By on January 10, 2014

123rf

 

I just got a job that involves a fair amount of driving and I am looking to spend about 11-13k on a car that is fun to drive but at the same time practical and reliable.

I have a large dog, bicycle, and significant other that I transport on a regular basis (not all at the same time). I’d like to get a manual but the fact of the matter is that I am very likely to get stuck in a traffic jam one way or another so I am still debating on that. My job covers gas and a modest vehicle allowance that will cover wear and tear maintenance with a little pocket change left over. So gas mileage and little things going wrong are not a big deal. However it does need to be reliable in the sense that it will start everyday and get me where I need to go.

Some cars I have been thinking of are Mazda 3, GTI, Focus, E46 3 series(wagon if I can get it), and Mustang(thats a wildcard). I would prefer that any car I get be 2006 or newer so I can finance a modest amount but I do not want to get in the hole of financing a new car thus my budget. Help out a fellow car enthusiast and let me know what you think.

Steve Says:

Your question reminds me of the all too scary fact that my own soon-to-be 11 year old son may someday be in your shoes.

I hope to hear this in, oh, about 15 years from now.

“Hey Dad! Guess what? I just got promoted to hedge fund manager at Milken, Milken & Dacau.”

“Great to hear it son. Remind me to retire soon.”

“I’m sure you’ll die first Dad (thanks son!). Oh, the bosses boss wants me to trade in the Camry and get something really nice. Like a Lamborghini Flatulencia.”

“Jeez! That will be quite a bit of bitcoins!. Are you sure you can afford it?”

“Sure! I’ll just get a loan with….”

… the uncomfortable thought of a loan on a car is enough to stop that happy daydream dead in it’s tracks. It may not be a good idea quite yet to arrange for a long-term divestiture of your wealth. Why?

You just got a job.

You haven’t made any money yet at this particular job.

You are now what we called in my native state of New Jersey, “working class”. Your financial security is exactly equal to your “new job” security. There is good news and bad news with that.

The good news is that you have work. The bad news is that if you’re smart, you are going to be in saving mode for the next several years and eventually buy those things that are worth keeping. Which means that when it comes to cars you may want to hold off on the late model throttle a bit.

I would go a little bit deeper down the model year range and consider an 03 to 05 model that has 100,000 miles or so and has been furiously depreciated. A stickshift on a medium sized coupe or sedan (Infiniti G35, Lexus IS300, Acura CL/TL) would be a worthwhile consideration. You can even go more into the affordable arena and wait for what we call the “rare birds” in the car business. A supposedly plain jane Solara that has a nice V6 and a 5-speed. Or the last of the Q45′s that often gets blurred out of the car shopping process.

If it were me, I would start nagging friends and associates for a well-kept older car and then tweak the suspension and upgrade the tires over time so that it rides the way you like it to. However I can hear my son in the 15 year distance revving up his Flatulencia and wondering how his Dad became so debt averse. The truth is I was raised that way. Debt to me is still a four letter word. So I’ll leave it up to the folks here to offer some more recent 11k to 13k alternatives with financing in tow.

 

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118 Comments on “New Or Used? : A Young Driver Wants His Milk & Cookies… Right Now!...”


  • avatar

    Manual will save you some bones on the used car market as it is a smaller part of the market which knows how to use them. I drove my 94 mustang the past few years in downtown Atlanta and never once did I say to myself “Gee I really wish I had purchased an automatic”. Modern clutches aren’t exactly a work-out. If you enjoy driving a manual you won’t regret it. The whiners tend not to be car people, they are the people who buy manuals because it’s one less option and they can skip gears to save gas and they’re generally people who buy base Fiestas, Rios, and Corollas. I don’t feel this is you.

  • avatar
    Toad

    If your job requires that you have reliable transportation you need a car that will start and run well EVERY DAY. A 10 year old car does not fit into this plan. It would be dumb to lose your job because your car kept leaving you stranded.

    Buy a new or almost new basic econobox that will run every day and do so economically; a Toyota Matrix, Nissan Versa hatchback, or something similar will do the job nicely with only a little debt. Drive it until the wheels fall off or upgrade once your job and finances are more stable.

    As an aside, my first job out of college was in sales and required reliable transportation. My Honda fit the bill very well.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought a 20 year old minivan with 95k on it for under a grand. It’s perfectly reliable. My previous car was the 94 Mustang which only left me stranded once on a 700 mile trip from a cracked radiator. A little epoxy and a nights rest and I made it the rest of the trip. Less than a decade ago I was using a 1966 Rebel for a daily driver and it had 220,000 miles on a never touched motor/trans and it also served me perfectly well. If the chap is at all handy with a wrench, old cars can be excellent ways to have reliable, stylish (…van…), and cheap transportation.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        His job depends on his car; that’s why the OP is getting a car allowance. Epoxy and wrenching during his work travels are probably not an option. Depending on the job, image may be somewhat important as well; a newer vehicle tends to better represent the employer and employee better than a 20 year old minivan.

        • 0 avatar

          Several valid points. My job had me drive 125 miles a day, so I don’t think a one time fix really qualifies as being “unreliable”. Image may well matter, but not always. My traveling job had me working with the blind community so I also wore Hawaiian shirts. Also, all cars reference were purchased under the $1k mark. You can get an 80s Corvette that is reliable for around $5k that can be appealing, fun, reliable (check crossfire…) and cheap.

          It really depends on the customers hierarchy of needs and wants, but I agree with reply that often people are in too big of a hurry to get into debt, and I sell cars for a living.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      I need a car for my job (drive about 40k kms a year), and I keep wishing my 10-year old car will have a big enough problem to justify getting rid of it. Hasn’t happened yet, hasn’t left me stranded.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      My thoughts are similar to Toad’s. People with 10 to 20 year old cars that have found them perfectly reliable are outliers.

      The OP is being paid to show up and he’s being given extra money to make sure it happens.

      Fun doesn’t enter into the equation at this point (if he’s lucky or just very hard working and thrifty, it will in a few years).

      Go to TrueDelta, look to see what models and years which fall into your price range do the best and go get one of those.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      If he is going to get a Matrix he may as well save some money and get a Vibe.

    • 0 avatar
      Aleister Crowley

      And a Pontiac Vibe is the same as a Matrix and will run you a lot less.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      My 13 and 9 year old cars are reliable and start and run well EVERY DAY.

