What is a good first car?

Hello, I am a 17 year old who lives in michigan. I am interested in a 4 cylinder vehicle that can handle michigan winters, and is decent on gas. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Depending on your budget, you should look at a simple car with standard shift and as few “extras” as possible.

Michigan winters are no worse than Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, etc. winters. Any US compact car and most imports will function well in US winters provided the battery and iginiton sytem is up to par. Your best bet is a used low mileage Cobalt, or a Hyundai Elantra or Accent, a Mazda Protege or Mazda 3. All are reliable cars and maintenance is cheap. If you have a bigger budget, consider a low mileage Honda Fit, Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, Toyota Matrix or Pontiac Vibe. Don’t buy any of these with high mileage.

Some cars to AVOID:

  1. Any Volkswagen model
  2. Any 4 wheel drive or all wheel drive (AWD). These are expensive to maintain.
  3. Any older Kia model
  4. Chevy Aveo or Pontiac G3
  5. Mini Cooper
  6. Any Subaru; good cars but expensive to maintain.
  7. Any other German import; even if you are given the car, it will still be expensive to run.

If you work part time at Starbuck’s or Macdonalds, you will not have a large budget for a car. The above suggestions are made to keep you mobile for the least cost and have some money left over for important things like dates!

Thanks! I was looking into a 2001 VW Cabrio, and you suggested to avoid any VW. I have heard they are decent in snow previously. Do you have experience with VWs, and know they are horrible?

My suggestion would be a Chevy Cobalt due to high depreciation. They are inexpensive to repair and will likely be the newest and low mileage. Otherwise really ANY domestic branded vehicle. Don’t waste your money on Toyota or Honda for first car unless real bargain/find as you pay $1000-$2000 just for the badge in relation to a domestic.

A good set of all-seasons that work in winter(research) are key. Winter tires(four) are superior. The only downside is your child won’t learn great winter driving skills as the winter tires substitute.

VW will be fine in the winter and very safe. They are just more prone to repair. If you have a VW specialist or versed mechanic in the area ownership is fine but maybe more $$$(true of all German makes). The problems tend to be electrical in nature which are more difficult to fix for any technician.

They are no better or worse in snow than any other front drive car. Good winter tires determine how well your car performs in snow!

They are unreliable and expensive to fix, that’s why few posters on this board will recommend one, especially used.

Please buy a copy of the Consumer Reports Car Buyer’s Guide (about $9), or go to your public library. Read it from cover to cover.They rate all cars for sale in the US. Red balls mean good relibility; black balls mean stay away!!

That nice Cabrio will keep you in the poorhouse, unless your parents are prepared to pay the bills. Tell them to budget $2000 per year for maintenance and repairs, to avoid surprises!!! A good low mileage Mazda protege would cost about $1000 or so per year in upkeep.

Ok. The Cabrio I was refering to is a 2001, has 5,500, and has never been in an accident. Do you guys still think the bills would be high for this one? And, yes I do have a VW specialist close by.

Yes. Parts for a German car are expensive.

The best first car is whatever is cheap, in good condition, and available locally. You’re in an area where rust is a concern, I think. You want as little of it as possible. Even if you can afford more, you probably shouldn’t spend more than 3 to 5 thousand dollars. Of all the cars you ever own, the ones you are most likely to destroy are your FIRST car and your LAST car, and in this range it is perfectly possible to get a good car that will last you a few years without much trouble. You should also be getting something that is not especially fast (dangerous for you at this stage, and expensive to insure). Oh, and you want reliability, but in the long-term, a LITTLE unreliability in your first car is a good thing, because it will force you to learn.

Get a manual transmission now. You will not regret it once you learn.

In this price range, among 4 cylinders, you should be looking specifically for:
Any Honda, Any Toyota except a Supra
Any Nissan
Any Geo (They’re all Isuzus, Suzukis or Toyotas and all are either good to great for your purposes)
Any Mitsubishi that is not All-wheel-drive turbo (reliability)
Any Subaru with a 2.2 liter engine. (They’re mostly AWD, but they are NOT unreliable. They really aren’t that bad on maintenance. 2.5s are a crap shoot, though…head gaskets. THAT is expensive on a Subaru.)
Any Suzuki except the Reno, Forenza, and Verona (those are actually Daewoos and they are crap)
Any GM A-platform car in good condition (Wiki it…they went under a lot of names)
Any front-wheel-drive Dodge with BOTH a DOHC engine AND manual transmission. (Those are the only good ones…do not consider any of them that have automatic transmission under any circumstances)
Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer, Ford Focus after 2003
Hyundai Elantra after 2003 or so.

These are good choices ONLY if you will do most of your own work (you should probably have a mechanic friend or family member). Also, parts cost about 50% more on average (some are MUCH more, some are actually cheaper) than for US or Japanese economy cars:
BMW 3 series
Volvo Anything

Any other GM or Ford model. They are either not reliable, not fuel efficient, or will cost you too much in insurance. The ones listed are the only good ones that will be in the sub-5000 dollar range that are worth getting.

Any VW model after about 1992. There are no good ones in the price range you should be looking at. You probably don’t want the older ones for a first car in your region, either.

Check out any car you are considering on Carsurvey.org. More smiley faces are good. You’ll note that VWs in the 1997-2003-ish range are almost all frowny faces.

And look for cars being sold by individuals. If you aren’t spending over 5 grand, don’t even bother with dealers. You’ll get more car for less money buying from the previous owner directly.

5,500 miles for an 8 year old car? Why? That’s a bad sign.

Looking at CR, the '00 to '02 Cabrios ara all “much worse than average” in overall reliability, with many trouble areas. As others have said, VWs are no better or worse than other FWD cars, much more depends on the tires you use.

Maybe you should just post cars FWD otherwise you are interested in and get feedback.

I will say the car itself and potential repairs or lack thereof is NOT your largest expense as people are posting about. INSURING the vehicle will be. Get an idea from an insurance agent before purchasing ANY vehicle.

agreed. An older Cabrio might cost more to insure than a newer Cobalt or Elantra