Recommendations for work commuter car

Busterbrown

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
253
I'm looking at purchasing a 3rd vehicle (used) as a winter driver for the daily work commute. Budget is $5-8,000 and would like a few personal recommedations regarding durability in the small to midsize car classes. Proven powertrain reliability is high on the list as is fuel economy. My commute is almost 70 miles round trip. Model years no older than 2003-2004. Just curious to see what the community (and their respective families) are driving exclusive of their GMT's. Any small car Chrysler product can be immediately discredited. (Don't want to be one of those "sad story telling" Sebring owners). Let me know your thoughts.
 

The_Roadie

Lifetime VIP Donor
Member
Nov 19, 2011
9,957
Portland, OR
I bought a beater Civic for exactly that purpose. Faded clear coat and zero power accessories and no mods but a cheap head unit keep it from being stolen. So far. I'd actually not cry is if WAS swiped. I'd just buy another one. With a 6 mile commute on side streets, I have ZERO pride invested in THAT one. Mine's a '96. Not certain I'd buy one that old for 70 mile commute.
 

Boricua SS

Member
Nov 20, 2011
3,080
Ohio
my daily driver is a wide body 2001 grand prix GT (as seen in my garage on my profile)... that 3800 series V6 motor is one of the best motors GM put out IMO... i get anywhere from 27-30 mpg's highway, and anywhere from 19.5-23.6 mpgs city.. my job is 4 miles away from my house... so i go about 2 weeks on a tank of gas :rotfl:, my brother drives a Mazda 6 Wagon, and those things get great mileage.. before that he had a Protege 5 Wagon and was pushing almost 42 mpg's on the highway

if i had to suggest anything.. i mean i guess that depends on your loyalty.. since you have a GMT, im guessing you're a GM family... but are you open to anything? Is a Cobalt too small for you? What about a Malibu, Impala, etc... then there's the Honda's.. Accord, Civic.. how about Nissan? Altima, Maxima, etc... Ford? Fusion, Focus... thats a nice budget and should allow you to get anything you pretty much want with great mpg's...
 

Busterbrown

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
253
the roadie said:
I bought a beater Civic for exactly that purpose. Faded clear coat and zero power accessories and no mods but a cheap head unit keep it from being stolen. So far. I'd actually not cry is if WAS swiped. I'd just buy another one. With a 6 mile commute on side streets, I have ZERO pride invested in THAT one. Mine's a '96. Not certain I'd buy one that old for 70 mile commute.

A buddy of mine recently bought an 02 Civic. As bare bones as you can get with only 50,000 original miles. Notable suspension issues after its decade in operation but the powertrain is intact. I personally never had 'done' Japanese before as American, German, and Swedish are more my style. But I digress... As I scour the used car market on the WWW, many of the Jap cars are priced based on the automotive buying culture of the 80's...that is "US quality blows" and "buy foreign". So as supply and demand play out, Honda and Toyota car owners tend to list vehicles with higher price points than their American counterparts. I'm still skeptical though.

Boricua SS said:
my daily driver is a wide body 2001 grand prix GT (as seen in my garage on my profile)... that 3800 series V6 motor is one of the best motors GM put out IMO... i get anywhere from 27-30 mpg's highway, and anywhere from 19.5-23.6 mpgs city.. my job is 4 miles away from my house... so i go about 2 weeks on a tank of gas :rotfl:, my brother drives a Mazda 6 Wagon, and those things get great mileage.. before that he had a Protege 5 Wagon and was pushing almost 42 mpg's on the highway

if i had to suggest anything.. i mean i guess that depends on your loyalty.. since you have a GMT, im guessing you're a GM family... but are you open to anything? Is a Cobalt too small for you? What about a Malibu, Impala, etc... then there's the Honda's.. Accord, Civic.. how about Nissan? Altima, Maxima, etc... Ford? Fusion, Focus... thats a nice budget and should allow you to get anything you pretty much want with great mpg's...

I've owned several cars with GM's 3800 series powerplant. Definitely a workhorse with economy to match. Would like to be above 30 MPG's on the highway but I'm still considering (any) Grandma's midsize Buick Lacrosse. Malibu's and Impala's are options too, but it seems that two thirds of Detroiters drive one.

As far as budget and finding a vehicle with a clean history, reasonable mileage, and positive consumer reports, it's harder than you think. Used small cars are a dymanic commodities market as the future of gas prices remains volatile. Add a Jap name to the product and your wallet takes an even bigger hit.
 

NewfieEnvoy

Member
Jan 25, 2012
525
Don't laugh but late model Hyundai's Sonatas have great mpgs and the build quality has come a long way since my Excel :smile: You can usually pick one up with more options and cheaper than an Accord. I use to be all about Hondas but have not been impressed with the last several years. I drove my friends late model that has a v6 and fell in love.
 