    • 0 avatar
      69firebird

      Sure it does if you take care of it.
      Maybe I’m weird…I’m under my car a lot and look under the hood,checking the hoses,fluids,etc.My neighbors(they ask) think that my car gives me problems because of that,but it’s one reason why it doesn’t and never has.My driver’s a 2003 Mazda and I’d have no problem throwing a bag in the back and taking it across the country.In fact,I’d be more concerned with something new and unproven.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    NB Miata.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Where will the big dog and bike fit in a Miata?

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        I have a 2″ receiver on my Prius. I’m sure someone makes a hitch for an NB Miata so he can carry the bike.

        The dog… well, I’m not a dog person. But he did say not all at the same time, so he and the dog could fit in the Miata and when all 3 are going together, he could take her car. Basically, own a sports car while you are young and while you can. You have the rest of your life to be practical.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    Even if you can pay cash for the car finance part of it. Establishing credit when you don’t need it will make it much cheaper for when you do. You can always pay the loan off in 6 months or so. First cars often end up in accidents. I’ve seen more than a few young people pay cash for first car, total it (liability insurance only), and then not be
    able to buy another car as now they have no money and no credit. Also as you are young, insurance is going to be a big consideration. Insurance on Mustang or BMW might be $300 or more a month depending on where you live.

  • avatar
    hobbes567

    Wise choice would be to not buy on credit. The down payment you should be putting down on a 11-13k car is enough to buy a shiny shitbox that fits all of your needs, or to fix up what you already have.

    That being said, if you do buy a used car on credit, do your research and make sure that it won’t depreciate below what you owe on the loan, or put down a large enough down payment to not have to worry about it.

  • avatar
    RetroGrouch

    E46 = death by thousands of nickels and dimes (I know because I daily drive an E46 with a manual trans)
    GTI – I’m not sure if I would want to deal with a car barely more reliable than an E46

    The Focus and Mazda 3 hatches are fun, practical, and relatively less expensive to operate beyond 100k miles than the above options. Manual transmissions are available in both. You can install a hitch on either for a hitch mounted bike rack. Buy the nicest example you can for $8k and set aside $1200 for fresh Konis Sports, new bushings, and some swaybars. Skip the springs. Save the rest for maintenance.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Agreed. A Focus or Mazda 3 hatchback will have some handy hauling capacity with the rear seats folding down. The Mustang is true wild card. The insurance on a GT may eat you alive. If you want to go wild, spend 8k on used GT convertible. Have a trusted mechanic fix everything that needs fixed and do preventive maintenance on all the fluids; radiator flush, new brake fluid, possible AT fluid change, belts, hoses, and things like timing chains and waterpumps (or not on the last two). Yes, you would look good with significant other in the passenger seat and large dog in the backseat. I’ll confess I’ve spent too much money on women, whiskey, and rides. Sometimes you gotta live large.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I agree with RetroGrouch. I also drive an E46 with a manual transmission. This would not be the case if it was important that I always make it into the office. The car doesn’t leave me by the side of the road or anything, but it is invaluable to be able to schedule repairs around days when I work from home anyway. Also, it is going to take more than a “modest vehicle allowance” to keep it in good shape. Finally, and I admit this is a little pedantic, unless you want the coupe you aren’t getting an E46 from ’06 or newer. So on top of your vehicle allowance probably not covering the care and feeding, you will have to pay cash for one of those.

      • 0 avatar
        glwillia

        I agree. My two cars are a 12-year-old E46 with a manual transmission and a 20-year-old W124. Needless to say, I take the bus or bike to work most days, and the cars are reserved for fun (E46) or road trips (W124).

  • avatar
    catachanninja

    Sounds like you’re in panther territory. Plenty of space, reliable and not a loss for fun either

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    2005-2006 Subaru Legacy Limited wagon

    I’d suggest the GT, but maintenance is a bit higher for those and they are much harder to find. Maybe once your career advances you can upgrade to the GT.
    The sedan is great, the wagon offers a lot in the way of versatility.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      I love that vintage wagon, but the ’05 is particularly known to eat turbos. They are also as rare as hen’s teeth.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        06′s weren’t any better, in 07 they changed to the VF46 which supposedly helped with a lot of that (I have an 07 – love it).
        That’s why I suggest the non-turbo Limited model. All the luxuries of the top of the line model without the forced induction worries.
        No more head gasket woes by 05, fairly maintenance free until the timing belt change at ~110k, amazing AWD, available as manual (still difficult to find, but not as much as the GT – or as expensive when you do), timelessly good looks, what’s not to love?

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Prematurely failed CV boots (cooked by exhaust heat), endless interior rattles, prematurely failed wheel bearings, emissions related CELs (evap system, O2 sensors, take your pick!). That’s what’s not to love.

          Having said that, Subarus do have some very appealing traits as the ultimate swiss army knives of vehicles. It’s just a matter of priorities: do you want sterile stone cold reliability (Toyota) or a more fun/useful package with some quirks down the road? Albeit the new Legacy sedans are the definition of bland,

          • 0 avatar
            Power6

            true but not horrible, I’ve done both driveshafts by 100k, replaced the turbo (scored a cheap good used one) in our Outback XT. Wheel bearings still going but I think losing one of the rear ones. Wife loves driving it though. Probablu no worse or maybe a bit better than a BMW or VW if similar vintage. Needs way more fixing than my CamLex.

        • 0 avatar
          TEXN3

          Check the forums, gaskets still continuing to blow on 05+ including my 07 Outback with 32k miles.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Reasonable car debt, compared to what people do with credit cars, student loans and oversized houses whose value is primarily composed of the depreciating structure, is not that crazy, and as others mention you need to establish a credit history, and other things like insurance could tag you worse.

    Another thing to consider is the opportunity cost of paying more upfront, e.g. not putting as much money in a 401(k), not having as much for a downpayment on a house, etc.

    Are you going to get judged on your car as part of your job? In which case you don’t want something too beater or fast and furious, possibly don’t want something too badge snobby (or possibly do), and probably want a sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      usernamealreadyregistered

      Agreed. Because the car is needed for a job, it’s on some level an income-generating asset, not a frivolous consumer purchase with no enduring value. A modest loan for an incoming-generating asset is not inherently foolish if the loan has a reasonable rate and he doesn’t use leverage to purchase a car that is otherwise outside his means and/or in excess of his actual needs.

