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Old 02-25-2016, 08:46 AM   #1
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Default Daily driver died, need recommendations/warnings

Yesterday on my way to work my 2002 Jeep Liberty finally died. It's not going to be economical to fix and so I am in the market for a daily driver.

I have three categories of cars that I am considering. All have to be reliable and free of major flaws or frequent expensive repairs.

Category 1: Boring daily driver sedan/hatchback. Anything from 1999-present that gets high 20's (or higher) highway mileage. Needs four doors. Can be sedan or hatchback. Stick shift and fun to drive a plus but this category is mainly about price and durability. Goal budget $3,000-$5,500.

Category 2: AWD or 4x4 utility vehicle. Anything from 2004 to present. Being able to tow 5,000lbs or so is a plus, as is stick shift if it's a Subaru, but neither is mandatory. Subaru Forester is the ideal candidate (in theory) without towing capacity. AWD/4x4 plus durability and maintenance costs are the main focus here so please set me straight if need be. Goal budget $6,000-10,000.

Category 3: Combination of the two above plus interesting or special. MUST STILL be solid mechanically. My example car here is a 2008'ish Mazdaspeed 3, but I don't know what issues to be aware of so I may be wrong. Subaru Forester with turbo and stick shift would probably be in this category as well. Goal budget of less than $12,000.

Mileage isn't a huge issue as long as it gives me several years of trouble free driving, year isn't important with the same considerations. Let's hear your suggestions and thoughts!
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Old 02-25-2016, 12:17 PM   #2
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I love my 2012 Mazda2. So far I have 65k on it and the only thing I have done so far is oil changes. I have seen a few local ones for sale in the 6-7k range. I average between 31-35mpg. It is reasonably fun to drive, more fun then a Honda fit. They come in a 5 speed that does not feel horrible. It is a "boring" hatchback, that is enjoyable to drive.
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Old 02-25-2016, 02:38 PM   #3
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Option 2 answer is a 2005'ish 4Runner. 4thGen started in 2004 with the 4.0 engine that basically requires no maintenance ever and should go 300k before needing anything. SR5 4x4 in the 125k mile range is around $7k... step up to a limited (leather) and you're closer to $10. Mixed hwy/city, I get 19-20 in my 2x4. It's a fantastic example of Toyota's insistence on parts-bin stuff... radios from many years of Scions are direct plug&play... mine came with a tape deck and I bought an xB CD unit with pre-outs and a big display on ebay for $40, DIRECT PLUG IN, console surround and everything. Window switches are $2 on ebay, the whole center console comes out in about 3 minutes, an untrained monkey could change the oil, rear hatch dampers still work great after 10 years, paint looks ****, interior has zero issues, etc... 240hp is PLENTY. Also... everything works so well, brakes, suspension, interior... you won't be tempted to mod it at all. Mine is bone stock except for the radio and I'll never touch anything else.

I've towed a 4klb single-axle Wells Cargo enclosed cross-country, NO PROBLEMS of any kind, never felt like it was working very hard.

Here's one with 170k miles:
2005 Toyota 4Runner Sport Edition 4WD
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Old 02-25-2016, 03:05 PM   #4
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Thanks. I'll keep both in mind. You guys don't have to "categorize" them by the way. I only did that to specify that different types of cars have different requirements and acceptable price ranges in my mind. Every vehicle has a trade off in terms of money and capability.
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Old 02-25-2016, 03:27 PM   #5
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Mazda 6 wagon manual, under budget and meet all criteria. Bought one and I am very happy. Comfortable and quiet. Only thing I've done is oil change and the water pump belt tensioner died 500 miles ago. The fix was a $20 stretch to fit belt. Just don't expect to upgrade anything. Gets 25-27 mpg highway. 21 fully loaded with bikes on top and the back.
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Old 02-25-2016, 03:52 PM   #6
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What year?

I am liking the Honda Fit and Mazda 2 so far.
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Old 02-26-2016, 07:33 AM   #7
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On the used side I found a pair of 2002 Protege wagons with manual transmissions for about $4k and a 2004 civic with a manual for about the same.

Anything to worry about with the protege? They are both the same color as my Miata so they have a slight sentimental advantage.
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Old 02-26-2016, 09:54 AM   #8
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Those years of protégés have Mazda's least reliable engine ever (FS-DE)? Lots of oil consumption issues. I was scared away when looking at Protege5s, I liked everything else about the car...
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Old 02-26-2016, 10:04 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chiburbian View Post
On the used side I found a pair of 2002 Protege wagons with manual transmissions for about $4k and a 2004 civic with a manual for about the same.
The 2001-2005 Civics are a hell of a deal. The ricers want 90's cars and everyone else wants something newer so you can find them really cheap. It's the end of the D-Series motor that lasts forever and gets awesome gas mileage. I had a '02 EX for a while and I could average 40mpg in the thing, best tank was 46mpg. Not exciting to drive but it's certainly economical and reliable.
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Old 02-26-2016, 10:11 AM   #10
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I 2nd for a civic ex d-series. The ex drove a 99 ek and it was actually pretty decent. Auto sucked, 5spd would of been even more fun. Upgraded rotors/pads/lines and added a yokohomo something cat back exhaust, really heavy but had a deep quiet tone.

