New or Used: How To Be A Yuppie for 12k Or Less Edition

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used how to be a yuppie for 12k or less edition

John writes:

That’s right, the Yuppie is back. After reading every one of the 117 comments to your July 29th response to my previous question, I have come to yet another crossroad. As much as I hate to admit, Steve won that argument. Ignoring some of the more ignominious comments about how much our family should spend on a house, 401K, kids, etc., here now is the master plan. I will cap my next car budget at $12,000, with $1000 set aside each year for maintenance. My desire would be to buy a 5-10yr old used car, use it for a year (spending less than the banked $1000 on maintenance), then being my fickle self sell it and get a “new” used mobile. I live in a state without vehicle transfer taxes or sales tax, so there are few transfer costs associated with selling a buying a new ride. The $1K maintenance account will be renewed each year.

So, now the question – best ride under $12,000 that won’t blow a tranny and cost me more than $1K a year to operate?

Top picks right now: S4 (yes, an Audi, but most on the market have had all the required maintenance done just to sell the bad boy…and I’ll only keep it for 12 months), Mazda 6, BMW 3, Lexus IS manual, G8…..the list goes on. Wife drives an Outback so we have our family hauler. I am 6’4″ though, so need some leg room. Thanks!

Sajeev Answers:

Very smart move! Buying a mostly depreciated ride is a smart way for a fickle person to have their cake and eat it too. Well, except for the “Audi S4” comment with a $1000 service budget. The prospect of hoping/praying that a 5+ year old Audi won’t need $1000 in repairs makes me giggle like a schoolgirl. Not that I do that very often…

But I digress; you are on the right track. Yet this train is moving too slowly away from the place of your past automotive transgressions. Put more coal on the fire and arrive at a mundane destination: Mazda 6, Infiniti G, Mustang GT and a slew of mainstream performance machines have a reasonable chance of needing nothing but oil and gas for a year of ownership. Everything else is a dangerous crapshoot, one that your wallet may regret. Unless you magically fall in love with this used beater and choose to ride the cheap car gravy train for years to come.

Steve Answers:

It depends on what you want out of a vehicle. $12k will net you a nice Mustang GT, MX-5 or Honda S2000. All of which may sail under the $1000 maintenance mark given the proper maintenance by the prior owner.

Which brings me to the big point. That prior owner is going to have a huge impact on your maintenance goals and driving enjoyment. For $12,000, you will be buying a vehicle in much the same way as a new pitcher inherits a ballgame. If the prior occupant was erratic with the car, you can look forward to some potential high cost maintenance around the corner. I would consider prior records to be a minimal consideration along with a pre-purchase inspection by an established independent shop.

A good shop will also serve as your ‘catcher’. Their job is to catch the small problems before they become big ones with yacht sized repair bills to match. You may think a lot of what I’m saying is a given. But you would be surprised how many folks simply buy with their eyes and ignore the demons that lurk just beneath the surface.

Speaking of Madame Beelzebub, that $12k mark hits a very nasty price point in the market for the European vehicles. Much of the Benzes, Bimmers and Audi/VW models in this price range are made out of the equivalent of low-grade recyclable plastic. If you must go the European route be sure to avoid anything with a turbocharger. I would happily opt for the bigger engined, non-turbo models if cost of ownership is going to be a factor for you. Take a look at TrueDelta, Edmunds, Carsurvey and MSN owner reviews to get the real scoop on the ownership experience… and don’t discount the non-enthusiast versions of cars that come with more space and room.

Which brings me to my top choice for a one year flirtation. A $5,000 car that is perhaps seven to nine years old, along with $7,000 invested in an oil shipping stock that pays a nice dividend. In all seriousness, a good used car doesn’t usually come with a $12k price tag. A ‘trader’ like you will likely lose a few grand on depreciation every year. At the lower price points you have less money to lose and more to ‘invest’ in your ride. That’s why an older Lexus that has been well-kept drives so much better than a 5 year old Benz that has been repoed and ratted out. The manufacturer and the owner ‘invested’ in the quality of that car.

I would opt to buy a well kept sled with a healthy level of sporting tendencies, and save my occasional enthusiastic outburst every few months for a little something that makes your car that much more enjoyable. An upgraded stereo system. Top of the line struts and tires. OEM parts that come straight from the local auto recycling center. I would become a frequent visitor of the enthusiast site related to your car, and just acessorize it to your heart’s content. You would be shocked to find how affordable it is to make an older car drive like it is brand new.

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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2 of 70 comments
  • Dr.Nick Dr.Nick on Nov 13, 2010

    What about a Legacy GT- 05 or so? Those are a bit of sleeper fun. Just make sure the oil was changed....

  • Ozzy Modo Ozzy Modo on Nov 14, 2010

    If you're 6'4" you can't get into an MX5 at all, and once you're in an S2000 you can't wait to get out. I'd love to have either one but am no fan of amputating both my legs just to own one.

  • Tassos VW's EV program losses have already been horrific, and with (guess, Caveman!) the Berlin-Brandenburg Gigafactory growing with leaps and bounds, the future was already quite grim for VW and the VW Group.THis shutdown will not be so temporary.The German Government may have to reach in its deep pockets, no matter how much it hates to spend $, and bail it out."too big to fail"?
  • Billccm I had a 1980 TC3 Horizon and that car was as reliable as the sun. Underappreciated for sure.
  • Inside Looking Out I did not notice, did they mention climate change? How they are going to fight climate change, racism and gender discrimination. I mean collective Big 3.
  • Lou_BC I'm not too picky about gloves. If I'm concerned about heavy oil or grease contamination, I'll donn nitrile gloves. Heavier work and I'll use "old school" leather gloves, fake leather, synthetic or whatever is available.
  • Dusterdude Getting the popcorn ready . May be a good plan for strikers to make sure they own good winter jackets for future pickets .