By on February 19, 2013

Hello Steve,

I’ve enjoyed for a couple of years now the articles you’ve written for TTAC and the insight you give on used cars and the business you work in. Since you do provide your contact information, I thought I’d write to ask a question relevant to my used-car-shopping situation.

The situation – this girl (my cousin, in her early 20s) used to have a nice 2005 Civic that was given to her new by our grandparents when she finished high school. This would normally have served her until the end of time, but she sold it last year for very stupid reasons.

Now she is back in Atlanta, has no money of her own (she lives at home and is supported by her mom) and is trying to get her life back on a more solid track, but can’t do anything without a car. Her mom would rather not spend a few grand on another car, but it is a much smaller burden on her than using her own car, and they do not live in an area where there is any realistically-usable transit. So cheap used car it is.

My cousin would prefer some kind of SUV for style reasons, but while I love her and want her to get her life together, I don’t think her own preferences have much weight here – she is being supported by her mom, who is also prepared to spend ~$3,000 on a car for her despite her own bad decisions.

I think the primary need is for something as reliable as one can get for that kind of money that is not too expensive to maintain (ex.: my mom’s husband knew of a well-kept one-owner 190E in Toccoa being sold by a friend, but I would not consider an old Mercedes, even a well-kept low-mileage one, to be a low-cost-of-maintenance car.)

It strikes me that in this price range the ownership and maintenance history of a particular car is probably more important than the brand reputation of a given make and model. My own firsthand knowledge is centered around ’90s Nissans and old Fiats, as that is what I own or have owned and maintained myself.

I will appreciate any response you may have the time to give.thanks,

Steve Says:

A few things…

I really don’t know why you are putting yourself out there in the first place. Let’s face it. Her mom doesn’t need to indulge your cousin at this point in her life and neither do you.

The following words you wrote were the only ones that mattered.

“Now she is back in Atlanta, has no money of her own (she lives at home and is supported by her mom) and is trying to get her life back on a more solid track, but can’t do anything without a car.”

Bull.

She can apply for jobs and get a taxi when an interview comes along. If she’s in the Atlanta outskirts, she has plenty of time to take long walks and reflect on her present and future.

Your cousin has time to read, write, exercise, plan, learn, develop a skill or three, and figure out the way forward. She doesn’t have to worry about where her next meal will be coming from, or whether there still will be a roof over her head in the near future.

This is what we call in life, a learning opportunity. And a golden one at that. We all go through them. A hardship can often be a good thing because it teaches you a valuable lesson about who you are as a person, and who you can trust as a friend.

When you constantly give people things they don’t rightfully earn (such as money, love, respect, etc.), that thinking process stops. The indulgences become entitlements, and the entitlements become expectations. Several books have highlighted this unique process of babying as ‘economic outpatient care’ but it applies to all things emotional and financial. In the long run, you make the person more sick and dependent on handouts by shoveling unearned gifts their way.

So why would you want to help give someone a new freebie when they have recently committed, “very stupid decisions” with their old freebie? Think about it. Some people are smart enough to eventually move a swing when it’s facing a brick wall.

Do that instead. Listen to her. Be there for her. Do what you can for her. Heck, 2 years from now she may be the one on top of the world and you may be experiencing your own struggles.

But mark my words. She won’t be successful if her mom simply gives her a car. Let her earn it.

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61 Comments on “New or Used? : Economic Outpatient Care Edition...”


  • avatar
    retrogrouch

    Bravo!

  • avatar
    fiatjim

    That’s about the best used car advice I’ve ever seen.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Steve….You have nailed it. I’ve seen what you described,over, and over again. Well meaning parents, cousins etc. The 20 year old turns into a 35 year old. Nothing ever changes.

    Its called “tough love” for a reason. Its tough on the family,and its tough on the kid. I cut the cash flow to both my kids in thier early twenties. They could eat,and sleep on my dime. Everything else including wheels, not our problem.

    Today I’m going to see my 38 year old daughter get her Masters Degree. She has a great job,and a wonderfull family. Her 40 year old sister has just got a huge promotion, and a company car.

