I thing all of the car suggestions on here are sound. I dont know how colorado is but rust is a killer of most of the cars on the list here. A nice metro is near impossible to find at all. most have rotted lca mounts. I would have and would still kill for a clean subaru justy but they just dont exist in this part of the country.
Rust is generally not an issue in CO as they don't use salt on the roads. In Denver they use Magnesium Chloride, which is similar to salt, but it is only used when a major storm is anticipated and then only before the snow falls. After the snow is down, all they typically use is sand. Combine that with the dry climate and we don't have too many rust problems here.
How about a Toyota Tercel? Light, simple, sturdy, might even consider a 1NZFE motor swap...The aforementioned Neon would be good, and the related (though heavier) Chrysler cloud cars would seem to get good FE on the highway when equipped with the Neon's 2,0l.
'67 Mustang - out of commission after an accident
'00 Echo - DD
'11 Kia Rio - Wife's DD
'09 Harley Nightster - 48mpg and 1/4 miles in the 12's
Toyota Corolla (Best if you can find one in the budget).
Just to mention it again: the Geo/Chevy Prizm.
It was built side by side with the Corolla in the, now closed, joint GM and Toyota NUMMI plant.
A friend's daughter has one, and after three fender benders of various damage levels, she made money off it. I don't think she got much more than the low 30's with it. It is an automatic and a 3 speed at that.
I vote Escort.
Dirt cheap, parts are cheap,reliable,parts are available everywhere.
And yes, the engines are non-interferance. I had a belt let go on a 91 I had at the 190,000 mark, motor died and when I hit the key it spun over really fast. Wife towed me home with the windstar, $19.00 belt and a custom bent 10mm wrench to reach the tensioner bolt and I was on the road again. At the 260,000km mark I gave it to my cousins son to make a mini-stock stockcar out of. Ran two seasons on that engine before he overheated it and killed the power. It still ran but was slow so he swapped out the engine.
Rangers, older 4cyl are ok but the 4.0L's were hard on fuel.
If you go for an Escort, don't go too old. You want the Mazda rebrand, which they went to in the 90's, not an actual Ford from the late 80s.
We had an '88 1/2 Escort for a few years. The quality was horrible. Plastic bumpers that cracked under the slightest weight, leak prone O-rings for the A/C, cruddy ignition system that fried ignition modules all the time and never idled the engine smoothly (turned out that was thanks to a bad stator module in the distributor, a fairly common problem with more than one model of Ford from that time), a mystery water leak that we now think was the seal for the windshield, headlights that fogged up with trapped moisture, a light switch that failed, and a tendency to trip a fuel cutoff switch if you hit a bump just so. And they were too cheap with the size of the clutch disc and ball joints. Clutch only lasted about 70k miles, and the ball joints weren't much better.
Despite all that, it was decent on the fuel economy. Best we ever saw was 37 mpg, right after we replaced the O2 sensor.
Another thing good about the Escort over lots of other smaller cars is that it has a non interference engine which will do no engine damage in the event that the timing belt ever breaks. I've had 2 timing belts break on my '88 Escort Pony over the years I've owned it and both times I just lined up the timing marks and put a new belt on and it was ready to go again. It currently has 513K miles on the original 1.9L engine and 4 speed manual tranny without any rebuilds. So guess which car I suggest!!!! The Escorts are also pretty easy cars to work on if you do your own mechanical work. The main things that don't last well on the Escorts are the outer tie rod ends, but you can buy new ones at Auto Zone with a lifetime warranty pretty cheap. I think for the '88 they are about $12-$15 each, but mine have been lifetime warranty for years so I just take the old parts back and get new ones when they wear out and they are simple to change.
I've been driving a 4-door Metro for several years now. If you look, you can find them with A/C and manual transmission. Or, you can add A/C to a non A/C car, or swap from an automatic to a manual, if you want. I rebuilt the A/C on mine, and have left it automatic. I may change to manual if the trans ever dies.
I find it to be a reasonably comfortable car, only drawback is that it sits low to the ground, and is more work to get into and out of than your average minivan, or 1950 Plymouth ("chair-height" seating). The seat belts are so generous that they'll go around anyone I know without an extender. They also appear to be pretty sturdy cars; mine has 242k miles, and I've seen them in junkyards with nearly 600k miles. Further, if something DOES break, it is relatively easy to get to just about anyplace under the hood.
Mine cost me $200, and I put about $3-400 into it to make it properly drivable. I was a little lucky, but with some looking you might find one.
__________________ "We are forces of chaos and anarchy. Everything they say we are we are, and we are very proud of ourselves!" -- Jefferson Airplane
Dick Naugle says: 1. Prepare food fresh. 2. Serve customers fast. 3. Keep place clean.
You might also want to consider Hyundai Accents and post-merger Kia Rios. I rented an AT Kia Rio for 2 weeks in the Rockies and midwest. I averaged 43.4 mpg for 3600 miles, 49+ mpg for the last two tanks, and would have averaged 45 mpg if allowed to throw out two outlier tanks where I was fighting 40+ mph headwinds.
One disadvantage they have is the maintenance cost of timing belt changes for the Korean cars, but their huge price advantage will more than cover those.