Use Vehicle Shopping: <$7K sedan/wagon that is reliable + easy to fix

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Nov 22, 2020
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Toyota cars are boringly reliable and appliance-like. But that's a good thing, IMO.

Toyota 4 banger engines are about as easy to work on as anything out there and last a long time. Avoid anything v6 with FWD/AWD, which is way more of a **** to work on. Not so bad in RWD vehicles as the right bank isn't against a fire wall.

Honda has had some problems with their trannies in some models and years, so keep that in mind when choosing a Honda model and year and research it out.
 
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Toyota cars are boringly reliable and appliance-like. But that's a good thing, IMO.

Toyota 4 banger engines are about as easy to work on as anything out there and last a long time. Avoid anything v6 with FWD/AWD, which is way more of a **** to work on. Not so bad in RWD vehicles as the right bank isn't against a fire wall.

Honda has had some problems with their trannies in some models and years, so keep that in mind when choosing a Honda model and year and research it out.

Add to that try to avoid anything with a turbo, especially in northern areas with short trips
 
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A thought - Volvo.

I have had a lot of Lexus and Toyota vehicles and enjoyed them. I wanted a ski car last year and after a lot of searching (BMW, Mercedes, Audi), I went with a P2 Volvo XC. Love it. I ruled most of the above contenders out after researching known faults, maintenance issues, etc. After I learned how easy the Volvos were to work on, good quality, pleasure to drive, I bought two more since then for self and family. They have Toyota (Aisin) transmissions and the turbo I-5 engine is reliable, fun, economical. 2004+ models.
 
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Some of the years of Honda had a bad design of the heater core with a lining that came off and clogged it. There is a fix using a big bucket of hot CRL pumped through the heater core for 4 to 6 hours, that does fix that problem without removing or replacing the heater core. I do not remember what years and models. If you get a dealer to fix this it is expensive because of the number of hours involved.

Also there were some years of Honda that had a bad design of some components in the AC. I think some years had bad compressors. And some years had a bad plastic screen and or orifice that the plastic deteriorated and contaminated the system. I do not remember what years and what models.

Subaru also had some bad years for AC that were known for breaking year after year and each fix was very expensive.

Changing CVT fluid on a Honda is very simple to do, it should be done every 30 K miles. So is the rear end fluid if it is an AWD, that should be done every 15 K miles. ONLY USE HONDA FLUIDS. NEVER ANY OTHER BRAND. There are plenty of YouTube videos on how to do them. You can get the fluids at lower price than a dealer from online Honda part stores.
 
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I’ll second the used Volvo suggestion. I’ve had 3. the experiences were similar with all of them. Namely, they do develop niggling issues that owners don’t fix due to dealer cost, then get irritated and sell them. As the new owner, I spent a bit of time having to figure out how to ”learn Volvo.“. but after that, found them easier to work on than Honda and Toyota, surprisingly. And they then reward you with wonderful ergonomics, a great ride and good mpg. They need more care than a Japanese brand, but less than a domestic. Materials and fit and finish is generally above the norm. Avoid the I6 vehicles, as the engine is known to overstress the transmission. A 2005-2009 s60 is a great car if you can find one with low enough miles, with either NA or turbo engine. The gen 2 s60 is probably reaching that price, but the early gen 2s can encounter oil consumption issues with the rings until about 2014. I’d be wary with that range. I’d have no issue with the smaller 5cyl XC suvs, even though they’ll be a little slow. Again, there will be some learning curve with them, just getting used to them, and you’d want to figure out the health of the pcv system, the main Volvo quirk for that era.
 
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Toyota, Honda or Mazda

keep in your mind Toyota and Honda you'll be paying premium for these on used market; However, Mazda is affordable on the used market
also if you look at Mazda, Mazda6 is normally made in USA while Mazda3 is normally made in Japan; Generally, "Made in Japan" is still most reliable vehicle out there
 
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both of my vehicles might fit o.p.’s bill. though i’m no backyard mechanic, they are simple base models and have given me no trouble.

2013 vw passat s. 2.5 liter naturally aspirated five cylinder, 6 speed a.t. very roomy. no electronic gizmos, nannies or gremlins to worry about. in usa resale value is the pits making passats a cheap buy. i suspect that the older 2.5 jetta is almost the same value proposition.

2014 toyota yaris l. 1.5 liter n.a. 4 cylinder, 4 sp a.t., a reliable powertrain that has been around forever all over the world. very airy and spacious inside for a small exterior footprint. simplicity in the extreme, even crank windows. this model is the original toyota yaris, not the rebadged mazda2.

as priced here in america, kia rio sedan subcompacts might also be worth a look. if i hadn’t found my yaris at hertz car sales, a rio was next on my list.
 
