Sullivan is a recent college graduate from upstate New York. He scored a good job but needs a reliable and all-weather capable car to get him to work. However, at this point, his budget is limited to about five grand, which makes things difficult. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars.)
Here is the scenario -
Cars are expensive right now, but I am graduating college soon and I really need one cheap, I am having a lot of difficulty finding cheap cars near me. I am open to a car, truck, van I don’t case too much as long as it is reliable and 4wd/awd and dirt cheap..
Ideally decent ground clearance for backroads and enough room to haul stuff, as I am moving would be nice but lets be real, beggars cannot be choosers here. The only thing I don’t want is rear-drive and a manual transmission
For the job I have lined up after graduation I will be traveling, so every 2 weeks or so I will be driving and 30 minute to hour commute to the airport and back. On my 6 days off between travel I will need to run errands and such, nothing too crazy.
I am trying to spend under $5,000
Budget: under $5,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Upstate NY
Wants: Cheap, reliable, AWD/4WD
Doesn’t want: RWD, manual
Sullivan, congratulations on both your education and scoring a nice gig. While right now is arguably the worst time to buy any vehicle, you can get something decent if you get creative and flexible. The first thing I will say is be open to traveling, the wider your net, the more inventory you have to pick from. And I found what might be an ideal solution, the Pontiac Vibe.
As you may know, the Vibe was co-made with Toyota and is essentially a re-badged Matrix sharing most of its major components with the Toyota Corolla. This means these things are extremely reliable. The added benefit to the Vibe/Matrix is these wagony/hatchbacks can also hold a ton of stuff. They were available with both front and all-wheel-drive. For a while the Vibe was the better value of the two since many folks didn’t know it was a Toyota underneath, so you can find Pontiacs with more reasonable miles.
These cars are not common, but here is a 2003 with 110,000 miles, some cosmetic issues but a clean history for only $4,000. If it’s well cared for you should be able to get a lot more life out of it.
Congrats on graduating! Let’s get you a ride that neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stop you from getting to work. Check out this 2004 Volkswagen Passat 4Motion wagon in your state.
The wagon before you features a Torsen full-time center differential AWD system, which means that the car drives all four wheels, all of the time. Under normal operations, power split is 50/50. In slippery conditions, it’s up to 75 percent power on the axle that needs it most. To top it off, these Passat wagons have a good amount of room for hauling.
On Jason’s reliability spectrum I’d think this falls on abusable. I’ve seen one of these wagons win tug of war battles against diesel trucks and all kinds of 4x4s then drive home without major issues. The V6 is pretty robust and doesn’t have things like turbos or timing chains to go out on you. A potential weak point is the transmission, which sometimes do fail. Still, this comes in well under budget and would serve you well.
Learning how to drive a stick pays so many dividends that I’m going to politely ignore your “The only thing I don’t want is rear-drive and a manual transmission” statement. Just trust me on this one.
It’s not even about the Fahrvergnügen, which is of course a significant benefit of owning a stick-shift automobile, it’s about reliability and purchase price. We all know the law of supply and demand; if lots of people want the same thing and there’s a fixed supply, you’ll be paying out of your Arse for it. If nobody wants something, then that something will be dirt cheap.
Nobody wants sticks. Hell, you don’t want a stick. But you can change that by just learning if you haven’t already. I’m going to be presumptuous here and assume you don’t have a lot of experience with a manual, because I think most young folks who are comfortable with a stick and a clutch, and who needed to find a cheap car, would be glad to keep that stick-shift option open. Because sticks can be dirt cheap and because they generally yield fewer expensive issues than older automatics.
I talked about this earlier this year. Few cars are as cheap as manual versions of boring cars usually purchased by “sensible” people. Think Saturn Vue, Ford Escape, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry — vehicles along those lines. Boring cars usually purchased by rational folks with 2.5 kids and a house in suburbia. Folks who really don’t want to deal with any form of inconvenience, let alone a stick shift.
Cars like these are filthy cheap, and you should take advantage of it. There’s a 180,000 mile 2005 Saturn Vue in Pennsylvania for only $2,500; it looks great, though I’d probably just snag the 2004 Hyundai Accent for only $3,000 near Albany. It’s got some rust here and there, but it passed inspection, and with less than 100,000 miles, it’s a steal and a half.
If you’re really, really set on avoiding a stick shift, then there’s another avenue that follows my “buy a car in low demand” philosophy. Buy an old minivan.
Few vehicles are as worthless as an old example of a car whose newness — particularly as it relates to having the most modern safety features — is paramount to its appeal. I bought an incredible diesel manual minivan in Germany for $600, and it’s in amazing shape. Yes, the fact that it’s diesel in an increasingly anti-diesel Europe played a major roll, but so did the fact that families don’t want to transport their kids in an old sardine can with only two airbags.
So look around at Chevy Astros and Chrysler Town & Countries. Aside from small businesses needing cargo vans, you’ll be the only one looking for them.
Other vehicles that are in low demand, besides minivans and manual versions of boring cars, are universally-derided cars. Hideous machines. Think Chrysler PT Cruiser and Pontiac Aztek. I’d recommend them both.
If you’re trying to sell a car, it only makes sense that you’d include several interior and exterior photos. It also makes sense that you’d include a description that’s honest about the car’s condition but is still written to draw in potential buyers. You know, because you’re trying to sell your car.
For some reason, a lot of sellers on sites such as Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace feel like that’s too much effort. In fact, some sellers feel like spelling the make and model correctly is also too much effort. Would more people probably see this ad if the seller hadn’t called it a “Toureq”? Absolutely. But it’s too late to change that now.
Since you’re looking to buy a car instead of selling one, misspelled car ads can actually be your friends. Especially if the seller responds to the lack of interest by lowering the asking price. For example, here’s a 2005 Infiniti FX35 that’s listed as an “infinity” for only $3500.
That seems suspiciously cheap, but allegedly, it runs well, has passed inspection, and is ready for you to drive. The seats are also showing their age, and there’s some sort of issue with the trunk. (I think “stalk” is supposed to be “stuck”?)
Maybe this particular listing is too good to be true, but if it’s not, why not buy an all-wheel-drive Nissan 350Z rally wagon for way under your budget?
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