What's a good reliable used car

We are in the market for a reliable used car for our 17 year old son who commutes to school and work about 60-80 miles round trip 5 days a week. Any recommendations on a basic used car, 8 years or older, automatic, sedan or wagon? our budget is about $5,500. He currently has a 2003 Pontiac Vibe GT, which we bought from a private owner 18 months ago for $3,500 and it has turned out to be a total lemon.

u can find reviews on used cars consumersreports, edmunds, yahoo, carsurvey.org hth


Can you tell us what’s wrong with the Vibe? It’s really just a rebadged Toyota Matrix, which is a close cousin of the Corolla. And the Corolla is generally known as being boring, but pretty reliable

I think a Ford Focus might be a decent choice for your son. They are a little underrated, versus Corolla and Civic, and the prices are quite a bit lower, as well. A sedan or hatchback should be fine. No reason to get the wagon, in my opinion. Do not get any of the sporty trim lines, though. That may just encourage him to thrash it.

I actually advise against a used Corolla and Civic. The prices are so high, it almost doesn’t make sense. You’ll pay top dollar for an old, used up car that has its best years behind it

Db has a good suggestion. If you can tell us what has been (and is) the problem(s) with the Vibe and we can help you fix those, that might be your best bet. The Vibe is basically a solid vehicle, and fixing that one up may just be a viable option.

With all that driving I’d go for the next size up, Camry/Accord type, but cheaper. A Fusion might be a good choice. I’d want side air bags, regardless.

Texases, my friend, your mileage is showing… not the car’s, yours. {:slight_smile:

I need all the cushions I can get!

Me too. My mileage is “up there” too.
But that wasn’t an issue when I was 17, the OP’s son’s age. At that age I could drive all day in a Jeep Liberty with no problem at all. Now I can’t even LOOK at a Jeep Liberty without my back hurting!

You can look at this list, but it has nothing to do with reliability.

There is not much around your budget. A Matrix should be a good car and that is why we are curious to know what is wrong with it.

I’ve noticed some older Honda CRVs are now in this price range. I like the 2000-2006 body style and I’m seeing some of them on the market now for under $10k. High miles, but could still have life left in them.

In general, stay away from “loaded” with all sorts of optional equipment. Of the compacts, the Corolla, Honda Civic, Mazda3,and Hyundai Elantra are the best choices. Nissan Sentra used to be in that category, but it’s gone downhill. I would also avoid cars with CVT transmissions. Used Subaru models are a real crapshoot, since only meticulously maintained ones are worth buying used.

As others point out a car rated well by Consumer Reports with a good DOCUMENTED maintenance record is a good choice.

You are looking for a car that is about the same age as the Vibe with only $5500 to spend. I would forget about make and model and look for the car in the best shape you can find in your price range. It probably won’t be a Honda or Toyota since they sell at a premium compared to a Chevy or Ford. Look for a car with all the receipts to show that’s maintenance has been kept current, and make sure it is in excellent shape. These indicate that the previous owner took care of it. When you find that car, take it for a test drive. If you still like it, pay about $100 to a mechanic you trust for a pre-purchase inspection to look for hidden problems. If it still checks out well, make an offer. You will need to be patient since there are not a lot of these cars around. But if you are psi stent, you will find one. A Chevy Malibu from the mid-2000s is not a pretty car, but it is reliable. The Plain Jane looks will keep the price down, good news for you.


I agree those cars you listed are good choices

However, all but the Hyundai are overpriced as used cars, in my opinion

it’s great if you’re the seller, but it’s not great if you’re looking to buy one of those cars

That’s why I mentioned the Ford Focus

I’m still wondering about the Vibe. I hope the OP visits the thread again.

Thanks so much for all of your input! Very helpful.

This car is going to rack up a lot of miles - about 2000 a month. On any older used car these miles will mean frequent repairs. What repairs have been needed on the Vibe? Tires, struts, alternator, brakes, power steering pumps, ac compressors, and lot’s of repairs can be “normal” for a car that is over 10 years old.

A few months ago I sank $1,000 into my '03 Honda Civic for a new head gasket. I don’t feel the car is a lemon because I’ve owned it since new and put 150,000 miles on it. But if I’d just bought it as a used car a year ago I might see it as a lemon. A Vibe is generally a good car. You might just dump it and find out the next car is just as bad or even worse.

I have friends who love their Vibes. One is crushed that Pontiac is gone because his Vibe has been so good to him (yes, he has been told it’s largely a Toyota.) I’m sorry the OP got a lemon (or an abused car, more likely), but the Vibe is a solid recommendation, with Toyota reliability and Pontiac resale values. The Scion xB (second gen) also has Toyota goodness without Toyota prices. The Scion xD is a little on the homely side, but otherwise a decent simple, cheap car, related to the Toyota Yaris.

@MarkM Yes, my brother has a Toyota Matrix and is now nearing 300,000 miles without major repairs other than normal wear items. Being very frugal, he complains about having to replace starters and alternator at 200,000 miles while forgetting his past Fords and Chevies would have been recycled long before that mileage.

Built in the same plant, the only difference is the trim and name badge, and perhaps the tires. All the important items affecting reliability are the same.

I, for one, am still not convinced that OP’s Pontiac Vibe is a lemon

OP has not answered our questions, as to what is so terrible about the car

@db4690 The latest Consumer Report car issue has nearly equal ratings for the Matrix and the vive, both excellent, in fact the Vibe for 2004 the Vibe had actually a better reliability rating than the Matrix.

As Mark Twain famously remarked: “The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated!” The plant that made the Vibe and the Matrix has very rarely produced a “lemon”. This vehicle was likely abused by the first owner.

Still waiting for the OP to comment further.