By on July 6, 2011


Mackenzie writes:

Hello, I am a 16-year-old girl looking to buy her first car. I am looking at Jeep Cherokees (NOT Grand Cherokees). I am trying to find a decent manual transmission one, but I can’t seem to locate any within a reasonable distance from me (Eastern Virginia).

My dad says I should look for a 1999-2001 Cherokee, but the few that I have found that are stick shift usually have pretty high mileage or are out of my budget. As car experts, would you guys recommend an older (94-98ish) Cherokee or a newer one with higher mileage?

I keep hearing that American-made cars are not as hardy as foreign-made cars, and that over 180,000 miles for a Cherokee is a no-go. My parents have agreed to pay half of the car, but with what I am finding, it’s still going to be a lot of money to pay. At first I was looking at $3500 tops, but I’m thinking I will have to raise that. Any help or advice y’all have on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

Sajeev answers:

I know you want a Cherokee and they are pretty cool, but they are a terrible choice for a 16 year old. And not because Jeeps are junk and American cars aren’t has durable as foreign cars. As if. It’s the wrong move for things we haven’t discussed: gas cost, insurance rates and safety.

Let’s be real: teenagers will explore the limits of their driving skills. And I’d prefer you (or a friend who borrows your ride) keep the shiny side up. The Cherokee’s design dates back to the 1980s, so they aren’t especially great compared to modern car and trucks in a crash. And blaming it on old age alone is me being generous to the Cherokee. Perhaps its because of Federal regulations at the time, but trucks had little of the common sense safety engineering of cars from that era.

A boring little car is your best choice, you will have more money for other things, and will be better off in the future. If that sounds good to you, what car would you be interested in?

Find one of those in your price range. Make sure it has some service history or a host of new parts to ensure it hasn’t had a neglected, rough life. This is a better move for you, odds are you will have more money for other things in the future if you take my advice. And, believe it or not, that’s what you will want when you use that vehicle to move to the next stage of your life.

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

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99 Comments on “Piston Slap: For the Next Stage in Life...”

  • avatar

    Sajeev is right, Mackenzie. As cool as they might seem, you do not want a Cherokee. It will break your heart (if you’re lucky) or break something else (if you wreck it.) Any Cherokee you can afford has likely been ridden hard and put away wet.

    Domestics are fine: a well-cared for anything should be able to go 200,000 miles these days with minimal fuss. Whatever you buy, make sure it won’t eat you alive with fuel and maintenance costs, and make sure you can see out of it.

    • 0 avatar

      Hello all!
      This is Mackenzie, the 16-year old looking for car advice.
      Thanks for all the help. I read through all 75ish comments and was both touched and enlightened by your suggestions. I would like to take this time, however, to tell you what I ended up doing about the car and reply to a couple of comments that caught my attention.
      I go to a private school about 25 minutes away from where I live. My school does not offer bus service. My brother drove us to school every day in his 1970 Volkswagon camper van (not sure why my parents let him get that – definitely not a reliable car) until he graduated last year. Public transportation in my area is virtually nonexistent. The nearest HRT bus stop is about 3 miles past my school. That being said, it is not practical to try and use public transportation for my transportation needs. I work as a lifeguard within walking distance from where I live, so I normally bike or walk to work.
      Yes, this is my last year of high school, and the college I want to attend does not allow freshmen to have cars. However, I have a younger sister, 2 years my junior, that will make good use of the car when I leave for college.
      And with all that being said, I would like to tell you about the car I just recently purchased. We found a Cherokee down in West Palm Beach, Florida. Sounds like a long way to go for a car, but my dad is a pilot, so we flew down there a few weeks ago and drove the 14 hour trip back. It is a 2000 white Jeep Cherokee with 123,000 miles on it. It is 4-cylinder, manual transmission, 4-wheel drive. We bought it for $3100. It came with some lovely home-done tint that I just finished scraping off. It has a few minor dents, and the front left fender flare fell off on the way back from Florida. It did great on the trip and has served me well ever since. The clutch had just been replaced, and the interior is in good condition. I just finished prepping it with my “prepared-for-anything pack”, complete with a first aid kit, jumper cables, a full toolbox, a jack, water, motor oil, spare tire, extra clothes, and many other important things. I now have a total of 320 dollars left in my bank account, but I have 2 lifeguarding jobs and am working responsibly.
      Thanks again for all your advice!
      (I posted this a few weeks ago, but I guess no one saw it – it was in the middle of a menagerie of comments.)

  • avatar

    And she’s really going to be safer if she goes the cheap small car route? Let’s face it, basically nothing produced before the year 2000 is really going to be “safe” in the way you seem to be figuring. A Cherokee from that era is a better choice than a small car if your absolute consideration is safety. She won’t be better off in a Civic or a Focus, and she won’t be able to obtain a decent newer car for her budget anyway. You’ve seen how used car prices are nowadays.

    Just yesterday I opened up my Auto Trader to see a dealer selling a 97 Aspire with 70k miles for $4995. Utter madness.

    • 0 avatar

      Probably the only Aspire in the world with so few miles on it … or possibly it is one of the pink ones with a Jack Baruth signature somewhere on it!

    • 0 avatar

      Safety is not only surviving when someone else causing an accident, but also avoiding one yourself. I knew 3 guys with Cherokees in the 90’s and feared for my life whenever I rode with one; they didn’t seem to be able to take corners above walking speed without tire screech and the Exxon Valdez probably had a shorting stopping distance (the expensive worn tires were seldom replaced). A smaller, nimbler car can remove the self induced problems from the safety equation without being too much worse when someone else hits you.

      I may be (am) biased, but I think the bug-eye era Subaru Outback Sport/whatever-the-non-WRX-Impreza-wagon-was-called could be a good recommendation here. Active and passive safety are excellent, it would perform just as well as a light soft-roader and reliability is among the best. SF bay Craigslist has a couple for around the $5k mark, so in less expensive parts of the country it might not be too far beyond her budget.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to disagree with you. While I have driven a host of different vehicles in my scant 8 years of driving, and I don’t think that a small car is necessarily less safe. I’ve personally owned two small cars (1993 Honda Accord and 1997 Acura Integra) and a 1995 Dakota. The small cars have incredible maneuverability and it’s much easier to avoid a wreck. No car is completely safe. Point is, small cars are less likely to roll over in evasive maneuvers, take less to stop, and despite America’s pension for bigger and bigger vehicles, most (well-built) small cars have a decent body structure.

      And I’ve driven enough cars to see the difference. If you want to truly argue safety, than she could technically go for an old Volvo 240 or a pre-1990s American car. Hell, The Volvo 240 I’ve driven felt like it was as heavy or heavier than the 1984 Dodge Ram I used to borrow from a friend.

      Fact of the matter is, any older style SUV is top heavy. My dad had a non-Firestone recall 2000 Explorer that couldn’t take a banked curve where I live at more than 35 mph for fear of tipping over. My Integra can take it at 60 without the slightest screech from the tires. For that matter, the Ford Club Wagon I used to drive sometimes at work would scare the crap out of me when I had it full of kids and had to take a tight turn because sometimes I felt like it would tip.

      I’m not saying that SUVs don’t have their advantages, and I’m actually fan of the old Cherokees (though I’ve never driven one, sadly). But when you’ve driven everything from pick-up trucks, to small buses, to box trucks, to sedans, stations wagons, and minivans you get a feel for weight distribution and safety.

      Also, for people like me who live in NC and know about the horrific wreck on I-40 last week, you realize nothing is truly safe. Bigger is not better when a tractor trailer comes barreling at you. Destroyed an F-250, Equinox, and some unidentifiable luxury car. Interesting side note (for anyone who may possibly have heard about said wreck) I passed the spot no more than 10 minutes before it happened.

      • 0 avatar

        Active safety is a very worthy pursuit. Sports cars have active safety. Sports cars are good.

