James is a college student who’s tired of working on his old Chevy Blazer. His folks are going to help him get another car, but they say it has to have a good warranty. James, naturally, still wants something manual and sporty. What car should he buy?
Here is the scenario:
I’m a university student, about to graduate, and my dad wants to buy me a car. He has two stipulations: it has to be under $15,000, and it has to have a decent warranty. Now, this should be easy enough, there are plenty of decent cars with some warranty under fifteen grand, but I care about what I’m driving so I can’t get some cheap econobox.
The first problem is that I’m torn between a pickup truck or something light and sporty. Either way, it has to have a manual transmission. Also, front-wheel-drive kinda bums me out so a rear or all-wheel-drive car would be preferred.
I drive to calm down and clear my head. Driving anywhere. Off road, on road, in the mountains. I also like to carry lots of crap with me. Toolboxes, carpentry tools, backup/spare everything. I am also dating. I currently drive a ‘99 Blazer with 219,000 miles on it. I am not afraid to get greasy, in fact, I plan to do all maintenance myself.
Budget: Up to $15,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Greenville, SC
Wants: A tough truck or a sporty car... or both!
Doesn’t want: An automatic
James, given the amount of wrenching and driving you do it seems you will soon have an honorary degree from Jalopnik University. We may not be “accredited,” and we may be under federal investigation, and we are still trying to convince Professor David Tracy that nobody needs a degree in Jeep Hoonage, but we have a good time.
So we need to find something that will convince your dad that you aren’t getting something that will constantly break down. I have an idea that is better than a warranty: It’s called a Toyota Tacoma.
As you may have already learned from your Apocalyptic Survival class (they teach some weird stuff in college nowadays), the Tacoma can survive pretty much anything. Now I’m not just talking about any Tacoma—there is a special one that happened about ten years ago when Toyota engineers were drinking too much Mountain Dew and watching the X-Games.
They decided to make the Tacoma X-Runner, which is a lowered, rear-wheel drive, manual transmission sport truck. This is strange combo of sports car and pickup truck can be had with “reasonable” miles for a Tacoma, at just under $15,000 like this 2008 example not far from you.
If it’s warranty and reliability over everything, you could push your budget just a smidgen and get a rental-spec three pedal a Hyundai Elantra fresh from the factory. But you said you like to drive, so maybe a not-too-old Mini Cooper S? Wait, no, front-wheel drive bums you out and I can get with that.
I get the desire to haul all your shit around in a pickup truck, too. But even a two-seat car can carry a tool box, and you won’t need to carry an extra everything once you ditch the moon-mileage Blazer.
There are loads of Miatas, S2000s, Nissan Zs, Mustangs, Camaros and even Porsches to be had for less than $15,000. But getting one from a place that will sell you a warranty with it is a little tougher.
That said, in a sea of unfortunate economy cars at your local CarMax there’s a Nissan 350Z drop top that should come in right around your budget with an optional extended warranty.
That car will give you a more long-range comfort and oomph than a Miata, which I’m sure somebody has already recommended to you, and probably not be too terrible to work on yourself. Since it sounds like you do like to turn wrenches, the aftermarket for this car is pretty big and you should have no trouble finding toys for it.
As far as driving to calm down and clear your head, it doesn’t get better than a cool night in a convertible. You get most of the mind-calming advantages of a motorcycle with a lot more safety and warmth. Think about it!
James, look, you seem great and all, but I just don’t even know how to buy rational things that have warranties and are based on good ideas and all that. It hurts to even try. So, instead I’m going to really read your list of wants and demands and deep, deep desires, do the complex math, and come up with the only answer that makes any sense: a Subaru Brat.
Look at what you said: you’re torn between a pickup truck and something light and sporty. The clear answer to that is the light, sporty truck that is the Subaru Brat. This one is in immaculate condition and is only $12,500! You can stick the extra $2500 in the bank and call that your warranty, if that makes you feel better.
Look at this little thing—it’s manual, light, fun, has a punchy little flat-four hiding there under the spare tire, it’s got four-wheel-drive and will take you on and off-road, it’ll hold all your toolboxes and crap, and, since you mentioned you’re dating, it has those amazing jump seats in the truck bed, a ride in which will liven up any date you’re likely to have.
Brats are a good time, period. You have to get your priorities straight, because, face it, a warranty won’t bring you joy. Get the Brat.
James, I’ll say this is kind of a tough set of requirements: you want a rear- or all-wheel drive fun car that isn’t an economy car AND has a warranty for no more than $15,000. I think it’s fair to say that most things with full new car warranties in that price range are front-drive economy cars—and most of those are pretty boring. I can’t in good conscience recommend something like a Nissan Sentra to you.
I actually do not think FWD should be a disqualification, however. FWD gets a bad rap but only from people who haven’t sampled just how fun some performance compacts can really be, especially now, when there are so many great options out there.
But we’ll stick to your premise: fun, practical, stick, RWD or AWD, under $15,000 and with a stick. What about the last-generation Ford Mustang with a V6? It still looks good, and 305 HP is nothing to sneeze at. Plus, those have decent trunks for carrying stuff in—much more so than the 350Z that Collins suggested.
I found a certified pre-owned one here with 34,000 miles for just under $15,000. This seems pretty great for those long drives.