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Fun/stylish, low-maintainence cost - used car for teen driver

The Right Car for Me | TrueDelta


Mostly looking for a hatchback.

What makes or breaks it:

- Stylish ala Mini Cooper or Fiat
- Fun to drive ala Mini/Mustang/Miata
- Low maintainence costs over the next 20K-30K miles
- Spacious hatch boot to transportat least one suitcase

- Constant trips to the repair shop
- Costly repairs
- Very very low fuel economy (anything below 25 is no-no)

Priorities: Exterior styling / Safety & braking / Warranty, maintenance cost

Need minimum of 4 seats

Will consider both new and used cars
Maximum mileage: 80000
Maximum age: 10 years

Maximum price: US $ 8000

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Response from onefastdriver

9:54 pm February 19, 2017


This only partially applies, but is a response I wrote on my blog (onefastdriver.blogspot.com). Our friend was looking for something very cheap (and safe) which is a hard combination to find at that price. But you might be able to glean a few hints about safety and reliability from the article.

(This is an excerpt from an email to a friend who asked for advice on buying a car for her newly-turned-16 daughter. She wanted to spend $2000 or less.)

$2000 or Less: An unsolveable dilemna?

Here Come the Swedes

Unfortunately, these days, there isn't much out there that is very safe at that price ($2000). An exception exists with old Volvo's. They are quite safe - both station wagons and sedans; I'm thinking the 240's, and the 700-900 series - with the classic look. I believe that most in those series were 5 cylinders. Newer models include the S40/60/80's and their equivalent wagons: V50/70. Volvo's are a little higher maintenance than some cars, except for the 240 series. Expect mileage to be in the low to mid 20's on the older models and anywhere from mid-20's to low 30's in the newer versions. The Saab 9000 series are extremely safe too. Their maintenance can be higher too, but you could run them straight into a brick wall and they'd be fine. I've owned several. They tend to have minor electrical problems and periodic (every 50k or so) replacements of the Direct Ignition cassette which costs about $400. Their snow traction is superb. Saab 900's are also quite safe and tend to be more reliable. The 9000 turbos and the 900's get good gas mileage (low 30's on the highway). The non-turbo'd versions of the 9000's achieves about 23 mpg.


I'd stay away from any of the early-ish Hondas, Toyotas, Hyundais, Mazdas etc. They all had crash test problems until well into the 2000's. Structurally, I seen many that were severely compromised here at a local body shop that I pass every day. This, of course, is just an opinion.

A Trusty Land Yacht

Land Cruisers are also extremely safe and incredibly reliable. They're a little more cost-wise. Don't even worry a minute about the mileage on these. Mine has 220,000 and runs perfect ... every single day. They routinely run up to 400,000 miles if you don't run them out of oil. The main wear item on them is seats and timing belts. You often have to buy covers or tape up the rips on the older ones. They're generally slow, have great 4wd systems, and are not fuel efficient. They'll seat 7. Probably best stick to the FJ60 and FJ80's series. Lexus has a nearly exact equivalent called the LX 450 which is an FZ80 straight-line 6 cylinder. Gas mileage is 12-15 but also provides the greatest margin for safety and reliability combined.

Final Thoughts

The main thing is that your kid is going to be driving at the most compromised time of his/her life ... distractions, inattention, inexperience, out late etc. I'd personally stay away from anything too fast based on the (lack of) judgement I've seen so far from my teenage son. Safety trumps all, in my opinion.


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Saab 9-3
Mazda Mazda3
Volvo S40

Response from mwcten

4:48 pm February 20, 2017

For the vehicle you describe, a Honda Fit would be what I'd recommend. It's on the "practical" side as opposed to the "sporty" side. Alternately, a Scion Xa/Xb (the 04-06, not the 08+)/Xd might be good (also on the practical side). With these cars, I wouldn't even be scared of getting older higher milage models or spending less; they'll still be reliable. On the sportier side of things, you could get a Mazda 3 hatch with the 2.5l engine, but you'll take a little reliability and fuel economy hit. The hot hatch market is just not that developed in the US, and the cars which some consider stylish generally have poor reliability; the Minis and Fiats being perhaps the worst offenders.