    We are so proud of them.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Steve is absolutely correct. But once I concluded that, I looked into my personal past, back when my dad bought me a $2K car to replace my 1973 BMW 2002 so that I have a semi-modern car. But that was still during college. Here, the girl graduated in 2005 and 7 years later she has neither a car nor a job. And she wants an SUV for style points. And she probably went to college to study art history. Get her a Huffy.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      “And she probably went to college to study art history.”

      Watch it. The world needs more than stock traders and dentists.

      • 0 avatar
        Stumpaster

        Not really.

      • 0 avatar
        mountainman_66

        “not really” +1………
        in a better economy, you MIGHT be able to trade away your youth studying something that isnt as economically rewarding. not today, with the way things are.
        saw a nice stat online the other day….1 in 6 bartenders has a 4 year college degree. while I allow that the prime mover behind that is the slow recovery from the Great Recession, but most reasonable people would have to agree that in this ‘slash funding for everything’ mindset, the first to go would be such professions as librarians, art historians, et al. If you have to pick between a visit to the dentist for that nagging tooth or catching up on the latest art exhibit, we know which one gets the nod.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Civilizations that sacrifice their culture at the alter of economics don’t deserve the title. Whether you choose to believe it or not, we all benefit from a well rounded and cultured populace.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        @Mountainman

        Not to diminish the importance of art in society, but I have to agree.

      • 0 avatar
        Jesse

        @Ubermensch:

        +1. I have a bachelor’s degree in English, and I’m doing just fine. You can major in whatever you want in your undergrad studies, and then go on to do many other things (get a master’s, get a job, etc). It’s all what you make of it. Studying Art History is fine. We all like going to museums don’t we?

      • 0 avatar
        Stumpaster

        uberm…, I don’t disagree, but if you think that an Atlanta girl, assuming she studied art history, who wants an SUV In. At. Lan. Ta. for style points, is going to promote the civilization, you have a nasty surprise coming your way. No, it’s not syphilis.

      • 0 avatar
        Synchromesh

        +100 for “not really”. While some artsy people are doing fine, vast majority of artsy people are “struggling artists”. This why some of us got REAL degrees that pay the bills.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        @Ubermensch

        “Whether you choose to believe it or not, we all benefit from a well rounded and cultured populace.”

        I tend to agree, but in modern US society you will be paying for their $50-$100K educations through taxes and *more* inflation when the education bubble bursts. Some of the great artists of all time learned their skills through apprenticeships and patronage, not high priced Julliards or diploma-mills such as Art Institute or Phoenix. Society needs art and culture, but not at society’s direct expense.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        “Society needs art and culture, but not at society’s direct expense.”

        I feel the same way about banks, but here we are. If you think the miniscule amount of money that makes it to the arts is of any significance then you have simply shown your hand. The arts benefit mostly from patronage as it is so don’t trot out those old arguments.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Sure, the world needs engineers, too.

        But it’s complete folly to think that studying something practical means you don’t also learn about & grow to appreciate the artistic & cultural elements of life. This is not a case of mutual exclusion.

        This issue is as simple as that classic middle school concept of Hierarchy of Needs: if you don’t develop useful & needed skills, you can’t put food on the table nor can you appreciate the finer things in life. However, if you do first take care of how you will take care of yourself, then you have the opportunity to do more.

        If you go to school and accomplish nothing more than expanding your mind and discovering yourself, i.e., you didn’t develop any knowledge, skills, or habits that make you more valuable than anyone else with a pulse, you can’t expect security in the satisfying of your basic needs.

        I would always encourage someone to study art, history, literature, etc., but I would never encourage someone to get a degree in such.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        Art isn’t a profession. Art is a hobby.

        Protip: Hobbies don’t pay the rent.

      • 0 avatar
        Astigmatism

        @28-Cars-Later: And some of the great business leaders and entrepreneurs of all time have been liberal arts grads. Steve Jobs and Mitt Romney were English majors. Engineering is great at teaching you how to make stuff, but creative fields are more likely to teach you to think about what to make.

      • 0 avatar

        Sometimes, it’s not what your degree is that counts, but rather the fact that you have one at all…

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Some good feedback on this thread

        @Ubermensch

        “I feel the same way about banks, but here we are.”

