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Good, Cheap Beater Cars & Inexpensive Commuter Cars - how to find one?



  • jetdrivenjetdriven Posts: 18
    When I got laid off from my airline job I sold my wife's 3 year old Contour SVT. Our second car became our good car, a 1991 eagle talon with 200K on it.,

    When I got recalled in Jan 02 I bought a 1991 Acura Integra from ebay for 3,500$. It had 89K on it and was really nice. no paint work, or ripped interior. air blew cold and everything worked. Soon after I got it home I put in motor mounts, and changed the timing belt. total cost for this was 300$. In the 3+ years I have owned it I put on tires and brakes plus an oil pan gasket.

    So for a 2,000$ car it has been great, we still drive it daily, in fact. 25 city and 31 Hwy. it does use a quart of oil every 1000 miles though.

    I'd recommend one of these for a cheap dependable car that will get on the freeway without drama. they can be had on ebay and autotrader for around 1500-2000 dollars.
  • lhesslhess Posts: 379
    here in WV (lots of snow, cinders, and salt) so I bought a 1997 Geo Tracker (in 2001), 4wd, 5 spd with 60K miles, new tires, super clean vehicle, ran as well as a Tracker can, paid $5000 for it. Drove it 3 winters, took good care of it, and sold it for $4500. The only downside to it was the insurance was almost as much as my 2001 Eclipse Spyder. Still, it was worth it to keep my car off the nasty winter roads and it saved mileage on it!! I just bought an rx8 and hope to do a similar thing for the upcoming winter.
  • Hello all, I have a question. I currently have a 1993 Plymouth Sundance duster with 130,000 miles, it recently started giving me problems and I was told that it's the fuel pump. The Mechanic is trying to charge me $500.00 to fix it but the car only cost me $600.00 4 years ago. I am currently in grad school and i'm so broke..yes very broke. I'm currently have $2200.00 that I can spend, i'm not looking for a fancy car I just want a good, reliable car that can get me through my last year of grad school. THe question is this, What are the best USED American and Foreign cars? How much should I spend on another used car? What years are the best to get for that price? The dealers are always trying to sell me crap or something that I can't afford, so please help me. P.S. I've been looking on Ebay, have any of you ever purchased a car on Ebay?
  • lancerfixerlancerfixer Posts: 1,308
    Well, at the $2,000 price point, I wouldn't expect miracles, but I would expect something better than a '93 Duster!

    At the $2,000 price point, I'd look for the following:

    Mazda Protege
    Ford Escort
    Early-mid '90s Ford Taurus
    Mid-90s Chevy Lumina
    Volvo 240
    Early 90's Toyota pickup

    Your profile says you're in Buffalo...I've got family there, and I know what those roads (and salt) can do to a car. At $2k, finding a rust-free anything will be a challenge. Also, don't expect the car to be maintenance-free...the best thing to do would be to have it checked out by a mechanic prior to purchase. Also, do not, repeat, do not buy a car with a "salvage" title. Even though it looks like a better deal (more car for less money,) these cars are problems waiting to happen...usually, they've been totalled in an accident or flood, and someone has "fixed" them (I use the term loosely.)
    I'd also recommend, if you don't know how to already, learning to drive a manual this price point, going with a stick will save you some money.

    I'd recommend a Camry or Accord for reliability, but good examples of these cars would be hard to come by for $2,200 or less.

    Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 18,592
    An old but not too abused Crown Vic or Grand Marquis could give you good service for cheap money, they seem to last a long time and aren't expensive to fix but take up a lotta space and get poor gas mileage.

    A musician friend of mine carts his Moog around in an ex-State police CV.

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • asafonovasafonov Posts: 403
    Great list of the usual suspects. I would, off course, add the ubiqitous Geo Prizm (probably 94-96 vintage, maybe a 97 with high miles), and possible the discontinued Mitsubishi Mirage, but I have heard that the latter have poor crash test ratings.
  • I'm on the lookout for a 1995 Acura Integra SE (or even LS). Any ideas on the price? Preferred 75000 to 80000 miles.
    By the way, :confuse: what is the difference between LS and SE?
  • mikel56mikel56 Posts: 2
    Getting white build up on oil cap and valve cover, and just wondering if this is due to an intake manifold gasket cracked or leaking. 125k, no external anti freeze leaks. Been adding anti freeze about every couple of days to the over-flow bottle. Any related problems with the 3.1's out there?
  • koba1879koba1879 Posts: 1
    Sounds like the head gasket. There is currently a wide spread problem with them. There was an article on AutoBlog about it a while back. Hope it helps. n-a-case-by-case-ba/
  • the first generation of integras are getting scarce, but i own one and love it. it currently has 220k mile on it and still gets over 30mpg in the city. i do drive extremely slow to get that. it only takes a timimg belt and oil changes to keep it running. from what little i know about them they are very reliable.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    I really like the Hondas/Acuras with the pop-up headlights, though they were a pain in the Winter, and the cars are becoming scarce (rusted away, at least here in the midwest). The interiors always felt roomy, I think mostly because of the low dashboards and large greenhouses.

