By on October 29, 2011



Westin writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

I’m a 19 year old college student in the market for a car. I used to drive a 2006 GLI, but it has since been sold because it wasn’t really needed at the time. I’ll be living off campus next year, so I’m trying to decide on a car that I would purchase sometime in the next couple of months. It has to be under 18k, practical, at least as reliable as my GLI was, somewhat sporty, and a stick shift. I’ve been looking at Volvo S40 T5s, GTIs, IS300s, and Mazda 6s (the last being my dad’s idea, not mine). I would consider a Ford, but the other domestics are pretty much out of the question. My dad drives German and is fully aware of the “quirks” that come with it, which is why I’m a little hesitant to suggest an A4 or 3 Series. The GLI was an angel when we owned it though, and he has a soft spot for VAG and BMW, so I’m not completely ruling those out. We’re both car nuts and are pretty knowledgeable about what’s on the market, but I wanted to see if there was something that I missed or haven’t considered.

Steve Answers:

$18,000 can buy a lot of car. In many areas of this country it can also give you a healthy down payment on a house.

You’re sure you wanna blow it all on some wheels? Maybe a good $5000 car that will last you five years can be coupled with a $13,000 bump in your net worth.

Oh wait. I just realized that you’re 19. Forget what I just said. You now have a golden opportunity to buy a new set of wheels which should last you until an advanced degree yields the proverbial Yuppie union card and a six figure salary. Nothing wrong with that. Especially since you’ll likely have a debt free life by the time you get ready to settle.  So with that in mind, you need a reliable car that is sporty, practical and fun.

On the new side…. Scion Tc. It bumps right near the 18k mark and comes loaded up with all the features you would want ever want in a sporty coupe. It’s quick, fun to drive, and I would be very confident of it lasting well past the 200k mark if you take care of it. Much more so than a VW Beetle, Mini, Kia Forte or… well… I don’t see a VW guy moving to a Civic.

On the used side… you have more four door sedans, hatchbacks, and wagons than I can mention here. Over the years I’ve known a lot of young folks who have benefited from the hard labor of their parents. If you want to spend 18k on a car, do it! They worked hard so that you can enjoy your life. But whatever you decide, try to find a vehicle that will truly last you a good 15 years.

That way you can enjoy the times to come without any stress or hardship from your ride. Good luck!

Sajeev Answers:

Your Dad sounds like a sharp dude, mostly because he suggested the Mazda 6…and you did not!  Look, I understand the allure of these VWs and other imports, but you are a young guy who has better things to do than put up with the bullshit of a money sucking sedan.Stick with mainstream.  Parts, labor and insurance is cheap.  You can have money for stuff that really matters in college, like dressing sharp to impress chicks, having nice stuff in your apartment and generally focusing on things that will actually make you a better person in your future. That said, don’t have too much nice stuff in your apartment, those are the units that get broken into by inside jobbers.

No gigantic TVs and nothing except for a Mazda 6 in your assigned parking spot! Enjoy college, get good grades but don’t be an anti-social, endlessly studying/wrenching stick in the mud like I was back in the day.  The Mazda 6 will help there too. Or maybe a Chevy Cobalt SS, that’s totally worth considering.

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71 Comments on “New or Used: Blowin’ It Away, Or Not?...”

  • avatar

    I honestly don’t see a reason why you should spend that much money on a car as a college student. I am a freshman in college and bought a 2007 Ford Five Hundred for $5,500. It may have been a bit much, to be honest, but there are deals to be had on good used cars. If you go this route you will be happy to have that extra $13,000 to help with expenses…

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Mazda 6 hatch with a V6 and a stick. Or thinking outside the box… previous gen Malibu SS, yeah it’s an auto but the 3.9V6 in such a relatively lightweight package sort of makes up for it.

  • avatar

    Buy this 1988 Volvo 240 and spend the rest on filling it up with beer as per the picture at top.

  • avatar

    Disregarding your distaste for GM, I’m voting Cobalt SS. I’ve owned two and, aside from their terrible interior (excluding totally awesome seats) they’re pretty hard to beat. My 2006 supercharged cost me $10K and came in pristine condition with 27K miles on the odometer and all the aftermarket go-fast bits GM would sell you (and none that they wouldn’t.)

    Fast forward a bit and I’m making a lot more money than when I bought the 06. I went shopping looking for a WRX until I test drove an 08 SS with the turbo and new suspension. Totally different and better car than its (already pretty good) predecessor. $15.8K got me a bone stock car with under 10K miles.

    Speed3s, GTIs, and WRXs are terrible deals used because they just don’t depreciate. SSes on the other hand got hit with that stick hard. Neither of my Cobalts, even running a decent bit beyond their original specs, has given me more trouble than a slack E-brake cable so at least anecdotally I’d recommend them as reliable too. For 15K there’s no reason you can’t take home a car that will absolutely whip a GTI, let alone something like a TC. You can even get it in a shockingly ugly but totally practical and sneaky 4-door configuration. The extra 3K can pay for the tune, Star Specs, and winter wheels/tires you’ll need to make the whipping even more humiliating.

  • avatar

    In college you’ll move often and carry more passengers than you will after college. I’d recommend something like a Mazda3 hatch.

