10 Under $10,000…Part 2

Cars under $10,000 don’t have to suck. Here’s proof:

Cars under $10,000 don’t have to be bland econoboxes. You can land a cool car and a great deal with some detective work, a finely-tuned BS radar, and patience. Here are five more cars for under $10,000.

2005-2006_Honda_CR-V_--_02-29-20122005 Honda CR-V: The predecessor to the wildly popular current model is a sturdy, reliable people mover. This is a great little SUV for around town or for a cross-country haul: this “cute ute” features 1500-lb towing capacity. While less stylish than the current models, the 2005 CR-V is all about practicality.

You won’t find tons of extras, but you will get 23 mpg along with Honda reliability. The 2005 CR-V features a 2.4 liter 160-hp engine paired with a 5-speed automatic. While the mpg is among the lowest in its segment, the CR-V is a sure bet for reliability and durability.

2008-Kia-Optima-LX-32008 Kia Optima LX: This mid-size favorite introduced better safety features and reliability in 2008, making it a good bet for a used car. Kia has stepped up their game over the past 10 years. It shows in better workmanship, improved style, and enhanced safety features. The 2008 Optima LX earned a coveted 5/5 stars from NHTSA. This is an ideal first car or a daily driver for commuters.

The 2008 Optima features a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder paired with a 5-speed automatic. This popular sedan gets 26 MPG combined. While it doesn’t generate as nearly as much power as similar cars in its segment, the 162-hp is strong enough for daily driving but not too overpowering (or tempting) for a younger driver.

PonticVibe2008 Pontiac Vibe: Built on a Toyota Matrix platform, this popular model demonstrates Toyota-like reliability. Featuring a 1.4L 4-cylinder mated to a five-speed manual, the Vibe’s 126 hp essentially guarantees a young driver won’t  be drag-racing in it any time soon. This workaday hatchback offers 19.3 cubic feet of cargo space, making the perfect grocery-hauler or people mover. 29 MPG combined.


2005 Acura TL sedan: Here is a chance to drive a car that has all the bells and whistles, but none of the luxury car payment headaches. The 2005 Acura TL sedan features a full power suite (power everything) along with Bluetooth, satellite radio capabilities, and many more features you won’t find on entry-level used cars.

Combine the Honda luxury brand’s sense of style with a 270hp six cylinder, 5-speed automatic, and you have a car that will offer more sass and power than your basic econobox. 22 MPG combined. If you’re looking for a used full-size luxury sedan, the Acura TL could be your pick.


Geo Prizm: This mid-90s favorite shares its DNA with the ever-reliable Toyota Corolla. This best kept used car secret features a 1.6L inline four matched with a 5-speed manual transmission. The Geo can be hard to find in some markets, but if you’re lucky enough to find one in good shape, you can expect to pay from the low to mid $2,000 range.

Smart sellers are holding onto to these gems. They’re tough, reliable, and  fuel-efficient (26/31 mpg). The Prizm is a fantastic find for the savvy used car buyer looking for a sturdy commuter car. Easy to maintain and relatively cheap to fix, the Prizm is a good bet if your budget won’t allow for anything beyond $3,000.

Older used cars don’t have to suck. The good news is there are plenty to choose from in the lower price brackets, which could save you the headaches of car payments if you’re able to come up with enough cash for the sale.




10 Under $10,000…Part 1

Here is my fully subjective list of used cars under $10,000. If you’re looking for a daily commuter or a first car, there are bargains to be had for $10,000 or less.

On to the list in no particular order:

zombdrive.com2008 Mazda3: This is a perennial favorite. Mazda makes a helluva car, and the 3 is a popular choice for a stylish, fuel-efficient daily driver. It has enough safety features to make it a good choice for a first car, too. Look for one that has been well-maintained with low miles, and you’ll have a great car for years to come. Available as a sedan or hatchback.

MPG: 24/32  Drive train: 2.4 liter 4 cylinder, 5-speed manual, available 4-speed automatic


2003-2011 Ford Crown Victoria: OK, so this boat-like sedan isn’t exactly fuel-efficient, but it’s spacious, reliable, and comes equipped with a 4.6 liter V8 mated to a 4-speed automatic. No wonder law enforcement folk love  these cars. Add a vertical bars to the front grille and scare the hell out of people as you pull up behind them. MPG: 16/23

www.cargurus.com2006-2006 Infiniti G35: This is a winner if you have more refined taste. These cars come equipped with Bluetooth, leather upholstery, navigation system, keyless ignition and a host of other treats. A great way to indulge your champagne taste while honoring your beer budget. The 3.5L V6 offers more sass than other cars at this price point, and you have your choice of a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. MPG: 17/24

