Katie lives in Philadelphia and her 1997 Honda Accord “Chum Bucket” is her vehicular best friend. However, after 24 years on the road and over 200,000 miles on the clock, she realizes that this friendship won’t last forever. She is looking for a new friend that is affordable, reliable, and practical.
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario:
I need my next best friend! I graduated college last May with my 1997 Honda Accord, the Chum Bucket, which I love with all my heart. It’s my first car. My dad chose him for me when I was in high school. I drove this car to college, to Chicago, to Denver, and back and forth from New York and Rhode Island for a long distance relationship. This car has been my best friend since 2015, and I intend to drive him until I can no longer safely do so. So far he’s still running, but he passed the 200,000 mile mark last year, and the frequency of his repair needs has begun to increase. I’m starting to look for my next car in the hopes I might find one at a good price before the Chum Bucket suffers a major failure.
I love road trips, I hope to drive Route 66 end to end someday. I also love making art, especially sewing clothing and fabric sculpture.
In order of importance, I need a car that:
1) Gets good mileage! I’d love something close to or better than my current 25/32.
2) Is cost effective to repair. It’s tough to beat an old Honda’s replacement part costs.
3) A good car to learn about car repair and maintenance.
4) Has space for things. I’ve been learning toward hatchbacks because they’re so accessible for stuff like road trips and bringing things home from the hardware store.
I do not want a truck as those would be too hard to park. I don’t have a lot of money to spend but could probably swing around $10,000.
Budget: Up to $10,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Wants: Good MPG, ideally hatchback, easy to fix
Doesn’t want: A pickup truck
Katie, it seems like you have had a long and wonderful relationship with Chum Bucket, which is one of the more interesting nicknames I’ve heard for a car. You are wise to start looking into a replacement now while the old Honda still has some life left in it. You don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute to find a car if a major mechanical failure happens.
There is no shortage of quality hatchbacks under $10,000, but this time I’m going to steal my colleague Eric’s go-to recommendation, the Honda Fit. When it comes to price and packaging the Fit was one of Honda’s best offerings. I say “was” because sadly it will no longer be sold as a new car, but you can find plenty of used ones well within your price range. The Fit has great visibility and small enough to squeeze into any spot in the hellscape that is Philadelphia parking. It will also hold a surprising amount of stuff due to its flexible seating configurations. Fuel economy is good, but not awesome considering the size of the car. It will get up to 33 mpg on the highway.
I would recommend looking at the upper end of your budget to get a second-generation car. Here is a nice silver Sport model not far from you with under 70,000 miles.
Obviously if you’re looking for an affordable hatchback that has super good parts availability and a healthy support network, you’re talking about a Vanilla Ice-era Fox Body Mustang. Not hard to find one in Philly, clean as a whistle inside and out, with under 100,000 miles, a short-throw shifter, and a GT40 intake. Oh, and this one is turbocharged.
You probably do not want to have to stare down the fuel bill of an aftermarket turbo V8 5.0 that’s 30 years old, but it will be practical and it’ll look good in Tucumcari.
Fine, I misled you about the meaning of Mazda, Katie, but only to make a point! Meet your new best friend, the Mazda3. This is a great car that will provide a little more fun than your trusty Accord while maintaining good reliability and excellent fuel economy. This one is thrifty, getting about 40MPG on the highway, and 29MPG in the city.
It seems like you’re interested in learning about your next car since you mentioned you’re looking for easy repairs and maintenance. The Mazda3 community is a pretty active one online, so repairs shouldn’t stump you. Maintenance should be simple and accessible enough, too. The Mazda3 I’m recommending has low(ish) miles, is nearby and is right in your budget.
On top of all that, I love this Mazda3 for you because it has a stick shift! If you don’t yet know how to drive a manual transmission car, now is the perfect time to do it! This Mazda3 will help you do that. You will feel more connected than ever to both the road and your machine — no, your new best friend.
Katie, I want to thank you for pitching the best kind of WCSYB: The classic request for a modest, four-digit hatchback, preferably with a manual. This is the finest type of vehicle there is and I will not be taking any further questions at this time.
My recommendation actually comes from a bit of personal experience. I leased a Focus hatchback much like this one back in 2012, except mine had the miserable, jerky dual-clutch automatic that was the subject of a class action lawsuit I assume my parents are still receiving notices about in the mail to this day. Nevertheless, I loved that car and even put up with the clunky power delivery. It was nimble in the corners, returned solid fuel economy (like 32 MPG — not stellar, but certainly leagues better than the ’97 Dodge Ram I was coming off of) and had enough space for a dude in college and his things. That’s admittedly not much, but I don’t recall feeling as pressed for cargo room as I do in my current Fiesta.
I imagine with a 5-speed manual, this Focus would be more enjoyable to drive. As José said above, driving a manual is a skill you’ll thank yourself for learning — something I only did four years ago. The example I found near you is from 2013 with just over 36,000 miles, while coming in a few hundred dollars under your budget. I hope it’s as kind to you as mine was to me.