        Active safety really works best when backed by careful attention and significant driving experience. Neither of which new drivers typically have in great quantity. For those users passive safety is pretty important .. in the not-unlikely event that a trip to the grocery store ends up shiny side down or at a tree / telephone pole.

  • avatar

    Mackenzie; As a father who has a son and a daughter, I shudder at your desiring a Jeep Cherokee for the reasons stated above. Especially back then – not sure about now, but trucks and their brethren were not subject to the same safety regulations as cars. For that reason alone, No-go. No-way. Never. Ever. Nein, Nyet.

    I do understand your desire to enjoy the driving experience in a car you actually WANT to drive (and shift).

    What type of vehicle would I recommend? Something with suitable safety equipment such as side curtain airbags and a good side impact rating for starters, but not something that so insulates your feel for the road as to encourage you driving too fast, or pulling maneuvers you are either not familiar with or not experienced enough to do.

    A Jeep Patriot is closest in looks to the Cherokee. Also the Compass. If not that type of vehicle, then look at a medium-sized car that has a manual transmission option. At your age, avoid sports cars, although fun, the insurance cost may make that a bad choice.

    Finally, the probable best option, all other things considered – your age, monetary resources and immediate circumstances and planning ahead, buy a Hyundai, Honda Civic, Chevy Cobalt, Ford Focus, or something used similar in size. Look around and take your time and you’ll most likely find the right vehicle for you.

    Happy hunting and happy motoring – and remember: NO TEXTING OR TALKING EXCESSIVELY ON THE PHONE WHILE DRIVING, PLEASE!

  • avatar

    For basic 16 year-old new driver transportation, I’d go with a Hyundai Sonata. $3,500 buys a 2001, under 100k miles. Boring, safe, good mileage, simple to fix.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you kidding? You do not want to touch any Hyundai before the 2005 model year. They were all complete trash. Less so over the past six years. They’ve made huge strides, but no one can really recommend an eleven year old Hyundai.

  • avatar

    If you or your dad can do some basic repairs at home, I would suggest a Volvo wagon or sedan of mid-90 vintage (think Volvo 850) Would be safe, affordable, and decent transportation. If you need a little more ground clearance, or are not a mechanically inclined how about a mid-90 Honda CR-V Or Toyota Rav 4. They have small, reliable, efficient engines and basic all wheel drive.

  • avatar

    Look for a 3door Rav4, these are real cool, maybe not so easy to find, but I think it’s a good option.

  • avatar

    Four door, mid-size anything. There’s no experience quite like kicking that stinking heap that was your first car, purchased with all its compromises, to the curb and replacing it with a better car once you have a little more money and wisdom the second time around.

  • avatar

    I’m going to disagree with redliner; my family has a 1st-generation CR-V and it’s not particularly good, especially in ergonomics. How about a Ford Escape?

    If you end up going for a car and reliability is important, I’d look to the 2nd tier of Japanese manufacturers – Nissan and Mazda (I’m a big fan of the Protege5, personally). Hondas and Toyotas hold their prices too well. If safety matters, you may be able to find an IIHS driver death rate report covering the years you’re looking at. They’re broken down by car model and I think those stats are among the most useful.

  • avatar

    Focus, Cobalt, Hyundai. Any of these will should be newer and safer for your Cherokee money. And more fun to drive (on the street) with a manual.

    Japanese vehicles like the RAV4 and Civic might be too expensive.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    This is how the system typically works…

    16 years old: Don’t ask for anything. Don’t buy anything. The opportunity here is to get good grades and lay the platform for a better purchase when you truly need it.

    Use the parents car(s) when you need to. Save your/their money for when you truly need the transport.

    High school graduation: Figure out where you are going to go to college and whether you will even need a car. Unlike my era, most colleges provide local transport for students.

    Sophomore college: Are you on the road to med/bus/law school? Are you pursuing the studies that interest you? If you have established yourself academically during the past two years this is the time to push for ‘the car’.

    If the finances are with you, this will be the golden opportunity to buy a new car (or near new) and keep it for the next 10 years. You will be able to get something far better than an old and tired SUV and the minimal cost for the next five years will be an enormous help in allowing you to become a success. You will have minimal costs and maximum opportunity to enjoy your life with complete freedom.

    Four years seems like a long time when you’re still stuck in high school as a sixteen year old. But trust me. It goes fast. The groundwork you lay now will enable you to enjoy a very wonderful and worry free future.

    Good luck!

    • 0 avatar

      You really are too sensible for your own good Mr Lang. Here’s a teenage girl asking for advice on what car to buy, and your advice is “Don’t buy one.” I would opt for the cheap small car option (I’m thinking 3rd gen Cavalier) that everyone else is suggesting. It gets you mobile, keeps things cheap, and if anything goes wrong the parts are dirt cheap.

    • 0 avatar

      Take this advice and run with it. Sounds similar to what I did years ago. Good advice as always from Mr. Lang.

    • 0 avatar

      Looking back, I really didn’t “need” a car of my own until I was about 20. There were few instances where I couldn’t have simply borrowed a car, carpooled or biked where I needed to go in high school, and my car sat in my parents driveway for my first two years of college. And by then my mom had “retired” so I probably could have still shared a car with her until I graduated and moved out at 23. But I was young, stupid and car crazy, so there was no way around it.

      However, I did, with a lot of help from my parents, buy a new Honda Civic when I turned 16. Nearly 10 years later, I still have it and hopefully it still has a lot of life in it. Today it’s just my backup car, but now that I’m older and (finally) a little wiser, I’m seriously considering dumping my other car (an ’11 Mustang a crap transmission and a propensity for speeding tickets) and sticking with the old Honda until the wheels fall off.

      Either buy nothing but beaters or buy an economical new car and drive it forever. And only if you truly need a car. Otherwise, it’s just not worth the money. I never would have believed that at 16, but it’s the truth.

    • 0 avatar

      I purposely avoided this subject in my post, but I agree this is the way to go. Our daughter got our hand-me-down 1990 Acclaim because where we live, no other form of transport exists aside from cars. At sixteen, she was only allowed to go to and from work by herself some time after getting her license – 8 months. Before that, we either took her and picked her up or she got a ride – and – was in close touch by cell phone – one of ours, not hers. No, we were not “helicopter parents” by any means, but kept an eye on her as much as reasonable – she knew we cared!

      Our son, much the same story. Bought an extra vehicle – a 1983 Ford Ranger 4 speed, 4 cyl. That was also our hunting/fishing vehicle as well. He didn’t drive it until he was 17.

      Myself? Much the same back in ancient days. I didn’t buy my first car until I was 17+1/2! Up to that time we were a single-car family, too! What I wound up buying – a 1952 Chevy for $75 bucks, we pretty much still were!

    • 0 avatar

      Mackenzie, you will get several good car options in the other replies, but this is absolutely the best advice that you will get here. And if you can follow Steve’s advice, I’d like to introduce you to my nephew in a couple of years.

      That said, if you can’t take his advice, be sure that you’re putting function first in your decision. Do you NEED a Cherokee for your purposes, i.e, towing, 4WD, hauling a LOT of stuff? If not, you’ll be a lot better off with a smaller, plainer car. Lots of style is a very expensive option in your first car.

      Edit: Props for looking for a manual. I’m encouraged that any 16 year old, much less a female, recognizes the value in manual transmissions. And be sure to include your Dad in any actual shopping. I hate to say it, but most auto salesman see any female as an easy mark to be rolled for extra profits, and your age will only make things worse. Remain dispassionate about any specific vehicle until the deal is done.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, Lang’s right, seriously.

      I’m 22 now, and ended up with my first car at age… 15? Maybe 16? Ended up with a Mercury Mystique (not safest car, but only one in our $4000 target money range). I’ve always hated it.

