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frugal car buying ideas?

1487 Views 23 Replies 16 Participants Last post by  klondikesky
Ok, this is a little premature--I've got to learn to drive before I actually buy a car--but I want to start thinking about it now. I've relocated from NYC to Portland, OR, and it's really hard to live without a car here. Obviously, I've never bought a car before.

I'll need a reliable, reasonably fuel efficient, kid-friendly car for as little money as possible. (I'll continue to use mass transit and bike as much as I can.) I'm looking to do this in the next month or two, depending on how the driving lessons go. I need to get on the lack of a car is vastly complicating my job search (I'm a single mom, and I need to find a job soon!).

Anyone have any ideas or thoughts for me?
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Once you figure out what kind of car will fit your lifestyle then start looking online for reliability information. Then when you've narrowed it down to a few different kinds start studying what they are going for in your area, look at the options they have (power windows, cruise control, etc).

Study the prices for a few weeks or more if you have the time and then you'll have a good idea of what you should pay.

Also, very important, call and get quotes on insurance prices for the different kinds of cars you're interested in. The insurance rate for one car can be vastly different for another.

Best wishes on your lessons. Let us know how it goes!
This may sound like an incredibly naive response but I just recently got a new car and was so excited to go test drive and find one on my own without relying on DH but the salesman were rude and tried talking me into a bigger car then I needed. They also wouldn't come down on price. I went home frustrated and told DH what had happened. He went there the next day by himself and told him exactly what I had told the guy I needed and they treated him soo much better. Needless to say when I came back with my DH to purchase the car the salesman had his tail between his legs :LOL .
My advice would be to be wary of car salesman. See if you could find a nice car in the paper for sale and then skip the dealers commision. The car I bought is a 2002 Intrigue and I love it, I just wish I could have found the same car from a different car dealer.
-buy used
-look up the blue book value for the models you're looking at
-if you have to buy new for some reason, look up the invoice price and don't pay more than that
-don't take out a loan
My advice is:
always buy used
If you buy an older (5 years or older) vehicle, budget for repairs and try to get a domestic. they are cheaper to fix
Tell every friend and family member you know that you are looking for a good used car. We bought my grandma's car for the same amount as the dealership would have given her for a trade in. That was 1/3 of buying the same used car off the lot.
Thanks for all the replies. I'm sure I'll buy a used car, but unless someone virtually gives me a car, I'll have to take out a loan. I suppose it's possible to buy a car for $1000--I know people who've done it--but I somehow doubt that will happen to me. I know nothing about cars, and would probably end up with a car that cost a fortune to keep in repair, or never worked.

Boongirl, are these brokers commonplace? I've never seen one, how would I find one? Could you use one if you wanted to go on the cheap and buy a used car?
Buy from newspaper classifieds rather than a dealership to get the best price. I really really wouldn't take out a loan. Buy a cheap car now, save what you'd be spending on a loan, and if it dies you will have the money to fix it or upgrade.
I agree with srain. Buy used and absolutely do not take out a loan! You want to buy a car that you can afford to pay up front, otherwise you will most likely end up making payments for yrs, and after a lot of people finally finish the payments, they decide they need a new car and start all over again.
Consumer's Report's used car report is a very good book, it's like ten dollars though, I think. You could always go to Barnes and Noble and just look up a specific car and take notes, etc, so you don't have to buy it. I don't recommend a ford. We made the mistake of buying a '98 ford taurus and we've had soooo many problems. Honda and Toyota are pretty good, though.
My library has Consumer Reports books to check out.
Also has reviews and reliability reports on specific cars.
My mother doesn't fix her own car. She has a really high mileage Volvo and instead of having a car payment, she puts $100/mo into her repair fund and gets it fixed at a trusted mechanic whenever it breaks. Occasionally she asks my brother, a mechanic, to fix it. He is busy, and that can take months.
As it stands, her repair fund is always topped up and if she did have a different emergency, she could call on that $$ rather than stress about making her car payment.
One of the cars that consistently gets great reviews from critics and owners is a Honda Civic: low repair rates (unlike some domestics), very conservative fuel usage (which if high, can make the operating costs of a cheap car very, very expensive), and cheap to ensure because their safety rating is so good. Also, not in the top ten of stolen cars, which helps.

It is not unusual to see 10 year old Civics on the road still looking good.

Well, I think if I don't take out a loan, I don't buy a car right now. The reason I'm thinking I need a car now, as opposed to after saving enough money to buy one in cash, is that a lot of the jobs I see advertized here require that the applicant have a car. A few weeks ago, I turned down a job largely because the commute would have been ridiculous on mass transit, so that I'd have been out of the house 14-15 hours a a single mom with a young child, I couldn't do that. It's clear that having a car makes me more employable. I'm still hoping I get lucky soon and get a job where being able to drive isn't a requirement, but if my chances are better with a car, then it seems like it might be a good idea.

Thanks for all the info and links! I've got a lot of learning and thinking to do.
I had a Honda Civic that was 10 years old and agree that they're reliable cars. It needed only minor repairs every now and then. It got about 30 mpg. But it was totaled about a week ago so I too am starting the hunt for a new auto.
I get my reliability ratings here:
speciffically, here:

my prices here:
(There's Kelly's and NADA, one is used more for west coast, one more for east coast, I can't remember which is which, but I like the kbb web format.)

I look for classified ads & local prices here:

I have a personal bias for Saturns: reliable, safe, reasonably priced. Could probably get a decent mid-90's Saturn for under $2k.

(And I'm just so not into buying a hybrid bone-throw to environmentalists when they don't get much better gas milage than the Saturn I bought 10 years ago and the technology is there to do SO much better!)