Busterbrown

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
253
NewfieEnvoy said:
Don't laugh but late model Hyundai's Sonatas have great mpgs and the build quality has come a long way since my Excel :smile: You can usually pick one up with more options and cheaper than an Accord. I use to be all about Hondas but have not been impressed with the last several years. I drove my friends late model that has a v6 and fell in love.

Yes, thought about a Sonato too. Not many to choose from in Detroit as Hyundai dealers are far and few between. Drove a fleet car in Florida a few years ago when I was on vacation for a week. Nice ride. Reasonable fuel economy IIRC. What I do remember was cabin noise was non-existant. I think it was an 08??? The one I rented also had a V6 with a set to match. Plenty of torque throughout the RPM range. Don't know if I could pick up an 07/08 under 8K without a load of miles on it. I'm 'a-looking' though.
 

Default User

Member
Dec 19, 2012
71
I vote for a Mazda3

Mainly the 06-09 models as most of the bugs would have been worked out.

My 05 Mazda3 was a champ. Peppy and fun to drive. Good on gas and insurance. Had a hatchback, so dropping the rear seats gave more room in the hatch area for carrying stuff if necessary.
 

blazinlow89

Member
Jan 25, 2012
2,088
My fiancee has an 06 Jetta, gas mileage is pretty good. They hold their value fairly well too. If you can find a TDi version for a good price the MPG on those things has been recorded in the low 70's on cross country trips. I think average is like 45-50 mpg though. The 06 gets about 37 on the highway with the 2.5L 5 cyl.

I have always done the beater civic, once the TB is paid off and after our wedding I will pick up another beater to drive. I can pick up a 94-97 for under $1500 around here and they drive forever.
 

Lima Tango

Member
Dec 4, 2011
242
Another civic coupe commuter here, though I did a zero down lease for a new '10. Costs me $225/mo for the 3 year lease, 36mpg, no worries about maintenance, and no despair about the 1000 miles a month commute being put on my TB. Worth it to me: $2700 spent per year for a nicely equipped new car with no old car problems. Would a used beater car have depreciated that much, no, but I grew up always worrying about the car starting in the morning, would it die in traffic, or what the next part to fail would be, and I really like the peace of mind.

All that being said, I am not a big fan of Honda in general, and this particular generation has been fairly unimpressive, so I don't know if I would recommend this particular car.
 

Busterbrown

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
253
blazinlow89 said:
My fiancee has an 06 Jetta, gas mileage is pretty good. They hold their value fairly well too. If you can find a TDi version for a good price the MPG on those things has been recorded in the low 70's on cross country trips. I think average is like 45-50 mpg though. The 06 gets about 37 on the highway with the 2.5L 5 cyl.

I have to admit, know very little when it comes to VW's clean diseal technology. Just visited their website and seen similar fuel economy numbers. It's got my interest a bit. How does diesel fuel command that kind of efficency? I need to school myself a bit. Not many TDi's on CL in my area. Asking price for a 2009 with 80K miles was $15,000. A little high considering the mileage.
 

blazinlow89

Member
Jan 25, 2012
2,088
Miles on a diesel are not like miles on a gas engine. 100k on a truck is considered broken in, and 350-500k is considered normal mileage for a diesel vehicle.

Diesel has always done better as had mileage goes, standard in European cars and light trucks, some what exotic over here in the US. While diesels generally lack a ton of power off the line, and high speed they are little torque monsters. Let me see if I can dig up some info for you tomorrow, as I am getting ready to go to bed.
 

Busterbrown

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
253
Lima Tango said:
Another civic coupe commuter here, though I did a zero down lease for a new '10. Costs me $225/mo for the 3 year lease, 36mpg, no worries about maintenance, and no despair about the 1000 miles a month commute being put on my TB. Worth it to me: $2700 spent per year for a nicely equipped new car with no old car problems. Would a used beater car have depreciated that much, no, but I grew up always worrying about the car starting in the morning, would it die in traffic, or what the next part to fail would be, and I really like the peace of mind.

All that being said, I am not a big fan of Honda in general, and this particular generation has been fairly unimpressive, so I don't know if I would recommend this particular car.

An older Civic could be in the running; post-2003 as I'd wish to have less than a decade old vehicle. Resale value on some of the 2006's and 2007's are offensive to the buyer. Just saw one listed with 160,000 miles for $8,000. More respectable mileage vehicles are all topping $10,000. A mere 50% residual after 7 years of ownership is appalling. The in-service date on my Buick Rainier was June 2006. Purchased it Jan 2009 making it 2.5 years old with 28,000 miles. $35K sticker and sold to me (by a Buick dealer) for $16,000. F&*king small foreign cars! :hissyfit:

blazinlow89 said:
Miles on a diesel are not like miles on a gas engine. 100k on a truck is considered broken in, and 350-500k is considered normal mileage for a diesel vehicle.

