Hey SitePointers! I know you're all fantastic with tech, but I'm hoping there are some automotive gurus out there as well.

I think this morning my car -- a 1998 Ford Escort ZX2 with 145k miles -- finally kicked the bucket.

I'm currently working for an IT Consulting firm doing government contracting in Washington DC, so I have a steady income that is decent.

I'm young and I'd like to avoid debt for car payments, but unfortunately have not been in this job long enough to have amassed enough savings to buy a car outright. Most of my additional income has gone to paying off a credit card (almost done!) and to student loans (nowhere near done).

I could afford car payments if I got a great deal, but I'd like to keep my monthly payments down to increase savings (prefer positive interest to negative interest).

Though I love driving, I don't see cars as a status symbol and can deal with a junker if necessary. I can drive manual and anything will be an upgrade from my last car, so I think my expectations are realistic enough to keep costs down.

So, I guess I have several questions:

  • New-ish or used? Considering buying an inexpensive "new" (i.e recent certified used) car that will allow me to save money beyond making the payments and then utilize the trade-in value when I have the money saved up for my next car.
  • If I go used, what is my best bet in terms of year/make/model to find a cheap deal that will allow me to save up money for my next one without worrying about drowning in maintenance costs in th meantime?
  • This seems to be a buyer's market right now from what I'm seeing -- am I right? If so, I'm willing to shell out the money and make payments if it gets me an insane deal on a fantastic car. Always interested in hearing about these deals as well.

I appreciate any and all help SitePointers can offer. Thanks!