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What car should I buy for 9 months of Chicago driving?

My girlfriend and I have recently moved to Chicago where we will be staying for about nine months before returning to Europe, and we need a car.

I am looking to spend as little money as possible, but I am not so concerned with the price of the car per se ? what matters is the difference between what I pay for it and what I can sell it for after 9 months, with fuel and insurance costs added. So a $10,000 car that I can resell for $9,000 might be preferable to a $3,000 that I can resell for $2,000.

I will probably be pressed for time when I leave, so if I am to sell privately, the car will need to be a fairly easy sell. Otherwise, I could sell it to CarMax I guess, but then get less money for it.

We won’t be using the car to commute, as we live close to work. We live in the outskirts of the city, however, so we will be taking a lot of smaller trips with it. And the car needs to handle the Chicago winter of course.

Do you have any advice on what kind of car it would be sensible to buy in our situation?

Buying a car you will use for only nine months is not “sensible” no matter which car you choose. You will lose money no matter what you do.

Unless you’re willing to buy a car for $1,000 or less, in which case it might work. Financially. Maybe.

But it may not work mechanically, since a $1,000 car can never be trusted (please listen to The Bottle Rockets’ song “1000 Dollar Car”).

I suggest you rent or borrow a car when you need to go outside Chicago. Maybe you could find a “Rent a Wreck” or similar company that will rent you a decent car for not too much money.

I think you’ll be disappointed if you buy a car and try to resell it in nine months.

Guess your first post you did not like the rent a wreck option.


Mini Cooper	Hatchback base	66%
  1. Mini Cooper S Hatchback base 65%
  2. BMW 1 Series 128i coupe 64%
  3. Mazdaspeed3 Base 62%
  4. Honda Fit Sport 61%
  5. Mini Cooper Clubman Base 61%
  6. Ford Mustang GT coupe 60%
  7. Mazda3 s Sport sedan 60%
  8. Toyota Prius Hatchback II 60%
  9. Honda Insight LX 60%

My own feelings would be a 3 year old lexus.

This list includes rear drivers such as BMW, Ford Mustang. Snow removal and road salting is done in winter in Chicago but it is good to have the security of a front drive car in reserve. Lexus would have rear drive too. Rear drive is ok but front drive is better in snow.

Typically a new car has the most depreciation during the first two or three years. Look for a good deal on a car three years old or older but stay away from initially expensive cars as the depreciation is proportionately larger. You can check prices with or They have different prices so you will need to determine which is more realistic. That question was answered here recently, If I recall.

Chicago has great public transportation if you live/work in the right locations. You can then use rental cars as needed, or check out Zip Cars, they’re all over Chicago. A little planning and you’ll be $$ ahead.

Thanks for your replies.

And you’re quite right, waterboy, I do not consider rent-a-wreck an option. I use Zipcar now, and that’s fairly convenient, but very expensive. I guess I wasn’t quite clear enough on what our needs are. We live in a slightly desolate part of Chicago’s south side, so we need to drive even for grocery shopping. Renting a car for nine months solid does not strike me as very financially smart.

Of course I will lose money. (Doesn’t one always lose money by owning a car?) The question is how to lose as little as possible.

I have seen the list above before, but that’s for 2010 models, right? So it might not be all that good a guide for used cars?

The cheapest 2007 Lexus for sale in the Chicago area ( seems to go for $19,000. To me it seems like too much of a gamble to spend that much. But maybe you would disagree?

The one car I have test driven was a 2006 Saturn Vue. It had only 26,000 miles to it and the dealer wanted $12,000 for it. ($1400 less than the retail value KBB suggests.) The dealer claimed that since it was still under warranty and had so few miles to it, the resale value would be good, as it would still be under 40,000 miles when I sell it.

I am tempted, but it is far more than I was planning to spend, and that too feels like gambling a lot of money. Also, I’m a bit concerned that Saturns might not be all that easy to sell. If I end up taking it to CarMax I guess that doesn’t matter, but still.

