If you want to learn to fix your cars, but worry about ruining your daily driver, why not track down a cheap beater that can become your classroom as you learn the ways of wrenching?
Resident Honda fan Steve DaSilva argues that the EK Civic is the best way to go thanks to its supply of aftermarket parts, and the fact that it’s “old enough that you don’t need a computer science degree to tinker, but modern enough that you aren’t spending hours trying to un-stick a carburetor float”.
But, if you don’t want a Civic, what’s the alternative? To find out, we asked what the best budget car to learn to wrench with was. These are some of your best responses.
2 / 12
“I would recommend a Jeep Wrangler. get a cheap manual one (yes they are overpriced also) but there is SO much aftermarket support, everything is very accessible, there is a massive only community with tons of help and how to videos, if it is a 4cly 5 sp YJ nearly no fix would be that difficult and you can learn by modifying before things break. And it is a jeep so things will break.”
All the signs are there that I should embrace America and buy a Jeep. This from 4JimStock says it could be a valuable learning tool, as well as a cool truck.
Suggested by: 4jimstock
3 / 12
“1) If you find one with a CEL, it’s usually under $1000 – they’re dirt cheap
“2) OBD2 – plug in your reader, and it’ll tell you quite clearly what’s up
“3) Analog ECU, which means you can do everything yourself. no special expensive ass software needed to reprogram the ecu for that new part.
“4) The best YouTube step by step documentation from Robert DIY (not me, different rob) on how to fix things.
“5) If you go to matthewsvolvosite, they’re all about fixing things and keeping it stock, you don’t get the stupid mod idiots on there, so it’s really easy to get good answers.
“6) You can replace pretty much anything in the engine bay without having to remove other crap (except when it comes to alternator and PCV – but they’re pretty straight forward), making it less intimidating for learners.
“7) They used some of the highest quality materials from the factory so you usually don’t have to deal with bottom end stuff from the get go, if even at all.
“8) They don’t have the rust issues and seized bolts that American cars have — I have never needed an impact on these cars.
“9) Most previous owners really took care of these cars, garaged them for the better part of their lives.... so you can pick them up dirt cheap in really good condition.
“Plus, when you’re finished with it, you end up with a relatively nice car that’s comfortable to drive. And, the turbo models are actually pretty quick too.”
Suggested by: redneckrob
4 / 12
“Gonna cast my vote for the Triumph Spitfire. It’s the most attainable Triumph model right now (TR’s have gotten very expensive), it’s mechanically simplistic, and it’s so small, most of the parts are really lightweight and easy to get to.
“I was also pleasantly surprised with how affordable most parts have been. Yes, it has its flaws - I’ve even been baffled that some of the new parts I assembled for it actually work, but it’s been really easy to work with.”
“Chevy S-10 or Blazer any year. Relatively inexpensive to buy. You have lots of room under the hood to work. Simple to work on. Amazing forum community with decades of information and all of the common issues very well documented. Also if you get the four cylinder they are relatively efficient and they are very practical and capable vehicles.”
Space under the hood and an engaging community of fans makes a pickup like the S-10 an ideal starting point for anyone new to the world of wrenching.
Suggested by: bassrockerx
6 / 12
“I’ll recommend a FRS/BRZ. They’re not DIRT cheap, but are cheap enough to be within reach of most people, with higher mileage ones around 10k.
“With the exception of spark plugs (which are actually not THAT hard once you get used to unbolting the engine mounts and header to lift each side of the engine a couple of inches to reach easily - seriously it only takes half an hour) it’s a REALLY easy car to wrench on. Nearly everything is straightforward, accessible and parts are pretty cheap and unlike an older car - readily available.
“Plus, in the end, you get to learn on a fun car that you will instantly feel connected with on the road as much as you bond with it in the garage.”
Suggested by: MrPrevention
7 / 12
Any 1990s Saab
Any 1990s Saab
“When you say “learn how to wrench” do you mean that you’re looking for something where after working on it you feel like it was so tough you’ll be able to tackle anything? Or do you mean that you’re looking for something easy to get your feet wet?
“If the former, I’d say that you should look for a Saab or Volvo from the ‘90s. They’re just masochistic enough that you’ll be able to repair them successfully, but still feel like it was unnecessarily overcomplicated and fiddly.
“Also, do yourself a favor and buy a real breaker bar. They’re cheap. They’re worth it.”
Another suggestion for something from Sweden. Honest Swedish engineering must be reliable enough so that not everything breaks, but simple enough so that when it does you can have a good go at repairing it.
Suggested by: ivan256
8 / 12
“SN-95/New Edge Mustang. Cars can be picked up pretty cheaply now, kinda the red-headed stepchild of the Mustang family. Not as popular as the S197 Retro-stang, nor as sought after as the Fox-body ‘stangs that preceded them. Early OBDII, pre-CAN electronics. Parts are very easy to come by for either replacement or aftermarket upgrades. Since millions of the engines were produced, parts prices are relatively inexpensive. Decently reliable and very easy to work on.”
Not the most coveted Mustang, but no doubt a great starting point to branch out into other ponies. This era Mustang will also offer an introduction to electronics and an ample supply of spare parts to choose from.
9 / 12
“The mechanicals are dirt simple and easy to access. The Dark Lord, Darth Lucas, will ensure you learn electrics. They are light and small (easy to push, lift and store even in a small garage). Most of all, they are 100% fun all the time.”
Another suggestion for a car I coveted growing up! Simple to fix and easy to access definitely sound like some of the most important factors to consider when choosing your first project car.
Suggested by: toobs-n-stuff
10 / 12
“I learned the basics from an old Fiat 500 (the 1960's version)...it was very easy, cheap, and parts are still available. So far, with some research and trial-and-error, I’ve been able to fix it myself (e.g. I was able to lift the entire engine out of the car myself since a 500cc two-cylinder weighs next to nothing).
“I suppose it’s a bit too old now.”
Hey, nothing is ever too old to be repaired, don’t let anybody tell you that!
Suggested by: noah-fechts
11 / 12
Jeep Cherokee XJ
Jeep Cherokee XJ
“Parts are affordable and relatively plentiful and you can still find decent ones that won’t break the bank. The straight six also makes things simple and the engine bay is large and easy to work in. The forums and Jeep community make finding information pretty easy as well. Learned a lot of wrenching on my 92. Did the exhaust manifold myself among other things.”