By on July 19, 2016


When we started doing Ask Bark earlier in the year, I had no idea that it would grow into a weekly column, nor did I know that it would become the most popular series on TTAC. It’s rare that an Ask Bark is not the most-read post of the day when one runs, and I know that has very little to do with me. Rather, it’s an effect caused by the great readership of this site. Without your questions and your responses, this column wouldn’t exist. I thank you for continuing to send your questions and for your continued participation.

As a result, I have over 200 unanswered questions sitting in my email inbox. Not all of them require a full thousand-word response, so I’m going to tackle a few of the shorter questions today. Oh, and the hero image is just a pic of my son with the vehicle he designed for Disney’s Test Track that I’ve wanted to use. Click the jump and let’s help our fellow readers together.

Dean writes:

My wife owns a 2007 Mazda3 that she bought new. It turned over 100,000 miles this spring. She’s a thrifty sort and expects to “run it into the ground.” On the other hand, we live in New England and have to deal with winter. She’s expressed interest (in a general sense) in her theoretical next car being a Subaru. We have zero children (and that is not going to change), one dog, and rarely have other people in the car. We don’t need much space or carrying capacity. I’m sure an Impreza would suit our needs just fine; both of us think the Crosstrek is a little overdone-looking. Also, due to poor vision, I don’t drive so we are a one-car household.

I would like to replace her car at some point in the next six to 12 months (so this is not time-sensitive) as a gesture for emotional and financial support she provided during a period when I was out of work. I’m willing to consider leasing (which she fails to see the appeal of). And, having read your recent article on used-car purchasing, I would not have a problem with a young used car with a verified history. (I also have a family member who is a skilled mechanic and could check out the car for me.) Since I can’t drive, I’ve never bought or leased a car, but I do have excellent credit. Is it practical for me to pursue this on my own and present it as a surprise? Or are there too many obstacles for a person who doesn’t drive, and doesn’t even have a license, to buy a car for someone else?


There’s no reason that a legally blind person cannot purchase a car. I consulted a lawyer friend, and he said there’s no law on the books that would prevent you from doing so. The only issue would be insuring the vehicle. A lending institution might require you to show proof of insurance, but that’s typically not required for about 72 hours. Assuming the insurance is under your wife’s name, she can then add the insurance when you surprise her with the car. If you can get the dealership to deliver the vehicle to your home (which most dealers would gladly do to close a deal), then it shouldn’t be a problem.

I’d recommend the same used car buying process to you that I would to anybody: get a pre-purchase inspection from an independent shop. You may need to get a friend involved to take it to the shop, or, again, you could ask the dealer to deliver it for you. With a new vehicle, there shouldn’t be any issues with you buying it literally sight unseen — not even with a Subaru!

Jim writes:

I’m 26, with a decent-paying middle class job, an unpleasant amount of credit card debt, and a 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata. I got a pretty good deal on it ($14,000 out the door with 45,000 miles) and financed it through a credit union at a decent 3.5% APR over 48 months. Monthly cost with full coverage insurance is roughly $450. I love driving it and it does pretty much everything I require at this point (no kids, no dogs). With that said, my debt situation has me considering alternatives to the three years of servitude required before the title’s in my hand.

Enter the Prelude. My mom bought a 2001 Honda Prelude fresh off the lot at my 11-year-old urging. She loved it and put about 190,000 miles on it before buying a new FR-S six-speed last year. For reasons that elude me, my retired-mechanic father put about $1,500 worth of new parts into it to “get it ready to sell.” New clutch, brakes, shocks, sway bar bushings, ball joints, etc. In its last 10,000 miles, before my mom bought the FR-S, the Prelude received a new transmission and A/C compressor. It drives tight and feels like a Cadillac compared to the Miata.

I’m seriously considering unloading the Miata to Carmax and replacing it with the Prelude. I would miss the hell out of the Mazda, but I’m not upside-down on it and the value proposition of the Prelude is hard to resist. I’d like to pay her Blue Book for the car ($2,500-ish) and for a few months I could budget funds for a replacement engine for when this one kicks the bucket. Yea or nay?

If your credit card debt is stressing you out that badly, then I’d say that removing that $450 a month bill from your budget could be a godsend. Of course, you’ll still need to insure the Prelude, so it won’t be a complete wash, but the move should save you at least $300 a month.

However, I’ve got to think that the ‘Lude only has about 60,000 left on that motor. If, like most Americans, you drive about 15,000 miles a year, that means the Prelude has about four years to go. So here’s what I’d do: Drive the Prelude for that entire time, pay down some of your debt, and save the rest of the money for the eventual Honda replacement. It will suck to say goodbye to a car that you love, but the good news is there’s no shortage of Miatas for sale. When the time comes, and you’ve got a black number for net worth as opposed to a red one, then you’ll be able to go find another Miata. If you’re disciplined, it will be sooner than you think.

