My 1st Used Car! We're do I start?


Hello! I am a mother to 3 beautiful children. My oldest is a very tall 9 1/2 years old & my youngest are twins at the age of 1 1/2 years old. In fewer words, I have my hands full!
This is my 1st time looking into buying a used car from a person and/or online sight. I’ve owned 2 cars my whole life. Both Honda. 1 Civic and the other Accord. I would love to stay in the Honda family but if any other type of car meets up to standards with the mpg/ gas millage Honda’s are known for getting, then I am definitley open to other brands/types.
I would love an SUV! It would be ideal for space and seating with myself and 3 children. I read and have learned buying a used SUV or van is unrealistic with only $3,000.00- $3,500.00 as my budget. Anything around 80,000.00-100,000 miles would be ideal also. Not picky on colors however, after owning a striking bright blue car I’ve learned the muted colors like, white, silver, grey, black, gold your insurance is lower. They consider anything bright a sports car color meaning you’ll drive it faster and more likely to get in a wreck or speeding ticket.
Okay, so $3,000-$3,500.00 Is all I have to spend. Brand wise: Honda or Toyota but anything great on gas. 4 door Sedan. Can seat 5+ or more people. Ideal SUV or van but is open to ideas of cars with larger back seats. The most important thing is, I am putting my children in this future car so safety is a huge factor to me and must have working air bags! Clean title and car fax, 1-2 Owners. Working a/c and heat but the outer appearance like chips or dings I’m not worried about. Long as it rides good, comfortable and good on gas and can fit my small family in.
My zip is 28411 anywere close by or 100-150 miles out I’m willing to look around for the best deal I can get!! Thank you for your expert advise.


Hi, Heather! It’s definitely possible to find safe and reliable transportation for around $3500. When you’re shopping in that range, you’re generally going to be looking at cars that are at least 7 years old and that have 100k miles or more. Consequently, the most important thing to focus on in your search is finding something that’s been very well-maintained (with records) and that has a good history of reliability and longevity.

Before you start shopping, you’ll want to identify a mechanic with an excellent reputation in the area who can check out the cars you’re considering prior to purchase – and then later keep your new ride in top shape once you acquire it.

By the way, if your insurance company is telling you that it costs more to insure a car based on its color, I think you should start shopping for a new insurance provider. That would be a fraudulent practice. Most insurance companies won’t even ask you what color the car is.

I do have one question for you. Are you looking only for a vehicle with a 3rd row of seats (like a minivan or large SUV), or are you open to sedans also? The reason I ask is that sedans tend to be a better value than SUVs or minivans, meaning you can buy a nicer one for the same money.


Thank you for taking the time to respond. I am open to sedans long as I can fit 2 cars seats + My 9 year old until he is able to sit up front. I know the longer sedans tend to be more comfortable and have a wider back seat also if you know what I mean. I’m very excitied to see what you suggest.


Sounds good. I think it probably makes the most sense then for you to pursue a minivan until your oldest child is able to sit in the front.

I did some searching in your area, but unfortunately I didn’t see anything too promising at the moment. But here are a couple of options that I found a little farther out (Raleigh):

2001 Honda Odyssey with 149k miles for $3400

2000 Toyota Sienna with 186k miles for $2600

If you can wait a few weeks to make the purchase, I’d suggest setting up a craigslist search alert for these models (Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna) in your area and then waiting for a good match. I would also add the Kia Sedona and Hyundai Entourage to the list. They are generally just as reliable as a Honda or Toyota but usually cheaper because they are less well known.

In the meantime, try visiting this highly-rated repair shop in your area and asking them if they know of any good customer vehicles for sale (or coming up for sale) in your price range:

Let us know how things go!


Hello fellow twin parent. No third child for us yet, just our two 4 year olds. The third child does make car shopping difficult as my wife and I have been discussing the idea. The laws in place today forbid small children to sit in the front and having to use child seats which is great for the safety of our kids, but an unintended consequence of that is that we’re forced to shop for vehicles with more than two rows of seating which are much more expensive than a typical sedan.

With your budget yes, most big things like that are well out of range unless they have unreasonable amount of miles. The early Acura MDX can be had cheap, but they can have costly transmission problems. One thing that does fit the bill of minivan practicality and has decent reliability is the Mazda 5. It’s a small van but it has legitimate sliding doors and a third row seat. You’ll have to shop for the older 2004-2010 body style, but they’re out there. I found this example in Florida with under 100k miles.

We were looking into those and ended up getting a Scion XB. In a very striking bright blue hue at that. The first generation of those cars are a little small for my tall self, so we opted for the second generation. If you think that will work for you the early 2004-2006 model years can be had in your range and the boxy layout makes for infinite more practicality than a typical sedan. Seating will be tight for 5, but you can cram a lot of stuff in that car with the rear seats folded down. It’s a great car that can be had for a great price due to it not being very popular. Sometimes when car shopping you have to think outside the…box?

Otherwise if you think a sedan will do, than stick with a Camry or maybe even the larger Avalon. Unless you don’t mind driving a manual transmission, old Honda automatics tend to have problems. Just ask the Accord in my driveway. Older Mazda 6 sedans are ok too, but not as good of a car as the Camry which can be had around the same price.

Old Lexus cars are a great choice too. The ES sedan is just a fancy Camry, or if you don’t mind your style trending a little OG look into the LS400. It’s a rear wheel drive car, but it’s big, and very very reliable, like easily pushing 300k miles. They all have traction control and lots of airbags and old luxury car depreciation means they can be had for a song. Look if the starter or timing belt was ever replaced because those jobs cost about $1000 each.

And If you can drive stick do it, stick cars are usually cheaper than their automatic counterparts, because they’re harder to sell. Older cars you want to question whether the clutch was replaced, because that repair can set you back $1000 to $1500.

Hope this helps!


Great advice, Zach! I forgot about the Mazda 5, but that would be a great choice. The one you found looks like a solid example, too!