By on May 13, 2010

Longtime TTAC Commentator Educatordan writes:

Okay Mr. Mehta and Lang: Currently my fleet consists of a 2004 F150 Heritage and a 2008 Roketa (Chinese) 150cc scooter.  My current commute is about 8 miles one way each day and the miles are town and metro area where the speed limit never tops 50mph, I occasionally drive that with my scooter (top speed 60mph) but usually my girlfriend and we commute together in her 2005 Pontiac Vibe.  My problem is this, I’m a teacher, soon to be administrator, and I anticipate a big change in my career next year with a new masters degree and new license.  I currently work for the largest (geographically speaking) school district in the United States and my new administrative position will likely involve a commute of 40 to 90 miles round trip everyday.  As an administrator I’ll be required to report to work as close to 7am as possible, come hell or high snow, teachers/students get canceled days, I will not. I’m in the mountain west (Northwest New Mexico) at an elevation of 6,500ft with parts of the county hitting 8,000ft.

So right now I’m of two minds on what sort vehicle to buy, I’m not getting rid of the truck (it’s paid for and I have truck jobs to give it), I’m torn between stripped down economy car, big smooth riding sedan, or something fun to reward myself.  My budget will be $10,000 to $12,000 and here’s a few ideas from my short list, let me preface this by saying that whatever I get I’m gonna have two sets of tires, winter and summer.  My prerequisites are approximately 30mpg highway, anything with 4cyl has to be manual transmission, I don’t care about the city fuel economy, cheap insurance would be nice (33 yr old divorced male), and reliability is good (but luxury is not necessary).  I’m 5’11” and thin so I don’t have to sweat the cockpit size. I’ve never owned a new car BTW and my dad always bought used and American.

New Economy Cars:

Hyundai Accent (3-door)

Nissan Versa (hatch)

Clearance deal on a Vibe or Saturn Astra (are there any left?)

Used Sedans:

W-platform with a V6, and perhaps the Monte Carlo. I know the Monte is a shell of it’s former self but my dad had a 1975 model from about 1978 to 1985 and I have a soft nostalgic spot for them.

Ford Taurus/500/Mercury Sable/Montego

Ford Fusion

Chevrolet Malibu (previous gen)

Pontiac G6

Saturn Aura

Nissan Altima/Maxima (find one with the rare manual trans?)

Something from Hyundai or Kia?

Impreza stick?  (base model, none of that factory hot rod stuff)

Used Fun Cars:

Mazda Miata manual trans

Mustang GT manual (doesn’t quite fit my MPG requirement)

Sajeev Answers:

Hey Dan: analysis paralysis much? A Mazda Miata or a Mercury Montego? Impreza or Impala? Monte or Maxima? I think my head’s gonna explode. Reading between the lines, you need to test drive more cars and decide what size or style you’d prefer.  Your mandatory homework is several weekends at the nearest Dealership Row to get a grasp on what you desire from a car. And if you can’t narrow down the field?  That’s actually a good thing. Quite honestly, you don’t need another vehicle.

I’d put a wicked aftermarket audio system with Navigation/iPod/XM/etc in your F-150. Then a set of slightly firmer Bilstein HD shocks (or comparable) and an ECU re-flash so mid-corner throttling is far more entertaining. Then call it a day. Oh, and don’t forget to scrap the Heritage’s dorky amber lenses for the clear ones from an older model, too. Wait, I’m turning this into a Piston Slap column.  That’s my bad.

Steve Answers:

Sajeev is actually channeling my brain these days. He’s absolutely right. The gas savings on the commuter scooter will be dwarfed by the depreciation, insurance (as you mentioned), opportunity cost, taxes, first born… you get the idea. Plus most of what you’ve already mentioned strikes me as boring as hell. Sorry.

If you absolutely must do something just upgrade the stereo and seats. Perhaps a really nice suspension upgrade would smooth out your ride but… you live in New Mexico where most roads are made out of glass. If you must… another possibility is just buying a well depreciated five year old vehicle with a stick and 60k. But then again you’re already keeping the F150 and scooter so why bother?

I would just upgrade the ride and spend the rest of the dough on… well… nothing really. But you already knew that I’m a frugal fellow so if you must blow the money, blow it on the girlfriend. Or a nice pair of walking shoes. Hopefully both of them will last.

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113 Comments on “New Or Used?: Analysis Paralysis Edition...”


  • avatar
    educatordan

    OK, wise guys this was a bad day when I asked. The new stuff I can afford is basically cheap stuff. If someone wants to make a new for the sake of new argument please do, I’ll listen.

    Here’s what I’ve decided I want since writing that question back in February. I want to fulfill one of my dream car fantasies. Should I get a 1980s-90s sporty car? (Camaro, Corvette, Miata, Nissan 300Z?) Or should I get my luxury car on from the same era? (Caddy or Lincoln only please.)

    I figure I should get this stuff out of my system before kids arrive and my priorities change. I do plan on doing as much of my own work as possible and know good independent shops for the hard stuff. I may be a dude with a masters degree now but I come from humble redneck stock that does much of their own work. So luxury or sport guys? Should I fulfill my fantasies or just buy a Cobalt or a Versa and enjoy the savings in warranty work ect.?

    And how old is too old to be a daily driver? I like C3 Vette’s too.

    • 0 avatar
      chonralda

      Kudos on the job upgrade. But, please don’t let a job come between you and your consistent and consistently good postings on TTAC!

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I say that a dream car fantasy is not a good idea for the daily driver of a new administrator. You’re going to have enough trouble getting the respect of your minions (mostly female) without driving up in what many will perceive as an ego building strap-on. Getting your fill of an auto fantasy makes sense before kids arrive, but it should only be driven to work as an occasional surprise/treat to show that you’re not an all-business admin, and that you have a fun side as well. First make sure that the F150 can do reliable daily service, then play with the remaining money as best you can.

