The Truth About Cars » Cheap The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Cheap New Or Used? : Excuse Me While I Contradict Myself… Mon, 10 Feb 2014 16:06:17 +0000

A reader sent me these parameters for picking his next vehicle
I’m at a crossroads. I’m looking for a cheap – laughably cheap – like less-than-$3,000 cheap – car for my next daily driver. It’s got to be economical (near 30 mpg hwy) and fun to drive, with decent aftermarket support (so I can throw a couple mods at it – I’m a gearhead). Oh, and since I’m 6’1″ and have a 1-year old daughter, it needs a back seat.
We can skip the DSM/Mitsubishi reliability warning.
Much to the chagrin of most of TTAC’s Best and Brightest, I am a Mitsubishi enthusiast. Aside from a brief stint in an 89 Volvo 245 a couple years back, I’ve been driving Mitsubishi exclusively since 1996. Any mechanical problems I’ve had over the years were my own damn fault. Such is the price of learning-as-you-go.
I’ve got a giant “Wake up and drive” banner in my garage, and more left over DSM/GVR4/EVO bits than I really know what to do with. I am comfortable rebuilding pretty much anything from ECUs to engines to turbos to even replacing sections of the unitized chassis. I’m willing to negotiate on the character-vs-dependability piece, as I have two other vehicles to rely upon.
My first instinct – the obvious plan – is to pick up another DSM or GVR4; maybe an old Colt or Mirage. Any of the above could easily be a 200-300whp daily driver in short order, without much effort. But I’m looking to lock down my wheels for another 200,000 miles like I did with my bought-new-in-1996 Eagle Talon. I’m not looking to buy another daily driver for another decade after this, so I want it to be really good.
In the meantime, I’m daily driving what is basically a non-air conditioned riding lawn mower with a windshield 40 miles a day back and forth across Phoenix year ’round. I’m proud to be a charter member of the 100HP Club and I love my Rocinante, but I’m itching to get back into something as fun to drive quickly on tarmac as my Pajero is to drive on gravel.
Any ideas? :)
Steve Says:
Here are the two issues I see.
First, you say that you want to drive the vehicle for another 200,000 miles. Then, you say you aren’t willing to spend $3,000 on your next ride.
The avenues for achieving these seemingly disparate goals do exist. But to make it a success, you have to be willing to acknowledge a few things first.
The primary idea you have right now is that you simply don’t want to spend any long-term money in the pursuit of perpetual wheels. Believe it or not, you could do that since you also happen to be an expert in any area of the business where few others have experience or skills. Mitsubishi mechanics, old and new, are not exactly easy to find. I only know of one independent mechanic in over 15 years of this business.
So what I would do is this…
Get yourself a used car dealer’s license and start looking at buying wheels from the wholesale auctions. Start with one vehicle at a time.
Buy it. Fix it.  Advertise it. Sell it. Rinse and repeat.
I know that some folks try to take the tact of buying vehicles on Craigslist and working from there along with other online advertising site. The only problem with that is the time inefficiencies that come with dealing  an audience that is not exactly forthright in their disclosures. You could look at 12 vehicles at an auction over the course of an afternoon versus maybe two by traveling the Craigslist route.
If I were in your shoes, this is exactly what I would do. Take your skills and make them work for you so that you can make money in the long run. However, if time and monetary means make this a bit challenging, I’m sure the folks at TTAC could recommend plenty of DSM and orphaned models that will be worth your investment on a retail level.
Good luck!


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Piston Slap: What Makes a Bad Suspension? Mon, 16 Dec 2013 13:27:35 +0000

TTAC commentator Seminole95 writes:


The Wall Street Journal recently suggested that part of VW’s problem in the US is the slow growth in Passat sales. About the Passat sales, they attribute it to a cheapening of the components relative to the European Passat, stating: “The American model also got a simpler, lower-cost suspension that delivered a less precise ride.”

My question is: how does one tell a priori that they are buying a car with a cheap suspension? Many mainstream media car reviews do not discuss the objective quality and construction of suspension components, preferring to discuss subjective feelings of ride. In addition, a car’s ride may “feel” good now, but this does not mean that it will in 5 years.

As an aside, one of the reasons I am interested is, I am thinking about buying the new Honda Accord and trading in my old one. But the new Accords have the MacPherson struts whereas the old ones had a double wishbone setup.

