Author Topic: First time car purchase?  (Read 699 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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  • Posts: 4
  • Location: Seattle, WA
First time car purchase?
« on: June 13, 2018, 04:05:14 PM »
I've been an avid fan of MMM and have held off purchasing a car for 4 years after graduating college. However, being in the PNW, I found a deep passion for the outdoors. The price is getting prohibitive renting cars to take on multi-night camping trips and I've been thinking about purchasing a used car from the early or mid 2000s. That said, I do not drive to work or drive within the city at all nor do I plan on doing so.

However, I'm completely clueless about cars and their capabilities. I've been doing a lot of readings and asking around but there seems to be a lot of contradictory advice and some advice seems downright silly such as leasing a brand new car. I'm hoping this community could shed a light on this process.

1. I've been thinking of purchasing a Subaru because of the cargo space + the ability to go on Forest roads. But I've read that tires matter more than the AWD. Does this community recommend a car <$6k that would be good for this use? I've also considered Honda Fit Sport.
2. I've been on Craigslist making bids at cars, but it seems like no one wants to do a pre-purchase inspection, even if I offer to pay for it. Is this normal?


  • Stubble
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  • Posts: 103
Re: First time car purchase?
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2018, 12:47:25 PM »
This has been most of the cars I've owned in the past 20 years.  If you're only going to be driving out to the outdoors, and not that often, things really change quite a bit because:

1. Gas mileage really isn't that much of an issue- well, not crucial in your decision. Seriously, the difference between a 20mpg car and a 30mpg car for what you're doing in a year would be *maybe* $200.  A single diagnosis and repair of an errant sensor in a newer car will cost more than this.  If you feel bad about driving something so inefficient, think of it as taking this car off the road most of the year so someone can drive that 38mpg fit every day instead!
2. Many cars are a bit finicky about not being driven regularly.  In my experience, newer cars tend to be worse for this than older ones. 
3. Off-road capabilities are not essential, but should be in the "why not?" category. 

Honestly, when looking for an occasional use vehicle the key thing is something that's
1.  simple (very little to go wrong, even if you don't drive it much)
2. cheap (so you don't care about it if somebody backs into it/you leave it on the trail/etc.)
3. wide parts availability and can be fixed and maintained by any mechanic, not the dealer (God forbid) or a specialist.

So while a Subaru (Wagon or Forrester) from the late 90s- early 2000s would work, it's not as good for #2 and #3.  Most cars made in the past 10 years clearly violate all three to some degree.  Dealers make virtually all their money on servicing, not sales, so in order to meet new economy/emissions requirements as well as make $$, they have made them less easily serviced. 

The best choice would probably be an older SUV/small pickup.  If you're going to be taking more than yourself and one other person, a Jeep Cherokee would be perfect (1990-2002).  Even the Grand Cherokee if it's the base model (Laredo), with the 4.0l straight six engine.  It hits all 3.  Second choice something like a 4-runner.  Similar, but prices are pretty outrageous in your area. 

If you're not looking to bring more than you and a companion, a standard cab pickup from the same era is a great choice.  More room for gear and sleeping in the back, and full-frame chassis built for no-nonsense abuse.  My current favorite is the Ford Ranger.  Easily ticks all 3 boxes.  Super cheap, they made virtually the same truck for almost 20 years with only a few revisions, and nobody thinks they're cool.  Plus you get 4wd. 

If you want to bring more people or sleep comfortably in the back, a minivan or regular full-size van with all-terrain tires.  An older Sienna would probably be fine for what you're asking it to do. 

As for pre-purchase inspections, that's harder.  People don't want to deal with the hassle because everyone gets swamped with "I'm interested" from random people every time they post.  I've sold there and the last thing I want to do is spend an entire day arranging a pre-purchase inspection for someone only to have them tell me that the mechanic insisted the car needed $2000 of work on a $2500 vehicle and then try to haggle with me. 

Your best bet is to find a friend who is/has a family member who is a mechanic and let them know basically what you're looking for.  People often let their mechanic know when they're looking to sell/trade in a vehicle, and the mechanic already knows the car- essentially a multi-year pre-purchase inspection.  Put out feelers and you should have something pretty good within a few weeks.

« Last Edit: June 16, 2018, 12:53:27 PM by Reddleman »