What to look for in a used car

I found out last week that my 06 Chevy Cobalt’s timing chain has broken and ruined my engine so I’m in the market for a new to me car. Right now we’re in the position to only spend about $4,000 so I’ve been on the hunt for a used car. I’m unfortunately in a time crunch due to my husband’s truck acting up so neither one of us has a working car at the moment and my fantastic in-laws only have 1 vehicle and while they’ve been great about us borrowing it, they need it too. I’ve looked at hundreds of ads for cars on Facebook Marketplace and even went to look at a Volkswagen Beetle with low mileage. According to Consumer Reports Acuras, Hondas, and Toyotas are the best bets. I’m finding lots of older of those cars but most of the time the mileage is way over 200,000 miles so I’m gun shy about buying something with so many miles. There have been a few with lower mileage but they always seem to have something wrong with them. I unfortunately need something very soon. I’ve found a Mazda Tribute at a small local dealer that only has 100,000 miles on it in my price range. There’s also a 2005 Volkswagen Beetle in my area with 140,000 miles on it. Despite my research I am no closer to deciding on a car and I’m ridiculously stressed out about it. I need some advice on whether the two cars above sound promising or should I go with a high mileage Acura, Honda, or Toyota. Also, what should I be looking for, what questions should I ask, etc. My first 3 cars were absolute junk which is why I went with the Cobalt, which only had 12 miles on it when I drove it off the lot so I’m lost as to what to do. Thank you for the advice.

Forget the VW Beetle. They have many problems. If I had $4000 I would look on Craigslist etc for a $2500 or $3000 GM car with a 3.8l V6. A Buick Lesabre, Park Avenue, or Regal. These are often gently driven by older folks and are unpopular because the are not SUV’s.

Have the car checked by a mechanic before you buy. A friend of mine bought a used Beetle and the timing belt broke within two weeks. She cussed at the used car lot, but she bought it as is and did not have it checked prior to purchase. It had many other problems.

And the engine will run 300,000 miles!

If I only had 4000.00 to buy a vehicle with here is what I would do . I would plan on finding a vehicle for 3500.00 or less because any old vehicle is going to need repair of some sort. If the vehicle does not have major leaks , the steering seems to be positive , no exhaust noise , engine starts and the brakes work fine then go with it. Any used vehicle in that price range could run for another hour or even a couple of years .
Then if a major repair is needed then I would decide to fix or send to the salvage yard.

1 Like

If you like domestic cars,the 2009 Ford Fusion is what I would get under $5000. Plenty of room inside,confortable ride and good gas mileage.The 2009 model year is trouble free according to carcomplaints.com.Get the car inspected before you buy.

1 Like

Here’s one more vote for having a pre-purchase inspection done by your mechanic. That might cost a little money, but it could save you a lot.

1 Like

Here’s another perspective. How much would a used engine be for your Cobalt?

If the car is in good shape and otherwise meets your needs, it’s a second option to consider.

I get not wanting to put money into a 13 year old car. But if your budget only allows getting…something of similar vintage and mileage… you might be better off with the devil you know.

Good luck.

1 Like

It unfortunately needs a lot of other stuff done. I had a crappy mechanic who I thought was checking the things I asked him to check and he wasn’t. So when I found a new one after he couldn’t fix a minor problem I found out I needed at least $1400 of other stuff done to my car. Not happy with my original mechanic.

If I had that problem I’d focus on finding one of these cars: Honda civic or fit, Toyota cCorolla or Yaris, Mazda 3. Found this one in just a couple minutes on Craigslist, 2007 Corolla w/140K, priced at $4500. So it must be possible to find something similar in the $4k range. Reminds me that one my friends recently sold their 15 year old Corolla with about 100K miles for $3000. Whoever bought it got a very good car for the money as it was serviced regularly, hosed off every week, waxed twice a year, and gently driven.


The number one bit of advice here when buying a used car is to pay your own mechanic to do a pre-purchase inspection before closing the deal or writing any checks.

What is the other $1400? Daughters Saturn, timing chain broke, we put $1200 for repair and new heads. Somehow the oil that should get to the timing chain was not getting there.

1 Like