    • 0 avatar

      Being in college and a Mazda3 owner, I can +1 that. Good car.

      Other options: Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit. Under $18k should be easy, and they all have sporty handling, though no sporty acceleration to speak of. The Fiesta would probably be closest to a VW-like experience in terms of interior quality and refinement (but not repair costs if you’re getting the stick – the dual-clutch auto has been problematic).

      Honestly, though, the MkV Golf hasn’t had a bad reliability record on the whole, so it’s not a bad idea to look for a used GTI if that’s what you’re really after.

  • avatar

    Wait, what?

    I’m gonna be the old curmudgeon here. You are being absolutely ridiculous to spend $18k on a car. Why would you possibly want to do that? All the cars I’ve bought in my 31 years of driving *combined* do not total to $18k.

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    You must come from a wealthy family to even consider spending $16,000 on a car at the age of 19, let alone including the cost of a college education. Who’s paying for college? Your parents or you through loans? If you’re paying, forget about dumping money into a car. Get a beater minivan for $2,000 and you can truck all your stuff to school, no problem. You can sleep in it when you’re kicked out of the dorm.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      I should note that he’s here asking for car advice, not financial advice. We have absolutely no idea if the $18K is being added to his debt load or if he arrived at $18K because that’s his quarterly dividend payment from his investments. Absent any knowledge whatsoever about his financial situation how can anyone comment whether $18K is an extragavant or frugal budget for a car?

      For what it’s worth, I recently bought a fully loaded GTI with 20K on it for $18K. It certainly a decent choice for someone buying in that price range though a Mazda 3 hatch would also be a great student car.

    • 0 avatar

      @Kevin: this is wholistic car advice. Makes sense to me. If the kid can truly afford 18K for a car without sacrificing his future, Steve & Sajeev have provided him with good info.

  • avatar

    Keep in mind that you’ll probably be an exception at school: someone with a car. This will make you popular, possibly TOO popular. Fellow students will always be trying to mooch rides off of you, and you’ll probably wind up filling the car with careless passengers AND be the designated driver. You should go used, and not too big or too nice.

    • 0 avatar

      This. $18k is too much to spend on a college car, but not for the financially judgmental reasons already listed. Cars take a beating in college. Drunks walking by it in the parking lot may vandalize it. It will suffer parking damage. You will often have to transport drunks. Someone may even puke in it.

      Maybe you don’t plan on spending so much time around booze yourself, but the car is definitely in danger in the parking lot.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ll second that. College is hard on your car.

        A cheapo sedan that can haul your buddies around and not attract attention in the commuter lot is your best money. Save the rest of your money food books and beer.

  • avatar

    You stated “I would consider a Ford, but the other domestics are pretty much out of the question.”

    Dude, why would you consider a Ford? Consumer Reports just spilled the beans on Ford, as well as the other Domestics. The reliability of GM, Ford, or Chrysler is just not there. Ford came in 20th place. Chrysler was a little better, and GM was a little worse, but compared to the Honda and Toyota gold standard, the domestics are GARBAGE CANS. Imagine the resale value on a domestic. In my opinion, anyone who owns a domestic just took a big resale value hit because Consumer Reports gave the public good accurate advice. In my office, I know someone who recently purchased a new Domestic, and he is upset since the domestic automaker pulled the wool over his eyes by claiming top notch reliability. Because of Consumer Reports, he is considering getting rid of it, especially since he has had problems. As long as the domestics continue to cut corners on engineering and build, the reliability will suffer. And, as long as they continue to pay union wages, whey will continue to cut corners, and the reliability will suffer relative to the Japanese.

    If you plan on spending 18K, get yourself a Honda or Toyota ONLY. If you need to sell it in order to cover school bills, you will get most of your money back easily. Dealers are always willing to pay top dollar for your Honda or Toyota. If you buy a domestic, you will have issues, and it will be hard to sell unless you give it away.

    One more word of advice. It appears to me that domestic automaker operatives are very active on the web. They post negative comments on Honda and Toyota and positive comments on the domestics. Don’t fall for this crap. This is how Detroit operates. They smear the competition. Some of the slicker operatives try to say something slightly positive about a foreign vehicle, then say something a little more positive on a Domestic. These operatives think they are fooling you. Buy Consumer Reports, read it, and ignore everything else you read. Only Consumer Reports can be trusted.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t like Detroit either, but do you mind turning down the trolling just a bit?

    • 0 avatar

      Consumer reports just likes to dog on American owned companies. Some Ford vehicles have poor reliability (and GM and Chrysler) and some have good reliability. Do some research and you’ll be fine, but Consumer Reports would be the last place I’d go.

      • 0 avatar

        “some Ford vehicles have poor reliability (and GM and Chrysler) and some have good reliability”

        But practically ALL Toyota and Honda models have not only good, but superior reliability. This is not to say every single car coming out of a Honda or Toyota factory is perfect, but your odds of getting a good one are far better. It’s rare for a domestic model to be more reliable than either the Toyota or the Honda that it competes against.

