well built.

For really bad roads something higher off the ground would actually be better, like a Honda CRV or a Toyota RAV4. Both are very good vehicles.

Of the 3 cars you mention, the Corolla will have the lowest maintenance costs and the longest service life. Our family owns both a Corolla and a Mazda 3. Both are great cars. The Corolla has only had $110 in actual repairs in 9.5 years!

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For driving on bad roads, you’d normally look at features such as higher ground clearance, body-on-frame construction, and maybe AWD or 4WD. None of these cars have that, so they’re really not ideal. How bad are these roads?

The only minor suggestion I can make is to pick the car that has the tires with the highest sidewall, which will help absorb bumps and prevent damage to the wheels. You definitely don’t want low-profile tires here.

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Thanks for your comment. Yes! It’s important to check a vehicle’s mechanical record, and I guess having a mechanic is the best thing to do before buying used car. Generally after years of working, cars with automatic transmission are prone to mechanical failure compared to manual one. Am I right?


Roads are usually suffering from flood here which caused bumps and holes. Most of the roads in our area go up the hills which are narrow, and many bumps to decrease speed.

I guess longside tires can boost fuel consumption, right?

Hi Nick
Thanks for your comment.
Actually Honda crv was one of my options. But, the problem with that car is its higher price and higher fuel consumption. To meet my budget, I am able to buy older Honda crv models like 2004-5.
What did make you not suggesting Mazda 3?! I guess its interior is small, right?

Most of the veterans of this forum–including me–believe in changing transmission fluid every 30,000 miles, whether the car’s manufacturer recommends it or not.

With that type of maintenance, automatic transmissions can be trouble-free for well over 200,000 miles.
In my experience, transmissions that don’t have their fluid changed every 30k miles can need very expensive transmission repairs anytime after 90,000 miles, and transmission failure is very likely anytime after 120,000 miles. And, most people don’t do that type of maintenance, so the next owner of the car winds up with BIG repair bills.

I think that you should probably stick to a manual transmission if you are able to drive one.

ako apos y yumaon ngayon

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The Mazda3 is a great car. For a small family it is the perfect fit. The overall quality is only very slightly lower than Toyota’s. If you can get good service for that car in the Philippines, why not look at it. Toyotas, Hondas and Mazdas are significantly better vehicles than Fords or Chevrolets built in Asia. You could also look at Hyundai (Elantra) and Kia (Forte).

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Whatever car you decide, make an appointment with a reputable mechanic for an inspection, could save you major headaches, also see if there are maintenance records. Oil change etc. Mileage of the cars another determining factor.

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I’ve heard there are some methods by which seller can change mileage showing lower numbers. Is it true guys?

Yes, it is true that odometers can be “turned back”, but it is much harder to do with modern electronic odometers than it was with the old mechanical devices.
As far as I know, a specialized electronic device is necessary in order to alter the reading on an electronic odometer. If you can manage to buy a used car from an individual person, rather than from a used car dealer, it will be unlikely that the seller had access to one of those devices.

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Actually it’s very easy. Go to Ebay and find the OD for sale with the mileage you want.

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That’s why I have seen many cars belong to 10 or more years ago with only 20000 mileage! However, I found most of them in used car dealers.
Is an experienced mechanic able to figure the real mileage out? Or simply there’s no way to find out the truth!

I’d go for the Corolla, of the 3 choices in this bad road situation. I drove on some bad roads in Costa Rica and I think a lighter car will put less stress on the springs and struts when you are rockin’ and rolling on awful roads. Based on an '05 Corolla I have, it is a tough car.

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Possiby…by looking at the wear on the upholstery and the rubber pedal covers. You might just say, “I’m making an offer based on 10,000 miles a year.”

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Right, that’s a rational estimation I’m gonna consider. Thanks for your comment