I’m Crowdsourcing My Next Car Purchase Decision

All my car people, I need your advice! I’m sure you’ve all heard by now that I’m moving to San Diego. When I move there I’ll need a car. No more public transit or riding my bike to work for me unfortunately.


My original plan was to do a two year lease on a car. That seemed like a good idea until we broke down the mileage. 12,000 miles a year just wouldn’t cut it for me I fear. The overage charges for a lease are pretty high and the amount of money spent over the two years is closing in on the cost of a decent used car.

So that leaves me with buying a car. Deal is I might only be in San Diego for six months so buying a car to own for years and years might not be practical but at the same time I don’t want to suffer through six months of a clunker right?

Here is where your advice comes in. I’ll list a few needs and maybe you can give me some ideas of what car to get, should I go used or new and maybe even where to buy it in San Diego?

  • Cost – I’d like to spend less than $15,000 if I buy a car. I can spend more if I must but I’d like to be smart with my money so it goes further. No one likes a car payment!
  • Miles Per Gallon – Great gas mileage is important. I’d go hybrid or electric if it fit my budget but I have a feeling even for $20,000 I’d be short for a decent hybrid/electric.
  • Keep it Small – I prefer a small car like a Honda Civic. Just seems super easy to get around town in and makes parking a breeze.
  • POWER! – I don’t need 500 brake horsepower but I need to win the fight of the I-5 entrance ramp. San Diegans are VERY aggressive drivers.
  • Features – Doesn’t have to be the definition of luxury but I’m known to like a great audio experience and am a gadget dork so these sorts of things make me happy.
  • Reliability – I love mechanics but I hate visiting them at work.
  • Status – Used or new I don’t really care. Either way I will finance it with the intention of paying it off within a year. No one likes a car payment!

So if you were me, what would you do? Go ahead with a lease? Buy out someone else’s lease? Buy a used car on Craigslist? Buy a new car from a dealer? Buy a used car from a dealership? What car would you get? So many questions!

Thanks for your help! Perhaps I’ll share a bottle of wine with you to celebrate my decision!

56 thoughts on “I’m Crowdsourcing My Next Car Purchase Decision

  1. As you might have noticed in my image, I’m actually debating between going with a Honda Civic and a BMW 3 Series coupe lol Great minds think alike!

  2. Yay!!! Screw the Honda though….I know they get good ratings and all, but they’re just so BORING and unstylish.

  3. Well as boring and unstylish as they may be (I actually like them a lot!) they are incredibly reliable and practical. One of the major reasons for taking this job is to put the money to good use, i.e. planning for a future. I’d rather have it for later than spend it all now haha. But I should see the price difference between the two cars.

  4. Ha ha! Makes sense! I get very uppity and opinionated about cars and tend to be a bit of a dick. I have to say though, I LOVE our Bimmer and hope to marry it someday (thanks, Obama).

  5. JustinLBC it’s all about budget though. Not sure either fit in that (Leaf would be underpowered for me I think).

  6. tonybooe oh well it’s not necessarily between those two cars, they are just representatives for the post haha

  7. justex07 factor in you won’t be paying $$$ in gas on either. And that you get carpool stickers that save you time. Time is $$$.

  8. JustinLBC not $20,000 in gas savings though. That’s how far out of budget a Volt would be (at $15k budgeted). Just don’t like the Leaf.

  9. JustinLBC I had a Chevy Volt for a week and loved it but just can’t spend $25-35k for a car in this situation.

  10. JustinLBC yeah, the photo is just a photo for the post, the blog post has all the details.

  11. JustinLBC yep! Loved the Volt and wide I could throw another $10-20k at one but I would rather save the money for the future.

  12. JustinLBC yep! Loved the Volt and wish I could throw another $10-20k at one but I would rather save the money for the future.