      Wanted to get rid of it for years, but I have to say I’m glad I didn’t. Not because I ever liked it (I never have) but because in that time my taste in vehicles has changed to the point that I know more about what I like in a car than I did just a couple years ago. The car ended up being extremely reliable and dented our finances very little, to the point that I can think about buying something I’ll actually like today.

      Back then, I wanted a little car for fuel economy. I didn’t realize how much fishing and off-roading I would miss, though, as we had to get rid of our off roader at the same time. Man, I miss that Cherokee…

      I mean, no, nix that last point.

      But in all seriousness, you’ll find as time goes on that your tastes in cars will change. For now, get something as a trainer, one safe enough, reliable enough, and cheap enough to get you through your teething driver years alive, not swimming in debt, and hopefully wiser.

      P.S. Also, old Cherokees like my family’s defunct 87 may be ridiculously cool, but only if you’re able to change the oil on a daily basis and are capable of doing other little things to it constantly. Engines and drivetrain lasts forever, but you’ll watch all the other parts (window winders, locks, upholstery) disintegrate pretty bad as the years go on. If you wait till you can afford a newer (or new) vehicle, you can get something that’s not just safer, but better built.

      • 0 avatar

        Unfortunately, I must humbly disagree with Mr. Lang. True to form he’s giving life lessons rather than car advice. In my mind, the only reason a 16 yr old should not go halfsies on a vehicle with her parents is because she’s not mature enough to handle the responsibility. Mackinzie sounds like her head’s on straight and her parents obviously approve so I see no problem there. No doubt Mr. Lang’s “a penny saved” philosophy has a place. But a person’s highschool car experience is a beautiful thing and I wouldn’t wish anyone to miss it. True, Mackinzie will be $1750 richer if she stays carless until 20, but I cannot say that I’d trade $1750 for my years with that sky blue ’88 CRX I drove in highschool. Did I “need” a car. No. Am I kicking myself because I could have been so much more sucessful had I saved that $2000 15 years ago? Hell no.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        shortthrowsixspeed it’s not really a dollars and cents debate.

        When I was of that age my mom had an Acura Legend. I could have either driven some crappy subcompact of my own for cheap. Or I could drive a nice, sporty, luxurious car with leather and a sunroof.

        It wasn’t a difficult decision. I chose the Legend. If she has access to a nice car already she should consider the same.

        Now when I went to college I did have my own car. But back then my college provided zero transportation services to the students and none of the services we used outside of campus were within walking distance.

        These days most colleges have extensive transportation alternatives available for their students. Shuttles, Zipcars, exclusive bike paths. Most schools ban cars from their heavy student traffic areas and the cost of parking alone can approach the four figures.

        I’m not saying go without a car until you’re 22. I am saying she should ‘kick the can down the road’ until the time comes when she truly needs her own car.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget Subaru. There’s a 2000 Forester with a manual in the Hampton Roads Craigslist for $4k. It’s probably high mileage, but as long as it doesn’t have the DOHC 2.5L (EJ25D) it’s probably good for a very long life.

    Being in “eastern” Virginia you need to *run* away from any dealer that explicitly caters to the military and from any vehicle that would be of interest to a young serviceman (anything from sporty cars like a WRX or Mustang up to any 4×4 with oversize tires, but Jeeps of all stripes are suspect). The dealers will be prone to the usual dirty tricks and the cars will be ragged out within an inch of their lives. There’s enough of this kind of problem here in the Richmond area, I can only imagine how bad it is further east.

  • avatar

    I would recommend a small, manual, hatch back. Practical, great handling, gas mileage and they are way cooler than a sedan. Handling is more important for safety than most people realise, more important than bulk any way.
    Focus, Fit, Versa, Mazda 3, Mazda 2 or fiesta even.

  • avatar

    I’m going to throw my $0.02 in and suggest, if at all possible in your budget, get something that has stability control/ESP/ESC/DSC (not to be confused with traction control). Anything that has stability control will also have ABS. Those two technologies will go a very long way toward, as Sajeev says, “keep[ing] the shiny side up” when, most likely unintentionally, you or someone else “explore the limits of their driving skills.”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Mid size sedan, low center of gravity, fairly safe. Grand Prix are going fairly cheaply since the death of Pontiac. Find one with the base 3800, be gentle on the gas pedal and you’ll likely do better than the EPA says you should with fuel economy.

  • avatar

    As disappointing as it may seem to someone your age, I have to agree with Sajeev here. I would add – get something with a low center of gravity and with a low amount of power relative to the weight of the car. My first car was a 70 hp ’92 Civic CX. At the time I lusted for a cool 4×4 truck or a car with more power. But in hindsight, given the number of times I still nearly killed myself and others by driving far too fast and cornerig with way too much abandon, it was a very good thing I didn’t have a car that met either criteria. It probably saved my life and the lives of others. A fair number of kids I knew who did have such spiffy rides ended up stuffing or rolling them. One kid with a Corvette killed himself and a friend when they hit a telephone pole at a speed in excess of 130 mph. As an added bonus, the Civic got phenomenal fuel mileage during the era of sub $1 gas, which meant my $7/hour wage (an exorbitant rate for a high school kid in the early to mid nineties!) went much farther than all the other kid’s with less thrifty cars.

  • avatar


  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    Plus one on the Panther… Only problem is no manuals. Super/Turbocoupe with a stickshift maybe? Or a Protege or a Subaru with a stick. Or for an off-the-wall suggestion (that I highly recommend against as it’s mostly in jest) a Pontiac Fiero. The things seem to be pretty safe since they’re space-frames. Plus it might be worth money in the future, hmm… [/daydream about Northstar-powered Fieros]

    On second thought, get a P71 Crown Vic. It’s a cop-car/old man’s car so the insurance won’t bat an eye to it. Keep your grades good like I did (literally a year ago) and drive safe/sane, your wallet and parents will thank you. Oh and get one of those bluetooth things for your phone and enable voice recognition on said phone, it’s actually pretty convenient. When you’re done with school start looking for a manual car, be it a Mustang or a Hyundai. By the time you’re out of college (assuming you’re going, nothing wrong either way) you’ll be getting out of the age bracket where your insurance is more due to age.

    All of this coming from someone who just finished his public school career and is now looking at five years of college.

  • avatar

    Hilux, or samurai, 4runner, Nissan Kingcab. Not sure what you have to choose from when it comes to cheap old 4×4’s in the US, but not many are considered as unreliable as the Cherokee, unless maybe a Ranger. Being a Ford guy I’d say Ranger, but get one so cheap that you have money left to uprate the suspension and tires before taking it out for a drive (and try to avoid the 2,9 v6). Decent shocks and wheels can transform ‘humpty dumpty’ into ‘Bigfoot’. (That really goes for the Cherokee too)

  • avatar
    George B

    Mackenzie, at your age it all comes down to insurance cost, not gasoline. You just won’t drive enough for gasoline to be more expensive than insurance and taxes. Buy a relatively big 4 door sedan like Grandpa would buy because those cars tend to not only have low insurance cost, but they also tend to get good maintenance with minimal abuse. You’re going to be patiently waiting for a good deal on a Buick that some relative of one of your parent’s friends is selling. The other option would be to not buy a Buick or equivalent big safe car, but instead save your money and buy a more desirable car later.

