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Old 10-07-2012, 12:07 PM   #1
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Buying a car in the spring, ideas?

Wife has finally relented and will let me purchase a cheap economical car for around town driving. I think I'll be able to spend up to $4000 but if I can spend $1500-$2000 I would be more comfortable knowing I could afford to fix major problems if they came up soon after purchase. My short list of vehicles to look for between now and then:

2003-2005 Honda Civic Hybrid, 1.3L/5-speed (or CVT)
1996-2002 Saturn S-Series SL/SL1 sedan, 1.9L/5-speed
1997-2001 Mitsubishi Mirage DE sedan, 1.5L/5-speed
2001-2005 Honda Civic DX/LX sedan, 1.7L/5-speed
2003-2005 Toyota Corolla CE/LE sedan, 1.8L/5-speed
2001-2002 Toyota Corolla/Chevy Prizm sedan, 1.8L/5-speed (VVTi)
1995-1999 Nissan Sentra sedan, 1.6L/5-speed
1999-2001 VW Golf/Jetta Mk4, 1.9L TDI/5-speed

I'm also considering financing an even more economical vehicle and here's my short(er) list for cars I'd be willing to make payments on:

2010-2012 Ford Fusion, Hybrid, CVT
2006-2010 Honda Civic, Hybrid, CVT
2002-2006 VW Golf/Jetta Mk4, TDI, stick
2009-2013 VW Jetta SportWagon, TDI, stick or auto
2004-2005 VW Passat, TDI, stick
2006-2008 Corollas and 2006-2008ish Civic DX/LXs

I'm also considering some 2-door vehicles mostly because they're cheaper when I can find them. These would be along the same lines as above, Mirage coupes, Civic DX-LX-HX coupes, Nissan 200SX, 3-door Golfs, and I would add in the 2003-2005 Cavalier/Sunfire value package coupes not just because they get 36-37mpg highway but also because they're always dirt cheap and plentiful. I suppose the 2003-2005 Neon SE/SXT 5-speeds and Ford Focus 2.0L/5-speeds would fit into this line of thinking as well. For the newer vehicles there is always the XFE Cobalts in coupes or sedans, I think those were available 2009-2010 but maybe 2008 as well. I was highly impressed with a regular automatic 2008 Cobalt in 2009 I rented for a couple months and I was able to average 32-33mpg without trying hard, imagine if I put some effort into it and made it a standard transmission?

So the question is, and I know I'm rambling and the post is teal and full of deer, but the question is how much is it worth to spend a little more to get a better car? If I can get a good 2003-2005 Civic Hybrid which will deliver 35mpg plus even on a bad battery and up to 52mpg otherwise for $3500-$4000, or I can finance a TDI Jetta 5-speed for twice the price which will fall into that 35-50mpg bubble, is it just diminishing returns to try and go for the VW? Should I avoid a hybrid or diesel altogether and stick to a small gas engined car, and I'd lean towards the Sentra or Mirage because they're not common like the Civics and Corollas?

Of the Civic Hybrid owners here, I've read a lot of reviews saying that at least they get regular Civic mileage if the battery goes down. If the battery is gone, that's a $3100 fix. My understanding is if the IMA goes down, you can't still drive it, but what about this, can you take the used battery OUT to save weight if you don't plan to have a new one installed? Sounds like an idea to get back towards 40mpg without the $3K cost of a new battery.
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Old 10-07-2012, 02:27 PM   #2
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Of the vehicles you listed, I like the Fusion hybrid best. Its based on the same technology and components that are in my Escape hybrid. Nice package, and its proven to be durable and reliable for well over 300,000 miles in taxi fleets.
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Old 10-15-2012, 11:45 AM   #3
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If I could find one, I'd definitely take an ex-NYC taxi Escape Hybrid...
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Old 10-15-2012, 05:14 PM   #4
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the chevy branded toyota corolla also known as a prizm is a great choice...btw that VVTi went back to the 2000 model year.

looks like you're looking for 4 doors, which i fancy. please dont forget about the 96-2000 civics...one of THE most reliable cars ever made...since you did mention other makes and models of the mid to late 90s.
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Old 10-15-2012, 05:26 PM   #5
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I am trying to avoid the "tuner" cars. EK Civics are high on that list and a lot of them are either modded past the point of saving or have been driven very hard. The Corollas and Prizms aren't such a bad choice. And not so many people mess around with the 01-05 Civic sedans. 96-00 Civic sedans don't seem to be left alone by the import tuner crowd. It would have to be bone stock and well kept and I just don't see many of those anymore.
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Old 10-16-2012, 08:44 AM   #6
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I am trying to avoid the "tuner" cars. EK Civics are high on that list and a lot of them are either modded past the point of saving or have been driven very hard. The Corollas and Prizms aren't such a bad choice. And not so many people mess around with the 01-05 Civic sedans. 96-00 Civic sedans don't seem to be left alone by the import tuner crowd. It would have to be bone stock and well kept and I just don't see many of those anymore.
Yeah, the only local VX I've seen listed was such a molested car. Civics might also have higher insurance premiums because of this association.
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Old 10-16-2012, 02:40 PM   #7
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my 2001 corolla has higher premiums than either my 96 or 97 civic
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Old 10-16-2012, 05:34 PM   #8
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I probably won't have full coverage, but yes, checking the cost of insurance and checking NICB theft data have both been a part of my research. Just as an example, 6-month premiums for liability only with Progressive on a 1999 Mirage sedan increased my policy costs about $197. However, a 1999 Civic sedan only increased it by $179. I'd think the Civics are more often stolen, but maybe not. The Corolla matched the Mirage with $196 for 6 months. What's funny is the 1999 Prizm cost less than the Corolla, only $185/6mos. By comparison, a 2004 Civic Hybrid would run $228, and a 2008 Escape Hybrid a whopping $245. The Civic Hybrid would probably save enough in fuel to be worth it, though.
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Old 10-16-2012, 06:15 PM   #9
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If you're checking liability-only rate, theft data isn't part of the calculation.
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