New or Used: for Ten Thousand Dollars, You Could Buy a Million Pennies!

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used for ten thousand dollars you could buy a million pennies

Art writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

5 months ago I bought myself something of a quarter-life crisis gift – a CPO 2008 Honda S2000. I love this car to death, which is why I was left heartbroken when it was rear-ended quite badly as part of a 5 car accident on the wonderful roads of Los Angeles. Thankfully I’m OK and insurance is picking up the $5300 tab to fix the car, but the whole incident has put the fear of the traffic gods in me. Now, with the car in the shop for the next 2 weeks, I can’t help but think it would be better to keep the future miles off of it and get a daily driver I’m less passionate about instead.

The car would be used for a ~50mi daily round-trip commute, and on weekends would be asked to support an active lifestyle by hauling a bike or two on a roof-mount or hitch-mount bike rack. I’m aiming for something of a comfortable cruiser and would of course like to spend as little as possible, up to 8 or 10k.

The W202 C-Class Mercedes has always been interesting to me – it has what I think is a classic luxo-sedan look, and it looks like a ’99 C230 Kompressor can be had for well under $10k around these parts, albeit with around 100k-120k on the odo. My limited research shows that these cars aren’t too unreliable, However I feel like I’m asking for trouble with such a well-used late 90’s German luxury sedan.

What do you think? Are my reliability fears well founded? Would a similar vintage Lexus GS be a better value proposition? They’re a bit pricier and a whole lot more, well, beige. What would you do with a $8k-$10k budget in my shoes? I’m open to suggestion, so please feel free to suggest something else. It doesn’t necessarily have to be as aspirational as the luxo-sedans I’ve considered so far.

Sajeev Answers:

The W202 is a lovely automobile from just about every metric.

Problem is, this Benz is more of a museum piece and less of a commuter vehicle. You’ll need a trusty mechanic to keep the repair costs down, and being a whiz with wrenches is also a good idea. Proactively buying parts on-line is mandatory. Anything over 10 years old is gonna be a problem child, but German problem children are just too much for most people.

More importantly, a Lexus GS is only a little nicer on your wallet. With a ton of unique (i.e. not Camry) parts I suspect the repair bills will also be significantly worse on this vehicle. Not that you can’t stomach it, and not that I don’t recommend it. You need a cheap sedan that’s also kinda nice. I get it. But rear-wheel drive motivation given your needs for a cheap second car are…well…loved only by those of a Panther nature.

Get the Lexus, but be ready to blow your budget on getting an old luxury car sorted. Or get something far more mundane, like a depreciation friendly Mazda sedan. Or a Mercury Milan sprinkled with Mazda suspension bits. Or a Camry SE. It’s the classic “save money for less car” deal. You can’t avoid it.

Steve Answers:

For ten thousand dollars, you could buy a million pennies! And God knows how many drachmas a few years from now.

Seriously… I think you need to take some time from ‘the accident’ and weigh it all in. Very few smart financial decisions are made when you recently get out of a fearful experience. A car accident. Death of a loved one. Ownership of any Mercedes made in the late-90’s. Traumatic experiences of these types will always make you a bit more impulsive than usual.

We all need a bit of escapism in our lives. That’s true. But not with money damn it! So my advice is to do nothing.

Yeah, I could recommend seventeen different versions of modern day Eurotrash vehicles. But there is a small problem with that. The prior owner. A lot of folks who are trying to sell these types of vehicles in my world are either trying to kick the maintenance bucket before it’s full. Or just got drenched with a big repair and don’t want it to happen yet again.

These vehicles can get more expensive than a Marion Barry crackfest. If it were my call, I would just save my money for a while. Sell the Honda once the bloom is off that rose and then get a new(er) vehicle that you truly love.

Good luck!

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2 of 64 comments
  • EChid EChid on Feb 26, 2012

    AND enter SAAB, stage right. Cheap. Wagon (for bikes). Great turbo power, great highway car, great seats (in right trim). Go for a 9-5 wagon and it should be cheap, reliable, and efficient.

  • Andy D Andy D on Feb 26, 2012

    The trick with an older car is to find a car that comes with a stack of maintenance records. Not only for the documentation , but for the mindset of keeping them. You will save much money if you can DIY the maintenance. Find an on-line forum, a good one is invaluable. If not a DIYer, best to get a reliable appliance.

  • Bd2 The Equus was a decent 1st effort (not-withstanding the prior JV with Mitsu), but the interior was not quite up to par and the US engineers over-corrected the soft KDM suspension tuning.The current G90 is simply leap years ahead.
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  • ToolGuy "Simply put, the world is changing, and our industry needs to change with it,"Q: How many auto execs does it take to change a lightbulb?A: 'Change???'
  • ToolGuy 134 cubic inch V6 with turbos and Firestone tires? Pass. 🙂