Help Buying First Car for Son

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Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by stuper1 » Fri Feb 28, 2020 12:38 am

We have about $5,000 to spend on a first car for my 19-year-old son.

I'd like to get something relatively large for safety reasons, and of course want something reliable. Therefore, top preferences are something like a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry or Avalon.

We are looking mainly on Craigslist for single owner cars. Here is a common dilemma. In our price range, we might be able to get say a 2007 with 170,000 miles on it, or a 2002 with 120,000 miles on it. They both drive well and have been well maintained. I just made up those years and miles hypothetically. The question is should we prefer something that is newer with more miles, or older with less miles?

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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by IMO » Fri Feb 28, 2020 2:19 am

Interesting scenario.

From the reliability aspect, it would seem likely that a car with 120K miles would be theoretically be more reliable because a car at 170K seems significantly more likely to have a major component(s) fail. Not sure if the 5 yr age difference makes that much difference on that factor?

What may be more important especially for a new driver is safety features.

You could then look at what safety features are lacking from the 2002 car vs the 2007 car. I think ESC could be one of the major safety improvements that a 2002 car would be missing? Keep in mind, there can be various differences on safety potentially on what trim level one car may be over the other car (as is true for current new cars). You should be able to look up the safety history of the two cars and that may provide the fatality rates for the different cars. I was looking at a study the other day that noted even obscure factors, such as a vehicle with a sunroof (vs. no sunroof) was more likely to be a concern for partial ejections from a roll-over which has a higher injury concern and side curtain airbags actually can put someone at more risk for a partial ejection out of a sunroof.

Other factors to consider in the decision, include things like how many miles per year do you anticipate your son will be driving? What type of roads will he be driving (rural areas/2-lane highways are more dangerous)? Will he likely be taking long road trips involving 2 lane highways without services vs. will he be just driving 10-30 miles a day on lower risk drives like LA/SF crowded/slow freeways?

How long do you anticipate he desires to keep the car before upgrading?

Also, whatever car he gets, find out if the airbags were recalled and actually replaced as advised. It can also be safer to plan to buy new tires because one never knows how many curbs/potholes were hit or if the tires were run with low air damaging sidewalls putting car at more risk of a high speed blow-out.

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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by GmanJeff » Fri Feb 28, 2020 10:03 am

Mileage alone is not really all that dispositive of future reliability. It's the type of mileage which matters more. That is, a car which which has accrued most of its mileage in highway driving will likely last longer than a lower mileage car used for shorter trips in stop-and-go traffic. The latter situation places more demands on the brakes and transmission, and the car may not have always have reached operating temperature fully before being shut off, which over time can reduce engine longevity.

In any case, I'd go for the car with the most advanced safety features. Unfortunately, a car in your price range will not have automatic emergency braking, a very useful but more recent technology which may be of particular value to newer drivers.

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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by Sandtrap » Fri Feb 28, 2020 10:20 am

First car, bought by parents, for a young man.

Toyota Corolla, etc.
Honda Civic, etc. (realize the Honda can be souped up, lowered, and drifted).
1968 Dodge Dart 4 door 6 cylinder in dark green with vinyl roof.
Ford Pinto
Ford Ranger pickup truck, 4 cylinder, standard shift
Toyota pickup truck, small, 4 cylinder, standard shift

j :happy
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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by bovineplane » Fri Feb 28, 2020 10:24 am

We went through this with our soon to be driving son. Looked around for 6 months with a budget of $4k. Didn't find much. One day a used Lexus GX470 2004 showed up on craigslist at a local dealer. Needed a bit of love. The drivetrain is bulletproof and the 4.7 is considered a million mile engine. The 2003-2004 models do not require premium gas as they are pre-VVT. Only 240 Hp. Ours is not a one owner and had 190k miles. We did the preventative maintenance (timing belt, coolant hoses, fluids and such).

Nice part about Lexus is the Lexus owners portal. You can see any maintenance done at any dealer after creating an account online with the VIN. Ours had a replacement engine put in at 140k miles. Maintenance records are spotty with the last service with the engine swap but Carfax had some other entries for oil changes and such.

For 190k miles this thing is a beast. Quiet, comfortable and mid size SUV. First Lexus and I am really impressed. Almost makes me want to sell my truck and buy another. Doesn't get the best mileage but school is only a few miles from the house.

In total we spent ~$6k for purchase +TTL and preventative maintenance, swapped the driver seat, replaced rear bumper cover, made new keys (we only got 1 and it was broken), cleaning, new tires etc. Few thousand miles later and we are very happy with it. Should make him a good dependable safe vehicle for years to come.