      To the driver who submitted the question: get the tool you need for your job; briefly consider but do not obsess over any adverse signal your car may project, especially if you’re client-facing; and don’t shy away from a modest loan if it allows you to keep a little more cash or gets you a more reliable car.

  • avatar
    Frankie the Hollywood Scum

    Honda Element SC with a manual. They are surprisingly fun to drive and easy to live with. Also, the drive train is Honda plain Jane so parts-o-plenty if you every need them.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, this is a solid suggestion. It loses points for highway comfort, but then the Mazda3 etc. wouldn’t be that comfortable either. It has the Honda 2.4, which is a great engine. Our Accord has the same engine with 340,000 absolutely problem free kms on it. Plus, the SC has a great setup for a large dog, generally tonnes of space for things like bikes, and looks a good deal cooler than the standard element.

      Points to Frankie.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Element is also a gas hog. Get an 03-07 I4/5MT Accord (no timing belt, no crappy AT) and drive it into the ground. It’ll look professional enough and ought to be well under $10K at this point.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Used Fusion. There are plenty of 2010 and newer Fusions out there in your price range. If you want to go back farther, it may be easier to find one with a manual. The 2.5L I4 is a good commuter engine, and there is a V6 option if you so desire.

    If you must have a GTI, do your homework on whatever you purchase. A used GTI can be a great purchase, or a nightmare. I would be careful of any GTI that is bargain basement priced. Some are beat to hell. I sold my 2009 for around $1500 above blue book because it was an unmolested Arizona car, with under 40k miles, DSG service done, and had meticulously kept service records.

    Edit: after I looked at prices, a 2012 and newer used Focus would work. You want an SE with the Sport Package and manual.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the Fusion. It’s my stock answer when someone wants a good, cheap used car.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        +1 on that. I recently drove a Fusion rental (the old version, not the new, “Aston-Fusion”) and found it an entirely competent car with the 4 cylinder and the automatic. It’s not sporty, but it’s competent and carries four people and some luggage quite comfortably.

        That generation of Fusion does very well in CR’s Frequency of Repair reports over a number of years.

        As a general aside, I would advise the original requester to skip his desire for a manual, not because they aren’t reliable and don’t save fuel as compared to all but the latest automatics. Two reasons: the weak point in the manual transmission system is the clutch. Clutches should last 100,000 miles or more. But you have no idea how the previous owner(s) used or abused the clutch of the car you’re buying, either through incompetence or hot-rodding.

        Second reason: today clutches are found on two classes of cars: sports cars and stripper econoboxes. A sports car is simply not a practical daily driver for a guy whose vehicle use is such that his employer is giving him a car allowance. And who wants to spend lots of time in a stripper econobox?

        Today’s automatics should almost always be good for 100,000 miles plus, and including them in your choices expands the range of opportunities hugely.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Sorry but that gen Fusion is definitely a car to get the 6spd manual gearbox in. The 6f35 is quickly earning the reputation of many a Ford tranny, they’re junk. Feel free to google “6f35″ sometime. A sanely driven stick shift will last 200k miles or more. You’re right, an abused one will live a much shorter life, and some people have bizarre ways of driving stick shift cars that lead to short clutch life (starting in 2nd gear, balancing on a hill with the clutch, etc)

          Besides that I agree. You can scoop up a low mile unit for not much money, and they are very comfortable, competent cars. GF test drove one before buying a Camry 2 years ago, I rather liked the Ford’s comfy seats and soft touch points for elbows and such.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      +2 on the Fusion. I’d also recommend a 2007 Mazda6 as an alternative, in the interests of fun and saving a few bucks over the later-model Fusion. If you’re gonna be driving that much, you’ll appreciate the extra noise deadening and refinement in the 6 over the 3, and you’ll still have plenty of fun unless you live your life a quarter mile at a time.

    • 0 avatar
      Wscott97

      I agree with the fusion. My friend just bought a 2009 with a stick for under 10,000.
      Get the stick, You wont have to worry about transmission failure, the car will be a lot cheaper and you’ll find out if you want your next car (the much better car) to be a stickshift or automatic.

      You don’t want your first car to be something too expensive. If you finance the car you’ll prob have a higher interest rate. (due to lack of credit and new job)

  • avatar
    ZCD2.7T

    2012 Kia Soul “Plus” or “Exclaim”.

    Ticks all the required boxes, very practical and is surprisingly fun to drive.

    (Speaking from experience – we own one.)

  • avatar
    DanyloS

    Honda Civic Si (EP3) ? 2002-06 A bit ugly but… they cost about $5-6k its a honda so it will run for ever, good on gas, only a stick shift, hatchback space, and should be fun to drive. Haven’t driven one but keep on thinking about them as a fun commuter.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I think this is an excellent suggestion. Despite the (somewhat deserved) derision that these cars got, their abandonment by the tuners has lead to some very sane prices on the used market. They are very sweet driving cars, that dash mounted shifter is a joy. The engine isn’t the typical Honda screamer, but it makes for a relaxed, torquey daily driver. They are a bit wound out on the highway, but will still hit 30 mpg hwy if driven at reasonable speeds. Hatchback versatility is a plus, and the interior is old school Honda quality and ergos.

  • avatar
    Sam Hell Jr

    There’s a reason the Scion tC is so popular with 20-somethings. It has Camry guts and mileage and a cavern for a trunk when you flip the seats down without being a big box. Shouldn’t be hard to find one in your price range. It’s not a particularly tossable car, but it’s a grunty I4 and it can be dumb point’n’stomp fun.

    I can tell you from experience that you can put a 50+ pound dog in the back provided you pack carefully and pop off the rear headrests. (You want a real hatch if you’re carrying a dog regularly — a dog in a seat is a projectile in a crash. Better for you. Better for Fido.) It will also swallow a bike, especially if you take the front tire off, saving the trouble of a hitch.

    Two other considerations you might be over-looking: foul-weather handling and tire life. A commuter car has to handle some sleet and not eat its own boots. Just sayin.

    I echo all the comments cautioning you against the enthusiast vehicles you think you want. Storage, comfort, reliability, safety, and low financing and operating costs will matter more to you than you think they will. You don’t have to drive something you hate, but consider taking care of your money and career first and making a longer-term financial goal of getting an old Miata or something to go git your ya-yas out.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I would avoid the debt. Question, why only one car?

