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My FIRST car! Reliability/low cost-to-own a must

The Right Car for Me | TrueDelta

Eeyore

Looking to buy my first car! I'm on a shoestring first-job budget too, but happily have enough saved to buy outright (with help from family). My main concerns are reliability and lifetime cost-to-own, specifically maintinence/repair costs, and to a lesser extent MPG. I'm hoping to find a car that'll last me at least 5-6 years and won't empty my wallet with maintinence issues. Safety and good handling in rough weather would be a huge plus, as would a tight turn radius.

Cargo space would also be nice, as I'll likely be moving frequently over the next 5 years, so I need a car that can haul a decent amount of stuff. I've been looking at 2011-2014 models of the Ford Escape, Kia Soul, Subaru Impreza, and Honda CR-V (later models--the CR-V's pricey, which is my biggest reservation about that model), though I'd be happy with something smaller too!

Bottom line: I want a tank. My dream car is my mom's 1990 Volvo 740 turbo that she bought new and use at least weekly to this day (well, sans repair costs). I don't care how it looks or what features it has or whether it's got a comfortable ride, it just needs to last forever and not break the bank (though I know that's probably asking too much on my budget). Thanks so much!

Preferred Bodystyle(s): SUV / Wagon / Hatch / Sedan

Car Needs: Long trips / Errands about town / Daily commuter

Primary Driver(s): Short driver

Need minimum of 4 seats

Will consider both new and used cars
Maximum mileage: 45000
Maximum age: 4 years

Maximum price: US $ 16000

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Response from ezgobob

2:57 pm June 5, 2015

In MHO I Would get a used CRV, find the newest model with the least amount of mileag.

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Response from Eeyore

3:54 pm June 5, 2015

That's where I started my search, actually! Problem is, I can't seem to find a CR-V that's a 2010 or younger, has <55K miles and is in my price range. At the age/mileage I can afford, I'm concerned that the car would start running into more expensive maintinecnce issues within a few years of purchase. Is that a reasonable concern to have, or am I being too cautious here?

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Honda CR-V

Response from mwcten

12:05 am June 6, 2015

A couple thoughts:

First, the most cost effective car will cost far less than your $16k budget. Basically if you want to save money on cars and you have $16k in your hand, you should buy a $5k car, then invest the remaining $11k. On average your money should earn you about 8%, so just the earnings should be more than enough to keep the $5k car repaired for at least 5 years, and you'll still have cash to buy your next car. To put it another way, if you want to be poor, spend all your money on a car.

Secondly, I'm assuming you'll maybe move once a year on average? That's not often enough to justify getting anything other than a compact/subcompact car. If you're serious about carrying a lot of stuff in a small car, check out a Honda Fit. Small cars are more fun to drive than big boaty land barges anyway.

Thirdly, reconsider the reliability question. Look at the data on this site. Even some 15 year old cars whose average milage is well over 100k still require less than 100 repairs per 100 vehicles per year, with repairs averaging only a few hundred dollars. If you buy a reliable old vehicle, there are no "expensive maintenance issues" Take a Toyota Yaris, for example. Worst case, the engine or transmission goes on it (see the repair data on this site; that's very rare). Go to car-parts.com and price out an engine. Go to automd.com and check the number of hours to swap an engine x a shop hourly rate. The entire job can be done for under $1500. That's the most you could possibly spend on a repair. Just be sure to find a well-reviewed independant repair shop (no dealers; no chains) for your repairs and they will take care of you.

So in summary, I'd recommend a $3-7k Honda Fit/Civic, Toyota Corolla/Matrix/Yaris/Echo, Scion Xa/Xb/Xd, Mazda 3 or 6 (or Protege if you find a nice one); Pontiac Vibe; Chevy Prizm. Something like that. You don't need awd; just snow tires. Buy from someone you trust, or at least a person who writes long and detailed descriptions on craigslist and has repair records. Don't be afraid of a reliable model car with 100k or even 150k or 200k if it has been taken care of (and you're paying a fair price).

