Monday, December 29, 2008

Figuring out how the heck to buy a used car

Thanks to a combination of wrecks and parents, I'm going to be hunting for a decent used car this week. My car shopping experience to date is fairly limited. I was involved in the hunt for my first car and was the one who found it in the classifieds in the paper, but my parents made all the decisions. They set a budget, looked at Consumer Reports buying guides, and decided on a Ford Taurus. I, who had managed to reach the end of my senior year in high school without getting a driver's license, didn't really have any say in the matter, or else I would have had no car at all.

Immediately after moving to the Delta, I helped my friend U. go car shopping. I'd expected to offer little more than transportation from one dealership to another, but he was someone who'd lived with his parents throughout college and never had to deal with so much as checking his own oil. He's also the nicest man on the planet and had this idea that he wanted to "put money into the local economy" when purchasing a car. U. was lost, and he asked for advice. I'm not a car guy, but my dad is so I grew up reading Road and Track, changing spark plugs, and helping bleed the brakes on the Mustang. I may not be an expert on this, but I was in better shape than U. Fortunately, when two twentysomethings of opposite genders go into a dealership together, it seems to be a universal assumption that they are buying a car together and will want to go off and talk about things. Thus I was able to steer U. away from the satin shirt clad vulture at the first dealership, introduce him to the Kelly Blue Book so he could determine whether he was being cheated, and gently inform him that driving three blocks at 30mph does not constitute an adequate test drive. Still, the ultimate decision was his.

Now I've got to sort out what I want. My still achy neck has convinced me to scrap my plan that my next car would be a Miata. The priorities are now crash test ratings, reliability, and decent gas mileage. Beyond that, I don't really know. My dad advises me to buy Japanese, but I've been very happy with my Ford. I haven't quite figured out my budget yet either. The car fund was at $6,000, but I could probably go as high as $8,000 without feeling overly pinched. Is $2,000, a vast sum to me, likely to make a big difference in the quality of the car? Any advice from my wiser and more experienced readers on how to avoid screwing up the first major purchase of my adult life?


Anonymous said...

I'd go used Honda Civic. Reliable, even when old. The hatchback can fit a LOT of stuff in it if you need to cram stuff in. Good mileage.
The Ford Focus is not bad and kindof like a Civic, but I can't vouch for the ultimate reliability. I drove a used Civic for YEARS until I moved in with my boyfriend and we decided we only needed one car. Then I sold it to Mickey, of Mickey's Suburban Alignment.
Good Luck!

Fabulously Broke said...

I am not sure I can be totally helpful.

I did however, find that most minivans (although large and unwieldy) were in the BEST condition out of all the used cars available. Scored mine for $2000 and it worked perfectly fine... (still works fine could probably last another 10 years surprisingly).

For my next used car, I'd spend a budget up to $10,000 I think because I want a car that's newer than 10 years... call me crazy!

I am thinking something within 7 years or younger (but older than 4 years) and with automatic doors and windows this time :]

However, I hear Honda's are the most reliable.

Good luck!

Fabulously Broke in the City
Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver...

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

I am a small truck person myself. i just find them so versatile. Not the greatest on crash test, but some are more than respectable. Rangers, and the smaller (older) Tacomas and Frontiers are what I look at.

Michael Karesh said...

My site,, might be helpful to you. We provide the most up-to-date vehicle reliability information, and also provide real-world fuel economy information.

Let me know if you have any questions I might be able to answer.

Frugalchick said...

Subaru--excellent crash ratings, reliable, good gas mileage. I can't wait to get my Nissan paid off so I can save up for another Subaru.

Revanche said...

You've got different car types all over the place here: sedans, minivans, trucks. :)

I'm a sedan person when it comes to the primary vehicle, truck for secondary because of gas mileage concerns. For quality and mileage, I have to recommend Toyota (Corolla) and Honda (Civic) because they both hold their value very well over the years. Subaru is also good, but I've always found them to be pricier. With the smaller sedans, though, you do take a loss in power. Don't think you're in need of very much road power, do you?

If you're looking at trucks, Toyota and Ford make good ones, but I'm not sure if you have a use or love for trucks to make it your primary vehicle? My friend's family has had their Ranger for about ten years now, bought used, and it's still just fine.