Originally, I was thinking more in terms of a Honda or a Toyota for around $5,000. I’ve heard they don’t depreciate all that much. And I wouldn’t have to worry too much about the car. Maybe I could save some money by getting liability only insurance instead of full coverage too. Does that seem sensible?

See my reply above. It’s funny, though, on a forum called cartalk, that everybody is telling me I should use public transportation instead :wink:

(For the record, I’m all for public transportation. I actually don’t own a car in Europe, but living where I do now, I definitely need to get one.)

OK. Then a 5 year old common car with less than, say 80k miles, like a Hyundai, at a good price would be a pretty low risk bet for just 9 months. Comes down to getting a reasonable car at a good price.

You could get a decent Kia Sorrento/Sportage 4WD/AWD for around $3,000 – $5,000. Cheap enough and will get you around Chicago winters. A step up would be a Hyundai Sonata for $5,000 – $8,000. Either way, you won’t be putting on many miles or losing a lot when you sell it.

In Chicago, parking may cost you more than the car. After NYC, Chicago is the best public transportation city in the US. Spend a month before you decide if you really need a car. Personally, I’d rent a car for the weekends I wanted to drive out of the city.


One thing that comes to mind is that you’ll be KILLED on sales tax.

I recall, when my sister lived in Wrigleyville, constant kvetching about the sales tax…which now seems to be at 9.75%.

This will kill any “sell it for what I bought it” schemes. (If you buy a $9,000 car, and sell it for $8,000, you’re out $1K on depreciation, and another $877.50 on the sales tax paid.)

You might want to see about a “fractional ownership” scheme. (That is, you structure it so you buy a “percentage” of a car’s useful life, vs. buying, then selling, outright.) This way, you’d only pay tax on the percentage of the car you “used up.”

Unfortunately, this would require the advice of–not mechanics–but lawyers.

Yeah, that’s probably a better call than the Saturn. Thanks.

There were no Sorrentos in that price range in Chicagoland, but quite a few Sportages. An SUV would be great, so I’ll definitely consider that one. Any particular reason for recommending that car?

(The Sonata looks nice too, but I’m not so keen on sedans. I prefer hatchbacks, for no particularly good reason.)

Re public transportation and Chicago, we could have a long and possibly interesting discussion about that, but this might not be the place for it. The short version is that the L train line that runs closest to the University of Chicago, where I work, is regrettably not safe.

Thanks for that info! The tax code here is really confusing. And this is definitely something that weighs in against buying a car for more than $10,000.

I’ll look into the fractional ownership option, but it sounds like it might be a little bit too complicated. I might just try to find a car for around $5000, and shell out the five hundred bucks when the time comes to sell it.

I suggest leasing a car or renting as needed. Cabs, walking and buses the rest of the time.

Since depreciation is the greatest in the first 2 to 3 years of ownership, you might be best with any car about 4 to 5 years old. A Honda or Toyota would cost more to buy, but would be the fastest to sell.

Another option is to buy a car from a “rental” company; Hertz, Enterprise, etc. The car shouldn’t need much service and repair for 5 months and would have a warranty as well.

Buy the time you buy, license, pay sales tax, and insure a car you are going to be in a losing position when you go to sell it in 9 months. I would look for a “Rent A Wreck” company nearby and see if you can work out a deal on a long term rental. Or, perhaps they can make the paperwork so easy for a repeat customer you can rent a car for weekends when you need one.

Used, lower end model, slighly dinged up Corolla/02Prism/Civic. For less money, you stand a better thatn average chance of getting something that will last a few months and have a name that will be worth something in resale.

I’d look for the least expensive Corolla that runs and seems like it’ll last another 9 months.

Will I avoid sales tax if I buy privately, though? Or do I have to pay the sales tax then too?

I will of course lose some money on owning a car for such a short time, but is it even possible that renting a car for nine months straight could come out cheaper? Renting strikes me as really throwing money out the window.

(Renting just weekends or now and then is not an option, I need the car available at all times.)

@dagosa & Goldwing: Thanks for weighing in. Getting a low end car is probably smart. I can’t be bothered to have too much trouble with my car, though (I have been driving a wreck in winter before, and it’s no fun), so I’ll probably avoid the very cheapest ones.