Latest Reader Question: Car Buying Advice (April 26, 2018)

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply: 

Joshua asks:  I wrote earlier about SUVs with manual transmissions. Thank you for the answer but my problem is that I forgot about gas. I have decided to wait till I have a full-time job to get a car that burns gas very quickly. So now I am looking at hatchbacks. My price range is the same: under $4,200, but I do not care what year. I like the styling of the Mazda3 and Volkswagen GTI, but those are also the most popular hatches I have seen. What would be some cars to look into and some to stay away from? And where do you think is the best place to buy a car: dealer, online, or private party?

My reply: First, the best place to buy is the place (or from the person) with the best car for the money you’ve got. I would not rule out any of the options you list. It costs you nothing to shop around.

As far as the specific model: You have many more potential choices as far as being able to find a manual-equipped car vs. a manual-equipped SUV.

I’d scratch the GTI off your list – not because it’s a bad car (the opposite) but because of your budget. But how about a standard Golf (non GTI) with a manual transmission? It’s not as quick, of course – but it’s still a lot of fun. Keep in mind that it’s the same basic car as the GTI and so will feel/drive a lot like the GTI – but for a lot less money. And you can always hop it up, if you want more power, etc.

The Mazda3 is a good choice, too – in part because it’s not a high performance car (as the GTI is) and so it costs much less new – as well as used.

You will also pay less to insure an “economy” car – and this is a big deal for a young guy. Be sure you get insurance quotes before you buy anything.

I’d also consider the Scion (Toyota’s small car line) tC – because it is a Toyota (very solid mechanicals) and because Scion – the brand – has been retired and so the value of these cars has gone down. But it’s also fun little car and you should be able to find one in good shape that meets your budget limits.

Also – and this may surprise you – the Hyundai Accent (and its corporate cousin, the Kia Rio) are very fun  –  and very economical – little roustabouts.

There is a wise old saying: It is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow…

Honda Civics are good, too – but the “blue chip” Honda reputation means you’ll likely pay more for one of these than for a very similar (and just as fun) Hyundai, Kia or Mazda. Also, the Rice Crowd esteems Civics and they tend to get thrashed, especially manual-equipped ones.

The Big Thing, regardless, is due diligence – meaning, try not to fall in lust with a car until you know something about that particular car. Not the make/model/year – that particular car. Because all used cars are individuals, having been used – and used differently by their prior owners. Even the best-built car can be a nightmare buy if it turns out it was abused/neglected or has some problem you only discover after you signed the deal.

So, my main advice to you is: Take your time and look at a lot of cars. When you settle on one that you really like and see yourself driving, ask the seller whether he’s ok with you taking the car to your mechanic – someone you trust – to have it looked over. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of this. If the seller won’t allow it, do not buy it. It is just not worth the risk. Especially in your case – young guy without a lot of money. How much would it suck to have to – as an example – put in a new transmission three months after you bought the car?

A seller who is reasonable – and not trying to scam you – should be fine with having the car checked out. Make it clear that if the car checks out, you’ll buy it. But don’t settle on the sales price until after it is checked out. There may be a haggling point – for example, the car may need brake work; no big deal and not a deal-breaker – but you can use that to lower the sales price to reflect the cost of the work it will need.

Keep us posted!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. I recall being fixated on a car(’67 240Z) and finding out insurance cost almost as much as the car…..and these days would probably cost well more than the car for a teen.

    Too bad insurance bases their rates on what your peers do behind the wheel. Then again, I saw how my peers drove and most had less than a clue. I watched a classmate roll his dad’s car. He was going to slide around a building but it was all dirt and it had rained and gouged out some big cuts. When he got sideways both pass.. side tires fell into a rut which sent it spinning like a lateral in football. A few minutes later his dad arrived with the guy he’d just sold the car.

    It wasn’t a pretty sight. I was with another classmate when he lost control going down a hill on a dirt road(thankfully it was dirt). Nothing I could do but observe at that point. I noticed he was simply spinning the steering wheel this direction and that direction. He had that same look on his face Cartman had when he was clueless. I looked out my passenger window and we were still moving fast…..sideways….right at the power pole. I kissed my ass goodbye and magically, there was a sorta berm 10 feet or so before the pole. The car caught it and spun around(again)and I was miraculously saved. We spun again and somehow, not the fault or skill of the driver, were going straight forward down a road at a 90 to the one we’d be on. Once stopped, we got out, shook off the dust, cleaned our pants and continued SLOWLY back to town. If it wasn’t Miller Time, it should have been. And now I’ll(see it coming and this is a sign of the (google)times, I’ll be posted as “anonymous”. Well hell, I sorta like anonymity and there have been times I have wished invisibility had gone along with a great deal more anonymity.


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