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Road & Trail Warrior
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I've only purchased new vehicles in the past for the service, warranty, peace of mind etc... My wife drives it 99% of the time, I bike to work.
Now I want a second car. The most I'll pay is $4000 cad. I've been looking at Kijiji/Autotrader here in the Greater Toronto Area, and that price point is actually achievable for a mid year 2000's car.
My criteria is a small car, (not a Smart Car) gas saver, manual tranny, hatchback, reliable for fairly long distances.
My choices, in order from my most desired to, "it'll do".
VW Golf diesel, Honda Civic, Mazda3, Nissan Versa, Toyota Matrix.
The VW and Honda are the big gas savers here, but the others have more features/bang for the buck.
Any advice?
 

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All of the cars you're looking at are solid options. But with any car, there can be specific years, drivetrains, etc. to avoid. If you're not opposed to a bit of desktop research, each of those cars has a user forum just like RBR - and each will likely have an FAQ, Buyers Guide, etc. At a minimum, a search on those forums, will answer the "any year to avoid" question.
 

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gazing from the shadows
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My advice is that you don't buy the average car, you buy a specific car. So, while doing the research on general reliability and service life, cost per mile at each stage, that there is a problem with oil seals after 75k+ miles for certain years, etc is a good thing to do, that gives you info that tells you which marque is the best BET.... don't forget to consider individual markers.

Miles, of course. Service history can tell you a lot. Someone who gets oil changes every 3000 miles is likely to be a "better safe than sorry" person. Any missed services? Irregular miles between services? Were all things done on schedule, even little things? If they did not maintain well, then they likely did not drive with care either. Other markers of care are things like scuffed tires from parking (which can be hard to see if they dressed the tires) or uneven tread wear (not watching tire pressure, or alignment issues, or other things of course.)

Of they ones you list, I would go with the mazda, based on very little real information. FWIW, which isn't much. Generally speaking, if you can find a single owner car with service at the dealer all it's life, that makes evaluating things pretty easy. No service records? Don't buy that car, not worth the risk.
 

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No service records? Don't buy that car, not worth the risk.
In that price range, I think it's going to be tough to find a car with complete records. A good inspection (get a mechanic to do it) will tell you a lot, and talking to the owner can give you a good idea of how the car was treated. Any of the models on your list could be good, but that's a very crapshoot price range. There's going to be some junk, and some stuff that will last forever.

On the Mazdas- watch for rust- Mazdas of that era are notorious for it. Look for any evidence of paint bubbling, especially around the fender wells. If you buy a Golf, avoid turbo models. Not sure about Canada, but most Civics in that price range around here are going to be beat to hell and back.
 

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I'd go with the Mazda 3 but agree with nealric about looking for rust. My son has a 04 Mazda 3 that's been very trouble free but does have some rust around the wheel wells/fender area.

I've just started shopping for a newer Mazda 3 myself. I want a '14 or newer. :)
 

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Remember - fuel is only one piece of the larger "cost of ownership". I don't know much (anything) about VWs, but it they're anything like their German cousins, maintenance, parts, etc, will be substantially more expensive than Mazda, Toyota, Nissan...

My 5,600 lbs Land Cruiser gets 16 mpg on the highway. But, they (knocks on wood) don't break, maintenance costs are as cheap as any car on the road and - the kicker - the 100 Series Land Cruiser is no longer depreciating. Add in that the life expectancy of these is around the 1/2 million mile mark, buyers are not afraid of used LCs with 250,000 miles.

For ^those^ reasons, the Land Cruiser costs a helluva lot less to own, than most SUVs getting crappy MPGs.

More research.
 

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I rented one a while back, and it's a nice ride, fun to drive. It cost me $40 to drive 600kms.
By comparison, the Golf will get you 1100kms for the same price.
This doesn't sound factually correct unless you are talking about a TDI Golf- there's no way a Golf is getting almost double the fuel economy of a 3. The 2.0 and 1.8T Golfs are respectively no better, or worse, than Mazda 3s of the same era. A 2016 Mazda 3 is rated for better economy than a 2016 1.8T Golf.
 

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Get the Mazda3 or Civic. They'll be the most reliable in the long-run with the least amount of operating costs. Of course there's always a few people who will say they had issues with their Mazda or Honda, but in general they are the best bang for the buck cars out there. The Golf would be fun, but you'll pay for it with repairs. There's a reason Honda sells 300,000 Civics a year in the US.
 

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I yet have to to see a Honda or a Toyota on a tow truck because of a mechanichal failure. Nissan ? Since the merge with Renault it took them 10 years to iron out all the quirks from both brands,especially Renault.
Once you go Honda or Toyota there's really no valid reason to look at other brands if you're looking for a no fuss mean of transportation.
 

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Yes, I'm talking about a Golf TDI Diesel, manual.
Not sure how things are in Canada, but keep in mind that the TDIs are in a weird place with the diesel gate scandal. Their fuel economy may be neutered by the "fix." Also, Diesel is much more expensive than gas around here.
 

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I'd suggest one of three cars, in this order:

1) Toyota Corolla
2) Honda Civic
3) Mazda3

I'd stay away from anything European due to reliability issues and high cost of repair. The Toyota is the best of the bunch.
 

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From your list I'd stick Honda or Toyota.

How many miles are you going to drive per year? Is gas mileage that big a deal?

You're gonna limit yourself by just looking for manual tranny. I'd focus on finding one or two owner cars that have been well maintained and haven't been in a wreck. Be sure to bring it to a proper shop for a PPI.

I personally dislike small cars, especially for long distances that you mention. At that price range I'd try to find a little old lady beige late 90s early 2000s Camry.
 

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Whatever you do, DO NOT buy an older Accord with a V6 engine. Automatic transmission failures are off the chart.
 

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The VW and Honda are the big gas savers here, but the others have more features/bang for the buck.
Any advice?
VW will have a nicer interior, but the Honda is going to last much longer and have few if any electo/mechanical issues. I'd get the Honda every time. VWs are more fun to drive, but typically have abysmal reliability records.
 

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This is absolutely true, any Honda with the V6 and 5 speed auto from the 2000's should be checked for a transmission replacement. I had a 2004 Honda Accord and 2003 Odyssey that both needed transmission replacements at around 100K miles.

Whatever you do, DO NOT buy an older Accord with a V6 engine. Automatic transmission failures are off the chart.
 
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