  13. I love my Civic! Of course, it’s a Honda so it requires very little attention as far as maintenance goes. The 2006+ models have a maintenance minder system that monitors engine revolutions so the easier you drive, the less stress the engine endures, thus can go longer without oil changes. It has a readout of oil life as you go. It also keeps track of other items too, such as tire rotations, air filters, spark plugs, etc. My models is a 2011 and also has a tire pressure monitoring system that will indicate a tire is operating under acceptable tolerances.
    My car averages 29 mpg with mostly highway but a decent amount of city driving. Gas light will come on with 3  gallons remaining. The smaller tank calls for about 330~ miles between fill ups, depending on your driving patterns. Primary freeway driving will bring the car to an average of 34mpg. 
    It has a decent amount of zip. Driving around city has a smooth ride and performs fine as far as a small car goes. Highway merging can be a challenge. Flooring it when entering the freeway will have some go power, but not much. It has about 128 lb-ft of torque so keep in mind, it  can’t win the race against cars that pack more punch under the hood. 
    The stereo system doesn’t have much luster. It has awful speakers and terrible bass. I replaced the speakers, that helped, slightly. If you’re considering a Civic, I say go for something 2009 or newer. I leased my car, and I’m going to buy it after my lease is up. For me, the monthly lease payments were much lower and I can buy it back with my own financing afterwards. Good luck! Let me know if you have another other questions

  14. since you have a tight budget, stretch a bit and get a new civic. new is always better than used. sure, you take a depreciation hit. but you never know how a previous owner treated a car. i have never bought used.

  15. Well, the Civic will be more affordable. A BMW will have to be used/off lease to get it below $20k (my 2008 335xi we just traded in was $20,500 value).  And with an older BMW you will get less than 20 mpg. Newer ones fare better.
    Look at VWs. The Golf Diesel gets 40 mpg+ (we have a friend who has one, similar commute) not sure on price though. This will be an interesting decision. Are there not any Chevy Volts off lease yet? Too new? Maybe a used Prius?
    Also remember the parking spaces where you will work are TINY (though you can park on the street and get some extra cardio in). So many factors! I imagine I’ll be around for the final decision though. 😛

  16. jeremybelson but of all the choices out there, and considering costs/value; is getting a luxury car worth it? Doubtful it fits the budget.

  17. richmackey haha yes on a lot of the above. The photos is simply representative of the spectrum of cars on the market, used Honda vs new BMW.
    I have a friend with a VW diesel and he loves the MPG but I saw several reviews giving their reliability is 3 out of 5. I hate car trouble.
    That being said, it seems like the 2009-2011 Honda Civic might be the best option, along with some Hyundais and surprisingly a Ford Fusion. 
    I love a small car, as long as it isn’t something like a Daihatsu Charade hehe http://photo.netcarshow.com/Daihatsu-Charade_2006_photo_01.jpg

  18. milozenchai Wow, awesome reply thanks! That’s about what I got from markremarks. I’m also looking at some Hyundais and Mazdas. I loved my old Mazda and as labelscar wrote on Facebook, “you will not find a car in its price class that is nearly as kicky and fun to drive.” #zoomzoom

  19. justex07 labelscar milozenchai Yeah, my Civic averages about 7K between oil changes as well.  Only other thing I’ve had to do since getting the car were the air filters, rotate tires, and change a pair of brake pads.  I needed the alignment done, but that’s because the car slid in some snow and hit the curb.  My friend has a 2012 Mazda 3 and it’s super zippy and more fun to drive than my car, but the gas mileage even at it’s best is worse than my older Civic.  On my longest road trip I didn’t need gas until I was at about 390 miles.

  20. I’m basically torn right now between the Mazda 3 and Honda Civic. The newer Mazda 3 apparently really closes the gap between the Civic. It even gets 1 mpg better gas mileage! Crash tests still score better with the Civic as well as interior but the zip if the Mazda 3 and its looks are both appealing. http://www.spreenhonda.com/clp-2013-honda-civic-vs-2013-mazda3
    I guess it will come down to cost. The Mazda is cheaper but it’s the 2013 that is impressive and I doubt that fits near my $15k budget. Maybe a sportier model of a 2011 Civic is a good compromise, even if I pay a little bit more…
    No one seems to like the idea of a late model Hyundai lol

  21. justex07 BMW FOR DAYS! 328i & they’re changing the body style soon, probably get a deal.

  22. jeremybelson hmm seems pretty big and expensive haha. But apparently much better than the Prius V!

  23. wchardin dare to dream, it wouldn’t fit in my budget unless I went to the 2006 year model. Right?

  24. justex07 wchardin I just got a 2013 Accord and I’m in love. Honda has put so many features as standard it’s ridiculous.

  25. KevinS_PA wchardin budget is $15k loved my old Accord EX but I’m wanting something smaller this time around.

  26. justex07 KevinS_PA then I would go with a Honda or even a Prius if you’re looking for a hybrid.

  27. justex07 wchardin Gotcha. I had an ’07 Civic EX before this car and loved that too.

