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Old 01-19-2014, 08:26 PM
 
Location: Phoenix Arizona
725 posts, read 1,792,373 times
Reputation: 1650

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With my upcoming tax refund I plan on purchasing a used commuter car since at the moment I have been using my Suburban to get to and from work and obviously it's not very cost effective to keep commuting with such a gas hog.

I'm not getting anything fancy and will more than likely get something in the mid to late 90's era since my budget is pretty limited. I am not too picky on the make but I am leaning more towards a civic or corolla, perhaps even an escort or other small 4 cyl car.

I've looked around on Craig'slist and I've seen a few cars that fit my criteria although I'm not sure if I should focus more on auto or stick transmissions. I like the manual transmissions because I have always found them a bit more fun to drive plus they handle better where I live however there seem to be a much bigger market for auto transmissions.

Is it safer to get a car with a manual transmission without expecting any issues besides the inevitable clutch replacement or should an auto transmission be just as reliable?
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Old 01-19-2014, 09:01 PM
 
Location: Pittsburgh area
9,918 posts, read 23,357,932 times
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The stick will give you better acceleration in those little cars with little engines. Going back to mid-late 90s, there's probably still a decent fuel economy bump as well. (These days, that advantage is mostly gone. Sometimes the automatic gets a better MPG rating in a new car.)

I've had 5 small Hondas now with sticks over the years, and it's my most recent one that I've driven by far the longest, 225k miles. Nothing happens to the transmission. The clutch, yeah, although I've only done one so far in this car (but it's all me driving, and I made the original last to 165k).

I don't know that most of the autos wouldn't be just as reliable though. I had an old Toyota Tercel with auto once, and it did fine, had about 130k on it. We also had a newer Mitsu Galant for a while that was an ex-rental car and even that never had a transmission problem up to almost 100k (we sold it then). Either type could be somewhat abused I suppose but abuse on a stick would more take its toll on the clutch than the transmission I would think.

You might think about the other possible big maintenance issue of course, the timing belt. Some of those cars even then may be mercifully free of this using a chain instead, but the Civics of that era will certainly have a timing belt.

In some places you might have trouble finding a stock Civic. Beware of buying something that's been modified. That probably means it's been driven hard.
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Old 01-19-2014, 09:04 PM
 
Location: Phoenix Arizona
725 posts, read 1,792,373 times
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Very true about the stock civic trouble. I've really been looking for an early 90's hatchback and every great once in a while I see one for sale that is all stock however most I see have been "riced" out and modified to some degree which I don't want. I can live with some mods but the exhaust mods and the cheap lowering is a turn off for me.
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Old 01-19-2014, 09:41 PM
 
17,486 posts, read 23,649,152 times
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If you were to go into very late 80s or up to mid 90s Japan made cars, you almost destined to hit very reliable very good mpg vehicles, as far as you stay away from Accords and minivans.
Mazdas, Hondas, Mitubishes run and run. Several transplants from Mazda into Ford - Escort, Probe - are same quality. Dodge Colt is excellent car being Mitsubishi. Stay away from Eclipses, as they have never been made in Japan.
Unfortunately, all of them have interference engines and belts must be done no later than 100K miles. But this is quite easy DIy job and not much expense at a shop also - around $400.
Parts are abundant and cheap.
Stick has one main advantage - better mpg. Fun to drive is #2.
Yes, you'll have to do clutch at around 130-150K miles, but, once again, it's a small transmission and DIy is quite easy in less than a day and costs less than a $1000 in most shops.
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Old 01-19-2014, 10:14 PM
 
Location: East of Seattle since 1992, originally from SF Bay Area
39,433 posts, read 70,785,766 times
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In the last year I had to pay for a rebuild of an automatic for $3,400, and a new clutch in a manual car for $600 which included new master and slave cylinders. perhaps I have bad luck but I have never had an automatic last
more than 140,000 miles. The last one went at 92,000 (2002 Jeep Liberty), before that 1996 4Runner at 92,000, before that 1990 Bronco at 130,000. That clutch on the manual went 155,000 and the mechanic said it still had friction material left, but just fell apart due to age.
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Old 01-19-2014, 10:35 PM
 
3,963 posts, read 5,328,191 times
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Go manual because for commuter cars back in that time period. The manual transmission was superior not only in fuel economy but getting the most out of those engines. It will also put a smile on your face.
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Old 01-20-2014, 03:33 AM
 
Location: Vallejo
19,033 posts, read 21,110,810 times
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Never really had an automatic. Original clutch on the Accord at 140k when it was totaled, no slippage. Original clutch on the Mazda at 120k so far. On something from the '90s, meh. Either case I'd throw it out if it had transmission problems, not worth the money. I'd get the manual for fuel economy and not being as much of a dog as those old three-speeds were.
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Old 01-20-2014, 06:35 AM
 
Location: Maine
1,150 posts, read 1,857,539 times
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Definitely manual. Automatic transmissions (especially in older cars) are more complex, use more gas, require more maintenance, and break down more often.
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Old 01-20-2014, 06:47 AM
C8N
 
1,119 posts, read 2,985,471 times
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I think most enthusiast will agree that manuals are much more fun to drive but I think it all depends on your area especially when it comes to daily drivers. For example, I am in the NY metro area and I would not want to deal with a manual after a hard day's work and deal with the traffic on my way home. However, as a weekender, without a doubt it will have to be a manual.
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Old 01-20-2014, 07:03 AM
 
Location: Long Neck,De
4,792 posts, read 7,720,170 times
Reputation: 4824
From reading some of your other posts I assume you are not commuting through heavy traffic stop and go situations, I would definitely go for the stick.
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