Diesel has always done better as had mileage goes, standard in European cars and light trucks, some what exotic over here in the US. While diesels generally lack a ton of power off the line, and high speed they are little torque monsters. Let me see if I can dig up some info for you tomorrow, as I am getting ready to go to bed.

Thanks for the info. I knew diesels were high mileage engines. Just am curious as to HOW VW can acheive such high fuel economies out of these little buggers. Every time I've rented cars in Europe, they've been diesel....so I know diesel is supreme.
 

meerschm

Member
Aug 26, 2012
1,079
I have an 09 Jetta Turbo Diesel ( TDI) Higher mpg is pretty simple. Diesel has more energy per gallon than gas. Include a turbo to push more air into the same size engine. Pay attention to details (my automatic is a two clutch automated six speed gearbox.)

Same tricks (except the fuel energy) are going into the high MPG vehicles coming off the line. Turbos and multi-gear multi clutch transmissions. Durability is a side effect of building for higher compression ratio. a few more systems to maintain, but the extra expense/value and higher mpg makes it an easier decision to maintain and keep on the road than for a similar sized gasser.


I agree you will be hard pressed to find a Jetta TDI in your price range. if you do, there are a few things to look for to see if you would be in for some maintenance. My daughter in law also has a TDI and her 40k service came to $500, at the same time she needed tires.

(some items are a bit more expensive. including timing belt service every 120k miles, and some years had a cam issue. google it up or look at Fred's TDI Page. TDIClub.com. VW TDI Enthusiast Community for some good discussion.


as for a recommendation, have you considered trading fuel for vehicle cost and go for a more expensive, but more efficient vehicle?

My brother just picked up a Chevy Sonic.


and off the line, with the right gearing, the torque pushes you pretty nice. there is a bit of turbo lag, but not so much as you might think.
 

dingle

Member
May 26, 2012
59
Another civic driver here. I've currently got a 2012 sedan and I like it. I drive 30 miles a day and I can go anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks before filling up. And even then it only takes about 11 gallon of gas to fill it up. Can't beat only paying 35 dollars to fill it up. I've gotten 42mpg on a trip to Cincinnati over the summer but right now with winter blend gas it gets around 32 mpg. Still not bad. My last car was a 96 accord with 283k miles and it still ran great and got 30 mpg. I paid $1800 for it. Wish I still had it.
 

BO TIE SS

Member
Nov 18, 2011
1,497
My wife bought a new 2005 Subaru Forester. Very nice AWD system for winter driving. It now has 150K on it. Besides the normal wear items, the only repairs have been the harmonic balancer pulley and the AC compressor.

Autotrader <-- (clicky thing)
 

redleg6

Member
Apr 10, 2012
686
daily driver is a '05 Kia Optima EX V6, front wheel drive, 2.7L, auto w/ sport shift option...great on gas mileage(23-25) as I have a 64 mile daily commute

pretty quick off the line and surprised me when I was on I-90 years ago going much faster* than I should have back then...only gripes are the paint issues on some exterior surfaces, mirror switch stopped working, the overall fit/finish on the inside, and the leather seating is nice (not supple), it has no more cushioning...kinda wish it had heated seats too lately













*if this car has a speed limiter, its north of 130
 

Jkust

Member
Dec 4, 2011
945
I actually can't believe how far Kia and Hyundai have come from the early days...I've driven several Optimas and the equivalent Hyundai over the years as rentals and they'd make a good commuter. If you can stand the look of it, I've also had rental Chevy HHR's over the years and it became a game to try to get below 39mpg's which I couldn't. The downside is I found myself constantly flooring it to merge. The plus side is it is a GM and is discountinued so suffers from a double whammy which is greaty for used buyers.
 

Busterbrown

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
253
BO TIE SS said:
My wife bought a new 2005 Subaru Forester. Very nice AWD system for winter driving. It now has 150K on it. Besides the normal wear items, the only repairs have been the harmonic balancer pulley and the AC compressor.

Autotrader <-- (clicky thing)

What kind of mileage is your Forester getting nowadays after 150K miles? The link from autotrader has local units price out over $10,000 even though a quick blue book search in my area claiming much lower pricing.

Hypnotoad said:
TDIs are probably out of your target price range.

Yep...even with crazy high mileage.
 

TollKeeper

Supporting Donor
Member
Dec 3, 2011
8,027
Brighton, CO
I would also look at a VW Diesel.. But aim a little older, around 99 or so. They have come down in price for their older ones, and you can get one with decent miles for a decent price, and they come without the post 03 EPA mandates that get really expensive to repair.

[EBAY]221173096411[/EBAY]

I DO NOT recomend anything GAS powered by VW. Way to bloody expensive to repair, and they break down almost like clockwork.