Then again, dat mazda2 appeal. You can put some 949racing rims on it
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Old 02-26-2016, 10:22 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Girz0r View Post
I 2nd for a civic ex d-series. The ex drove a 99 ek and it was actually pretty decent. Auto sucked, 5spd would of been even more fun. Upgraded rotors/pads/lines and added a yokohomo something cat back exhaust, really heavy but had a deep quiet tone.

Then again, dat mazda2 appeal. You can put some 949racing rims on it
I had a 98 Integra GSR as a DD for a few years. It was a decent car, could rev like hell, but honestly I prefer my Mazda2 over it in every way.

I think the civic would be a cheaper priced car to get into. I think the Mazda2 would be slightly more fun, and won't ever be stolen.

I need to test fit my 15x9 6UL's with 225's on my Mazda2. Could be fun to ride around on until my miata is back on the road.
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Old 02-26-2016, 10:26 AM   #12
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It's been very hard to find Mazda2 with a manual. All are newly $10k with high miles. I will certainly consider one though.

Here is a contender:

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Old 02-26-2016, 10:30 AM   #13
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I'll be in the minority, but a used Tahoe I think would fit the bill well. They are inexpensive, and if you find a Z71 package, it will be nicely equipped.

Maintenance? Simple, it's a domestic for the wondrous LSx based V8, easy to work on and parts are cheap. IMO, you'd be hard pressed to find a better equipped SUV for the money that's easy to maintain and for the most part trouble free. My wife daily's an '03 Z71 with 155k (25k we put on) and all I've needed to do was change out the water pump (which technically didn't fail, just the gasket did. But for $40, I replaced it).
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Old 02-26-2016, 10:32 AM   #14
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I have a 2002 Protege sedan has the same FS-DE. I was looking at the P5 but just couldn't justify the 33% premium of the hatchback, knowing it can turn into a rust box in a few years. Had it for over a year, haven't had any major issues. After the last oil change I noticed it did lose half a quart of oil after 3k miles but then I noticed the valve cover seal started leaking, so I fixed that. Common stuff to look out for is motor mounts, rear sway bar mounts and rear shock mounts. Rear quarter panel rust is very common, there's a bracket that attaches the bumper to the rear quarter panel.
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Old 02-26-2016, 12:40 PM   #15
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The Mazda 2 drives much nicer than a Honda Fit. My friend has a 2013 2 (auto) and it is a plesant little car to drive. The fit has more space inside though by a big margin (I have a 2011 Fit).

Mine has been mechanically reliable, but the coil.for the AC compressor clutch burned out at 65k. What a PITA that was. I use to average 34-36 mpg with it, but that us down to 31-33 now at 74k. The front toe may be off though, did a quick and dirty alignmentnI haven't had time to check on.

The Fit is dirt simple to work on, I swear it has about 6 moving parts and 4 different sized bolts in the whole car.

The interior is holding up OK, but not great. The plastic is easy to scratch. The magic rear seats are awesome and the interior space and visibility are amazing. The openings are all the wrong size though. Always seem to be 1-2" smaller than what I want to put in it. You can't get a 4ft x 4ft sheet of ply in it, since the largest opening is 46".

Now, my gripe with it. The salt is rusting it like a ****. It has about as much rust as my dad's 2007 subaru already. I have applied fluid film in hopes of slowing that down.

Driving, the second gen (GE8), is under sprung, under damped on rebound and over damped on compression. It handles well when it takes a set, but any small bump sends it right back to being unhappy. I put a set of Bilstien PSS9 coil overs on it and that solved all that (really, just some better matched shocks would probably do it, but I got too use to driving the Miata).

Strait line, it is slow as *****, even with a 5 speed. 1.5l, 117hp, 107 ftlbs in a 2400lb car (like a fat NA6!). But with worse gearing. It is fast enough, but passing on the highway takes a while.

Now, the biggest gripe. It has a clutch delay valve on the clutch master. The grab point changes based on how fast you pick your foot up. This was solved for $15 with the clutch master from a 98 Civic. Just needed a slight bend to the hard line. The other part of this gripe is the programing of the drive by wire. It has rev hang (to burn off unused fuel) so if you miss the drop on the upshift, you are boned. Driving the car smoothly is an art if you are driving slow. Drive it like an *** abd it works though.

Overall, with the suspension fix and clutch master change, it is a fun little commuter, though a bit noisy, but that is expected from a cheap econobox.

