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I Want a Nice Car for My Dad But I Only Have 10 Grand! What Should I Buy?

Does a sporty, reliable, stylish fun car even exist for less than five figures? Jalopnik endeavors to find out.

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Photo: Raphael Orlove/Jalopnik

Tennison’s dad has always driven cheap cars, so he wants to treat his father to something nicer and more reliable. However, he has a maximum budget around $10,000, in a market where used car prices are outrageous. What car should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.)


Here is the scenario:

After years of my father owning cheap or unreliable cars, my mom wants me to try and find something fun and nice for my dad. My dad hasn’t owned something fun since the 90's, when he had an 85 Monte Carlo SS for a short time until it became dangerously rusted. My parents have both bought cars for under 5k each since before I was born, and limp them along for 5-8 years, battling check engine lights nearly the whole time. My dad’s recent favorite was an 06 Mazda 3, which we had to get rid of due to a computer issue not being worth fixing due to mileage and rust. His last car, a previously smoked in and beat up, 2013 Hyundai Accent only lasted a year after buying it, again due to unusual, important but infrequent, and hard to diagnose electrical problem. He is currently driving my project car while I search for a replacement for him. That was the final straw that made my mom decide to open our savings more for a car. He has told me he likes the newer 2010+ Camaro’s, but despite KBB values, sellers are asking beyond our price range for any good ones. Our target is under 10k, but we can go up to 12k max if necessary for the right car.

A manual would be great but an automatic is fine. We would prefer to avoid German cars due to the high maintenance costs.


Quick Facts:

Budget: Ideally $10,000 can stretch up to $12,000

Location: Albany, NY

Daily Driver: Yes

Wants: Fun, reliable, somewhat comfortable

Doesn’t want: Something German

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Type S

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It is very cool of you to treat your dad to something nicer after all these years, and while your budget might limit your prospects a bit, there are some solid options available. You are wise to avoid most of the European stuff at this price point, but that doesn’t mean your pop needs an econobox. I would suggest you target Acuras from the early-to-mid-2000s. I would argue that the cars of this generation were at the peak of Acura’s design and driving dynamics before the brand lost its way for awhile.

Not too far from you in Saratoga Springs, there is a private seller listing a 2003 Acura TL Type-S with only 94,000 miles for $9,000. Under the hood is the excellent Honda/Acura V6. The Type S model cranked up the horsepower to 260 from 225 in the base model. These sporty sedans were not on the same level as BMWs in terms of handling but they injected a bit more fun into a commute. You can also expect the usual luxury features like leather seats. This car looks super clean and it seems it was very well cared for.


Expert 2: Andy Kalmowitz - Think Outside the Box


Tennison, my friend, there are tons of used early-2000s muscle cars and Miatas for you to choose from. Any of those would certainly be a good answer for what car you should buy, but they are not terribly interesting. You know what is interesting, though? A Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Specifically this one, located less than 100 miles from Albany.

This car packs 285 turbocharged horses under the hood, all being fed through a manual transmission, and it’s still practical enough to be an everyday driver. Is it the best looking or most well-built car ever made? Hell no, but who cares? It’s badass. You’ll certainly stand out from the crowd in your 2008 Caliber SRT-4, and that’s mostly because no one else thought to buy one. However, because you’re a man of taste, you did. Or will.


This particular car has under 100,000 miles on the clock and only one minor accident on its history report. That’s not too bad, is it? On top of that it’s a great value. This car is priced just under $11,500. It may be at the top of your budget, but it should also be a top contender for you. You can stop reading right now, this is the perfect car for your dad. And you’ll probably want to borrow it for yourself every now and then, too.

Expert 3: José Rodríguez Jr. - Hello, Old Friend.

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Tennison, a lot will come down to what your dad considers a fun car. He could have fun off-roading in something like this early Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (the best Wrangler), or he could have fun bombing down backroads in the fan-favorite Mazda Miata. A small, sporty car like a Toyota Celica could be great, and given your dad’s fondness for the Mazda3, I’d love to get him into a Mazda6 wagon, but I can’t seem to find one with a manual transmission.

Really, rowing your own gears is going to make any commute or drive that much more engaging, but there’s no need to overthink it. Your dad needs a Monte Carlo SS, just one that’s a little newer than his beloved ’85.


Here’s a 2007 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS that’ll stretch the budget by a bit, but it has under 100,000 miles on the odometer, comes with racing stripes and five-spoke wheels. Not to mention a transverse 5.3-liter V8! Yeah, yeah, I know. The power goes to the front wheels.

I just don’t think front-wheel drive is a good reason to discard the combination of a stout LS4 and odd-looking coupe. The Monte Carlo has such a distinctive design, and this car’s interior is modest but comes with leather upholstery. Most of all, the Monte Carlo SS and your dad have a history. And what’s more fun than making new memories with an old friend?


Expert 4: Bob Sorokanich - Why Do Anything Else?

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Photo: eBay (Fair Use)

Listen, Tennison. When your folks tell you something, you gotta listen to them. Your pops likes the fifth-generation Camaro. Buy the man a Camaro!

Here’s the bad news: You’re not getting a V8 for your budget. The good news is, the 3.6-liter V6 makes 323 hp — more than what you’d get in the V8-powered SS from a generation before. And since your old man is not particularly fussed by an automatic transmission, that gives us the chance to get him in a nice F-body for a reasonable price.


But you’re gonna have to act quick. This 2012 Camaro RS 1LT is located in Westbury NY, an easy afternoon’s drive from Albany. It’s listed on eBay with a buy-it-now price of $11,000, or you can play your luck and make a slightly lower offer. It’s got a shade under 90,000 miles, it has a nice looking two-tone interior, and should give your dad years of reliable domestic service. Is it going to shake the windowpanes up and down the block every time dad starts it up in the morning? No. But a father figure should project grown-up responsibility. Get the Camaro, and give dad our highest regards. Just, maybe get rid of the pink badges before you present this vehicle to the old man.