Good morning, Autopians! It’s time to look at some more used cars. This time, though, they’re not really what you’d call “shitboxes.” Today’s choices are actually nice cars that you – or any non-car-person you know in need of a car – could legitimately drive every day without much worry, and buy for a measly five grand.
Friday’s choices weren’t so robust. Sure, you could probably make a daily driver out of either of them, but you’d constantly be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Smog-era Slant Sixes were prone to vapor-lock, early GM HEI ignition modules often died suddenly and without warning, and both cars have approximately the same build quality as a dollar-store toy.
I knew going in that the Pontiac was by far the superior car, but I was curious to see if the Plymouth’s significantly cheaper price would win it some support. Apparently not; the wannabe Duster got absolutely creamed.
All right, so let’s move on to something you might actually be willing to own and drive. If you look at the prices of new cars, the numbers get really scary really quickly. The average new car is about forty-five grand – more than seven hundred bucks a month on average. For a car. I was 30 before I paid more than seven hundred bucks a month on rent. And you’ll be paying that amount for six years before you actually own the thing outright.
Or, you could sock away that amount for seven months, and buy something outright. But you don’t want something with a bazillion miles on it? No problem. It has to be reliable? Got you covered. Oh, and it can’t look like some crappy old beater? Sure thing. Thanks to the Underappreciated Survivors group on Facebook for bringing these two to my attention.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Folsom, CA
Odometer reading: 59,000 miles
First up, we have this sporty little economy number. Nissan revised the Sentra for 1995, and for the first time didn’t offer a two-door version. Instead, the role of both the two-door Sentra sedan and the NX fastback was filled by this car, called the 200SX. It’s no one’s idea of a sports car, with the same little 1.6 liter engine as the Sentra, but that also means it pulls in the same fuel economy numbers, just with a bit more style.
This 200SX is equipped with an overdrive automatic transmission, as so many small cars in the US were, even when this one was built. You can complain all you want about whether such a transmission “belongs” in a small car like this, but the decision was made twenty-eight years ago, and not by me. And the fact is that most cars like this equipped with manual transmissions were driven into the ground or modified to death ages ago. Automatics were far more likely to get babied like this one.
And from the looks of it, this car really has been babied. It doesn’t even have 60,000 miles on the clock yet, and it looks practically like new, both inside and out. The only cosmetic flaw noted by the seller (who is also the one and only owner) is some peeling clearcoat on the rear spoiler.
“But,” you might object, “this thing only has 115 horsepower. With that slushy automatic, it’ll barely keep up with traffic!” Balderdash, I say. Yes, plenty of cars can get to 60 mph twice as quickly as this one – but the fact is, most of them don’t. Even in a car like this, you’ll spend lots of time muttering “come on, move” at the back bumper of a slow-moving RAV4 trying to merge onto the freeway at 45.
Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: University Place, WA
Odometer reading: 62,000 miles
If the 200SX simply isn’t enough car for you, and you’re willing to sacrifice a little fuel economy for some comfort, might I interest you in an eighth-generation Mitsubishi Galant? This one is an ES model, with a 195 horsepower 3.0 liter V6 engine – only available with a four-speed automatic.
Like the Nissan, this car is in splendid condition, and has very low miles, only 62,000. It’s also a one-owner car. How do these cars end up owned by the same person for decades, and acquire so few miles? Your guess is as good as mine. And what suddenly makes them decide to sell? No clue on that either. But at least they should be able to provide all the service history.
The ad does say that it runs and drives well, everything works, and the engine doesn’t burn oil like so many of these Mitsubishi V6s do after a while. The low mileage can sometimes be off-putting, I know; if those 62,000 miles were all acquired early on, and then it sat for years, you would want to replace a bunch of rubber parts. But if it has been used regularly, but only occasionally, it should be able to be put into regular service.
Here again I’ll invoke the voice of the naysayer: “But what about safety? I mean, sure, it’s got airbags and stuff, but isn’t it a deathtrap compared to a new car?” Well, no. I mean, it’s not a rolling fortress like some newer cars are, but relying on crash survivability for your “safety” is a bit like relying on antivenom to protect you from a snakebite. It’s a lot more important to focus on not being bitten by the damn thing in the first place. Drive defensively, and it’s fine.
I know a lot of people see a car payment as a necessary evil, but personally, I haven’t made one since 2007. Yeah, I’m a lot more willing to turn wrenches than most folks are. But if you choose the right car, you shouldn’t have to do much to it. I mean, if you really want a new car, go right ahead. But don’t feel like you need to. Either of these should be perfectly reliable cars, for at least as long as a typical new-car loan term. Which one are you choosing?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)