2006 Nissan SentraEnlarge Photo
We’re exploring why I consistently recommend the Nissan Sentra when someone on a tight budget needs an economical and reliable used car. The Sentra is up against a few other vehicles in its class when vying for my “best value” honor. However, there aren’t many makes and models that are consistently reliable over the long haul. To me, the long haul means they can be mechanically dependable past the 100,000-mile mark.
Based on my experience as an Internet Manager for a major dealer, and friends of mine in the industry who work with pre-owned vehicles day-in and day-out, this short list includes the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, and Nissan Sentra.
After creating a list of small cars that can be reliable past the 100,000-mile mark, the next step is to determine which of those is most economical. The first thing to compare is gas mileage. For the purpose of these comparisons, we’ll use 2006 model years. All the cars get very good gas mileage, in part, because of their efficient engine size. They have 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines, except for the Mazda which has a 2.0-liter four.
The website that I recommend for calculating gas mileage is the user-friendly federal government site at www.fueleconomy.gov. Here is how the four stack up:
-- Honda Civic - 26 city / 36 hwy / 30 combined
-- Toyota Corolla - 26 city / 35 hwy / 29 combined
-- Nissan Sentra - 24 city / 31 hwy / 27 combined
-- Mazda3 - 23 city / 31 hwy / 26 combined
Gas mileage is just the first factor we compare when taking a closer look at these four models. The next step is to compare the cost of purchasing each vehicle.
One of the simplest websites to use when determining resale value is Kelly Blue Book at www.kbb.com. KBB provides different valuations for pre-owned cars:
-- Trade-In Value: the actual amount you can expect to get when trading in your car with a dealer.
-- Private Party Value: the actual selling price you can expect to pay when buying from a private seller.
-- Suggested Retail Value: a dealer’s initial selling price before negotiations.
-- Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Value: a dealer’s initial selling price for a CPO vehicle before negotiations.
We’ll use the Private Party Value, or the expected selling price when buying from a private seller, when comparing models.
Apples to Apples
We also want to make sure that we’re comparing apples-to-apples. I’ll choose comparable 2006 models from each manufacturer that includes the following details and features:
I’m going to list the original Manufacturer’s Suggest Retail Price (MSRP) range for each model, along with with KBB's Private Party Value. I'm calculating values based on vehicles selling in the region where I live, the San Francisco Bay Area. Remember that used car prices vary depending on the region where the vehicle is sold.
Our objective is to provide an indication of how affordable each car on our short list is for someone on a tight budget. We get into what those prices are in tomorrow’s article.