        It sucks (especially because the domestics are generally more fun to drive), but I dont think it can be denied honestly

    • 0 avatar

      I agree about consumer reports, but I would urge you to also check Michael Karesh’s, for a more detailed, if less statistically strong look at the quality of different cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Go turbo to be really want to be blown!

      Just pick a 2000 Saab for less than $2,000 with 116K miles. Just need some TLC and suspension updates. With 185 horsepower/207 torque it’ll close to 300 HP over 300trq on stock turbo for less than $1000.

      I’m getting a max of 37.5 mpg with increased tire pressures and new sparkplugs, all highway…before an alignment. As long as engine and transmission are ok(check Saab forums) parts are plentiful and very low prices.

    • 0 avatar

      You surely will have issues with domestics. You know I had to replace an alternator on my wife’s (purchased before we married) Cavalier at 90k miles. It cost me nearly $70 and I had to do it in a couple hours in my own driveway. Or 170k mile Durango had major issues too. I had to change a serpentine belt out of it’s scheduled maintenance because I spilled coolant on it and it started to squeal and had to have the evaporator replaced, though in hot climates the evaporator is notorious for this in all brands, especially Honda where they tend to burst (at least that’s what the repair shop told me). I also had to replace the idler pully when the bearing went bad at 130k miles. $50 and 20 stinking minutes of my life lost there.

  • avatar

    If I was 19 and had ~$18K to spend on a car I would get an EVO IX. Maybe an Audi S4 V8 or Magnum SRT8.

    I also liked the 8th-gen Civic SI more than the GTI MKV.

    I don’t think I’m very much help here.

  • avatar

    Have you considered an older (2005+) Mustang V6? Easy and inexpensive to work on, great aftermarket support, sporty-ish and decent looking. Pick one up for about 10k and still have money left over for mods/girls/booze/life etc.

  • avatar

    On TrueCar, it seems like the 2011 models of the Mazda3 and Subaru Impreza are being sold with discounts to make way for the 2012 versions. Granted, the 2012 versions have many improvements, but the 2011’s are perfectly good in their own rights.

    Both the Mazda and the Subaru have excellent reliability and excellent safety ratings.

    Of course, you could always go for the used Mazda 6 that Sajeev suggested – it will also be quite reliable.

    Wait – holy schmoly! NEW 2011 Mazda 6’s are going for about the same price as 3’s?

    Check out TrueCar! They are REALLY cheap!

    (Other midsizers seem to be discounted, too.)

  • avatar

    You could get a 2012 Kia Rio for less than $18,000 and have that wonderful Kia warranty.

  • avatar

    You’re asking for advice on $18k worth of car and you’re in college? Talk about throwing red meat to the TTAC commentariat. I’m surprised that nobody’s tried to trace your email back to its source, kidnap you and send you to beater Panther re-education camp.

    That said, I live in a neighborhood of million-dollar homes, two blocks from a private college, and the (renting) students on my street tend to drive nicer cars (XC70s, MDXs, 335s) than the homeowners (Passats, CX-7s, 300s). Chances are, $18k will land you in the middle of the college-car pack these days, and I’m not to begrudge you enjoying your daddy’s largesse if he’s offering.

    I will say that your main focus should be thinking long-term, because at some point, odds are that the parents are going to get tired of paying for you, and when that happens you want to make sure that your car needs are set (or, if you move to the city for grad school, make sure that you have a valuable, easily sellable asset). So steer well clear of anything expensive to service (read: European), anything with bad depreciation (read: new), and anything with fancy electronic engine bits.

    I’d look for the nicest 2008 Acura TL 6-speed you can find within your budget. It’s dirt cheap to service (Honda platform, parts and service techs), the CPO warranty will get you midway through grad school, it’s a lot more fun than you’d think, it’s got a comfy back seat for your college buddies, and you seem to be OK with front-drive cars. It’s a slam dunk.

  • avatar

    Lots of options here. I’d suggest an Acura TSX, pretty well any variant of the Subaru Impreza or Legacy, or a Golf/Rabbit. Any of the Volvo 40-series cars (S40, C30, V50) would be smart. And if you’re a risk taker, I just have to recommend the Saab 9-3 (sedan or Sport Combi) or Saab 9-5. We’ve compared the 9-3 and V50 ( and the 9-5 and the Legacy Outback wagon ( Hopefully this helps!

  • avatar

    If you absolutely must blow that much money on a car, IS300 Sportcross. Stout V6, and extremely mod friendly should you decide to dump some money into it. If you’re swinging for the fences and Dad’s footing the bill, why not a Boxster or S2K?

    Ideally you just a used Versa hatch for half your budget and fill the thing with beer for 6 years.

  • avatar

    Who DOESN’T have a soft spot for VAG, especially in college ? ;-]

  • avatar

    That picture would be perfect in a commercial: “Sir, have you been drinking tonight?”.

    As for a car, a brand new Subaru Legacy.

