My Friends Are Leaving The City And I Need A Cheap Car To Go Visit Them. What Should I Buy?

1981's Escape From New York poster
1981's Escape From New York poster
Illustration: Barry E. Jackson (Poster Artist

John lives in New York City, but his city friends are leaving either as a result of the pandemic or because they’re off to grow a family. He values these friends and wants to visit them — and he also would like to enjoy the outdoors beyond the city. So he’s looking for something affordable that is also good for camping. What car should he buy?

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(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars.)

Here is John’s scenario:

All of my friends are leaving NYC proper to have babies, and I’ll never see them unless I drive to their (gorgeous, spacious, jealousy-inducing) homes out in Jersey or whatever. Also, I discovered camping this summer and also discovered that most (but not all!) of my friends should not be trusted with logistics for such things. The ones that are trustworthy/members of my quarantine pod are goosing me to buy a car so I can drive us all out of the city for adventures because I am apparently Pandemic Dad now. Finally, I have no idea how I’m getting home for the holidays, and anything involving air travel freaks me out on a good day. The idea of JFK around Christmas PLUS the pandemic gives me hives. Granted, so does the idea of driving to Miami from here, but I’d still like the option.

I’m flexible on the body style, though something that can haul camping gear and handle light off-roading would be ideal. I would prefer a manual even though that would suck for driving in the city. However, I would like something reliable enough that I could drive down to South Florida without any major issues. I have up to $10,000 to spend but the lower the better.

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Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $10,000

Daily Driver: Sort of

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Wants: Reliable, spacious, affordable

Doesn’t want: Something that can’t be trusted on a long drive

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Your Friends Shouldn’t Be The Only Ones With Luxury

Illustration for article titled My Friends Are Leaving The City And I Need A Cheap Car To Go Visit Them. What Should I Buy?
Image: Craigslist

John, I’m sure it’s not fun being the only one in the city when all your friends have gone elsewhere. But now you have an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors with them, even if they aren’t super sharp about starting fires and pitching tents. What you need is a nice, comfortable 4x4 to explore the trails and cruise the highways.

Here is what looks to be a very well cared-for 2000 Lexus LX470. Sure it’s 20 years old with 180,000 miles, but after the next few plagues ravage society these rigs will still be standing. It’s an automatic, but you already know that working a clutch in city traffic is a hassle. Parking won’t be easy and fuel costs on long drives might hit your wallet a bit, but you can load these suckers up with friends and plenty of gear — and probably even sleep inside if you have to. It would also be supremely comfortable on a long drive down to Florida. Keep up the maintenance and you should have little to worry about with the big Lexus.

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Expert 2: Lawrence Hodge - A Safe Bet For You And Your Friends

Illustration for article titled My Friends Are Leaving The City And I Need A Cheap Car To Go Visit Them. What Should I Buy?
Image: Craigslist
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John, it sounds like you need something that’s not just reliable but also safe, as you may have kids aboard at times. What better way to drive people and their stuff than in a Volvo wagon?

This 2007 XC70 is 13 years old with all-wheel drive and has only 98,000 miles. It has more than enough room for your stuff in the back with almost 57 cubic feet of cargo space when you fold the seats down. The owners claim to have all of the service records and to have kept up with maintenance. That’s good peace of mind as you set out on that New York to Florida trek.

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Expert 3: Justin Westbrook - Van Life: Origins

Illustration for article titled My Friends Are Leaving The City And I Need A Cheap Car To Go Visit Them. What Should I Buy?
Photo: Craigslist
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Howdy, John. I also live in New York City, and if I wanted something that could just blend in and eat miles while also giving me plenty of configurable cargo and passenger options AND ample room to “camp” completely enclosed in a water-sealed structure should I need to, and I was on a budget, I would look no further than the trusty humble van.

A city will have a nearly infinite choice of cheap vans. This 2012 Ford Transit Connect Cargo Van, posted just a day ago on the local Craigslist, looks clean and relatively taken care of. Its cargo area hasn’t been left custom-modified to shit by a previous owner like most city Craigslist vans, and the sitting price is $3,500, which could likely be negotiated. You could easily find a second-hand bench seat to reinstall for friends on the mounting points in the back, or you can leave it out and make yourself a camping nest back there for the real van life experience. That East Coast trip will be much easier if you can pull over and rest comfortably at any time.

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The van has 268,691 miles on it, claimed to be mostly on the highway. The listing claims it’s in working order and has been maintained. For something you may not be driving too often, needs to fit in a city parking spot and has better odds of not attracting the attention of anyone when you briefly park in the bus lane with the flashers on to get your bodega coffee because, well, it looks like you’re working, this seems like quite the bargain.

Expert 4: Rory Carroll —The Answer Is Obvious

Subaru Crosstrek off-road
Photo: Andrew Collins
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Stick, cargo room, light off-roading? Are you getting Crosstrek vibes? Because I’m getting intense Crosstrek vibes. The little wagon checks all your boxes and is a popular platform for campers who often modify them for impressive off-road capability.

Getting you on the road under your budget isn’t a snap, but it can be done. Autotrader, for one, is showing four manual-equipped Crosstreks under $10k as of this writing. All of them have covered more than 100,000 miles, but given that you won’t likely be putting the next 100,000 on, I think you’ll be fine. Though obviously I’d recommend getting any potential used-car purchase checked out by an expert.

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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)

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DISCUSSION

skyrocketingresalevalue
Skyrocketing Resale Value

You guys have missed a very important fact: Parking a car in NYC is eye-wateringly expensive.

Rent a car when you want to go somewhere.