    You can find a Panther Merc with low miles for 6k if you look and have some patience. Great cruiser, efficient, and stone reliable along with being large enough for the dog and whatever else,

    Then…..go find a used vette, mustng, miata, fill in the blank for the difference. When you know your day is going to take you through the twisties here’s your ride. Gotta go down town and sit in traffic? Sit back and enjoy the panther…

    As for the advice of buying an econobox fit, civic, corolla…life is just too short to subject yourself to that. They are awful places to spend any length of time especially if you are over 6 ft tall.

    • 0 avatar

      Erm, the size of the person and the size of the car has little to do with how comfortable one will be. I’m 6’2″ and owned a Mazda3, regularly drive my mother’s Civic (as does my more heavily built 6’1″ brother), and can happily fit in a Fit, Matrix, etc. In fact,I’ve been in Panthers. In terms of space utilization they are actually pretty poor, so many smaller cars actually end up feeling much larger inside. I’m guessing what you are referring to is refinement?

      The problem with having two cars is that you are dealing with significantly increased maintenance costs. Instead of one newer car with fewer issues you get two older cars with more problems, more insurance to pay, and generally just more to worry about. Not exactly what you want when you’ve got a job with lots of travel.

      • 0 avatar
        Compaq Deskpro

        It’s all legroom. You can stretch your legs all the way to the firewall in a Vic, and there is no center console to bang your knees on.

      • 0 avatar
        Firestorm 500

        I agree about the lack of space utilization in a Panther. The car is big on the outside, but I’m 5’9″ and feel like I have very little room behind the wheel. I actually felt crammed. My knees were right up against the lower dash, and that’s with the seat all the way back. I was wishing for about 2-3 inches more seat travel all the time.

        I helped my wife’s family sell their deceased father’s ’98 Town Car Cartier. Pretty car, 71 K miles. I drove it about 1,700 miles before I sold it. I had thought I might want to buy it from the estate myself.

        Nope. I liked my ’02 Honda EX V-6 Accord better. I didn’t like the hinge-in-the-middle ride, I didn’t like the steering wheel shock when driving over bridge approaches on the freeway, and the JBL stereo was terrible. For a “luxury” car, it sure betrayed its pedestrian roots in the Crown Vic. My wife’s ’01 Cadillac STS is a much better car. And I consider myself a Ford fan, having had lots of them.

        The car drove “big”, and I am used to driving my Expedition and Silverado truck. The TC did corner better than you’d think, and the heated seat was nice.

        My advice the the original poster is to get a Honda Accord sedan if you want reliable and fun to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        But the up side when dealing with older used cars is that you have one to fall back on when one doesn’t start or is in the shop; your alternative is to rent one.

        The older cars like the Panthers may still cost you less if you buy two because the combined maintenance and insurance on them may still be less than a much newer car; fewer expensive things to break and cheaper parts to replace in a wreck.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        My experience with a civic was my father in laws 06 four door. When they would take the grand kids we would swap cars, anyone who has had to install car seats knows what I am referring to, I just hated the car. The road noise was intolerable, the stealing wheel was tiny. Im by no means an oversized guy, but it felt like I was wearing the car not driving it. I could never figure out what the allure of the civic is/was. My father in law finally agreed and curbed it at 50k miles. He couldn’t take the road noise anymore either.

        As for the owning two cars, two cars with liability versus one one with full coverage is going to be a push just about. Unless this cat goes out and finds an absolute sled the repairs will be minimal, cars just don’t break like they used to. Heck, my 72′ big block fires up every time….not that I am proposing two or one car of that vintage for this illustration.

        If the person in question really needs a car for work that is going to get miled up, why not a late model 12′ LTZ impala? Reliable, efficient, as comfortable as civic or accord. In my area, a $10k accord comes with 100k miles. I simply don’t believe that car will not need maintenance work in the near future that will invariably cost dollars that may shock a ‘new’ to the working world individuals budget. I am assuming the bank of mom and dad has closed.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I say Tahoe or Yukon. Why? Yes, they’re big and heavy and not avalible with manual.

    But, you need more room than you think you do, trust me. You will soon start a young family sooner than you expect and getting car seats into a Mustang is no easy proposition. In addition, you can put your bike fully in the vehicle, for times when it is convienent.

    These are excellent, with leather seats, they are pretty much a Cadillac. I had a Tahoe for 200,000 mi and loved it.

    • 0 avatar

      I think that’s looking waaaay too far ahead. First of all, a Tahoe suits basically none of his wants. It’s not cheap to run, its not fun to drive, its not a stick, its not particularly fast. Yes, it does take a dog but so does a Mazda3 (tried and tested) and an Accord (likewise). Heck, I once saw a great dane in a Sebring convertible.

      Buying a Tahoe is jumping the gun in the extreme. Add this to the fact that almost no family needs that amount of space right off the bat to have a functional family vehicle and I’m really not sure where this is going.

      • 0 avatar
        greaseyknight

        Uh, his work is paying for the gas, so why not buy a gas hog? A 99-06 Tahoe checks all the other boxes. Great long term reliability, comfortable, hauls whatever he needs, and is cheap so doesn’t have to finance it. The interior is garbage, but does any Chevy from that era have a good interior?

        • 0 avatar
          Compaq Deskpro

          I actually like this reasoning.

        • 0 avatar
          Toad

          A Tahoe? I disagree:

          His new job is paying for gas but no employer is going to be impressed if you use that privilege to buy a gas hog. Especially if you are a new employee.

          Most employers run a P&L on every employee and that figures into bonuses, promotions, and layoffs; you don’t want to be the guy who runs the highest tab, at least until you prove you are worth it.

          Finally, if the new job does not work out he should not want to be stuck with an oversize, high cost, very thirsty vehicle.

          Plan for the worst, especially when you don’t have a big financial cushion.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        The Tahoe I had (5.3 4×4) averaged about 17mpg which is pretty darn good. Also, it was cheap to run, because apart from routine matinace, it never needed anything. It was mechanically simple, so any backwoods mechanic could fix it (never necessary).

        It really wasn’t that huge either, the turning circle was small and it was quite driveable.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “I am looking to spend about 11-13k on a car that is fun to drive but at the same time practical and reliable.”

    NB or NC Miata.

    “I have a large dog, bicycle, and significant other that I transport on a regular basis.”

