Eric takes the train to work every day and is looking for some cheap transport just to get to the station and back home. He wants something that is functional but that also isn’t tempting for thieves. What car should he buy?
Here is the scenario:
This is probably the antithesis of a “Jalop” request, but my situation is kind of unique. I manage a distribution center in LA, and I take the train to work every day, because traffic sucks. I leave my car at the station all day and drive it home. Once a week I may need it for a larger task.
I want something for around $5,000 that is reliable enough and maybe even a bit practical, but I don’t want to have to worry about it getting damaged or stolen.
Budget: Up to $5,000.
Daily Driver: Yes.
Location: Los Angeles.
Wants: Cheap, reliable, Possibly able to haul some stuff.
Doesn’t want: Anything that is tempting to steal.
Eric, while this request is a bit different than the nine-million requests of “I just graduated college and need a fun manual car for $10,000”—seriously people, we have covered this topic already, come up with something new—there are tons of folks who are in your same boat who depend on public transit for the majority of their commute and just need a set of wheels to get to the station and back.
I also understand that sometimes the stations tend to draw some less-than-savory characters that would use commuter parking as an opportunity for an easy boost. That is why you want the ultimate deterrent, a decommissioned Crown Victoria cop car. Think about it, if you are a car thief eyeing up a dozen or so unattended cars, the one that looks like it is driven by a member of law enforcement would be the stupidest one to steal.
Of course, the obvious benefit of the Crown Vic is that it is practically indestructible, very comfortable, and you can find them cheap. Here is a 2007 model that looks to be in pretty excellent shape for under five grand.
You know what, Eric? This sounds weird, but I sort of envy you. There’s a certain kind of gleeful, manic freedom that comes from owning a car you just do not give a matched pair of solid, tubular shits about. A car that you drive into a supermarket parking lot late at night just to smack into shopping carts and send them careening into one another, for the pure, visceral joy of it all. You’re going to end up having a blast with your shitbox, and I think you should get the shitboxiest shitbox of them all: an Aztek.
The amazing thing about the Pontiac Aztek is that it really shouts its undesirability. A crappy old 1990s Hundai Excel can still hide, unnoticed, in a parking lot—an Aztek stands out like a dead squirrel in a punch bowl anywhere you take it.
The range of Azteks you can get is huge: I think your needs would be served fine with this worn-but-workable $600 one, but you could also find a near-perfect one that’s still in your budget. That nice one there actually includes the optional rear tent, which almost makes it too cool. I say get the $600 one and treat it accordingly.
It’s plenty practical, with tons and tons of room to haul things that will easily be worth more than the car, and I guarantee nobody is going to want to steal this mobile eyesore. They’d lose money if they spent more than three minutes hotwiring it. It’s just not worth it.
But it’ll be worth it to you. You will be so carefree in this thing, it’ll make you like a saint. Someone backs into you and knocks off some trim? You’ll just look at them and laugh, and possibly offer a hug and a reminder that, hey, we’re only human and we’re all in this together. You’re going to seem like some delightful guru.
Owning the worst car will make you the best person. It’s a beautiful paradox.
Honestly, who cares if this is antithetical to Jalops? The majority of the driving public just needs something reliable to get around. Since you’re looking for something to get you to and from the train station, fuel economy’s probably less of a concern. So why not some sort of sturdy pickup?
My last vehicle was a Ford Ranger, and I miss the damn thing every day. It was just nice to be able to haul shit around on an as-needed basis. Of course, you become a go-to person when a friend or family member needs to move. But that’s fine! It was nice to have that kind of space. And really, no thieve’s actively looking to strip a pickup.
This 2008 Ford F-150 XLT’s priced suspiciously cheap, but with only 114,000 miles, seems like it’d be a steal—if the truck checks out.
A truck? Rookie mistake. Everyone takes a glance at a truck and thinks “hey, I could totally use a truck!” even if the last project they tackled was just moving the big chair to the other side of the living room. Nobody doesn’t want a truck, least of all thieves.
Now, my first inclination for a fun, practical, disposable car was something Swedish. Here’s this turbo manual, one-owner Saab Aero for $1800, for instance. And here’s a turbo manual Saab wagon for $4300. But you wanted soemthign relatively hassle-free, so you’d be better off with a Volvo. These things are hilariously affordable, too. A five-speed 740 (like a 240 but better and less hipster-inflated) stacked with service records doesn’t even crest three grand.
But these Swedes are still unusual enough to stand out. There’s gonna be somebody who thinks “Oh, Volvo, safe. I need that.”
By contrast, nobody even sees a Mazda 929.
I had completely forgotten that we even got the last Mazda 929 here in America, the company’s last great big rear-wheel drive sedan from the Bubble Era of reckless spending. Everything was downhill from here in ambition and build quality.
This 929 has an unreal 70,000 miles on it and the seller is only asking $1800. Buy it, do burnouts in it, and don’t even bat an eyelash if you never see it again.