Subaru also make a very good car, and with AWD to boot. But you will be looking at mid 20's for fuel mileage. I miss my 06 Subaru I had. Stay away from VDC. It isnt bad or anything like that, but the MPG drops like heart attack. VDC = H6 (or V6 for those who dont know boxer engines). VDC Also means vehicle dynamic control, which means a whole slew of electronics to help you drive in the slippery stuff. Worked great on my 06 I had. But fuel milage was 18MPG. I get that with my Envoy!

[EBAY]130827260430[/EBAY]

Another vote for Hyundai/KIA (same car company now). They have come a really long way. My brother just bought a 2010 Sante Fe, The fuel milage is not nearly as good as his Subaru Outback, but his outback had some 350k miles on it, and was due for retirement.

But my vote, since this is going to be a winter beater, is this...

[EBAY]230906073395[/EBAY]

Cheap, low miles, 2008. Would be better if it was a stick shift, they get a few more MPG..

Yes I know it has a rebuilt title. But from my reading on it, and what the seller has stated, he never even repaired it, just got it inspected and kept on driving it. The damage is not bad, and for a beater.. WTFCares!
 

Busterbrown

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
253
TollKeeper;114712But my vote said:
230906073395[/EBAY]

Cheap, low miles, 2008. Would be better if it was a stick shift, they get a few more MPG..

Yes I know it has a rebuilt title. But from my reading on it, and what the seller has stated, he never even repaired it, just got it inspected and kept on driving it. The damage is not bad, and for a beater.. WTFCares!

Looks like the owner got sandwiched between a concrete median and flatbed trailer. Cosmetic mostly but looks like every door and side body panel has damage. Miles are good. MPGs are on target. 2 hour commute north of where I live. The real question is can I live with "a forever" rebuilt title on a defunct Saturn product? Let me see how other Astra's are faring...
 

jimmyjam

Member
Nov 18, 2011
1,634
Busterbrown said:
The real question is can I live with "a forever" rebuilt title on a defunct Saturn product? Let me see how other Astra's are faring...
keep in mind the astra still exists, just under the opel nameplate in europe. don't know what that means for parts domestically
 

TollKeeper

Supporting Donor
Member
Dec 3, 2011
8,027
Brighton, CO
jimmyjam said:
keep in mind the astra still exists, just under the opel nameplate in europe. don't know what that means for parts domestically

And also as the Vauxhaul. A buddy of mine in St Louis had one, bought the EU VXR engine/drivetrail, and autocrossed it. He loved that car, all the way up until he rolled it. They are very nimble, and drive well.
 

BO TIE SS

Member
Nov 18, 2011
1,497
Busterbrown said:
What kind of mileage is your Forester getting nowadays after 150K miles? The link from autotrader has local units price out over $10,000 even though a quick blue book search in my area claiming much lower pricing.
I'll have to get her to check what she's getting now.

I modified the search...click this one. Autotrader
 

Opeth

Member
Mar 25, 2012
177
04-05 cavalier/ sun fire in a 5 speed. Yes they are not made anymore but parts are cheap and everywhere. I had an 04 sun fire and got 37mpgs highway, some days I kick myself for selling it.

If I could find one that wasn't a rust bucket, I'd snatch it right up.
 

Busterbrown

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
253
I found a low mileage, 1-owner 98 Nissan Maxima GLE for sale locally that looks well taken care of. Anyone know how their 6 cylinders hold up? Mileage is at 80K.
 

Lima Tango

Member
Dec 4, 2011
242
Busterbrown said:
I found a low mileage, 1-owner 98 Nissan Maxima GLE for sale locally that looks well taken care of. Anyone know how their 6 cylinders hold up? Mileage is at 80K.

I had an early 90s Maxima with a 3.0 v6 and a 5 speed. I loved that car; powerful, decent on gas, and the powertrain was bulletproof. Bought it for cheap because it was an abused repo car with well over 100k, and it still had no engine issues.
 

Mesoholics

Member
Apr 2, 2012
77
My brother has an '05 Pontiac G5 GT, which is basically the Cobalt SS without the Turbo/Supercharger. It has the 2.0L Ecotec motor which is very good and a 5speed. Very basic interior but I would take his car over my G6 any day. He gets about 28-32 MPG depending on his right foot around the city and I have seen as high as 40 on the highway. Parts are cheap and you can pick up a car for much less than an Import of similar years. He has over 100k miles and no issues so far.

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RichieT

Member
Feb 8, 2012
65
My son leases a Kia Forte that gets around 40MPG. I'm looking to lease one as a daily driver as soon as I take care of some more pressing matters. I'm 6' 215lb's and while I can't say I could fully stretch out, it is roomy enough for a commuter.
 

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