    Oops, first-gen Fit.

    • 0 avatar
      zeus01

      Agreed. I have a 2nd-gen Fit (Sport with manual), and used examples with less than 60,000 miles on them can be had for around 8 to 10K. A first gen, only 6 to 8K.

      These cars will easily fit not one but two bicycles with the hatch closed and the drivers’ seat in the full aft position, two Siberian huskys (or one great dane) or even a deep freeze. While they look rather generic, they are very tossable, rev willingly and out-handle all six of the early 1st-gen RX7s I used to own back in the day.

      They provide bullet-proof reliability and durability, are excellent on fuel (bonus, your new boss will be happy) and reasonable comfortable on long trips. I’m fast approaching geezer-hood and I’ve driven mine all over North America with no road-induced agony.

      Get the manual if you can find one though. With a stick these cars are reasonably peppy, taking just under 9 seconds to reach 60 mph in spirited acceleration. With the automatic they’re sluggish, taking a titch over 11 seconds.

  • avatar
    slance66

    There are any number small sedans and hatchbacks that will fill the bill. Doesn’t need to be a GTI. You can thrash a Golf around and enjoy it as well. Same with the Focus, Civic or Mazda 3. Bike racks fit on any car really. Since you get a mileage allowance, you will find that it is a profit center for you if you have a high MPG low maintenance cost car. It’s tax free additional take home pay.

    Possible best bet, an older TSX. Can’t go wrong.

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    With interest rates so low, I think a small loan to establish credit is not a bad idea. I’d price out insurance on each car under consideration. If you go cheap enough, you may be able to skip comprehensive coverage, saving a bunch on insurance.
    .
    .

    • 0 avatar
      Wscott97

      If he’s just establishing credit and just got his job. I highly doubt he’ll get a good APR. (prob 7.9%-10%) But you’re right, he should get a really inexpensive car, finance it and try to pay it off ASAP. That way he’ll establish credit for his future.

  • avatar
    DougD

    2007 Focus Wagon with a 5-Speed.

    That’ll cost less than your expected price range, which will leave some cushion for repairs and other medium sized personal emergencies.
    Your dog and bike will appreciate the extra room inside. Other people in your life may snicker, but the ones that count will appreciate the extra cash you have to take them out to dinner and a show.

    If your job pans out fabulously and you’ve got a cushion of cash in a year or two the Focus won’t have depreciated much and you can get most of your money out and move on.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Getting stuck in traffic is the best part of driving a manual trans. You kidding? Shifting should become 2nd nature, but if it’s a chore, stick to the paddle shifted variety.

    You didn’t say if you had your budget in cash, or the equivalent of doable payments. Stick to cash purchases as it not only gives you buying leverage, but make straight liability insurance a possibility. Full-coverage will likely price you out of all but the most sensible FWDs.

    Driving a stick shift will make you a better driver as will driving (a nice car) without a full-coverage safety net. You’ll start to always consider evasive exits to eminent crash scenarios.

    And avoiding clusters of traffic. Stopping gradually (and paying much attention to traffic several cars ahead) helps prevent surprising the (texting?) cars behind you. And are the cars/trucks behind you much heavier?

    “Jackrabbit starts” put you into blindspots quicker, and in places other (already up to speed) drivers weren’t expecting. Just keeping it casual pays off. That doesn’t mean driving slow, necessarily. Keeping up with traffic is safer, while still avoiding blindspots and cluster as much as possible.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I don’t know, I think you are already on sort of the right track. Just drop the E46 from your list and swap the GTI for Golf or Sportwagen. Also, you should probably consider a previous generation Subaru.

    Mazda3, Focus, Golf, Sportwagen, Impreza hatch, Legacy wagon. Someone opined above that they clearly want you to be there which is why they are paying for transportation. Listen to the man, don’t get a beater and try to avoid direct injection. Also, for the love of God get the manual. It will save you money, but FAR more importantly it’s something to love about your car every single day. Every person I know who’s gone with an auto after considering a stick has regretted it, even if they like their car. Autos are for people who have never driven stick or who have given up on life. Traffic in a stick is not some form of obscure Asian torture, if anything it’s nice not to have your car always trying to rear end the vehicle one place ahead. Do not compromise, do not buy a boring appliance…unlike a car reviewer you will be living with this car for a long time, and the boringness will seep into your soul.

    • 0 avatar
      zeus01

      “Also, for the love of God get the manual. It will save you money, but FAR more importantly it’s something to love about your car every single day. Every person I know who’s gone with an auto after considering a stick has regretted it, even if they like their car. Autos are for people who have never driven stick or who have given up on life. Traffic in a stick is not some form of obscure Asian torture, if anything it’s nice not to have your car always trying to rear end the vehicle one place ahead. Do not compromise, do not buy a boring appliance…unlike a car reviewer you will be living with this car for a long time, and the boringness will seep into your soul.”

      PRICELESS! This definitely brought a sense of vindication (not to mention an ear-to -ear grin).

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I was in a similar situation (younger grad with a new job and in need of a reliable car) with a similar budget and I ended up with a 2012 Civic sedan. Looking back, I should have bought something with a hatch, my gf has a dog and for hauling home furniture and other crap it is indispensable. I ended up buying a 1996 4runner to fill that need and my love of offroad capable SUVs for camping trips. My Civic ended up being $15k plus tax and title so I took out a $5k loan with super low interest and paid the rest cash. I’ve been paying the base monthly payment for a year despite having more than enough cash on hand to finish paying it off, dunno how true it is about building credit to buy a house by paying a car loan for a while.

    Definitely prioritize a hatchback/wagon, and stay away from turbocharged and German stuff (and turbocharged German stuff) if you’re going the used route.

    Here’s where I go off the deep end: have you considered buying a motorcycle to scratch the “fun to drive” itch? I don’t know if you’re renting a garage or not, but if you are I can’t recommend it enough. $2k should buy a nice used Ninja 250, $1000 more for gear, new tires, insurance, etc. Buy a reliable/efficient used car for commuting (corolla/civic/ Mazda3/accord/etc) and save the fun to drive bit for the weekends. Depending on your commute maybe you’ll love riding so much you’ll end up on your motorcycle every day! I wouldn’t get too crazy with the employer covering gas and maintenance, if that gravy train were to stop you don’t want to end up with an expensive to run car that you now have to pay for yourself.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Use credit cards to build your credit. Just keep upping their limits without ever going near it. Use a cash advance to buy a car, but only if you’ll have the cash to pay it off reasonably quick. You can get an 850 FICO without ever getting a car loan. And a BHPH loan may hurt more than help.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I bought a car with a credit card in the old 0% for 24 months days. It worked out, but the idea still sounds insane.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Just depends on the balance, IMO. I bought a car with a high interest personal loan and later paid it off with a 12/mo zero percent card. However my loan amount was exactly 10K to start.