      P.S. – You’re going to find that you have much less time for driveway wrenching as you get into the new post. As the husband of a SPED teacher I know how much time is spent in education outside of the classroom. You won’t have as much opportunity to keep your daily driver alive and well.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      @ClutchCarGo

      Thanks Freud, I smoke a couple of cigars a month as well! (But I get your point.) First priority is a full tune up for the Ford.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      Find a super-clean low mileage 1997 Town Car Signature or Cartier with the dual exhaust and handling package and call ‘er done.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    For that kind of commute I’d choose, I have a family and a baby, my distances are similar.

    Previous gen Impala, 3.8

  • avatar
    rmwill

    Get a used Fusion/Camry/Altima and use the savings to ugrade the scooter.

    Communting on a junk Chinese scooter is a death wish. Most likely it is not even EPA and DOT legal. I know the Roketa brand all too well.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      My 2008 Roketa has been great, BTW. According the build code stamped on it, it was built right before the Beijing Olympics.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Wrong, wrong, wrong. OK, mine’s a Jinan Qingqi 150cc, I’ve had it two years of commuting to and from the motorcycle shop where I work (we’re dealers), and I’m about to do the 11,000km oil change. It’s been virtually flawless. Changed the belt at 7,000km, oil changes every 2,000km (.8 liter), and just take reasonable care of it. Pick your brands carefully (I won’t go near a Lifan), and Chinese scooters are excellent value for the money.

      Granted, I’ve promised myself a new Honda SH150 next year, but that Qingqi definitely has shown me the worthwhileness of a scooter.

  • avatar
    twotone

    BMW 328i sedan, RWD, manual transmission. Mine gets 33 mpg on the highway and 22 city. Easy to find in your price range.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    hapless

    You have an 8 mile commute. The time to fulfill your automotive fantasies was… last year.

    When you start driving 90+ mile commutes, your priorities will change immediately. You won’t even want to *look* at your car on the weekends, much less work on it.

    Abandon your dreams: Buy a commuter car. You named a lot of good choices: Impala, 500, Fusion, Altima. The key things will be quiet, soft, boring. Driving 90 mile round trips to work is bad enough without being an adventure.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      “You have an 8 mile commute. The time to fulfill your automotive fantasies was… last year.”

      Tell that to my now ex-wife.

    • 0 avatar
      Robstar

      I don’t know if this is necessarily true…I do 65-70 miles RT daily & I LOVE to drive on the weekends….to the annoyance of my wife.

      I semi-regularly go see the parents on the weekend (80 miles RT), drive to the gym (next to work as I used to live near here), etc. I just swap to whatever vehicle I haven’t been driving lately (neon/sti/sport bike).

      To each their own I guess…

      I also switched from a 7 mile each way commute to 30-35 mile (ea. way). I also get to work about the same time as the OP or before (usually I try to get there at 6:30am) so I avoid traffic. Commuting is a blast 90%+ of the time.

      FYI: I’m a 34yo married male. The OP may not exactly be in the same age range/mindset, but his commuting time, distance, and work time seems to be about equivalent.

    • 0 avatar
      Juniper

      Altitude and deep snow. Get something with Turbo. Subaru? Ford with Ecoboost? Porsche 911?

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    Sell the scooter and buy a lightly used Miata (bonus points if you can get a power hard top). The little Mazda is very frugal and reliable for a sports car, most owners don’t abuse them or put a lot of mileage on them, and it’ll be more fun than your scooter anyway. You won’t need it anymore. You’ll have a fun, economical convertible for your commute, and a big truck for the jobs that require a more substantial vehicle.

    You think you’ll be able to swing a 2 seat roadster after you have kids? Better get it out of your system now!

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      I didn’t even know there was a power hardtop Miata. I was thinking of possibly buying one and buying a hardtop from a Mazda dealer.

    • 0 avatar
      thebeelzebubtrigger

      I second the Miata. It’s reliable, economical, and a lot of fun. Plus no-one in their right mind will demand you sell it for something “more practical”, unlike a C3 Vette. :)

      Since you already have an F150, buying a boring car is something you’re quite likely to regret…

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      @thebeelzebubtrigger

      Actually the new lady in my life is one of those rare ones who told me, “Get exactly what you want.” And she means it. Her only demand if I get something really cool that she be allowed to drive it occasionally.

      BTW guys she’s the one who taught me to drive stick!

    • 0 avatar
      AndyR

      One thing I have noticed that doesn’t seem to be addressed by anyone is the fact that you live at altitude… At 6500-8000 ft, your average, everyday NA motor is going to really start gasping for air. Keeping any car you buy *fun* is going to depend on your ability to handle the hill-climbs with aplomb. My one recommendation, then, is this:

      Buy something with forced-induction. Be it turbo or supercharger, you’re going to be happy you did and cruise happily along no matter where you drive the thing. Fuel economy is a plus as well when you’re just looking to commute. This doesn’t even have to affect your vehicle preferences:

      Miata becaomes Mazdaspeed Miata
      If you want a Z, shop the Twin-Turbo 300ZX
      Your compact car choices narrow to a Mazdaspeed 3, WRX, Turbo Legacy, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      xyzzy

      The power hardtop Miatas are too new to fit into his budget.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    I say go for it, get the dream car and use the truck/scooter for commuting depending on the needs for that day. I see your dream cars are 80’s-90’s Corvette, Camaro, 300Z, and Miata. Why not dream a little bigger and get a Porsche or go back to the 60’s and get a Camaro/Firebird or a Mustang? The 80’s through mid 90’s Camaro and Corvette were pretty bad, quite frankly. And even the 300Z was pretty underpowered by todays standards or the standards of the 60’s for that matter. If you can do the wrenching yourself, a 60’s muscle car in good condition will provide you with tons of straightline fun and will get you noticed. You should be able to get a rust free “daily driver” Mustang coupe with a 302 or 289 for under $10k, leaving you a couple of grand for brake, exhaust, carb, and intake upgrades, and $2k will be enough for all of that if you provide the labor yourself. Heck if you’re patient, you can find a slightly modified Mustang for $10k that has all of these aforementioned upgrades already completed (they are all quite common in restomodded Mustangs).