  • avatar

    I have to agree with most of the others here, the Jeep Cherokee is not a good choice for a first car.
    I company I worked for had one – a 1997 IIRC – and admittedly the 4.0 I6 was reliable and had superior off road capability, which is what is was bought for. But the ride was torture, the handling scary, and the gas mileage was abysmal. I thought the same vintage Exploders were bad, but they are almost sporty compared to the Jeep product. It only seemed at home in 4WD,crawling over rocks, going up hills, or across muddy fields, anywhere else – city, highway, wherever – was not a pleasant experience IMHO.
    A decent sedan from the early to mid 2000’s Focus, Cobalt etc would fit your needs and you just might be able to find one with a manual. Just make sure it was maintained properly and the owner has all the records, if they don’t, walk away, there’s always another one down the road.
    BTW how cool is it that a 16 year old wants a vehicle with a manual.
    Good luck.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    As an owner of one of the original Cherokees (1984) for seven years (4-cylinder engine; manual tranny), I would say that the vehicle was reasonably reliable and satisfactory to operate in the era of 55 mph highway speed limits (which were mostly pretty well enforced, keeping traffic speeds at about 60 in this part of the world). However, by today’s standards, the Cherokee is a crude vehicle, to wit: making it hustle around corners caused some very unsettling motions from the solid rear axle as the rather soft suspension went into oscillation; no ABS, no airbags, no stability control (important on a high center of gravity vehicle; less important on a car). And not particularly good fuel economy, for a 4-cylinder driven at moderate speeds.

    So, I wouldn’t recommend it.

    Eastern Virginia doesn’t get much snow, so I do not recommend any sort of SUV or CUV. As a group, they handle poorly and use more fuel. While not the last word in safety, a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla — pre-inspected by a decent mechanic — are much better choices. Or, any number of domestic mid-sized cars, especially Buicks, which are not sexy but are reasonably reliable, safe and cheap to insure (a major consideration for someone your age).

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    No 16 year old should ever drive anything without her parents in the vehicle, other than an ugly old four door sedan. A Crown Victoria is a good idea, so is an old Taurus. An Impala. My assistant bought the Saturn L200 that the old lady next door used to drive.

    SUVs just give you more ways to get into trouble. I, like all those nervous dads above, would not do it.

    Funny How Four Doors Reduce Your Rollover Risk – by Patrick Bedard in C&D for July 2001.

    “Teenagers, SUVs Don’t Mix Well: Younger Drivers May Face Bigger Risk of Rolling Over In Crashes, Study Suggests” by Karen Lundegaard in The Wall Street Journal on 11 Nov. 2004 at Page D5,,SB110013351145270892,00.html

    “Car wreck gives soccer player new outlook” by Mark Znidar in The Columbus Dispatch on 29 Oct 2005

    … Sarah Wall was on the move as usual like a special-delivery driver on the tightest of schedules. She was going the speed limit in the family sport-utility vehicle on Rt. 33 just north of Hayden Run Road, but her mind was traveling at warp speed. She had forgotten, then retrieved, her hymnal at home in Upper Arlington and was returning to All Shepherds Lutheran Church in Lewis Center so she could lead the congregation in song.


    “I was just zoned out, staring in the distance,” Wall said. “A lot of it was fatigue. I was spread very, very thin and everything came crashing down.”

    Wall’s vehicle drifted to the right of the edge line. She overcorrected with a quick jerk of the wheel, lost control and flipped over the guardrail.


    Emergency room doctors at Riverside Methodist Hospital found more than scrapes, cuts and bruises. Xrays revealed two broken vertebra in her lower back.

    [Her father said:] “I’m just glad that I saw Sarah before I saw the (SUV). It was totaled, a wreck.”


    Wall underwent 4½ hours of surgery that fused the vertebrae and grafted synthetic bone. Two titanium rods were attached to her spine to aid healing.


    • 0 avatar

      Boy, that brings back an account of one of my daughter’s friend’s experience. Too many people where I live have more money than sense. Her dad bought her a Ford Explorer when she turned 16. She promptly went out of control on a nasty little S-curve and flipped it. She wasn’t hurt seriously, but the judge in court sure felt like doing extreme bodily harm on the father and let him know in no uncertain terms!

  • avatar

    I’d recommend a 1994-98 Saab 900, naturally-aspirated with the 5 spd. manual. I drove such a car in high school (write up here:, and it was fantastic. It was fun to drive, safe, and practical (hatchback.) I generally got around 30 mpg, with mostly highway driving. That car was a 1995; it’s still in the family today, and runs like a top (despite having 160,000 miles on the odometer.)

    If you’d prefer to buy domestic, I’ll have to side with EducatorDan and recommend a GM W-body (Lumina, Impala, Grand Prix, Regal, Century, Intrigue.) They too are safe, efficient if you want them to be, a sensible size, and essentially bulletproof.)

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      If you get an Intrigue with the Shortstar 3.5 V6, make sure it was maintained to the book. Oh and like any Northstar Cadillac/Olds, it likes to “stretch its legs” once in a while, and cruising down the highway in second/third gear is the easiest way to do so.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve been fairly interested in the Northstars lately (college senior looking for a vehicle, and entertaining options.) I’ve been specifically interested in the STS pre-1998 and the first-gen Aurora. Any words of wisdom?

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Conventional wisdom says the Northstar got better after 2003 model year. Not perfect, just better. They eliminated the liquid cooled alt and made a few other improvements. Ian is right about the carbon build up issue if the engine is driven “gingerly” as most of the elderly clientelle does. A good 2nd or 3rd gear flog running the engine up aganst the rev limiter is good for the engine every once in a while (that’s what the old timers call “an Italian tune up.”)

        Now some guys still won’t touch em with a ten foot pole (and you haven’t said what your budget is or how handy you are with tools.) I wouldn’t fear the newest nicest lowest mileage example I could find, but then I also don’t mind getting my hands dirty and learning the ins and outs of a particular engine. For some weird reason the Aurora doesn’t seem to have the same issues the Northstar has in oil burning and eating head gaskets. Very strange…

      • 0 avatar

        Having seen way too many Caddy DTS trade-ins with the typical Northstar ailments, I fall into the ‘not with a ten foot pole’ category.

        The 2005+ STS with the 3.6 V6 is a great bargain on the used market due to the enormous depreciation. The GM ‘high feature’ V6 is a reliable engine with plenty of power, and plus you get the RWD Sigma platform setup.

        If the V8 and a sub-$5K cost are important, late 90s/early ’00s Grand Marquis and Town Cars fit the bill well, with the only real reliability concern around 100K miles being the condition of the air suspension setup, which is pretty economical to fix or can even be replaced with conventional springs.

      • 0 avatar

        Dan, does that mean that GM moved the alternator out from under the intake manifold? Liquid cooling wasn’t a gimmick. It was because some series of imbeciles put an alternator in an oven into production. Heck, they seem to have added it after the first few years of Northstar alternators perished in their valley of the danged cylinder banks.

      • 0 avatar

        If it is going to be your DD then the Supercharged 3800 > pre-2003 versions of the Cadillac Northstar.

        However, if you are just looking for a screw around car, and you are a bit of a gambler, then go for it. They are quite nice vehicles.

        As others have written already, the 3.5L V6 and 4.0L V8 seem to have a much better track record than the 4.6L V8.

      • 0 avatar

        It would be a DD, but only for about four months of the year. Specifically, the summer months. Thus, I could afford to take a few risks.

        I drove a Bonneville SSEi with the supercharged 3800 last summer. It was a good, smooth engine, but I almost found it a little sluggish. To be fair, this car was a ’98 model with 140,000 miles on it. That engine makes, I think, 240hp. Maybe it was the different torque curve that made it seem that much less peppy than my parents’ ’05 Saab 9-5 Arc wagon (220hp, but peak torque at 1900 rpm.)

        That’s interesting that the 4.0 is more dependable than the 4.6. Would that have something to do with the lower displacement/output, or were there other substantial design differences? The Aurora may just have moved up on my list, in any case. I’m not a hugely aggressive driver; the Aurora with 250hp would seem to be a good highway cruiser. Also, first-gen models are a dime a dozen around here (Southwestern Ontario.) Can anybody speak from first hand experience about them?

      • 0 avatar


        If you thought the SSEi felt sluggish then it must have been gimped (worn belts?) in some way because that engine should hit you just as hard as the Northstar V8 and Saab turbo. Even my Series I supercharged 3800 gives a decent thwack. Down low is pretty much what these engines exist for.

        Here’s a comparison chart of the 4.6L Northstar and Series III supercharged 3800. As you can see they run really close to one another.

