Buying my first car ever, need your advice

taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
edited September 2014 in General
I will buy my first car after college while I'm working as an intern with a limited budget. The car I'm looking for could be maximum $2500 unfortunately. Basically, I need a commute car which gets me office and grocery shopping and maybe some fun riding on the weekend.

Since i'm on limited budget, I need a reliable car which won't require service and maintenance all the time. I know it's almost impossible to find reliable and fix free car under $2500 but as a guy who has no idea about cars, my best shot is Craigslist and I need your advises.
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  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    Ask around at your new office; maybe someone there can hook you up with cheap wheels.

    A pre-purchase inspection is always a good idea. But they typically cost $100 a pop and you may reluctant to spend that with limited funds budgeted for a car. If you have any friends who are into cars, try to get them to car shop with you.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Toyota Corolla or Camry, 1996-2002 ballpark years should work for you, although "fun" isn't in the equation unless you are doing something ELSE in the car as well :)

    You can buy these very reliable cars in quite decent shape (but higher miles of course) in the $2500 range.
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    Thank you both,

    Probably I will also ask coworkers before I buy if they know someone who willing to sell a car in that range. I will probably take the car tot the mechanic before I buy. I guess paying $100 in first place better than paying thousands later.

    Yes, Japanese cars a bit expensive because of their reliability, everyday I check craigslist to find one with lower miles, at least one with decent miles and keep me going through my internship period which is 13 months.

    I never heard good things about American cars, do you also suggest American cars with low miles? If so, which makes and models I should look?
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    edited September 2014
    My UP in-laws had an older lower mileage Buick that ran good and had lots of bells and whistles. If we had not moved, my wife might have pushed to pick it up. It went for around $1,800 at the estate sale. A ride like that would be more easily found in the Midwest or Florida I'd guess.

    It wouldn't meet your criteria of a "fun" car but it was a sleeper in the sense that it would haul when other people would least expect it. :D

    That reminds me - some brands are more popular in some parts of the country - foreign cars sell better on the coasts for example. You'd likely find more independent Toyota mechanics in California than, say, North Dakota. Buying a "common" car in your area could mean cheaper repairs.
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    Thanks for the heads up @‌ And I wonder how my post moved to Ram forum sections? :)
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    edited September 2014
    @taltrap, I assumed you had filled in those categories (are your really sure you don't want a truck? ;) Kidding - most used trucks bring crazy money.)

    We'll stick this back in "General" - if people are browsing Recent Discussions, they'll find it either way.
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    Since I'm in need of extra money, truck could bring me some labor jobs :) Will do that @stever, thank you.

    Gonna also ask on Lexus forum but would like to ask your opinion about Lexus ES 300, year 97 and 141k miles, do you think it's a good car to buy and reliable?
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    Lexus cars are known for being reliable. I recently sold a '97 vehicle (Subaru) and it held up pretty well considering the years (lower miles though, and I knew the car when I got it used). Turned around and got a van with 125,000 miles on it, so the higher miles don't scare me too much.

    If you go the ES 300 route, ask around if the Toyota dealer will work on it. Some do, some will send you to the more expensive Lexus dealer. Even better of course, is to find an independent mechanic, just in case.
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    Tips are noted well. Thanks @‌stever
    The only thing suspects me about this car-have no idea about cars but started to learn craigslist market:) - car looking so good, even exterior is rust free, inside looks like a luxury car for year 97 when you compare plain Civic's, Corolla's and ugly Camry's, it has 140k miles on it and the owner asking $2500. I've checked KBB price, 2500 seems alright but still wonder why it's as priced as other Japanese cars?
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    Good question - I managed to get $3,500 for my '97 Subaru. Of course it was good in snow and I was living next to Lake Superior at the time.

    Some craigslist sellers will give you a copy of a CarFax or AutoCheck. That can tell you if the seller is the actual owner or is just a car flipper, and usually will tell you if the car was wrecked. Otherwise it might be good to buy one.

    Ask to see the maintenance records too - a complete lack of them isn't a good sign. And if you get the VIN, some service departments will look up the car and tell you what kind of work has been done on it and whether there's any outstanding recalls on it.
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    I will ask every single detail and even will try to take it to the mechanics. As I mentioned, I cannot take a risk to pay huge amounts for fixing later.

    That's also concern me, I live in Chicago suburbs and I've heard that winters are hard here. I needed a car for winter time in the first place. Do you think Japanese cars can deal with hard winter days?

    One more question; do you think 6 cylinders would be disadvantage for me? I've been told that I should look for 4 cylinders. And also, this model would cost me more insurance payments monthly when we compare to Civic's, Corollas or other models?
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    edited September 2014
    For your budget of $2,500, you can't really be too picky. Some six cylinders get better mpg than others for example. Some will be cheaper to insure than 4 cylinders. You might skip collision coverage anyway, unless you wind up financing a car and the bank requires it. It sounds like what you really are looking for is something cheap to own and operate. That gets us back full circle to the Corolla/Camry/Civics, although the Lexus sounds pretty good.

