What to look for in a first car

Photo courtesy of Lolface82, via Wikimedia Commons

By Erick Joven

For most of our high school career, we do not think too far beyond our next essay or homework assignment because the future such as getting a job or buying a car feels so far away. However, before you know it, that time is here. 

When the time comes, you do not want to be going to the mechanic every month and unloading 200 dollars. So here is a guide to help you choose a car that will last, without breaking the bank.

This article focuses on  two main brands which are arguably the most reliable: Honda and Toyota. Also these will be older vehicles as newer cars require financing which involves a ten to twenty percent down payment as well as monthly payments. Financing a car will also require paying full coverage insurance which can easily equate to around 600-700 dollars a month. To a senior, that’s a lot of cash. So let’s stick with older, but reliable cars.

When it comes to choosing a vehicle, you want to make sure that you keep two things in mind. First, the most important factor is the amount of miles on the car, which determines the wear and tear the vehicle might have. Second, a clean title means it has had no major reported accidents. Generally, stay away from a salvage title considering you won’t usually know how bad the damage was to cause it to be salvaged.

No matter what you do, always check the car out first. This means you should test drive it, floor it, and if it doesn’t break down after fully flooring it, your chances of the car lasting are pretty good. One of the first cars you should consider is the four-door Honda Civic. It is the most popular, most chased after, and most convenient for many reasons. A Honda Civic will do a high schooler just fine. With regular maintenance and the car being taken care of, it can easily last 300,000 miles on the odometer meaning any Civic being sold with around 120,000-150,000 miles can be a good buy.

For a reasonably priced car, you can buy a Civic for anywhere from 2,000 to 8,000 dollars depending on the year. A more recent year will get you better features, such as an aux port. However, an older model will be cheaper. 

 The Civic is also a more compact sedan with an excellent  fuel economy. And with gas prices being astonishingly high, a better fuel economy vehicle is going to  be a smart choice.

Toyota is another good reliable brand. The Toyota Corolla is another four-door sedan. It is also a very pretty vehicle. The  Toyota Corolla can also easily last 250,000-300,000 miles if it is being taken care of with regular maintenance. 

As with any car, the lower  the miles, the better. However, this will  also cost a bit more cash. Most Corollas from the years 2003-2013 have the same pretty body, however anything above the 2009 threshold begins to become a lot pricier. So  depending on the budget and the seller, a good Corolla with 100,000-140,000 miles from the years 2003-2009 will put you within the 2,000- 6,500 dollar threshold. 

Toyota also has a full sized sedan, the Camry. It has multiple types of engines ranging from a 4 cylinder (good fuel economy) to 6 cylinders (not as fuel efficient and economical). However, the Camry comes with the same reliability and dependability as the Corolla. 

Four cylinder engines usually get around 25-27 miles per gallon on the street, such as the Civic and Corolla, and 6 cylinder engines get around 21-22 mpg on the street, still very reliable though. Not to mention the 2009 Toyota Camry has a hybrid option which averages 33 mpg on the street. It is basically a prettier Prius.

Where can you find such vehicles? One way to find these cars is through a police auction where confiscated vehicles are put up for auction in as-is condition.  If you are lucky, you can get a better featured vehicle with great reliability for less than a thousand dollars. These are competitive auctions, however, so you are not guaranteed to walk out with a good car or any car at all. 

If the police auction is not your style, searching on craigslist, eBay motors, Facebook Marketplace, and Offerup are other good options to look for a vehicle.