Having a car is like holding the key to freedom. They allow you to go wherever you want, whenever you want. Maybe that’s why I’ve owned four vehicles in the past year.
But buying a car is a major purchase and making the right decision can be hard. I believe that the best way to start off your quest is to first list the reasons why you’re considering purchasing a car. Knowing what you want to use it for is key to getting the right vehicle for you. For example, some may enjoy living a rough and tumble lifestyle with lots of camping and carrying lots of gear so they might choose bigger, tougher vehicles that may not get as good fuel mileage but offer more off-road capability and durability. Others may want a zippy little car to commute quickly to work or a fast car to eat up curvy mountain roads.
To help gauge the vehicles you are thinking of buying, it is helpful to consider fuel economy, safety, reliability, cost, maintenance and the fun and use you’ll get out of it. That’s what I’ve done to pick four cars that are cheap enough for teens to afford as a first car. They are all under $5,000 Cdn.
This small car is great for anyone who wants reliability, efficiency, cheap maintenance and a fun ride. I have personally driven two of these fine machines: a 2006 automatic and a 2002 manual transmission. They have a way of hugging the road while remaining practical and dependable. With combined mileage of about 8L/100km (29-30 mpg) according to Edmunds, they won’t be breaking the bank at the pump. And they are inexpensive to maintain, too. With a massive number of these fun little cars on the road, parts are very cheap and easy to come by, so if it ever breaks, fixing it should be simple and quick. A friend of mine picked one up for $500 Cdn that had a few problems but after a weekend of work, he sold it and managed to gain back triple the money he originally paid. As for safety, Honda has you covered with the 2002 model that received a 4.5 out of 5 stars crash rating on Autoblog. Overall, these are reliable little cars with a great price tag. They are an attractive option for people of all ages. On Craigslist, you can find a late 90s or early 2000’s model with under 150,000 km on it for around $2000, making it a prime option.
Heading Nissan Pathfinder
The Nissan Pathfinder is a sweet option for anyone looking for an affordable, roomy, 4-wheel-drive vehicle that is reliable and easy to find. Made in Japan, these cars are awesome for anyone who wants a bit more storage and durable off-road capability. They can easily run beyond 300,000 km without any major problems. As long as you do regular services and replace the timing belt, they should be good to go. And with an abundance of aftermarket parts, you will have no problem kitting your rig just the way you want if that is your preference. One major thing to watch out for is damage on the vehicle as these SUVs are known to rust on the frame and body. The ride is comfortable and fairly quiet for a vehicle with off-road capability. They can come with all the bells and whistles such as power windows and locks, cruise control and air conditioning. However, this car’s capability does come with a price: the fuel economy and horsepower are a little disappointing at 16.8L/100km (14 mpg) in the city and 13.5L/100km (17-18 mpg) on the highway and producing only 240 horses according to Edmunds. This is the same as you’d get in a far more powerful V8 engine. The safety in these is pretty great, though, receiving a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating from the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for it’s front and side impacts but only scoring 2.3 out of 5 stars on rollovers due to its higher centre of gravity. I managed to find a clean model in good condition for $4500 with 220 thousand km on it. It was well maintained with power options, roof racks, and nice rims. I have owned a 1993 model that cost me only $800 and all it needed was a new battery and timing belt. $300 in parts later, I had a great rig.
Ford Ranger/Mazda B series trucks
These are some of the best small trucks around. They are comfortable up front and the extended cab offers seating for up to 5 people without being overly large and hard to park. They come in many configurations such as three different engine options, two or four-wheel-drive, and standard or automatic transmission. I have spent lots of time driving, riding in, and working around these trucks and I can confidently say that they are the best small trucks for their price. Just like the previously-mentioned vehicles, the Ford Ranger’s parts are easy and cheap to get and offer plenty of customization options. They can hold a fair amount of cargo such as bikes, camping gear, and wood, but they aren’t ideal for towing or hauling heavy cargo due to their smaller engines and size. Being Mazda trucks, they are fairly reliable but do have their problems especially with the manual clutch cylinders and the low quality clear coat on the paint. I would stay away from the 2.3-litre 4-cylinder engine as they are underpowered and the weight of the truck causes extra stress leading to premature failure. The 3-litre and 4-litre V6 options offer much better reliability and power with the 3-litre giving 148 hp and the 4-litre giving 207 hp. They both get a combined highway/city mileage of 14.7L/100km (16 mpg) with these specs coming from Edmunds for the 2007 model. The NHTSA gives the 2007 Ranger a 4.5 out of 5 stars front and side-crash rating and a 2.3 out of 5 for rollover due to again, the nature of larger vehicles having a higher center of gravity. There are lots of these trucks under $4000 with 2-wheel-drive and a couple in 4-wheel-drive for slightly more. For $4500, you can get a 2005 4-litre V6 4-wheel-drive Ranger with an extended cab, good mechanical condition and with just under 200 thousand km. Overall, these trucks will get you around and keep you safe but won’t be the coolest on the road.
Up until now, we have been talking about practical cars that serve a good purpose, but some people, myself included, just want a fast, fun car to tear up the road. The Mustang is a great option for that. You can get an older 3 Series BMW for the same price but they tend to be very expensive to maintain and start to have lots of problems over time.The Ford Mustang is an American legend and continues to be a fun and powerful ride. When looking for a Mustang, look for the V8 model (GT trim) as it offers more performance and allows the car to really shine. These cars are rear wheel drive which is even more exciting because you can drift them as well as race them. You may be hard pressed to find a lower mileage V8 model but in this case, you might have to go over 200 thousand kms to find something in your price range. I managed to find a 2003 GT model in good condition for $5000 with 198k km on her. They are rated by Edmunds to make 280hp stock and get a decent mileage of 14.7L/100km city and 10.2L/100km highway (16 and 23 mpg respectively). You can have even more fun with these as they can come in convertible models as well, allowing the ability to cruise around with the wind blowing through your hair. The front and roll ratings for safety are 5 out of 5 but the side impact is a little disappointing with only a 3 out of 5. This car can squeeze in four people if you are determined and finding parts is easy due to the number of these that get crashed because of inexperienced drivers using lots of power. To be sure you don’t add to this collection of crashed cars, give the car a could test in a big parking lot to learn how to control the large amounts of power it offers. This whip is fun, fast and comes at a great price.
Whatever car you decide to go for, doing your research will ensure you know what you are getting into. Looking up common issues and costs of maintenance will help you to avoid being left with something that you cannot use. After you’ve done your own homework, it’s also a good idea to take someone who may have more experience when going to purchase a car or go to a mechanic and get them to check the car over before deciding to buy it. This can save thousands of dollars and give a chance to bargain with the seller to get a better price.
Everyone wants to have a nice car, but I would recommend staying away from wasting your life savings on an expensive first car as a lack of experience often leads to damage and loss in value. After driving a certain car for a while, you’ll have a better sense of whether or not it is the right fit, and if you saved the money from the first car, the search for what you really want can begin.
Feature Image:Wikimedia commons/Bull-Doser
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