Dan used to write for the best sports blog on the internet. And, being someone who knows what’s good and what isn’t, he knows when to get out when things turn sour. Now he’s returned to the freelance life, and sharing a car with his fiancee just isn’t cutting it anymore. He needs an affordable ride that is both easy to park in the city, but good for long trips as well. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario:
I just left my job under... well-publicized circumstances. I have returned to the life of a freelancer, am soon marrying for love and health insurance, and I’m already confident I can reach something approaching my previous salary in freelance income eventually. I think!
However, now that I’m a freelancer and I need to travel around a bit to report more often, I probably should get a car. Sometimes I borrow my fiancee’s car. However, she usually needs it to drive to work, and it’s just unreasonable for me to juggle this car with my fiancee when I have the financial means to buy a second car.
I would continue to do Enterprise CarShare, but we moved earlier this year and there are no longer any carshare cars near our new house.
Here is an issue: If we’re going to be a two-car household, we probably need to budget for TWO cars. My fiancee drives a 2003 Mazda Protege. I am told this car does not really exist anymore (it’s now the Mazda 3, kind of?). I love this car. However it now is inexplicably always soaked inside, even after a week of dry weather, it has 185,000+ miles on it and, like, things on it are broken (a back door handle, the power locks, the antenna, etc.).
I want it to get me from point A to point B. I have been driving a borrowed 2003 Mazda Protege for several years now, and now it inexplicably is frequently soaked I really don’t think I can ask too much of a car. Do I need a car that is good in the snow? I don’t know. I live in a hilly neighborhood now, but I don’t always need to drive. I can probably wait out a snowstorm. As for the budget, I’m thinking a max price of about $15,000.
One thing I would add here is that I am NOT a very good driver? At least I don’t think I am. Side question: How do I get better?
Budget: Up to $15,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Wants: Reliable, fun, easy to park
Doesn’t want: A maintenance nightmare
Hi Dan! We are all very sad to hear about your circumstances. I’m not particularly into sports but I enjoyed all the work you and your colleagues did over the years. I guess you could say some people like to read great writing on sports sites even if those things aren’t necessarily about sports. How weird.
Moving on. Now that you are starting a new chapter in life, you want a car that brings the least amount of stress possible. As for being a better driver, if you are aware that you need some practice, I’m going to say that you are probably more careful than you realize. Most bad drivers are fairly oblivious to the fact that they are bad drivers. However, if you do want to improve your skills, there are any number of defensive driving programs not far from you at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
With a budget of $15,000 there are a lot of suitable commuter cars out there, many of them more modern than your trusty old Protege. You need something that is affordable but also high-quality and ideally has some warranty left.
I would suggest a Hyundai Elantra. The Korean brands depreciate a little faster than the Japanese ones, which means you can pick up newer models with fewer miles compared to a similar Honda or Toyota. But the Elantra is still a solid car that won’t drain your wallet for fuel costs or maintenance. It’s small enough for easy parking in the city, and spacious enough for a long car ride to the Jersey Shore. (If you’re down that way, let me know. Your beers are on me.)
Here is a nice certified pre-owned 2017 Elantra SE with only fewer than 20,000 miles for only $13,000. The CPO part means you still get the balance of the 10-year, 100k warranty. It’s not fancy, but it will be one less thing to worry about.
Wow, Dan. I’m very sorry you had to leave your job at a good website over a dispute with management. It sounds like you and your colleagues are truly admirable people with unshakable principles. It takes real guts to leave a decent job in this volatile trash industry when you’re asked to be someone you’re not. To me, it seems odd to purchase an extremely popular business and then drive away all its customers for no good reason at all. It sounds like maybe—just maybe—there are major issues that need to be addressed there, and some of those issues are indicative of larger ones in American society right now.
But what do I know. My brain turned to potato soup months ago for completely unrelated reasons.
Yet even my potato-soup brain has enough capacity left to agree with Tom’s take and your own instincts here. You need something cheap and easy to park that won’t give you any shit. Generally, that means going gently used and Japanese or Korean.
