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Which one would you buy?

My daughter has narrowed her choice of cars (to purchase) down to a 2000 Ford Escort ZX2 (2dr) with 90,000 miles which has had the engine replaced for $2000. And a 2002 Nissan Maxima with 150,000 miles, a salvage title and a check engine light that two mechanics can’t figure out why it’s on for $1400.

Both are below KBB but her budget is around $2000. I’m leaning towards the Ford, she’s leaning toward the Nissan. The market for used cars is so competitive now. Two other people have made offers on the Ford and we have to decide whether to beat their offers asap.

If I had to choose, I would take the Maxima, but honestly, if I was searching for my daughter or myself, I would keep looking. When both cars were new, the Maxima was simply a better car in every way. Unfortunately, that tells us very little about the cars’ current condition.

The Escort has never been what I would call a reliable vehicle, and the check engine light (CEL) could be a huge problem if your state does emissions testing or if your daughter ever moves to a state that does emissions testing.

Honestly, I would walk away from both cars and keep looking.

If it has to be one of them, I would take the Escort. The salvage title and unknown emissions sytem problems drop the Maxima out immediately.

That’s why I ‘like’ the Escort. My daughter is just enamored by the ‘cute’ factor of the Maxima. But we are going to have a mechanic check out the Escort today.

It is amazing (or not) how the economy has driven used car prices up. She is broke and feels lucky just find a used car under KBB low. The dealers all seem to be asking way over high blue book nowadays.

Thank you both very much for your input and advice.

I would forget about either one. Keep looking, and you will find somehting more suitable.

I agree with those who say keep looking. You can do better.

Of those 2, I’d go with the Escort, as long as they provided the reason(s) for needing a new engine before 90k miles. Did they not change the oil and had it seize up? did they find out how much it cost to replace the timing belt and said screw it?
A check engine light is a big warning flag, especially if 2 mechanics can’t figure out what’s wrong with it(hint: read the codes to find out).

I’m guessing budget is around 2~3k? Start looking at mid-sized cars in that price range; fuel efficient cars are in high demand, and prices reflect that. You could find an Impala or Crown Victoria that gets 25mpg highway a few years newer than a Focus or Cavalier that get 30+ in the same price range.

We did find out after driving clear across town to look at the Escort, that it also had the head gaskets replaced (AFTER the engine replacement) and is leaking radiator fluid even though it has new hoses. And MAN did it idle like it was going to die out. We didn’t even bother with the mechanic check and are dismissing both vehicles.

bscar, I hadn’t thought of looking at the mid-sized cars. We will do that. Thanks.

Thank you all for all the advice!

Good lord. What did those owners DO with that Escort??

Good luck finding a much better (and better maintained) fit!


Depending on your state, it could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to repair, register and inspect a salvage title car with a check engine light problem. Either problem is a deal-breaker by itself!

Look for a Focus, Malibu, or Cobalt.

Since you porivded more information, I would pass on both cars and keep looking. Both are likely to be big headaches for as long as you own them.

You are doing the right thing on taking a pass on both these vehicles. My late father said “there will always be cars” and he lived through the period after WW II where a person stood in line to put in an order for a new car.

Be patient! When I took my first teaching position back in 1965 (and it is the position from which I just retired a month ago) I shopped hard for a vehicle. I finally bought a 1965 Rambler Classic with 7000 miles for $1750. I thought I had a great buy until a month later when my parents bought another house. The owner of the house was moving to Florida and didn’t want to take 2 vehicles. He offered me a 1963 Ford Fairlane with 10,000 miles for $1000. Both the Rambler and the Fairlane were bottom of the line strippo models. Had I waited a month, I would have been $750 ahead.