By on April 5, 2012


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.




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19 Comments on “New or Used: But You Gotta Do It!...”

  • avatar

    Just a point –

    You could not run the Explorer at an SCCA autocross – too high a rollover risk.

  • avatar

    Buy a ninja 250. Go wild. Don’t forget the msf course & gear! OTD should be $4k’ish….

    Your insurance will be $30/month for full coverage. Your gas bill will be non-existant.

    • 0 avatar

      Seconded. Motorcycling is solidly cheaper than owning a secondary sports car, and more fun, too. If you insist on buying American, get a used Buell.

    • 0 avatar

      Wish I lived where you guys do for insurance. That same Ninja250 in Manitoba, Canada can be around $1500/year to insure. Gotta love government insurance…

      • 0 avatar

        I generally find that liability-only is fairly cheap for motorcycles, but if you want them to cover your own damage the price goes way up.

        My solution to this is to go liability-only and only ride cheap motorcycles.

  • avatar

    You seem to like Fords, you don’t mind owning older stuff, and you don’t have strict driving requirements.

    My picks:
    1. Ford F-series with the 300 I6.
    2. Fox-body personal luxury car. (Thunderbird, Cougar, Mark VII)

  • avatar

    If hoon you must, go to a driving school to learn what it’s about, and just how much performance there is in every day cars if you’re at all skilled.

  • avatar

    I dont think you should hate on the Miata so much, its the best choice of all the cars you listed. The 05-08 Mustang V6 is junk, you would be much better off with earlier model GT and they will cost less too. It will take less investment to make them handle decently well, but it will never handle like a Miata. I love Mustangs and I want one too, but it isnt the best track car for a newbie.

    My advice is to buy a used Miata, whatever you find at the price you are comfortable with. You can spend under $5k and still get a great older one, and I have seen many current-gen Miatas (2006+) going for under $15k, there is even a 2006 with 70k miles locally here for $10k. Buy used and chances are if you get tired of it you will be able to sell it for pretty much the same as you paid for it, so why bother with a new one?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    05 to 11 GT. The 5 speed manual is robust and resale values are a little depressed right now because many guys want new 5.0 fire breather.

  • avatar

    Steve’s response was overstated, it sounds like this guy is more interested in doing HPDE’s (or “track days”) rather than getting involved in Spec Miata or other wheel-to-wheel racing. Sajeev’s suggestion to do some autocross in his Explorer before committing to a track car is like telling someone to go run a 100-yard dash in strength shoes when they express a desire to run a 10k. Stick to Insights and Panthers, guys.

    As for my suggestion, go get a Miata with a roll bar already installed, pound the crap out of it at the track and on the backroads, and if your ego forces you to sell it in a year, you’ll take a minimal hit on depreciation if purchased judiciously. Seriously, it’s the most fun car of the choices that you’ve listed, it’s a “momentum car” which will make you a better driver at the track, and it can pretty much tackle anything except Daytona. Not to mention that it will get significantly better gas mileage than your other rides, offering you an option if that ever becomes a concern.

  • avatar
    Downtown Dan

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      As much as I love our MR2 Spyder, I wouldn’t recommend it to a guy who is looking for his first track car. Parts are too expensive and rare, or simply impossible to find, then engine is actually not that reliable, especially on the track where cornering forces can cause oil starvation. Between the known pre-cat issues and fairly common valve clatter, getting a good one is a real crapshoot. Replacing the engine or upgrading the power is much more expensive too, tires are now harder to find, working on them is a PITA, etc, etc. Not to mention, simply finding a good used one for a decent price. You have to really be dedicated to owning a MR2.

      Miatas are cheaper, more plentiful, cheaper and easier to repair, easier to modify, easier to drive at the limit, and almost as impractical.

      • 0 avatar
        Downtown Dan

        It breaks my heart to hear all this, because the Spyder had a very good chance of being my next car! I drove an SMG, fell in love, and was prepared to make some sacrifices. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to find a good one for under 10 grand– I just didn’t know it was such a pain to own.

        I have some experience with the engine in slightly different forms in the Celica and Corolla, but I should’ve realized the mid-engine layout really complicates things in terms of serviceability.

      • 0 avatar

        Like I said… We love ours, I do not think we will ever sell it. Plus, I like “interesting” cars that aren’t common. There was only like 15k of these cars imported, so you don’t see them everywhere. And many people do not even know what it is, we get tons of comments and questions on it. Plus my wife hates Miatas, so it was never an option for us.

        Don’t let me dissuade you from getting one, just realize what you are getting into. For a fun weekend toy, it’s great stock. Just be prepared to spend more on maintenance than a Miata. If you are a power junkie or plan on building a track toy, check out, they have the best and most complete info on upgrades and mods. It’s not a Ferrari, just most parts are not as cheap as a Miata. Plus, theres dozens of sources for Miata parts, there is maybe 5 for the MR2. And like you said, you will spend at least $10k on one, for the same money you can probably buy a fully built and sorted track Miata. On the other hand, you would have to spend double that to find a used Elise, so i think of our car as a bargain Lotus! If you had a Celica (and modded it), then you already know most of the mechanicals, and if you do your own wrenching, most everything is workable at home if you have a lift. I don’t, YET, so I have a good friend who is a mechanic help me out. It’s a great car and fun, it’s just not as cheap to own as you would think for a Toyota.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh, and I would stay away from the SMG. You lose significant performance, like 2 secs off the 0-60 times, which already are not that quick, and the shifts are incredibly slow. The technology was cool back then, just wasn’t very mature. Plus, there is no auto mode, so all it does is save you from having to use the clutch. And judging by how few people know how to work on this car, I would hate to have to service an SMG when it breaks, and it will. Besides, the manual is perfect for this car.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

  • avatar

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

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