Thank you, TTAC, and your readers for intelligent car discussion.

Sajeev answers:

Ya know, autojournalism is a tough gig: explain why you feel a certain way and you bore people with engineering jargon.  Well, that’s provided you actually have to chops to explain why a certain design/component behaves a certain way in the first place!  But I digress…let’s begin with some salient points:

  1. Some suspension designs are better than others, depending on application.  Sports cars shouldn’t have leaf springs (please accept my apology, Morgan) but I seriously doubt I’d ever want a truck without them (sorry RAM).
  2. The quality of suspension components makes all the difference in the world.  To wit, upgrading shocks (Konis, Bilsteins, etc.) on a seemingly terrible suspension can, by magic, make it the best in its class.
  3. Mainstream Auto Journalism or no, opinions on this subject are mostly subjective…if not entirely subjective!

Shall you feel a big difference between a new Honda Accord and the older models with double wishbones?  Possibly, but that could be attributed to a host of suspension and chassis changes, not the original design. Don’t believe me?  Just look at what BMW’s done in terms of suspension feel utilizing this same McPherson strut template.

Now about the Passat: the 2014 model (at least) has a fully independent suspension on all trim levels. Even the base model Jetta, according to the website, regained complete independence from solid axles.  But let’s say you like the Toyota Corolla or Ford Mustang: is your ass critically fine tuned enough and do you even care on those rare occasions when a modern solid axle vehicle feels juuuust a little wonky on a curvy+bumpy road?

We all aren’t a Jack Baruth on track…and hell, even Jack Baruth drives a Lincoln Town Car with a watt’s link solid axle on the street, son!

So this is much ado about nothing!  My bigger concern is the quality/configuration/durability of the suspension components, not their basic design.  Sloppy tuned shocks, poorly sized sway bars, defective ball joints, etc. are a bigger concern.  And none of that can be addressed at the time of purchase, sadly.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Black Friday: Valvoline Motor Oil And Recyclable Low-Quality Tools Fri, 29 Nov 2013 16:02:08 +0000 dixieswanson

If there ever was a combination of good and bad offers for the DIY auto enthusiast, it’s the so-called Black Friday deals.

5 Quarts of Valvoline with a Purolator Classic for $9.99 plus a $5 Valvoline coupon is pretty much the best oil deal I have seen since the G-Oil giveaways.

Impact wrenches that are made of low quality materials and old-school heavy batteries, utter garbage. Some of the manufacturers of these models should be shot on principle alone.

You can also throw in cheap wrench sets into the mix. I know they work in a pinch. But I just hate em’. Too many bad memories.

So what’s worth buying?

The only items I tend to buy on Black Friday are commodity goods. The oil change deals are a perfect fit for my line of work, and are usually the best deals of the year for that automotive line item. I used to also get brake pads, coolant, free spark plugs (as many as 32 a visit), and power inverters which tend to be pretty difficult to screw up.

As for tools, I avoid the Black Friday program altogether. I follow what I consider to be the Germanic school of gradual parts gathering. The expert tells the apprentice what he should buy, and the one learning shuts their mouth and simply buys the stuff without complaint. If you still want to time this sort of thing, Father’s Day tends to be a pretty good time to buy power tools along with the springtime sales. But when it comes to investing in work, I just listen to those who know more than me and get what they value. This Autel OBDII scanner is a great example.

Today will be one of those quiet days for personal shopping. One store, and then I will go home and observe the quiet of autumn. So I guess I should offer a two-fold question.

A) Are there any great automotive deals in your lifetime that still stick in your mind?

B) Was there ever a time in your automotive life when you just kept quiet and followed the advice of an experienced soul?

One of the great rewards of auto auction work is getting to know folks who know far more about certain things than yours truly. They live it. They repair the under-engineered engines and transmission issues, and upgrade those pesky plasticized parts whenever the bean counters are all too happy to shovel low-quality crap to their current customers.

Cheap almost always has a price, but there are a few notable exceptions. So what were yours?


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New Or Used? : Large Marge Don’t Want No Land Barge Edition Fri, 05 Apr 2013 10:31:53 +0000
Dear Steve and Jeev,

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)

Click here to view the embedded video.

