New or Used: But You Gotta Do It!

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used but you gotta do it

Ryan writes:

Hi, I read the piston slap section alot and figured could use a second opinion on my car situation. I currently dont need to drive as I take a train to work, but can not own a car, so i currently have 2. A 96 Explorer eddie bauer with all options and 145k on it, and a 97 TJ sport with 76k that only does summer duty and gets to live in a garage the rest of the year since the Explorer is more than adequate in NY snow. The explorer has been having issues for the last 10k miles, tranny is starting to shift hard and even though the body looks great the frame is looking more rust then metal. I think its on its way out, but i have owned it for 6 years and have grown way to attached to easily let it go. I am thinking of getting a 3rd car in advance of the Explorers eventual retirement. As the wrangler looks like it will be around for a long time and can take care of towing or winter driving duty if needed, i can really go anywhere with the next car. I am very torn on where to go with this, as it will be a 3rd car it can be very impractical. My thoughts are, as someone who loves american cars, 1) sports car, mustang, either a 99-04 GT or a 05-07 v6 5 speed and use it as a partial track day car. 2) 97-02 F150 flareside extended cab ( or ligtning ) ( every man needs to own a pickup truck at some point ) 3) non american route and something like a 2 or 3 year old porsche cayman, again i fell like everyone should own a porsche at least once and for the idea of doing track days. I am also open to some ideas ( non panther, sorry ), again my main reason for this is i can get another car right now so might as well check some of those cars of the list of ” must own at some point ” the only thing i would say pass on is old and british or something brand new as i prob wont drive it more than 5k miles over the next 2 years ( if i keep it that long )

I have a new car option to throw in the mix…. its one I hate even admitting im considering… but i will preface it with saying it would be strictly used for track days. So the option is to put some money into the Explorer and keep that chugging along and buy a miata. As much as im not a fan of the car and would never get it as my daily or weekend car, im thinking as a 3rd car that would only be used for track days it would be great for learning a little more on. lightweight, well balanced and cheap to do track days on and i wont car if i get some damage on the track. thinking go with this for a year and get some more experience before I go out and risk a nicer car to some learn to drive track days.

Look forward to see what your thoughts are.

Steve answers:

Answer to question 1. Thanks!

Nothing is a toy that can get you killed.

So with that in mind, do I recommend a Miata? A beautiful creation that I personally use for the winding one lane roads of North Georgia?

No! I am going to say no for two key reasons.

1) You need to develop a frame of reference for what other folks drive in the sport circuit you want to be involved with. Start going to the events on a regular basis. Ask questions. Take notes.

2) It’s unclear whether you have any prior racing experience. If that’s not the case, then you are far better off putting some time in at a non-automotive racing circuit that doesn’t involve death or extreme danger to yourself and others.

Lots of folks laugh at go karts, bikes, and other small vehicles that have speed governors or limitations on them. They shouldn’t. Because these ‘primary’ experiences are crucial for everyone from Danica Patrick to John Q Racer. If we insisted on racing proficiency first, there wouldn’t be more deaths and life changing accidents on the speedways.

I would spend at least a year honing your skills at a nearby racing circuit that doesn’t involve cars. Invest in experience. Get an education first, and build your knowledge and experience base to a level where your skills can be cultivated and refined. The fact that you want to use a ‘damage car’ tells me already that you need to learn to drive and value safety, before you race.

Sajeev answers:

Sometimes car purchases are too personal to make an informed opinion, and this is one of those times. So who cares what we think?

Whenever I read a letter that says there are cars you “must own at some point”, I feel you’ll buy the toy that strikes your fancy at the moment. And there’s no problem with that, unless you’re the guy trying to give advice on the matter.

So you mentioned the SN-95 Mustang, F-150, and an IMS-munching Porsche Cayman? The Mustang doesn’t turn very well without serious modifications, the F-150 is a truck and the Porsche is an expensive nightmare that may or may not seize the motor in the coming months. The Miata is a good toy for reasonable coin, but quite honestly, you could easily run the Explorer at a driving school-event at the nearest track or a local SCCA autocross…just to see if you really care about racing.