  • avatar
    George B

    I’d probably start the job before spending money on a vehicle. If you need or want something different to drive, I’d look for a used Nissan Altima or Ford Fusion with a manual transmission. Might take some time just to find one to test drive. Those two would have enough room for passengers, have better than average handling, good fuel economy, and be pretty easy to drive in ice and snow as long as the roads are plowed. I would guess that driving a car that doesn’t stand out would be beneficial in your work with teachers and students.

  • avatar
    findude

    Any of your options should work once you narrow it down. Insist on a car that has cruise control. Spend a few bucks on a stereo upgrade that will let you attach (and control) an iPod. You may not listen to much music or audio books with your 8-mile commute, but you will once you’re a couple months into 90-miles a day. . . .

  • avatar
    Roundel

    Lets be honest… you’re going to be spending alot of time in this car… I think it might as well be comfortable and large. And since you live out west, there is really no need to downsize to something like the Miata. Out of all those choices I would take a good hard look at either the G6 or the Aura. Out of all of those I would choose the Aura hands down. Its comfortable, handsome and roomy… and oh yea… DIRT CHEAP. While the G6 may be good looking as well, its got a plastic fantastic interior. The Aura’s is much better in comparison.
    If you go for the smaller route, I’d say its the Versa hands down. Its a roomy comfy car that really feels much larger inside than its size suggests and really is, they can also be had cheap… they are unloved for some reason, but I think its one of the best cars Nissan makes.

  • avatar
    alex_rashev

    As far as the older options go:

    Find a CHERRY 300SDL from late 80’s. Don’t go for the ones that cost 2K, find the one that the owner wants an arm and a leg for (~4-5K). The kind that has less than 300K miles, nice interior with no cracks or tears, and clean, nice paint.

    Those things can easily get 25-30mpg highway, the accomodations would put most modern entry-level luxury cars to shame, and they have this timeless look that projects stability and authority. Especially with Euro headlights ($300 upgrade, IIRC). Parts are somewhat expensive when stuff breaks, but most things on it usually fail around every half-a-million miles or so. In other words, they last so well that your next car will be electric.

    When it comes to highway travel, 80’s S-class diesels have no equal. It almost feels like the car drives you and you’re just there to gently guide it along. Best commuter car I’ve ever had the pleasure to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      rmwill

      Great driving cars but electrical gremlins are frequent and difficut to diagnose. There were not many brought over here and the used parts market is not favorabble, unlike say an E30 BMW.

      Option laden German cars of the period are very risky buys.

  • avatar
    jaron

    Addressing the commuting in the snow issue:

    2002 or 2003 Audi A8. A good one should only cost $15K. See audipages.com for a buying guide. Put aside $2000 per year for expensive maintenance.

    I like the 300 SDL idea too, except for driving in the snow. Probably similar in maintenance expense.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Personally I have faith in snow tires for any vehicle, plus no MPG penalty in the summer.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      Sorry, Jaron, but even if a public school administrator could POSSIBLY afford to keep an A8 on the road for more than 6 months, a person in that position has no business showing up for work in an A8 in any event. It just doesn’t look right and is not very smart.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I’d go Miata, but i haven’t spent a lot of time in them so take that for what it’s worth. Fun car, gets good mileage, and on days when you want something more substantial you can fire up the 150. I was doing 30-mile commutes on a motorcycle when I was a little younger than you, if you’re not dealing with stop-and-go traffic it’s not something you need a luxomobile for. Since you’re looking for a clutch, I assume that’s not the case.

    When the kids come along and you find yourself the proud owner of a Family Truckster, you can keep the Miata for a cheap weekend fun car. On the downside, even with snows it’s probably pretty squirrelly when roads are frosty, but that’s just a guess.

    Congrats on the new position!

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    EducatorDan,

    Why insist on a stick? Unless you’re getting a “fun” car, I wouldn’t bother. The autos are nearly as efficient as the sticks, nowadays, and get better resale.

    Steve and Sajeev are more or less right about the economics of getting a new stereo and just running the truck except… 40 to 90 miles/day? That’s a lot of time in the car. Is that truck noisy? If so, I’d get something quieter with good fuel economy. A new Prius is not in your price range but maybe a 2005 would be.

  • avatar

    Educatordan:

    Ninety miles? There is only one choice if reliability is not numero uno on your list. An Early 2000s Jetta or Golf TDI is the way to go. Driven wisely you will get 50+ mpg and mid to upper 40s at 70 mph

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    If the F-150 is four-wheel drive, then you could choose just about anything as a commuter car and drive the Ford truck on the snow days. Most mainstream sedans will cruise on the highway at about 30 mpg give or take. Although you talk about a 10-12k budget, if you can finance, you still might want to consider getting a new one. For example a 2010 Hyundai Sonata might cost 22,000 but 10k down and the payment should be pretty reasonable on an ongoing basis. 34 mpg highway, big cabin, all the modern safety features and xm radio standard.

    If your F-150 doesn’t have 4wd, then, given where you live, you might want to think about a 4wd or awd car or crossover. The current Subaru Legacy has a well-tested awd system, and the 4-cylinder gets good mpg for its size and capabilities, matching some non-awd competitors for MPG and acceleration. Both the Ford Fusion and Ford Taurus offer 4wd. You might be able to find a used model within your 10-12k budget. The Toyota Rav4 might be a good choice, and even the fast 6-cylinder version gets good mpg. It might be hard to find one for 12k.