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.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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.

Steve Says:

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.

Sajeev says:

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.

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My Rich Fantasy Life Laid Bare: Can You Do Better? Thu, 21 Mar 2013 11:00:18 +0000

Hard to believe someone like me would need a rich fantasy life, isn’t it?

If you haven’t guessed it by now, I love cars and like a lot of people I spend a lot of time thinking about the ones I might like to own. My daydreams live in an odd place, they don’t run towards the higher plane of pure fantasy where the Ferrari and Lamborghini live, and, despite the fact I expect to be buying a new minivan or SUV in the next couple of years, they don’t run to the purely practical, either. No, my fantasies live in that middle place. A place where the cars are interesting and, as unlikely as a purchase may be, still attainable.

I am forever perusing Craigslist and the other on-line classifieds for likely subjects and it has become something of a game with me. Naturally, I wondered if you might like to play along.

The rules of the game are simple. You have a total budget of $5000. You must purchase the car, get it to home and roadworthy for under that amount. Expenses include basic repairs and rebuilds, but just the essentials to get the car roadworthy no new paint jobs or total restorations necessary. If the car is further away than 250 miles (500 miles round trip) then the cost of an overnight motel stay and/or truck transport must be covered in your budget. Because they vary from state to state and would give some players an unfair advantage, don’t worry about fixed costs like tax, licensing or basic inspection fees unless the ad specifically states that the car will need special repairs in order to pass an inspection.

You can find your car from any public source, and links will be appreciated by everyone, I am sure. In the interest of fair play don’t tell us about cars that only you can buy. So if your grandma isn’t willing to make everyone a killer deal on her 1986 Grand National, then you can’t use it here. Also, just to keep things fresh and attainable, let’s not consider ads older than 30 days.

Finally, please also give us some insight into your thoughts. We would all like to understand your logic so we can better make fun of your odd predilections.

I’ll go first. Here are three that I have chosen to start the conversation. They appear in no special order.

1994 Subaru SVX Coupe – $2,850 OBO (Hamburg, NY)

AWD Coupe LSI model. Boxer 3.3 6 cyl 230 horsepower Approx 120,900miles

Automatic, Moon-roof, Dual exhaust, Power windows/locks/mirrors/power driver seat, Leather seats good condition. Also has new battery, breaks, power steering, timing belt, axel shafts, motor is phenomenal/very reliable vehicle all the way around! Some rust on doors as can be expected with its age. Starts right up.

This Subaru sits less than 30 miles from my house. It is well under my budget and it is a model I have been interested in since I saw one on the street in Japan back when they were new. They look cool and the performance numbers seem decent. The downside is that I don’t know much about them and I am not really all that excited about a sporty car with an automatic transmission.

I understand that Subarus have a tendency to be complex and fragile. This car is an odd ball and I am sure parts would be tough to get. Still, the price seems right and I have never been inside of one. I would, at least, go look at it.

1987 Dodge Daytona Shelby Z – $4500 (Pittsburgh, PA)

Clean Daytona Shelby Z. Turbo, 4 cyl, 5 speed, AC, 71k miles, perfect seats, good tires, fires right up, etc. NO rust! Just needs a battery and inspection.

It’s no secret that I am a sucker for Turbo Dodges, but the truth is that the Daytona rarely makes it onto my short list. To be honest, I have always thought they were a little overwrought and tried too hard to look like the Chevrolet Camaro of that era. This little car, however, jumped right out at me as a killer deal. If it is as clean as it looks in the pictures, I am confident that I could travel the 180 miles to Pittsburgh, drop in a battery and drive it right home.

Bonus points that this is a real live turbo Dodge with the manual transmission. There are more pics on the ad, including several interior shots, of which I have added just one, below. The inside looks just as pretty as the outside, don’t you think? I always wonder about cars like this, it’s 26 years old, why wasn’t it used? If it was here in town, I would be over there like a shot.

The only downside to this car that I can see is that it was right about 75K miles that the head gasket in my Turbo Shadow let loose. I would be worried that I could be stuck doing one on this car before too long as well. That said, I have a lot of experience working on these cars and I know that I could do the work by myself. Still, at $4500 this is close enough to my ceiling that I would be a little worried about my budget. Also, I would almost be ashamed to bring it up to Buffalo and expose it to the elements.