Go do an autocross. If you get hooked, forget about getting a truck or a (stock) Mustang: the Miata or a C5 vette would be ideal. If not, save yourself the trouble of owning another vehicle…or just buy whatever looks good for you and enjoy it as it sits.

Join the conversation
7 of 19 comments
  • Downtown Dan Downtown Dan on Apr 05, 2012

    You, my friend, need a Toyota MR2 Spyder. Lightweight, cheap, dead reliable (let's hear it for the 1ZZ-FE), and so hopelessly impractical that you'll find yourself taking the Explorer when you're hauling around anything more substantial than a can of Chef Boyardee. Let your budget be your guide here, and remember that any car can be a fun toy if you're in the right frame of mind. If you're truly looking for a semi-disposable track car, any number of old GTIs, CRXs, RX-7s, and Miatas will do just fine. If you want to keep it in the Ford family, an old Contour SVT or Taurus SHO.

    • See 4 previous
    • Duffman13 Duffman13 on Apr 09, 2012

      I know I'm getting in on this late by almost a week, but don't write off early AP1 S2000s either. While not as cheap as a comparably aged miata, you can get a sub-100k AP1 can be had for around 10 grand, and 04-05 AP2 with slightly lower mileage are going for around $13k. I just got a 00 with 90k on the clock, and even being 12 years old it's tighter than anything else I've ever been in and more fun near the limit too.

  • Cutchemist42 Cutchemist42 on Apr 05, 2012

    I wish we had the option of liability only. Manitoba's only insurance provider requires everyone to get damage insurance.

  • FreedMike Race car drivers are all alpha-types. Aggression is part of the deal. I think you see more of that stuff in NASCAR because crashes - the end result of said aggression - are far more survivable than they would be in F1 or IndyCar.
  • Analoggrotto Only allow Tesla drivers to race, we are the epitome of class and brilliance.
  • Wjtinfwb When my kids turned 16 and got their Operators, we spent $400 to send both (twins) to 2 driving schools. One held by the local Sherriff was pretty basic but a good starter on car control and dealing with police officers as they ran the school. Then they went to a full day class in N Atlanta on a racetrack, with the cars supplied by BMW. They learned evasive maneuvers, high speed braking, skid control on a wet skid pad and generally built a lot of confidence behind the wheel. Feeling better about their skills, we looked for cars. My son was adamant he wanted a manual, Halleluiah! Looking at used Civics and Golf's and concerned about reliability and safety, I got discouraged. Then noticed an AutoTrader adv. for a new leftover '16 Ford Focus ST six-speed. 25k MSRP advertised for $17,500. $2500 above my self-imposed limit. I went to look, a brand new car, 16 miles on it, black with just the sunroof. 3 year warranty and ABS, Airbags. One drive and the torquey turbo 2.0 convinced me and I bought it on the spot. 7 years and 66k miles later it still serves my son well with zero issues. My daughter was set on a Subaru, I easily found a year old Crosstrek with all the safety gear and only 3k miles. 21k but gave my wife and I lots of peace of mind. She still wheels the Subaru, loves it and it too has provided 7 years and 58k miles of low cost motoring. Buy what fits your budget but keep in mind total cost over the long haul and the peace of mind a reliable and safe car provides. Your kids are worth it.
  • Irvingklaws Here's something cheaper, non-german, and more intriguing...
  • Wjtinfwb Happy you're loving your Z4. Variety is the spice of life and an off-beat car like the Z4 intrigues me as well. More than anything, your article and pictures have me lusting for the dashboards of a decade ago. Big, round analog gauges. Knobs and buttons to dial up the A/C, Heat or Volume. Not a television screen in sight. Need to back up? Use the mirrors or look over your shoulder. If your Z4 had the six-speed manual, it would be about perfect. Today's electronified BMW's leave me ice cold, as do the new Mercedes and Audi's with their video game interiors. Even a lowly GTI cannot escape the glowing LED dashboard. I'm not a total luddite, Bluetooth streaming for the radio would be nice and I'd agree the cooled seats would be a bonus on a warm day with the top down. But the Atari dashboard is just a bridge too far for me.