Also! Look into whatever gen the 2004 Nisan Sentra is. My friend has a 1.8 with a 5 speed. 225k on it and still running strong. He has done some simple and cheap suspension mods (Tien springs and KYB Excel Gs for the Spec-V and some solid bushings made from washers for obe of the engine mounts) and it drives like a dream.
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Old 02-26-2016, 12:48 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shuiend View Post
I need to test fit my 15x9 6UL's with 225's on my Mazda2. Could be fun to ride around on until my miata is back on the road.
This I wanna see

goodwin racing - Mazda2 Wheels - Wheels - Mazda Performance Parts

Has wheels up to 15x8 for sale listed.
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Old 02-26-2016, 01:06 PM   #17
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My example car here is a 2008'ish Mazdaspeed 3, but I don't know what issues to be aware of so I may be wrong.
I was service writer for a Mazda dealership awhile before it crushed my soul and pushed me to go back to college. I'll weigh in on what I saw:
  • Mazda protege's are fantastic, pretty much all the mechanics owned one.
  • 1st gen Mazda 3's are awesome, the 2.3 with the 5spd is the one to get.
  • 2nd gen Mazda 3's are awesome. Though I'd avoid the automatic skyactiv cars. They have issues with the valve body in the trans that requires R&R.
  • Mazdaspeed 3's are okay, they have some VVT actuator gremlins that presents itself as a metallic rattle on cold starts, also we often had to install 'vent kits' to keep the turdbo's from killing themselves. EGR ports were known to clog on the cars that were driven leisurely.
  • Mazda 2 also fantastic.
  • The Mazda Tribute was a mechanic favorite. V6 models require upper intake removal for tuneups, and the common front engine cover oil leak was 11hrs of labor to repair. They are actually wicked reliable but have a number of recalls for constantly trying to kill the owners (ABS related fires, Cruise control hanging throttle WFO on the engine covers, etc..)
  • Mazda 6 of any flavor is a fantastic car. V6 models share the same 3.0 v6 as the tribute so it has similar oil leak and expensive tuneup gremlins. First generation models suffer from saggy headliners, and the storage compartment lid near the top of the dash will likely be broken on any of the one's you find.
  • I wouldn't wish a Mazda Millenia on my worst enemy.
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Old 02-26-2016, 03:06 PM   #18
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I really don't want a car payment (for five years), but what do people know about the 2016 Fit? It would mean I am paying $100 more a month and for two more years than the used Mazda2 but it would be nice to be virtually assured of no out of pocket repairs for a couple years.

Did they sort out the suspension on the 2016's? I see that the 2016 has a little more power than the 2012 and maybe has a six speed instead of a 5?

I'm still not sold on anything so thank you all for your input. I was really hoping that I could do this search later in the year.

By the way, plan B is my brother's 2011 Rav4 Limited with a v6. It has 4wd and is in pretty good shape. He is wheelchair bound and is not able to drive it anymore but until he gets his van with the lift he needs a vehicle that his wife can get him in and out of. (he can stand and plop into the high seat of the Rav4). He will want $15k. I really do like his SUV, but it's going to be worse on gas and it's more than I wanted to spend if not getting a warranty. On the plus side, it will tow 5,000 lbs if I want it to, and it's a really nice well maintained SUV. I just can't have it now. It may be another year...
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Old 02-26-2016, 03:37 PM   #19
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I have a 2012 Fit manual as well. I hate to drive it after sitting in the Mazda 6 wagon (2005/6), though. It is very loud on the freeway. Still like it though and would buy it again. Gas mileage is better than reported. 75MPH feels like 120MPH in most other cars. It is geared to drive 65-70 at 37 mpg, hit 75MPH and you are at 32MPG. Only maintenance is oil, filters, and tires. Interior plastics look beat up and we take good care of the car. The matte finish is rubbing off and the shifter/boot look beat.

I think the Fit peaked in 2012. It has the largest opening in the back and is fun to drive. I think the only thing to be aware on the Protege wagon is that the cargo space is almost less than the trunk version. It is very short after the rear wheels. If you don't care about space, I would go Mazda2.

As an aside, why is it that I post a recommendation and then my Mazda 6 starts making a grumbling sound from the accessories in the engine bay. Now this saturday involves finding the source of the noise (bearing?) and fixing it.
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Old 02-26-2016, 05:26 PM   #20
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Hey Steve,

Sorry to hear about your car troubles. This what I want for a 2nd car here in the midwest:


...but I've got Subarus on the brain these days. I bought a 3000mi trade-in 2014 BRZ back in October, and had no issues with the Iowa winter. Snow tires made it pretty fun. Also, lots of air bags in the BRZ

My good friend has 2004 Mazda 6, and I find it to be very nice car for what they go for on the used market.

Good luck,
Mark
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