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Buying used: Ride to school in style for $2000

2001 Honda Civic GX


It's back to school time again! How exciting it must be for new university students. Is this your first time living away from home? Good for you. You're in for a change.

Have all your books? Get the rent sorted? Got the Skype set up to talk with your folks? And … did you get a car?

After paying for tuition, you might not believe there's room in your budget for such extravagance. But there are plenty of $2000 cars with years of use left on them, perfect for avoiding lengthy bus trips to class in the morning and for weekend trips back home. Two things are very important in your search: Identify the models that have a record of reliability and of those, find clean examples with the lowest mileage.

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At this price, chances are the vehicle is well used. It's important to bring your choice to a mechanic for an inspection before purchase, as it's likely you'll find rotten fuel or brake lines, a rusted underbody, loose steering linkage or worse with a car at this price. Shelling out $100 or so at an auto shop can mitigate the risk of having to pay two or three times the purchase price for repairs.


When it comes to reliability and fuel efficiency, the Asian cars are your best bet in this price range. Good choices would be the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, and there's a plentiful supply of the 2000-2003 model years. The Civic comes in a coupe, sedan and hatch version. A few of the Civic recalls dealt mainly with air bags and the air box, while the Corolla had fewer recalls still, which dealt with front struts. Nonetheless, these are simple, reliable and relatively cheap to repair. Both scored well on IIHS front-crash tests though the Corolla rated "poor" on side-crash tests.

Again from the east, and a little bigger, is the Subaru Outback. With this model, found around the 1999-2002 model years, you'll find more room inside, more available features and standard all-wheel drive. Depending on year (the body style was changed for 2000), you won't find many recalls. The few there were concerned leaky fuel pumps, front springs and corrosion in the rear frame. If these check out, you'll have a car that can run almost forever. Unfortunately, because of that, people tend to hang on to them, so there aren't a lot for sale with fewer than 200,000 kilometres on them.

As for the U.S. brands, they didn't really have the dependability then that they do now. A Ford Taurus might be your best bet, and they can be found from the 1999 to the 2006 model years. They aren't the most exciting or the most efficient, but this sedan, with an available V6, has better-than-average reliability with only a few minor recalls.


Don't forget the Mazda Protegé. Again, another simple, small car with a good reliability record . There is the four-door sedan, but a more versatile choice is the Protegé5 wagon. The 2000-2003 models in this price range had just one minor recall, scored an adequate mark with the IIHS crash tests and, though they aren't exactly cavernous , they are known for spirited handling.

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Notice the lack of German cars? The turn of the century wasn't exactly the heyday for their reliability. And we're not just talking BMW or Mercedes; even Volkswagens had major and minor issues that would make buying a risky proposition. Sure, they all have style and maybe even power, but if your priority is a frugal and dependable runabout, repairs and parts would be much more expensive than the Asians or domestics.

If you have questions for Jason Tchir about driving or car maintenance, please write to

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