The $2600 Question: Smartphone or Car?

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro
the 2600 question smartphone or car

I recently read an article that said a growing number of young Americans would rather have a smartphone than a car. Half of American teenagers prefer web access to car access, said the article, and communicating via text, e-mail or social media is taking the place of actually driving somewhere to spend time with someone. You know – in person.

This is, of course, because times are changing. Years ago, turning 16 meant inheriting a dead relative’s full-size sedan with V8 power, rear-wheel drive, and no traction control. Gas was eleven cents a gallon. It was practically an invitation to hoon. But today, turning 16 means spending thousands just to get saddled with a four-cylinder economy car that has annoying features like airbags and disc brakes. No wonder teens don’t want cars: their smartphones are probably faster. And less expensive.

Or are they?

American teens, listen up: the average Verizon iPhone 5 costs $199 plus $100 per month for two years – a grand total of $2,600. But a recent visit to Craigslist turns up far better ways to spend that cash. Drum roll please…=

1985 BMW 635CSi: $2700 – Los Angeles Craigslist

This ’85 6 Series is the perfect car for any teenager who wants stylish transportation and lives near a BMW mechanic. Sure, the ad doesn’t list the car’s mileage, and it doesn’t include any interior photos. But who needs that crap when you have 850i wheels? Best of all, the ad insists the car has a factory spoiler even though it clearly doesn’t – one of the bargaining points that will help get its final price under our magic threshold. That, and the fact that it likely passed smog as a 2004 Honda.

1967 Cadillac DeVille: $2000 – Philadelphia Craigslist

Only good things happen to people with big Cadillacs. Just ask Elvis. Or Tiger Woods. Powered by a 7-liter V8, this Caddy is also listed without interior photos or announced mileage. But I wouldn’t worry about that too much. After all, nothing says “trustworthy seller” like taking pictures in a forest and a ’94 Mustang without plates in the background. It falls $600 below the budget, which allows teenagers a little extra spending money for fuel. They’ll need it.

1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Hearse: $950 – Maine Craigslist

There are precisely two things on Maine cars and trucks Craigslist: Subarus and this. Of course, I prefer “this,” a 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham converted to a pickup truck-style hearse. It comes in well under our budget because the dealer – which establishes credibility with an all-caps listing that boasts the “BEST PRICES ON USED TIRES” – says the car “NEEDS TOTAL RESTORATION.” Better idea: get it running, then convert the hearse bit to a hot tub. Morbid, yes, but grandma won’t mind. If she were alive, she’d join in.

1989 Buick Reatta: $2000 – Denver Craigslist

The seller of this 1989 Reatta satisfies the only rule for posting on Denver Craigslist, which is that all items must be pictured in front of a Subaru Outback. Unfortunately, he doesn’t list many details except for “no accidents,” perhaps forgetting about the one at General Motors that must’ve caused the Reatta to exist in the first place. Nonetheless, I suggest the Reatta to all young men, since it will attract tons of women, including cougars and the blind.

1995 Mercedes S500: $2200 – Chicago Craigslist

Straight from the Saddam Hussein collection is this 1995 S500, which is on Chicago Craigslist for just $2,200. It’s done 220,000 miles, but the owner describes it as “very reliable,” which is another way of saying he’s never done any maintenance, so you’ll have to. With an original sticker price over $70,000, this one will surely impress the ladies, though I must remind teens that the classiest dames are only wooed by stick-on fender portholes. Unfortunately, it needs tires. May I suggest Maine Craigslist?

1985 Volkswagen Scirocco: $2300 – Atlanta Craigslist

I’ve always felt the car culture in my hometown of Atlanta is a mixture of Pyongyang (where all the cars are Chinese) and Venice (where all the cars are boats), but with more Escalades. But now I must eat my words, as I recommend this 1985 VW Scirocco on Atlanta Craigslist that’s described by the seller as “the nicest scirocco you will find around.” He later says it has no heat or air conditioning, though Scirocco fans will agree this still keeps it in contention for the aforementioned title. An iPhone – which also has no heat or air conditioning – pales in comparison.

1995 Ford Mustang with Lamborghini Doors: $2500 – Miami Craigslist

Is it any surprise this turned up on Miami Craigslist? Bright yellow, aftermarket exhaust, Lamborghini doors. It’s also parked on grass, which – judging by other ads on Miami Craigslist – may be the only place you’re allowed to park in South Florida. It also has no title. But that’s no problem, since it’s not like you’ll attract any police attention in a bright yellow car with scissor doors, a loud exhaust and chrome wheels. No matter: it’s still better than social media. And that’s what you’ll tell the cops.

1985 Toyota Land Cruiser: $2300 – Anchorage Craigslist

What’s 241,000 miles? A trip to the moon. But also “just broken in” if you’re in the market for a Land Cruiser. Despite that, this seller on Anchorage Craigslist is willing to let this FJ60 go for just $2,300, or around one-tenth of what TLC would charge for the same truck in LA. And there’s more good news: The FJ60 came with fender vents, so you don’t need to spring for stick-ons. Bring on the classy ladies.

So, teenagers, what’s the best way to spend that $2,600? An iPhone, or one of the delightful cars listed above? Of course, we’re always open to other suggestions from our readers. Even if they have iPhones.

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, roadtripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute laptime on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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3 of 115 comments
  • LuciferV8 LuciferV8 on Jan 29, 2013

    1995 Honda Civic -$1500 Insurance for a year -$2300 Gas - $700 Repairs -$350 Maintenance -$250 *Not having to wait around in the goddamn rain for the bus *Not having to sit on the bus next to the screaming baby *Not having to ask mom to take you places the bus won't go *Not having to listen to your mom's horrible music *Racing down the highway with AC/DC blasting on the stereo -Priceless

    • Conslaw Conslaw on Jan 29, 2013

      Lucifer, let's say you pay off half the Civic this year and half next year. This year you're paying $3,600. How many hours would you have to work at $8.00/hour to pay for that? 450. Hours per week? (assume 2 weeks off) 450/50 = 9 hours/week. Is that too much? for some yes, for some no.

  • Polestar R Design Polestar R Design on Jan 30, 2013

    First car was an ’80 Ford Courier for $2400-drove the hell out of it and laid it to rest. My second car was for $2700 and was a ’67 Ford Mustang. Loved it, maintained and restored it to look hot for the girls 30 years ago. I still have this car and it is worth around $10-12K as a vintage collector. In a few years it turns fifty. Bottom line is that despite the cost of $100/month for car insurance, I KNOW all of this time and effort made be a much more resourceful individual today…and much richer in multiple ways. You can have the IPhone or blackberry. I’ll take the $350 IPAD and Starbuck’s or McDonalds Wi-Fi any day for the memories of a good quality, good looking vehicle.

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)