Ryan is the recipient of a heart transplant; his philosophy is that life is short, so drive something fun. Now that his health has improved, he is looking to trade in his old Jeep Wrangler for something that he can count on. What car should he buy?
Dealing with poor health at a young age often encourages people to take advantage of opportunities early on and not wait until “someday.” When Ryan was 22, he had serious heart problems, so he did what a lot of us might do: got a fun car and enjoyed life as much as he could.
But while Ryan’s much better these days, his Jeep isn’t. It’s time to get into something different.
Here is the scenario:
When I was 22-years-old, I had the first of a series of cardiac arrests that lead me to get a heart transplant. Since I was young and in very poor health, I bought myself a “fun” car right out of college.
My 2000 Jeep Wrangler now is on the fast track to the grave. I had the engine rebuilt when I bought it, but the jeep leaks when it rains, the heat stopped months ago, and the power steering dies on a semi-weekly basis. Since I have a new heart and am going off to graduate school next year, I thought this would this would be a good time to get myself a more reliable vehicle.
I live in New England and live a pretty active lifestyle so I need something that can handle bad weather and would like to have either all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Also, need something that is going to last and won’t cost me a ton to keep on the road. Therefore, I would prefer cars that are less than five years old.
Budget: $20,000 - $25,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Average Miles Per-Week: 200-300 miles
Wants: Reliable, 4WD/AWD, fun
Doesn’t want: Something over five years old.
Ryan, you got a second lease on life, which is probably one of the few times the fine commenters on this website will say that leasing is okay.
Anyway, that doesn’t mean you have to give up something fun. Sure, you could take the easy way out and get yourself a lightly used (or new) Toyota RAV4 or Subaru Forester for twenty-five grand, and while those cars will treat you well for a long time, they won’t get your heart pumping when you are behind the wheel.
What you need is an off-road capable ride that has a bit of character and solid build quality. I say you get yourself a Toyota FJ Cruiser. It’s a Toyota so you know you can rack up the miles without draining your wallet. The FJ also has some off-road chops to tackle the trails or whatever bad weather mother nature throws your way. And unlike most Toyotas, it doesn’t look like every other crossover in the parking lot.
The only real downside is these are going to be hard to come buy and finding one under five years old with reasonable miles for your budget will be a challenge. Here is a nice 2012 that is a bit of a hike from New England, but could be worth it.
Ryan, I’m glad to hear you’re doing better these days thanks to the marvels of modern medicine. I agree you should have something fun to drive, though I think that would do all of us some good.
You seem like a you might be a truck/off-roading guy and so that’s what most of my colleagues suggested, but on the chance that you aren’t, I’m going to suggest one of the most fun cars around: the Subaru WRX. You can easily find a good, possibly still under-warranty (or extended warranty) one just about anywhere; I don’t even have to list them here, they’re ubiquitous. You may even be able to score a new one in that range too, just be ready to negotiate hard.
You may not get the ground clearance for off-roading, but with all-wheel drive, a stick, 268 horses at your disposal and snow tires for those bad New England winters, you will rule the city like an Ice God. It’s practical too.
Older WRXs have a reputation for going south pretty hard when they get up in miles—blown head gaskets and the like—but I don’t have a ton of data on the newer ones. Modern Subarus tend to be solid, but watch out for someone else’s “leftovers” on the WRX—mods and tweaks that may not have been done right, or may not be your taste. Best to find a good stock one and go from there.
I don’t know the exact condition of your Wrangler, but if the main things wrong with it are just the seals, heater core and power steering pump, then I’m inclined to tell you to keep the Jeep.
You say you’re looking for something fun and reliable, but what you have in your 2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ is something that fits those requirements to the tee.
I know, yours has some issues, but the TJ is a very well-engineered platform, and with a bit of cash (parts are cheap) and elbow grease, that little Jeep can become as reliable as pretty much anything on the road. Plus, by spending the time and money to fix the Jeep, you’d be investing in a vehicle known to have the best resale value in the business.
Seriously, few things are as tough as a vehicle with a frame, two axles, and a powertrain that may as well have come from a tractor, and few vehicles are as fun as a convertible that can take you through deep mud pits, up steep rocky hillsides and along sandy beaches.
This is all assuming you’ve got the inline six; if yours is a four-banger, ditch that boat anchor and never look back.
Now, if I was looking for something fun and all-wheel drive, I would immediately go out and look for something hideously old, like a ‘70s Wagoneer with a manual, as I have recommended before. This, however, is probably the opposite of ‘reliable,’ as would be my backup plan of turbo-swapping a used Subaru CrossTrek, an idea given to me by a middle-aged woman walking her dog on a rainy night in upper Manhattan. Again, that’s probably going to break down halfway through a camping trip. Unwise.
Much more fun and weird would be the most under-appreciated used 4WD buy on the market right now, a used Nissan Xterra. It’s like a Land Rover Discovery, except with less inherent danger. Even a super well-equipped 4.0 liter car with a manual is well under your budget, and will be a quiet reminder every time you walk out to your driveway that, hey, I’m a little different, and I’m all the better for it.