Wil is a priest for his local Episcopal church. While he runs his services online, the pandemic has dramatically reduced the number of patrons and he is being a bit more careful about his finances. He needs a cheap ride that is reliable enough to shuttle the family around but would like it to have a little character. 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’m the senior priest at an Episcopal Church. I offer services (virtual these days) throughout the week and tend to the spiritual and social needs of the community.
The pandemic has drastically reduced church attendance and I need to buckle down and get more sensible about my transportation. I am currently selling my 1979 El Camino, which is my daily driver, as well as my weekend project/fun right-hand drive 1991 Defender 110 (clearly more in the “project” zone). I mention these two to help you understand, not only what I am used to driving, but also what the small community I live in is used to seeing me in. They do love to wave. I also maintain both of these myself, but I would be lost on a modern engine and modern electronics.
So, I am in the market for something a bit more economical, but I do hate to sacrifice the...er....distinctiveness? I do like something that makes people smile when they see it. I even like it when they scratch their head and say, “only you, Father Wil.”
I’m looking at a budget of around $4000-5000. My office is only 3 miles from home and I do need to be able to take my kids to school in it, as well. I live on the coast of South Carolina, so no need for off-road capability or even a heater, really. As long it has windows that will roll down, I don’t even need air conditioning.
Budget: up to $5,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: South Carolina
Wants: Cheap, Reliable, Interesting
Doesn’t want: Something that continues to drain his wallet
I’m sure your community is grateful to have you, Father Wil, even if your spiritual guidance is doled out via Zoom. It’s pretty cool that you can give salvation to some classic rides as well.
Often folks looking for cheap rides want “the trinity” of affordable, reliable, and fun. Unfortunately in most cases, you really need to pick two of those. I could certainly recommend this 2005 Mazda RX-8 for $3,000. It would be cheap and fun, but it’s is also likely to go through a lot of oil in a short period of time and you don’t want to make a deal with the devil to keep your car running.
You need a car to hold you over until your finances get you back to a point where you can afford to be a bit more adventurous. I would suggest something like this 2015 Accord with just under 70,000 for $3600. Now, this ad may be a little suspect because the seller claims “... this is the top of the line fully loaded exl which is the long model with extra rear legroom.” But perhaps that is just a line the dealer told the guy and he believed it.
With the Accord, you won’t get noticed but your patrons also won’t be driving you and the boys home because something “more interesting” died on the side of the road.
Cheap, reliable and interesting is indeed a tough set of requirements. It’s clear you’re also into the kinds of vehicles that make people smile. I think I have just the right vehicle for the job: A Buick Roadmaster Estate!
Old wagons are cars that just about everyone appreciates, and this is especially the case with the Roadmaster. It’s also a vehicle with amazing utility. The rear compartment can be used for hardware store runs or even be converted into a weird little camper. The possibilities are almost endless.
The 5.7-liter V8 under the hood may not be super economical, but it’s not terrible and if well maintained, will run forever.
This one comes in under budget and is in nearby Georgia with OK miles for its age.
Oh, boy. It seems my colleague Mercedes and I are singing in the chorus today, extolling the virtues of wagons! But it’s only because wagons are objectively awesome. You want to stand out, Wil? A wagon can help. Especially one as unusual as this 2005 Dodge Magnum, a ways north of you.
My suggested longroof is a little more modern than the woodgrained Roadmaster, but it matches it on cylinder count with another 5.7 V8.
With a wagon like this, you can carry the kids and any church kit you may need to bring on your short commute, all in the comfort of a cabin which may be an upgrade over the open bed of your El Camino.
The Magnum I’ve linked to is over your budget, so now you have two longroofs to choose from, one over and one under. But with the high amount of miles on the Magnum’s odo, I think you could get the price closer to where you want it.
I’ll begin by chiding my brilliant coworker Tom for his suggestion, because 1. He did not even make reference to John 12:49, which begins “For I did not speak of my own accord.” That’s a missed opportunity if I’ve ever seen one. And 2. He’s suggesting a boring car when you specifically state that you want to continue in something a bit special.
Mercedes has the right idea with the woody Buick wagon. It’s lovable, consists of cheap GM parts bin components that you can source and fix easily, and it’s practical. The issue is that it sucks gas.
What you need is something that’s still lovable like the El Camino and Defender you drive now, but also a bit more “responsible” on fuel. That’s where the Japanese come in—they’re experts on fuel efficient lovability.
My coworker Jason Torchinsky owns the Nissan Pao you see above. It’s tiny on the outside, but actually surprisingly spacious on the inside. Its 987cc inline-four cylinder engine will score you over 30 MPG in combined city/highway driving, its exterior styling (especially the available paint colors) will get you thumbs up from damn-near everybody, and though it may be hard to find specific trim parts, the mechanicals are shared with old Nissan Micras sold in Canada and overseas. You may have to wait a few days to get parts, but they are available, and not too pricey.
You should go see Gary Duncan in southern Virginia and see if you can snag one of these beauties for under 5 large. It looks like his cheapest one right now costs $9,000, but maybe he can import a rough-around-the-edges model for less? I don’t know. I just know you need a Pao. Everyone does.
Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.