Learn to drive a stick shift, it's empowering for one, but they're more reliable, less expensive to fix, better gas milage, and because there's fewer potential buyers, cheaper.

Have someone also teach you at least how to fix a flat, and check fluids, and maybe even change your oil and do your own tune-up.

When you first start up a car look at the exhaust--white indicates it's been sitting a while, condensation, probably not a problem; blue smoke, an oil leak, problem; dark grey and/or smell of fuel--probably just needs a tune up, could be bigger problem.

Check oil--two tone dipstick would indicate water in the oil if it's a really bad problem, better way to check, you can also look for oil in the water where your coolant is--big bad problem, stay away.

If oil is too dark it wasn't changed often enough, and the car in general may not have been well taken care of.

If an automatic, smell the transmission fluid, if it smells smoky that's another huge red flag to stay away.

If you learn how to do a tune-up, you might even ask the seller if they mind letting you pull a spark plug to look at it. (If someone does teach you to do a tune-up, notice the difference between the ones you're taking out and putting in.)

A lot of this stuff you can find in used-car buying books at the library. Also helps to know a little bit of terminology, especially when dealing with a dealership, so you can bluff that you know more than you do. I've been known to tke along a penis-owning friend just so I can see, comparitively, how they treat women.

There's also a way to look at the way the lines in the body line up to give you an idea if it's been in an accident before, but I don't know if I can explain it in writing. You might try one of those online sites to get the same info. Also a mechanic might look a car over for you for about $50 or so before you buy it.

I buy my cars at auctions and have had very good experiences with it, but I wouldn't reccomend it unless someone is both familiar with cars and how auction bidding works.

Good luck! (Oh, and from another northwesterner--look for water spots around doors and sunroof and take it through an intense car wash, "brushless" to make sure it won't be leaking on you come November.)
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Wow, Gendenwitha, thanks! I'm going to print your post and tack it up on my wall. It's a bit of a steep learning curve, isn't it? A "penis-owning friend"... :LOL I haven't got one of those here...I was going to enlist the help of my dad, but I would hesitate to refer to him that way... :LOL
Not too steep really. Checking fluids is easy, and if you can do that you can do most everything I listed. Gas stations in OR are mandatory full-service, so that will be easier on you, and fixing a flat is simple, you just don't want to learn on the side of the road in the dark!

And hey if you see a tall dark and handsome penis-owning type, what better pick up line than, would you be willing to look at this car with me? I love Portland for it being so easy to meet new people. People in Seattle are nice, but you sort of have to have someone introduce you, they look at you weird if you just strike up a conversation. That's why I like Olympia & Portland.

The other great thing about stick-shifts... just after I learned to drive one, I was being tailgated on the highway with no place to go by this little think-I'm-cool-with-my-4cyl-Honda-Civic SOB. I waited until I got to the bottom of a steep steep hill, slowed down to 35mph, him right on my bumper, then downshifted and I was back to 65 and GONE... meanwhile the jerk in the Civic was being tailgated and honked at all the way up that long hill at as he puttered his way up going about 40. :LOL
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Well, it is a steep learning curve for me, because I don't even know how to drive yet--my first lesson is this Thursday. I'm doing a package with 9 hours of instruction, and then I'll take it from there. As of right now, I sort of know that you turn the key to start the car, and I know which pedal is gas, and which pedal is the brake, and that there's another pedal down there somewhere on a manual transmission car...that's about it. It's hard for people outside NYC to understand how non-car-oriented a person can be...

I do know how to change a tire on a car. (I learned on the side of a road in the rain. Long story. At least it wasn't dark.) Checking oil and changing fluids is sort of a how-hard-can-it-be thing. My dad and my sister both drive stick shift cars, and I do want to learn myself.

I haven't really been in the market for tall, dark penis-owners--haven't got the time to think about that lately--but I do take your point.
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I would never buy new! We have been very happy with our 80's volvo wagons. They are safe and have been running well for over five years(they both costed under $5000).
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If you must take out a loan to buy a car, try to take out as small as one as possible, and make as big of payments as you can possibly afford. Interest rates will rape you. It's better to have the car all paid off though because then you don't have to worry about repo if you hit a rough patch and can't afford the payments. And you don't want to be in debt all your life, either. It sucks.
your local library should have consumers reports. there's usually a car edition -- a whole magazine devoted to cars. they rate each make/model/year based on a variety of criteria.

we are true honda owners here....when we save enough $$ we 'll be looking for another used one.
Hi there!
i would quitely advise if you are able to get someone who will teach you Stick shift FIRST. it is a little more complicated, but once you learn stick, driving a automatic is something you won't even have to learn, 'tho if you're anything like me you will sooo love the feeling of control/gas savings of driving a stick that you won't want an automatic at all. besides, as the OP quoted a stick can out maneuver/out accelerate most other things on the road. I would put in my vote for an older Toyota or Volvo (I'm an old volkswagen enthusiast,but I hesitate to reccomend one for a person who doesnt have fix-it ability or a topnoch mechanic). The great thing about Volvo's is they are sooo safety concious that even an older one is going to be safer on the road that a lot of newer cars. That being said, I currently have a 1984 Toyota Corolla that is an AWESOME car. We inherited it, and it was driven from Cali to Chicago on a regular basis. it has over 190,000 miles and runs like a champ. Yeah, it's not pretty but it has NEVER broken down, gets great gas milage, and is super cheap to fix because parts are everywhere for it. I LAUGH hysterically sometimes when we pass newer/fancier SUV's on the road that are broken down, but I try not to because it's not a nice thing to do.
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