Car Shopping in Madison


I recently decided it was time for me to get a car. I sold my last car in the spring of 2011 and in that time I have taken a lot of public transportation and bummed a lot of rides from people. I am at a position, financially, to afford a car. While shopping for a car here in Madison I have been looking for a few things – a decent price, good gas mileage and usefulness.


I have been spending a lot of time on the Madison Craigslist looking at cars and boy are they more expensive than I remember. I routinely see cars with over 200,000 miles for $2,500+. I guess I just have to recalibrate my pricing.

I have bought a few cars over the years. I had a ’94 Chevy Cavalier that I bought for $250. I put tires and a muffler on it and it gave me no problems and about 24 mpg. I don’t think you can really get a running car for $250 anymore, at least not from what I have seen.

I don’t want to make car payments. All of my cars have been paid for in cash and I plan my next one to be paid for up front as well. I don’t like the idea of a car payment. Plus if I had a loan I would have to carry full coverage on my vehicle.

I am hoping my patience will pay off with a well priced purchase.

Gas Mileage

One of the biggest features I am looking for is gas mileage. If you have been on Craigslist you probably know that practically no one includes this info in their posts. Some say good mileage, or something like “I only fill up once a week!”. This means nothing to me as I don’t know how much you drive or how large your tank is. One site that I use it This site let’s people upload their mileage. You can search my make, model, year and engine type. Some cars have a much better sample size than others. I have found it quite handy in my research.

Although I don’t plan on driving a whole lot I think better gas mileage is preferable to worse gas mileage. It just makes sense!


The usefulness aspect of the car was inspired by this Mr. Money Mustache post about cars. He makes a strong case for economical hatchbacks. Most of his recommendations are a bit too new for my price range but the article is a good read.

My needs are pretty simple so pretty much any car will do but something with room would be more versatile. I am targeting a small wagon or hatchback that is in the 1997-2004 range. If that doesn’t work out I have also been considering some Buick’s. They are pretty reliable, get decent gas mileage and are generally well taken care of. Car shopping is always an exciting time for me so who knows what I will actually end up purchasing.

I have lived this long without a car so I am in no hurry to buy one. I think this gives me an advantage as I don’t have to rush into anything. I will definitely sleep a night on any purchase to make sure I don’t make any hasty decisions.

When was the last time you bought a car? How did it go?