  • avatar

    This is Westins dad, he will be the benafactor of a close relatives largesse. He is at an ivy league school in Houston, in a nice nieghborhood, so he wouldn’t be out of place with a nice car. I think he should get a practical but fun pre-owned sedan. The Mazda 6 fits that. Ford fusion fits it too. Needs to be a stout structure because he is a fanatic for good construction and handling. Be smart son…


    • 0 avatar

      Hi Westin’s dad,

      Quick follow-up: if you’re spending $18k on a Mazda6, odds are it’d be on a 2009 or 2010 model, which, well, have you driven one? I was a giant fan of the previous model (2002-2008), but the current one is a boat and a half. I wouldn’t call it “fun” in any sense of the word. If you’re wedded to a Mazda6, then spend $14k on a 2008 model and drop the $4k into a rainy day maintenance fund. That said, I’d still point you toward a TL or TSX.

      Good luck,


    • 0 avatar

      There are no Ivy League schools in Houston. Rice, which is what I assume you’re referencing, is a Conference USA school.

      That said, lots of kids have cars there, a lot of them are *nice*, and if he gets that Mazda6 he might not even attract that much attention, thereby prolonging the car’s life! Win-win!

  • avatar

    Practical in college might be the opposite of practical for the rest of your life. I agree with the person who posted before, you are an exception if you have a car. If you have a practical car, people will expect you to take them everywhere. That’s why you should get a BMW Mini. You can’t take everybody everywhere. You can park anywhere. It is a chick magnet. It’s really fun to drive, especially the supercharged version. If you want to go more practical, you could get a Ford Fusion with a stick. Although you have to look harder to find them, if you find one, it will likely be significantly cheaper than an automatic trans model. If you go to the top end of your budget, you might even be able to find a year old Hyundai Sonata with a stick. Very practical. Very economical. Still has 200 horses. I want to make one final suggestion: a mid-00’s Lincoln LS. That was the poor man’s BMW. You should be able to get one well optioned for half of your budget. Oh yes, I like the Cobalt SS too.

  • avatar

    You could pick up a Volvo S60R (300HP) and AWD or T5 for that money. If you have time to wait try to locate a used S60 T5 with the inscription leather (motorcycle style/inspired) but these are very rare. The S60R can be modded to 400HP on the factory internals and all P2 turbo S60s can be easily modded for more HP.

    I would hunt down a C30 hatchback otherwise unless you have to have 4 doors.

  • avatar

    If your college has Zipcar, you might consider trying Zipcar for a few months. If you spend less than $250/month on Zipcar, you can question whether you need a car at all.

  • avatar

    In college? Need a car? One word: Cavalier, the “Cockroach of the Road”(copyright Geozinger).

  • avatar

    Mazda Miata. Fun to drive, well built, totally unreasonable as the only car at any other point in your life. You won’t have to haul drunks in your car and no one will ever bug you to help them move.

    I don’t know your finances, but just the concept of student (=generally limited ability to earn income) + high maintenance vehicle = bad idea. According CR Volvo is the most reliable of the Europeans, and I sure do like them, but in this case, father knows best. Reasonable Japanese midsize 4-door sedan is a vehicle that can last a long time and support many different situations in life (short of having triplets).

  • avatar
    PJ McCombs

    … but we’re not bitter!

    If a kid’s lucky enough to have a surplus of cash for a new car, and enough family money that upkeep isn’t a concern, well–that’s a problem we’d all be happy to have. There’s no better time (next to retirement) to own a fun, impractical car, which makes some of the financial chiding seem mean-spirited.

    When I was shopping for a college car (then slightly older than the OP, and with a lot smaller budget), I could have spent $3K on an Accord and put the rest in the bank–but being young, blew it all on a gen-one Miata and suspension bits. The fun memories I had with that car made it worth every cent, so I don’t blame him.

    As long as someone else is footing the fuel bills, I’d suggest a previous-gen Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT 5MT. Choice of sedan or wagon, boxer grunt, agile chassis, and lots of aftermarket support–plus you’re less likely to get keyed for owning one in college than a BMW or Audi.

  • avatar
    M.S. Smith

    Okay Westin, it sounds like you have a fair amount of cash to throw around, so you likely won’t listen to this. But I’ll try anyway.

    Do. Not. Buy. A. Nice. Car.

    Why? Because college cars have a very high chance of getting fucked up. You probably will not have time to keep it well maintained. Your college friends will want rides and they will sometimes be in mental states that make them incapable of showing respect for your vehicle. And unless you are going to somehow have access to a garage the entire time (not likely, but possible) you’re going to be parking in insecure, shitty parking lots of street parking.

    I bought a 1996 Jeep Cherokee for college. It was broken in to, scratched numerous times, partially flooded, and I did only oil changes for three years. That last part being due to my status as a poor student – from the sounds of things, that might not apply to you.

    But don’t let this get you down. Think of it as an opportunity. You say you’re a car guy. Okay, well, this is your chance to drive around a piece of history without looking like you’re poor, cheap, or a redneck. Go buy a well maintained, $5,000 two-door coupe and beat the shit out of it. Then after college, you can rip out the interior and pretend you’re a race car driver.

    My suggestions include any muscle car, Miatas, Nissan Z cars, and the E-30 BMW 3-Series. Maybe even a RWD Corolla.

  • avatar

    Dude – if you’re 19 years old and got $18k to blow on a car, why don’t you go and buy some BMW or Mercedes which is *just* out of warranty. You’ve obviously got money to blow – so do it properly.