The Elantra is a great choice. So is a Toyota Corolla. So is a Honda Civic. I’d go for a small sedan or hatchback from any of those brands. But if bad weather capability is something you really need, consider a Subaru, as all of them but the BRZ sports car come standard with all-wheel drive. (Just know nothing’s more important than a good set of winter tires, even if you have AWD.)
Here’s a 2013 Subaru Impreza Sport hatchback for way under budget at $7,999. Make sure to get it inspected carefully by a mechanic first—a Subaru dealer can handle that for relatively cheap if you want. With only 63,000 miles, it’s still barely into its life, but make sure there’s no unsuspecting problems you’ll have to deal with later.
The Impreza Sport is always a great little car, so for the first time, you’ll actually want to stick to sports.
You’ve been through a lot, Dan, and I think it’s finally time that you treat yourself. We all know you’ve more than earned it. The Hyundai Elantra is a good car. The Impreza is a good car. Both will truly and fully satisfy your most important desire, that for A-to-B transportation.
But here’s the thing. While both of those are fine in their own right, they’re a bit bland. And everyone knows that bland, generic products that merely resemble everything else are doomed to fail. People want something different, something that says something. What they want, instead, is something fun.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, things can be fun AND reliable AND good. Things like a classic second-generation Toyota Supra. Japanese cars like these, and the reputed reliability that came with them, are what led to companies like Toyota and Honda utterly bamboozling companies like Ford, GM, and Chrysler. They showed that you didn’t have to accept some sort of janky and decrepit IROC Camaro just to have an ounce of something with soul.
There are tons of these things out there for sale, at widely disparate prices, but pretty much all of them come significantly under your budget. And since you’ll be saving on the purchase price, it may make it easier to head out to the Southwest, where you can find perfectly desert-preserved examples like the one above, which is asking $7500. That’s more than enough under budget to get a set of winter tires, too.
And if you don’t want to deal with Craigslist, you can always buy one of these from an established seller who deals with these things all the time. Gary Duncan is selling one in Virginia, with an automatic if that’s what you want, for right around $14 grand.
Second-generation Supras are wildly under-appreciated right now, so it’s the perfect time to scoop one up. You know what I’m saying, Dan?
Dan, first, I want to make it clear here that I’ve got your back, buddy. I’m not like the others—not here to blow a solar wind up your anus and tell you everything is great. Being a freelancer is hard, you’re always looking for work when you’re not working, and you need someone like me watching out for you. And you know I’m doing that because I’m the only one that accepted that you need two cars. And I have a solution.
You need something reliable and useful and flexible—a transportation machine that demands little and gives a lot. Something humble and capable, no bullshit, all bull, um, meat. That car is a first-gen Scion xB.
I can speak with authority here because I’ve had one for years, and it’s proven itself to be a capable and very reliable workhorse. It’s got well over 200,000 miles, and even with haphazard maintenance and once running smack into a deer, the thing has always soldiered on. It gets great gas mileage, is shockingly roomy and practical, and is surprisingly fun to drive.
When it did need repairs they’ve never been that difficult, and while you’re not going to impress anyone with any idiotic shows of meaningless status, I think these wheeled boxes have a lot of charm of their own.
They’re dirt cheap, too! Look, here’s a 2005 one in very good shape (replace that radio, though) for $3399, and a 2006 one also in great shape for $2900.
The 2006 is cheaper because it’s a manual transmission, but that leads to my next point—you want to learn to be a better driver? Learn to drive stick. It’ll give you a stronger connection with the car and the process will train you to be a better and more attentive driver. That is, if you don’t know already!
So, for a combined total of around $6300, less than half of your budget, you’ll have two useful, reliable cars that will take you to whatever sporting event you need to get to, and, should you go the George Plimpton route and try some participatory journalism, have room to haul all kinds of weird-shaped sports equipment.
Two of the same car means you can get consumable parts that fit both, maintenance will be easier for both, and parts can be shared in a pinch.
Two boxes, that’s what you need! Don’t ride around in a mysteriously wet car again! Get these xBs and drive boldly into your future!
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