        Here’s the chart on the Series II supercharged. Unfortunately, I don’t have a chart for the Saab.

      • 0 avatar

        @ ajla: I imagine that was the case. Either that, or I was driving too gingerly. The vehicle in question was pretty worn. Maybe I should consider a well-kept Olds LSS…?

      • 0 avatar

        amriply: We had a LSS in our family. It handled way better than the Buick platform stablemate. Supercharged engine was great and dead stone reliable. The Achilles heel? The brakes sucked worse than any car I can recall driving…

    • 0 avatar

      I’d be interested in a Sigma STS, but they’re out of my student price range at this point. Also, I find the interiors on the ’90s models to be much more palatable. Am I a minority here?

      • 0 avatar
        Ian Anderson

        Nah you’re not, unless it’s a two person minority. My aunt has a Sigma STS with the HFV6 and I couldn’t help but think “what would this car do with a Northstar…” that and I prefer the “Sopranos” FWD Northstar STS’ interior. A black on black Seville STS can be a damned nice looking car IMHO.

  • avatar

    Just run with your parent’s or friend’s cars for now, kiddo. I know all of the popular girls get to drive Cherokees, but their parents are irresponsible for spoiling them. Hold off on buying anything for now, it’s hard, I know, but once you’re a bit older and wiser you’ll see that it was the right choice. Oh, and avoid 99-04 Jettas.

    • 0 avatar

      Parents paying for half of a ten year old Cherokee doesn’t constitute spoiled in this day. Heck, it didn’t constitute spoiled in the ’80s. I think she should have as much fun now as she can, because tough times are ahead no matter how industrious and cautious she is.

  • avatar

    Oh what I would have given to know a girl who wanted a Jeep with a manual transmission when I was in high school…

    That said, don’t do it. As much as the enthusiast loves the XJ Cherokees, they’re terrible for everyday use in just about every possible way. Cramped interiors, lousy mileage and absolutely terrible reliability, even when they were new.

    It’s a bad market for used cars right now, anyway, hold off buying one for as long as you can. And if you really need a car, go with the newest Honda (but not a Passport) or Toyota you can afford. You might have to pay more up front, but even a bad one would be cheaper to run and repair than the Cherokee.

  • avatar

    Admittedly, it’s been awhile both since I was your age and since I was looking for a car in that price range. However, I would not recommend a truck/SUV. Not only are they a pain to drive in anything other than a straight line, unless you must have the ability to go off-road, a car will be a heck of a lot more enjoyable to drive. I suggest you try driving some cars, both two and four door, including hatchbacks. You can whittle down the possibilites by deciding what you need in a car in terms of room to haul people and things. Then find the car with those capabilities that fits both you and your budget. I’m not going to be a complete fuddy duddy and try to convince you to get a boring land barge, unless that’s actually what you want. Just think about what you need this car for and make sure that it is a vehicle that fits.

  • avatar
    jonny b

    I detect a whiff of paternalism in the comments. If Mackenzie were a guy wouldn’t we be recommending something fun to drive but with questionable reliability? I know you all read the post and thought “16-year old girl who wants to drive a manual? Adorable! I must take her under my wing and protect her from the evil Cherokee.”

    I get it. I have 2 daughters. Safety’s important and you should avoid obviously dangerous cars but you’re only young once. Have some fun. My advice: Stick with the brand that’s been providing American teenagers cheap, fun, terribly unreliable transportation for 50 years: VW. For your price you should find a halfway decent Golf or a questionable GTI. Manuals are plentiful. Why be boring?

    • 0 avatar

      It depends on where she lives. Is it a safe place for a young woman to be stranded in a parking lot or on the side of the road when her VW achieves its potential?

    • 0 avatar

      “If Mackenzie were a guy wouldn’t we be recommending something fun to drive but with questionable reliability?”

      We better not. Especially since teenage dudes are more likely to NOT keep the shiny side up.

  • avatar

    I didn’t buy a car until I was a junior in college and even then hardly drove it enough to be worth it. Public transport, walking, biking, and rides from friends were all I needed until after college. I didn’t need a car in high school either because I didn’t have a job and lived 2 blocks from my H.S.

  • avatar

    Next door neighbor had a gen2 CRV. Walked away without a scratch after rolling it. Tough little vehicle. 4WD/AWD makes sense in eastern VA for a new driver learning the ropes in snow. Finding one with a manual (did they even offer one?) is probably going to be tough.

    As much as I believe in learning to drive stick on general principle, and even though I believe having to pay attention to shifting tends to make one a better driver, I’m not sure if it’s really the best choice for a really new driver. Maybe let the transmission look after itself while you learn to look out for other vehicles, road conditions, etc.

  • avatar

    Give the kid a break. She sounds 10x more responsible than most plus she’s got the right attitude. All kids should learn to drive in a stick shift. We would’ve heard of alot less runaway Toyotas if that were the case.

    Taking her offroading would demonstrate traction, contact patch, slip angles, center of gravity, balance and under/oversteer. Did I mention friction? Some adults haul ass in the rain like it’s a hot sunny day.

    Learning the laws of physics could save her life today and down the road as an adult driving a minivan full of your darling grandbabies.

    Sure there are safer cars but how many people survived VW Beetles as their first cars? I’ve found that those kids went on to be better drivers, if they made it to their 20s.

  • avatar

    Actually, having just bought my first car about 6 months ago (if you don’t need one, don’t get one. Work more or less forced me into it as soon as I got my license)I have some insight into this. I too wanted a truck (still do, as a matter of fact. Saving up for one now) but instead a family friend had a rare Mercedes 300CE for sale for a hell of a price.

    The W124 may be a perfect choice, really. It is insanely durable first off. I could wax poetic about the M103, such a peach that is. It is also very easy to work on, (as long as you don’t mind paying for expensive parts and special tools, the engine bay is very well laid out) gets decent gas mileage (about 20ish give or take depending on driving style), insurance is cheap enough, and heavy German steel is hard to beat for safety. It is not so fast that you will kill yourself (0-60 in the mid-to-high sevens), but not so slow as to cross off highways. It handles rather strangely as well. It tends to have exacerbated body roll, flopping a bit but it will stay connected to the ground unless you try to kill yourself, what with a very modern suspension setup.

    They also have some old school German style to them, so you can be proud in the high school parking lot. Granted, the stock rims are ugly as all get out, but some nice AMG replicas can be had quite cheaply. Importantly, they are fairly cheap too. I got mine for 2k, but expect to pay around 3.5k for a nice one.

    They do have their gremlins though. My warning lights will on occasion bug out for no particular reason. Also, their is a very stupid, very annoying buzzing sound that speaks up when you open the door, or start the car, or leave the lights on, or do pretty much anything. Also, the head gasket can be the lone weak spot.

    Finally, there is a rather large fan base, with many different forums able to answer any question you may have and there is always parts available, and rather easy to find.

  • avatar

    Man, a $3500 budget is pretty hard these days with the crazy high prices of used cars. I guess I’ll just say that back when I was a teenager I was a friggin’ terrible driver who thought he wasn’t a terrible driver (that is, I was like every other teenager). Of course now looking back and having crashed my car and hurt myself I actually wish that I had more money at the time to buy an even safer car-thankfully I was in a fairly safe car (a Civic that had just been upgraded to non-deathtrap status), but I got sandwiched between a Chevy Silverado that rear ended me and three vehicles that had already piled into each other (two of which were huge vehicles) so basically my Civic got smashed by two very heavy and very large lumps of metal. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had owned one of the older tin-can type Civics, but I’m guessing the answer would be that I probably wouldn’t be around to wonder about it. Honestly, I know we all have our personal pride and whatnot but if your parents are willing to pay for half I wouldn’t let your pride stop you from taking their help-you’re 16 and unless you’re some silicon valley computer genius I’m guessing your job options all pay horribly (btw, if you’re an excellent student with great grades one of the best paying jobs you can get is to be a private tutor for spoiled but lazy kids…I know one tutor who actually makes more than her investment banker boyfriend since she’s been doing it for so many years (and moved on from regular tutoring to SAT and college tutoring…and got lucky with very, very, wealthy and spoiled clients). Obviously this is only an option if you’re an amazing student yourself but seriously it’s about as high paying a job for a young person as there can be. You can charge $20 an hour pretty easily and frankly there’s no actual qualifications necessary, maybe take one job for cheaper to get references or something first but once you build up a reputation it’s a cash cow.