1981 DATSUN 280ZX 5 SPEED – $4300 (Ogden, NY)

1981 DATSUN 280ZX. 5 SPEED, 6 CYL, One Owner, 98,300 Original Miles, No Winters, Great Condition ~ $4300.00 ~ OFFERS WELCOME ~

Wow! No, seriously, Wow! This is a drop dead gorgeous little Datsun. It looks pretty nice in the photos and other than a cracked arm rest I don’t see a single problem here. Sure, it’s not a 240Z and it isn’t a turbo or a Special Anniversary Edition, but it is a head turner in a stunning color I haven’t seen in a long, long time. I love the fact it’s a stick.

This little girl sits less than 60 miles from me right now. If it was closer, I’d go over to take photos and maybe finagle a test drive. Man, my wife would be mad at me if that came home. It would be hard to tell the seller “no” though.

OK, you’ve seen my three choices. I could sit here a lot longer looking for obscure deals but if I did that I would never get to see what you come up with. Let’s have some fun!

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Question Of The Day: Have We Passed The Peak Of Cheap? Fri, 21 Sep 2012 15:25:27 +0000

The good old days of late summer 2009.

It was a great time to buy a new car. Monthly new car sales in North America had plummeted to under 10 million units.  Access to financing seemed to be near impossible for a lot of consumers. Brands were orphaned. Leasing collapsed. Banks were picky. The future was uncertain and… raw materials were cheap.

It was a good time to buy new at a deep, deep discount.  Has that time passed?

What got me thinking about this was a late model car I was using for my auction travels. A popular car. One that sells like hotcakes. Yet it looks like nearly every interior component within it has been parts binned, deconteted and cheaped out to epic proportions.

It offered good fuel economy, a nice radio display, and several hundred pounds of plastics that were in varying forms. Could the car get any cheaper and remain marketable?

I had my doubts. From the wafer fin door panels. To the glossy, Tonka like display of the center dashboard. It reeked of cheap to the point where an hour inside of it felt like a petrochemical bath.

As I went to that evening sale, I thought,  “I wonder if this material is cheaper to buy than cardboard boxes?” It was an honest question because everybody uses this cheap stuff. From the mightiest of manufacturers to the most irrelevant of niche players. The hollowness of material quality and feel for anything 20k or under seems to be an epidemic of cheap these days.

Yet everything costs more. Reconsider those MSRP’s for a moment. There was a time not to long ago when a $13,000 Yaris, Versa, Cobalt, Aveo, Rio, and PT Cruiser were publicized on a paperish pulp we used to know as a newspaper. Remember those?

Now a few of these names, along with their far more marketable descendants are venturing hard towards the $20,000 mark. There a few discounts. Maybe even a rebate or two.  But the hard march to the next big round number seems to be the new tune of 2012. A loaded Camry can now retail for well over $30k. The Lexus LS400h can now cost nearly $100k.  We’re talking two decent foreclosed houses in the ex-urbs here folks!

This brings the TTAC readers to our question for today. Have we passed the peak of cheap? Are we bound to a new world of car buying where commuter cars only feel cheap and the ‘nip and tuck’ of cost containment has run the course?

What says you?

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Piston Slap: Honda Fanboi, Beater Enthusiast, Wannabe Racer? Mon, 21 May 2012 11:51:32 +0000


Carleton writes:


I have two essentially unrelated questions but both seemingly require something that I greatly lack: money.  I’m a 22 year old engineering student in New Hampshire and have been around cars my whole life.  Over the past few years, I’ve purchased several older motorcycles on craigslist very inexpensively, sorted the mechanical issues, cleaned them up and sold each on for a solid profit ($500 to $1000 profit per bike).  While this has been fun, cars have always been my real passion.  Working on motorcycles has given me the confidence to tackle a project of a larger scale, so I am seeking advice to realize two long awaited desires.  I am currently working and making around $1000 per month and can play with about $200-$300 every month.  Furthermore, I have access to my grandfather’s a large garage with pretty much every tool needed to do any automotive work.

