New or Used: More Cash or More Cool for School?

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used more cash or more cool for school

Mackenzie writes:

Hello, my name is Mackenzie. 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 yall have on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

Sajeev Answers (via Email):

Mackenzie, thank you for writing. I know you want a Cherokee and they are pretty cool, but they are a terrible choice for your money (gas, insurance, other things). A boring little compact 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 smaller car would you be interested in?

Mackenzie writes back:

Sajeev, you really think it would be a bad idea to get a Cherokee? My older brother got a 1970 Volkswagen camper van for his first car-that was definitely not a good investment, although it is pretty cool. We also have a ’92 Honda Accord, but it has 296,000 miles on it. If not a Jeep Cherokee, I’m not quite sure what I want to get. I know I definitely want a stick-shift car, and I would really like something with room in it-I am in high school and I am always going to sports practices and transporting other kids around. Any advice you have would (again) be helpful.



Sajeev Answers:

Consider these three things.

  1. Jeeps are more desirable at this age (like every truck) so they cost more to buy than a sedan of the same age/mileage. Which means you

    get a worse vehicle in terms of reliability and upkeep.
  2. They are more expensive to insure. Call around and compare a Corolla to a Jeep.
  3. They guzzle gas, and that’s not cheap right now.

Do NOT raise your budget. Find a sedan in that price range. I was a drummer in high school and I carried plenty of gear and bandmates in it, the Cherokee has a pretty terrible back seat for carrying anything, too. I know you want a Jeep, but you need to get one later, when you have more money.

Steve concludes:

Mackenzie, I would do two things.

  1. Pool your money a bit. If you have the patience, you’ll likely get a compact SUV that is far better at the $5000 to $7000 level.
  2. Broaden the pool a bit. Cherokees became a bit difficult to get as five-speeds as time went on. Personally, I would opt more towards a five-speed Escape. You get a more modern powertrain along with far better fuel economy and less of a price premium.

I have a 95′ Cherokee on my lot right now that has 269k and is still picture perfect. But if I were 16 again and shopping for that big college car, I would want something that I don’t have to think about as much. Go with an Escape.

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 72 comments
  • PhilR PhilR on Dec 21, 2011

    I recently had an older 1989 Cherokee Laredo that I paid 75$, at this price, it was ugly, needed some work and it didn't have a manual transmission! I did some work on it and I have driven it daily for more than 2 years. When I decided to get rid of it (it had some floor cancer, oil leaks, had an occasional "death wobble" with the 100% stock suspension and small tires which I tried to fix with more or less success and I had just too many vehicles to justify keeping it). I decided to sell it. I got 1000$ for it (but even with an extra 25,000 miles, it was in nicer shape than when I got it). If I had not done any work by myself on it, it wouldn't have been a good choice but it turned out to be an inexpensive daily driver. Still not as inexpensive as a Corolla however! I had another 1988 Cherokee Limited that I got for parts a few years ago but I never took any part from it and sold my other Jeep! In fact, I did (very unwisely) spend some money on the parts Jeep just to keep it running and I didn't drive it at all! I finally gave it to someone I know who had just scrapped his '95 Mazda pickup and asked if I could sell him the Jeep as he needed a vehicle. I told him I didn't think it was a good thing for him to get that but he insisted and I finally gave it to him. I'm surprised that he's still able to drive it a few months later because it's in bad shape and I know he can't afford to fix it! If you don't care too much about spending some time and money, and if you think you'll have some help repairing it and spending 500$ on repairs every few months doesn't scare you, I say go for it! It's not a wise financial decision but some people spend way too much money on their dress, expensive new cars, vacation, others spend a lot on alcohol/drugs, others keep replacing their computers, TV sets and buy every new gadget... And those with very low income can't spend on anything but basics so they can survive. Last year, someone offered me a 1997 Cherokee Sport for 500$ but I didn't buy it. It had a small front end collision and needed a new grille, had some rust in the rocker panels and floors, it's transfer case was noisy and it had a few other issues (like the automatic transmission overflowing occasionally on hot days, probably due to a faulty transmission cooler in the newly replaced rad). I remember it also had a broken flasher switch and the flashers wouldn't stay on. All this was too much for me (I wouldn't drive it without fixing these things!) so I didn't buy it. I still see it on the road one year later and it has been left as it was when I saw it. I wouldn't want it in this condition but apparently, others do!

  • Theninja2k Theninja2k on Dec 21, 2011

    A Jeep Cherokee with an inline 6 is virtually unstoppable. I have owned my current (91) for almost 10 years. I bought it as a get me through for a year until I could get something better, with 232k on the clock. It now has 296k. Yes, I've had to do a little work, like starter, alternator, etc. However, I would drive it anywhere. Tomorrow. No hesitation. Its the one vehicle in my life that has been not only a constant, but very dependable. My son is going to turn 16 in 3 years. He will get it as his first car. Its a shame really, because I've always wanted to see just how long and how many miles it will go. I suspect it's death will happen in his hands, but I also have little doubt that it will save his life, and ALWAYS get him to where he wants to go. Bottom line - parts are cheap, its the easiest thing I've owned to work on, and it is absolutely the most reliable vehicle I have ever owned...

  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).