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Pennsylvania
The vehicles currently on my list are as follows. Feel free to critique, add to the list, or comment on what years to avoid:
Chevrolet: Cruze, Malibu
Ford: Focus, Fusion, Escape
Honda: Civic, Accord, Fit
Hyundai: Elantra/Sonata
Kia: Optima, Forte
Mazda: 3, 6
Nissan: Sentra, Altima, Maxima (as long as they don't have a CVT)
Toyota: Corolla, Camry, Matrix
Volkswagen: Jetta, Golf
Are you in an area with lots of road salt/rust? If so, I would be cautious because several of those models are known to rust out. The Mazda 3 and Ford Escape come to mind if they are old enough models.

I had a first generation 2014 Cruze LT 1.4 turbo for 5 years and 50k miles, it was a pretty good car for me. My biggest complaints were poor HVAC performance and visibility. It would take forever to heat up in the winter, and the AC simply could not keep up above 80 degrees. I never did anything to it other than tires and front brakes. The second generation Cruze solved most of these complaints and is a lot more reliable. I would avoid any 2011 or 2012 model year Cruzes because they were the most problematic.

A family member of mine has a 2010 Malibu with the 2.4. It's been a very reliable car. The only problems that come to mind in the 11 years are the rear brake calipers needed replaced, the turn signal switch, and one of the variable valve timing solenoids needed replaced. It's a very easy car to work on. The only major issues to be aware of are with the 3-5-R waveplate in the 6 speed transmission. There was a bad batch of some of them and if the part fails, the car will need a transmission rebuild/replacement.

That being said, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend a Gen 2 Cruze or any Malibu from 2009 and up. I'm not commenting on any other vehicles since I don't have any experience with them.
 
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I think all the 4 cyl fords listed have mazda engines which aren't the easiest to work on. You have to take some pieces off the alternator to install it from below on my car. Thermostat is changed through the right headlight, fun stuff like that!
I think the $7k mark is hard place to buy, a bit more and you can get decent little cars with factory drivetrain warranty left on them, or you are getting into pretty old honda/toyota that have high enough mileage to start needing struts and suspension, brakes, wheel bearings etc... I went with the $2k 200k focus knowing I'd need replace alot of stuff(I had a bunch of nearly new parts from my previous focus of similar mileage) and I have.
There's a 2016 Mazda3 for $10k with 80k near me from the mazda dealer with fresh brakes. Something like that is hard to beat for convenience of little repair for years and cost per mile in the long run, and its a nice car.
 

dishdude

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If this were my budget, I'd be looking at 4 cyl versions of the 2008-2012 Malibu, 2010-2012 Fusion or any year 200.

Honda/Toyota are way overpriced for what you get at this price point.
 
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How are the 2000-2004(ish) Volvo V70's? I have fond memories of my Jetta Wagon, wouldn't mind another but the doors were always hard to open and eventually the rear axle took a bend to it. In a few years I'd like to move back to a wagon I think.
 
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Find a 2004-07 Saturn Vue with the Honda V6, preferably from a southern state. Body will never rust. Available with AWD. Up to 30 mpg. Plenty of nice examples in the $2-3K range.
 
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Find a 2004-07 Saturn Vue with the Honda V6, preferably from a southern state. Body will never rust. Available with AWD. Up to 30 mpg. Plenty of nice examples in the $2-3K range.
30mpg in a Vue? I recall I4's getting 26mpg, the V6's less, and AWD the typical 1mpg penalty on top of that.

Plus the Honda mill will need a timing belt, just to round out the typical kvetching about maintenance.
 
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Nissan is more difficult? I think in the higher end models but they have some extremely basic cars/trucks too that are easy, cheap and reliable.
See you have the same Juke that I do... have had it going on 7.5 yrs, just hit 80K and it still performs and looks like new. Great car for what it was designed to be no doubt.
 
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I got 30 mpg in a FWD V6 Vue. Thing only weighs 3600 pounds which is nearly 800 less than an Explorer, Very tall gearing with 1,600 rpm at 60 mph. Would not be a bit surprised if the strained I4 got less mpg in identical driving.
 
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Jul 24, 2011
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Fusion with a 2.5. Reliable platform, about as easy as any modern car to work on and parts readily available because it is such a common vehicle.
 
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My Mazda 5 has no rust and it is a 2012 made in Japan. They use salt here in Kentucky. Ours has 127K on it now and we have had it for 5 years. It is roomy and everyone that I have spoken to that has one just loves them. The bottom cover under the motor has access to the drain plug and the oil filter without removing the cover. That is my kind of engineering. Later Mazdas have no rust problem.
 

nobb

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Plus the Honda mill will need a timing belt, just to round out the typical kvetching about maintenance.

I'm a bit conflicted on the timing belt vs chain thing. I'm not adverse to doing timing belts as long as it's easy to get at without special tools and it's a non interference engine.

Obviously lower maintenance like a chain is always better, but at the mileage I'm looking for I also hope to be able to run the vehicle to 300,000 kms with minimal drama so there's always a small chance of the water pump eventually going out. Having that easily accessible is beneficial so none of that internal water pump BS. But with a small transverse engine I'm guessing that's not usually the case. The easiest water pump I've done was on a Ford 3.0 Vulcan driven by the drive belt. So simple.
 
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