        We are in agreement on this point as well, at least a starving artist can produce great beauty while the banker is essentially part of a larger cartel producing very little that’s tangible in comparison. I doubt this will ever change, I think we as a society just have to keep better tabs on this part of society. We do need banks and a banking system but it shouldn’t be as large as it is vs other industries.

        @redav

        “I would always encourage someone to study art, history, literature, etc., but I would never encourage someone to get a degree in such.”

        I wish more parents gave out this sort of advice, I absolutely love history but I majored in IT. I’m always free to read up on the subject at my leisure, and community college is just $95/credit away.

        @Astigmatism

        “some of the great business leaders and entrepreneurs of all time have been liberal arts grads. Steve Jobs and Mitt Romney were English majors. Engineering is great at teaching you how to make stuff, but creative fields are more likely to teach you to think about what to make.”

        This is a great point and I wasn’t aware of Jobs’ education background, although it appears on the wiki he didn’t actually graduate. In the case of people like Romney, he could have majored in Antarctic Penguin studies and he probably would have been ok, for men of privilege education is simply about expanding ones mind while doing as many keg-stands as possible. In both of these cases these men are outliers, what is the percentage of similar graduates in these majors and time periods vs success or income.

        I think whats happening in today’s society is something along the line of:

        (1) a great number of people who are unqualified attend college
        (2) they attend college primarily because few if any jobs exist where they can earn a reasonable sum without any specialized training
        (3) in the real world, they struggle because they cannot differentiate themselves from the other graduates and take Wal-Mart style jobs which they could have had without the degree
        (4) they incur debt that is unsustainable and cannot be discharged, and thus some have begun to slowly default due to their sub-level wages

        None of this will change anytime soon, in order to avoid the education trap we need to have industry to employ these people. Healthcare, retail, and “service” are not the sort of industries we need.

    • 0 avatar
      number9ine

      Ubermensch is right. It’s not the degree, it’s what you do with it. Art can be a viable, wealth-creating, food-on-the-table job that enriches society in ways that science or commerce simply can’t.

      The whole point of Steve’s response is that “economic outpatient care” doesn’t do anyone any good, just as higher education of any kind is worthless without a plan to use what you learn to contribute to society. Something tells me that most of the people on TTAC are contributors; let’s not be so hasty as to assume that people with certain interests fit the stereotype of those who do not contribute.

      Fantastic response, Steve.

      • 0 avatar
        joeveto3

        “In fact one of the saddest things I saw during the month of travel which I have described was a young man, who had attended some high school, sitting down in a one-room cabin, with grease on his clothing, filth all around him, and weeds in the yard and garden, engaged in studying French grammar.”

        Booker T. Wasington, Up From Slavery

        It’s better to make bricks.

        “At Hampton I not only learned that it was not a disgrace to labour, but learned to love labour, not alone for itsfinancial value, but for labour’s own sake and for the independence and self-reliance which the ability to do something which the world wants done brings. At that institution I got my first taste of what it meant to live a life of unselfishness, my first knowledge of the fact that the happiest individuals are those who do the most to make others useful and happy.”

        I first read this when was I was getting my English degree. I was simultaneously working my ass off to earn enough money to survive. These words became my war cry, and they helped me to propel myself to much better things.

        You can be as artsy as you like, you may even earn a living at it. But most of us need to buckle-down and actually do something productive in order to survive.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Nail, head, etc.!

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Steve, you took the words off my keyboard. Nothing further your honor.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    She wants an SUV for style reasons… You want a brand new car while we’re at it Princess?

    • 0 avatar

      Reminds me a couple yrs back when a couple I know gave their daughter a brand new Fiat Uno. They made exceptional sacrifices in order to do so (taking on a 60 month payment plan) and put off (somewhat needed) new cars for themselves in order to get thei university bound Princess wheels.

      When they gave her the keys, she didn’t get all excited like they had anticipated. Her mother asked what was wrong and she said something like, “if you guys really wanted to make me happy you’d\'ve gotten me a Golf”. Keep in mind that in Brazil an Uno=Versa and Golf=A3!

      I would have returned the car to the dealership.

      So sad.

