What's the least I can hope to pay for a decent car?

Some details:

My current car (Saturn Vue 2008) has 190,000 miles on it so I’m trying to get a newer car within the next year or two.

Last winter I was laid off from a job and incurred some debt paying bills on a credit card. I was hired a month later at higher pay, putting me in the $35,000/annually bracket. However my budget is tight due to the debt I’m trying to pay down, so I’m wondering what some good, safe financing options are out there. My credit score is still good at 700 even.

How little can I hope to pay? I can’t be miserly but I’m in kind of a tight spot right now–with slightly more money–but I don’t want to buy an upgraded car that will last less than five years or suddenly cost thousands in repairs.

And where should I search for cars? I had a friend recommend buying secondhand from Enterprise. Another that I go through a bank to pay for a car from the dealership. I went to a Toyota dealership and a reliable, safe-sounding 2018 Corolla LE was about $16,500 (yikes.) On the other end, I see cars on Craigslist for $5,000 but their odometers are at 190,000+ which is the same as the car I have right now, so that seems kind of pointless.

Summary: I want to buy newer so it lasts longer, I’m semi-broke (but becoming less so) and I don’t want to push my luck with my current car.

There really is not an answer to this question . A 3000.00 vehicle might go several years without any major repairs and a 16000.00 used 2 year old vehicle could have a major repair.

Frankly by your other posts you might be a candidate for the lowest cost lease you can find. Then after three years you can look for something else or buy it outright. And a web search of dealers around you will find new vehicles with lower finance rates for less then many used vehicles.


Don’t even look at the total price. The only thing that matters to you right now is cash flow. You can get a brand new Hyundai sonata for $21,500. With your credit score you could finance through Hyundai financial for 4% for 60 months. With nothing down your payment would be $387 per month.

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@kaydibee Go to every manufacture web site you can find and use the build your own feature and you may find a new vehicle for a price you can afford that you would not have thought of before.

We bought a 2018 Ford Fiesta that had sticker of 17100.00 and we got a very good discount .

Also with all the floods in the last few years there are vehicles out there that have been put back on the road that should have been scrapped .

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Before you take old mopar guys advice, realise he has said on here that if he had a car payment he couldn’t pay, bankruptcy would be his solution.

My advice to you is completely opposite to his. With credit card debt to pay off, an additional $387 a month is something you need like a hole in the head.

I would keep your present car until you get your debt paid off. I would get the oil changed regularly, get the transmission fluid changed and start putting $200 a month aside for repairs. Then when you are ready to buy another car you will have this car and some of the $200 a month most likely to buy what you want.

If your needs are reasonably priced reliable transportation, a used rental isn’t a bad idea. My father in law bought one and it served him well for many years.


Bankruptcy is one solution, if I were judgement proof ( which I am) I’d simply tell my creditors to pound sand.

Number 1 thought you may have expected car repairs and that is a worry.we leased a car for$200 a month no money down, just to get you by, big factor is mileage.

In your case,since your Saturn is giving you no problem,I would continue to drive it,pay my debt then save for my future car purchase.


It sounds like you are thinking about a next car but have no immediate need. Keeping yours going, paying down debt, and learning about cars in the mean time seems logical to me.

A good source of information about cars, new and used, ratings, reliability, prices, etc. is each April issue of Consumer Reports, or their car buying publications you see on magazine racks from time to time.

Look for a car that a senior citizen is selling. They are more likely to take care of I think to make it last longer. You aren’t looking for a brand as much as you are looking for a well maintained car. Stay away from cars with timing belts since that is probably an immediate $1000 expenditure. You can look that up on line or come back and we’ll tell you. Once you find one that is in excellent condition by your inspection and it test drives well, spend $100 or so to have a mechanic do a prepurchase inspection. If it checks out well, you may have your next car.