  • avatar

    Acura RSX or TSX. Stone-cold reliability and low maintenance. One of these with under 80k can be obtained at the moment for under $13k. One customer of ours has 230k on his 04 TSX 6speed and has done nothing but ‘factory recommended’ maintenance. Original engine, trans and even clutch. Can’t go wrong! One car I would NOT RECOMMEND UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES would be the Epsilon platform GMs (G6, Malibu, 9-3). Those will nickel and dime you into the next decade, with no resale value to boot. With that said, A4s and to a lesser extent, Jetta/Golf are also very well built, albeit with slightly higher maintenance and repair costs.

  • avatar

    “We’re both car nuts”

    One up your Dad and your Bimmer friends with a low mileage 2004-2008 GTO. None of the German iron can touch it in overall performance and reliability.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Finances are the most important thing. Student loan debt should be shunned like you would shun the devil. It cannot ever be discharged in bankruptcy, and if the you student loan debt to the Feds when you turn 67, they will take it out of your social security payments.

    No career is a sure thing. A few years ago kids were graduating from law school and getting $165,000/yr. The legal job market collapsed and many of them are on the street owing $250,000 in student debt, and having no way of paying it. Their only paths to a decent life are joining the Legion Etranger or moving to Thailand.

    If you are in that situation, forget the car, buy a bicycle, and spend your nights studying.

    OTOH, if you family is floating your tuition, you are very lucky. I was able to do that for my kids, but when they needed a car, I gave them my beat-up Mercury Mystique, and I bought the new car. The Mercury lasted until the third one graduated, and when one of them totaled it by rear ending somebody a year later, I accepted the insurance company’s offer of $4,000 gratefully.

    In either situation I can’t see buying a college kid a new car.

  • avatar
    Silent Ricochet

    You know how many people have offered me their Cobalt SS for like 10 Grand? Bullet Proof Ecotec engine, plenty of go, looks great and good mpg. What more could you ask for? Drop $10,000 on a sweet Cobalt and save the rest for college. I too am a fellow college student, and as much as I would like a new car too, my Z24 serves me well enough, and the money I’ve saved hanging on to it instead of buying a new car has been totally worth it.

  • avatar

    The remaining 2011 Mazda6es are deeply discounted, with 2500 in mfr-to-dealer incentives, plus 500 loyalty incentive if anyone in the household currently owns a Mazda. Around here, you can get the base model – unfortunately the only one that offers a manual transmission but also fewer things to break in the long run – for $16,5. Go for it and as Steve has suggested, keep it for 15+ years. It’ll be under warranty for the first 5 of those, and according to Consumer Reports’ latest reliability survey (I know, I know, TrueDelta is better . . . ) it is as reliable as Camry and Accord. Then, when you’re employed and well-compensated, lease something fun and German and keep the Mz6 around as a beater/daily driver.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    The most valuable part of college is the stuff you remember. Hopefully you remember all the academic necessities so you can apply your degree in some sort of gainful employment. But there are also all of the memories you and your friends will have from all of the time spent on campus.

    Is any specific car at all going to factor into those memories? Earlier this year a large number of old college friends got together for an informal 10-year reunion. The only car that actually came up as we talked about college was an old Caprice that one of the guys had. Almost every weekend we piled 10 or 12 guys into it (including people in the trunk) to head to an off-campus party.

    Hey, if you think a nice car is going to factor into the memories you leave school with then go ahead. But I bet you can find better things to spend the cash on.

    • 0 avatar

      …The most valuable part of college is the stuff you remember…

      Chicago Dude: That is the truest statement ever. When I was preparing for college admissions, my cousin was offered a car if he would choose to go to a local college instead of going away. His high school grades were not that good, so his dad figured that the local school was likely to be as good as any he would get accepted to. He was offered a 1970 Cutlass convertible in mint condition, a car that was 10 years old at the time. I recall thinking that if my dad made that offer, I would jump on it big time. Well, no offer like that came. I went away to college and was given a “retired” company car as my dad just bought a new one for an employee. Fast forward in life: I would never, ever, take the car over college, even if you offered a Ferrari. The memories are irreplaceable. When I am in a nursing home, the caretakers will consider me a nut because I will be laughing out loud as I replay all those good times in my mind.

  • avatar

    Clearly you should go with the mid-90’s Vauxhall Vectra five door in the picture. Apparently it comes standard with a week’s supply of beer

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    I know this is a car enthusiasts website, but those of you advising this kid to get a hot, expensive car, even though he has the family wealth to pay for it (as his dad has informed us) plus pay for an elite private college, are not doing him any favors.

    The pressure on him to party at school will be immense. He’ll be the sugar daddy all his new deadbeat friends have been looking for. He will feel the need to show off, to possibly disastrous results. A lot of 19 year old kids can’t handle the freedom of being on their own for the first time.

    I watched a smart, mature valedictorian go off to college, with a bundle of fat scholarships, and totally blow it in his first year, which he spent mostly at parties, not in class, and fail every class but one. A few years later and wiser he started all over again, this time on his own, and went on to become a successful lawyer.