    • 0 avatar
      Halftruth

      ..yes I do! and it better be the right color as well!!! Oh.. and don’t even think of having me get a key out either.. It best be key-less entry, pal! Or else I’ll send it back!!!

      hahaha (ya, I know a few of those types as well)

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      To play Devil’s Advocate – a lease on a cheap new car, especially one with included maintenance, might be cheaper than a cheap used car that you have to maintain and fix over the course of the lease. And it will be a known quantity. Hopefully by the time the lease is up Princess is in a position to help herself. Plenty of sub-$150/mo lease offers out there.

      Having watched my license-less (back child support issues) Brother struggle to find a job for over two years, I have some sympathy for her plight in a public transportless suburban wasteland. Taxis are NOT an answer, they are far too expensive. Walking/bicycling are not practical when you have to be at work well dressed and ontime in GA summer or Maine winter.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    She needs to find her way or find a man, but she’s more of the typical chick in her 20′s, carefree and a perfect future house wife than a dredge on society.

    In the meantime, if she’s ‘family’, and she’s into SUVs, I know where there’s a ’92 Ford Explorer for sale and it’ll cost me just $500. It’s in fair condition, runs excellent and has the original Firestones.

  • avatar
    missinginvlissingen

    Steve, you’ll get a lot of applause for your “let-her-earn-it” response, and it’s probably good advice. But this is a car blog, not a parenting blog, and the guy didn’t ask whether his cousin’s mom should go ahead with the plan to underwrite a cheap used car. In fact, it seems unlikely that your advice will reach the cousin’s mom at all.

    If anything, this letter seems unnecessary to answer. The guy answered his own question at the end: “It strikes me that in this price range the ownership and maintenance history of a particular car is probably more important than the brand reputation of a given make and model.” If someone were asking for advice about buying HIMSELF a $3,000 car, this is the advice Steve would have provided. And this is exactly what our letter-writer should tell his cousin’s mom, and then walk away and let them make their own decisions.

    • 0 avatar
      Autobraz

      Couldn’t agree more. And trying to put myself in this mother’s shoe, I’d probably buy an used car in the 1500-3000 range and give her a second chance. If same mistakes are repeated, then it is probably strike out.

      My suggestion to her: try to find an early 00′s Toyota Echo or late 90′s Honda Civic. If daughter meets those suggestions with disdain, buy her a bus pass.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      When I had the same conundrum 9 years ago, I found a bunch of cars (year and model) that I thought might be interesting.

      Then I looked them up in consumer reports, and summed up all of the 1-5 reliability ratings (the black and need circles) for the car, multiplied by 100, and divided by the price, creating a “reliability per dollar” score. Then I put these into a scatter plot with price on the X axis (to separate the points more than anything) and reliability-score on the Y axis

      The math is pretty bogus by engineering standards, but the points sorted themselves out nicely. Toyotas and Hondas are reliable, but everyone knows it so you pay for the privilege. I found that the very used Ranger I bought was undervalued in terms of reliability per dollar. These aren’t really surprises to anyone (it kinda matches the common wisdom), but it illustrated the tradeoffs in a way that was applicable to my exact situation.

      The math was bogus, and the inputs were imperfect, but I ended up with more insight than I started with. And a vehicle that I drove daily for 8 years.

      Another undervaled vehicle is the Ford Escape that I used to replace the Ranger. They depreciate much faster than they wear out, and the Escape had a particular mix of kid-safety and towing features I was looking for – but I think an 8-10 year old Escape cheap relative to the larger used car market, too. I determined this by looking at a lot of used car ads rather than a more formal analysis, though, so there might be she vehicles that beat it. Still, it’s a good vehicle for cheap, and it’s tarted up to look like an SUV (which I didn’t care for, but the subject of this post might appreciate). I replaced the Escape with a Sienna, which is much more my style – but the Escape is a good vehicle for the price and its staying in the family.

  • avatar
    pbxtech

    Wow, are none of you parents? Are you insane? Do you want your daughter walking home from work alone every night? Do you want to drop everything and take her to work when the weather’s bad? Do you want her imposing on you friends and relatives every time she needs a ride? She needs to arrive on time and ready to work. Not disheveled and smelly from the weather. She needs to be able to stay late and help when things go awry, go in and help out when someone calls off. I’m not defending her decisions, but as a parent you need to put you children in a position to succeed. Peer pressure at good job will go along way towards helping her grow up, and that’s what we’re talking about. When I drive home I see a roadside shrine for a 21 year old who was hit walking home at night on the side of the road.