      • 0 avatar
        Hillman

        +1. Chances are the OP will end up with an FHA loan if he/she is buying their first home so as long as the requirements are met it is all good. I just don’t see that in the original post. My advice is to go cheaper then what you think you can afford until you get a real budget going. Your 401k, saving for a house, money for travel, etc will end up costing you more then you expect.

  • avatar
    The Heisenberg Cartel

    If you can find a 2006 E46, you will be the first person ever to have done so!

    As the owner of a 2006 Ford Explorer, a second gen Prius and an E46, I can recommend any of them with conditions. The Prius would be for if the gas allowance and maintenance allowance is a flat rate, because arbitrage. The E46 would be for if you can turn a wrench yourself since shops will bend you over for everything, despite the relatively inexpensive parts cost. The Explorer is a great cruiser and especially works if your gas rate is for actual gas used.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      The Prius as a first car is intriguing. It satisfies none of his hoonery requirements and would take a little more up front … but halving his gas and maintenance costs adds up quick, especially if he hangs on to it. Can’t say I don’t wish I’d thought of it a few years back; the lesson is that nearly all cheap cars are pretty boring, so you may as well have the one that’s whisper-quiet and costs way less to run. Heck, I’ve been thinking about trading the tC for a 2013 Prius Two RIGHT NOW, let alone a few years back.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    This is soooo easy. Get an E46 BMW 3 series from a buy here/pay here lot or from a lot in the part of your town where YOUR language is not the one they use for their signage. Bonus points if the headlight lenses are so yellow you can’t see the bulbs behind them.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Guidelines here a bit vague. Whose money is the $11-13k? I figure yours, rather than your employer’s, but that could use clarification.

    Also, can you be more specific about the modest vehicle allowance? Use a good chunk of that $11-13k as a down payment on a new C-segment car, and that vehicle allowance might cover the financing on the balance. This of course has the downside that you probably won’t keep this job for the duration of the loan, so you will have to absorb that payment when you move on.

    As for gas, this isn’t zip car. I don’t think your employer will be amused if you show up for work in a Mustang GT because they offered to pay for gas.

    If reliable transportation is that important, I think you should pick what you like from new C-segment options.

  • avatar
    Tim_Turbo

    I had a 2007 Impreza wagon, manual transmission. It was before the blah redesign in 2008. Thing was fun as hell to drive for what it was, to the point where I didn’t really regret not buying the WRX. I usually averaged around 25-30mpg mixed driving. Plenty of room in the back for a bike/dogs, although I ended up putting a roof rack on mine. I did, however, leave off the “coexist” and “Obama” decals.

    Downsides: Seats were tightly bolstered and not all that comfortable on really long trips. Hard plastic everywhere (although it was functional and durable). Factory radio sucked so I upgraded it. Once I upgraded the radio it made the noisy cabin less noticeable.

    It had about 115K on it when I traded out of it. I never had any issues with it, not even the dreaded headgasket issue.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    This is perfect for this youngster to indulge himself at an early age with the company picking up a majority of the tab. You only live once, buddy. Get something completely inappropriate and AAA Plus membership. A GTO of recent vintage? G8? Mustang GT? Maybe that used-up Cadillac wagon a certain writer(?) recently sold? Go for it.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Wow wow, typical B&B comments. Buy a boring old sedan! Buy something practical so you can have kids soon! Why do you need a nice car, I daily drove a 1941 Buick that was held together with baling wire! Buy the cheapest lamest car you can find! Buy a motorcycle so you can get killed before you get too far into life! Miata! Panther!

    After what happened to our esteemed EIC, I would have thought I would hear less of the old car recommendations but I guess not. And after trying to help my brother shop for a used car the past few weeks, I can say that the used market is really tough right now. It is pretty hard to find anything good that is also fairly new and fairly low miles and still be cheap enough to justify buying. If you are not sitting on $10-15k in cash to buy a used car outright, then why bother?

    New cars are bargains right now. Car financing is at an all time low. Subsidized leases are rampant. His job gives him a vehicle allowance, they clearly expect him to drive something good. This is the perfect time for him to get a new car, just don’t go crazy. The Honda Fit is leasing for $199/mo with nothing down. The Subaru Impreza is even cheaper (if you can find a base model). Both would meet his requirements very well. And if leasing isn’t a good idea because of the mileage, then both of them are cheap enough to buy and I think are offering 0% financing. If those aren’t to his taste, similar deals can be found at almost every other brand right now. A new Focus or Fiesta would be a great choice, get the hatch with manual. The new Mazda3 is gorgeous. The Nissan Versa Note is a great choice too. So is the Prius C if he is eco minded. Take the free money or finance it with your credit union of choice at 2.5% or so and get the rebates instead. And do it before the end of January, this is when the good deals are there.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I would still suggest taking advantage of both fiancing and depeciation. 2012 Foci can be had for $12K. $12k! That’s a Titanium as well. He should have no problem finding an SE with a manual for around the same price. He can probably find one that’s CPO with a 1.9% interest rate.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        That’s quite the deal. I’ve ruled out the Focus for myself because I don’t like the interior design, but for a two-year-old car for $12k and cheap financing, I just might warm up to it.

        Of course, regret is pretty expensive too. That’s just me though, OP should jump on a deal like that if he is even OK with the Focus otherwise.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        @bball – agreed on the Focus, I actually drove by a Ford dealer yesterday and saw a row of $12k Foci that were 2012s so I know you are right. But I hardly think it will be easy to find a manual SE, they are like unicorns. And I can’t recommend the auto Focus, its horrible and I would worry about repairs after warranty is gone. So at least with new he can get a dealer to search one out for him.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      @ mnm4ever – First paragraph was hilarious.

