New Or Used? : Wah! Wah! My Life Is Over!… Edition

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

Hello Sajeev and Steve,

I need to get a bit of advice, and I need to get it from real car guys, so I decided to ask the two of you, and the B&B, to give me some input on my situation.

I currently drive a 97 Honda Prelude. I’ve had it for the last 5 years, and it has taken a lot of abuse from me. The problem is that the body has 230k miles on it, and like clockwork, every 2 weeks something goes wrong.

Let me list the things that are currently wrong with it:

There are 2 exhaust gaskets that have perished, there is a rear main seal oil leak, a valve cover oil leak, the alternator bearing is dead, the power steering pump bearing is dead, the high pressure hose for the power steering fluid is leaking, I am missing 2 kick panels from the interior (they were broken by me and/or a passenger), shift boot is shot, the temperature control lever is broken, the temperature control cable the connects the interior lever to the heater control in the engine is rusted solid (that’s a pain to change), the shocks are on their last legs, it seems to be chewing through rear tires at an alarming rate, for some reason, getting an alignment doesn’t work (probably needs ball joint, bushings, the lot), and there are rust spots forming everywhere.

The good parts are the motor and the transmission, since they were swapped over about 70k miles ago, and the car shifts smoothly and the engine feels very strong. I am mechanically inclined, but I really don’t have the time or patients to be overhauling a car that supposed to be my daily driver, so I decided that it was time to upgrade my ride. Now I have always been raised to buy used cars, because hey, don’t be a sucker by taking such a hit on depreciation, but the used car market right now seems to be overinflated. As an enthusiast I am looking to get the most bang for my buck, and really, there are only 2 cars that interest me, one being an S2000, and the other a WRX. Because I realize an S2000 is more of a fun weekend car rather than an all weather daily driver, I have been looking around at a lot of WRXs. The problem is that used ones cost only a grand or 2 less than an equivalent new one! If I want a 2006 WRX with less than 60k miles I am looking at plopping down about 18k, and that’s way too close to the new WRX in asking price.

Another thing to consider is that I am going to finance this car. I know, buying a car cash is the best thing because a car is a devaluating asset, and financing such a thing blah blah blah, but the truth is that I am laden with student loans already (started with 40k 3 years ago, down to 21k today) so most of my spare cash has been going into paying off that debt. I have about 5k saved up for a car, so I wanted to ask: What would you do in my situation, fix my ailing car, sell it and finance a new WRX, sell it and get a used WRX, or quit life and just get a 1998 Civic?

Steve Says:

$2000

That’s my answer. Sell it for $2000.

As for what to buy, let’s face it. You are obviously a bit confused. Why do you want to buy a hysterically overpriced, fashionista oriented, financed to the nether-regions of human stupidity, Honda Civic? When you could just easily find yourself a fun sports coupe from a defunct or second tier brand that offers infinitely better real world value.

I would go where the fanbois of the automotive world fear to tread. Domestic. Defunct. Or heck, maybe a 2002 Galant GTZ with all of the trimmings. Throw in a bit of luxury and you may have the makings of a great ownership experience.

There is a lot out there. So my advice is to start venturing down that path. Find a few good owners who don’t treat their cars with all the care of a worn out mop. That’s WRX territory. Now you need to find yourself a fun, sporty car that has been conservatively driven and well maintained.

My choice… is an acquired one. Drive a few cars that have strong owner reviews and fall in the “unpopular because of the brand” category. Find the right prior owner, get it inspected, and you may just find yourself a nice long-term keeper.

Sajeev Says:

Caring about reducing debt and owning a Subaru WRX (especially considering how fragile they are when abused) does not compute. I’m not saying you need to buy a Crown Victoria Honda Civic, but you need to decide if you really give a crap of advancing your future finances, faster.

WRX’s are premium fuel thirsty. They are expensive to insure, fix, etc. They are a horrible car for someone in your situation.

Time for you to take stock in what REALLY matters to you, and buy that. If you want a WRX, no biggie. Just make sure you know how much more money you’ll spend every month over something more normal, more sedate. I’d suggest a first gen Mazda 6, honestly.