    Japanese cars are tested for cold weather and they'll do fine (I had a Toyota in Anchorage for 17 years). Depending on where you have to commute to though, I'd really try hard to take the bus or L for getting to work and save the car for the grocery runs. And Chicago has Zip Car, Uber, and other car sharing options so maybe you can get by without a car entirely. Guess it depends on just how far out in the burbs you'll be living.
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    Thanks @stever my friend is paying $50 for his 94 Honda Accord, he's almost like me , no driving history in Illinois. So I was hoping to pay that range:)

    Now there's another term I've learned and would like to ask if you don't mind, there's a cover option called `collision cover` and I have chance to skip? Is it really adds up much on insurance payments?

    Actually if I'm not gonna pay way more for Lexus insurance I would like to go for Lexus, on here there's so many good comments and people mentioning how reliable it is.

    Here in West Chicago, it's totally suburbs and there's not much going on due to middle and old age, rich citizens. I can maybe do groceries with my friend but I will definitely need a car for work. It will also boost my mood though. Sometimes I don't even wanna leave home for work and biking 5 miles while wind fighting against me :)
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    edited September 2014
    Collision coverage can help pay for car repairs if you get into an accident. The question is whether it's worth covering a car worth $2,500. I dropped coverage on my last minivan when the TMV on it fell below $4,000. Some people use a $5,000 rule of thumb, others just pay the collision no matter what.

    But if you get a $2,500 car, in six months it may be worth $1,750. If you total it, the insurance company will give you the market value and not fix the dents. $1,750 in other words, less the deductible - typically $500.

    It would be good to go ahead and try to get some insurance right now. If you can get a VIN on that Lexus, an agent can tell you what IL requires for coverage, what your options are and how much you can expect to pay .

    (And I understand - you're not really buying a car. You're buying freedom. :) I know the feeling).
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    I see, thanks @stever I will start to check insurance quotes, I'm thinking about to buy the car end of October and I better start now.

    Yes there's a VIN number on that Lexus, not sure what is VIN number exactly but it should be something to check, some ads have VIN number some don't.

    Frankly I'm waiting on one Honda Civic that my manager might sell to me according to his new job situation, otherwise I could take an action for that Lexus already. Hoping to buy this Civic because I know the owner, it has only 100k miles on it and the color is black :)
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    edited October 2014
    The VIN is just a serial number. Having that lets you look up the car's history on AutoCheck or CarFax and other similar sites, check for recalls, and the insurance agents like to have the VIN in order to give you an accurate quote.

    The Lexus will probably be gone while you wait on the Civic but that's okay. There'll be another three used cars that will catch your eye next week and three or four more the week after that.... :)
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    Thanks @stever , is there any chance to check VIN for free? I guess not, I remember I need to buy membership for those websites.

    Everyday I check that Lexus and it's still there :) Not sure if the car is still available but at least the ad there and will check anyway. I like that Lexus a lot and will consider other ads, this one just all black and that's what I want :)

  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    edited October 2014
    Smart sellers will provide you a Carfax or AutoCheck if you ask.

    The only free ones I know of are for recalls or stolen cars.

    NICB

    NHTSA

    Ah, a black car in Chicago. That'll be fun keeping clean. Well, black cars are fun to keep clean anywhere, lol.
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    Thanks for the tip @stever well, just checked after I post here and it has gone.. maybe ad expired maybe sold. I know, for first car and limited budget I Shouldn't look at interior or exterior but I really like that car :) It looks nice and also reliable, it was good combination.

    Don't know what's wrong with Illinois but all cars have rust here, one ad was saying `Florida car, no rust` I guess it's something with Illinois :)
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    edited October 2014
    I spent the last four years in Michigan up near Lake Superior and I was appalled at all the road salt they used. None of my cars rusted all that bad over 20 Anchorage winters but they rusted like crazy in Michigan. The best cars come from the high desert, like from New Mexico. B)
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    Will keep in mind @stever :)
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    How about comparison between same brand but different models. For instance, which one is better when we compare Civic and Accord from the point of reliability, fixing costs and gas saving?

    What about same comparison between Corolla and Camry? I focus on these 4 models but would like to know which one is better for me from these points?
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    You can play with the True Cost to Own calculator but it doesn't go back any earlier than 2009. Cars of that age will run around $8,000 and up. But it may give you some idea of the relative difference in costs of ownership. An '09 Corolla for example should be cheaper to own and operate than an '09 Camry.
  • taltraptaltrap Member Posts: 15
    edited October 2014
    I see, thanks @stever yeah unfortunately it does not going back earlier than 2009, my luck! :)

    You never mention Mazda's, never heard any recommendation about this brand from anyone either. how about that? Are they as good as Honda or Toyota? Especially I'm looking at Millenia and Protege since these 2 models on my price range.
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,457
    If you are under 35 and don't have your drivers' license because driving-related costs are too high for your budget at present, please email [email protected] before Monday, March 30. 2015 to be interviewed.
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