After my car died, I went looking for a car. I had to borrow my roommate’s car many times and my dad’s car while he was on vacation. I even rode my bicycle 20+ miles to work one day, though my roommate picked me up for the trip home. It took me over a month to make my decision.
I had wanted to get a small stickshift hatchback a little smaller than my Corolla that would be able to get a little better gas mileage. Unfortunately, it was hard to find a model within my price range that actually fit my requirements. I spent a lot of time looking at craigslist, cars.com, autotrader.com, and others.
I called and emailed a number of private sellers, but never ended up going to see one. They seem harder to deal with, as you have to set up a time to meet and all, and then can’t take the car unless the title place is opened or they’ve already got their title notarized. I also visited a great many lots and test drove a number of cars.
I thought I might spend a bit more on this one. $400 is pretty cheap for a car, sure, but I was thinking even up near the $5000 mark. My Uncle Tom and Aunt Jan even loaned me some money to ensure I got a decent car.
Unfortunately, after I quit at the Winking Lizard, I wasn’t nearly as well off monetarily. I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to spend on what is just a mode of transportation anyway: that 5k mark would be a full quarter of my annual income, and I wouldn’t be guaranteed the car would last long or not have expensive problems. I kept my eyes out for some cheap cars that might work for the short term (about a year or less), some middle of the road cars that might work for a little longer, and some around 5k that might really be great cars.
As time went on, l leaned toward the lower end, considering how much money I’d have left over. The car I bought ended up toward the lower end of the middle, around $2k. It has its problems, but should last a while without too many issues.
The car I ended up with was a Saturn SW2. I had made up my mind to by one over one particular weekend, and picked out a Civic or the Saturn. The Civic was in quite bad shape, so I decided to go with the Saturn.
It is a small wagon, still about the size of my Corolla. The seating space is a little bigger, but the storage space a little smaller. I can still haul some stuff or sleep in the back if need be. It folds flat without having to lift the rear seat. Unfortunately, the bumper isn’t flush with the floor, reducing the usable space and making loading less easy. It has a roof rack if I need more space.
It’s supposed to get decent gas mileage. The EPA rates it above my Corolla, though their rating for that was well below what I got. So far I’ve gotten 33-34 mpg, and I have plans to improve on that (starting with synthetic oil).
The Saturn 2s are the sporty models, and this does have some pretty good pickup. I had actually been hoping for an even sportier car, like a Golf, but power wise it is plenty. The tires squeal on this thing quite easily. The handling isn’t great, but still good enough. Unfortunately, an issue with the transmission makes it hard to shift at time, which really puts a damper on my actual performance. I am very much going to have to do something about that, even if it is a big project.
I now have such neat new features as cruise control, power windows, power locks (though no remote key fob), and the roof rack. I really like the cruise control, and use it constantly on the highway. It has probably the best implementation of it I’ve seen, with buttons to raise or lower the speed by 1 mph at a time and a very smooth feeling operation. The locks are nice and solid. I can finally actually lock my car, and I don’t have to visit every door to lock or unlock it. The windows are wonderful while driving, though they stupidly don’t work unless the key is in the on position. I haven’t used the roof rack yet, and have removed the bars for fuel savings, though they could be very useful.
I had to give it time and clean it to remove the smokey smell. I also had to reattach some bolts on the shifter pivot point, as with that problem it could sometimes be impossible to shift into the side gears (1,2,5,R). I once spent several minutes revving forward into a chain link fence as I tried to get the car into reverse (it was going into 4). The power windows have had issues, especially the driver’s, which is the most important: I have to pull it up at two points almost every time I use it. There are some suspension or similar noises coming from the front end, but I haven’t figured them out yet. Also the exhaust rattles sometimes, especially with a passenger.
The biggest problem I didn’t notice until I was driving it home post-purchase. I noticed the trip odometer hadn’t moved from 0, which quickly brought me to notice that the odometer itself had not moved. So I know not how many miles are really on the car (estimated at around 140,000 at purchase), and at first I couldn’t even figure out my mileage between fill ups, oil changes, wheel rotations, etc, nor could I calculate my mpg, which has always been very important to me with cars. Luckily, the guy I bought it from at Magic City Motors fixed it for me at no charge. The meter reads about half of what it should now, which will surely be an issue when I go to sell it, but I’m not expecting to get too much more than $1k anyway. I’m glad I’ve at least got my tracking and mpg abilities back.
Hopefully this car will turn out even better than the last.