Since I got my license several years ago, I have wanted to purchase a winter beater.  As I mentioned, I can’t spend more than a few hundred dollars and am therefore not picky about the make, model, year, color, etc (however I will note that I am a Honda fanboy).  All that I want is a vehicle that will be capable even during the worst northeast blizzards to save my daily driver from the obscene amounts of salt and sand that the DOT uses to cover our roads.  I don’t mind something requiring some relatively basic maintenance but nothing major.  I would prefer a car that is either very economical OR able to carry a vast amount of large cargo (ie: mopeds and small motorcycles).  I think we’ve all seen the Top Gear Challenge where the blokes buy cars for less than £100 but I can’t seem to find anything in the Boston/Seacoast of NH that is remotely close to this kind of money in fully usable condition.  I’m constantly trolling craigslist, local newspapers and side roads.  Where is the best place to look for solid and very inexpensive beaters and what should I expect in terms of price and condition?  I am fully aware that rust will be an issue where I live.

My second question is perhaps more difficult to answer.  I’ve read most of Mr. Baruth’s Trackday Diaries pieces and would like to get into competitive racing/track time in the near future.  I am a great proponent of training and licensing but don’t currently have the funds to drop g’s on Skip Barber track days.  I am not a “fan” of racing so I don’t know what types of events clubs like SCCA offer or the cost of entrance.  My daily driver is an 2008 Civic Si Sedan with 46k and stock Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season rubber.  I am open to using this car for some track time but I want to do all that I can to prevent catastrophic failures from occurring and minimize my risk.  I know that this car may not be the best for such duties but I can’t see how it could be the worst.  I want to properly learn track etiquette and safety procedures but am not sure what modifications, training and equipment I would need to be successful.  Are the barriers of entry simply too high for a broke college kid or is participation in the racing scene actually possible?  Thanks for any help you may provide.

Sajeev Answers:

Very well written letter!  Sometimes I feel like an English teacher, so giddy when someone writes such a well thought out query! So let’s do this thing.

Your first question is easy to answer: you covered almost all of the bases.  The only thing left is to go on the offensive, via posting want ads. Start on Craigslist with a want ad for a cheap car.  Find any corkboard for community postings in college, grocery stores, churches, community centers, etc and post a similar message.   Beggars can’t be choosers, but they also can’t wait around for the right whip to show up.  Make it happen, and write it just as well as this letter to me.

Question two:  there are weekend driving courses around the country, but I couldn’t google something relevant for you.  Fear not, I’m just an ignorant Texan, I am sure you can find a place where nearby tracks are rented for weekend driving schools, SCCA club events, Import tuner clubs, etc.  The easiest way to get in the action is to join something like the aforementioned SCCA. You know, to get in the network and start autocrossing.

And this is where Jay Lamm, Nick Pon, Judge Phil, Judge Jonny and countless friends I’ve made in the 24 Hours of LeMons proceed to burn me at the stake!  Or put a stupid hat on me and strap me to a Fairmont station wagon. Which is kinda the same thing.

It’s true!!!  My favorite way to go amateur racing is with LeMons.  Eventually.  You start by joining a team, and cutting the requisite check for the (laughing) honor. (/laughing) Then you get access to the car during test and tune track days, general wrenching, and so forth. While I do not recommend door-to-door racing for a complete greenhorn, you’ll get there soon enough. Your team will help you make that decision. Most importantly, this form of racing is so much cheaper than anything else out there.

And you’ll make many friends along the way to help you. Too bad most of ‘em are completely nuts.  But it’s all good so do yourself a solid, join the LeMons Forum and get rolling. Enjoy the insanity.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.
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Piston Slap: Talk me off the Ledge!!! Wed, 02 May 2012 10:50:00 +0000

TTAC Commentator PartsUnknown writes:


Long story short, a family friend has an ’86 944 non-turbo sitting in her driveway in suburban Massachusetts. It belongs to her son who lives in Manhattan. Although he loves the car, it simply does not fit his current lifestyle. He wants to sell it, but is not actively pursuing it. His mother is constantly suggesting that I buy it (she knows my predilection for cars). Here’s the deal: it’s been sitting for a few years, driven sparingly. It appears to be in good cosmetic condition and it apparently runs. I know these cars are expensive to maintain.