    OK, I got crazy off track there. So I guess I’ll just say that you should make sure that you don’t overestimate your driving ability (though to be honest, I think most of us still do it even after we’re older) try not to drive too much with the music cranked up and your 4 friends laughing and screaming in the car (though it is pretty fun it’ll also get you killed-I know I came pretty close once thanks to my idiot friends being in the car), and try to buy something seriously safe. Maybe an older Honda CR-V instead of a Cherokee. A 2002 CR-V w/AWD would be one of the very safest vehicles of the era: though unfortunately it would require doubling your budget but if that’s possible (perhaps you can sell your parents on this safety and responsibility angle by showing them the crash test result differences?) it’d be a much, much, safer choice that gets better mileage as well. There are other various safe vehicles from that era as well that may be a bit cheaper but I’m just saying what I’d probably want you to buy if you were my daughter, or even my younger self. Keep in mind that used car prices are very negotiable (also, that used car dealers are scum unfortunately) but this should run about $7K for a model with maybe slightly above average mileage on it.

    Best of luck, and I know I’ve been recommending the CR-V in two posts over the last couple of days but it’s only because I’ve been looking up the safety ratings and crash fatality statistics and it’s probably the safest vehicle that’s affordable used for most people. I don’t own one myself and I don’t work for Honda.

  • avatar

    Oh please people. Get the damn Cherokee and don’t hit anything.

  • avatar

    I’m with “don’t.”

    What do you need this for? School? Take the bus. Work? Can you get a different job within walking distance or near public transit?

    The economics of teenagers and cars seem to be that teen gets one to get to work and then the vehicle sucks up all the money earned at the job.

    Also, advice to parents, it’s much easier to say, “No, you can’t drive there” when “there” is a bad idea and it’s your car. When it’s the teens car, the dynamics of “No” are very different.

    • 0 avatar

      Also, if you absolutely must, Gen 1 Ravs (’96 to ’00) are surprisingly safe (scored extremely well on the 2002 IIHS Fatality report) and seem to be very dependable. If they’re out of favor, they might even be reasonably priced. If it drove right, felt right, passed my mechanic’s inspection and was priced right, I’d be comfortable buying one with 150K or maybe more. I have one with 150K. Models with a stick usually sell at a discount.

  • avatar

    If you would look at the IIHS actual data for 95-96/97-01 Cherokees, they are pretty safe. For $3500, I would drive one over an Escort or Cavalier which many teenagers buy.:-D

  • avatar

    This is brutal advice from a car forum! Generic early 2000s econoboxes? Her wallet may be better off, but at the expense of her soul!

    Mackenzie, it seems that most people here would order your automotive world this way:
    Phase 1 Young: buy some soul-crushing econo-can.
    Phase 2 Married: buy some horrid mini van to shuttle your offspring.
    Phase 3 Empty nester: buy some generic old man sports car like a convertable Corvette, think yourself hot, and drive at or below the speed limit whilst wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
    Phase 4: Die.

    Trust me Mackenzie, there is more to life than this!!! Go, be free, work hard, have fun, enjoy life, don’t be a zombie! Cars ARE a waste of money, but you sound cool, so go get a car that works for you! Older Jeeps arn’t that bad – just get a good one with a good owner and lots of service records. Drive safe, respect the limits of your vehicle, don’t be a goof, and the rest is out of your hands!

  • avatar

    For some reason this reminds me of my dear daughter who turned 16, got her license, and I bought her a car, partially to take the choice away from her. It was an indestructible, boring, safe — but girly cute — 6-year-old Toyoya, which she liked, since she expected me to pick a full-size Oldsmobile sedan. She wasn’t pleased that I removed the radio with an IOU to reinstall it in three months IF there were no tickets or various other indicators of teenitis.

    Re: the Cherokee. Mack, consider the saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.” In this case, the application is that teens will demo their independence of family, school and just about everything else, but will gladly put themselves in a position of utter servitude to a car. So, Mack, if you must have a car, I’d look at function and dependability — CR-V, Rav 4, maybe. Do you have a relative, friend or neighbor looking to find a good home for a faithful vehicle? Maybe you can pick up a bargain. Good luck. Use that noggin.

  • avatar

    Small, plain cars really are the way to go. When I was first looking at cars some 8 years ago, I started out looking at Mustangs because I wanted a “cool” car. One day, we were wandering the local Ford lot when I came across a 1995 Ford Taurus LX in dark green (my favorite color). It was hidden amongst other sedans, and relatively out of place in 2003. From that moment on, I realized I didn’t want a nice car for my first car. It clicked that what I truly wanted was something that would get from A to B and wouldn’t be a big deal if it was destroyed.

    I quickly drifted to Hondas. I had always kind of liked the 4th generation Accords, and my friend’s mom had one. I looked at them, but they all had at least 120,000 miles. One day, I was riding my bike and parked at the gas station near my house was a little 93 Accord LX that I recognized as belonging to a family friend. The next day it had a for sale sign in it. Within a week, it was mine.

    Biggest regret was selling it. Stupid decision for stupid 18 year old guy reasons. Bought a truck because I hauled my lawn mower around and because my ex liked trucks. Piece of shit, three transmission leaks, lost overdrive in it. Good ol’ mid-90’s Mopar transmissions! Sold it, bought an Integra, never looked back.

    My Accord was amazing. We dogged that thing and it begged for more. Drove it through a field, fit 5 people in it, 4 of whom were over six feet tall and had their bookbags in it, sat on top of it and on the trunk, my friend even decided he’d be “funny” and slid his bike in front of my car (while I was driving) and jumped on the hood. Hell, one night a drunk driver pulled out of a resturant in front of me and luckily the damage was minimal. If it had been any bigger, it wouldn’t have been. Caught the end of the bed of the ranger and came out with a busted headlight, bumper and slightly bent hood.

    Hell, even my little Integra was able to withstand the force of a 1972 Mercedes 220D. Those things aren’t light and it came out with a dented quarter panel and small hole. My friend backed into my car, so admittedly he wasn’t going TOO fast. But still, if you’ve ever driven a classic Mercedes then you’d know that they’re study vehicles and not a force to be reckoned with.

    Save the Jeep for later unless you’re planning on needing 4wd. Even a small can handle hauling most things: bikes, wood, ladders, furniture. Just saying, I loaded all kinds of things into my Accord, and even more into my Integra. Man, hatchbacks are amazing. Even if I still kinda wish it were a sedan…

  • avatar

    Well I will disagree with popular opinion here. I also tend to get the feeling had the poster been male some of the answers may have been different. I grew up in a family of $1000 beaters so at 16 I drove a Ford econoline with a mile of slack in the steering box, a three on the tree that randomly popped out of gear while accelerating and a leaky roof and guess what I survived. Later I got a cherokee (AMC years with a 2.8) for $800 While I would agree with reliability issues (based on my friends experience I would say most of these were fixed by the final years) I think the little 4×4 handled amazingly well for what it was and I had several avoidance maneuvers on back roads at high speed that worked out fine for me. but then again my first 5 vehicles were trucks so it may be a little hard to judge. I would say if the poster is looking for a real 4wd (given her choice in vehicle I would say she is either from a jeep family or looking for a real offroader) I would stick with the cherokee or look for a mid 90’s tacoma. I had a toy pikup and would have to say it had excellent road manners for a truck that could wheel with the best of them. My wife will probably not let it happen but I still have My old Dodge ramcharger sitting behind my parents house I plan to give to my son at 16 I figure the gas mileage will at least keep him close to home.