    If you’re looking for something a bit exotic, try to find a V6 Honda Accord Hybrid. It had cylinder deactivation for efficient highway cruising. I didn’t see any for sale in a quick cars.com search.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      F150 is not 4X4 but I have been considering an aftermarket locker. The Honda Accord Hybrid crossed my mind but I don’t know how much I can do myself on it and the nearest Honda dealer is 130 miles or so away. Plus honestly the V6 Hybrid Accord is a bit of a rare bird.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    New Mexico? Hmm, solid 6 months plus of bike weather. So, to be completely different with your $12k: Used bike of sporty style (ditch the frickin’ scooter, you look like a 20 something dork on it), you are young, a vast assortment of 600cc to 800cc bikes out there from CBR600s to VFR800s, to more staid varieties to choose from. Good gas mileage and newer tires actually last close to 15k to 18k – plus if you have hov lanes, bikes are in. Other half, used late ’80s early 90s BMW 323, fulfill your wrench fantasies and still have one of the best handling cars ever built.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    With the requirement that you have to get there in anything short of a record blizzard one of your vehicles needs to be 4wd or AWD. I would make it the F-150 as that is capable of better performance in deep snow than any AWD car. So sell the 4×2 and get a 4×4, without the 4wd engaged the mileage is about the same. BTW, I’ve had three 4×4 F 150’s and that is an excellent choice.

    For the second vehicle you need to narrow the type of car down to a category. Sporty, luxury, economy or mainstream. Until you do that it’s impossible to suggest a particular vehicle.

    As a lifelong metro Detroit resident who lived in San Diego for two years I’m guessing you can’t wait to move. Good luck with your new situation!!

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      The only problem is the F150 struggles to hit 20+ on the highway. 19 is the EPA estimate and it doesn’t do much better.

    • 0 avatar
      mtymsi

      Yes, that’s true but I’m thinking the F 150 4×4 would be your secondary vehicle in the same way your current F 150 4×2 would be so the mileage doesn’t make any difference. If you got a 4×4 you’d have the pickup functionality and add the 4wd capability. If you do that it leaves you wide open for a sports car. As another poster mentioned you don’t want to create the wrong initial impression and I think that’s pretty hard to do with a stock F 150 4×4. After you’ve met and interacted with your new co-workers if you decide on a sports car you’re past the initial impression stage.

      The only reason I’m saying one of the vehicles has to be 4wd or AWD is because you said you had to be able to drive through severe weather.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      So what would you select for the “cool” car? I’m thinking sporty cause I can justify lux after the kids inevitably come.

    • 0 avatar
      mtymsi

      Either a Corvette convertible or a Mustang GT convertible. I think in the long run either will be less expensive to maintain than a European vehicle. The Miata to me just isn’t in the same category. I have owned two Corvettes and currently have a Mustang GT.

  • avatar
    gsnfan

    You should get something like the Acura TL: very comfortable, fun to drive, mid-to upper 20s (probably 30 in highway driving), manual transmission, and (if you need it) AWD. I’m not sure if the better-looking versions have AWD, but the new one does.

    • 0 avatar
      Toyondai92

      If you can do without the manual trans, get a last generation Acura RL. SH-AWD is apparently very good in the snow according to the people on the RL forums.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    BTW thanks to Steve and Sajeev for tolerating my ridiculous original question. I have the utmost respect for you guys.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Well, Dan, here is how I figure it. You can get a car that gets 30 mpg. Your F 150 gets 20. A 90 mile commute will use an additional 1.5 gallons daily because of the 10 mpg difference. This is about $4.50 a day to drive the F 150 instead of a 30 mpg car. This works out to $22.50 a week, $93.75/mo or $1125/yr. This is a LOT cheaper than spending $12K on another car (plus insurance, because you will have to insure both of them).

    So, Drive the truck. Put some money into the bank every month. When the FISO is used up, you will have CASH, which will make you a king when you buy your next car. The truck should should last 4 or 5 years, then you could have some real money set aside to buy yourself something that suits your needs exactly.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It sounds like you have a lot of driving, and that you need something reasonably amusing but also reliable and efficient. It also looks like you’ve got some concerns about performance in inclement weather.

    I’m really thinking Fit/Civic, here, depending on your preference. I know they’re not exciting or even particularly interesting, but they’ll get the job done, day-in, day-out.

    You could try for something a little less dull if you go used: say, a last-generation Celica GT-S or Acura RSX. Again, not a “special” car, but if you need to get where you’re going without excuses, you can’t really consider boutique or baroque. The Miata probably falls into this category, too.

    My only concern is the hill-climbing thing: turbos do that kind of thing best, but I’d be hard-pressed to suggest a turbo I trust. Maybe you could get away with a PT Cruiser GT or maybe a Mazdaspeed Miata if you go used or a Genesis 2.0T new, but just about anything else is going to have had the snot beat out of it or wouldn’t be reliable to start with.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    If you need fresh metal, get something like a Jetta TDI. The diesel part is *very* important. The mpg’s will pay back themsselves, the diesel will eat the miles easily and with the elevation changes it won’t feel like you’re dragging a boat anchor as with a NA gasser. Look for the special edition versions that came with upgraded seats, better wheels and a little more pep and you’ll enjoy it for years.

  • avatar
    schwerglas

    I was in your position a couple years ago , I have a 60 mile RT everyday , wanted something fun for when I dont cart my boys around (mazda protoge5) , and bought a 99 miata , best thing I ever did , man that cars is fun , 20 thousand mile in 2 years , top has been up three times …but I do live in coastal georgia .
    Hope you dont get to busy and not post as much , always enjoyed yours …. and thanks for planting that 90’s buick roadmaster estate wagon in my head ….