  28. wchardin KevinS_PA it doesn’t have to be a hybrid by any means. I’d rather have better pickup than 5-10 mpg on the I-5 ramps haha.

  29. KevinS_PA wchardin the 2011 Civic has been recommended by milozenchai & markremarks, Mazda 3 by labelscar. Seem to be the best options?

  30. justex07 you don’t want to live in the ghetto but you want to buy a ghetto car? Haha just kidding. Buy a MINI cooper s.

  31. JustinGTP I’d rather spend $15k and have < 6 car payments than $38k and deal with years of payments and higher costs. Plus more $ for life!

  32. @justex07 JustinLBC With the commute you will have, carpool stickers are absolutely useless, there are no carpool lanes south of the 56 on the 5 or 805. The 15 has one and you can pay for it each time you get on it with Fastrak, but the 15 goes northeast and takes you a bit out of the way. I usually avoid it unless the 805 is all backed up since getting across on Miramar Rd takes a long time (and I stop a few lights before the 805, you’d have to go even further).

  33. I love car buying! After buying new cars, I decided a used car is the best way to spend money, yet I still have never purchased a used one haha. Negotiating a new car is fun, and if you were to go that route, I’d recommend getting bids from dealers within 200 miles. I bought Subie in Irvine because the local dealer refused to budge. Internet quotes are the best.
    Now, $15k is a pretty healthy amount, but I think you’d get a much better deal buying used than new. Especially if you are not keeping it for a long time (are you planning on keeping it if you move back to San Francisco?). 
    If you are not sure of how long you will keep the car, I think the most cost effective option is to buy a used car, even if it is above your budget. Buying used means someone else already paid the initial depreciation (1 to 2 years old should be pretty good, you can even get CPO if you are interested in having a warranty). And when you decide you don’t need the car anymore, you can sell it for closer than you paid for it than if you had bought it new. It sucks that in CA you must pay the sales tax on the purchase of the vehicle, so buying a car for 6 months or a year does not make the 7.75 to 8.5% sales tax very cost effective. Used cars from reputable brands should not be spending a lot of time in the shop. Make sure the car you buy has good tires, enough brake pads left, and has not been abused. Good service records are great and carfax is a decent place to start, but being close to Tijuana, many cars can be fixed down there without it ever showing up on carfax. A good mechanic that can look it over will be critical. I sold my Mazda 3 on craigslist, and if I were looking for a used car, that’s the first place I’d look. Used car lots can be tricky to navigate, a lot of them can be very sleazy. Craigslist people will usually know everything about their cars, and you can judge the car torture based on who drives it.
    A lease would actually not be too bad for you, but you would definitely need to add extra miles. You can take over someone’s lease, but not every lease can be transferred. Leaseswap or one of those sites has all that info. If you are worried about adding extra miles due to driving to SF or LA, flying to SF is easier. I do about 16,000 miles a year, and I don’t drive up to San Francisco or LA that often, so yeah, you definitely need a lot, but you can also transfer the lease back out to someone when you are done.

    Now on to cars. I also love Mazdas. My 3 was so much fun and I never had any problems with it in its 80,0000 mile lifetime with me. Honda of course always have good reputation, but as you said, they are boring :P. A car with 30 mpg vs a car with 40 mpg will only save you $40 a month at $4 per gallon, so if a higher mileage car costs more than $40 a month, then it’s not worth going for mileage if you can get other features you want. IE, it won’t be too bad IMO to sacrifice MPGs over features.
    If you are planning on keeping the car for a short term, then look for a car that will hold its value well so you can sell easily, and then just look for something in that category that you can live with. A Civic would definitely meet all these criteria. Mazdas are not as sought after as Civics, but they still hold decent value.
    Now if you plan on keeping a car for the long term, then there’s a whole lot of opinions I can send your way 😛

  34. justex07 Just read your blog, Nice work! Someone from a dealership down there in San Diego should contact you soon.

  35. IDK what you choose, but a sleeper is the 335D, you can find one for 15k. Takes diesel has 420 foot pounds of torque 0-60 in high 13’s, auto and gets 43mpg. Win win.

  36. RichardTravisReyes Cheapest 335D on Auto Trader as of today is a 2009 for $22,000 with 75k miles

  37. Buy a used car on craigslist, just make sure its a clean one. Jetta TDI sounds like it fits your needs. Sell it when your ready for something else. If you play it right you could drive the car for free or even make some money. I made money driving a Dodge Viper for a year…

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