I have a friend that is a poor as hell grad student. She has zero car maintenance skills and needs a new car as her POS is in really sketchy shape (2004 Chevy Classic (the shittiest of Malibus, during the first of two years it was only sold to fleets), which is a haunted piece of shit that I think was once flooded.). Can’t drive a manual and unwilling to learn, so it must be automatic. She said she can spend about $20k on a car (prefers less, might go slightly above if it makes her happy) and she would like something that gets a ferry discount (hence, under 14' long). I believe she needs something simple and rock-solid reliable, along with thinking she needs something new with a warranty because she can’t afford repairs (she’s also extremely bad with money, so if it isn’t packaged in a simple monthly payment, she won’t save for repairs). She generally has a fairly short commute of around 16 miles r/t, but does drive much longer distances on occasion (100+ miles). This last part is why a Nissan Leaf isn’t perfect (on top of expensive). It also should be cute (because girl; Toyotas and Scions are too angry and ugly these days... She likes VWs and has a bit of an obsession with the Fiesta (calls it a “party car!”, particularly because it is cute and can be purchased in Candy Blue.) and major bonus points if it comes in a cheery blue color.

My list is something like this:

1. Mazda 2, but it isn’t sold in the US anymore. The new one looks so sexy.

2. Honda Fit. Probably the all-around most practical and nicest. Sadly, they’re kind of expensive.

3. Ford Fiesta Hatch. My only reluctance is the questionable DCT.

4. Chevy Sonic Hatch. I hate the thought of a shitbox like this, but as proven by her car that she once failed to change the oil on for 15k miles (because she couldn’t afford it, she claimed), GM cars really do run bad longer than most cars run at all. Still an Aveo to me, just with a more powerful and reliable engine.

... I’m out of ideas.

She also likes the cute little Fiat 500s and would stretch for a base spec Mini, both of which I think are bad ideas for her because they’re notoriously unreliable.


My go-to is cheap used cars. I’d say a Panther would be pretty awesome, except for how bad she is with money and a complete lack of mechanical skills (meaning most of the cheap bonuses are gone). You can do a lot of ferry crossings with that 16-17k left over after buying a clean Panther.

Also note that the nearest Carmax is too far away to pull a DeMuro.

So, what do you think? What would you recommend? List what you’d recommend she consider and why...