    Another local kid, the son of the wealthiest resort owner on a high-class lake in northern Minnesota, was driving drunk in a hot new car, which he ran off the road in the middle of the night while going over 100. All his passengers were thrown out, one of whom died, a girl who that morning on the school bus had told my younger son that there was nothing to do for fun up here but drink. He ended up going to jail, and felt such remorse, he spent several years going around talking to high school kids. My wife, who taught him in college, said he was the smartest student she had had, but smarts don’t equal wisdom.

    I kept my younger son from getting a driver’s license until he was 18, because I didn’t think he had the maturity to drive on his own. He had been driving tractors since he was six (under close supervision) and could handle a vehicle, but he didn’t have good judgement. Today he is months away from getting a PhD and he has done an engine swap (mostly on his own) on his Subaru Outback, downgrading from a 2.5 to a 2.2, opting for reliability over power, since he’s been burned too many times by blown head gaskets.

    When my brother was 17, he found a cheap 392 hemi, which he was going to drop into the 1964 Dodge 318 my father had given him. My father scotched that idea, and he was absolutely right. Neither my brother or the car could have handled that engine, and he would probably have ended up in a wreck with a car load of friends.

    It is especially because this kid has access to money that he shouldn’t go for a high status “fun” car but go for a low status vehicle, like a ten year old minivan. It’s good for the soul and one’s health. And when he’s in an all night group discussion on Kant’s Categorical Imperative, he can pull the seats out and bring them to the dorm room.

  • avatar
    PJ McCombs

    No offense, but saying that a kid is going to be the victim of ‘the pressure to party’ sounds like you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be that age. Your focus is going to be having ‘fun’ no matter how your finances define it.

    Thinking back to college, I can equally recall acquaintances who wrapped ’80s crapboxes around trees or paid dearly for illegal exploits in them, as well as others who sailed smoothly to success in high-HP rich-kid sports cars. It really all comes down to the user behind the wheel. I’d like to think the OP here is the latter, but you never know.

    • 0 avatar

      Westin here, thank you for your input. I don’t understand why the idea that a college student could drive something other than a POS is considered asinine by so many here. I appreciate the financial advice that everyone seems to be willing to hand out, but I can assure you I’m not stupid with money. My school is paying for a majority of my tuition and I spend what money I do have on food and books, not drinking binges as seems to be implied by some of the comments. I’m not trying to impress the ladies with my car or hoon around from stoplight to stoplight, I just want something to get around with. This isn’t my first year of college. I can assure you that whatever stupid decisions my friends and I make, intoxicated or otherwise, never have to do with a car.

      • 0 avatar

        Dont take offense, it isnt personal. You didnt really say “where” the money was coming from, so a lot of people posted under the assumption you had $18k in cash sitting around and were planning to blow it all on a car. Some others probably assumed you were going to take on an $18k car loan, with payments. Add in insurance costs for a 19yo, and thats a hefty monthly hit to the typical college student.

        I didnt bother posting anything other than car advice — see below. First off, I didnt assume either of the above statements, and second off, I read your dad’s explanation. Also, I figured since you already had a GLI and your dad is a car nut too, you both knew what you were getting into finance-wise. You didnt sound like some dumb college kid about to blow his last penny on a ride!

        But you know, just in case you ARE being handed a check for $18k to do as you wish with, I personally wouldnt drop it all on one car. I would rather have a less expensive car for driving to school, just because I hate the idea of it getting destroyed, and then keep the money for my next ride. Also, not sure how you are handling the insurance, but if you have to pay it yourself, full coverage for a 19yo can be insanely expensive. I would get a cheap car that doesnt require full coverage, and then use some cash to modify it… like an older Mustang GT would be perfect for this.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Just get a Corolla, and put your cash to better use, you gotta think of the car as transportation, that’s all it is. If you want to have fun one weekend with a better car, just rent one to your liking.

  • avatar

    Recent college grad here. I went to school for history and auto restoration(yeah, talk about a fun major…). I had 3 cars during college: my first car, a 66 6volt bug that I restored in high school. I would spend days going across country for school and back again(which is why I got rid of it).

    Then I bought a rusty pile of parts I called a 29 model A(even slower), Finally fed up with with glacially slow driving speeds, I bought a ’99 Pontiac sunfire and it was by far the most fun car I’ve ever owned, if I didn’t want to do the maintenance I didn’t(after valve adjustments in snowy parking lots with beetle, and adjusting mechanical brakes in the snow with the A, I wanted nothing to do with maintenance!!. The car never failed me, except for once after an impromptu rally through the muddy roads of kansas(frozen drums the next day).

    I never once regretted the shit box pontiac even though I could have bought or restored or repaired much nicer vehicles. Get something you can beat on, get something that’ll make you say: “Ahh I remember when It got that scratch, or when my friends sat on the roof during a camping trip, or I remember that stain.” It’s worth it to have a car you don’t have to care about, get something with good dynamics but crap value because at the end of 4 years, even I, an auto restoration student couldn’t keep my car clean or dent free, or in mechanically pristine condition. College is far more about friends and fun than about nice cars and nice things, even if you can afford it, It’s not worth the hassle of nice car. My friends who had restored muscle cars or had a rare motorcycle or rare European car spent their weekends devoted to their machine, while I partied and met girls(the girls you want don’t care about the car anyway!)

