Car Search: A 10-Year Sedan For $5,000, Part 2

Posted by


The search continues for a $5K sedan that could go another 10 years. This client drives only about 5K miles per year, so that’s not as hard as it sounds. What has been hard is finding reasonably-priced cars in this very popular used-car segment.

In the first installment of this search,  we laid down the basics. This client had her 1998 Corolla totaled out by her insurance company after it was the victim of a hit and run. She’s like a car that she can park with ease on her competitive street in SF’s Mission District. She liked that Corolla very much, but most that are decent are not reasonably priced. She hired me to find her another Corolla or something equivalent, and to make sure she doesn’t get hosed in the process.

Smog is another issue. Smog is everything in California; there are no mechanical inspections performed aside from the emissions system. California law states that any used car sold (exempted are diesels and some ’90s Volvos that won’t communicate with the DMV computers) must have a valid smog done by the seller within 90 days prior to the sale.  Without it, the new owner can’t register it. It’s one of the ways the state culls the polluting herd.

As you go through these ads, note how few call out a valid smog. Many sellers honestly don’t know about this requirement, while some call their car “Smog Ready,” which sounds good until you realize they’re saying that they’re ready for you to smog it.

Here’s my favorite Corolla so far. Old enough not to have airbags, but so wonderfully simple. With only 88K miles, this thing will bury us all.


My client’s wrecked Corolla is down to $2K, $300 off. In the previous ad, the seller wrote that he might fix the damage, but here it looks like it’s up to you.


Echos came up in the Toyota search. I’d gnash my teeth at the absurdity of paying $3,200 for an Echo with 200K miles…


…but there was more than one of them.


By the 1990s, the remaining General Motors A-cars that first debuted in 1981 were finally decently reliable and thus merit consideration. I took my client to see a Century, and though she found it too big, she liked how plush it was. This was another Century in that running…


…as was this Ciera.


Speaking of GM, this Cavalier doesn’t look so bad, though it is a haul to get to Brentwood from SF.


Salvage titles – cars that were previously totaled – are everywhere on Craigslist. I love the typo here: “NO LOW BLOWS!!” Amen, brother.


This Sentra is probably the best so far. Let’s see if the distinguished professor did their research on smog requirements.


Another Sentra at an even better price. I’d consider this one for myself if I needed cheap wheels, but the expired registration, nonexistent smog and notable damage (bolt-on fender, not a big deal, hood clearcoat is another matter) are probably too Wild West for her. I sent it over anyway. Offer $800, why not? Parking in the Mission will have any car looking like this soon enough anyway.


The search continues! Stay tuned, and we’ll keep you posted. Tell us in the comments – what would you recommend my client buy?