    Shifting gears here, anyone have any advice about which beaters to STAY AWAY from? I have a friend looking for a four-cylinder used car under $3500. Not too difficult, and I don't think he's too picky. Thus far, I have only advised strongly against the pervasive disease known as the NEON, but have steered him toward the following:

    Cavalier/Sunfire (mostly cuz they're plentiful, cheap, and as far as I know, pretty reliable; otherwise, I'd pass)

    Geo Prism/Toyota Corolla, though you're hard pressed to find one under ten years old for under $3500, especially the Corollas (no surprise there)

    Ford Escort (97 up): again, cheap to buy and fix, and plentiful, reliable, not much else to recommend

    Nissan Altimas: about as much style as you can get in this segment at this price without trying to find a Camry, Civic or Accord, which are mostly old and rusty for $3500

    Nissan Sentra: surprisingly expensive here in Chicago (saw a '94 in a lot for $3k asking-it looked nice, but c'mon, it's a thirteen year-old econobox!), and not all that fun to drive, IMO.

    Mazda Protege-my personal favorite, reliable, FUN to drive, but probably a bit more $$ to fix than most others here, when they do break down.
  • jlawrence01jlawrence01 Posts: 1,828
    Personally, I would look at some of the smaller 6-cyl vehicles out there in that price ranmge - Buick Century, etc. The gas mileage is similar and the engines may hold up better than say a Cavalier/Sunfire, etc.

    Other than that, you assessments are frightfully accurate.
  • british_roverbritish_rover Posts: 8,458
    Yeah agreed a lot of the early to mid 90s 6 cyl domestics are extremly reliable and fairly good gas mileage.
  • jaserbjaserb Posts: 858
    My brother bought a very decent '02 with under 35k miles a few months ago, and paid in the low $5s. That's with an automatic, PW, PL, Cruise, and A/C, so it's not exactly a penalty box. It's probably good for 100k miles with very little expense, and it absolutely sips gas. Can't beat that with a stick.

  • michaellnomichaellno Posts: 4,300
    My brother bought a very decent '02 with under 35k miles...

    Is this the same brother you bought the 'clean as a whistle' Maxima for a year or so back?

    My daughters friend just got a car .. '97 Chevrolet Cavalier with 84K on it. Automatic (4-speed), AC, but no power accessories or cruise. Not sure how much her parents paid for it, but it runs good (she says it just needs a new fuel filter) and should last her a few years.
  • jaserbjaserb Posts: 858
    I have 4 brothers, and helped all but one buy a car last year :)

    The "clean as a whistle" Maxima is getting a bit chewed up after spending too much time in college parking garages, but it still runs great.

  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    The timing on this is not so great (trying to buy a house, need to really watch cash for the next month or two), but a co-worker is about to buy a new car, and wants to get rid of the following, which to no surprise, the Toyota dealer has zero interest in, on the trade of a new Sienna (at ~$500 below invoice):

    95 (old body but dual airbags, so no mousebelts) Saturn SL2, blue-black with leather, 159k miles, automatic, loaded but sunroof inop (and needs to be fixed or sealed up: it got stuck in the open position, she forced it closed, now it's leaking), she says interior is what you'd expect for a grocery getter of a woman with two toddlers, no radio, I didn't ask (and don't care) about the a/c, she says it's been reliable (never stranded her, etc.), but 'is what it is'. I'm moving to a neighborhood that's a bit more remote than where I live now, so a car would be a nice thing, but I can't/won't swing a payment, plus, my S.O. and brother both have cars (street parking is OK, and the new house has a two-car garage). I'm almost sure she'd let it go for $400-500. I would like to pick up a beater eventually, not sure if this is the one I want, but at the price, I feel it'd almost be foolish to pass it up. This would be strictly a grocery getter/city car. Most Saturns in this year/condition (if they're being honest) seem to be $1000-1500ish or higher retail. I don't know what to do--I can kinda take it or leave it, but I'm thinking if it lasts me six months or a year with nothing major (I won't put big $ in it), it might not be bad. Any thoughts? I know, I don't 'need' a car, and I'm cheap, but this might work out....there's not much risk, really. Anyone know if SL2s are 'interference' or not? I'd hate to buy something for even $500 and have to junk it or put $600 into a new timing belt. Aye yi yi.
  • corvettecorvette United StatesPosts: 5,563
    I think they have timing chains. You could always buy it, park it in the garage, and not drive it so you don't have to pay insurance on it.
  • steine13steine13 Posts: 2,561
    95 (old body but dual airbags, so no mousebelts) Saturn SL2

    Don't you wish.
    Just like the Escort, they retained the idiot belts along with the dual air bags. Mathias no like. Bad medicine.