    I’d personally go with a used mazda 3 or 6, the previous generation, they’re fun, good looking but common enough and the kind of cars that can take a beating and hold all your dorm room stuff for the trip to and from home(after working for MB and BMW I’d say skip the Teutonic sports sedans unless you like dropping $1500 every month for this or that broken part…).

  • avatar

    To those who suggest I rent a car:
    $250/month in rental fees would add up to $3000 a year. The average car depreciates around 65% over five years (I can cite if necessary). At $18,000, I would be looking at $2340 a year in depreciation. I would essentially be paying $670 more to drive a car I don’t even own. You can get technical and tell me about maintenance, months without renting, and all sorts of other factors, but when it’s all said and done it’s nearly always better to own than to rent.

  • avatar

    “It has to be under 18k, practical, at least as reliable as my GLI was, somewhat sporty,
    “Somewhat sporty”….I’ve always wondered what exactly “sporty” means when describing a car. But when you add “somewhat”….wow…now I’m really confused. Your Dad’s suggestion of a Mazda 6 is a good one. But who listens to their Dad……?

  • avatar

    Well Westin,

    I can appreciate the conundrum you face. I am a 20-year-old college student (Engineering, Iowa State University) and have had various levels of involvement with three college-car-buying situations.

    First, my own scenario. I am currently driving a 1998 Subaru Outback with a 5-speed manual, bought and owned by my parents. I got it at the end of the summer of 2010, when it was traded in to the dealership I was working for at the time. My car before that was a 2002 S-10 pickup (4.3L, auto, RWD, also parentally-owned) which I had come to appreciate but I knew it was really not the right car for me. It did, however, essentially give me a budget of $7,000 to work with. My car-buying decision was based upon my own needs and wants: I wanted a car that would be versatile, relatively sporty, inexpensive to maintain, and decent on fuel. I wanted AWD for the winter, having struggled with the pickup for three years (an open diff driving rear wheels with relatively little weight on them does not make for a lot of traction). I settled on a wagon bodystyle, as this would make for lots of room for either passengers or cargo, while still allowing for decent fuel economy. And, a manual transmission was a must. Naturally I settled on a Subaru Outback, which fit my needs tremendously and I’ve loved it ever since. Had I been able to choose any vehicle I may have chosen a few years newer WRX hatchback, but those were more expensive, very hard to find (especially in good condition), and would have caused much higher insurance rates. The Outback gives up speed and sportiness for a lot more backseat passenger room and space for cargo (I’ve hauled a couch before, no lie), and in the end it is worth it. Plus, I can only imagine myself getting into trouble with a WRX. Heck, even with the 2.5 in the Outback, I got my first speeding ticket yesterday… but I digress.

    Next up is my friend who comes from a somewhat wealthy family, who had a budget of $20,000 for a new car only. Both the financing and the stipulation were from his parents, and they had their own reasons for making the decision. Any amount over $20,000 would have to come out of his pockets. My friend’s current car is a 2002 Jetta, which is again owned by his parents and will be going to his sister, but we’ll get to that later. He values sportiness and practicality, but also puts a high emphasis on mpg because this will likely be his DD for many years to come and he doesn’t see gas going anywhere but up. He considered many vehicles, from the Hyundai Veloster to the Chevy Cruze, to the Golf TDi, and the Subaru WRX. He really wanted a WRX, and loved the 2011 models, so naturally he was excited to see how the improvements to the base 2012 Impreza (more room, better fuel economy, less weight) would translate to the WRX, and was pretty disappointed (as was I) to find out the turbo models would go unchanged for another year. Eventually he decided that the extra price, the very poor fuel economy, and the higher insurance rates weren’t worth it, and the WRX was out. He almost settled on a TDI Golf, but again, it would have been significantly more out of his pockets, and he decided it wasn’t worth it. Just yesterday he made his final decision and pulled the trigger on a 2012 Impreza after test-driving a model on the lot. The great usability of the hatchback, the utility of the AWD (he lives in Minnesota when not in school in Iowa), the nice interior, and the great fuel economy even with a 5-speed manual (33 mpg hwy) came together to win him over. Hopefully it will satisfy his DD needs for many years to come. It should – my Subaru is on 129,000 miles and counting…

    Thirdly, another friend from college. He loved his B6 Audi A4 tremendously, except for its automatic transmission. He owned his car, and had even modified it lightly (slightly lowered, a re-flashed chip to make somewhere around 250 hp, and some very classy wheels), but eventually decided that he wanted a manual badly enough to get rid of it. Selling it netted him a $10,000 budget. His first preference would have been a manual A4 or S4 of the same generation (or newer), but he simply couldn’t find one unmodified, in good condition, and in his price range. He looked at GTIs, minis, and TTs, but none of them were quite what he was looking for. He had a preference for German cars and didn’t mind their reputation for unreliability, because he was more interested in quality construction and performance, and he did his own maintenance. However, not having a car was getting to him, and just yesterday he bought a Mazda RX-8. Now this might seem like it’s coming out of left field, but it had just enough utility, definitely enough sportiness and definitely handles better than just about anything else in the mainstream car market. I haven’t gotten to talk to him yet but I’m sure he’s loving it.

