Which would *you* choose?

mjmercerJuly 16, 2006

I currently have a 2001 Chevy Metro sedan which I love. But I know it won't last forever -- little glitches have already started to show up.

I've been researching cars in my price range and preference. Dependability is a huge priority because I'm a realtor and need my car to do my job. Something Japanese with low mileage and under $7,000 are also preferable ($8,000 if I absolutely can't find anything less expensive). I'd prefer manual transmission but it's not a deal breaker. Any Subaru in my price range would be ideal. Anyone here a fan of the PT Cruiser? No Hyundais or Kias, please.

Cavaliers, Aveos, Neons, Focuses (Foci? lol), Sentras and various models of Saturn consistently turn up in my search on Cars.com. I'm concerned that this is a negative comment on the quality of those models.

Are there any brave souls here who would recomend something given my budget and preferences?


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You may wish to consider a 2 to 4 yr old Saturn Wagon. My wife bought a '97 new with automatic and medium level of equipment. Cost ran about $17,000. She has over 80,000 miles on it with no major repair. Over the usual maintence items of brakes, tires, and exhaust system, we've replaced the water temp sensor and a downstream oxygen sensor that failed early.

For the latest repair, I replaced the gasket set for the valve cover. It began leaking around one spark plug hole. What I discovered was that the valve cover was a reinforced plastic molding and had shrank. It tightned up the oil cap hole and caused difficulty in removing the oil cap. Both problems were fixed by me. This shrinking valve cover is the only major problem that it has had in over 80,000 miles.

Look for the dual cam shaft model (with 4 valves per cylinder). The dual cam engine has much better performance over the lower powered engine and without a big penality in gasoline mileage. The lesser powered engine is not enough in my opinion.

The engine does not have a timing belt; It has a timing chain instead, although it is single row roller chain not much larger than a bicycle chain. It did not appear adequate to me when i saw a cut-away view of the engine on the show room floor, but that was back in 1997 when my wife bought the wagon, and the chain has held.

You should be able to find a 4 yr old Saturn within your budget.

Neon: I can not recommend the Neon mainly because it is a maintence nightmare under the hood. It's really tight in there. Look at one and imagine the steps needed to change an alternator.

Stratus: For almost the same price of a Neon, you can get a Status, but again, I'm not recommending this model (and I have one). It has always started, runs good, gets good fuel mileage, but has other negatives. The slope back of the windshield makes entering and exiting a chore. The design of the headlamp assembly is poor in regard to light pattern. High beam is ok, but at low beam, you may hit a pedestrain along side the road because he won't be seen until too late. And this is not an adjustment issue - its the shape of the light beam. Also, these headlamp assemblies tends to dull over after 4 years and should be replaced. There is a vague feeling that the driver doesn't know where the right rear of the car is. It's a little tough to parallel park, and on the freeway, one has to watch that blind spot to insure that you don't move over into another vehicle. Although, the Stratus is a much improved car over the Neon, I can not recommend it due to the negatives I've mentioned. If you can live with these negatives, then put it on your list. Mechanically, the car has been reliable. I have 80,000 miles on mile. In the not too distant future, it will need a new timing belt. My wife an I have taken several long road trips with without incident.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 8:41PM
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your happy with your metro, its a suzuki, why not stay with the suzuki brand? they are japenese, affordable,have long warantys. if it aint broke, don fix it. why not a hyundai? equal to hond and toyota in quality, and if you drive it into the ground, who cares about resale.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 7:39AM
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I thought the Metro began as a joint project between Chevrolet and Toyota? Anyway, just to clarify, most of the cars I listed in my first post are the available ones in my price range -- doesn't mean they're the ones I want to choose from. But if I *am* stuck with a Cavalier/Aveos/Neons/Focuses/Sentras/various models of Saturn, I'm wondering which is the lesser of the evils? (Thanks for the insight on your wife's Saturn, jemdandy.) I like the price, size and looks of the Aveo. But I'm concerned because so many newer models from 2003-2005 are already being resold. Any opinions on this?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 9:05AM
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The Metro was a rebadged Suzuki Swift. The Chevy Nova/Geo Prizm/Chevy Prizm was the GM/Toyota collaboration (Toyota still sells the Corolla, but now the Prizm factory makes the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix). The Aveo is a rebadged Daewoo, which is built in South Korea and also sold as the Daewoo Kalos and as the Suzuki Swift.

Of the models you mentioned:
- The Cavalier is very old technology compared to -- well, just about anything -- but, after 15-20 years, GM could bolt them together pretty decently. Since it was so far behind the pack, they sold pretty cheaply and, thus, are inexpensive used.
- The Aveo is nice enough for an entry-level subcompact. I suspect you see lots of them for sale used because they're not very spacious nor much of a zoomer, so people sell them when they can afford something bigger. I don't know if moving production from Japan to Korea has changed the reliability of the vehicle.
- I would avoid Neons. Frankly, I don't think Chrysler has its quality act together as well as even GM does, nevermind the Japanese. And, though it's anecdotal, most Neons I've seen have had the whee driven out of them. It's fun to own a car like that, but you don't want to buy one used.
- The Focus, I think, is a good choice. The car was plagued with recalls early in its life, but they're pretty solid now. The Focus is very popular in Europe, where they have many excellent small cars. Foci are surprisingly roomy, engaging to drive, and exist in sufficient numbers to make buying a used one pretty easy. It's likely at this point that even an early one bought used would have had all recalls applied, but you can always check with a Ford dealer.
- A friend of mine owns a Nissan Sentra. Nice enough car. Pleasant to drive, not too many rough edges. She got one at the bottom of the line, though, and for those, anti-lock brakes and good tires were not part of the package. Not my first choice where safety equipment is concerned.
- Saturn ... just my humble opinion, but it was the first American small car in decades that you didn't have to be bleed red, white, and blue to buy. It was fairly up-to-date when it was introduced, but GM neglected it after that, and even the Ion is nowhere near state of the art. The competition has it all over Saturn for comfort, refinement, etc. Sad, because GM had a real alternative there for a while. But you certainly could do worse.
So I guess my recommendation would be Sentra, Focus, Saturn, Cavalier, Aveo, Neon in that order. Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 11:56AM
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Thanks, Steve.

Anyone here a fan (or not a fan) of the PT Cruiser? I love the retro kitsch of the design. Have heard a few nice things about the mechanics. But I don't know enough to know whether it's a wise choice for someone who needs dependability and good gas mileage.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 12:58PM
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I had a 1988 Nissan Sentra once. Very good vehicle. Put over a 100K miles on it. Just routine maint done on it.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 2:16PM
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Anyone here a fan (or not a fan) of the PT Cruiser?

It's not a car that ever "grabbed" me. I'm not much on the styling; I think with another design them I would like it very much. I've ridden in one once or twice; it seemed comfortable enough for the time I was in it. I'd be more concerned with it as a representation of Chrysler's ability to build a quality car; I don't know where it falls among its DCX peers in fit, finish, and assembly.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 12:34PM
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