Latest Reader Question: $3k Hooptie for Nephew (May 17, 2018)

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Duane asks: I’d like to get a used car for my 20 year-old nephew. I want to pay cash and buy from a private owner. My budget is about $3K. Any suggestions for years and models?

My reply: I’d focus on condition, first of all – and above all.

While it’s certainly true that some makes and models are better-built (and have a better record for being durable and reliable) than others, it’s also true that even the best-built car can be transformed into an unreliable money pit via abuse. Which includes neglect, especially of necessary maintenance.

I’d also focus on categories of cars that probably led quiet lives – such as economy and family sedans. The more vanilla – the more Old Lady – the better.

I would shy away from coupes, anything “sporty” – anything a normal 20-year-old would lust after.

Also, simpler is better.

With only $3k to spend, you’ll be looking at high-miles/older cars. Avoid high-miles cars with turbochargers or anything similar.

As far as some specific recommends: It is hard to go wrong with a Toyota Corolla or Camry, especially one with the standard four cylinder engine (I’d avoid the V6, not because it’s a bad engine, but because it’s too much engine for a 20-year-old; he’ll pay more to insure it and he’ll probably be paying for tickets as a result of driving it).

These things routinely go 250,000-plus miles without major work and still have years of life left in them.

Honda Civics and Accords are also good choices for the same reason – with the same caveat as regards the V6 version of the Accord (and the Si, coupe/sporty versions of the Civic).

You might also give some though to an early 2000s compact pick-up like the Nissan Frontier, especially a 2WD version with the four cylinder engine and manual transmission. These are tough little buggers, easy to work on and very reliable.

Or – and the kid may like this idea – a nice older boat such as a Crown Vic or its luxury-badged cousin, the Town Car. There is a reason why the Vic has been (well, was) the preferred car of cops and taxi drivers.

The main thing, though, is to keep your ear to the ground and wait for the right car (or truck) to come around – which might a make/model you didn’t even think of. Good used cars come in all different forms.

Let your friends, co-workers and others know you are looking for a solid – and cheap – used car. Scan Craigs List ads every day and be ready to pounce once you find a contender.

Take it on a thorough test drive. Ask for maintenance/service records. If there aren’t any, assume it wasn’t maintained/serviced decently.

Have a look at my book, Don’t Get Taken for a Ride – which gets into this stuff in detail. You can download it here.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. The wife is watching an old movie yesterday and the first car I see is a mid 90s Mercedes station wagon in a washed out orange color I can’t imagine anyone liking, sounded like hell starting but it was a 300.
    Next car is a new 96 Buick station wagon in that blue they had that was so pretty. Damn that was a nice car and made me want one all over again.
    Black the windows, lay down the back seats for Cholley Jack and hit the road.


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