Your Car Recommendation For Broke, Flakazoid, Car-Ignorant Friends?

Illustration for article titled Your Car Recommendation For Broke, Flakazoid, Car-Ignorant Friends?

Here's a situation I'm sure a goodly portion of the Jalopnik readership has experienced. You have a friend who has a bunch of redeeming qualities but couldn't pour piss from a boot, much less scrape up the green to buy a decent car or spin a wrench to maintain a shaky one, and of course this friend calls you (the Guy Who Knows Car Stuff) with a question: "Hey, I got $1300 from a [tax refund / insurance settlement / dead relative / dope deal] and now I wanna get a car! Whaddya think I should get?"


Naturally, by this time they've already found a couple of "cool" vintage cars in their price range (because this type of person usually has hipster pretensions and, like, old cars rule) and they're all geared up to buy a 4-door '74 Dart with a rod knock, or maybe a Super Beetle with all the windows broken out. Now, last time this happened I gave some really useful advice, but my friend went ahead and bought a beater X-1/9, with laws-of-physics-predictable results. But what the hell, I do my best to give non-horseshit advice even if it won't be taken, and I always recommend the same three cars, in the following order:
1. 2nd-gen Nissan Sentra. You can get a running '87-90 Sentra for peanuts, they're well-made and reliable, they usually pass CA smog, they're not big blowers of head gaskets, and they have a timing chain instead of a belt. Plus they're fairly speedy, though they handle like crap and ride like oxcarts.
2. 3rd-gen Toyota Tercel. You can get an ugly '87-90 Tercel pretty cheap (but priced higher than a Sentra because Everyone Knows Toyotas Are Good), they've got that bulletproof Toyota quality, and they're dull but not unpleasant drivers. They've got timing belts, but the noninterference engine means your flaky friend won't die after the 150,000-mile timing belt snaps.
3. 3rd-gen Honda Civic. By far the quickest and most fun to drive of the three, the '84-87 Civic is reliable but has some weaknesses. First, it's hard as hell to get a non-Si model to pass CA smog. Second, your flaky friend will fail to check the coolant, overheat, and thus blow the fragile head gasket. Third, your flaky friend will fail to replace the old timing belt and it will snap, bombing the interference engine and locking up the wheels on the highway. Fourth, a CV joint will fail after your flaky friend cranks up the stereo to avoid hearing that increasingly nasty clackety-clack sound for month after month, stranding him or her on a desolate goat trail in the Mojave in August with no provisions save a can of Clamato.

So, that's my own personal curmudgeonly advice. How about you, dear readers? Remember, the flakazoid friend won't have any money for maintenance and can't fix anything, and they'll probably try to hit you up for free repair help on anything that breaks. What do you say?

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Manwich - now Keto-Friendly

" tentacles says:

My recommendations are always

1) Mid '90s FD RX7. Preferrably a RHD grey import. Or a 1991 Mazda Cosmo with the triple rotor 20B.

2) Mid '90s Eclipse/Laser/Talon with 4G63.

3) Got a bit more scratch? Early/Mid 90s BMW 850i."

Those are the WORST cars for someone on a budget. They're all great drivers, but they're for people who love driving AND have money AND know a thing or two about maintaining their cars.

My recommendation goes to the 1991-1999 Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer... but manual transmission only - it's more reliable, durable and performs better. For more fun, look for an Escort GT, Mercury Tracer LTS, or Escort ZX2. I'm on my 2nd Escort. Only areas of concern outside of regular maintenance are the front tie rods... get them checked annually.

Also, any year of Mazda Protege is worth looking at, again, with the Manual transmission. The 1990-1995 Protege shares the same chasis with the 1991-1996 Escort/Tracer. Within that range, the fun models were the Protege GT in the earlier years, the Protege LX in the later years, and of course the turbocharged Mazdaspeed Protege.

These Mazdas/Fords/Mercurys are practically as reliable as the Hondas/Toyotas/Nissans, but you get a newer car, usually with less rust, for the same money. And parts are cheap and plentiful.

And due to the absence of 'street cred', insurance is cheaper and the level of police harrassment is lower.

Hell, if you need a part or a few parts, you can just buy a $300 junker, strip what you want and sell the rest for $50... that's what I did when I wanted some stuff like aluminum rims and a few other things for my Escort.