Ask Bark: What Should I Buy For My First Whip?

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

Ask Bark? is picking up steam like a train on the island of Sodor, man! Thanks for all of your questions after last week’s installment, as well as the great advice you gave our friend, Josh.

However, be warned — Bark will not be punked like the author of “Ask Amy” was this week. Don’t write in with any questions about buying a Saab convertible, okay? I’m not gonna fall for it.

Now, on to this week’s question from youthful reader Greg:

Hi Bark,

I’m about to turn 16 and will be looking for a car soon. Being a car guy, I’ve been looking at sportier cars that won’t break the bank. My total spending budget is about $11,000.

So far I was thinking about getting one of the following:

– 2003-2008 Mustang GT

– 2002-2011 Subaru WRX

– 1990s Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4

– 2002-2008 Audi A4 Quattro

– 2003-2008 Nissan 350Z

My first instinct was to go for the Subaru WRX, because I like Japanese cars and Subaru is one of my favorite brands. Subaru’s all-wheel drive is also great for snowy Michigan roads. However, the problem I encounter is the high mileage in these WRXs. Most of the Subarus I look at are either rebuilt, or have 150,000+ miles. Then I look at Mustang GTs, which have relatively low miles, but are rear-wheel drive. The Mitsubishi and Audi A4 have the same problem as the Subaru, and the 350Z is great except it has the same rear-wheel drive problem as the Mustang.

So I ask you this: with snowy Michigan roads and my budget of roughly $11,000, what sporty first cars would you recommend that don’t have super high miles?



Greg, let me start out by saying this: Thanks for being a great kid. Your desire for a JDM YO! car or a red-blooded V-8 Mustang restores my faith in the youth of today. When I was your age, I wanted nothing more than a Jetta III GL for my 16th birthday — which I ultimately got. My poor father spent $199/month leasing that car for me, which I promptly burned the front tires off of in less than 10,000 miles. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

Now, as far as your question goes, well, I wish that I had good news for you. I don’t know what your technical proficiency is, but it’s going to have to be somewhere in the neighborhood of “ASE Master Technician” to keep most of the cars on your list running. There are some members of the B&B who will, undoubtedly, say that it’s a great thing for a kid your age to learn how to work on his own car. There’s wisdom in that, for sure.

The real question though: How much is your time worth? When I was your age, I wouldn’t have been able to spend a single fucking (sorry, forgot I was speaking to a teenager) moment on messing around with a broken car. I had football practice, band practice, study groups, conditioning drills, plus I sat faithfully by my pager (yeah, I said pager GOLDFLEX 4 LYFE) waiting for any indication that somebody’s parents were out of the house long enough to create an ad hoc party. Any down time would have meant either missing a social event or a team practice; unacceptable.

So, you need a car that meets three important criteria:

  1. Cool enough for you to enjoy driving.
  2. Maybe attracts a girl or two.
  3. Runs reliably through Michigan winters. I’m in Grand Rapids as we speak, and I can confirm that winter is no joke up here.

Let’s deconstruct your list and come up with the best option:

2003-2008 Nissan 350Z: Are you just taunting me here? Dude. No. There are simply better options out there for you in 2015. This isn’t 2006, and you aren’t Han. You will have a hell of a time finding an unmolested 350Z (GREDDY YO) that doesn’t have a gazillion miles on it. Also, you don’t want a car with only two seats when you’re 16. What are you going to do when Amber, Madisyn, and Kayleigh all need a ride home after school?

2002-2008 Audi A4 Quattro: Again, no. Expensive to own, expensive to fix. A search for “B6 A4 known issues” will bring you to instant tears. A decent B7 example will eat up your entire budget. And when something breaks, you’ll be working many extra hours at your part-time gig — which, of course, you now won’t be able to get to.

1990s Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR-4: I loved these cars when I was your age, and they have started to become more and more popular on the market as people realize that the amount of money being asked for comparable RX-7s and Supras is freaking crazy. Clean, low mileage examples of the VR-4 are commanding in excess of $25,000, so the kind of car you’re going to get for $11,000 isn’t likely to meet our third criterion. I can’t recommend this car in good conscience to you, even though I really, really want to.

2002-2011 Subaru WRX: Again, difficult to find one in your price range that doesn’t have the word “COBB!!!” in the description somewhere, doesn’t appear to be a ticking head gasket timebomb, or have more miles than Jenna Jameson.

2003-2008 Mustang GT: I like this idea, and I like it for a lot of reasons. First of all, I obviously love Mustangs. Secondly, there is no shortage of how-to videos, guides and forum posts on the internet for fixing anything that goes wrong with this generation of ‘Stang — as well as posts from people who can tell you how to get insane power out of the holy Ford 4.6 V-8. Lastly, it’s probably the most reliable car on your list. For maximum chick-magnet status, try to go 2005 or newer. The fifth-generation Mustang looks enough like the newest car for young women to not really know the difference, and a GT will definitely sound the business.

About your rear-wheel-drive concerns: I was taken to task a bit by a commenter last week for suggesting that rear-wheel drive and winter climes are not compatible. He was mostly right. A good set of Blizzaks make rear drivers completely manageable in the snow. In fact, I have gone so far as to put Blizzaks on my front-wheel-drive FiST, because FWD/AWD doesn’t automatically mean “good in the snow” any more than rear-wheel drive means “bad in the snow.” When it comes to winter driving, the ability to stop is much more important than the ability to go. Blizzaks (or the winter tire of your choice) are a must for any car in Michigan winters.

Now, let me say this: You’re sixteen, and this is going to be your first car. You’re going to love driving whatever you have, because you’re going to have a big, beautiful world of freedom opened up to you that has thus far been a locked door. Remember how I said I burned the front tires off of my Jetta? That thing was an 11 second car. No, not an 11 second quarter-mile car; 11 seconds from zero-to-sixty. And yet I still drove the hell out of it every day. Your first car doesn’t have to be a speed machine. It should be big enough to keep you safe when you hit something, and you should be able to cart around a few friends. I have more great memories of the unbelievably stupid things that my friends and I did in that car than I could relate to you in a hundred such posts. You’ll have more fun driving a little slower with your buds than you will driving fast all by yourself.

Also, don’t forget that you’re gonna have to insure the thing. Insurance agencies aren’t huge fans of most the cars you listed for younger drivers, so your rates aren’t going to be all that awesome. Keeping that in mind, let me make a few more suggestions to you for cars that will be safe, cheaper to insure, and still fun to drive.

Since you said you like Japanese cars, other options could include this Acura TSX, or perhaps this Infiniti G35X, both of which should be reliable and fun to drive. The G35 is as close to a Skyline as you’re going to get in your price range, and is a bit more refined than the Z.

But, if you’re really asking what I’d do in your situation, here’s my answer: I’d go find the right Mustang, buy a service manual, and watch the Homecoming dates line up. Good luck, young squire.

If you’d like to Ask Bark a question about cars, life, the universe, and everything, shoot your emails to, or hit him up in the Twitterverse @ barkm302.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.
  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys dudes off the rails on drugs and full of hate and retribution. so is musky.