Author Topic: Help Me Pick a Cheap Commuter Car  (Read 1853 times)


  • Bristles
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Help Me Pick a Cheap Commuter Car
« on: February 12, 2018, 10:47:50 AM »
I found out my work is going to be moving offices, so it will be 15 miles from my house instead of 2 miles. Unfortunately it's outside of biking range (probably too far even for an e-bike since my time is valuable, but I might bike once a week for fitness), and moving is not a good option right now. I currently have a Toyota 4runner, which is fine if I only drive it a couple times a week, but it's way too expensive to commute in. I also don't want to get rid of it or wear it out since it's ideal for SUV things like going mountain biking or camping with four people, and replacing it would be expensive.

So I am looking to get a cheap commuter car. I would like to minimize fuel cost and depreciation (purchase cost per expected lifespan). It doesn't have to be big or practical, but I would ideally like to be able to carry one mountain bike, either inside or on a hitch or on the roof. I would like it to be reasonable safe, so probably something made in this millennium. I'll drive about 7500 miles a year for my commute, plus maybe 3000-5000 miles of other driving where I don't need a SUV. The 4runner will be reserved for trips with lots of people and stuff, going off-road, driving in the snow, etc., Probably around 5,000 miles a year. The commute is all highway, mostly 65mph, so highway fuel efficiency is important.

Used Priuses are quite abundant and cheap, but it sounds like they stop working if the battery dies. Is that right? And it sounds like Honda hybrids keep working if the battery dies, but they are not very driveable in that case (I've read they will try to recondition the battery, actively charging and discharging it using power from the engine). I could put in a new battery, but I would be afraid to invest a lot in such an old car that could have some other major problem before the new battery reaches the end of its lifespan.

Nissan Leafs (leaves?) have the same problem as Priuses if the battery wears out, plus since the range is limited I could use it for a lower portion of my yearly mileage.

It looks like I could get a new Leaf for around $17,000 after tax credits, or a Prius Prime or Chevy Volt for around $22,000. But if those last 100,000-200,000 miles that's $0.10-$0.20 a mile in depreciation. A $5000 used car that lasts 100,000 miles is $0.05 per mile in depreciation. Lower upfront cost is good too, so if there's a $2500 car that will last 50,000 miles that's better than one that costs twice as much and lasts twice as long.

I can do most maintenance work myself, but I don't have any experience working on (or buying) 150,000+ mile cars.  I've never done any engine work, but I can remove and replace pretty much any part on a car as long as the design is reasonably easy to work on. How can I estimate how much longer an old car is likely to last? For example, old Hondas can last a million miles, but I don't really see that many on the road anymore, so the typical lifespan must be less.

Any suggestions?


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Help Me Pick a Cheap Commuter Car
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2018, 11:04:39 AM »
I'd probably look for a 2012-ish Chevy Volt.  They can be had for around $8-9k these days with <100k.  Should be able to make your usual 15 mile commute each way entirely on electricity, with the ability to use the reserve fuel (premium gas) for longer drives.


  • Senior Mustachian
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Re: Help Me Pick a Cheap Commuter Car
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2018, 12:02:37 PM »
I was in this situation recently..

Based on what you've said, I'd search around for cars that are +7 years old but have <100,000 miles on them.  They're harder to find, but they exist. For whatever reason, smaller cars older than about 7 years are worth much less than newer models even when they have less miles. I encountered a bunch of civics, yaris (yari?) matrixes etc. with around ~80k for well under $10k.  As long as it comes form a place that doesn't use a lot of salt those cars should last you another 100,000 miles easy.



  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Help Me Pick a Cheap Commuter Car
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2018, 12:05:25 PM »
I love my Accent. Drives well, was cheap, reliable, good on gas. Hopefully it will last a while.


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Help Me Pick a Cheap Commuter Car
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2018, 01:24:46 PM »
Id go with a Volt too; their EV range will mean you never buy gas to commute and they have an excellent reputation for reliability.