Best Cheap Car
September 8, 2011
I've heard people say that a Neon is a horrible car. They say it's a cheap piece of junk that's horribly unreliable. That's exactly opposite the experience I've had with mine. I bought my base model Neon for a pittance with low miles, in good working order. Nothing was power other than the steering. It had, and still has, crank windows, manual locks, manually adjusted seats, good old manually controlled A/C and a manual transmission.
It had the absolutely basic interior, which meant almost no amenities other than A/C, a radio, and adjustable seat belts. This is just fine by me, because seats are seats unless they're unbearably stiff.
The upshot of this model is that with regular maintenance it is incredibly rare to have major problems like in the 'Dead in less than 100k' review. I maintain mine and I drive it like I stole it and I have never had a blown head gasket, a snapped timing belt, or any other major malfunction. It is, quite simply, BASIC but fun transportation. Keep your foot down and the worst mileage you'll get is about 20mpg, but normal driving with maybe a little bit of full-throttle, 30mpg is normal, give or take one or two. All highway driving, I've seen as high as 50 with a decent tail wind before I got back into city driving, but normal highway driving should net high 30s normally, 40 or a bit more if you go the full hypermiler route.
The only real downside to the car is that until the last half of the first generation (95-99), the paint quality was pretty bad, so once the cars got a few years under their belts the paint would get scraped and knocked off fairly easily and the car would rust out fairly quickly. It's fairly uncommon to find a pre-97 or -98 Neon without at least one or two small rust spots. In my case rust will eventually make me scrap this one and swap all the major components over to a rust-free one.
Basically a great cheap car with a lot of inter-changeability and good all-around performance (for what it is - an economy car). Find a 97 or newer with a manual, have a trusted mechanic look it over, and chances are you'll find it's a good deal even if it requires a little work.