  • avatar
    xyzzy

    I own a Miata. I love my Miata for fun driving. But please listen to what I am saying: do not buy a Miata expecting to drive 90 miles a day in it. It is not suitable for that kind of driving. Small and loud, it WILL wear you out on long highway drives. When I drive mine that many miles in a day I do not want to get in it again for a couple of days.

    You didn’t mention it but you know you want it: buy as new a Lexus LS as your budget will allow. You will not regret it on those 100 mile days. The V8 has enough oomph for the altitude without needing turbo. Highway mileage is about 24, not 30 but as others have pointed out the difference in cost is not that great for fuel.

    If not that if you decide MPG is important than a Jetta TDI with a manual because I wouldn’t trust a VW DSG.

    I am in a similar situation as you. My round trip commute is just over 60 highway miles. Throw in errands and going out to lunch and I oftetn clock 100 a day. My daily comuter is a 98 LS400 with a book value of about $6K so you can get newer, and my 2nd car is a 96 Miata. I dive the Miata to work every once in a while when the weather is great and I know i won’t be making many side trips. Both cars are bulletproof and perfectly suited to their missions

  • avatar
    DeadEd

    I’m with Twotone above. Buy a used BMW E46 (3 series). Get it with a stick. Very doable within your budget. I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, but you strike me a someone who:
    1) Is an enthusiast…the BMW is an absolute joy to drive. You’ll deal with a bit more a maintenance, but
    2) Is OK with doing most maintenance and some repairs yourself

    My 330 can get 30mpg highway all day (and 20-21 in town). It has great sightlines, is a blast in the twisties, and can comfortably chew up long interstate runs without beating you up.

    Most maintenance is very DIY friendly. Buy a Bentley manual, join a few enthusiast boards, and have at it. Yes, the electrical systems (window regulators, HVAC resistors, etc.) are weak points, but they are well documented and things that you can fix yourself. Stick with the manual transmission, and the basic powertrain is very durable. The 330’s (and probably the 328’s) have enough usable power that they shouldn’t disappoint at altitude.

    Do yourself a favor and put a long test drive in one before you choose something else. I think you’ll love it.

  • avatar
    amripley

    I’m down with the turbocharged suggestion. Considering the iffy weather conditions, terrain, and distance, AWD probably wouldn’t be bad either. My affinity for big luxury cars makes me love the LS400 suggestion but, like the Audi A8, the vast and furious Lexus might be a little more pretentious than you’d like.

    As such, I would put forward a few suggestions. An ideal choice would be a Subaru Legacy. The Legacy would give you AWD, solid reliability, and would also be relatively fun to drive. Where I live, you can get a reasonably well-equipped 2005 or 2006 Legacy for $12,000 (with 80,000 – 90,000 miles on the clock.) I know lots of owners who drive their Legacies long, hard distances, and who are completely happy with their cars after many years of use.

    Another car I’d recommend is the Saab 9-5. The 9-5 is an absolutely bone-headed new buy, mainly because the chassis was derived from a GM Europe product in the mid 1990s. As a used buy, however, the 9-5 is a fantastic deal. For $12,000, you can pick up a well-equipped 2004 or 2005. The turbocharged 2.3 liter engine produces between 200 and 260hp; with a manual or manumatic, it has a lot of kick to it. The Saab is also a very heavy car; it’s well planted on the highway and is a good long-distance car (my dad drove a 9000 ten hours weekly for years and now drives a 900 S.) Where I live in the Great Lakes region, we have tons of snow each winter. These cars plow through the drifted roads with ease. Reliability is solid, so long as you avoid the pre-2002 models, which had engine oil sludge problems.

    Sticking with the Scandinavian theme, I’d also recommend checking out the Volvo S80 (or, if you’re willing to go for something a little older, the rather long-in-the-tooth S70.) The S80 is big, AWD, powerful, and safe. It wouldn’t be the most fun car to drive (check out the S60), but it would be a competent long-distance cruiser. And what will $12,000 get you? A 2004 2.5T with 80,000 miles on the odometer. The platform lives on today, as well: it’s bones now underpin the Taurus and MKS. If you’re interested in the Taurus/500/Sable/Montego, I’d consider checking out the S80 as well. It’s not quite as bland (close, mind you), and is almost certainly a better value. The engine choices are more interesting, the size is more reasonable, and the level of standard equipment is much better.

    If you’re willing to look into any big foreign cars seriously, I’d certainly recommend checking out this trio. Best of luck!

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    Dan,

    Drive the truck until you are sure the job and the commute are the right fit for you. If it all works out, wait for the forced induction 2011 Sonata set to be introduced in the fall. As others have mentioned, after your long work week, you will not want to wrench on anything, and the long warranty will relieve a lot of stress over potential breakdowns. The choice of a Hyundai will also show that you are a sensible individual, an important quality to project in the political confrontations that you are sure to run into in your future position. Even if you have to take out a small loan to do it, I suggest you give this serious consideration. There will be plenty of time to get your weekend dream car after saving a portion of your salary increase for the next few years. You might also want to give serious consideration to a quality radar detector, as your exposure to the PoPo will be increased considerably. Mine has paid for itself many times over, not only in tickets avoided, but in increased insurance costs. The Hyundai will also be much cheaper to insure than some of the other choices. Good luck!!

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Thank you everybody. You’ve given me lots to chew on and I know this thread will continue to do that cause it just got posted today.

    PS: Loving this site more each day and I’ve been posting for two years on here.

  • avatar

    +1 on the Legacy. A clean low mileage 05-09 with a 5M can be had for 12-14k. My 1990 gave me 230k of good service until it was totaled.

  • avatar
    shiney2

    There have been a bunch of really good recommendations here. I think a nice TD VW, accepting the iffy reliability and costly repair some VWs need, would be high on my list.