thedetroitbureau.com2007-2012 Nissan Versa: This one leaves me completely underwhelmed, but it’s a good point A to point B car. If bare bones practicality is your selling point, the Versa is for you. I’ve driven one on several occasions and the seats have all the comfort of a bus stop bench. Just warning you. The Versa is available as either a sedan or hatchback with either a 1.6L CVT automatic or a 6-speed manual.  MPG: 30/38

zomdrive.com2001-2005 Honda Civic: What is a cheapie car list without the Civic? Available in DX, LX, EX, and Si trim lines, the Civic offers a lot of features for the money.   Great MPG, Honda reliability, and simple architecture/layout make this a favorite. Make sure the timing belt was changed at the proper interval and beware of transmission issues. The Civic is available as a sedan, coupe, or hatchback. Comes with your choice of a gas or hybrid engine. MPG: 27/34

Budget cars can be great cars

Despite what your well-heeled friends may have told you, budget cars don’t have to suck. By doing your research, exercising caution (the seller is full of BS until proven otherwise), and getting a look at maintenance records, you can snag a great deal.

As with any used car purchase, have an automotive tech familiar with the brand perform a pre-sale inspection.

Buying used also means cheaper insurance, less sales tax, and lower registration fees. If you’re looking for a reasonably-priced ride, one of these cars could be your ticket out of public transit or bumming rides from friends.

Wednesday: Part 2 of 10 under $10,000.



Remembering an Old Brick

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1991 Volvo 740 base. AKA Nigel. Classic Volvo face. Photos courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.

Nothing compares to a loyal old Volvo. Those 240 and 740 series bricks still run strong with anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 on the odometer. They’re sought after by collectors and Volvo enthusiasts.

I can’t help but smile when I see an old Volvo chugging down the street in all its goofy Volvo glory. I’m a sucker for dorky cars.

I drove one such brick for seven years before his untimely demise last year.

There are two ways an old Volvo can die: Honorably, AKA saving your ass in an accident while the car takes the hit, and naturally due to old age. My old boy went out due to old age, and an inability to hold up to CA’s tough emissions testing standards.

California has some of the toughest emissions requirements in the U.S. If a car doesn’t pass the emissions test, the driver can’t renew tags or legally operate the car. Period. If the “check engine” light comes on during testing, it’s over. Even if it comes on for reasons unrelated to the emissions system.

After my car failed the smog test, I went to work.

I sought second and third opinions. I did my research. The final blow came from Natasha at the local Volvo dealership. I dropped my car off earlier that day for an eval and estimate.

My phone rang later that morning. “I’m so sorry, ” she began. Oh, snap.

“We just got through taking a look around, and I have some really bad news…”

For the rookie car owners at home, any time a service writer starts their call with “I’m really sorry…” you know you’re hosed. Fair warning.

It turns out that the Volvo dealership’s estimate rang right in there with the other two estimates I got, both in terms of scope of work and the price. In other words, the poor old boy  was done. The repair cost would far exceed the car’s value. There was no way my slim budget could shoulder the repair costs.There were no guarantees the repairs would even do the trick.  It was time to say good-bye.

The $250.00 repair assistance offered by CA’s Bureau of Automotive Repair wouldn’t even scratch the surface.

Although the dealership  had my car for a good several hours, they didn’t charge me a dime for the work-up. I was stunned. A lifesaver for a gal whose budget was already torpedoed by extensive emissions testing, two prior opinions, and one DIY attempt.

Read the full story here.

(When you’re through, be sure to check out the rest of the Jeanknowscars.com site. They’re the Cool Kids).

Auto Show Survival Guide


2013 Bentley GT, 2012 Los Angeles International Auto Show. Photo courtesy of brokegirlsguidetocars.com

How to walk  an auto show and take in all the sights without bursting into tears-or flames.

Auto show season is in full swing, starting with the Los Angeles International Auto Show in November. The Detroit show is still going strong and is open to the public until Jan. 24.

The New York show launches March 25 and runs til April 3, 2016.

For those who are not broke girls or guys, there is the Geneva International Motor Show for a whole new level of auto show pageantry and Press Days debauchery.

Big-city auto shows offer a chance to get away and to escape into a world like no other. They’re also huge.

There’s an art to getting through an auto show with your sanity and endurance intact:

1. Strategize: Write out cars on your “must see” list and check those out first. If your endurance flags midway through your auto show mission, you will have at least seen the cars dearest to you.

Some of the larger shows are spread out among several halls. Make plans to hit one hall at a time so you’re not trekking back and forth.

2.  Wear comfortable shoes. I cannot emphasize this enough. Forget about looking cute and dress for comfort instead. My favorite go-to for the L.A. show one year was a pair of Dansko clog knock-offs. Best $40.00 I ever spent.

