I recently helped a friend buy a used car. Her 2000 VW Beetle was accumulating too many miles for her to feel comfortable commuting from the East Bay to San Francisco four days a week. She needed reliable transportation, nothing extravagant, and it had to be affordable. Her situation is similar to many Americans these days: a tight budget with little room for fancy extras or a car that may break down and drain what little savings remain. My friend needed help. She came to me and asked, “So, what kind of car should I buy?”
In the years that I spent as Internet Manager for a major car dealer specializing in marketing and selling pre-owned vehicles, I had a number of “go to” lists that I relied on for the many different circumstances and problems that customers brought me. After hearing a customer’s issues, I generally began the process of attempting to solve their transportation problem by completing a “needs assessment” to help determine the kind of vehicle that would be most useful to them. However, I often didn’t have to add that extra step when I was faced with the twin concerns of reliability and economy, combined with a tight budget. At the top of this “go to” list was the Nissan Sentra.
When someone tells me they need a car that will be reliable for years to come, they usually mean that they need a vehicle that will be dependable well past the 100,000-mile mark. If they add to that requirement that the car should be economical, they’re telling me there are three additional factors that need to be taken into account. The vehicle needs to be:
The mechanic's worst friend
So how does the Nissan Sentra stack up against the major competition in its small car class based on these criteria?
I’m demanding when it comes to making a list of compact sedans that will be mechanically reliable past the 100,000-mile mark. It’s my experience that there are not a lot of makes and models that qualify for this list AND are inexpensive to purchase. Many cars are priced right and look good on paper, but they begin breaking down well before the 100,000-mile mark. This means that they simply aren’t affordable over the long haul.
After talking to a number of my friends who are used car managers at major dealership, as well as using my own experience in the auto industry, I generally limit this specific used car list to the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, and of course, the Nissan Sentra.
Hyundai is the new up and comer in the auto industry, and they have cars that qualify on my "best value" new car list. However, if I’m making a recommendation for an economical and dependable pre-owned small car, the list will be short and include the cars listed above.
Tomorrow we explore in detail how the vehicles on my “go to” list of economical and reliable small cars compare against each other.