I’m just going to throw the disclaimer out there: I’m no car expert. I can’t explain anything beyond the basics when it comes to horsepower, alternator belts, four wheel driveÃ¢Â?Â¦but then, neither can a majority of the people out there in the market for a used car. We don’t have the time or the luxury to be super picky. Most people I know that are looking for a decent used car are concerned about the same attributes that I was: something in decent condition to get them to and from work, gets economical gas mileage (especially after the geyser in gas prices,) and something that is a safe and reliable vehicle. And oh yeahÃ¢Â?Â¦one being sold at a price that fits their tight budget. Thus, it might be my status as a novice car buyer that will make this opinion piece helpful to others who, like me, lack automotive savvy. I bought a used 1999 Ford Escort and, two years later, could not be happier with my purchase.
My initial thought was to take a look at used Volkswagen Jettas and Honda Civics (I would have preferred one of the Minicoopers that were becoming so popular at the time, but that was definitely out the question.) I was talked out of pursuing a Jetta, however, by friends of mine that owned these vehicles. I had always been under the impression that the Jetta was a car that had a lot of satisfied owners. However, the three friend/Jetta owners that I talked with described their cars in this way: “junky,” “unreliable,” and “a piece of crap.” While I secretly felt that a piece of crap was unavoidable on my budget, the Jetta owners persuaded me to look for a vehicle that would give me more for my money.
The Honda Civic is a car that people really do seem to be satisfied with. The Civic owners I spoke to, many of whom owned older models, praised their cars’ handling ability, it’s engine power, it’s capability in bad weather conditions, and it’s fairly chic appearance. Civics are a little more on the pricey side, but I didn’t see a problem with purchasing an older vehicle in decent condition. The thing that changed my mind was when I learned that Civics are one of the most popular cars to steal. The fact that my roommate had his Civic broken into around this time wasn’t comforting. I knew that my neighborhood, with its street parking, probably wasn’t a safe place for a Civic, even a used one.
I stopped by the Mazda dealership in my neighborhood without the slightest intention of buying. There was no way I could afford a new car. I hoped to get an estimate of what used Mazdas should cost, and whether they were highly as highly recommended as the newer models. However, a very friendly salesman (honestly) showed me their used car selection. This was a discriminately selected group of used vehicles that the dealership allowed to be traded in towards the purchase of a new vehicle. There were only about six cars, and all of them were in mint condition, a stipulation of the trade in. It was there that I found my baby: a spotless, baby blue 1999 Ford Escort. This car had everything you’d want in a used car, and much more than you’d even thought was possible: stick shift, power windows, CD player, an alarm system, new tires and brakes, airbags, and only 41,000 miles. And all this for the fabulously low price of $4,985! I couldn’t believe it. I almost didn’t buy it, because my inner cynic felt certain that this was a deal too good to be true. But some quick research showed that this is how much Escorts go for.
So I bought it. And two years later, I couldn’t be more happy with my little car. I’ve only had to do some minor maintenance: tune-ups, new thermostat, and two new tires. It is one of those under the radar cars, meaning it looks just like the car they give you at the rental agency, when you’re hoping for a convertible. But I never experienced a break-in, despite absentmindedly leaving CD’s out, and never removing my stereo face. It has taken me up and down the west coast, and I drove it all the way across the country when I relocated to New York without so much as a minor problem. I’m thinking about selling it now that I’m in the city, and was overjoyed to find out that despite having 80,000 miles to it, a used Ford Escort is fair condition is still worth a good $2,800.
You might not get much when you’re buying a used car on a budget. But get your money’s worth: you can’t afford anything less than that. Having been in the same situation as you are in, I can say that my used Ford Escort was a great purchase.