A good used car

To help one of our sons launch into independence, we decided to buy him an inexpensive used car. The criteria: Under $3000, four doors, cosmetically and mechanically okay, a couple years of life left in it.

You’d be surprised how many cars at this price are clapped out and beaten up. Darn good thing we weren’t in a hurry, because it took us about a month to find this 2005 Ford Escape. We paid $2600.


It had nearly new tires on it. They’re some off brand I’ve never heard of, and I’ve already found them to be so-so on wet pavement. I’m sure they went to some tire store and said, “Put on the cheapest tires you’ve got.” Regardless, I was happy to see them when we went to look at this car. These tires probably cost $500, a large percentage of the car’s purchase price.


I’m not an expert in buying used cars. I did pay for a Carfax report, which revealed just two owners and no accidents. I checked the car for things I know how to check. When I stuck my finger in the tailpipe, it came back grey and sooty, which was good. The oil was dirty, but it wasn’t foamy or low. The belts I could find were old but not dry or cracked. I grabbed the top of each front tire and pulled and pushed hard, looking for loose front-end linkage. They didn’t budge. All the switchgear worked, and there were no lingering idiot lights on the dashboard. The car drove and stopped straight, and had good, smooth power all the way up to highway speeds.


A couple minor issues were evident, however. The headliner is starting to separate from the roof where it meets the windshield. One of the hinges for the hatch glass was broken. I replaced the hinge myself — it’s incredible the car parts you can buy on Amazon and the instructions for repairs you can find on YouTube. I let the headliner go.


Whenever you buy an inexpensive used car, Murphy dictates that it will need some sort of repair shortly after. So I drove it for a couple weeks to shake it out, to keep our son from having to deal with it. Sure enough, one day I pulled into the parking lot at work and found the oil light to have just come on. My mechanic said that the valve gasket cover was leaking ever so slightly, and that there was a temporary plug in the oil pan, neither of which is great. But he said that for a car this old with this many miles, he wouldn’t invest in those repairs, he’d just drive it like that. He replaced the oil pressure sensor and couldn’t get the oil light to come back on, so we both declared it good.

One headlight

It’s been only in the past few years that I stepped up from driving old cars much like this one. I know very well that after a certain number of miles, you live with some issues that you choose not to fix because the return isn’t worth the investment.


This Escape has 175,000 miles on it. I remember a time when a car with 100,000 miles was used up. But despite this Escape’s issues, I’ll bet it has at least 25,000 miles left in it — maybe 50,000 with good care and good luck.

I forget which camera I used to make these photos — it was one of my 35mm SLRs, probably with a 50mm prime lens. The film is Ultrafine Extreme 400, which I developed in the last of my LegacyPro L110, in Dilution B.

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23 responses to “A good used car”

  1. J P Avatar

    I spent many years finding nice older used cars to drive. I remember when $2500 was the sweet spot and it was only when you went under $2k that the junk far outnumbered anything decent. You are right that $2500 doesn’t get what it used to, which was something 10-15 years old with 70-80k miles from an elderly owner who was sure of certain disaster if he didn’t sell it before it hit 100k.

    If you can get the headliner out of the car you can peel the cloth back from the base and glue it back down with spray adhesive. But pop for the good stuff (like 3M) made for automotive use and not the cheap stuff from Hobby Lobby, which won’t hold up to the heat of summer for longer than 2 weeks. Ask me how I know.

    It looks like you found a really nice one!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I decided to make the headliner the kid’s problem. It is only coming down at the very front by the windshield.

      I was hoping for that 80k elderly owner car but never found one!

  2. Greg Clawson Avatar
    Greg Clawson

    Kudos Jim!
    We have done the same thing for our kids occasionally when times were tough. They are all independent adults now for which I am thankful. Good luck.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think you read me: the whole point of this gift was to aid a kid in his independence. Here’s hoping this car gives him a couple years at least of good service!

  3. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    If you bought this recently, you were lucky! The guy in my apartment building that works for a Chrysler dealer says they’re paying hundreds to thousands over Blue Book just to get used cars to sell, altho I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have considered a car with that mileage. I was shocked to hear that they added thousands over MSRP on new cars because of the lack of volume available, until I found my Kia dealer doing the same when I was in for an oil change. I was told I had been extremely lucky to get my Soul last year when I did, and they showed me a new Kia on the floor they had added 8,000 dollar on over MSRP, if you want it, you pay it! I’ve never even paid near MSRP on any new car I’ve ever bought!

    Never been an American car buyer, but totally admit that the Ford Escape has always been a body configuration I’ve had my eye on. Seems like the perfect small sized hauler that allows you to do a lot of stuff, and for it’s size, it seats nicely high! Good luck with it, it sure looks clean for that mileage! I wouldn’t be too concerned with the tires, a tire guy I know told me there’s all kinds of tires out on the market branded with different names but made by major manufacturers, done specifically for different tire wholesalers and retailers. He said he was also so impressed with Chinese tires like Hankook, he’d have no problem selling them all day to his usual customers.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s crazy, because back at the beginning of the pandemic the dealer who sold us our Soul was offering to buy it back for what we paid for it! We declined. Maybe we should have traded!