3. Hydrate. Most show halls are set up only days in advance, so the air is dry and dusty. Show Hall Throat is an occupational hazard for both journalists and public show-goers alike.  Bring some water from home or buy some at the show and drink. Often. Your throat will thank you.

4. Look for discounts: Some shows will offer discounted tickets through local promotions, radio spots, or online coupons. You can sometimes snag a group discount if your group meets the minimum requirement for group size.

5. Think twice about little ones: Car shows are loud, bright, crowded and noisy. If you have little one at home that melts down easily at the mall or supermarket, they will go nuclear at a car show. Have them sit this one out for their comfort.

6. Take frequent breaks to re-charge: Grab a snack, look through the freebies you’ve accumulated so far, and formulate your next plan of attack. Rest tired feet and legs. Take a meal break.

7. Look and touch: You can get up close and personal at most shows, so go ahead: sit in the driver’s seat. Check out the headroom. Pop the trunk. Adjust the mirrors. Check out the technology suite that’s available in new cars. Yes, “technology suite.”

Car shows, for the most part, are delightful  hands-on experiences. Nowhere else can you sit in a spanking-new car without being stalked by sales personnel. Nowhere else can you sit in a car that you just cannot afford.

8. …but be nice: If a car is off-limits, respect that. Don’t blame the product reps. If there is a line of people behind you waiting to get into the driver seat, make your time in the car brief or come back when crowds die down.

Clean your hands before checking out cars; while there are porters there to keep the cars clean, they’re not your maid. Chow down on greasy treats after checking out cars. Same rules apply to any kiddos walking the show with you.

9. Take it all in: Auto shows are wonderful escapism.  Bills, work, and other obligations will still be there once you get home, so leave them at the door and truly enjoy the auto show experience.

10. Ditch the cynicism. Yes, auto shows are a consumerist orgy. Yes, cars can be tough on the environment. Lighten up and take in the magic. Absorb the sights and sounds. Breathe in New Car Smell. Be a kid again and say “DUDE!” at every cool car you’ll see.

If you’re lucky enough to catch a new product debut, enjoy every second and don’t be afraid to cheer when the car makes its appearance. Be a car geek and snap tons of cell pictures.

Big-city auto shows are pure magic. They’re also an endurance event, so plan ahead, dress comfortably, and prepare to have fun.




Five Reasons Why Old Cars Rule

Ok, fine. So new cars have that new car smell, all the latest technology, epic design tweaks (for the most part, anyway), and more standard options than the Space Shuttle. Like everyone else, I was agog at the shiny toys vying for  attention at the L.A. Auto Show.

I’m not immune to the charms of brand-new sheet metal.

Even with that, there is something about an older car that tugs at my heartstrings, if not my wallet (I personally put my Volvo tech’s kid through college, I’m sure of it). Here are five reasons why I think old cars rule:

They have stories to tell: Ask a fresh off the line vehicle “what’s up?” and the most it would muster is “Meep.” Why? Because it hasn’t lived yet. An old car has stories to tell of weddings, babies brought home from the hospital, sick kids (and dogs), road trips, parking lot mishaps, midnight food runs, ER runs, and of hearts won and hearts broken.

Every little ding, dent, and upholstery mark has a story behind it. You just have to be still and listen. Old cars love to tell stories.


Not sure of the story behind this upholstery tear in my old Volvo, but I’m sure it was interesting!

They’re cranky: They’re hard to get going in the morning,  hate weather extremes, and protest each time you fill  them with cheap gas. Nothing says “Get off my lawn!” quite like a grizzled old car, and I love them for it.

Once my car reached the vehicular equivalent of blindness and arthritis, I was much more tender with it than I would have been with a newer car.

The eventual  outcome of my day was determined soley by my car’s “mood” each morning. A great day was had when I managed to stay on my car’s good side.

There was hell (and towing fees) to pay if I failed to let it warm properly on cold mornings or if I asked too much of its cold engine by accelerating quickly.

I’d pat myself on the back for each “good day” and question my sanity on “bad days.”

We live in a throwaway society. An old car  defies that trend and dares us to think otherwise.

They’ve got style: Cruise a classic car show and you’ll see what I mean. ‘Nuff said.



They’re satisfying: There is something inherently satisfying about keeping an older car on the road. I loved doing routine care on my car: oil, fluids, visual inspections, and brakes. I’d go to my buddy Frank’s shop, he’d put the car in the air, and we’d go to work.

I got to see firsthand how my car was doing  based on the condition of the brake pads, and the color of the various fluids. I was able to nurse my old car to over 277,000 on the odometer with a combination of tender loving care and sheer will.

