1st Car Suggestions

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Jun 30, 2004
Speedway, IN
I've been given the assignment of finding a 1st car for my 18 year old step daughter who's about to start college (local). She tells me she has $3k to spend, but I don't want to go that high because I want her to save some as a cushion for those unexpected repairs. So I'm looking in the $2000-$2500 range. I'd like to get an idea on what some of you would suggest to go for in that range. I'm more concerned with something that has an engine with a solid reputation for being good, if not bullet proof. I know for the money I've got to play with, I'm probably looking at something in the mid-upper 100K's for miles. I know mid-late 90's Cavaliers would be in the price range, but I've heard those engines have had some issues with head gaskets and other internal things. Is the GM 3.1 from the mid-90's considered respectable? I had thought about Berettas or Luminas with that. OK, fire away!
I'll just recommend looking for a well-maintained private sale from someone who's owned the vehicle for awhile. That would be the number one priority for me before worrying about the exact make and model. I don't too many specifics about those engines. My old roommate needed a head gasket on his early-90's Corsica with a 3.1 (100K miles). A friend's mid-90's Cavalier had 200K miles on the 2.2 without major repairs that I know of. The 2.4 in my mother's '99 Sunfire GT has been good, and is at 100K miles.
Maybe a 90's model jeep ? The 4.0's are as bullet proof as they come. Just have to watch the rear main seal and make sure that the trans is workin good.
The 96+ Saturns are quite reliable and easy to work on. 96-97 models can be had for less than $3K.
Do her a favor and get a car with a manual transmission.. part of the reason why >90% of the drivers on the road are idiots is because they never have had to drive a manual transmission... they just know to mash the go pedal and get moving as fast as they can. MT removes a number of potential 'bad actors' from the driveline, and operating econmies should be realized too. IMO, a later model cavalier would be a good deal - they can be had for little money and are half decent. You could also consider any domestic or foreign econo car... A number of friends started with Saturn cars, and were very satisfied. That is surely a good place to start looking.. Maybe you could find an L200 (bigger than an econobox, but available with MT IIRC) that is a good deal. Or, look for a MT 2.0L plymouth breeze. If the headgasket was repaired at some point, it should be pretty good as faras any car can go... my mother still loves hers (which is an AT no less) at >90k, and has had no issuesand lots of economical driving. Remember, a lot of domestic makes have so little resale value that you can surely find something half decent for little more than scrap metal value. IMO, 4 cyl and MT is the optimal setup. JMH
I agree about the 4 cylinders and the manual tranny. But more importantly, get her really involved in the selection process to ensure she values it. Pride of ownership goes much further than reliability statistics. A defensive/performance driving course is money well spent in keeping a young driver alive (and it could be a LOT of fun for both of you).
I have to go along with the above. My daughter did fairly well with a 90 Beretta, 5 speed and Tech 4 about 10 years ago when she was in school. She had to have a car because she was doing an engineering coop and had to commute to work every other semester. Unless well cared for, automatics don't age well. Also stay away from electric this, and power that. Since you are in the salt belt, go domestic. Especially GM seems to have the rust problem well in hand. Domestic largely bypasses big dollar timing belt replacements too. And forget a Jeep or any other gas guzzler. You would have to be insane the way gas prices are going. In bad weather, school will be closed.
On average, most women hate manual transmissions so get her an automatic. Not much to work with for your price range. You will only find vehicles with high mileage. I would forget the car dealers and try to buy privately. You might be able to find a Chevy or a Ford with a V6 privately for that price range. Honestly, those with older vehicles who are selling privately that have bought a new vehicle do it because they were offered a ridiculous amount of money to trade it in. The only ones that accept these low trade-ins are those who are getting something else due to mechanical problems or idiots. You might be able to find a 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix (maybe even a GTP) in your price range privately. Maybe even a nice Ford Mustang V-6. At any rate, be sure you get a car with a working air bag and nice tires.
I bought a 94 Geo Metro five years ago and I'm happy with it. Our whole family runs them... my mom has a Suzuki Swift and my dad has a Pontiac Firefly. [Eek!] No major repair bills other than timing belt change and a couple brake replacements. Good gas mileage too, of course.
Get a $500 cutlass ciera with the 3.3. Last made in 1993. Destroked 3.8. AFAIK the 3.1 up to 95 was good then something went to pot in 96 when it became the 3100. Apparantly quality slipped on the 3800 starting in 95 with the dreaded intake manifold gasket issue as well. Ask me how I know. [Frown] I managed to wrangle a (later, defective) 99 bonneville for my brother in law within your budget. If you have the typical parent/kid relationship of you pay for everything but gas, and the kid buys the gas, I think a guzzler like a cherokee is a great idea. This will keep wear and tear and road trips down. [Smile] Besides insurance will eclipse gas prices so much it might make sense to get, say, an older grand marquis.
Unless you can pick a 3.1 GM V6 that has repair slips that show a good repair for the intake gasket in 2003 or later - you'll spend her $1000 repair reserve but then have a nice car.
Look for a private sale single owner car with hopefully maintenance records. At this price range I don't think you can be too specific as you will limit your search severely. The goal is to find the gem in a sea of duds.
Originally posted by eljefino: AFAIK the 3.1 up to 95 was good then something went to pot in 96 when it became the 3100.
No that's wrong..the 3.1 was defective from its introduction (I think 91) un til 2003. I speak from experience. I had a 92 and 94 Corsica. Both had the infamous intake manifold leak. Stay away from all 6 cyl GMC;s before 2003 except perhaps for the 3800.
Avoid dealers and used car lots,you pay TWICE as much and the dealer cars always have some problem that the original owner traded the car for. There are some consignment lots in every major metropolitan owner where the car is still owned by the owner and the lot takes the first $500. You bargain for price with the owner of the car, not the owner of the lot. These can be good deals.
The usual suspects: Civic, Sentra, Corolla, even the Escort. Like previously posted, go with a private owner that has either had it the whole time or can document its whereabouts prior to them. Another thing to think about is model year. Try to find a car that wasn't in its first year after a re-design. You'd be surprised how much that still matters, especially with all the electronics cars have these days. She may have her eyes on VW because they're popular and aesthetically pleasing. They may cost you a fortune though.
Chevy Prizm is the way to go. Pretty much bulletproof and they hold no resale value. Easy car to drive and there are parts available everywhere.
Originally posted by WOOCHOW: Chevy Prizm is the way to go. Pretty much bulletproof and they hold no resale value. Easy car to drive and there are parts available everywhere.
That is a sleeper I had in mind. Basically buying a Corolla without paying Corolla prices. Were there any sludge issues with any of those engines?? I'd probably be looking at the mid-90's model years.
Early 90's model Volvo 240: The very definition of bulletproof. Easy to drive and safe, which is important for young drivers. Also very easy to work on.
Originally posted by White850T5: Early 90's model Volvo 240: The very definition of bulletproof. Easy to drive and safe, which is important for young drivers. Also very easy to work on.
That or I was going to reccomend an early 80's MB diesel - big, VERY economical, no computers, and one of them definitely saved my life... A lot of people have reservations and stereotypes about the costs of maintaining these cars. One of my best friends has a 91 240 wagon, and other than a bit low MPGs, he LOVES it! JMH
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