I’m a busy man, with a wife and two young kids, a demanding career and a Saab 9-5 that I like to tinker with to satisfy my inner mechanic. I value time with my family above all, and while focusing on saving for retirement and college tuition, probably couldn’t afford to dump massive amounts of money into this car. The only reason I’m even considering it is that this guy’s mother has hinted that he just wants to get rid of it, and she said laughing, “he’d probably take $1,000 for it”. Question is, should I even entertain the idea? What, at minimum, would it cost to get this thing roadworthy as a weekend ride considering its relative lack of use (keeping in mind I’m a middling DIYer)? I’m leaning no, but $1,000 for a decent 944 seems like a no-brainer. Almost. I previously owned a 1986 911 Carrera Coupe, which was a fantastic car, but I sold it for precisely the reasons stated above – to prioritize time with my family over spending a Saturday replacing blower motors and ball joints.

Talk me off the ledge.

Sajeev answers,

So let me get this straight: you have demanding career and a happy family, that you presumably support with said demanding career.  You give a crap about saving for your future, the future of your children, and you value your time with them. You also support a SAAB 9-5, which isn’t exactly the paragon of durability or simplicity for a shadetree mechanic…

…and you want a baseline Porsche 944 that’s a non-runner?  For $1000?

Even with a super-duper clean interior, that car should sell for a little more than scrap. So maybe $500, and that’s being generous to all but the most hardcore 944 fanatics out there. That said, I would be stupid enough to recommend you buy this car if:

  1. You had no children, or if there’s some new strain of super self-sustained child.
  2. You went on and on about your love of the Porsche 944. And on, and on, and on…
  3. You didn’t already have a SAAB 9-5. Even a reliable, well maintained and cost effective  9-5 needs a less horrific project car partner than this.
  4. You didn’t previously own a 911, and had yet to learn your lesson about old cars.  Especially old Porkers.
  5. You said LS1-FTW in your letter. Then I’d be all up in this, son!

Here’s the point: anything and everything will go wrong with a car in this state.  $1000 is what you pay for one that actually fires up, drives, steers and brakes. And because it’s a Porsche 944, it will be far too expensive and fragile to ever make a lick of sense.

How’s that for a “No”?

***EDIT:  I misread the initial letter, as the 944 probably runs. While it may be worth a $1000 offer, I still believe PartsUnknown has better things to do with his spare time.***

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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New or Used: The Right combination of Stupidity and Bravery Tue, 07 Feb 2012 13:13:56 +0000
Marcus writes:
My wife has requested that I get a jeep type vehicle that we can use to do some light off road driving, i.e. she wants to drive on the beach.  I see this as an opportunity to buy a fun 4×4.  I would like to take it off road a bit and try to get it stuck.  My requirements are that it be a 4×4, cost $15000 or less and can support a winch.  It does not need to be a daily driver, and manual is OK, but automatic is slightly preferred.  Finally, I am not looking to buy myself a job as a mechanic.
Steve answers:

“I would like to take it off road a bit and try to get it stuck.”

I’ll tell you what. For $15 you could probably have your wife wedge your head in a roll-up window. Then you could get rid of your masochistic tendencies while she enjoys a nice bottle of wine. When the urge for deep pain leaves you, just roll down the window (the right way) and join her.

So you want to get a little hopper for the beach and the rarely beaten path. It won’t be a daily driver, and chances are it will see only a few thousand miles a year.

I would opt for an older Mitsubishi Montero, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Suzuki Sidekick or Geo/Chevy Tracker.

At most you would be spending $5000. Out here in Atlanta, a reliable version of those vehicles regularly hits the $3000 to $3500 mark. Buy one of those and spend the remainder on some good gear.

Once you find yourself perfectly happy with your arrangement, please send the remainder to a good cause. Me. I promise to put the rest of your money to better use.

Sajeev answers:

Try to get it stuck?  Don’t worry, its easy to get any 4×4 stuck if you have the right combination of heat-of-the-moment stupidity and bravery.

The big problem with 4x4s is their cost. Not to initially purchase, but to outfit as you see fit. Perhaps you should buy a pre-modded Wrangler, thereby letting the previous owner take the depreciation hit on both the vehicle, parts and labor needed to install all these goodies.

Then again, a rig with off-road bits is more likely to need more upkeep, unless you are sure it was owned by an urban cowboy who simply had to look cool and never got a spot of dirt under his knobby tires.  And there’s plenty of that in Texas, let me tell you!