  • avatar

    While there are a lot of practical answers in this thread, doesn’t anyone remember what it was like to be 16 and itching for that first taste of automotive freedom? Safety is important, sure, but what fun is life if you always take the most practical route? The older you get the more responsibilities you have and the more practical you have to be in your vehicle of choice. There’s something to be said for going for having a first car that will make you happy when you have no real responsibilities if it’s within your means.

    When I was 16 about to get my license there was a maroon Mercury Cougar XR7 with a for sale sign parked in front of a house across from my High School. I stared at it every day as I rode by on the bus, trying to think up a way to persuade my parents to help pitch in so that it could be mine. Unfortunately the idea of a sporty coupe was a no-go. However, my dad really wanted a Wrangler, and while my mom wouldn’t OK that purchase as a weekend car for him, an agreement was made between my father and myself that he would pitch in a little more than half if I would choose a Wrangler, I could use it to get to and from school, and he could have it to play on non-school days. Excited about having any car, and at the prospect of my car budget increased in exchange for nothing more than a timeshare, I eagerly agreed.

    As it turned out my dad got bored with the car after a couple of months, and I had it all to myself. The 4.0 straight six was reliable, and gas was hovering at around $1 per gallon at the time, so the horrible fuel economy wasn’t a big deal. The tippy dynamics made me learn to drive carefully, as I almost needed a new pair of pants after I took a turn too fast and took it up onto two wheels. I learned to drive carefully in the snow because even with the 4wd the car was so light that it was easy to spin it out on slippery roads. I got into a couple minor fender benders while in HS, but no one was hurt, and I learned to be a more careful driver from the experience. Plus, it being such a no-frills car (no A/C, no airbags, only an AM/FM radio, soft top and half doors only, vinyl seats) there wasn’t a whole lot that could break, and it meant that upgrading to anything down the road would be a major improvement. I did have a ton of fun with that car though. Being able to fold down the soft top made it the car of choice for runs down to the beach, although the ease of removing the windows from the doors did lead me to become the victim of a few pranks. Looking back I’m glad I ended up with that Wrangler instead of the Cougar.

    That Wrangler has since been past down to each of my younger sisters, and is still currently in use by the youngest, so it’s safe to say my parents got a good return on their investment in it.

    Anyway, my advice would be, if you want the Jeep, get the Jeep. There are probably safer, more practical choices out there, but there’s something to be said for indulging yourself when your dream car is still attainable in the low 4 figure range. A mortgage, bills, a real job and real responsibilities all seem like they are a lifetime away when you’re 16, but they all sneak up pretty fast. I’ve sold a ton of Mustangs to retirees who tell me about how they always wanted one when they were younger, but for various reasons always bought more practical cars instead. There’s plenty of time for prudent decision making and practical cars down the road. When you’re young, be young, and have fun without the worry while you can.

    • 0 avatar


      I’d have to agree that most posters here have completely forgotten what it was like to be 16. How many of the posters here would have taken their advice at this age? My first car (bought before I was even able to drive) was a ’61 Comet. Practical? No. Fun? Absolutely! Did it leave me stranded more than once? Of course, but there is no better way to learn about the responsibility of a car than to have to be resourceful and ask your boss for an extra shift or two so that you can afford to put that new starter or water pump in.

      I’d say go for the Cherokee and realize that you will have good times and bad in it. Memories about engines catching on fire (happened to me) or the first time you replace a part on the car and are able to turn the key and it starts again, will be far more valuable than looking back fondly on the car that just sat there and got you from point A to point B with no hassle.

      • 0 avatar

        My first car was an ’89 Cherokee purchased in 2002 after my freshman year of college. It was a money pit that always needed something: head gaskets, shocks, cooling system issues, sensors of various sorts, etc. But, I loved every minute of it. I put about 50k miles on it in the 3 years I owned it, selling it when it had about 190k total on the odometer. I will always have fond memories of piling 3 friends and all their gear for an all-night 1000 mile roadtrip to New Orleans or a week at the beach.

        Get the Cherokee and drive the snot out of it. Just reserve some room in your budget for repairs!

  • avatar

    I’ll really turn things upside down here and say get a Miata.

    Convertible top, best manual gearbox you’ll find anywhere, best handling balance as well, quick enough to be fun but not fast enough to drag race, only holds one other person so no peer pressure to do anything stupid (and with the aforementioned handling, the stupid threshold is raised a bit) and gets a legit 27 mpg or better.

    Don’t roll it unless you have a rollbar installed, and be careful where you park lest someone take a knife to the top and steal any loose objects therein, but I guarantee once you live with one for a while, everything else will feel like a barge. If carrying space matters, get a Golf hatchback, a Focus ZX3 or ZX5, or a Protege5. All can be found with manuals and all provide a positive driving experience.

    We go back to square one, though, if you need the off-road capability. Jeep wrote the book.

    Oh, by the way, I have a vivid memory of being positively smoked on the Nurburgring by someone in a Cherokee Turbo Diesel (no pun intended). Euro model, for sure, but don’t sell them short.

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      Not going to lie I thought of the Miata, and if they were cheap enough I’d own one right now. But the insurance would kill.

      • 0 avatar

        I didn’t find my Miata overly expensive to insure. The insurance companies seem to know it’s no Corvette. And older models can definitely be had in the $3500 range. Dead-simple to repair, too. Your mileage may vary, of course.

        Regardless, there’s very little in common between Cherokees and Miatas save for the fun factor. Though the more direct comparison in that case would probably be the Wrangler. Same idea, different kinds of fun.

  • avatar

    Having owned a 1998 Jeep Cherokee Sport 4×4 for alittle over a year I can tell you that with my experience the mileage was poor, and the interior was (too)cramped. I did enjoy the smooth inline six and decent reliablity. I would avoid the pre 98′ Cherokees either way, as friends have have had alot of issues with them.

    That being said I feel that the 94-98 (97-98 as the best pick) SAAB 900 is a good fit for you in your price range. The NG 900 still looks fresh and its safe, cheap to insure, good on gas and is pretty cheap to own and and run without the turbo. Also like the above mentioned VW’s( Which you should avoid at any cost) for highschool parking lot cred, where I’m from in southern NH:-)

    Good luck car hunting!

  • avatar

    In addition to the other “shortcomings” of elderly Cherokees, these seem to appeal to younger people looking for short term mobility. By which I mean they are car-thief magnets.

    My son-in-law had his stolen twice over the years until he got rid of it. Id suggest a car that most drivers have never heard of nor seen, the Mercury Tracer.

    It had an anemic engine, and Ford crippled it with a three speed that made highway speeds sound like your cam shaft was going to carry out a premptive nuclear strike with the valves launching through the hood.

    The Mazda Three of that era came equipped with a 4 speed auto. Ford didn’t buy that. Nice car though, and the wagon could haul a lot, got good mileage. Looked nice for years. Quite reliable, too, with a Japanese drive train.

    Either that or just get a Corolla or Civic,in reasonable condition but give up the idea of the jeep. I’d could go for a plain military jeep, bog stock, 60 mph, okay? But not the Cherokee.

  • avatar

    While all the disadvantages people have listed to having a Jeep as a first vehicle are true, there are some advantages too: There’s no incentive to race, because it’s about the slowest vehicle out there. It’s good in heavy rain and snow. It’s high off the ground, so if Mackenzie wants to do her own maintenance it’s easier than most vehicles.

  • avatar

    My daughter, also MacKenzie, has driven a trouble free 1999 AMG for the last 12 years. Try one.