Try tinkering with a 2016 model and you will incur the wrath of the onboard software, and possibly not be able to start the damn thing when you’re through. Feh.

They’re paid for: Have you seen the 60-72 month loan terms for a new car? Have you seen the prices?  Pretty close to what our parents paid for a house back in the day. Let that sink in.

Still, I’d love a newer car as much as the next person. I want Bluetooth connectivity, an engine that will start without elaborate rituals, and the ability to get through a year without exhausting my AAA 4- tow allowance in two months.

At the same time I will never regret the years I spent with an old car. I learned to never take the good days for granted, and to shake off the bad days. I also learned to appreciate a good story. God knows my car had plenty of them.


A Car Gal Remembers Her Dad

Rudolph “Don” King  Jan. 22, 1930-Jan. 2, 2016


Dad, Sept. 2011 beside the flag he held dear. Korean War vet, gym rat, Nevada Days parade Honored Veteran and visionary.

My dad joined my family when I was a kid. He brought with him two teenage sons, creating a blended family of five kids: four teens, and 9 year-old me.

He never referred to my brothers and I as his step-kids. To him, we were  his sons and daughter. Period. That’s the type of man he was from the very beginning. To me, he was “Dad.”

I loved cars from the time I was a small child. I blame it on my Detroit DNA: my mom and my biological dad were both born and raised in Detroit, where residents lived and breathed car culture  whether or not they had ties to the industry. My maternal grandfather photographed cars for GM when he worked for the Detroit-based Jam Handy ad agency.

Hardly an automotive dynasty, but Detroit blood runs thick and it runs deeply. It doesn’t take much.

It wasn’t until Dad joined our family that I really began to appreciate cars  from the inside out. My dad had a high-school education, but his knowledge of engines, design, engineering, science and physics would make a Michigan State engineering grad blush.

We talked about cars. Their design, colors, the intersection  of form and function. Since he leased his cars, we had a succession of them in our driveway every two or three years: everything from a blah Mercury Comet to the gorgeous  Cadillac Seville that he leased during the boom years in his industry.

The Seville was stunning. I washed and cared for it like it was my own. I was too young to drive it, but that didn’t stop him from rounding me up one Saturday afternoon, taking me to an empty parking lot, and letting me get behind the wheel. I was about 13.

Why not? he reasoned. After all, he was much younger than that when he drove tractors and other farm equipment as a child in Nebraska. Nothing wrong with a kid learning to drive.

I was a serious and responsible kid and never breathed a word to my mom.

Regardless of what life threw in my and my family’s path, my dad and I could always talk about cars.That was our go-topic. I was in my 20s when my dad suggested  one day  there would be fully electric cars.

I informed him he was nuts.

My apologies to both my dad and to  Tesla Motors Inc. Ahem. Mea culpa.

I liked a car with a hearty exhaust growl, and he was fascinated by  hybrid technology and became an early fan of the Prius, even though he was a domestic car guy.

When I bought my Volvo, he quickly became a lay expert. He became a diagnostic whiz over the phone.

“Well, Miss E,” he’d tell me, “sure sounds like the RPM sensor is going south.”

“Naah.” I’d counter,” My money is on the MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensor.”

“You’re on.” He’d say. He’d always win.

I called him in tears last year, when my car failed CA’s tough emissions testing, and a second opinion Volvo tech suggested what the first opinion tech had: it was time to retire my old car. Even if I did make the needed repairs, there was no guarantee my car would pass.

No smog certificate, no tags, no car, no joke.

“Well, I think they’re right. It’s time to be free of the old bastard. That smog testing sure is a racket, isn’t it?” He was never one to mince words.

He and my mom were working people of modest means, but that didn’t stop him from slipping me a few bucks when a sudden job loss last year brought me to my knees financially. That and the retirement of my car made for a very crappy year.

My dad stood by me through all of it. He was a risk-taker and wanted me to do the same, to never settle.

He encouraged me to take the leap and to venture into self-employment.

His health had started to decline in the past year, and became more precarious. During the last two months of his life, we had many, many honest conversations about what the future held for him.

We also talked about space, engineering, physics, and cars. Nerdy stuff that only dads and their car-loving daughters could talk about.

I made a mental note  to fly out to see my dad once the holiday rush settled down. I’d find the money somehow. He and his doctors figured his health would hold for at least another couple of months.

Shortly after Christmas, my dad’s health suddenly declined, and on January 2, he slipped away from this Earth at 8:40 a.m. I still have a knot in my gut from when the ICU nurse told me over the phone of his passing.

My only hope is that he is now seated at the right hand of all the science and automotive greats that came before him. He’s going to make an excellent dinner companion for them. He will keep them on their toes.

I love you, Dad. May you rest among the stars and planets you held so dear.