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Nine great cars for back to school

While students don’t necessarily have a car on their back-to-school shopping list, when they do, it’s safe to say that they’re “budget constrained” – and that their parents will want safety and dependability. So that gem with the loud exhaust and fast-and-furious spoiler strapped to the trunk is probably a no-go. Instead, think affordable style. Here are nine great used cars that just might occupy the crossroads where young drivers, their parents, and their budget can meet:

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Dave Duncan sits in his Honda Civic, buried on the street after a 2010 snowstorm in Asbury Park, N.J. The trusty Civics are user friendly, practical, and easy to repair, making them a great car for back to school.
Beth DeFalco/AP/File
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1. Honda Civic

Vintage: Any

Price Range: $1,000 (late 1980s) to $10,000 (mid-2000s)

The Honda Civic is perennially crowned one of the best value cars available to consumers. Tidy design, user-friendly interface, and ease of repair make this a great car for back to school car and one of the most practical vehicles you can buy at this price point. The Civic can be had as a coupe, sedan, or hatchback in a few different trim levels. The DX models will be cheapest with crank windows and no air conditioning, though you may be more interested in “EX” range-toppers that generally feature better brakes. Major body style changes came in 1992, 1996, 2001, and 2006 – look for one of these model years to get the best price on the design you favor.

It’s best to have a mechanic give the once-over (usually $30-$50) to your potential Civic or any of the models on this list. Cars at this price point could be hiding some major malfunctions that an untrained eye might miss. That said, don’t get too hung up on mileage as these cars should last straight into the 200,000-mile range as long as they’ve been maintained and manage to avoid rust.

Parents will like: Ease and infrequency of required maintenance, reputation of reliability.

Students will like: Ease of use, having the same car as their friends.

Downsides: Not the car for you if your goal is to stand out from the crowd in a typical school parking lot.

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