Maybe I'm off base here in suggesting you cut your budget by 2/3, but my thought is that the small-cheap-car strategy will better align with your overall goals in life and put you in a better position 5 years from now.

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Honda Fit
Toyota Corolla
Toyota Yaris

Response from Eeyore

1:04 am June 6, 2015

mwcten, you're AWESOME. Thanks for the thoughtful, detailed response! I was looking into smaller, older, and cheper models as well, some of which you mentioned (and for some of the reasons you mentioned). The worry about potential maintinence costs comes from seeing a few too many friends get royally screwed over by the costs of car repairs and being acutely aware of how flat-ass broke we all are, even with careful financial planning (but that's another rant). I'll take your advice to heart, though, and broaden my search.

That said, after some more research I've found myself quite taken with the Toyota RAV4. Great reliability and gas mileage, ENORMOUS cargo space, good handling. Any thoughts on the sensibility of purchasing an older RAV4?

Thanks again for the feedback!

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Toyota RAV4

Response from ezgobob

1:12 am June 6, 2015

I found a 2012 CRV asking 17,000 with 45,000 miles,I'm sure you can buy for 16,000.

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Response from ezgobob

1:17 am June 6, 2015

Response from ezgobob

1:21 am June 6, 2015

Response from mwcten

10:14 pm June 7, 2015

The problem with a RAV 4 is that they cost ballpark 50% more than a Honda/Toyota compact car of the same year with the same miles. If you're fine paying that, then yeah, they do what they're trying to do well and reliably. Handling, though is not generally reputed to be great, at least among its peers.

Re: investing,http://assetbuilder.com/couch_potato/couch_potato_cookbook

Or read mrmoneymustache.

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Response from Eeyore

11:08 am June 8, 2015

Hi mwcten! Thanks again for your response. I've shifted my search parameters a bit and I'm trying to find something a bit smaller, but with ample cargo space and reliability. I'm still waffling when it comes to balancing price, age/miles and highway safety (e.g., a newer Kia Soul or Toyota Yaris vs. a much older RAV4), but I figure it's on me to decide what's most important. Glad to hear that if nothing else I'm mostly on track where reliability is concerned.

Thanks for the investment info, too! I was actually looking at my meagre stock portfolio yesterday and thinking that it might be time to look into other forms of investment. Kudos!
mwcten

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Response from mkaresh

11:44 am June 10, 2015

Just one minor adjustment to mwcten's excellent suggestion: don't buy a Mazda older than a 2010 since you live where it snows. The older ones are prone to rust.

I do agree that one of the compact hatchbacks makes more financial sense.

I'm not sure I'd go all the way down to $5k myself, but $16k certainly isn't necessary.

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Response from Eeyore

12:16 pm June 10, 2015

Thanks much! Right now I think the Kia Soul may be my best bet--low starting price, good reviews, so far it isn't pinging any alarm bells in terms of reliability, good warranty, and lots of cargo space. Thanks so much for all the advice, everybody!

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Kia Soul

Response from mkaresh

12:31 pm June 10, 2015

The only thing I have against the first-generation Kia Soul is that they neither ride nor handle well (especially at highway speeds), but these don't seem to be priorities. I like the styling and the functionality, and can see that it's a good fit for what you're looking for.

If you do want to blow your entire budget, the 2014 Soul does ride and handle considerably better than the first-gen.

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Response from mwcten

10:55 am June 13, 2015

I'm glad the advice here has been helpful.

A Soul is an OK car, especially if you're not putting on a lot of miles. Reliability is good, mpg is only 30 or so. They've only been made since '10, so the cheapest you'll probably find them is the $7-9k range with 80k-100k miles. One like that (or even cheaper with more miles) could be a decent option. I'm not totally sold on long term Kia reliability, and I wouldn't count out an older Honda Fit, Matrix/Vibe or Scion Xb if you want that same ammount of space as the Soul. Cast a broad net and see what you can find a good deal on.

Let us know what you end up going with.

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