  • avatar

    A lot of bad advice here shrouded in good intentions. Unless she lives in downtown Norfolk, public transportation in the greater Hampton Roads area is horrendous. This is a very large and spread out area–endless suburbia. I live in Virginia Beach…nearest HRT (local bus) station to my house is 6 miles away, and I once timed what it would take for me to get to work on the HRT website. 6 mile bike ride, then 7 mile bus ride with the bus stops and I think 1 transfer to get to my office would take an hour and a half or worse depending on how long I have to wait for the bus. I make the drive in 25 minutes. That’s two hours of my day saved by owning a car. This is just an example of our “public transit”. So that’s a laughable idea. Plus, a car makes it much easier to get a decent job in the first place, and she sounds like the kind of person who at 16 probably has a summer job to commute to…a job for which she can pay off her car, save money, learn life lessons, etc.

    Definitely get a car. A used Cherokee may not be the safest choice but we all take risks in life, and if that’s what you want, by all means, get it. My brother had a 98′ Cherokee 2 door 5-speed with under 100k that he sold for under $3k about a year ago, so they’re out there, just be patient. Ominously, the Cherokee had been flipped before during a snow storm on the highway, but not totaled, and no one was hurt.

  • avatar

    A Volvo 745/945 will be dead reliable, won’t break the bank if you find a local foreign-auto mechanic, will get fuel economy in the mid-20s if you get a non-turbo ’90s example, and even look for all the world like an XJ Cherokee with an altered aspect ratio. Safer, too, and insurance should be bearable.

    That said, manual gearboxes on the more-reliable later cars are impossible to find, as very few were ever built.

  • avatar

    Hello all!
    Thanks for the advice. I read through all 75ish comments and was both touched and enlightened by your suggestions. I would like to take this time, however, to tell you what I ended up doing about the car and reply to a couple of comments that caught my attention.
    I go to a private school about 25 minutes away from where I live. My school does not offer bus service. My brother drove us to school every day in his 1970 Volkswagon camper van (not sure why my parents let him get that…definitely not a reliable car) until he graduated last year. Public transportation in my area is virtually nonexistent. The nearest HRT bus stop is about 3 miles past my school. That being said, it is not practical to try and use public transportation for my transportation needs. I work as a lifeguard within walking distance from where I live, so I often bike or walk to work.
    Yes, this is my last year of high school, and the college I want to attend does not allow freshmen to have cars. However, I have a younger sister, 2 years my junior, that will make good use of the car when I leave for college.
    And with all that being said, I would like to tell you about the car I just recently purchased. We found a Cherokee down in West Palm Beach, Florida. Sounds like a long way to go for a car, but my dad is a pilot, so we flew down there a few weeks ago and drove the 14 hour trip back. It is a 2000 white Jeep Cherokee with 123,000 miles on it. It is 4-cylinder, manual transmission, 4-wheel drive. We bought it for $3100. It came with some lovely home-done tint that I just finished scraping off. It has a few minor dents, and the front left fender flare fell off on the way back from Florida. It did great on the trip and has served me well ever since. The clutch had just been replaced, and the interior is in good condition. I now have a grand total of 8 dollars left in my bank account, but I have 2 lifeguarding jobs and am working responsibly.
    Thanks again for all your advice!

  • avatar

    The Cherokee was remarkably safe in the 80’s, and still competitive with it’s peers through the 90’s. Nothing from back then competes with cars built in the last 5 years though. The driver airbag came out in 95, and the passenger in 97.

    I don’t know what people are saying about poor handling. You must’ve been driving beat to hell examples with blown shocks. The Cherokee is one of the best handling SUV’s out there. I remember the car mags of the day typically getting between .8 and .85 g on the skidpad out of them, which was sports-car territory at the time, and still pretty damn good today. Steering feel isn’t great, but it’s actually a fun and stable car to hustle through the corners.

    They’re very reliable (even over 200k) EXCEPT for the cooling system and the brakes. Those are crap.

    The sticks get relatively good mpg. I get about 19-22 in mine, and have done so consistently for the past 10 years…sometimes mid 23’s on freeway trips in the summer.

    If you’re in the Southwest, let me know. I’m in Albuquerque and have a well cared for Cherokee I’ve been considering selling. It’s been an extra car for a couple of years and just doesn’t get driven much anymore.

  • avatar

    Considering you limited budget (and if you, a family member or friend is handy with repairs why don’t you look at a lightly damaged salvage title – east coast auto source is on your door step which has many cars that meet you needs and could be repaired easily

    such as this Toyota Celica

  • avatar

    Oh wow, the dreamers are out in full force today. To all the people recommending anything newer than a 2002-ish car, please, dont waste time posting. She cannot afford anything that new. For all of you recommending Turbo coupes or Panthers or anything RWD to a teenager from Virginia, please, stop. It snows there and she is a teenager. For anyone who recommended a performance car of any kind, do you even read the OP??? And finally, all of you guys who think you can buy a decent RAV4, CRV, or Toyota 4×4 for $3500… wake the f##k up.

    I am dealing with this exact situation right now, I have 2 teenage daughters and I am looking for good cars for them. I already went through this with my older daughter once, bought her a nice car, and learned that was a big mistake. Insurance on a $6-7k car requires full coverage, which is EXTREMELY expensive. Self insuring a teenager on a $7k car is not a good idea. So now we are looking at cheaper cars for her, and a first car for her younger sister. And before you guys chime in how they dont need a car, we dont live in a city and my wife and I work and cannot shuttle them around every day, a car is a worthwhile expense for us.

    For $3500 you have to shop smart. Forget anything that most people want or like, it will either be too expensive or a total POS. You need to lower your expectations and look for good cars that are not very desireable. That means either a classic domestic “old persons car”, or a much older than usual import that was babied by some older owner with OCD. Forget any Honda that has been modified or lowered or has any evidence of being owned by a teenage fast and furious wannabe. And dont be afraid of higher mileage… a well cared for car with 130k miles will give you less trouble than one with 75k abusive miles.

    So I recommend almost any Buick or Oldsmobile from 1998+ in your price range. Look for the ones in beige or gold, no one wants them except elderly drivers. My personal favorites are the Regal or Park Avenue, but really any of them hold the best value. If you prefer imports… you are stuck with late-90s Hondas or Toyotas. Go for an Accord 4-dr or a Camry. They are older, but that was the golden age for those cars, and they are still very reliable. The Corollas of that generation kind of sucked, and the Civics from that period will all be beat to crap.

    So there is my list… 96-98 Accord, 94-96 Camry, 2001-ish Buick or Oldsmobile anything. Happy hunting!!

  • avatar

    A couple of things to think about when you go to buy your car, the extra costs of ownership besides the price of the vehicle itself,like the cost of gas and insurance and other factors such as that.

    With most trucks having at least a 16.5Gal tank, filling it with gas can get expensive. I know as I have the Ford Ranger with a 16.5Gal tank and it’ll take over $60 just to fill it up and with 27mpg at best on a good day on the freeway, the cruising range is at best 350 miles, if not closer to 300 so that’s something to think about with the Cherokee along with drive ability, reliability and other factors such as safety.

    You need to be able to avoid accidents and to survive one when you GET into one and the Cherokee isn’t exactly stellar in either proposition so that’s something to also think about.

    While it may be the cool car in town, it may also keep you from enjoying it if things like the drive shaft keeps falling down or what have you and repairs, even if cheap to perform can cost you down the road if they repeat themselves too often.

    But in the end, do what makes you happy, just be sure you can handle the financial responsibility that goes with it.

    As an aside, I currently drive a Ranger truck (1992 with over 234K miles on it), it’s a 2WD model with a 5spd and it doesn’t shift all that fabulous but handles much better than one would expect from a truck, but it’s NO sports car none the less but for a truck, it does mild corners just fine and is stable at 70+, handles the snow decently for a truck but a small FWD car WILL outperform it in the handling department any day and it’s surprisingly more drivable as an every day vehicle as far as small trucks go.

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