Case in point, I always maintained that despite their utility, Subarus age horribly by 100k miles compared to a Honda or Toyota. However, they are super easy to fix. Some fixes are cheap, some not, but if you can score one for cheap, and put a little elbow grease into it, it's good for another 100k.
I laugh at what I've had to do to the '08 Outback (pretty much everything) that I picked up last year for $2k, and put another $2k into it just in parts to get it up to snuff. It was our budget family hauler to replace a perfectly reliable Mazda3 and the challenge was to not spend any more money than what we got for the Mazda ($5k). Pretty much everything mechanical got touched, yes including the head gaskets. Sure, it still needs a steering rack (pretty much the only thing I didn't do) but it doesn't leak a ton - just marks its spot. It goes down the road safely and soundly, and I haven't had to show it much attention in the 10k I've put on it in the last year. But, conventional wisdom (especially in the NE) shows that Subarus are pretty expensive to buy used, given their popularity. The average one would be a terrible buy - your typical $5k 2008 Outback isn't far behind from needing everything that my car needed, but lop a couple grand off to account for repairs, and it becomes a good buy.
I'm in the midst of another cheap project - a Silverado I picked up for $1k. Again, it's a perfectly-good truck that could be used to go back/forth to work, and even make a little money on the side. I'm still in the getting-to-trust it phase after it popped a cooler line off the transmission last week and hosed the chassis (and I-91) down in ATF, but I chalk that up to my doing. I'd recently replaced the transmission and must have not seated the retaining clip correctly.
The DIY aspect is the biggest difference in running costs in some areas. Indie shops in my area are in the $100/hr range, easy. Dealers are near $150/hr (what my local Subaru dealer charges). If I was in rural PA, I might think twice about DIY, where labor rates are almost half. But even still, I wouldn't be making as much working in rural PA, so that $50/hr savings is still substantial.
One reason why I shy away from Honda/Toyota when balling on a budget, is because of the previous ownership. Because of their durability reputation, previous owners are more apt to defer maintenance (also see: Subaru) but also ask higher prices for those less-than-ideal examples because of that legacy. Sure, if you can score a cheap Honda that doesn't need a ton, it might have a leg up on that cheap Galant, Malibu, or whatever laggards are populating that price bracket. But a statement like "what brand should I buy on a budget" can't really take that into consideration because you're not as likely to find a deal like that on the open market - typically it's a bro deal or an elderly relative-type scenario that is more based on chance than the open market.
Depends on what 'broke' means, what the car is needed for, and how mechanically inclined someone is.
Well-used Corolla/Civic seems like an obvious answer, but I think that's kind of a logic trap--they have a reputation for their reliability and go for more because of it.
As far as lowest cost to ownership, something like a Chevy Cruze can be had dirt cheap; it probably won't be as reliable as some other options but junkyard parts ought to be plentiful and dirt cheap. Or cars that depreciation hasn't been kind to, like a Focus, Fiat 500 (gamble), Mitsubishi Mirage, etc.
As far as lowest entry cost, I wouldn't be looking for a specific car, but looking for a deal. Without too much patience you can usually find _something_ that somebody just wants to get rid of for whatever reason. Maybe they don't feel like buying tires, the ac doesn't work and it's June, whatever. Fixing it yourself makes it an even better deal, but sometimes it's stuff you can live with or pay a pro to fix and still be ahead. You just has to keep an eye out, wait a little while, and move quickly when you find it.
Last edited by ghost03; 03-26-2020 at 08:13 PM.
i'm gonna go with the best maintained Toyota/Mazda/Honda compact you can find.
Any car which holds together for a whole race is too heavy.
Depends on what flavor of broke you are and what you need a car for.
1) Cheap commuter (and have a charging spot): Subsidized EV lease. Bolts are going for $199/month right now. Should be no maintenance during the lease except maybe a tire rotation. Bonus points if you get free charging at work or your apartment.
2) Still want to have some fun: NA/NB Miata (always the answer)
3) Recently evicted, but have some cash and need somewhere to sleep: GM full size van
4) Cash car that will last a long time and get good MPGs: Late 00's Toyota Yaris, MT
5) Just need a running and driving car as cheap as possible that has some prayer of working for a while: something with a Buick 3800
Folks who drive these aren't car people, they don't care if little stuff is broken, they care if it starts and gets them to their **** job every day so they can pay their rent that month. They care that they can afford to buy one. They keep it up well enough to always start and to pass yearly inspection.
Now this was a superior machine. Ten grand worth of gimmicks and high-priced special effects. The rear windows lit up with a touch like frogs in a dynamite pond. The dashboard was full of esoteric lights and dials and meters that I would never understand.
Full coverage on my own independent policy for me as a typical male driver under 25 was over $250/mo (this was in early-mid 00s) and would have been even more if I'd financed or leased something newer with more value. The cost of ownership savings of buying an inexpensive commuter car were erased by the difference in cost between liability only insurance and full coverage, and so my options were limited to whatever I could save up for out of pocket after factoring shelter, food and clothing, and then carried liability only policy to keep the rates below $175 a month. A lot of low income individuals are in this situation. My options truly opened up for me in many many ways once my car insurance rates went down. It was a significant portion of my income that was freed up to apply to pay for a reliable car that made better job opportunities, which helped then in saving for a house, which built equity.
Toyota with a stick shift
Mine was $13k new and has only needed tires, a battery, a couple wipers and fluid/filter changes. The only issue is peeling clearcoat on the roof from my neglect + Texas sun.
Timing chain, distributorless ignition, no valve adjustments = pretty much maintenance free until 100k when it gets plugs and some add'l fluid changes.
Last edited by adrew; 03-27-2020 at 01:19 PM.
Improving the signal-to-noise ratio
Due to platform sharing, their age, the amount of time they were on the market, and sales success, parts are plentiful in any domestic salvage yard.
A low-cost Corolla or Civic will sell quickly due to their track record and as a result, their resale is often higher meaning lower cost examples are often in poorer condition with higher miles.
That might not hold true for all markets, however, I find that to be the case where I live and the surrounding states and provinces.
Overall, the best choice is almost always going to be the newest vehicle with the lowest miles you can afford that you can find parts and service for when needed.