    • 0 avatar
      thirty-three

      Once she gets a job she can pay for a car. Until then, she can make do without one (cabs, rides from friends, walking).

    • 0 avatar
      NeinNeinNein

      Agreed. The purpose of the post was car advice, not parenting.
      Tough love sells well and works well. BUT–there’s a limit to it and a time for it.
      Transpo is a must.
      Really lame response to the OP Q’s—IMHO.

  • avatar
    otter

    I’ll out myself as the writer to whom Steve responded. I actually wrote Steve with a couple of specific questions, and he responded to the background I provided (which I almost edited out! I’m glad I didn’t, for once) presumably because he considered it more important. I certainly don’t fault him for it, and think it is very good advice. I laughed a bit when I read it because my girlfriend and I were talking about the subject this weekend and Steve’s thoughts mirror hers very closely.

    To respond to one point brought up in Steve’s response and and to the commentariat:

    Why am I putting myself out there? To help my aunt. I certainly wouldn’t buy my cousin a car in this situation but (and this is directed at the commentariat, not Steve) it is a lot easier to armchair-quarterback other peoples’ decisions than it is to try to put yourself in their place and think, with understanding and compassion, of what led them to the decision they made, even if you disagree with it. I happen to agree that my aunt is being somewhat indulgent, but I do not think there is any benefit in giving her unasked-for advice (I learned not to do that a while ago), and based my knowledge of the people involved and other details of the situation that do not need to be shared, I think the best thing I can do for her is to help produce a good outcome based on the decision she already made (finding a good car), rather than try to change her mind.

    @missinginvlissingen, you are right that this advice is not going to reach my aunt. I already gave her a lot of practical used-car-shopping advice – in fact, the line of mine that you quote, in addition to being my advice, is probably Steve’s advice too. I did send her links to Steve’s excellent how-to-shop-for-a-used-car series.

    @Stumpaster, She is still working on her undergraduate degree (she received the Civic when she was 18) so it can be safely said that she is not an art-history major, and also that she won’t be.

    @Ubermensch, @jesse – yes, I agree very much. Very good subject, though too tangential to the post for me to go into here.

    @PrincipalDan – I don’t think that her preferences for a car bear any weight at all, one thing that I have said to both her and her mom.

    I’ve lent an ear, an open heart, advice and support to my cousin whenever she needed it. I have felt more free to be very direct, even harsh, with her, than I do with my aunt. My mom has been this way, too, though she is more direct with her sister than I would be.

    She does have a job – she got it in January, not long after moving back – and is making at least some money (if not very much), and I happen to think that the cost of the car should be considered a loan that she pays back to her mom from her income.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    My next door neighbor has a 26 year old son that finally finished his BA degree (slowly, due to partying) and has a huge student loan repayment schedule (the 7-year undergrad plan will do that to a guy). He finally found a job in the city, after sitting on the couch for a year playing video games. He asked his mom for a car so he could commute the hour or so each way to his new job. She said no.

    So he gets up every morning and by 6:30, is riding his mountain bike 10 miles to the train station where he takes the Metra into the Loop. Then he walks to his job. At six, he trains it back to the suburban station, rides back to the house well after dark.

    Today the chill factor was about nine, and snowing sideways. Brrr.

    We all make our decisions in life. And natural consequences are, in fact, natural.

    So to the seeker of used car advice above, I’ll tell you the same thing my neighbor told her son, “Get on your bike and ride. It’s free. And that, plus a rail pass, is all you can afford.”

    • 0 avatar
      otter

      @Domestic Hearse – thanks, but the advice doesn’t do me any good since I’m not the one shopping for the used car, and I (who live in Chicago) ride my bicycles year-round for transportation already :) That is easy advice to give in Chicago, where cycling is easy and there is a good public transport, but it is also not remotely realistic for that part of Atlanta.

