The dilemma: We're back on the low-budget track this week as Elliot the commerce student contemplates a set of wheels: "I can't state too clearly how broke I am, like my budget is under $1000.I shouldn't be contemplating a car at all, but I have to do a bit of running around and public transport just isn't working for me." Elliot says he knows he's potentially walking into grief buying an old wreck, but all he wants is a year out of it.
The broad answer is, anything Japanese that looks like it hasn't been totally thrashed. Good luck trying to get a warranty on a sub-$1000 car, so try to shop with a mechanically inclined friend. Borrow a library book about what to look for in a used car.
The budget: Under $1000
Toyota Starlet: Apparently unburstable, even the little 1-litre version.
The paint will probably be well past its best, the interior tatty, but a Starlet just goes and goes. If it does break down, cheap parts are readily available and anyone can fix them. Trouble is, too many people know this and some sellers ask silly prices for their 25-year-old Starlets. But look hard and you'll probably find a serviceable early-to mid-1990s one, with maybe a dent here and there.
Mitsubishi Mirage: Much the same as the Starlet but they tend to sell for a bit less than the Toyota - there are plenty of halfway-decent 1.3 Mirages on the market for less than $1000. Mirages seemed to attract hoons more than the Starlet, so be alert for signs of being thrashed. Hint: A Malaysian Proton Saga is basically a Mirage in disguise, and they're usually dirt cheap.
A bicycle: We know you want a car, but really, Elliot, a bike is much more like it if you're as broke as you say. No licence fees, no WoF, no fuel, no outrageous parking fees, no environmental damage, no puddles of oil on the concrete - plus it keeps you far fitter than running for the bus. Someone will probably give you an old 10-speeder just to get it out of the shed.
Driven recommends: Toyota Starlet
Probably the Starlet, but don't pass on a Mirage that takes your fancy, or an old Nissan, Suzuki, Honda or whatever.
You're buying the most reliable and economical transportation you can find and something that looks like it might run okay for a while is more important than brand.
When you're considering cars that are 20-plus years old, anything still standing is a recommendation in itself!