    Well this has been a very long story and certainly not all of it pertains to your situation. As for you, well, it’s a much broader set of possibilities. I assume you want something classy and reliable, and probably nothing very old. If you live in Houston then AWD is not going to be necessary and probably won’t be on the radar at all. Are you ok with FWD? Will your vehicle primarily be hauling people, cargo, both, or just you? How much interior space do you need? All of these questions are, of course, ones you yourself will have to answer, as your decision in each will have trade-offs. From what I can see, I think a mid-size sedan would probably be just up your alley, maybe a wagon variant if you decide the slight demerits in weight, fuel economy, and looks are worth it. Of course this still leaves open quite a few possibilities, especially for $18,000. The Lexus IS300 has a pretty strong appeal, in its first generation at least. According to Wikipedia they weighed in at as little as 3,000 lb. That combined with a 3.0L inline 6, a 5- or 6-speed manual, and RWD should make for a very nice sports sedan indeed. They first-gen (XE10) were gorgeous as can be (IMHO) and have Lexus-quality interior. Reliability probably won’t be that bad given it is a Toyota, and you probably won’t have to look too incredibly hard to find one in your price range.

    Not the end-all but I think that if I were in your situation, that’s what I would pick. Best of luck to you, Westin.

  • avatar

    Mazda3 or Mitsubishi Lancer. Both are fun, sporty, with great warranties. Also, 0% financing!This is great chance to own a new car that can last you 10+ years and start building credit. Just set the money into a new account that you don’t use and have it auto-debit away).

  • avatar

    A used GTI can be a great value, you could get a really nice one for $18k. I have one, and I love it, since you had a GLI, you will probably love it too. But I don’t think you should get one now for college. They require extra maintenance, extra care and feeding, and they are delicate. You dont need to deal with the headaches when you have school and homework and parties to go to! Here is my list:

    Mazda3 — used hatch, new sedan, whatever. $18k buys you a lot of Mazda, and I had a real hard time choosing between a 3S and my GTI. Except for the turbo grunt of the GTI, the Mazda was just as much fun to drive, more comfortable, and much easier on the wallet day-today. Roomy too, for freinds.

    Jeep Wrangler — No, its not a sports car. But its the PERFECT college student car when you have money. Everyone loves Jeeeps, girls love Jeeps, you can pile people in it, who cares, its tough. No worries about parking, drive over curbs, park where you want. Take the roof off, go from party to party, head to the beach. When you get older you wont always want to take your Jeep to work, sitting in traffic. But now you can enjoy it! You dad will want to borrow it, and then you can drive whatever sporty car he drives.

    Mustang GT — $18k buys you a really nice 2005+ GT Mustang, definitely best bang for the buck performance-wise. I also like the suggestion of a GTO, if you can get past the GM thing… the GTO has the best engine and best interior, nothing like a typical GM muscle car. Its much better than the new Camaro even.

  • avatar
    Joshua Johnson

    I realize I am a little late to the party, but I will offer my two cents anyways. Westin, from what I picked up in your posts, it sounds like you care about driving dynamics. Therefore, buy whatever you please as you will be the one ultimately driving the car.

    I bought a used Jaguar S-Type R in my senior year of college. You wouldn’t believe what the naysayers were recommending, Camcord et al. However, as I was the one driving the car, and I truly enjoy driving, it was a no brainer: the Jag felt right whereas the others were lacking the requisite emotional and physical connection. On top of it all, I worked my way through college, paid my own bills and wrote checks every six months for tuition – so I was damn well going to drive whatever I wanted to if it was my own money on the line.

    Two and a half years later, I am still thrilled to drive that car every chance I get. Sure, maintenance hasn’t been cheap, but as I don’t really have any other vices, and it doesn’t financially cripple me, the cost of upkeep does not bother me. Sure I cringe sometimes, but who doesn’t. (And yes Mr. Lang, I have already bought a house and established a safety net; I am currently in debt paydown mode)

    Overall, I would not trade the memories I have had with this car for anything else. Sure, I might have had a little extra cash in the bank, but there comes a point where worrying about the bottom line causes you to miss other opportunities (this coming from a miser in just about every other aspect of my financial life).

    For instance, by owning my car and having it serviced for major items at the dealership, I am able to participate in so called lifestyle events hosted by said dealership. Here I rub elbows with persons of extreme interest to my professional life; we discuss cars, life and exchange business cards. Does something come of these exchanges- not usually. But, would I have met these people as organically if I had owned a different make? Most likely not.

    I apologize for the sermonizing, but finance and cars are passions of mine; put them together and this is the result. I also realize I may be an outlier; I’ve been fortunate and am ever thankful for the opportunities that have thus far been presented to me. Westin is fortunate enough to be in the position he is; he realizes this otherwise he wouldn’t have asked for the advice.

    So buy whatever car you please as indicated by your budget; if it were me with the given list of cars, I would chose the Volve S40 (though admittedly I would skip forward to the S60R as other posters mentioned above). Nicely appointed interior, fairly reliable mechanicals, pretty good driving dynamics, and above all, insurance wont kill you. Repairs are a wild card for any car, but insurance is a known variable and it isn’t cheap.

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