    Another choice that has not come up yet is the first gen pre-2002 Lexus SC300/400. Find a nice one of these and you will have a lovely and unique coupe with the reliability and supreme comfort of an LS400.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Good suggestion on the Lexus SC, I actually saw one on eBay a few days ago but most that I see are really beat to hell and some teenage kid has tried to turn it into a Supra Turbo.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Here’s a random question. How bad is the Northstar and which year is the best year? I would LOVE to pick up an Eldorado and they are pretty cheap (the low mileage grandpa models.)

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    I’d have to say Honda Accord, either the last generation or the one before that. The first gen Acura RL is also a good choice, much more luxury than the Accord, and basically just as reliable. They aren’t easy to find, but if you can hunt one down without a million miles on it, might be worth it.

    The first gen SC can develop expensive bad habits, and they are TERRIBLE in the snow. The LS400 is consistently more reliable, and might be OK with snows.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    New base Subaru Forester with stick. Set of Michelin Ice X2 and Michelin Primacy, This will bring you to your next promotion.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    Here’s what I’d do.

    Step 1: Purchase 9C1 Impala… from ebay. The one with the round lamps
    Step 2: Purchase Turbo kit from cartunning
    Step 3: Put some nice wheels on the biatch… like some TorqThrusts
    Step 4: KYBs all around and some cool suspension parts I found for the W-body.
    Step 5: Shake

    I guess I’ll end below 10K… and have a quite nice sleeper.

    I was going to let out the Sajeev I have inside and recommend the LS swap, but I’m still digging into the interwebz forumZ to find it.

    In any case, buy what you like. Make sure it’s in good running order and enjoy it. I’d really like to have access to all the options you have over there.

    My daily commute is around 75 miles.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I suppose I’ll also throw a few new suggestions out there to possibly complicate matters for you:

    1. The most cherry Oldsmobile Aurora you can find.
    2. The most cherry ’95-’99 Buick Riviera you can find.
    3. Infiniti Q45 (skip the 2nd gen version)
    4. Infiniti M45
    5. Mazda Millenia (with the Miller cycle engine)
    6. Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe (might take a good deal of searching to find one in good shape)

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Hey with that avatar you can say whatever you want. I grew up in a GM family. Sorry scratch that, a Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and the occasional Chevy family.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I am surprised no one mentioned this, and I doubt you will see it buried at the bottom of 62 comments, but how about a C class Mercedes? I know it isn’t exactly the same thing as a regular C but the last time I drove coast-to-coast it was in a C32 AMG and it was by far the most comfortable of all my long distance drives. If you are going to be racking up the miles and wanted something a little enjoyable you could do a lot worse.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Hey I subscribed to this thread. I’d be an idiot not to. How bad/good is mid 90s Mercedes reliability? Occasionally I see a “grandpa car” Mercedes turn up for sale. But usually E-classes, which I’d rather have anyway. I wouldn’t want to spend more than about 10 grand on “older” vehicles so I’d have money left over for repair.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      They’re reliable enough, but the parts are expensive and, outside of larger cities, service can be thin on the ground. I went through this exact train of thought because I went the a church packed with older Germans who all had 60s/70s-era Benzes. I couldn’t afford the upkeep, but I was a student at the time.

      The unblown diesels are the best of the bunch, but they’re gutless, especially at altitude. The gassers are less reliable.

      Skip the 190/C-Class: they’re not built at all well.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    There is actually a C32 in Phoenix for 15k. I will say that the mileage was atrocious so you are probably better off with a turbo or NA than the supercharger. Of course you are way better off just listening to Mehta and Lang.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    A 90 mile daily commute? That’s insanity. Life is too short for that nonsense.

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    It looks like I’ll agree with several others. If you’re in a position to afford a fun, dream car, then I think you should go for it. I’m not sure about you, but the thought of a luxury car doesn’t put a smile on my face; no, driving a fun, sporty car does.

    So, I’d also look to the Miata if you can be comfortable in one (I think I’m a bit too tall for one, at least when the top’s up). I’ve also seen some Honda S2000s with fairly low milage for sale locally as low as $15K. One place even has a nice looking RX-8 for about $13K (I keep thinking, 18MPG on premium plus adding oil every second fill-up will still be costly).

    Personally, I’m considering finding a non-riced Acura RSX-S, as it strikes a nice balance between fuel economy (although it needs premium), handling, fun, speed and practicality. It is FWD, of course. I guess the same argument can be made for the Mazdaspeed3. For even more practicality, I’ve even seen Mazdaspeed 6s listed in the $15-$17k range. That would make a handy Q-car.

    Then again, I have to honestly say that one of the most fun cars I’ve owned was a Pinto. Really. It was the first manual-transmission car I owned. I bought it from my cousin for $200 and had no fear about learning and trying out some of the fancier driving techniques, some of them not so bright. It was probably a good thing that no one tailgated it.

    • 0 avatar
      tbp0701

      To ramble more, I want to clarify that I wouldn’t get a Miata or S2000 for a 90-mile commute, either. I know the feeling of a long, daily drive, however. I currently have an 82-mile round trip commute (I once even had a 120-mile round trip, in addition to driving to gigs on weekends. I put 250K miles on a Nissan Pulsar in a short amount of time.) The current round trip is done with a 2000 Accord Coupe which is practical and surprisingly fun since it handles and communicates so well, but mixing it up with something more sporty may be even better.

  • avatar
    karmatramp

    Saab 9-5, without question. Look at the Santa Fe Craigslist right now. 2003 9-5 Linear with a new non-sludge engine (I know, our dealership installed it). They only want $6k for it.
    35mpg highway, turbo for high altitude, heated seats, low low insurance premiums, great in the snow.

    Keep the change.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    New Accents are listing at $16,500 locally(Birmingham, AL,) Dan, and with no stereo. No thanks.