  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    Just found that out, definitely a relief, though obviously any car with almost 160k is a gamble. Still, I'm probably going to end up buying the Saturn, just so I'm not semi-stranded (having to rely on public transport and/or cabs that aren't all that common in my new 'hood) just so I have a way to get around the city. Seller has already told me she'd definitely let it go for '$400-500', that the heat and defrost work, windows and locks work and that it's a 'decent' car. She has the income and two toddlers, so I can't blame her for wanting something newer/safer/larger, and for not wanting to put any more money in that old thing. I'm pretty sure insurance will cost $40-50 a month, so not really an issue. I just can't justify doing a payment for what is essentially a third family car that I don't use for work. So, Mathias, this thing retained the idiot belts? Drat. Oh well, I lived with them on my Protege (those were motorized, I don't think they are on Saturns), so I can live with them again, especially on a five hundred dollar beater. I'm going to look at it over the weekend (if she gets her new family truckster, er Sienna), stay tuned.
  • zodiac2004zodiac2004 Posts: 471
    Just like the Escort, they retained the idiot belts along with the dual air bags. Mathias no like.

    Mathias, it's not often you are wrong about automotive trivia, but you are wrong about this one.

    The 95 SL2 did not have motorized seatbelts.
    Were you thinking of 94 and older?
  • oregonboyoregonboy Posts: 1,653
    motorized seatbelts... I HATE those things. Many manufactures retained the passive belts until the next major redesign. There are early '90s Maximas that have both airbags and motorized seatbelts. :(

    Honda, on the other hand, eliminated the motorized belts in mid-product cycle when they added airbags to the 1992 Accord. :)

    I don't know about Saturns, since I never shopped for one.

  • oregonboyoregonboy Posts: 1,653
    An earlier poster asked about beaters to avoid. Consumer Reports compiles just such a list in their annual auto issue.

    One otherwise decent car to stay away from is the early to mid 1990s Mazda 626 with AUTOMATIC transmission. They used a Ford transmission that was plagued with repeated (expensive) failures.

  • corvettecorvette United StatesPosts: 5,563
    I've always heard it was only the 4-cylinder models that used the Ford auto transmission, and that the problems extended to any four-banger 626 built all the way up to their last year (2001? 2002?).
  • steine13steine13 Posts: 2,561
    I stand corrected then on the Saturn seatbelts.

    The Mazda 626 with the 6cyl used a different Ford transmission, and a much better one. According to what I've read on MX-6/626/Millenia/Probe sites, the 6cyl combo is much better than the 4banger.

    The Millenia has that combination. At 152k, my Milly is just fine in the tranny department :-)

  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    Just had a real PIA drive--why must Chicago/Cook County/State of Illinois always simultaneously repair EVERY interstate in the area? Seriously, in 40 miles between the north side of Chicago and Dyer, IN, there were probably two miles NOT under construction. Trip there took about an hour and a half.

    Anywho, went to look at my co-worker's Saturn ('95 SL2 automatic, 160k) wasn't bad at all, not nearly the mess she made it out to be. I mean, I didn't have it checked out by a mechanic, but I drove it around; engine, brakes, trans and suspension felt fine (even a bit peppy), tires were a bit thin but OK and matching, body is great (and even a nice color, quite a feat in old Saturn SLs), no weird smoke or funny smells, no slimy, leaky engine bay, couple of drips on the garage floor but oil looked OK. The interior is a bit dirty but not destroyed or ripped (tan leather--luckily--and carpet, she has two toddler boys), headliner is sagging a bit (scissors), sunroof doesn't close right (silicone or maybe a 'real' repair), A/C warm, radio doesn't work (appears to need a code, so perhaps fixable). Power windows and locks all work, as do heat and defrosters. I think it has ABS (has TCS and everything else they offered, so likely), not sure, but NO dash warning lights lit. Again, this wasn't the most thorough going-through ever, but she offered it to me for $400 cuz she thinks the brakes sometimes squeal a bit. SOLD! I know it's nothing exciting, but I figure I can either keep it for however long and if it blows up, big deal, if it doesn't, I'll get at least the same money back out of it or more. Yay, one car, no payments and it can't possibly be as nasty as my last car (a $500, dented, rusty, gray, stripped '87 Accord DX sedan).

    Oh yeah, and it has normal seatbelts.
  • jlawrence01jlawrence01 Posts: 1,828
    Sounds like you have about $500 in repairs - tires, brake pads, and a cheap aftemarket radio.

    Good deal if you can coax 20k miles out of the car.

    It is always a good sign when the seller gives you a litany of sorrows. Generally, the car ends up not being as bad as you would think.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    I don't know about the brakes, when I drove it they felt and sounded fine. It's probably intermittent, but I'd rather just have it checked out, buy some pads rather than have to do the whole thing (rotors, etc.) later. The tires have about 10k left on them, I think. The radio might drive me nuts...I'm going to try to get a code from a Saturn dealer and see if that works. Hoping this works out.
  • jlawrence01jlawrence01 Posts: 1,828
    Shop around. I have had good luck with the 40k Futura tires at PepBoys (in Skokie).

    Good luck on the radio.

    That's a lot of miles on a Saturn BUT for what you paid, you'll get your money's worth IMO.
  • geo9geo9 Posts: 739
    G.............If the radio is locked out or has
    a "err" message on the display. I have a link
    to a thread to possibly unlock it. Otherwise
    a GM dealer will charge you about $100 to unlock
    the theft-loc feature...........

    Will send it e-mail if needed............
This discussion has been closed.