Car Corner
Change in Transportation

October 2, 2011
By Scott Lewis

School has started. What does this have to do with cars? Well, my oldest son is a Junior in High School. Some of his friends already have cars. Those rich kids. Unfortunately, I am poor, and trying as hard as I can to get myself out of debt. My ex-wife is in the same boat. Neither of us can afford to outright buy my son a car. At least not a car he would not be embarrassed to drive.

That leads to two stories. First I will give you a brief overview of what it was like for me when I was his age, and then I will cover what I am looking into as a way to provide my son with transportation.

To start with I did not know anyone who had their own car as a Junior in High School when I was living on Long Island. In fact, the student parking lot was reserved for seniors only at my high school. That being said I am forced to jump ahead one year and start with my senior year of high school.

I got my driver's license in December of my senior year of high school. From that time forward I got to drive my mother's car. A 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix, in triple black. However... there was a price to pay for this privilege. My mother worked in Manhattan at the time, so if I wanted the car for the day I would have to take her to the train station in the morning and pick her up in the evening. She normally parked her car at the train station, so this was not much of an issue for her.

For the second half of high school this is what I did most of the time. She would get home late enough that I had some time to go to friend's houses and such with the car. If I was not working after school I would hang out at friend's and then leave from there to pick up my mother and then head home.

It worked. I remember that if I had to work after school too late to be able to pick her up... it meant walking... to school... to the job... and home. That was not fun, but having a job as a senior got you 1 class credit. I did not buy my first car until a year after I graduated high school.

I took a year off between high school and college because I did not know what I wanted to do in college. I got a full time job working at a gas station and walked to work.

My first car was a hot rod 73 Grand Torino I bought in the summer of 1982. My first car was almost 10 years old. I bought this with a personal loan my grandmother cosigned me to get. Note: because it was a personal loan and not a car loan... I did not have to get full coverage insurance, which will become important as you read below.

So... I bought my own first car, my parents did not buy me a car... new or used.

Flash forward to today... one of my son's friends has a new Camaro, and another has a 2010 Charger... which is his second car. That's right... one of my son's friends is on his second car at 16. I didn't get my first car until I was 18 and bought it myself. BTW... I totaled that car after about 2-3 months of owning it... and went back to borrowing my mother's car and taking her to the train station for a while as I went to college.

My son would be embarrassed if I bought him a 10 year old car. But in reality that is probably all I will be able to afford... next year. I can't afford anything now. I am working a second job to try and get out of debt. I am hoping it will also enable me to provide some kind of transportation for my son.

And that leads to this months true article... a change in transportation.

Since I cannot afford a car for my son outright... at least one that he would not be embarrassed to drive... I am going to attempt to share a car with him. I am going to buy a sedan for myself... but I will park it at my ex-wife's house. My son can use it all he wants.

However, when I pick up both of my sons... I will leave my daily driver at the ex-wife's house and drive the boys in this as yet purchased sedan.

Next summer I am going to be looking into this change. I owe too much on my Mini Cooper to be able to keep it and make payments on another car. So I will have to trade my Mini Cooper in on a nice enough sedan, and then get myself some cheap car that will get me to and from work.

My son really likes the Charger. I find them O.K. They would not normally be my first choice. But I can see the appeal. After all, the Charger is based on some Mercedes E-Class suspension bits and pieces. Plus it can be had with a Hemi. For myself I would be very interested in a Charger R/T with the Hemi. I will not consider getting an SRT8 and letting my son drive that. Insurance will be tough enough for a 17 year old and a V-8. But it will be a sedan, which should ease the minds of my insurance company some.

I have been looking at AutoTrader and I have seen some decent Chargers with reasonable mileage in the $14-16K range. In a quick search my favorite for the day was a 2006 with 90K miles for $13,995.

Let's run the numbers to see if I can get the Charger and keep my payments under $300.

Mini Cooper Trade-In Value        $9,000
Owe on Mini Cooper               $11,278
Debt                              $2,278

Charger Price                    $13,995
Sales Tax (based on difference)     $389
TT&L                                $200
Debt                              $2,278
Total (to borrow)                $16,862

Payments                         $295.48

This is with no money down with a 5 year loan at my credit union's current rate of 1.99% interest. This is something I could do now!

But what can I get for myself when my son is driving the Charger? And how much money can I save between now and next summer? Assuming the best case scenario... I should be able to save $2K from the third paycheck I get in December 2011, and in July 2012. If my company pays out a bonus this year (they paid the minimum bonus last year which gave me $2,100) that another $2K. So it is quite reasonable that even without the second job I should be able to put together $6,000. Assuming I don't spend that on something else.

What will $6,000 buy? That I will like? Since I would essentially have two cars... and I would only need the sedan when I have both sons with me... I can get a two seater.

The first car that comes to mind is a Miata. But before I do that I would like to explore a couple of other possibilities.

Chrysler Crossfire - A quick search of AutoTrader for a Crossfire with under 100K miles turned up 4 at just under $10K. A little over my budget. So I would need to save $4K from my second job.

Pontiac Solstice - I saw a one owner 2006 Solstice with 98K miles for only $9,000. Not bad. Raising the price ceiling of my search to $11K brought in 3 more worth looking at.

Ford Thunderbird - The cheapest I could find for a 2002 or newer Thunderbird was $14K. However, I have a friend that has a car collection and he has one in Teal with the two tone interior. Maybe I can convince him to sell it to me.

VW Beetle - Yea, this is a stretch... but I did a quick search and you can find these all over the place. I saw a nice, dark blue 2003 Beetle with the Turbo 1.8 motor and 89K miles for $7K. This could be a fun little commuter car. I even saw a number of Beetle Convertibles, including a 2004 convertible in the same dark blue (I really like it), with 72K miles for $8K. Yea... it's a chick's car.

Miata - Yes... this is the place to look for an affordable two seater that should be able to provide as much fun to drive as my Mini Cooper. On AutoTrader I put in a price cap of $10K, with under 100K miles, a manual transmission and year 2003 or newer. The first thing to pop up was a MazdaSpeed edition 2004 with 89K miles for $8,699. Not bad. The least expensive car I found... and liked... was a 2003 with 91K miles for $7K. It was British Racing Green... which my youngest son would love. This would not be a stretch at all if I can save the cash.


I don't want to get my son's hopes up yet... but it is very likely that I will get a Charger for him to drive. I just hope it survives him abusing it. I could see keeping a Hemi Charger a very long time as a collectible in 30 years. And I have always wanted a Miata. It is one of those cars, like the Mini Cooper, that I never stop liking.

It is rare that I always come back to the same car over and over... but the Miata and Mini Cooper are my two favorite small cars. And I would buy them and recommend them to anyone that wants a small, fun car to drive.