    • 0 avatar
      gtg645w

      I totally agree on the first paragraph. It gets obnoxious. The financing with 0 down for a 11-13k car for 3 years is about 330 a month. That is nothing. A car of that age will not depreciate much at all and depreciation only matters if you don’t keep the vehicle very long. I financed 7500 for my first car for 3 years and it was 218 a month. Its better to borrow someone elses money that’s almost free and invest yours. The market went up 30% last year. It would have been much better to finance a car and put the rest into stocks. Its similar to buying a home. With interest rates low, its better to take a loan and invest more money in the market and use the tax write offs on the interest to give yourself a lower equivalent interest rate.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “Wow wow, typical B&B comments.”

      I don’t know what your issue is, some of us here enjoy old cars. We aren’t BSing him or anything- it is really what we drive everyday.

      If you ask someone really into musicals for a movie recommendation I don’t see the point of getting incredulous when they recommend Footlight Parade. Even if it is predictable.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        No issue per se, its just useless recommendations. And I am not incredulous, I completely expect this at every single new or used post. We could just cut back on 75% of the comments by just ending each request with “Panther, Miata, Camry, Fusion, minivan, Impala, buy something cheap for cash”.

        I am into muscle cars and I drive a GTI, but I do not recommend one of those to everyone writing in. Actually I specifically didn’t recommend a GTI to the OP since ultra reliability is a main concern. My GTI has been extremely reliable, but I know I was pretty lucky and I also have other cars to use in case it ever fails to start one day.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I don’t think money is the biggest problem here. But waiting for your finances to be more reliable is surely a good advice.
    Finding a reasonably priced car that is both fun, practical and reliable is harder, and you will have to sacrifice somethign else, like safety ,design,comfort or mileage to be allowed all three at once.
    There are too many cars out there to choose from for me to start namedropping (Hondas used to be fun, and are still mostly practical and reliable)but you should at least consider think further out of the box than just BMW, Mustang or Mazda 3. Just don’t buy a GTI…(unless youre not talking about a VW?, there used to be other GTIs too… )

  • avatar
    Ion

    Celica, tiberon, SVT or ST Focus, Mazda Speed 3&6, Accord Coupe, Mustang, and/or RSX or TSX. All within your price range and all reliable when maintained.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Perception versus reality is STUNNING to me.

    …I have a large dog, bicycle, and significant other that I transport on a regular basis (not all at the same time). I’d like to get a manual but the fact of the matter is that I am very likely to get stuck in a traffic jam one way or another so I am still debating on that. My job covers gas and a modest vehicle allowance that will cover wear and tear maintenance with a little pocket change left over. So gas mileage and little things going wrong are not a big deal. However it does need to be reliable in the sense that it will start everyday and get me where I need to go…

    OK, got it.

    Some cars I have been thinking of are Mazda 3…

    Slow down there. Fun to drive? Check. Manual available? Check. Reliable? Not bad so check? Big? Are you kidding me. The backseat is pretty close to useless.

    …GTI…

    I thought you said you wanted reliable??? If you’re idea of reliable is a 5 to 8 year old VW – well – well I just don’t know.

    …Focus…

    Fun to drive? Check. Manual available? Check. Reliable? Not bad so check? Big? Well if you’re looking used it use to share the same chassis as the Mazda3. See comments above about size.

    …E46 3 series(wagon if I can get it)…

    /facepalm. I thought you said reliable? I mean if you’re idea of reliable is replacing the entire front suspension for starters, have at it. And wagon for that kind of Cheddar? Yikes.

    …and Mustang(thats a wildcard)…

    Fun to drive? Check. Manual? Check? LARGE? Errr, well, it is a hatch and the backseat is probably a tad more serviceable in the legroom area than the Mazda3 – not sure about headroom.

    ======================================================

    So lets be realistic here – based on your list and pricing.

    1) Toyota Matrix – if you can find a XRS version with the bigger engine you’ll be happier

    2) Pontiac Vibe – if you can find a GT version with the bigger engine

    3) 4-cylinder Accord

    4) GM W-body – like a 2007 or 2008 naturally aspirated Grand Prix. Fun to drive? Well big ball of meh – but reliable, economical, cheap to isure, easy to fix, get one with the rear folding seats and the front folding passenger seat and you can fit a 10′ long kayak in the cabin. You probably could find an old rental duty one in poverty speck for $5K in good shape.

    4) Panther! Panther! Panther!

    5) Acura RSX

    But German + Used does not equal reliable.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    There is some talk in this thread about first cars and building credit, and I’m not sure where it is coming from. Did I miss a follow up post from the OP indicating this is the case, because it certainly isn’t in the original letter to Steve.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I sort of came to that same conclusion. Nowhere in the original letter does is anything said about this being a first car or a first job, or the need to establish credit.

  • avatar
    SchickenWaffels

    Here’s what I’m going to recommend based on a large dog, bicycle, active lifestyle etc. Hear me out…

    Ford Ranger 4×4 extended cab

    It’s a small truck, can be had with a manual, is reliable as hell, and easy (not to mention cheap) to fix. You can customize it a million different ways to suit your needs and give zero fucks about what you throw in the back. You might not believe me, but small peppy trucks are a ton ‘o fun…and this is coming from a sports car guy. The 4×4 will also present you with a whole new world of ways to entertain yourself. Not to mention the truck will likely retain better value over time. Don’t go down the used German luxury path, at your price point I can almost guarantee you’ll regret it.

    • 0 avatar
      gtg645w

      I second this. I bought a 2005 Ranger Edge 4×4 crew cab with the 4.0L V6 and a manual transmission in 2009 as my first car. Its now 5 years old and I have spent less than $1k in maintenance in the last 5 years including 2 new rear tires. It is a lot of fun to drive with the manual. They have also held there value ridiculously well used. I looked up the other day and I can sell it for 2k less than I bought it after 5 years.

      Because its so cheap to use, i bought a second car 1.5 years ago, a 2004 AP2 S2000. Its actually almost worth the same as my wife 2012 Focus Titanium after the huge depreciation hit we are getting.

      I still enjoy driving Ranger after driving the S2000.

  • avatar
    Zekele Ibo

    A dog and a bicycle? Try a Honda Fit with the manual transmission and the magic fold-flat rear seats. There’s cheap financing or you can go for a used one easily within the set budget. The 07 Focus wagon and the Pontiac Vibe are good suggestions too.

