Ask Bark: How to Replace a Dart That Missed the Mark

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

Isaac writes:

Bark,

I graduated from college six months ago and took my first real paying job four states away from my family and anyone I know. In the process, I needed a different car, as for the past four years I was daily driving a 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula. While I love my Fiero and will never sell it (my dad and I restored it when I was in high school), daily driving a ’80s GM car is playing with fire. My parents were very gracious and were willing to sell me their 2013 Dodge Dart (Multiair, six-speed manual) for $8,000. I took it as that was the best deal I was going to find at the time.

Fast forward six months and I regret that decision.

While there is nothing wrong with the car (mechanically and reliability speaking), it is extremely pokey around town and the driveability is frustrating. I could expand more on my dislike, but all you need to know is I want to replace it with something else.

What would you recommend I replace it with?

Here is the thing, I owe $6,000 on the car and could get $10,000 for it if I sold it private party. I do not want to go over $10,000. The big kicker is that anything I replace it with will not be as new or with as few miles (the Dart has 59,000 miles on the odometer).

My criteria: has to be a manual, good in snow, get decent gas mileage (I do a lot of highway driving), be fun to drive, and not a Chrysler product (the ownership experience has been terrible). My first guess is to look at first-generation manual-equipped Mazda6 wagons, first-generation Ford Fusion, or a Miata (I’ve always wanted one).

Isaac

Well, Isaac, I’m not surprised that you’re not enjoying the Dart. It’s not a driver’s car to start with. While some people really like the 1.4-liter turbo in other applications (think 124 Spider), it doesn’t seem to work well in the Dart. I’m not one to think making payments on a car you don’t like is a great idea.

However, I think you’re a bit optimistic in your evaluation of its worth. I find it hard to believe that you could get any more than about $8,000 for the Dart when it’s all said and done (unless you have another relative who’s in desperate need of transportation) — and that’s assuming excellent condition.

But, let’s assume you’re right and I’m wrong, and you get enough money for your car to make your very own Brexit from FCA (Italialater? Italeave?) a desirable option. What should you replace it with? You’ve picked a wide variety of options, none of which would have leapt immediately to mind for me, so we’ll keep those for later as we investigate some choices.

It’s too bad that you said decent gas mileage, because I immediately thought of a Mazda RX-8. But gas mileage isn’t so great, and even the latest models are going to be out of warranty soon. So nix that idea.

An Acura RSX might not be a bad choice. You should be able to find a good example in your price range, and you’ll get good gas mileage, a reliable car, and it would be fun as heck to drive. You might even be able to find a Type-S, if you can negotiate a bit.

I haven’t used my Scion tC rubber stamp in a while, so let’s break it out here. The tC would absolutely fit every requirement you have. It’s also very good in snow as long as you’re not using OEM replacement Bridgestone tires. The tC is well within your budget, even for a lower mileage example.

Let’s keep it JDM and see if we can’t find an ’08 or ’09 Civic Si in your price range, too. There’s a ton of aftermarket support for these cars and no reason to think that it won’t continue to run long after you’ve had your fun with it. Gas mileage is decent, too.

And from the total sleeper category, why not check out a Sonic LT hatchback? I drove our former contributor Caroline’s Sonic hatch a bunch of times, and I liked it more with each exposure. You can get a lot of car under $10,000 with the Sonic, and you might even have some warranty left.

As far as your choices go … I’d nix all of them. The Mazda6 wagon is one of those cars that everybody thinks they’re going to love right up until the point they actually drive one. Plus, it sounds like you’re in a snow state, and I’m not convinced of the rustproofiness of that generation of 6. The Fusion is just going to bore the pants right back on you and any girl you’d want to date. And while a Miata can be made to be serviceable in the snow with some Blizzaks, it’s not a particularly nice place to be in a snowstorm, regardless.

(I drove a winter-tired Miata in a February snowstorm for over 1,000 miles. It handled the snow easily, but it also wasn’t what you’d consider pleasant. —Mark)

What would I actually buy with my money? None of the above.

I’d get a Fiesta SE hatchback. Fun to drive, good in the snow (with appropriate tires), outstanding fuel mileage, and new enough to get better financing rates. It might be just as new and have just as few miles as that Dart.

Need some advice on buying a car? Contact Automatch Tom at automatchconsulting@gmail.com! He’s probably too busy to answer your message, though, so send it to Bark at barkm302@gmail.com after you run out of patience.

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

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  • Frantz Frantz on Jun 29, 2016

    A dart with a manual sounds like a fun car. It's not. It's the worst driving experience I ever had. Drive one for a few hours for some errands. My old AMC Eagles, in all their tractor like acceleration, gave a better experience. I'm sure when his parents bought the dart they thought it was practical, and then quickly learned the same thing and unfairly loaded to their son. What I would do is trade the POS in and lease something brand new if you have the credit for it. The Fiesta hatch manual is actually a good call. I own an S model myself, have had it a year and a half and continue to look forward to driving it like it's a little race car. The S is for crank windows! You won't get as tired of your cars and end up completely buried in your next purchase. Life changes quick when your young. In a few years you may need a family car, or a car to go chase down expensive women in. They are different, and leasing makes it cheaper to switch out often. You can get quite a few cars for a $10 lease. If you buy a $10k car, what's it really gonna be worth anyway in 3 years and 40k more miles? If you don't lease, I can imagine you being a typical negative equity customer in the coming years, always paying $50 to $100 bucks a month in payment towards paying off your last two vehicles. Not a good road to go down. Lease before you get to the point that you realize you should have!

  • FalcoDog FalcoDog on Jun 29, 2016

    If it's entertainment you seek; Keep the Dart save some money up and and buy a 5 year old 1 liter motorcycle. It will certainly be more entertaining than a used 4 cylinder car.

  • Carson D I hadn't seen a second-generation Courier with a Mazda engine before. I've seen a few with Ford engines. There was one at the Cox Driving Range that they used to collect golf balls. Golf would definitely be more entertaining to watch if they used moving targets.
  • Tassos ooops, Tim, you missed this one. Would make a lovely "Tim's used car of the day". It satisfies all the prerequisites except the wildly overpriced bit.
  • Tassos ASTON AND BOND BY A MILE. While Aston Martin sells a TINY FRACTION of what even the rarified Ferrari and Lambo sell, it is unbelievably well known. Credit the idiotic, but hugely successful and sometimes entertaining James Bond Movies.
  • Tassos 1988? Too young for me. It's all yours, Tim... BAHAHAHAHA!
  • Gray Awesome. Love these. But, if I had the money for a Fox-body, there is a clean '84 GT 350 here for little more than half the price.
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