New or Used: College Grads on the Fashionista Circuit?

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used college grads on the fashionista circuit

Christian writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

So my girlfriend is in the process of getting a new car. We’re graduating college in May and she was lucky enough to have her Mom offer to buy her a car as a graduation present. Thats pretty much perfect timing because her 1996 Jeep Cherokee Country is on its last legs. She loves her Jeep but it has almost 300,000 miles on it and it hasn’t been the most reliable thing in the world over the past year

Originally, this whole process was supposed to be pretty easy. Her Mom offered to buy her a car worth up to $8000, and loving Jeeps she pretty much had her heart set on a TJ Wrangler, which (correct me if I’m wrong) would probably be pushing her budget.

However, her Mom has now said that she’d be willing to take on a car payment of no more then $300 a month and so my girlfriend is now torn on getting a pretty-much base new automatic Mini Cooper, (rather then a Cooper S which is what she really wants) and an older Wrangler.

That all being said, would there be anything you’d recommend over the base Mini Cooper or a used TJ Wrangler in her price range thats cool but a little girly at the same time? She’s got no need for AWD and living in Northern California means she’ll probably be spending a lot of time on the highways. The only other cars she’s really thought about is a VW New Beetle (her best friend has one so thats out) and a Mustang Convertible (I drive a GT Coupe though so thats out too.)

Steve Answers:

You need to get off the fashionista circuit.

Virtually every car you described will have a strong price premium in today’s market… and not because they are so ‘awesome’. The Mini Cooper you described will definitely have over 100k if the MIL wants to reconsider an $8k cash purchase. If financed new, it will likely be close to a $400/month rate. Late model Wranglers also finance at a very healthy rate. Well above the $300 ‘field of dreams’ level. Beetles are usually rolling cases of leprosy as it replies to reliability. As for the ‘me-too’ Mustang?

I like them best out of all the ones you mentioned. But the idea of going on the monthly payment treadmill right after college is a dangerous one. Yes your potential future mother-in-law is happy to offer some Economic Outpatient Care for now. Good parents always want to smooth out the bumps of getting established. But my fear is that your wonderful girlfriend may find herself acclimated to the monthly payment idea and budget the rest of her life accordingly.

This is a tough call. But I will call it in my all too unpopular way.The Jeep should continue to be maintained until a major component (engine, transmission, electrical issue) kicks the bucket. In the meantime your girlfriend should save her money for something that can be bought with cash.

Does she have a job lined up yet? If so, congrats! She is in the extreme minority and she should build her savings ASAP. Once she saves up enough money for a down payment she should be fine. But who knows? Maybe she may be able to buy a good runabout for cash. I would save $2k. Sell the Jeep. Then use the proceeds to buy a well kept ‘dealer queen’ that will let her focus on her career.

If she does not have a job lined up don’t do anything at all. Thank the MIL for her love and support, and continue being a good steward of the Jeep. I do give kudos for your girlfriend having a car that has almost 300k on it. Hopefully this experience will help her eventually become a wealthy ‘keeper’ instead of an indebted fashionista. Anything’s possible. Good luck!

Sajeev Answers:

So you will be buying both a used Jeep and a new MINI? Misreading be damned, that’s what I was reading between the lines. As our man Lang mentioned over the last few weeks, this is a bad time to buy a used car. While its more true for automotive staples like the Camry and F150, I expect the same is true for Jeeps of all shapes and sizes. So let’s table the Jeep, she can buy whatever she wants as a toy and focus on the new car in her life.

The MINI is one of those great values on paper, until you see their chronic hit-or-miss reliability (bad timing chains anyone?) and somewhat disappointing fuel economy on the premium go-go juice. Who knows if the new models are any better than history implies. I am far from optimistic. But like a Spike Lee movie once suggested, “She’s Gotta Have It.”

I’m not here to dissuade her on the MINI, provided she knows there are better values on the market. Maybe a Turbo Nissan Juke to console her on her Cooper S daydreams? Or the SNYC-alicious nature of the universally applauded Ford Focus? I suggest you guys go out on “car dates” to test drive a few of the MINI’s competitors, do lunch, and make a fun outing out of the whole scenario.

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 46 comments
  • Wheeljack Wheeljack on Jul 19, 2011

    Clean Wranglers with reasonable miles will far exceed $8K. Why not find another (perhaps a 1997+ with the improved interior) Cherokee with lower miles to run for a while?

  • Sam P Sam P on Jul 19, 2011

    Instead of the Mini a couple more sane Asian choices come to mind: - Scion tC - Hyundai Tiburon V6 (surprisingly fun to drive, I had one as a rental last year) - Acura RSX

  • Jeff S Years ago Kentucky issued a license plate with a horse running with the words "Unbridled Spirit." The religious right objected and did not want the plate because they believed it encouraged people to go to the race track and bet on horses. Anyone who knows anything about Kentucky knows its famous for raising horses and yes there is Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is run but horses in themselves are not sinful. It got so bad that the state issued a blank sticker to put over the horse and the logo. Kentucky also issued a plate for those who were offended stating "In God We Trust." The latest KY plate has no logo and nothing. I always picked the horse because I thought horses were something to be proud of and associated with Kentucky.
  • Old Scold As a Marylander, I got those plates assigned to me when I purchased my car in 2016, 4 years after the so-called anniversary. I figured they were using up NOS, and it never occurred to me to check out the URL. I still don't care. It's a stupid issue, but I have my tag number memorized should I need it.
  • Hpycamper I drive a car with automatic braking and have nothing good to say about it. It has activated going around corners on mountain roads when the hillside is close to the road, when lawn sprinklers turned on and sprayed the car, and driving past cars on the shoulder that are making right turns. Luckily these phantom brake activations have not caused a wreck. The systems are just too dumb.
  • SCE to AUX How long until that $90k yields a profit for my grandchildren?
  • Ajla I do wonder what the legacy of the Alpha Camaro will be. It was higher performing than the Zeta but lacks the pop culture imprinting of that gen or the earlier F-body. And somehow it managed to be less comfortable than the Zeta. I guess it depends if this is really the last traditional Camaro.