      The cheap brand tires are all adequate, but to me it’s worth it to pay more for better. I upgraded from cheap to good tires on my Toyota Matrix and it transformed that car’s ability to hold the road in rain, snow, and ice.

    2. Chris and Carol Avatar

      The Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute in this model year is the same vehicle. Mazda made the Escape with Ford.

    3. tbm3fan Avatar

      Dealers are paying over Blue Book for used cars but dealers are pretty much only interested in 3-6 year old cars for their lots and not cars like this Escape. Too old and too many miles on it for them. These cars are private sellers only and they no doubt read the papers and see what is happening with used cars. Their old car is used so it must be worth more than is logical and so price them higher too. I look at the Bay Area Craigslist every week and it seems every 15-20 year old ordinary car is priced at 5-5.5K to start. All way over priced for what they are. Not uncommon the see a 91 4Runner, as an example, with 177,000 miles and the seller is asking just under 10K. By the book and condition it is 3-4K at best. It is already 30 years old now and coming out of that box of chocolates. My 30 year old Mazda and 17 year old Focus are in prime shape, however, given my fanatical tendency for cleanliness and mechanical perfection. Other people not so much.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        I thought 2600 wasn’t too elevated for this car. KBB said this was a fair deal. I think of something like this as an 1800 or 2000 car, though.

        1. tbm3fan Avatar

          My rule if it is a basic car, not ever rare or special, and it is over 20 years old and/or over 200,000 miles it is worth no more than $2500. These cars almost always have something that needs work since most people give a car only the bare minimum in care. One takes their “excellent” condition car, looks at it with Xray eyes if you could, and you see a fair to clean car at best. Something generally happens in the first year like it did once years back with me. Car over 20 years, but under 200,000 miles, and in six months an ignition problem sidelined the car. Thing is I could fix it over the weekend and did costing me only a little. This Escape, fair to clean, $1200 to $3000. Pretty much the same as the Tribute which is why. I suspect if Ford blood only then around $300-400 less.

  4. DougD Avatar

    Looks like you got a good one there Jim. As we’ve found with our CC articles there’s a big spread of opinion on the issue, from “Give your kids nothing, it’ll build self reliance!” to “Here’s a new car for your 16th birthday!”

    I think your route is the best one, a cheap but functional vehicle that will be one less worry for a young person starting out. If they abuse or neglect it, then they’re walking again and you’re only out $2600, If they take care of it then it will be a real benefit to their life.

    Well done, and I hope your son has a successful launch.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We’ve done this for two kids now – I gave my Ford Focus to one son, and we bought this Escape for another. It’s situational; we did it for the kids who needed it, but not for the other.

    2. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      DougD, interesting… I noticed from a sociological standpoint, when I last lived in Chicago in the late 80’s, what was considered the “nouveau riche” suburbs of the far western metroplex, were where the parents were buying their 16 year old daughter a new Porsche; whereas the “old money” north shore was where you’d see kids getting a passed on old Buick, and probably pass it on again to a younger kid. My Mom bought my sister and I a ’66 Oldsmobile in 1972 that had a lot of mechanical problems for a couple of hundred bucks, and remember my sister not wanting to drive it because everything was too ramshackle! Why take your life in your hands when you have a world-class and frequent bus system, like Milwaukee had! I remember changing flat tires on that thing in the middle of snow storms on the way home from college every day!

  5. aagctt Avatar

    Sounds like a decent buy at this market. I was “launched” back in the day with a 1980 Buick Skylark. white paint, fallen headliner, small oil leak, etc. It didn’t last that many miles as it was already over 88000 miles when I got it, but it got me to places with good memories.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Nobody gave me any cars, but I did use a Ford Pinto and a Renault Alliance that belonged to family, for long terms. My first car was a brand new 1989 Chevrolet Beretta: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/cars-of-a-lifetime/coal-1989-chevrolet-beretta-the-dentmobile/

  6. Dick Davis Avatar

    You didn’t mention it but the headlights appear to be clear. I’ve seen headlights that have been “cleaned” to remove the oxidation, but the one you photographed appeared to new. Good job on finding Garrett a car. I should be so lucky or deliberate.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      One headlight was clearly replaced and was gleaming; the other was a little crusty but not bad.

      Garrett actually got my old Focus, which someone T-boned at Keystone and National Ave. a couple years ago. His stepdad found him a 2000 Saturn with only 30000 miles on it! This Escape went to one of Margaret’s sons.

  7. Dick Davis Avatar

    I believe that’s when he was working for me. That’s on the way from campus to the tennis center. I had forgotten about that.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The car was driveable after that but it remained parked for months while Garrett decided whether to have it fixed or not. Car wasn’t worth much!

  8. Chris and Carol Avatar

    These are great vehicles as I purchased two for my daughter while she was going to HS and then off to college. Watch out for issues with the catalytic converters. Once they start to fail there’s a whole cascade of issues that can pop up otherwise these SUVs are a great buy.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for the tip about the cat!

  9. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Looks like a good sensible first car! May it have many more trouble free miles left in it! (regular oil changes are the key!!)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a lot of fun to drive! Here’s hoping it doesn’t have any expensive repairs looming.

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