    Look for a PT wagon LX manual. It’ll have popular optioning, and you’ll have nearly half your budget left. These cars are an astounding value– my 2008 was purchased last year for $7,900 with 24k miles. They also handle rather tightly in the horizontal(fun) but are floaty vertically(comfort,) roomy(but narrow) and are very, very versatile. 30MPG is the norm, unless you’re flogging on it.

    Turbos are for boys.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I will second this: the PT Cruiser is a solid and unappreciated (by enthusiasts) car (even CR says so!) and is moderately fun to drive in turbo form.

      It’s cheap to fix, too.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      You know the last time I heard praise for the Cruiser? The 12th of Never. I am attracted to the idea of the Turbo. I know even fully loaded models are going pretty cheap just after a year or two of having left the lot.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Enthusiasts never got over how it wasn’t V8+RWD and yet was styled like one.

      Once you get past the fact that it’s a basically Neon wagon, you come to accept that the Neon actually handles pretty well, and that the high-pressure turbo** is a monster, that carry four people in more comfort than a fullsize sedan or remove the rear seats and carry more cargo than many crossovers. And then you realize it’s a good car that just pissed off greybeard gearheads.

      The PT Cruiser (and the Acura RL, and possibly the last-gen Celica) are automotive Rodney Dangerfields.

      ** you’ve seen this engine in the Neon SRT-4.

    • 0 avatar
      Juniper

      PT owner here. Bought new in 02 105k since. Mine is a stick and has been great. May be a little low on power at your altitude so think about the turbo. Certainly not a performance car but I think it handles well and is a lot of fun.

  • avatar
    postjosh

    used miata with a manual trans. keep the f150 and use it on bad weather days.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I nearly bought a 1995 Mercedes E300 last Monday. Stopped bidding at $4,000 and the next guy took it for $4100. It had the MBTex seats that are pretty much the best seats of that time period. The 1995 in particular also has the new engine for the next generation (1996 – 1999) and the old body style. A LOT of folks consider that the best of both worlds.

    Funny thing is, I still don’t see that as an enthusiasts car. A late 90’s Jetta diesel? Absolutely. The most recent versions? Perhaps. But the Merc E-Class of the 1990’s is more of a buy for longevity than for sportiness.

    But I do see where you’re going with this. At first I withheld this recommendation due to doubt about you being really being into older vehicles. But having said that… the best vehicle you can have for your tastes would be…

    Volvo 850 T5-R or Volvo 850 R

    As daily drivers I vastly prefer these models to the BMW E36’s because they have much nicer interiors, better seats (don’t get me started on that), more versatility, better features for long distance driving, and are infinitely easier to work on than the E36 models.

    They are also far less abused and more durable than their German brethren.

    Drive one.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Mr. Lang. I’ve heard both good and bad things about Volvo reliability. But I’m not even going to ask if those are “good cars” cause I know the words wouldn’t come out of your mouth if they weren’t. Checking them out online the depreciation is pretty high too.

  • avatar
    NickR

    EducatorDan ‘Hey I subscribed to this thread. I’d be an idiot not to. How bad/good is mid 90s Mercedes reliability?’

    DON’T YOU DARE! I had a 95 C-Class; absolutely the worst car I have ever owned. I am in my mid-40s and I can state without exaggeration that I had more go wrong with that car than all the other cars I have owned combined.

    No, no, no!

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Gee, Nick, how do you really feel? (Actually your comment made me lol but that phrase is one of my favorite things to say to a pissed off colleague.)

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Useful information: Phil Edmonston, former nutball pinko commie socialist member of the Canadian Parliament, current president of the Automobile Protection Agency, author of Lemon-Aid, professional cynic and generally describes and a duller, but far more tenacious Ralph Nader, actually likes the mid-90s 300E/E-Class. It’s about the only European car he actually likes, and, like any good small-s socialist, he used to own Volvos.

      But he agrees with Nick’s take on the 190/C-Class.

  • avatar

    I’d say if your new woman friend taught you to drive stick, this must have happened very recently, and so you obviously need the practice.

    I could tell you what I’d get, but that’s not really going to help you, because your tastes may be completely different from mine, once you figure out what they actually are. The only time I bought a new car in my life, I spent almost a year doing test drives every couple of weeks, usually with a good friend, and thoroughly enjoying the process.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      You got it. It was kind of funny to have a 25 year old woman teach a 32 year old man to drive stick on a Pontiac Vibe.

      Your comments about car shopping made me think of my father. He’s always bought used but he’s so particular that he starts the process 6 months before he wants to buy just so he can spend that much time looking for “the right one.”

  • avatar

    I really pushed the cars. I’d do quick lane changes at 60mph, and corner really hard (even if it was a 90 degree in a residential neighborhood (I was careful not to endanger people). One or two salesmen (out of many who rode with me) told me to cool it. I had a Saturn dealership wondering if I was a company spy. I drove both new and used cars.

    Later, in ’96 I helped a friend car shop. He had me drive the cars for him, deciding that if he felt safe, he’d buy the car. He did not feel safe in the Volvo 850, but he bought the Audi A4.

  • avatar
    wsn

    I am one year older than you. If I were single and had a limited budget, I would go for brand new:

    1) Civic sedan
    2) Mazda 3 wagon

    As I found out during my single years, 4 doors are really important if you want more female friends.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Thanks for being the first one to argue for new. I was wondering if anybody would. I’ve got all the lady I can handle right now, lol. I love wagons BTW but she has an aversion (OK, a downright hatred.) I don’t blame her for it, she spent her formative years (b. 1985) in an old Celebrity wagon. Her daycare provider had a mid 80s GM b-body wagon that smelled vaguely of puke. I on the other hand think that the station wagon is one of the most perfect forms of transport ever devised by the hand of man. But I’ll settle for a very nice sedan, coupe, or convertible.

    • 0 avatar
      Accazdatch

      Technically…
      The Mazda3 is only a hatch.

