Car Corner
Cars After S-Day Part 1 - Primary Transportation

June 1, 2010
By Scott Lewis

Note: This article and next month's where written in the spring of 2009 when I thought I might be getting a divorce. I won't get into why, but my wife and I separated in the Spring of 2010. I wanted to make use of this pair of articles, so I present them now. I did some very slight editing, but the content is as it would have appeared last year had we separated then.

Over the next two months I am going to list the cars I would like to look at for my next car. This is a little different from my recent searches for cars. I am not going to look at any ads. With separation in the works I am going to want a new car... at least new to me. My wife had me trade in my 2006 Mini Cooper S Convertible for a 2007 BMW 335i. The 335i is a great car, but it is not perfect and it is way too expensive for me to afford with one income and child support payments.

Depending on how the separation goes I envision one of these happening:

  1. I end up with the 2007 BMW 335i and must sell it because I cannot afford the payments.
  2. I end up with the 2001 Acura MDX sport utility vehicle and trade it in on another car.
  3. I end up with the 2001 Acura MDX and get another car without trading it in.
  4. We sell the BMW as part of the separation and each take part of the debt from owing more than it was worth.

Each of these assumes I am getting another car. I have worked out a budget, and it only has room for a $300 car payment. (This was the reason for the "What can $300 a month buy?" article a few months back. I was planning for moving out.)

This month we will cover what cars I can look at buying under scenarios 1, 2 or 4. That means I will have a payment no more than $300/month with a car that will be my only transportation. To be my only car means it must hold myself and my two boys. No sports cars. Next month we will cover cars that I can get if I get the Acura MDX in the separation and don't trade it in. In other words, since the MDX can hold me and the boys I could get a sports car. Or a really cool old car that does not have to be completely reliable for getting to work everyday.

On to this month's cars. Remember I need to buy a car that will be reliable to be used as my only transportation, and it must hold me and my sons. Here are the cars I will be searching for that meet this criteria.

2002 - 2006 Mini Cooper S

I still miss my 2006 Mini Cooper S Convertible, and very much regret trading it in. I don't want another convertible, but I really like this car. I am torn. I have grown to liking the exterior styling changes to the redesigned 07 model and really like the idea of the direct injection engines and the better gas mileage they provide. However, the center stack of the 07 car is terrible compared to the 06 and earlier cars. Fortunately the 07+ models are still too expensive to fit in my tight budget. I listed the S above. I may go for a base model to keep the purchase price down and the gas mileage up, but in these years I am pretty sure I can find a modest priced S that I could enjoy thoroughly.

2006 - 2007 Honda Accord Coupe/Sedan

This is the baseline car. I really like the newly designed 2008 Accord coupe, but find the styling of the 08 sedan to be a large step backwards from the previous generation. 08-09 Coupes are still going to fetch a pretty penny and have quite a bit of depreciation to go before I can consider them. So I will search for the 06-07 models. I might expand this to 04 & 05, but I like the taillight treatment of the 06-07 cars. If I feel compelled to get a sedan the Accord will be the car by which all others will be judged. Not that it is my first choice, but it is my first choice in a modest price range. Accord sedans of this model year are low enough in price that I should be able to get one with a very modest monthly payment with minimal concern for reliability.

2006-2007 Honda Civic Coupe

These are plentiful, but I would be looking for an EX-L model with the leather seats. Those are just hitting the $15K range. This would also make a good car to pass onto one of my sons.

2006 - 2008 Ford Mustang

I like the Mustang. I like the Camaro better. However, the Camaro is too new and too expensive for post separation expenses. Same can be said for the Challenger. I really like the look of the V-6 Pony package that came out in 2006. That would be my first target. I would consider a V-8 model, but probably only a Bullitt or Shelby GT version, but those won't be affordable for some time. If I get a Mustang it may get passed on to one of my sons.

2001 - 2005 Acura 3.2 CL Coupe Type S

I test drove one of these in 2001 when my wife and I bought the Acura MDX. I liked it a lot. These were not made in large numbers, so they will not be plentiful in the used car market. But if I stumble on one while looking around I will definitely head for a test drive. being an older car I might have to concern myself with reliability, but I tend to trust Honda in this regard.

2006 - 2009 Scion xB

This would be a cheap car. I kind of like them, both generations. I would test drive these to see if I could live with them. I would expect the purchase price to be quite low allowing more funds to be saved for a future car purchase. I would also expect to pass this on to one of my sons to drive as they need a car of their own.

2002 - 2008 VW New Beetle

As long as we are looking at goofy box cars that can be passed on to kids, let's take a look at some New Beetles. These are plentiful. I have already seen quite a few. In fact at under $15K I could go with a turbo and a convertible. I just wonder if my sons would think it is not cool if they get it. That doesn't matter. I could live with this cute car as easily as I have lived with a Mini Cooper in the past.

2006 - 2009 VW Jetta GLI

This is a Jetta with the same "stuff" as the GTI hatchback, but in sedan form. I really like the GTI, but I think the Jetta is a better looking car. If I must have a four door I would like to put this near the top of my list. I have not test driven one of these so I could be put off after some personal time. Also, these are low in volume. At the time of this writing the GLI is out of the $15K price range. That means this car will only be a consideration if I trade in the Acura for it.

2001 - 2006 BMW 3-Series Sedan/Coupe

I know, I said our 335i sedan was too expensive for me to keep. That's true. The payments were $704 a month. But I really like BMW. In the used car market I would mainly be looking at the previous generation 3-Series. That's the 323, 325, 328 & 330 models in coupe or sedan form, with a big emphasis on the coupes. I have seen a number of these below $15K on AutoTrader, so this is a reasonable car to get while keeping payments below $300. However, even minor repairs on these cars can get expensive so I will have to factor that in when looking.

2004-2007 Cadillac CTS-V

This is a maybe. I like the CTS, but the 2008 redesign is so cool I do not know if I could settle for a first gen CTS. If I did it would have to be the CTS-V. It might also mean trading in the Acura to keep the payments low enough. I wouldn't mind test driving one just to see if I really like it inside and out.

2004 - 2007 Toyota Solara

This is really off the beaten path for me. Toyota makes super reliable, and super boring cars. Being on my own for the first time in a very long time I may want super reliable. I have seen a couple of nice Solara SLE models, with leather for under $15K. And this will be a very reliable car if or when I pass it on to one of my kids. Or, this could be the super reliable backup car I will need when I start collecting classics. (Note: I wrote this last year before Toyota's recall problems on brakes and unintended acceleration. I don't believe I would stop looking at them, but I would take that info into account when shopping for them used.)


That's it for this month. Next month we will get into some strange territory, and some samples from Autotrader ads.