I wouldn’t recommend taking even more debt when the first order of business is to pay down the existing debt. What I would do is keep the Saturn (assuming it’s running okay) and start paying down the debt as soon as possible, this will have the added benefit of increasing her credit score. If possible, I’d also try to build up some cash reserves. If she’s lucky, and the Saturn lasts another year or two, she should be able to pay down some debt and have a couple grand saved up, At that point she can sell the Saturn, add some of her own money (if needed) and get something like a 5 -6 year old Corolla or Mazda 3 without having to finance much, and possible at a lower interest rate because she’s been paying off debt along the way and bumping up her credit score a bit.

The OP’S credit score is already at 700, at that level she’s paying about the lowest rate out there. How much is the peace of mind of driving a new car worth? ( I was going to suggest she simply lease one, but that would have caused heart attacks around here).

Not quite accurate. She just started a new job and 750 or above is usually the score for the lowest rates .

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A 700 FICO score won’t get you the best rates, it’s close, but you need around 720-740 for that. She’s not in a situation where she needs a new car ASAP, she’s talking a year or two down the road. From a cost/benefit standpoint, the odds are more favorable if you buy a reliable car that’s already taken the brunt of it’s depreciation hit. You’re getting a car that probably has another 4 or 5 years of reliable service, and even if you do have a thousand dollar repair or two along the way, you’re still money ahead vs. leasing or buying new(er) since the depreciation curve isn’t nearly as steep. Granted it might not be what the OP necessarily wants, but if the goal is to minimize expenses so you can pay down debt and still have a reliable means of transportation, then I think it’s one of the better options.

folks like the vues. i bet its worth 3000 at least. buy a 2007 corolla with 150k and move on.

My gut feeling is that you need to drive the Saturn until it falls in love with a car crusher and you have a little financial breathing room.

You also need to eliminate that “buy newer so it lasts longer” feeling as that is not necessarily true. Many “newer” cars are on their last legs due to lack of maintenance or abusive driving habits and may even be inferior to your Saturn.

I’ve purchased several cars off of CL with zero issues but I kind of know what I’m looking at and for. The same would apply to any used car purchast actually; be it CL, car dealer, or wherever.


Exactly! Falling into the “newer is better” trap is a sure-fire way to end up in debt, perhaps with a worse quality, less-reliable car then you already have. An older car from the 1990s to mid-2000s which was properly maintained and in good condition might outlast a 5-10 year old model that you could buy today. Especially if the 5-10 year old model was driven hard or not maintained as well as it should have been.

BTW, your Saturn Vue might easily go another 50,000 miles or more, especially if it has received proper maintenance. If equipped with the Honda V-6 engine, you are due for another timing belt soon. The 4-cylinder engine has a timing chain.

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As to price of a decent USED car, CR’s recommendations in the April issue start with the $5,000-10,000 range. Many cars from 2012 and before fit in that price range.

Why are so many folks here afraid of “debt”? For every income level and expense level, there is an amount of debt that may be carried without it causing undue distress or hardship. I’m 68 years old and I’ve not had one time since I was 18 where I had no debt, and I’ve done very well financially. This Dave Ramsey philosophy of “you need to be debt free” is crazy.

Take the advice I saw in a Time magazine advertisement from Chevrolet in a late 1945 issue. The title of the advertisement was “Continue to conserve your present car”. The ad went on to explain that new Chevrolets were on the way, but could not be produced at a rate to satisfy demand. Production had just resumed of new cars after having been suspended in February of 1942:due to WW II
I believe you should follow that advice. Do the maintenance on your Vue–oil changes, etc. Use public transportation if available. If the Vue is laid up for repairs and you need transportation to your job, rent a car.
I was in the same spot some years back in 1970 when I was in graduate school. The transmission developed a problem on our five year old Rambler. My wife’s father suddenly had to have surgery at a clinic 150 miles away. We thought about financing a new or newer used car, but decided instead to have the transmission on the Rambler repaired and we rented a car so my wife could be with her father. We drove the Rambler 3 1/2 more years. In the meantime, we finished our graduate work, saved some money so that we could make a substantial down payment on a house and then had enough money to replace the Rambler with a late model used car and pay cash for this car.
Continue to conserve your present car.

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