In a tight economy, previously owned cars can be a godsend to your bank account. Here are great deals on late-model winners
CASEY WILLIAMS | Auto Reviewer
I get it: The economy stinks. We all feel pain at the pump and wonder how we’re going to pay all of the bills. But we still need to get where we’re going.
Many of us may soon be shopping for a late model car that should be dependable and hold up over what will surely be a plethora of miles. What to do? Just for conversation’s sake, let’s look for cars that are less than four years old, have less than 30,000 miles, and cost under $15,000. That should put us on the right road.
A quick trip to Cars.com summons a long list of vehicles that fit the above criteria. Boring is definitely on the menu, and that’s OK. Some sporty cars pop up, too. Don’t expect to find many Toyotas and Hondas —everybody on the planet knows they hold up well over time. But there are many great cars that people may overlook.
For instance, Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura sedans are available by the dozens with prices under $15K. A 2007 Aura with 24,000 miles was listed for $14,999; a 2008 G6 with 29,000 miles went for a flat 15 thou, while a two-year older G6 with 16,000 miles was priced at $14,999.
The G6 and Aura are essentially the same vehicle as the current Malibu, look sporty, and get decent gas mileage. If you want something larger, a Chevy Impala is not exciting, but is a well-made car with 25,000 miles and $14,995 price. It achieves around 30-MPG Hwy.
There are a couple of Corollas I could highly recommend. A 2009 Corolla S with 18,978 miles was offered for $14,995, as was a 2010 with 23,500 miles. Here’s a secret for those who really want Corolla but can’t find one: The Pontiac Vibe was essentially a clone of the Corolla-based Toyota Matrix. Being a Pontiac, people don’t always know the lineage. A 2009 Vibe listed for $15K with only 26,000 miles is a great compromise; it also gets very good mileage and has tons of interior space.
Don’t overlook Korean cars. Hyundai and Kia both offer 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranties. While not as exciting as the current Sonata, a 2007 edition with 25,000 miles was listed for $13,988. A 2009 Sonata with 23,610 miles went for $14,988, while a 2010 Hyundai Accent and Elantra were listed for $14,995 with about 25,000 miles. I’d have no hesitation buying any of these.
If a sedan is not your thing, hang tough. I found a 2007 Pontiac Solstice roadster with 17,000 miles for $14,995. A 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse GS, with the four-cylinder engine and 22,000 miles, was listed for $13,700. A Subaru Impreza with AWD hit the page with 23,495 miles and $14,995.
If fuel cost doesn’t matter, buying an SUV or pick-up truck can be bargains. Trucks last forever, are simple to maintain and are dropping in price. Choose a V6 instead of the up-level V8 to save money and fuel; or go for a baby crossover like the Nissan Cube, Kia Soul or Scion xB to get below $15,000 with 20,000 miles. My best friend bought a pre-owned xB and loves it.
Those cars are built by world-class manufacturers, get great gas mileage, and have cavernous interiors: All prime attributes for a used car on a budget.
Your search for a good used car should start by visiting a website like Cars.com or Edmunds.com. That will give you a good idea of prices, typical mileage and available vehicles in your area. (I have issues with Consumer Reports’ testing procedures, but the publication provides another data point.) Check owner reviews on the search sites above to get real-world feedback.
Given that, keep a few guidelines in mind:
• Go for the base engine. It may not be as sexy, but will cost less up front and generally turns in better fuel economy.
• Discontinued brands like Pontiac, Saturn and Mercury offer great used cars that can be serviced indefinitely by their manufacturers.
• Hyundai and Kia offer 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranties – great peace of mind as the miles pile on.
• Boring sedans can be great used car values. So can sports cars, but they are harder to find.
• Pickups last forever and are cheap to own. Keep in mind high fuel consumption.
• The baby cubes from Scion, Nissan and Kia, pictured, offer a lot of bang for the buck.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.