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

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  • FlyinGato@youtube FlyinGato@youtube on Mar 11, 2013

    Well then, I am gone for a week and my year old question gets posted! Well, here is an updated to my situation: I am pretty much done with my student loans, I make over six figures, and I still haven't done anything with the Prelude. However, I can't be more happy... My solution? Working from home. Because I work form home, I no longer need a way to get to work every weekday, having to deal with those NY winters. Because of that, I don't have to get something with 4wd, or 4 doors, or with a lot of room, or even 4 wheels! Last year, about a month after I sent this e-mail I started my love affair with motorcycles, and it is now stronger than ever. I even upgraded my bike, from a Ninja 500R to Honda NC700X. I go into the city a lot to hang out with friends, it's a perfect way to cut through traffic and then park just about anywhere. With all that said, I think there is an S2000 in my future, but for now, I'm ok with my cheap as chips, fun as hell ride. By the way, the only thing that will keep me from riding is if there is snow on the ground.

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Mar 19, 2013

    Well, DON'T buy a Galant, GTZ or any other trim level. That's the worst advice I've seen on this column. You'd be in the same shape with broken items within a couple of years! Old Celica, newer Accord Coupe, Camry Solara, etc. NOT A MITSU.

  • CFS I can’t believe these comments aren’t 100% in favor of CarPlay/Android Auto. They don’t add much for music and other audio that you don’t get with just a Bluetooth connection, but they make navigation so so much better. Why is it better? Because inputting the destination address is so much easier. And I don’t need to think about updating my car’s maps. Plus, I can switch between Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, or whatever else seems best suited for my trip. Hands-free calling features are OK, but not such a big deal for me.
  • TheEndlessEnigma I've owned a VW in the past and learned my lesson. Any kind of repair was absurdly expensive which I understand is typical of VW nowadays.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Interesting how Stellantis (and can we take a moment to acknowledge how piss-poor a company name this is - it invokes....what....MBA marketeers failing at their job) is pursuing cuts to reduce costs instead of, oh I don't know, designing-building-marketing vehicles people *WANT* to buy? What has Stella done with what was Chrysler? Suck off the cash flow generated by Chrysler brands, essentially kill the Chrysler brand by cancelling successful models, eliminate any market advantage Dodge had by killing successful models (G Caravan was the #1 minivan until it was killed, Charger & Challenger *were* profitable, etc,) and progressively and continually neuter Jeep all this while ignoring component and build quality. What's done in return? Push Fiat as the new and exciting brand then watch as it fails in North America (did you know ONLY 603 Fiats were sold in the US in 2023). All new Stellantis releases in North America are Euro designs......that then fail in North America because they are not design for our market. The Stellanis solution? Fire Fred, Hank, and Jim and replace them with Apu, Jose and Bernardo. Yup, that will work.
  • 3-On-The-Tree To say your people are total monsters is an unfair statement. You can judge the Japanese government but to say the citizens are culpable or responsible is wrong. That’s like saying every Caucasian person in the U.S is responsible for slavery or the civil rights era of violence and discrimination against African Americans and are benefiting from it. That’s 79 years ago, the average Japanese citizen born during WWII has nothing to do with what happened. Even my Japanese grandmother who was living in Yokohama whose home was firebombed was just trying to survive with 3 kids and a husband fighting in the war. Just like every war the citizens suffer, I saw it in Iraq. You can’t judge the people from the misdeeds of their government, my mom was born after the war, you really think she is responsible for what happened?
  • Irvingklaws Was a must have for my wife's new car. After years of windshield mounts, trying to keep the sun off the phone, wires running across the dash, etc...it's been a welcome upgrade. Don't have it in my current (old) car, just a stock stereo with the aforementioned windshield phone mount and wires...which is fine enough for me. But if I upgrade the radio with an aftermarket unit, the first thing I'm looking for, after separate volume and tuning KNOBS, is Carplay. Note, I've yet to find an aftermarket head unit meeting these basic qualifications. The infotainment in my '17 GTI had both of these and was near perfect, I'd be happy with that unit in any car.
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