Last time, I talked about what you should look for in a used vehicle for your new first time driver in your family. In this article, I am going to provide my short list of vehicles to consider. Please bear in mind that this short list is not complete or comprehensive, but more of a guide when considering this type of purchase for your new teen driver.
1. Chevrolet Malibu sedan (2004-2006) – The Malibu was redesigned and moved to a larger platform in 2004. I said then and I still contend that this model was able to go toe-to-toe with a Toyota Camry of the same vintage. When considering this model AVOID the Malibu Classic (2004-2005) as it was the final run out of the previous generation. Also avoid the Malibu MAXX which was marketed as an “extended sedan”. You should seek out the four-cylinder models (LS/LT trim) since they are the volume leader and cheaper to maintain.
2. Ford Taurus sedan (2000-2005) – Taurus was the volume car for the Ford Motor Company for years – being supplanted in recent years by the Ford Fusion as the company moved the Taurus to a different platform and repositioned it at a higher price point. You want to avoid the Taurus wagon and the top-of-the-line SEL models. The base 3.0L Duratec V-6 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission is capable and reliable. You can also consider the Mercury Sable sedan (2000-2005) which is the Taurus’s mechanical twin. AVOID the Ford Five Hundred/Mercury Montego which was only made from 2005 through 2007.
3. Dodge Stratus sedan (2000-2006) – This is a gem of a car that was never fully appreciated by the American motoring public. The Stratus featured an excellent outward view, nimble handing and a good ride. These are available for a very reasonable price due to market discounting over the years. You want to AVOID the Stratus coupe models and any Stratus equipped with the 2.7L V6. The Chrysler Sebring sedan (2000-2006) is a mechanical sibling of the Stratus.
4. Buick Century sedan (2000-2005) – The Century was redesigned for the 1997 model year and pretty much remained unchanged during its run. Equipped with a 3.1L V6 engine and mated to a Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic, the Century was smooth, quiet and roomy – if somewhat dated looking. You will want to AVOID its racier twin – the Buick Regal. Although the Regal is equipped with the automaker’s legendary 3800 3.8L V6 – the added standard equipment means potential added repairs and maintenance.
Regardless of what vehicle you choose, a few additional things to consider: being a used car, some basic maintenance is to be expected. When I purchase a used vehicle, I plan on spending some money upfront that may include: changing filters – an oil change, air filter and gasoline filter (often forgotten!). You will want to change the interior air filter too (yeah, I learned about this filter on my wife’s 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan). I may flush the cooling system and fill it with new coolant – as well as change the thermostat.
Tires are another point of contention – if they are worn down enough, I might consider a set of used tires – usually about $100-200 mounted, balanced and put on the car for four. If the vehicle is over 100,000 miles, changing spark plugs and spark plug wires are a good idea too. Finally, changing the transmission fluid is a good idea. Over the last twenty years, automatic transmissions have gone largely to electronic controls – leaving nothing to replace or adjust inside the transmission. However, the fluid will get dirty and contaminated over time. Changing the fluid and flushing the system (ask them to also empty the torque converter too) will eliminate the harmful contaminants and add life to the unit.