Richard writes:

Chevrolet Caprices are starting to filter through to the used market. I found this three-year-old example near me with 74,000 miles on AutoTrader.

At just $11,795, that seems to me to be a heck of a lot of car for the money and would suit anybody that wanted to tool around in something different.

What say you?

I say nay. $12,000 gets you an awful lot of used car. And yes, a Caprice would be something different. But in this case, I can’t say that different equals good.

What you’re getting here is essentially an updated Pontiac G8 V6 (please spare us all the Zeta platform codes, B&B) with a spartan interior and wheels that nobody wants to steal. Police vehicles are typically well maintained (depending on the budget of the municipality), but those 74,000 miles were likely driven by somebody who didn’t give a single damn about that car and treated it accordingly.

If the idea of a perp bleeding out in the back seat doesn’t bother you that much, then go for it. However, you could get an actual Pontiac G8 with fewer miles that doesn’t look like it’s been parked on a median for the last three years.

There you go! One article, three questions … and still over 200 to go! Keep sending them to [email protected] and we’ll keep answering them.

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43 Comments on “Ask Bark: Quick Bites...”

  • avatar

    yeah, I’d pass on the Prelude. people like to claim certain cars are “just barely broken in” at 190,000 miles, but you’re past the “design life” of the car and things just become unpredictable. It could go another 100,000 miles, or it could spit out the bottom end tomorrow. And when (not if) it breaks, consider the effect it will have on you getting to and from work.

    • 0 avatar

      Jim Z,
      I would tend to agree any car w that high mileage is a crap shoot but , in this example I say go for it, he knows the history, it has recent work put into it and it will save him about $300 bucks a month and his dad can do any work for free so I say go for it , if it makes him sleep better at night it is worth it.

      • 0 avatar
        Piston Slap Yo Mama

        Let the Miata go. Preludes were one of Honda’s last truly well-engineered as opposed to cost-engineered cars. I bought a Prelude Si 4WS in college at 112K miles and sold it years later with 212K miles for only a couple grand depreciation. All it ever needed was brakes and a timing belt. It’s been my yardstick for all cars since then. One with a known history, and assuming his mom’s not a hoon? Total win.

      • 0 avatar

        Normally I’d say don’t touch a high mile car but the history is there. I bought a Ranger off a buddy once that needed a head gasket and brakes. He was just out of University, had a kid on the way and didn’t want to fix it. He was the original owner. Once I fixed the brakes and gaskets it was closer in price to what it was worth. I drove it for 3 trouble free years and once I sold it cost me 800 dollars over those 3 years (not including insurance and maintenance).

    • 0 avatar

      Agree on no to the Prelude. If the Miata is an issue, the Prelude isn’t the answer. I don’t think I’d consider anything without modern safety features as a daily driver. Buy a used Civic or something if the issue is money, although I think the multiple transaction costs will kill some of the savings.

      I once swapped an Acura Legend for an older Accord and cash, because I didn’t have the money to do the timing belt on the Acura and was out of work. Bad move overall.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it really depends on the car. I bought a 350Z a few years back with 160K miles on it. Put about 30K on it. Possibly the most reliable car I’ve ever had. It was a clean one owner car with full dealer records/maintenance. I bought a 92 Accord a few years prior with some more miles. Nothing but problems. The engine was burning oil when I got it but I planned for an engine swap. Problem is the swap died too after the oil pan banged a pothole. And it just felt worn out… like the NYC streets had shaken all its chassis rigidity out.

      I would give the Prelude a good once over. Get a compression test and maybe a coolant/refrigerant/brake fluid flush. Read up on forums for the common issues with it in old age. I’ve had a few Hondas from that era and if they are well taken care of they do really run forever. Plus he knows and trusts the PO which is huge.

  • avatar

    Actually , many Police cars are never used for Patrol duty and so are pretty easy to differentiate from the beaters…
    This one looks O.K. and is priced right , I’d want to get it up on a hoist for careful inspection .
    Did whomever wrote the avert fail sixth grade English class ? .

    • 0 avatar

      In my part of the world I’d be reluctant to touch ANY police car. Usually the big Suburban’s and crewcab pickups get sucked up by the Corporals and Sergeants and the rookies and lower echelon get stuck with the skid row beat cars.

  • avatar

    I am in shock. Completely agree with all statements. And the boy is a handsome young lad – must be the mother’s genes? Best time of my life was when we thought we were finished with children and being surprised with one more – a boy. Still getting blessings from that happy accident.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    If there were no manual Chevy SS and I were on a budget, a 6.0L Caprice PPV would have a place in my fantasy garage.