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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by TSR » Fri Feb 28, 2020 10:35 am

If he doesn't have any specific needs, you might look into some less-loved models of these same cars. For instance, Accord coupes (or the Solara, which I guess is the Camry coupe) tend to be cars that aren't great for whole families, so they aren't as in demand and might have lower miles. (I have 2006 Accord coupe with 90,000 miles on it that I'd be thrilled to sell for $5,000.) Similarly, some of these companies' misfires (that weird hatchback thing they made around 2010, e.g.) would also be relatively cheap. Also, I wonder if "single-owner" isn't a bit restrictive. Some cars that have a single owner after coming off a rental lot for example would have been well maintained. Best of luck.

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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by iasw » Fri Feb 28, 2020 10:39 am

The year 2012 was a significant year for cars, because several new safety features became common (required? I don't know) across the board. You can look at those features and see if older models have them anyway. It's possible.

If you can, I'd prioritize getting something 2012 or newer -- still an 8-year-old car at this point and you can probably find some deals.

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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by sunny_socal » Fri Feb 28, 2020 10:39 am

I'd take "newer with more miles" for the following reasons:
- Miles don't really wear out a car, provided that maintenance has been done
- AGE will certainly wear things out, mostly the plastic parts. Headliner will detach, clips will break, hoses will become brittle.
- Here on BH we love to talk about 'safety features.' A newer vehicle will be incrementally better in this department.

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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by delamer » Fri Feb 28, 2020 10:52 am

A side-curtain airbag saved our 17-year-old driver from a concussion (or worse) in an accident.

Prioritize safety features.

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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by Watty » Fri Feb 28, 2020 11:42 am

What types of cars to you drive?

It might make sense to let your son have one of those and then you could get a better replacement car for yourself. That is what we did.

In the model years you are looking at there have been a lot of airbag recalls. Be sure to check on that.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) became required as standard equipment in 2012 so cars built before then may not have it. That seems to be a very desirable safety feature to have so if you interested in safety that would a really important feature to have. My prior car was 2008 Honda that did not have ESC and that is one of the several reasons that I decided to replace it. ESC is a big deal so spend some time researching that.

It was also in 2012 that a new driver-side small overlap frontal test was introduced and a lot of cars did not do well on that so the manufactures improved the cars to do better on that test.

You need to watch out for this since even with the same model a 2011 car may not be as safe as a 2013 that looks about the same.
stuper1 wrote:
Fri Feb 28, 2020 12:38 am
The question is should we prefer something that is newer with more miles, or older with less miles?
When I have looked at them older Toyotas and Hondas in the $5K price range seemed very expensive for what you get.. It varies by model and year but some Fords and Hyundais have pretty decent reliably ratings and you may be able much better deal with one of those brands and get a car that is a lot newer and has a lot less miles.

Some brands have terrible reliably reputations which I would avoid but the best overall deal are likely in the tier of cars that are a notch below a Honda or Toyota.
stuper1 wrote:
Fri Feb 28, 2020 12:38 am
I'd like to get something relatively large for safety reasons,......
There is a lot more to car safety than just size, it is a little bit morbid but here is a web site that tracks the driver death rate by car model. You might also want to check out the cars you are considering buying there. ... -and-model

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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by Sandi_k » Fri Feb 28, 2020 2:46 pm

I wouldn't be looking on CL for a car - it's the home for vehicle flippers and salvage titles.

I'd look at and instead - anyone who has maintained their car is more likely to take loads o' pics, and pay for listing the car.

For a used car, I agree that fewer miles would be my first choice, but I'd have an eye out for airbags, ABS and traction control, too. Finally, lower HP means less temptation for foolishness behind the wheel, IME.

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Re: Help Buying First Car for Son

Post by sk2101 » Fri Feb 28, 2020 4:05 pm

Neither. I would go for newer with less miles. Also for a new inexperienced driver a full size sedan with good safety ratings is the best choice. I don't like the idea of pickup trucks or large SUVs for an new driver. A compact SUV is easy to drive and would be Ok, but the good options are all too expensive.

If you want value, you should look past Toyota/Honda as everyone is looking to buy those and prices are pretty high for what you get.

An "out of the box" idea is a Chevy Impala. You want a 2012 or newer since those have the 3.6 V6 (same used in the cadillac cts) and the 6 speed transmission. For $5K you can find one with half of the mileage of your contenders. It is a great car with solid mechanics and GM built the same cars for a decade, so problems had been sorted out.

The Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan is also a great choice. You will not have any problems finding one for around $5K with less than 100K miles.

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