I'm Retiring From The Military, I Need Something Fun And Cheap! What Car Should I Buy?

Illustration for article titled Im Retiring From The Military, I Need Something Fun And Cheap! What Car Should I Buy?
Photo: Porsche

Ricky is about to conclude his time in the service and will be passing down his Ford Focus to his daughter. He is looking for something fun, affordable, and a little bit different. He has a limited budget but is open to all kinds of ideas as long as it has a manual transmission. What car should he buy?

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(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario -

I’m in the military; gonna finish my time out in North Texas, then stay in the security career field in the same area. I have a wife and two kids; 15 and 10. I plan to give my 2012 Focus Titanium hatchback to my 15-year-old when she turns 16 next year. I would love to pick up another used car now so I can tool around with it, work on it while I drive it around on the weekends and such as, then daily it when my daughter gets my Focus. My wife drives an SUV and we have the Focus, so when I get another car, I’ll really just need it to go to work and back (52 miles round trip) and the occasional errand. I love hatchbacks and wagons and basically cars that are just a little outside the normal boring grocery-getter sedans. I also want a manual. I don’t mind wrenching but it’ll eventually be a daily, so it’s gotta be quasi-dependable (I once had a ‘98 Volvo V70XC that almost gave me a coronary, but it looked cool). If I start now I’ll have time to fix all the problems before I need the car to get to work and back. I don’t *need* it to go fast but I want it to be fun and look cool. I’m looking to spend between $5,000 and $10,000 Any advice is appreciated. Thank you.

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Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $10,000

Daily Driver: Sort of

Location: North Texas

Wants: Unique, Fun, Manual

Doesn’t want: a boring crossover

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Unique!

Illustration for article titled Im Retiring From The Military, I Need Something Fun And Cheap! What Car Should I Buy?
Image: Duncan Imports

Ricky, you did say you don’t need fast but you do need fun and unique along with three pedals on the floor. You seem like the perfect candidate for the growing market of JDM imports. There are a few ways you can go with this, obviously, the sport compact route is what most people do or perhaps a Kei car, but that may be too cramped. Since you are in Texas and probably have some nice trails nearby, I would say you try something small and zippy that can go off-road.

In which case this Daihatsu Rocky from our friend Gary Duncan looks like a blast. It has 80,000 miles and a current asking price of around $9,000. The steering wheel is on the right and you will have to learn to shift with your left, but that’s part of the fun. Even though Texas is truck and SUV country I bet you will be the only one in town with a Rocky.

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Expert 2: Rory Carroll - Fun!

Illustration for article titled Im Retiring From The Military, I Need Something Fun And Cheap! What Car Should I Buy?
Photo: Cars.com (Other)
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Ricky, why not stick with a Ford’s product? This Fiesta ST looks cool, does hatchy things and should be mostly reliable, even if the examples currently dipping below the $10k mark aren’t necessarily cream puffs. That’s why you bought the other cars and all those great tools!

The ST also has enough room for the whole family in a pinch, is a genuine hoot to drive and modify and should deliver decent gas mileage on your commute. Don’t worry about that little gauge on the dash, I’m still it was installed by a qualified professional. It’s perfect!

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Expert 3: Bradley Brownell - Sporty!

Illustration for article titled Im Retiring From The Military, I Need Something Fun And Cheap! What Car Should I Buy?
Screenshot: Craigslist
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Ricky, you’ve already got a responsible vehicle in your wife’s SUV, so what you need is a fun little two-seater to commute in. I was looking for the exact same thing when I bought my 1997 Boxster a handful of years ago, which is why I can’t recommend this early Boxster enough. These early 2.5-liter cars aren’t particularly quick with only 201 horsepower, but they sound like heaven and handle even better. Depreciation has made this two-seater runabout a proper bang-for-your-buck bargain.

There is an old maxim that says nothing is more expensive than a cheap Porsche, but speaking from experience this generation of Boxster is incredibly easy to wrench on for the average mechanic and parts aren’t any more expensive than you’d find in another hot hatch or sports car of the era. Though, it does require ten quarts of Mobil 1 every oil change, so that can add up, but you’ll quickly become adept at looking for sales on the stuff and changing it yourself will save you hundreds of dollars.

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My own Boxster had 97,000 miles on the odometer when I bought it, and across the 30,000 miles I’ve put on the car it has had only a water pump failure and the idler pulley bolt backed out. It’s such a simple car that very little can go wrong.

You’ve been doing the responsible thing for so long, isn’t it time for a mid-life crisis? Just don’t pay attention to the kinda shoddy interior quality and ugly headlights, you’ll be fine.

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Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)

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Say it with me now: “Miata Is Always The Answer.”

Don’t worry about having a unique car. You can be unique no matter what you’re driving.