Buying used car in San Francisco

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Hey Guys! I live in San Francisco and am looking to buy a used car. I have researched around and haven’t yet found something which quite fits my needs. Here is what I am looking for:
Budget: Up to $5000
Style: Preferably convertible/rooftop slider but can live with regular if other requirements are met
Mileage: 150,000
Preferably Japanese made but not a hard requirement
Low maintenance cost
Clear title, smog test done, tires in good condition and other necessary documentation done

If any of you could locate me a car closed to above mentioned requirements, I would return the favor by giving first ride to you! :slight_smile:

Thanks a lot.



How about a Miata? That seems to meet your requirements, and you should be able to find some good ones for around $5000. Here’s one that looks quite nice and is not too far away (in Sacramento):

It’s priced a little higher than $5000, but my guess is that you could get it for $5000 or maybe a little less if you take a look and really like it.

This Mazda 3 also looks nice:

It’s not a convertible, of course, though it does have a glass sunroof, and it should be plenty of fun to drive – as well as quite a bit more practical than a Miata. : )

If you like the idea of the Mazda 3 but wouldn’t mind a few extra luxuries, this Volvo V50 is worth a look:

It’s built on the same basic platform as the Mazda but should be a bit quieter and more comfortable overall.

Hope that helps!


Thanks for the response Mark! I agree. Probably 4 seats of Mazda 3 makes it more useful/practical as compared to Miata. Is there anything else in your opinion which would make this car superior though? Based on ratings I have checked, looks like Miata is very reliable. However Sacramento is a bit far specially when you don’t have a car yet! :slight_smile: I will have to take a look at how to get there!


Hey Mark, I just located these two cars. They do not have a sunroof but if we ignore that, what would be your opinion on these two:

A 1999 Toyota Corolla:


A 2006 Nissan Murano:



No problem! Yes, a Miata is a very reliable car, but it’s also quite small, so if you need a little more room, I would go with something like the Mazda 3 – though I think the one I posted earlier has just sold because the listing has been removed. : 0

Of the two cars you posted, I think the Murano would be the better bet for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s much newer and has fewer miles. The other is that the Toyota listing was posted quite a while ago (about a month, it says), so it’s likely been sold already – and if not then it might not be a very good example and/or seller.

That said, if you do like the idea of the Miata and don’t want to go all the way to Sacramento, then I suggest you keep looking for now. There are plenty of them out there, so it makes sense to watch the listings over the next few weeks and see what pops up. You might as well be a little choosy. : )

In the meantime, I would suggest looking around for a good mechanic in your area that you can use to service the car and also to get a buyers inspection before you make any final offers. (There’s an article about that here for more details.)


I did some more digging and found a few more listings that seem to be promising…

2007 Mazda 3 sedan with 106k miles for $4500:

1998 BMW Z3 roadster with 95k miles for $4900:

Of course, the BMW would typically be more expensive to maintain than the Mazda, but if you have a good independent mechanic in your area, he/she can usually keep the costs fairly reasonable.

And here’s a one-owner Toyota that won’t be quite as fun as a Mazda or BMW but would nevertheless make for a trusty conveyance for many years to come:


Hey Mark! My wife liked the Mazda more because of the space. So here is what we have agreed upon: If we spend under $2500, we can buy a convertible for now and then in future as the need comes, may be one or two years later, we can spend $10k and switch to a proper sedan. OR, we spend $5000 right away and buy a sedan right now. However we really have a tight budget of around $2500 for now…$5000 is kind of an upper limit if we stretch too much. Any suggestions with this in mind will help a lot. Thanks!


Hi Mark,

Could you please give your advise on this 2000 BMW 323ci with 150k miles for $3000? Is it going to burn a lot of fuel? This guy has so many improvements done on the car, does it mean that the car had so many issues at one point of time? How will be the maintenance cost given that the warranty has expired?:

Thank you for your time.


Hey there. I would suggest spending a little bit more now on the practical car. While you can find a decent car for $2500 or so, you can actually find a really nice car for $5000, and it’s a good bet that the nicer car will cost you less in the long run because it’s likely to have fewer repair costs and also offer better resale value when it comes time to buy the next one.

So far, the nicest car I’ve seen for sale is that Volvo wagon I sent earlier. That seems like a car that’s been well cared for throughout its life and that probably has another 100k miles of relatively trouble-free miles (other than routine stuff like oil changes, belts, tires, etc.). They’re asking $5500, but I bet you could get it for $5000 or maybe even a bit less. It’s a very nice car for the money – also quite practical as well as reasonably fun to drive.

BMWs are great cars, but they are on the expensive side to repair and maintain. The one you’re considering has a salvage title, so it’s probably been wrecked pretty badly at some point and then repaired. That’s almost always a deal killer for me because it’s hard to know how well the repairs were done and whether there are going to be any lingering problems, like electrical gremlins or structural weaknesses.


Thanks for the response. Alright I will take your suggestion. However we do not want to buy a SUV style vehicle. A Sedan is more suitable for us at this moment. I will look for $5000 cars now! Let me know if you have any more suggestions. Thanks for all the help.


Sounds good. Also, just for reference, the Volvo V50 is not an SUV. It’s a small wagon and is similar in size to compact hatchbacks like the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus, with which it shares the same basic architecture (more info here:

Best of luck, and please share any further questions that come up as you progress.