I'd agree with the previous poster that safety is worth looking at; I'm skeptical that it will be found in older European vehicles. Based on my readings of the IIHS driver fatality data/reports, electronic stability control seems to trump everything else. Crash avoidance > crash performance; to say nothing of the pretty great strides that have been made in crash performance over the years.


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Honda Fit
Scion xD
Mazda Mazda3

Response from colin42

10:22 pm February 21, 2017

so maybe this wouldn't hit the reliability mark but why not a Mini? Look for a gen 2 cooper.

I'd also look at the Kia Soul - fun and spacious. Mpg improved with the 6 spd automatic in 2012.

For an out the box idea have you considered leasing? Consider a Mini Clubman very spacious and stylish


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Mini Coupe
Kia Soul
Mini Clubman

Response from joglekarajay

5:27 am February 24, 2017

Thanks for all the responses.

Some things have changed - longevity i.e. number of miles is now more important since my teenager got an internship which will require a bit of driving.

After some extensive research on general longevity and reliability based on some lurking around Mini forums on the interwebs, Mini is not an option.

So now I am considering between the following:

Ford Fiesta
Ford Focus

GTI is pricey but has longevity. The Fords run well for years too. Any other newer styling hatchback I should consider?


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Response from onefastdriver

11:54 am February 24, 2017

After looking at your pared down list, I'd personally stay away from the GTI. They're wonderful cars to drive - probably too much so for a teen driver - but the main reservation I'd have is with the reliability of electronics when they acquire higher miles. We've owned 1 Jetta, 1 Passat (W8), 2 diesel Jettas, and 4 Audis. Without exception, higher miles brings issues in the electronic department. They're pretty hardy, generally, but the VW/Audi brand only recently (last 4 years?) has come up in quality of electronics later in the car's life. Needless to say, the fixes can be expensive.

The Focus is probably your least exciting choice, but most reliable of the 3. A friend bought one for his teenage son who drove it AFTER his sister, and then into college and beyond. Never had issues. I'm referring to the more "rounded-looking" 2000 era Focuses (Foci?).

Hope that helps.


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Response from colin42

1:02 pm February 24, 2017

I'd avoid the current generation focus or Fiesta unless you get a manual. THe dual Clutch transmission has been problematic. I'd also avoid older VW GTI's as 4457 stated.

I'd look at the Kia Forte Hatchback. A 2012 / 2013 can be had in budget. THe EX get ~ 36mpg hwy

The Elantra GT came out in 2013. It is a little above budget but might be worth it.

finally a generation 2 mazda 3. The 2012 was the 1st year of the excellent Skyactiv engines. Look for an i-touring trim


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Kia Forte
Hyundai Elantra GT
Mazda Mazda3

Response from mkaresh

8:39 pm March 8, 2017

The above responses pretty much cover it. I'd recommend the 2012 and up Focus, but only with a manual transmission.

With the Mazda3 a concern with those older than the 2010 MY is rust. I wouldn't buy one older than a 2010 if road salt is used in his area. Otherwise very good cars.

The Forte, Soul, Elantra GT, and the Elantra Touring (which preceded the GT) are all very good if not great cars. With the Forte and Soul I much prefer the current generation, which launched in 2014. Too new for $8k?


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Response from joglekarajay

9:25 pm March 9, 2017

Thanks everyone for your responses. Currently almost finalizing between a 2011 Mazda3 Grand Touring vs a 2013 Mazda3 Touring. Also putting in more money. Upped the budget to 13k.


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Response from NormT

2:25 pm July 12, 2017

The old Saab 9-5 is a good deal if you can one that has oil sludge update to the pcv system. If you can squeeze a few more grand the Encore AWD will be the most efficent, AWD, gas car you can buy.


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Saab 9-5
Buick Encore
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