    I could see a nice V8 Caprice PPV with the Civilian interior making some sense to a die-hard bowtie fan, but if you want cheap power, there are better options.

    The V6 Caprice doesn’t make much sense when the V8s are out there. Plus, parts are a PITA. A coworker is married to a cop with a Caprice PPV, and he said they’re fantastic when working, but getting parts from Australia isn’t quick, easy, or cheap.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Mind you, the Caprice (whcih was also sold as a Buick in China) is basically the longer-wheelbase Zeta body, while the G8 and SS use the shorter wheelbase.

    Also, if you wait until the 2014 and later Caprices hit the used market, you’ll be blessed with the newer Global A electronics architecture and interfaces, which are worlds better than the dated stuff that’s in that Caprice.

  • avatar

    Well, the Caprice comes with the newer (LFX) 301hp version of the 3.6L and a 6-speed while the G8 came with the old 256hp (LY6) version and had a 5-speed.

    There isn’t anything *wrong* with the G8’s setup, although I have read about some timing chain problems with the LY6 and the later direct-injected “LLT” version.

    However, if shopping a Caprice or G8 I would highly, HIGHLY recommend looking at the V8 versions. If you really want a GM-built RWD V6 car, then maybe look at a CTS. The Panthers would work if you just want a low-cost big sedan.

  • avatar

    Jim’s mom rules. Drove a Prelude 190K miles, and replaced with a stick FR-S. Impressive.

    A note to Dean: 3 year old Imprezas tend to be pretty pricey. You may find a new one is worth the small difference in cost.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep Prelude to FR-S is a near perfect transition. Honestly they are the same car just driven by different ends (FWD vs RWD). I loved my Prelude Si until I drove a Eclipse GS-T and realized what torque was. To this day I swear the best FWD car would have been a Prelude with that DSM engine stuff in it.

  • avatar

    edit: my reading comprehension skills need a tune up apparently.

    Jim should probably get rid of the Miata.. I’m not sure a Prelude is the right choice at all though. Has he also considered private sale over CarMax?

  • avatar

    A Prelude isn’t a Miata but it’s still pretty good. (I thought of buying one in 2007 but had no way to find one known to be in good condition.) Since Jim’s mother bought it new and his father was a mechanic, I suspect it was well taken care of even before the pre-sale repairs. Therefore, it should last quite a while. Even if the engine dies after another 60k miles, would it make sense to rebuild it or replace it with a re-manufactured one? The biggest risk associated with dumping big money into an old car in good condition is the discrepancy between the cost of replacing it with something similarly good and what the other guy’s insurance would pay after their client wrecked it.

  • avatar

    >>We have zero children (and that is not going to change), one dog, and rarely have other people in the car.

    Please buy something that brings you joy.

    • 0 avatar

      He could by a regular cab short box 4×4 pickup. Brodozer the sucker with a monster lift on it and huge steel bumpers.
      Then put a white cane on each corner.
      That would bring a ton of joy ;)

  • avatar

    If this were Ask Toad:

    -Surprising somebody with a car is like surprising them with a puppy; unless you are absolutely positive that you know what the recipient really wants it is usually a bad idea. If you want to thank her book a nice romantic getaway for the two of you, but have her pick out her own car with your help and support. She can get exactly what she wants and keep it as long as she wants. Everybody will be happier.

    -The engine in a mom driven Prelude should last nearly forever; if I were trying to pinch my pennies I’s be all over that car. Down the road you can always sell the carcass to some kid who will rice out whatever is left of it.

    -A Caprice? Life is too short.

  • avatar

    “With that said, my debt situation has me considering alternatives to the three years of servitude required before the title’s in my hand.”

    I’m going to read this as I got ripped off trying to enter the workforce like so many of my generation, thus pocketing $300 or so of a $450 payment is important. Assuming climate isn’t a serious issue and the Prelude is in clean condition, lude, lude, lude it up.


    I’m not an expert on Honda of the period, but it sounds like the motor should have 50K more left it it. Even if it does blow up early, replacement motors are available via and range from $1,000-2,500. So you drive it two years and put a motor in for $2,500. Guess what, now its a Prelude with a new 100K junkyard motor and its worth *at least* $2,500. Don’t forget Honda of this period sells itself, do new MX-5s? The equilibrium of pricing on MX-5s seems to be about 9 in higher miles (>75) but I had to go to MY10 to find examples with higher miles so there is an age factor as well in this figure. You should be about this figure in repayment, my thought is bail now before the MX-5 needs something pricey (four tires, four new rotors etc). If you save $300/mo on the Prelude gambit that’s $3,600 per year. Save at least $1,000 of this for wear and tear on the ‘Lude but put the rest toward your debts. If you keep it clean, I promise you will find a buyer years down the road when the time comes.

