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Looking for Advice on What Used Car to Buy on a Super-tight Budget

guyinnohoguyinnoho MassachusettsPosts: 3
edited August 2016 in Nissan
I'm a college adjunct on a really stiff budget. I just realized I need a car for commuting to work once a week this fall, and possibly more frequent commuting in the spring and beyond. My commute will be 40 miles round trip. I live in Massachusetts, so winter driving will be something I'll have to deal with.

I'm approved for financing up to $3k, but I'd like to go as cheap as possible while retaining some reliability.

My three current options are:

* A 2000 Nissan Altima with ~ 128k miles on the odometer for $1500. Here is the carfax report.

* A 2005 Nissan Altima with ~165k miles for $2200. Carfax.

* A 1999 Toyota Camry with ~160k miles for $2300. Carfax.

I've been leaning to the 2000 Altima, mainly because of price and mileage. I figure the extra $700-800 I save on it can be set aside for any repairs that come up in the short term. (For starters I think I would need a few new tires put on it.)

But, on the other hand, I don't want to be stranded on the side of the road any time soon, so the Camry is also pretty attractive, despite the price jump.

I'm less inclined toward the 05 Altima, since a test drive revealed it will definitely need brake work, and the suspension is pretty brutal---evidence, it seems, that it's been driven hard and not taken very good care of, and that I'll probably have to sink more money into it right away (though the dealer says he'll take care of the brakes for me). But then again, it has the most pickup, it's the one that's nicest on the inside, and perhaps replacing the brakes and shocks/struts wouldn't be a big deal.

Any thoughts?

Answers

  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 26,091
    From what I recall, the 2.5 Altima has a fatal flaw in the catalytic whereupon it can fall apart and fire shrapnel into the engine. So I'd avoid that. Honestly, from those choices, I'd probably go with the Camry if it checks out. And, hey, nobody says you have to pay asking price. My standy suggestion for anyone looking for a cheap reliable car is to look for a 2002 and up Mazda Protege. 

    '10 Equinox LS; '08 Charger R/T Daytona; '67 Coronet R/T; '14 Town&Country Limited; '18 BMW X2. 49-car history and counting!

  • stickguystickguy Posts: 33,292
    my rule of thumb is to get the one in the best condition, with the fewest needs. at this age/mileage, everything is a risk. At least you are not looking to put excessive miles on it, so the Camry is probably not a big risk for a couple of years.

    the 2000 Altima, if clean, certainly is cheap.

    just keep in mind that any car in this range is likely to need something. so keep reserves for that. at least if you know the car does not need brakes or tires, those are 2 fairly pricey things out of the way. Having the suspension checked for obvious problems can save headaches too.

    2019 Acura TLX A-spec 4 cyl. (mine), and 2013 Acura RDX AWD (wife's)

  • suydamsuydam Posts: 4,110
    Have any car checked over by a reliable mechanic first. Once we found a great car for my college son -- but mechanic check showed leaking CV boots. I wouldn't have found that. And as it was being sold at a dealer lot, they fixed it and sold to me at the original price. If the 2000 Nissan checks out I'd get it. That was a pretty good year for that vehicle.
    Having once sold a '99 Camry with 160k on it, it's probably likely to need some repairs coming up. However, that car did make a cross country drive after we sold it and it did fine. Again, check it out.
    '14 Buick Encore Convenience
    '17 Chevy Volt Premiere
  • guyinnohoguyinnoho MassachusettsPosts: 3
    qbrozen said:

    From what I recall, the 2.5 Altima has a fatal flaw in the catalytic whereupon it can fall apart and fire shrapnel into the engine. So I'd avoid that. Honestly, from those choices, I'd probably go with the Camry if it checks out. And, hey, nobody says you have to pay asking price. My standy suggestion for anyone looking for a cheap reliable car is to look for a 2002 and up Mazda Protege. 

    Thanks! Good to know that about the 2.5. I'll almost certainly not go with that one. It's really between the 2000 Altima and the Camry. Lots of folks advising me to go with the Camry, but the guy who's got it currently has no tags to put on it, and he's uncomfortable with me driving it without tags to go get a PPI. I'm going to check out the 2000 Altima tomorrow in the shop of the guy who has it; I'll probably also be able to take it to another mechanic in the afternoon to get a second opinion. If that one checks out, I'll probably go with it, unless the dude with the Camry can find a plate for his car.
  • stickguystickguy Posts: 33,292
    having swum in the cheap car pool at times, I would be shocked if the 2000 Altima, if it is solid, will last long at that price. Heck, these days, anything that moves under it's own power should get snapped up at that price.

    2019 Acura TLX A-spec 4 cyl. (mine), and 2013 Acura RDX AWD (wife's)

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,490
    No PPI, no sale. The seller should make it easier, not harder.
  • guyinnohoguyinnoho MassachusettsPosts: 3
    edited August 2016

    No PPI, no sale. The seller should make it easier, not harder.

    Thanks, yes, it makes me a bit suspicious that he's being kind of unaccommodating, despite the fact that the Camry's carfax are solid.

    There are two other things about the Camry that are a little worrisome to me: (1) It needs a windshield replacement, so that adds to cost; probably also needs new brake pads (judging from the test drive where braking was very slightly chuggy). (2) The guy said it's under warranty (in response to my request to get a PPI) but I'm not sure what he means, because the Carfax say it's no longer under the original warranty. Maybe there's an extended warranty on it?

    The guy with the 2000 Altima, on the other hand, invited me to come check out the car in his garage with his mechanics.
  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 26,091
    Camry sounds worse and worse. 160k miles with a warranty? He needs to prove that one. I would be surprised if that is true. And a windshield is far from cheap.

    '10 Equinox LS; '08 Charger R/T Daytona; '67 Coronet R/T; '14 Town&Country Limited; '18 BMW X2. 49-car history and counting!

  • suydamsuydam Posts: 4,110
    Go for the Altima. The Camry owner should fix the brake pads and windshield to sell. Or at least take off the price of those repairs.
    '14 Buick Encore Convenience
    '17 Chevy Volt Premiere
  • stickguystickguy Posts: 33,292
    yeah, the $1.500 Altima sounds like 1st choice. Plenty of cash left to cover a few repairs.

    2019 Acura TLX A-spec 4 cyl. (mine), and 2013 Acura RDX AWD (wife's)

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,490
    A $2300 Camry that needs brakes and windshield is actually a $3000 car. I'd rather see you spend the money on a car that needs little or nothing---but of course, that might cost you more than a $1500 Altima.

    Every old used car is going to need something--what you don't want is nasty surprises. The PPI gives you a good heads up in this regard, allowing you not only to budget for needed repairs, but also to possibly bargain down the price on the used car.

    The seller shouldn't be burdened with someone's expectations of a perfect car in this price range, but the seller should be cooperative and have nothing to hide.
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