      I think some commenters may be slightly misdirected since my letter was heavily edited, and the specific advice I was after was no published (again, not something I fault Steve for at all!) My questions to Steve were local (to Atlanta) in nature and it actually didn’t really occur to me that it might make it to “New Or Used?”

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    “The indulgences become entitlements, and the entitlements become expectations.”

    By the way, Mr Lang, good on ya. That line is worth a $150, 55-minute therapy session right there.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    My ex-wife begged and cried that she “needed” a new luxury car as her Pontiac (which she picked years ago) wasn’t an adult car. I caved and we bought a very expensive car, which she fully admitted she could never have afforded (or saved for) without me. Not a year later she left me. Doubt it was the car, but I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened had I held my ground on what I felt was a childish emotional purchase that wasn’t at all necessary. By all societial definitions this was a very successful woman with a well paying job and had her life together.

    Being on the “right track” doesn’t mean jack, it’s just a difference of $3,000 vs. $50,000.

  • avatar
    DenverInfidel

    I just recently re-read The Millionaire Next Door. Excellent book that goes into great detail about Economic Outpatient Care. With grown children it can have devastating effects on parents and their financial situation, not to mention society.

    Steve’s advice is spot on in the larger sense, but of course every situation is different.

    Otter – hope everything works out. Blood certainly runs thicker than water.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    I agree 95%.

    Why 95%? Because in Atlanta you really cannot do anything without a car.

    Imagine three job interviews in one month, all 15 miles away. That’s $20 per trip, or $180 per month.

    Buy her the car under a promissory note, and take repossession. $3k is not that much for a parent to buy their kid a second chance, especially under a promissory note.

    I am all about never enabling. But living without car in Atlanta is disabling. Without a car, it’s a quick road to poverty and that is a long, hard fight.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I think you and many others on here wildly underestimate the cost of cabs in suburban areas. I live 7 miles from my local airport and travel for a living. It costs $27 to get to the airport, and $30 to get home ($3 airport fee on pickups). Not including tip! $4/gal gas is very much reflected in cab fares these days. Doesn’t take very many of those trips to equal a car payment.

      In my case I cab it to and from the airport fairly often because on a week or longer trip it is cheaper than parking there.

  • avatar
    qest

    Zero-down Toyota Rav4 lease. It’s dirt cheap, and has it all. Put the money given her towards payments/insurance/gas. She has until the money runs out to have a way to continue paying, and she can’t sell it!

  • avatar
    seth1065

    just my two cents, no lease cheap or not if she gets in a accident she is screwed, she needs a beater, low cost of entry, something most people her age will not want old GM or old Ford does not matter, she is working so it needs to get her there and back no style points needed, not to mention less insurance, my daughter will get a 12 year old volvo wagon with 175 k on it when she gets her DL this summer, it runs great ( i put a small fortune it to make it that way) is safe and is old. Will most of her friends have brand new bmw’s from mommy and daddy most likely but she should have chosen better parents if that is what she wanted. :)

  • avatar
    ajla

    This question is pretty much custom-built for the GM A-body.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    As a baby boomer, I am appalled at the degree that we pamper our offspring. Back in the day, a parent whose progeny was college educated at their expense would be terribly embarrassed in the work place if they would admit that their offspring was not able to make it on their own. When each of our children was in high school, my wife would inform them that when they were 18, they would be paying rent or in college for four years. No screwing around and changing majors, etc. When they graduated, they better be able to get a job or else. This strategy worked well on all three of our children. Now, they hate debt as much as the Rebublicans, but know unlike the neocons, they know how to aboid bad decisions leading to it.
    This is not meant to be polical, but I can’t resist.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Steven: EXCELLENT advice!

    “This is what we call in life, a learning opportunity. And a golden one at that. We all go through them. A hardship can often be a good thing because it teaches you a valuable lesson about who you are as a person, and who you can trust as a friend.”

  • avatar
    Robstafarian

    Steve,

    Would you please publish whatever currently withheld aspect of your reply addressed the transportation needs and budget restrictions indicated in the letter?

