Piston Slap: Permission for a Mustang, Please?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap permission for a mustang please

Robert writes:

First of all, thank you for all the fantastic articles. TTAC is one of only a few daily sites I visit that always successfully generates that “second click” to read an entire article, and unlike any of the technology sites I follow, I’m always delighted in reading and learning from the comments section that follows.

That said, are you regretting your call for articles yet? I can only imagine the volume such a request must generate. Just to add to the noise and hopefully gain some insights here’s mine:

In a few months it will become time to purchase a first car for a teenager. In suburban America, not having a car isn’t really much of an option and fife circumstances are such that borrowing the family car regularly isn’t going to work. So while I appreciate the financial benefits of holding off on a car purchase, and we’ll be talking about whether or not he really needs a car once he goes to college, the practical reality is that I’m happy to take the financial hit in order to give him the leg up on being able to get a good after school and summer job.

He’s a good kid, and when probed his wish list is pretty simple…inexpensive to maintain and drive, holds a fair bit of stuff, looks good. I add in “safe”. There’s no shortage of cars that meet those qualifications, but it’s my right as a dad to also want him to have something “cool”. So he’s not getting anything European. He’s also not getting an econo-box snooze fest because, well because I said so.

In my misspent youth, late sixties Mustang’s, Nova’s, Cougars, and GTO’s were all available for $1500. They were big, ran (sorta), were easy to work on, and looked good (ish) in primer. My natural tendency is to steer him towards modern equivalents.

Fortunately the kid has good taste. He’s equally enamored with Element’s and Mustangs. The budget of about $9000 (out the door) actually covers a lot of ground, from an ’06 Mustang v6 to an Element (even if those aren’t often cross-shopped). Most of the sporty imports I’ve seen seem to have had owners intent on thrashing the life out of them as quickly as possible, but I’m pretty open to FWD as a more winter & new-driver friendly car. What say you? Mustang? Element? Escape?

Okay, yes…I want permission to get the kid a Mustang.

Thanks kindly!

Sajeev answers:

You want my permission? This is The Truth About Cars: I’m gonna fight you just because…but with some valid counterpoints!

I don’t really care how good a kid is! Getting a car (in just about any condition) is adequate payment for not being a PITA. Course, I was lucky that the most readily available ride for me was indeed cool (’65 Galaxie LTD Hardtop, Proto Panther Love FTW), but I didn’t need or deserve that icing on the cake.

I only had that car for a year, as my parents wanted me in a safer car. Ya know, because 3-pt belts and a collapsible steering column isn’t a bad idea in the mid-1990s. My point? Just because you want your kid to have something nice doesn’t mean he deserves it. Or can appreciate it.

He deserves an honest machine that won’t cost much to insure and doesn’t encourage accidents. The dirty little secret: any car is cool, the aftermarket and Internet Message Forums make a nerdy car into a sleeper. Or a mediocre car into an easily scalable performance machine.

  • Why spend the insurance money on a Mustang?
  • Why increase the risk of him–even if he did nothing wrong–injuring others who might want to sue your pants off?

Get a boring sedan with some potential. A 2000-2006 Taurus (quick as a Duratec, safely slow as a Vulcan V6) with readily available hop-up parts from the 1989-1999 Taurus SHO. Or a W-body General Motors sedan with the same parts potential. Or Honda Accord, but not that insurance nightmare(?) known as the Civic Coupe. Or the “it’s already damn near sorted” Mazda 6. These cars are cheap to buy, cheap to own, very easy to respect. And possibly even love.

And if your son hates you for getting him something not nearly as cool as the vehicles of your youth, well, I guess I didn’t appreciate my first cool car nearly enough. So what the heck do I know? Off to you, Best and Brightest.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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2 of 82 comments
  • Nrd515 Nrd515 on Sep 20, 2012

    Well, for the first car, I personally would probably get him some kind of semi disposable car that wouldn't be a tragedy if he wrecked it. I had a nice first car, a '71 Cutlass, a year old with 12,000 miles on it. Less than a month later, it was gone. I got ticketed, but I still, 40 years+ later, don't believe I was at fault, at least not just by myself. I would get one that can be scrapped or sold off easily if/when needed. If you don't want to go the beater route, the V6 Charger/300/Magnum might be good, they aren't quick and can take a major hit without much injury to whoever is inside it. The stability system makes only the most insane moves a real issue. I wouldn't buy a kid of mine any small car, even a new one. A friend's daughter worked for grampa and saved up and bought (paid in cash, with her folks picking up the sales tax)a 2012 Honda Fit. A couple weeks later, it was totalled. She was talking on the phone, of course, and she turned in front of a Dodge Ram. I was amazed she got out of it alive, let alone with just a slight burn on her leg from the Ram spraying coolant as it went halfway through the Fit. The wreck did a good job of scaring her. A few days later, she was driving another new Fit, and that one is still around. She seems to be a little more careful about talking while driving, but next year will be college, and she's planning on going to Ohio State, so there will be endless trips between Toledo and Columbus, when it seems like a lot of kids get into wrecks. With the vast majority of screw ups happening in the first year or so, I would buy the biggest battlecruiser a couple grand would buy and let the kid gain experience at the cost of bad gas mileage. A friend just got his kid a rusted up Tahoe, in decent mechanical shape, but not a long term vehicle.

  • Rick S Rick S on Sep 20, 2012

    I have some, ehem, great memories with the Buick Century that my mom handed down to me. That car saw 105 in a 35, 115 on the interstate, and could fly 3 feet in the air on the right hill. Moral of the story? Some kids are naturally more inclined to do stupid stuff, no matter what they are driving. Personally, I would buy him something like a 2004ish Ford Focus. Safe, economical, somewhat durable, and it's a lot easier to feel like you are driving adventurously in that than an 'invincible' barge or sports car.

  • Del My father bought GM cars in the 60's, but in 1971 he gave me a used Datsun (as they were called back then), and I'm now in my 70's and am happy to say that GM has been absent from my entire adult life. This article makes me gladder than ever.
  • TheEndlessEnigma That's right GM, just keep adding to that list of reasons why I will never buy your products. This, I think, becomes reason number 69, right after OnStar-Cannot-Be-Disabled-And-It-Comes-Standard-Whether-Or-Not-You-Want-It and Screw-You-American-Car-Buyer-We-Only-Make-Trucks-And-SUVs.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Does this not sound and feel like the dawn of ICE automobiles in the early 20th century, but at double or triple speed speed!!There were a bunch of independent car markers by the late 1910’s. By the mid 20’s, we were dropping down to 10 or 15 producers as Henry was slashing the price of the Model T. The Great Depression hit, and we are down to the big three and several independents. For EVs, Tesla bolted out of the gate, the small three are in a mad dash to keep up. Europe was caught flat footed due to the VW scandal. Lucid, Lordstown, & Rivian are scrambling to up production to generate cash. Now the EV leader has taken a page from the Model T and is slashing prices putting the rest of the EV market in a tail spin. Deja vu……
  • Michael Eck With those mods, I wonder if it's tuned...
  • Mike-NB2 I'm not a Jeep guy, but I really, really like the 1978 Jeep Cherokee 4xe concept.