A friend of mine recently asked me what car I would recommend for her to buy. She needed an affordable used car, one that would be reliable for years to come, and she was on a tight budget.
When someone tells me they need a car that will be reliable for years to come, that usually means they need a vehicle that will be dependable well past the 100,000-mile mark. I’m demanding when it comes to making a list of compact sedans that will be mechanically reliable past this point. It’s my experience that there are not a lot of used cars that qualify for this list AND are inexpensive to purchase. Many are priced right and look good on paper, but they begin breaking down well before they hit 100,000 miles. This means that they simply aren’t affordable over the long haul.
Based on my experience as an Internet Manager for a major car dealer, I generally limit this specific used car list to the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, and of course, the Nissan Sentra. In Part II of this series, I broke out the gas mileage of all four vehicles. While all four generally achieved good fuel economy, the Honda Civic was rated the best, while the Mazda3 brought up the rear. The next step is to determine how affordable these cars are on the resale market.
Based on my friend’s budget, we’re looking to compare market prices on 2006 models with the following features:
- 4-door sedan
- 60,000 miles
- automatic transmission
- ABS brakes
- side curtain air bags
- cruise control
- tilt steering wheel
- power windows
We're also using Kelly Blue Book (kbb.com) Private Party Values to compare used car prices. This will give us the actual selling price you can expect to pay when buying from a private seller. We’ll use “good” condition for all cars because less than 5 percent of all used cars actually qualify for KBB’s “excellent” condition rating. Also, the prices listed below are for my home turf, the San Francisco Bay Area. Used car resale prices vary depending on the region where the vehicle is sold. This is how the four cars stack up:
Make/Model KBB Private Party Value
Nissan Sentra S $8,280
Toyota Corolla LE $9,055
Mazda 3 i $9,705
Honda Civic LX $10,840
My friend was on a tight budget, a situation facing many Americans in this economic downturn. With limited income and growing debt, a lower purchase price for a used car can make the difference between being approved for a loan, or not.
My friend was able to afford the purchase price of the Nissan Sentra. The Corolla would have been a stretch. However, both the Mazda3 and Honda Civic were out of her reach. With a budget that tight, it was a no-brainer to recommend the Nissan Sentra, one of the few economy sedans on the market that is built well enough to be mechanically reliable well past the 100,000-mile mark.
A Happy Ending
My friend purchased her Nissan Sentra a week ago and is extremely happy with the car's appearance, performance, and gas mileage, and the deal she was able to get. For instance, she had remembered Nissans as "tinny and junky-looking," and was pleasantly surprised by the Sentra's appealing looks and solid ride. Isn't it great when a plan actually comes together the way it's supposed to?