My girlfriend needs a car while in the midst of many other big financial decisions that severely limit her car budget. Here’s the situation.
She has access to a family owned Mercedes 380SL that has what I believe to be transmission issues. It’s dripping dark red fluid from right about where the transmission looks to be and it’s probably also leaking oil.
I’m handy, but I don’t think I’m money pit Benz convertible transmission and rear main seal handy. Then again it might not be so bad and might be a reasonable fix, until the next time it shoots itself in the foot. It currently doesn’t run and last time it was driven apparently exhibited the same problem it has for years, which is that if you don’t take it easy off the line it just dies on you.
So she needs a new car, but she needs something as close to under $4k as possible.
She also has specific tastes, though she’s somewhat flexible. (Oh boy! And here comes her laundry list! -SL)
Completely averse to Panthers (otherwise I wouldn’t have to write this email) and doesn’t want a Taurus ever (her grandmother drives one, it’s been nothing but misery).
Oh also, it can’t be a manual, which means anything remotely – Miata, 2002, Volvo wagon with ls1 swap – fun out of the question. I’ve been looking at Volvo 240s, 740s, 940s, 850s, overpriced Camrys and Accords, Corollas/Prisms and a lot of late 90s early 00s 4th and 5th gen Maximas and i30s. Also G20s and just for good measure the occasional Saab.
I’m very comfortable with the Maxima/i30 as my dad had one for 10 years and it’s what I learned how to work on so I know how to do any repair imaginable and problem areas plus they’re in abundance in this price range. I’m also intrigued by the Volvo option since you could easily sell it for the same you paid for it or more if there’s anything wrong that can be easily fixed.
As I said, I feel comfortable armed with a forum and a Haynes manual to do any reasonable repairs short of transmission rebuilds but I want something that’s easy and cheap to work on as possible. I know that the whole no domestics thing and crapshoot prices don’t help but what should she do? Find out how much the SL will cost to repair? Flush the transmission and hope for the best? What other cars should I be looking for that I’m missing. I assume craigslist is pretty much the only reliable source for these and that I’m buying a car for an owner not the car. Also, should she try to wait out tax season until prices come down, I’ve noticed that even on these sub 5k cars the prices seem higher than normal.
How does she feel about a minivan?
I would suggest telling her that you want to fill one of those up and your problem should go away real quick. (Childish Giggling – SM)
Here’s the rub on this. Your girlfriend needs to stop looking at the popular cars with the unrealistic expectation of low maintenance and a low price. She wants a cheap Camry? Fine. You will find that the cheap ones are cheap for a reason. I have seen unfortunate souls spending dozens of weekends trying to find a popular car at a cheap price.
Most of them wind up anteing up thousands more than their budget allowed, and buying a popular vehicle with very high miles. Some people are OK with this outcome. The truth is that a better solution is there only if she is willing to adjust her expectations.
I would sit down together in front of the computer and go through the unpopular and orphan brands first. Visit carsurvey, Edmunds, here, there and anywhere else that offers reviews from actual owners. My recommendation is a late 90’s Buick Regal with the 3.8 Liter V6 and about 120k to 150k on the miles. Either that or an Explorer if she wants a bigger vehicle.
Get an older SUV if she doesn’t drive a lot. Or get an unpretentious middle-of-the-road sedan, with a keen eye on the powertrain combination, if her driving will be 10,000 miles or more a year.
The Benz might be worth a punt, but that’s only if she doesn’t need to drive very often. My guess is that this conditional statement is rather unrealistic. So the SL ain’t happening.
At this price, tough love is better than proper indulgence. She buys the vehicle with the cleanest interior, newest tires/brakes, the biggest wad of service receipts, and a character that isn’t completely offensive to her sensibility. That said:
“[She's] Completely averse to Panthers (otherwise I wouldn’t have to write this email)”
Come on Son, don’t make jokes like that! Has she not seen the best Music Video ever made on the face of the Universe?
I simply refuse to
live in the real world believe that women cannot embrace Panther Love. And I know my man Lang agrees, he came up with the title! While my advice is true, there’s a good chance that the best vehicle for the price will also be a super tidy Panther.
But seriously, get
the cleanest, best maintained, late-model, non-European machine you find…buy what she wants when she has more cheddar. Because getting what you want now only hurts you in the future.
Unless it’s a Panther.