  • avatar
    tuckerdawg

    OP here, thanks to everyone for all the suggestions. To clarify this is not my first car and I have a fairly established credit history although it has taken a hit from my student loans. I am a young attorney for a law firm and when the courts are open I NEED to be there or the firm loses $. Not getting there on a day I am scheduled on calendar is not an option so thank you to those who clarified the risk of an e46 and gti. Snow days are rare and weather is generally not an excuse barring a hurricane or other natural disaster. I like the suggestions of a ford fusion or a mazda 6 they are surprisingly reasonable for what you get. Impreza AWD has its merits as well. Vibe/matrix I also like even though I’ve driven an auto 06 corolla and found it pretty blah. Mazda 3 seems to be in the running but I have a couple months of saving left so it all depends on what the market has to offer at that time. I’m certain I could go cheaper and PROBABLY be ok but am I willing to stake my career on that? I’m not so sure although less debt is certainly better I don’t want to cut off my nose to spite my face, this is work after all. My local credit union can get me a loan between 2-3%, I plan on putting 2-3k down to keep the monthly payment as low as possible. Thanks again, this gives me a few more options to think about.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      I think you’re on the right track, based on your original post and this follow-up – and unlike Mr. Lang, I don’t think you need a financial lecture as it seems like you have a good idea what you’re doing. Definitely write off the e46 if you’re a young lawyer, as young lawyers are perceived in a certain way (take it from a recently-young lawyer) that will only be reinforced by what is perhaps the most d####etastic of all BMWs. And both the e46 and the GTI can get to be very expensive hobbies.

      The Vibe/Matrix get a bad rap b/c of the Corolla connection and b/c they weren’t great values bought new, but I actually think the Matrix S can be a hoot to drive. That said, I still think you test drive the Fusion and Mazda 6 (you’ll be surprised how nice they are, promise), and buy the cleanest one you can find in your price range. They’re fine cars, the 6 is as much fun as you’ll ever find in a FWD sedan, neither of them will ever leave you stranded, and you’ll save enough compared to a new car (in terms of purchase price and depreciation) that you’ll get that Bimmer you obviously want much sooner than you think.

      BTW, welcome to the bar, young (e)squire.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    None of the above. Buy a new car. Make a down payment that approximates the first year’s depreciation. Interest rates are nominal for new cars financed through the credit union. The man is expected to drive in his work. It may not be spoken, but he is not expected to show up in a twenty year old minivan even if it is supposedly dead reliable.

    by all means get a manual. he will save a few bucks, own a car which is not attractive to thieves–your average gang-banger these days doesn’t know how to drive a manual. Sure its a problem at trade-in, but trading in your car every few years is a loser’s game.

    Ford allows any dealer to sell an extended warranty to any Ford purchaser. That means there are internet discounters.

    So, the young man can get a new Ford Fiesta hatchback with a couple of trim options and then a 100K 7 yr “basic” warranty from floodford with a $50 deductible all for less than $15K. With a decent down payment he is never below water. His car expenses are largely fixed for the next 7 years. Beats taking a chance on a used Pontiac.

  • avatar
    colin42

    Just because no one else suggested it – Mazda5 you can get a 2012 for your budget manuals are available but could be hard to find and you’ll be able to fit in you dog, several bikes + 3 friends in it at the same time

  • avatar
    Hemi

    We need to know a few things to better help the guy out. What’s your current vehicle and what’s wrong with it? (age, rust, repairs). Is this your first job or did you just get a new job? Will you be wining and dining your clients, or is the car strictly for you at work where it won’t need to make an impression?

    Out of your choices, I would pick a Mazda 3 carefully looking for rust issues or the Focus. You don’t want to be caught unexpectedly with a repair bill and stranded with the Euro cars. 

    Either way, having owned multiple panthers (Crown Vic’s and Town Cars, one with over 250k miles), I wouldn’t recommend one. Yes they are cheap, safe, cheap to repair…. Butttt with they aren’t fun to drive stock, everyone eyeballs you thinking you’re a cop. The Marauder is a great car if you can find one in your range. 

    I have the perfect car for you! Check out the Corolla/Matrix/Vibe XRS with the 2zz motor. The motor is from Yamaha, is the same one used in the Elise. The Matrix/Vibe are wagons and the Corolla is a sedan. They come with 6 speed manual, 8200rpm redline, has lift (Toyotas version of VTEC).  The problem is they were made 03-06 I think, have decent aftermarket,  are rare and sleepers! Very fun to drive. Go on YouTube and check out some vids of them. 

    Otherwise buy a cheap entry level car for now, such as a Fiesta or Yaris…

  • avatar
    Pete Kohalmi

    I’m in a similar situation as the OP but at a different stage in life. I’m middle-aged with 2 young kids and a new job that requires me to drive 100+ miles/day. For the last 14 years I’ve been driving an E36 BMW. It just turned 300,000 miles. I LOVE that car. But it’s no longer reliable. I’ve put $4000 into it over the last two years not including another $1000 in tires (one set of summer and one set of winter). My plan was always to drive the E36 into the ground while saving my pennies over the years in order to buy a car with cash. Unfortunately I didn’t account for getting laid off 3 times since the recession hit. Most of my savings are gone. I would love to get an E46 but after going over my repair bills for the past 14 years, I have calculated my yearly average repair bills at $1400–not including basics like tires. BMWs are fun but they are not cheap. So now I think the most sensible thing is to buy a new econobox–$20K max. I’m thinking Focus, Lancer, and a Kia Forte SX. Manual tranny is a must, 4 doors a must–a hatch even better. I like the Golf but I’ve heard too many horror stories. How on earth can VW be one of the biggest car-makers in the world and produce what appear to be some of the most problem-prone cars out there!?

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I would suggest a 2007 or later Saturn Aura, specifically the XR model. It has the long wheelbase and the 3.6 V6 which is pretty snappy. Also, a rather large trunk with a fold down rear seat back that can accommodate mountain bikes (ask me how I know), dogs and a significant other. Due to injuries, I’m not as big a fan of manuals as I used to be, and these models usually have shift paddles and other goodies like Bluetooth pairing.

    They should be inexpensive enough that you don’t need to use the whole $11K budget on it.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Oddly, I can’t edit my own post…

      Also, the car looks like something a young professional would drive to work and something you wouldn’t have to feel awkward about if you were asked to ferry any bosses or clients around town…


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