      And the Civic for U.S blows..
      Motor displacement isnt competitive for the faster competition.

      Heck the interior isnt competitive.
      The body variations arent competitive.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      @Accazdatch

      If Ford would sell the Fiesta 3 door in the US I’d seriously consider it. The 5 door is too much like my ladies Vibe.

    • 0 avatar
      Accazdatch

      educatordan:

      The Focus is one of the few vehicles in UK, that has as many variants for the B/C size class.

      I’m in love with the wagon/ hatch as well as the Focus “themed” Mustang GT model.

      I believe there are at least 10 body mods that can be picked up for Focus in UK.. (S-Max/Cmax and Galaxy on top of Wagon, a Hatch, a RS, a ST, a Conv).

      Even Civic cant top that.

      Vibe wouldn’t “bother” me.. its relationship towards NUMMI, GM and or the Corolla (and its recall issues), or its very bland current styling DOES.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      yeah it’s a 2005 Vibe, old body style. She hates the rear styling on the new ones.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    It just occurred to me that nobody suggested a G6 GTP coupe or convertible. Hmmmmmmmm…. wonder why?

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      We’re all more or less friends here…

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Dang it man! You almost made me squirt coffee out my nose!

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      You may as well ask “Why didn’t anyone suggest the Camry Solara”?

      Actually, the Solara convertible is a pretty nice car, as long as you have absolutely no sporting pretensions whatsoever. Great car to drive to a picnic lunch in.

    • 0 avatar
      Accazdatch

      Educatordan:

      I’d like to give someone a RESPECTABLE vehicle, which means.. I don’t call a G6 in the GTP.. or a recalled Solara a good car to give someone.

      How bout a nice Prelude.. or a 3000GT.

      Nice car to drive n scare the [BLEEP]ing [BLEEP]ers in ya commuting..

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    EducatorDan, since you’re moving to administration, you’re leaving the teaching part of the profession, so first thing to do is change your TTAC handle to AdministratorDan.

    Secondly, you can’t drive a truck, or sporty car, or minivan, or anything that looks too expensive or ostentatious, but something both understated and sedate, that projects your image as a serious administrator. What you need to drive is a Buick!

    I suggest you look for a late model used Lucerne.

    • 0 avatar
      SherbornSean

      Lorenzo,
      Buick? It’s a promotion, not a retirement!

      Seriously, my favorite idea is from xyzzy for a 10 year old LS400 and used Miata. Of course, along with the F-150, that brings you up to 3 vehicles, 4 if you include the little woman’s Vibe.

      Maybe you buy the Miata this year (take your time to find one that has been well cared for and in the color you like). And in a year or two, when the commute in a small droptop gets to be too much, you spring for the LS400 or a used OldsmoBuick.

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    Lorenzo, in terms of image, you are probably on target.

    An imported luxury make like Infiniti or BMW may not go over well in a part of the country without a lot of spare income.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      So what do you two esteemed gentlemen think of say a mid 90s Town Car, a really nice used LeSabare, or even a Lexus LS in my price range which would be a late 90s model with say 90,000 on the odometer? I think that would fit the neighborhood alright. Or the Volvo 850 that Lang suggested?

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      …think of say a mid 90s Town Car, a really nice used LeSabare, or even a Lexus LS in my price range which would be a late 90s model with say 90,000 on the odometer?

      Those are all alright.

      Although I’d go for a Bonneville, Park Avenue, or 3.5L Aurora before the LeSabre.

      I also personally prefer the Q45 over than the Lexus LS, but YMMV on that.

      I don’t know anything about old Volvos though.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Lorenzo speaks the truth.

    And–dang it–you’ll also have to dress the part. At least you won’t have to wear a fedora or homburg, like I once was required to do. Hey, wait! If you stay in New Mexico, you can wear a cowboy hat. That would be my choice.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Got a cowboy hat and have for a long time. Got a fedora and a straw panama to wear while golfing. But I do look forward to some new suits, I’ve been told by my lady that I look damn good in a suit.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    The Lexus might be the wrong image. If you’re thinking LeSabre, there’s no need to go back to a ’90s model, the upper range for the final year 2005 LeSabre (and Park Avenue) is right in your sweet spot. You can get a 2006 Lucerne for about the same money, and maybe a 2007 if you’re lucky.

  • avatar
    Rusted Source

    Taurus X.

    No idea about fuel mileage but people looking for practical vehicles seem to like them a lot.

  • avatar
    mythicalprogrammer

    “Should I get a 1980s-90s sporty car?”

    If you want a sporty car with good mpg and within your price range.. Toyota MR Spyder. It’s a poor man lotus 2200 lbs with decent lbs/hp. But it’s not between 1980s-90s. It’ll probably be a reliable commute too since it’s a Toyota engine.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    OK, guys here’s where I’m at now. I have read all the comments and taken the “image” thing into consideration too. Too me, an old (10 to 15yrs) luxury car says; “I know what I like and it doesn’t need to be brand new for me to consider it. I’m not fickle and I don’t need to follow the latest trends.”

    I’m thinking Lexus LS cause I idolized 60s-70s Cadillacs, 80s Mercedes Benzs, and 60s and 70s Rolls Royces as a kid. I actually had a luxury car fetish before I had a sports car fetish ;). There’s actually a decent enthusiast community out there when the hot rodding bug bites me. It will be many years before I can even think about affording a new Lexus and make everybody think I’m a douche-bag.

    If I want wind in my hair I can continue to upgrade my two wheel transport over the years. Hell, I had to get a motorcycle license just to have the scooter!

  • avatar
    Ricardo Pearnosh

    Dan,

    I think you need a used Subaru Forester 2.5 XT. Unpretentiously blends in with your local automotive populace. Comfy leather available. Blistering speed when you need it. Room for all those books in the back. Best AWD system for the snow days. Hard to find with a manual though…

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