I'm A Private Eye Looking For A Stealthy Ride For $20,000! What Car Should I Buy?

What Car Should You BuyThe experts at Jalopnik answer your car-buying questions.

Adam is a private investigator who spends hours behind the wheel getting the scoop and tracking bad guys. He needs a car that is good for work and family, something that can blend in but still looks professional. What car should he buy?

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Unlike Magnum P.I., Adam doesn’t work in Hawaii, and for him to nab the bad guys, stealth, patience, and diligence are key. Therefore, he needs a car that he can spend a lot of time in, but won’t be noticed easily.

Here is the scenario:

I’m a private investigator and business owner who needs both a surveillance vehicle for tracking down bad guys out in the field, but one that also doubles as respectable business owner’s car for when I pull up to sales calls and client meetings. My current car (a 2006 GMC Envoy Denali) is at 200,000 miles and like any car at that mileage, needs to be replaced.

I’ve got a budget of about $20,000 and the biggest thing is this car must be unremarkable. It’s got to blend in. No sports cars, nothing weird or funky. Also, in addition to hauling my gear, I use the car to tote my family around to events and such so it needs to be practical as well.

Quick Facts:

Budget: $15,000 - $20,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Average Miles Per-Week: 200-300

Wants: Unremarkable, comfortable, and practical

Doesn’t want: Something that stands out

Expert #1: Tom McParland Is Watching You, Watching You...


Just so you know Adam, I cranked up that Hall and Oates song when I when hunting for some listings for you. You know a phrase that has never been said ever? “Hey, check out that minivan!” For the ultimate in stealth and practicality, you can’t beat a van. Minivans might not be fast or fancy, but you won’t mind spending all day in one. Heck, if you find yourself in a situation where an overnight stakeout is necessary, a minivan could easily work as a sleeper if configured right.

There are tons of vans available for your price range, so it’s all going to come down to priorities. On the one hand, you can have this 2013 Toyota Sienna LE with only 23,000 miles. These are great vans that will rack up the miles without any hassle. The problem is that this is a pretty bare bones car without much in the way of extras. Or you could roll the dice a little on the reliability with a 2016 Chrysler Town and Country with 37,000 miles. This one is much newer and for the same money, you’ll get yourself, leather seats, rear entertainment, and what I consider the most crucial must have minivan option... power sliding doors.


Either way, these are respectable cars that work perfectly for family duty or surveillance and can easily blend into the scenery.

Expert #2: Raphael Orlove, Invisible Car Aficionado


I don’t know if you want a domestic car, as that “reads” as a cop vehicle or a car of some official capacity. You want something that absolutely nobody looks at twice, but has plenty of space and pace. In my personal experience, there is no faster more invisible car than a Toyota Avalon. You read as absolutely nothing but a retiree or an Uber driver, but with the V6 you can spin tire fully across intersections with more power than you will ever need.


Moreover, the cushy suspension means you can take choppy bad roads at hilarious speed while still looking like you’re just pootling along. Space inside is vast and the trunk is gigantic, too. Seriously, nobody expects anything from an Avalon.

Low-mile examples of the last-generation car are right in your price range and will always be good to you. Fly low. Fly Avalon.


Expert #3: Jason Torchinsky, Who Was Never Here


It’s one thing for a car to be ignorable, like Raph’s Avalon up there, but I think you can take it even further and find something absolutely unknowable. You need something that’s impossible to identify; not just a car, but a cypher, something that nobody can actually identify even moments after seeing it. In short, you need a Suzuki Kizashi.

I do suggest one modification, though: de-badge it. Remove the big ‘S’ from the grille, pull off the badging at the rear, and you’ll have a car as anonymous as the ones they use in the background of cheapo insurance ads.


In fact, if you install a small, powerful magnet where the grille badge was, and grab a bunch of badges from a junkyard–Toyota, Infiniti, Subaru, Kia, Mazda, whatever–you can effectively change the make of your car at will by slapping on a new badge.

The Kizashi is generic enough that it can pass just fine for any of these cars to a casual observer. If you’re following someone, you can just do a quick badge change and they’ll have no idea. There was a grey Mazda sedan behind them for a while, but that parked car is clearly a Subaru. Oh well! Better get back to visibly committing some kind of fraud or whatever!


Plus, the Kizashi wasn’t a bad car at all—it just never really caught on. It’s got 184 horsepower, which isn’t bad, it’s reasonably roomy, and this 2013 Kizashi, for a mere half your budget, has a leather interior and a grey paintjob that’s guaranteed to make it disappear into any parking lot.

After owning this thing for a couple weeks, even you won’t remember what it is.

Expert #4: David Tracy, Knows About The Back Woods

photo via Favcars

You’ll have to forgive my coworkers, who clearly think baddies only commit crimes in cities and suburbs. As we all know, the real nasty stuff happens in the back woods, and you’re not going to be able to get there with a damn Avalon, Kizashi or Chrysler minivan. You’re going to need ground clearance and four-wheel drive.

Since hunting down evildoers probably involves some level of urgency, you’ll also want something relatively quick. The solution, here, is the 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited, also called “The Niner.” (As in, “Hey, I’ve got to go chase down some bad guys in the Niner.” How awesome does that sound?). As the name suggests, this thing has a 5.9-liter V8 that makes 245 horsepower and gets from zero to 60 in under seven seconds—back in 1998, this was lightning quick for an SUV. Even today, that ain’t bad.


The Niner meets all of your requirements in that it’s big enough to fit your family, will do great out in the field, is dirt cheap, looks classy enough (this thing was the top of the line luxury SUV in its day), but doesn’t look flashy at all since it basically just looks like the other million ZJ Grand Cherokees sold between 1993 and 1998. The bad guys can run to the back woods all they wan’t, but if you’re rolling in this Jeep, they won’t know what hit ’em.

Expert #5: Patrick George, Wants You To Deliver Pony Car Justice


We’re a lot alike, Adam. I’ll assume that like me, you got kicked off the force when your partner was murdered by the dirty cops he set out to expose—and of course, those bastards at IA are no help, they’re in on it too. So for now you make a living where you can, digging up dirt for rich housewives so they can divorce their scumbag husbands. It’s not much, but it’s a living.

But you know the day will come when you’ll want to get revenge on the sons of bitches who put your partner in the ground—and their overlords in the Sinaloa cartel. And for that, there is but one vehicle up to the task: the most boring used Ford Mustang you can find.


No one looks twice at a used Ford Mustang. There’s like five of them in my neighborhood alone. You said you didn’t want a flashy car, and this really isn’t, especially if you get the 305 HP V6 of the last generation or a GT with an understated color or wheels. You can even de-badge it for maximum effect, like that Suzuki Kisashi above, except far more suitable for vengeance. You also said you don’t want a sports car; a Mustang technically isn’t, and it has a reasonable back seat and a decent trunk. And it can be had easily for $15,000 to $20,000. Throw a rock at a car lot in any direction and you’ll hit one.

And when the day comes when you need fierce American power to get you the payback you’ve been dreaming of, this pony will be ready.

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)