Full sizers might be better for a mixed use rig, but since you just want a toy, look at compact trucks: Chevy/Isuzu S-10, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger and the obligatory Jeep Wrangler. The SUVs based on these platforms are just peachy too, but we’d forgive you for not wanting a 2000 Ford Explorer or Chevy Blazer no matter how great the deal can be. Odds are you can get a 4×4 pickup for less than the Jeep, and the Chevy and Ford will give the best bang for the buck with cheap parts aplenty if you do, um, get yourself stuck.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
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Hammer Time: Cheap, Cheap and Cheap Sun, 03 Jan 2010 17:25:58 +0000 This Taurus a new one?

Why that car? My cousin was slightly amused at the sight of my 2004 Ford Taurus SES. A rental car seemingly loaded with penny-pinching mediocrity and cut corners. An unusual choice for the holidays. It had made the long journey from Northwest Georgia to Jewish Florida in a day’s time. The leather was cheap, but functional. The buttons were cheap, but functional. The price bought it for was very cheap…

and very functional. $1400. So what was the catch? As the Rev. Jesse Jackson would say if he hucked cars instead of skin color, “There’s always an explanation for depreciation.” Cheap always happens in any business for a reason. In fact, for many years I’ve been sampling three types of ‘cheap cars’ that pay off surprisingly well. They are…

1) The very high mileage, late model vehicle.

2) The very low mileage, older vehicle.

3) The unknown mileage (True Miles Unknown) / or ‘Branded Title’ vehicle.

This one was a prime example of number one. Although it was as clean and well kept as any ‘dealer queen’ at the auction, it also had mileage that would qualify it for ‘gold’ status in most frequent flyer programs. 190k highway miles in North Georgia to be exact. However this car was also in exceptionally good shape. Even for a 5 year old car. Ford OEM parts had been installed aplenty in the engine department since day one. The exterior and interior surprisingly free of any signs of substantial wear. It had also been a ‘fleet’ vehicle for a company which had taken it for dealer service every 3,000 miles.

Everything worked from the sunroof to the trunk release. Leather was perfect… which is a very good thing. Because for the most part folks either ‘buy with their eyes’ or get the ‘loaded model’. A modern day sled is still more marketable when it’s full of bells, whistles, and reindeer. This one has 200 horsepower which is a nice marketing combo when you throw in the leather and a roof. A brick load of receipts had kept this road warrior a front line ready unit and the 1500 miles of recent family taxi duty didn’t hurt it either. In fact, it may have helped it given that I can now vouch for it’s road trip prowess.

Resale has always been the shangri-la of the cheapskate and the ugly ogre for those who end up trading their sleds. This Taurus definitely qualifies as a medieval terror in that regard. Like most overproduced and over-rental-ed domestics, the market value is now less than half of a Toyonda equivalent. The next buyer may also benefit from the curse of powertrains past. AXOD transmissions and head gasket sucking 3.8 Liters (not to mention Ford’s rental happy orientation at the time) had doomed the Taurus for well over a decade into the far lower tier of resale value. This one thankfully came with the 200 horsepower Duratec with the AX4N transmission which has overwhelmingly become the powertrain of choice for buy-here pay-here lots. It’s a surprisingly good unit that makes Tauruses quite popular for those companies that specialize in financing the unfinancable. It’s cheap to buy. Cheap to sell… and if you recondition it properly, it’s usually cheap to keep.

This Taurus is also far from alone in the ‘cursed’ regard. Dodge Intrepids often came with a 2.7L V6 that self-destructed well before 100k. I actually had one that was only owned by the Salvation Army, and six months after it sold, the engine went kaput. However the 3.5L unit that went to the high-line models, police cars, and the 300M is an entirely different beast. I bought a 2004 model a few years ago for only $3000 that came with everything… and 133k miles. Over the years, I have bought and financed a lot of these high mileage road warriors from the auction’s discount bin and I have yet to regret it. Explorers with ‘Exploder Tires’, Dexron-ridden GM cars. Even the one blown head of a 1990′s Neon may be bought for a song and sold for a dance. But like any veteran buyer at the auctions, I also do a lot of research and inspection before pulling that trigger. A diligent inspection and a good history of care usually go a very long way; especially when you’re playing with your own money.

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