New or Used: I Know You. You Are Me.

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
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new or used i know you you are me

TTAC commentator siggy writes:

Hello Sajeev and Steve,

I’m a big fan of TTAC’s Piston Slap column and I hope you can help me with a good recommendation. Currently, I have one car, a 1984 Mustang SVO. It has about 75k miles, and I’ve given it numerous upgrades. I love it, but it doesn’t have a heater or A/C, and the mileage is crap. On long freeway drives, I can get up to 25mpg, but the reality is my commute to work is 10 miles, and it’s all stop and go, sometimes bumper-to-bumper traffic. So I end up with about 15mpg. But, like I said, I love the car, so I will not be getting rid of it in the foreseeable future.

With gas at almost $4, and the way the SVO chugs the premium juice, I think it’s time to get a proper commuter. Not having A/C in the summer is a serious problem here in Orange County, so with spring and summer around the corner, I need to act on this now. Time for a beater!

Here’s a breakdown of requirements:

  1. I can only spend a max of about $2500.
  2. Smaller is better. Ideally, something that can return at least 25 MPG City. (30+ MPG highway). Probably FWD.
  3. Easy to work on and easy to find parts for. One thing I like about my Fox Mustang is how easy it is to work on, with its huge engine bay and tiny 4 cyl. Engine.
  4. I’d prefer a manual. This is not a dealbreaker though. The main reason I prefer a manual is because they are way more reliable. My old ’96 T-bird’s auto started to slip at around 150k miles, and my girlfriend’s ’02 Accord Auto, with 120k miles, slips worse than my Mustang’s tires in the rain. The added MPG and fun factor of a manual is nice, too.
  5. Because of only American and Japanese brands.
  6. Not really a big deal, but R134 A/C and OBDII would be a plus.

Let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing back and/or seeing my name up on TTAC.

Sajeev answers:

SVO? SVO! You mean I get to talk Fox Bodies for a moment? Just kidding…

You have an SVO Mustang and are familiar with MN-12 body Thunderbirds. That combination is disturbingly close to my restomod(?) Fox Mercury Cougar and daily driver Lincoln Mark VIII. The Fox and MN-12 love within you is strong: you should embrace that. Be one with your love, let the passion fly like the turbocharged SVO wind, soaring on the wings of a thunderous Thunderbird!

You might be nuts to not get another MN-12 Tbird. Get a V6 if you want mileage improvements at part throttle, head gasket condition be damned. $1500 gets a disturbingly nice MN-12, they are really that terrible on the used car market. And they are a rather brilliant (if flawed) platform even in stock form. I personally think the MN-12 deserved a second chance, a significant re-think: it coulda replaced both the Panther and spared us the disappointment of the Five Hundred, Flex, Taurus, Montego, Freestyle, etc.

Of course I am only partially kidding…

You need an older, 2.3 or 2.5L Ranger with a stick: 25mpg, fun, cheap and you already know the motor from your SVO, inside and out. Find one in that price range with some service records, new parts and an honest private seller on craigslist. I know you. You are me. And a Ranger is precisely what I’d want if I were in your shoes.

Steve answers:

I would not fall head over heels over any particular car.

At the price range you are looking at, it will be the prior owners who will determine the long-term reliability of your ride. It also will be pretty damn hard to find a good one… for now.

My advice is to try to seek anything that has a well-known bulletproof drivetrain. The Ford platforms Sajeev mentions tend to be that way. But so are a long slew of various domestic and foreign models.

If you do orientate over a given type of car then Ebay would be a good bet. Go to the ‘completed items’ section and see how much things are selling for these days. If the seller has 100% positive Ebay feedback (like yours truly) then the odds will definitely be with you.

Research the histories, get it inspected no matter what, and good luck.

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.

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

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2 of 50 comments
  • Obruni Obruni on Jul 01, 2011

    Mazda Protege.

  • Dimwit Dimwit on Jul 02, 2011

    As a long shot, go to the junkyard and get that Justy that's on the front page. It looks like you could get it for less than $500 and spend a $1000 to put it back into shape.

  • Kwik_Shift One day I'll bring myself around to trying one of these out, with manual transmission. They look fun.
  • Zipper69 It worked in London, because the center of that city is a medieval layout ON TOP of a Roman layout, both designed for horse drawn traffic.Manhattan's grid and the available public transport options are a different matter.
  • Jkross22 To give a sense of priorities, Oakland has had a 50% jump in car thefts from last year. 40 cars per day are stolen in Oakland. Also in Oakland.... the city has a shortage of 911 operators so if/when you call, you're SOL. That is because they are saying no one is applying to the open 911 jobs. When an audit was recently done, over 1000 applicants applied to the 911 jobs, but no one had contacted them. Any of them. HR still earns the term "human remains". After Xi Xingpeng returned to China from his SF visit, all of the homeless people returned to the streets of San Francisco. They were all magically whisked away for his visit, something our governor was quite proud of doing. Makes you wonder why SF residents can't get that kind of treatment everyday. With all of the big problems solved, CA reps can focus on the real problems in the state.... making those MAGA rural volleyball team buses go all electric no matter whether EV buses make sense or not. And this guy wants to be president.....
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh Dear whiny people .. keep a small number of diesel busses. replace the rest .. my god people like sticking poles in their own bike spokes...
  • Canam23 I moved to Los Angeles in 1968 and the air was barely breathable. Thanks to the mandating of pollution controls and the work of the Air Quality Management District, it's 100% better today. When the first pollution targets were set in the 70's, Detroit moaned that it would be impossible to achieve, meanwhile the Japanese sat down and figured out how to do it. As a result of the constant strengthening of the anti pollution laws, our air is much less dangerous for our children. Furthermore, engineering has now created very clean, powerful and efficient engines. So Stellantis, I'm not buying it.