    • 0 avatar

      If he has a little change he could make things interesting and swap in the crank and rods from a 98-02 Accord, making it a 2.3L. OK he would have to get a programmable ECU and dyno tune, but it would be a ton of fun with all new bearings. Well that’s what I would do anyway. But yea a well taken care of 1 owner DWB Honda…. no brainer IMO, worth the risk

      • 0 avatar

        Swap crank and rods making it a 2.3L is not an appropriate for a 1991 daily driver for someone who is trying to get out of car loan and credit card debt. A 1991 might be but not some hooptie. He needs something reliable or that middle class job might be in jeopardy.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree with the Prelude and putting $3600 per year toward credit card debt. I don’t agree with setting aside $1000 for repairs now. Why? Jim has already been using his credit cards to buy things he doesn’t have the cash for, and he’s paying at least 10%, probably closer to 20%, interest on that money. Put the $1000 toward the CC debt and you save $100-$200 a year in interest, while the same $1000 in the bank will get you at most $5 in interest (he did mention a credit union, so he’s probably not getting zero interest). If he does need to put some money into the car, he’s freed up some of his credit balance and can put it on the card.

      Now, once the CC debt is retired, definitely build an emergency fund for the car and other life expenses, save for retirement, and start putting a bit aside for the eventual replacement of the Prelude.

      This does assume some modicum of self-control with the credit cards. They’re a great tool if used responsibly, but some people really are better off just cutting them up and using cash.

  • avatar

    Bark, your kid is definitely cute. Next time, though, how about a photo of Dr. Baruth?

  • avatar

    Regarding secretly buying or worse leasing a car for your wife it should be avoided at all costs, unless you 100% know that is the exact car that she wants, which means test driving an example and knowing exactly what options and colors she does or absolutely does not want.

    You really don’t want to bring home a car and have her say “I hate red, it is my least favorite color, I can’t believe you don’t know I hate red… “There is no way to get this seat in a comfortable position” “It rides rough” ect. Having your wife think “but I wanted blue” every time she gets in the car, or coming home cranky and annoyed from sitting in that seat she can’t get comfortable in, is not a recipe for a long and happy marriage.

    The one way it might work is to go ahead and shop for a car to find out exactly what she wants but stop short of pulling the trigger. Maybe give the excuse that you should wait a month or two to get the year end clearance deals.

    Then go back to that dealer that has the “exact one she wants” and make the deal. If she thinks leasing isn’t the smart thing to do then do not lease the vehicle, the lease vs buy fight should be saved for TTAC and not in the bedroom.

  • avatar

    did you have to go to Disney Land to get the hero pic? I remember an old Al Franken SNL skit where he showed pics of his family trip to Hawaii. Now it’s an expense… If so, I agree, no other picture would have worked as well to convey your families dedication to all things automotive.

  • avatar

    What is wrong with the Preludes engine since everyone presumes it will fail? They may be rare for a reason, and they may just be bloated heavy old-peoples gas-guzzling luxury GT’s (according to my brother whos other car is an Integra Type-R), but an unmolested one owner manual ‘Lude should be worth some money in the long run. Unless it’s rusty…

  • avatar

    V6 Zeta 4-doors aren’t much fun. For a few dollars more you MIGHT be able to find a 2008 GT — but to get a clean V8 motivated G8 GT that wasn’t abused, hasn’t been driven around the equator 5+ times, is on its 5th owner, and/or hasn’t been molested to oblivion, you’re still looking at $15K at the basement — and $19K to $21K will get you a clean, well cared for example.

    If it is a 2008 or a 2009 “9L1” car I definitely want to know that the AFM lifter TSB was done on it. 9L2 and 2009.5 cars don’t have the AFM lifter issue.

    I haven’t seen a GXP for sale in the wild for some time now so don’t know if the prices have come down at all.

    You can find V6 G8s for as low as $10K and even a touch lower – nice clean examples too.

    • 0 avatar

      GXP automatic prices seem to have come down a bit, but the manual versions are holding as steady as ever. Expect to pay $27k for a higher-mileage “used car” version and into the 30s for a cherry one.

  • avatar

    Bark, that your youngin’ at Test Track in the pic? :)

  • avatar

    I guess I’ll be the one to suggest winter tires to Dean. Unless the wife really wants to have fun with the nannies off in winter conditions. Then I’d suggest a manual transmission Subaru. On winter tires, of course.

    Audis with the longitudinal powertrain are a lot of fun in the snow as well.

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