    • 0 avatar
      otter

      @Robstafarian,

      The question was very particular to Atlanta (and was not a “which car?” type of question,) and I don’t think it would be of any use as a “New or Used?” column, which is presumably one reason why he withheld it. As far as particular car goes, I think the best advice is encapsulated in the line about looking for the best-maintained and best-cared-for car within that budget that you can find more than just looking at, say, Toyotas and Hondas, although some cars (e.g. old Mercedes) should be avoided anyway due to cost of maintenance and etc. This is probably not unlike things Steve has said before in other columns.

      Transportation needs are reliable, automatic, not expensive to maintain, decent fuel economy. Budget is as little over $3k as possible.

      Somebody mentioned GM A-bodies as being perfect for this. This made me laugh a bit, as I was talking about this with a friend last week who has among his cars a Century wagon and I jokingly suggested a Ciera wagon as a car she would just love, to which the response was a kidding “wow, you really don’t like her, do you?” It probably doesn’t get any less sexy (my word) than a Ciera wagon – it doesn’t even have proper Broughaminess, for goodness’ sake – but it actually would be a pretty good choice if you got a later one with a 4-speed and an airbag. A one-owner mid-90s Altima is currently the leading contender.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    It’s ok to help family, we all go through hard times. Aunt should buy and own a cheap explorer and let the daughter use it and pay for all costs associated with use. A few minutes browsing my local craigslist:

    http://sandiego.craigslist.org/nsd/cto/3593371176.html

    http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/ctd/3595057194.html

    http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/ctd/3630003174.html

    http://sandiego.craigslist.org/nsd/cto/3613513626.html

    http://sandiego.craigslist.org/ssd/ctd/3629852497.html

  • avatar
    kuponoodles

    so… let me understand the poor child’s request… she’s underemployed, forced to move back to her parents but she thinks she has a say in what car she will get, be it a loan or actual “gift”.

    OK.. sure… is snow falling up nowadays?

    As a proud parent of a 2 month old girl, I understand why I would give her everything she wants. However. if 27 years from now, my daughter is in a similar situation, she better have the common sense to just take what we give/lend her or I might have to slap her straight.

    It should be treated like a new teenager learning how to drive and their first car. cost of ownership is sliding scale in proportion to the child’s income… or that idea to radical?

    • 0 avatar
      otter

      @kuponoodles – No. She is about as employed as a typical no-college-degree-yet American can get; she did not have to move back with her mom but chose to – and given the circumstances she was moving from, this was a very smart move on her part; she has preferences (don’t we all?) but would in fact be appreciative of anything.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I think she needs a paid for car. However, it should be heinous and rusty. No car is at suburbs is a recipe for long term underemployment and career stagnation…let’s be real.

    Wanting an SUV OTOH should be mocked. They cost more to own and she’s in no position to put others in a position where they are paying more than needed to get her going even if they can afford it.

    Another suggestion is the beater pickup. High gas costs but can be purposed as the family chore car…which can be her job to drive to home depot etc…

  • avatar
    tedward

    For context the pickup was my first car. Pay for your own car and no longer be the family tow bitch was the lesson I learned. Plus it gives you that crucial sense of having earned your wheels.

  • avatar
    nickeled&dimed

    I’ve made some poor decisions regarding vehicles in the past, and I’m grateful for my parents’ bailing me out when it came down to it. There is a fine line between enabling and indulging… the use of a 94 Eagle Vision is hardly indulgent, although it’s probably more than I deserved at the time.

    In high school I was given the keys to the family Bronco, and added to the insurance… which I though to be my due at the time… but I was involved in a fender bender, and then an accident that totaled the Bronco. So I was cut loose – I bought my own $500 car to replace it, and paid half the insurance and my own gas. This was a successful strategy until I got caught speeding in it halfway through college. I sold the car to pay for the ticket, since I no longer had a license to drive it. After the 6 months of bumming rides back and forth, my parents lent me their Eagle Vision, which I put into another fender bender after only a year of driving it… when my sister graduated from high school it went to her and I was off the parents’ insurance for good.

    I was lucky enough to find a good paying job close enough to bike to work, and so I delayed getting a car for a good year and a half after graduating, being able to use my wife’s (then fiancee’s) car let that happen. I’ve had the same car now for 5 years and insurance has settled down quite a bit.

    Without the parental support through college, especially after my disastrous decision to speed, I’d have had a much harder time of it.


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