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My 2003 Altima Died on the Street! What Car Should I Buy?


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Image: Nissan

Ahmed is 26 and has squeezed all the life he could out of his 2003 Nissan Altima. Now the repair costs are well above what he wants to pay to keep it on the road. He’s looking for a replacement with a bit of power and fun, that fits a $10,000 budget.

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario:

I drove my 2003 Nissan Altima until it literally died on me in the street. Took it to a shop and because one of the cylinders was misfiring, among many other issues with leaks and whatnot, the mechanic quoted me about what I paid for the car 5 years ago just to fix it. So I called one of those “we buy any car” junkyard companies and had them buy it from me for a mere $150 🙂 Now i’m in a better situation and am ready to buy my second ever car.

I work mostly from home and don’t do a ton of driving so I would like something to enjoy when I go out to drive.

I like rear-wheel-drive cars with a bit of horsepower. I’m open to a sedan, coupe, or convertible but I do not want an SUV. I also prefer Japanese brands because the European stuff is too expensive to maintain. I can spend up to $10,000

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $10,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: San Diego, CA

Wants: Some horsepower, reliability, ideally rear-wheel-drive

Doesn’t want: An SUV

Expert 1: Tom McParland – Replace Some Ponies With Handling Prowess

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Image: Craigslist

Ahmed, you live in sunny California and are at an age where you don’t have to worry about “serious adult” things like kiddos, car seats, and a lot of practicality. This is the perfect opportunity to get yourself a drop-top and enjoy the freedom.

That is why you should buy this 1995 Mazda Miata. It’s truly the answer to your situation right now. Yes, it’s a bit older than your Altima, but the Mazda only has 95,000 miles and seems to be well maintained by an enthusiast owner. When they post pictures of the underside of the car, that’s usually a good sign. What it lacks in horsepower it makes up for in smiles on a back road with the sun in your face. It may seem a bit silly to max your budget on what is almost a 20-year-old car, but everything in this market is overpriced. You might as well get maximum enjoyment out of your dollar.

Expert 2: Andy Kalmowitz – Hitting All the Marks

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Photo: Chicago Fine Motors LLC

My friend, look no further than this 2008 Pontiac Solstice GXP. It checks literally every box: under $10,000, reliable, rear-wheel-drive and fun. On top of that, the Solstice is comfy and roomy enough inside to be a very capable daily driver.

With 260 hp on tap, it’s no slouch. Is it as good a handler as Tom’s Miata suggestion? Maybe not, but it is much newer and has almost twice the horsepower. What’s not to love? People will think you’re super interesting when you open the front-hinged hood as well.

Ahmed, as a fellow person in their mid-20s, I know what’s best for you: chrome wheels. You can really lean into the dad culture and get some jorts and New Balance shoes.

Expert 3: Lawrence Hodge – How About Reliability, Power, and Good MPGs?

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Image: Lexus

At this price point, it may be hard to find that combination that you’re looking for. But if you look hard enough, you may find all three of those in an unexpected place. Enter the 2009 Lexus GS450h. This thing was a game-changer when it debuted in 2007. It was the world’s first rear-wheel drive hybrid. And Lexus billed it as a performance model. The company took the well-known 3.5-liter V6 and paired it with Toyota’s hybrid drive system and a CVT. The result was an impressive 339 horsepower, a 0-60 mph time of just over five seconds, and the real kicker, excellent gas mileage: 22 mpg city, 25 highway, which is great for a sedan of this size.

Its a Prius for people that like to drive. And as the years have gone on, they’re pretty cheap if you look hard enough. I found one in nearby Oceanside with just over 103,000 miles (which is nothing for a Lexus) for $10,995.

Expert 4: Owen Bellwood – Choose Chaos

A photo of the front left corner of a teal-colored Mazda RX-8

Photo: Car Search USA

Some great suggestions from my fellow experts today, Ahmed. And I’m hard-pressed to think of a better pick than the Mazda Miata our Tom has plucked out for you. But, if you want something with a little more presence than the humble Miata, let’s take a look at the other front-engine, rear-drive sports car from Mazda’s recent past: the mighty RX-8.

Now, I’ll admit that while it checks the boxes for budget, performance, and rear-wheel drive, you might have to make some sacrifices in the reliability department thanks to the unique needs of the rotary engine. But, if you can see past the fact that most of these engines conk out before 100,000 miles, you’ll have yourself an absolute blast driving this car ‘round the streets and highways of California.

What’s more, this one for sale near you looks to be in great condition inside and out, and come finished in a gorgeous teal color. After all the sensible restraint of the Altima, why not have some fun with your second-ever car?

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