Joxam wrote:Also totalling a car does not necessarily mean the car was completely fucked. All 'totalling a car' means is that the amount to fix it is worth more than the car's current value which is not necessarily the same as what a car dealer can get for it if they fix it. So with late model cars that could literally be body work. My car's rear bumper alone cost 2 thousand dollars when I got rear ended but the car was only six months old and had less than five thousand miles on it so the insurance had no problem with fixing it.
Very much this.
My car is an '02 Cavalier. I bought it at the beginning of '06. It had been totaled, but only for body damage. (It had solid scores in Consumer Reports as of '06; definitely listen to Mongrel and check out Consumer Reports. If you can't wait for this year's, last year's are probably still pretty worthwhile to pick up; I haven't checked what the book version costs or what a subscription to the website costs but whatever it is is probably worth it.)
It's been an amazingly reliable car. Some nonessential bits of plastic have started breaking off the interior over the last few years (hazards of the Phoenix sun), but it's continued to be perfectly usable for over a decade. As noted upthread, the AC recently quit working and I'm finally looking to get a new car, but it's safe to say I got my $4K worth out of this one.
It's a coupe, BTW, so yeah I'm definitely sympathetic to the "small car, good mileage" idea. (It's made it to Flagstaff and back on a single tank; that's around a 300-mile round-trip.) Think I'll probably go for a sedan next time just for those times I've got a couple more people in the car, but haven't decided.
Mongrel's right that Honda's probably top of the line, but keep in mind you'll pay a premium for that; even older models tend to stay pretty expensive. (Course, this could work out to your advantage when it comes time to sell it.) I'd say the extra cost probably exceeds the extra benefit; you can get a good enough car for considerably less. American cars may not get any of the top slots, but you can often get a good-enough American car for a lot cheaper than a comparable Japanese car. (My wife and I have had good luck with Chevy; hers is an Impala, '12 I think.)
I'm leaning Prius at this point (because why not be a liberal douche stereotype), and my research indicates they're good, reliable cars (especially the '10-and-later models, but most of the pre-'10 models are good too; I think there were a couple bad years but I can't remember them offhand) but not the most cost-effective; the lifetime savings you get on gas are basically just going to bring you to the break-even point for the extra upfront cost. Plus, if you're buying used you definitely want to check how old the battery is, because hybrid batteries are expensive to replace.
I haven't really begun the search in earnest yet. I've got a month or two left before it starts getting hot again and I really start missing that AC.