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Car buying advice

Not my car, but one just like it.
Not my car, but one just like it.

I love my car. In fact, I’ve loved it to death; at 251k miles, it’s developed some valve noise that can only be remedied with a new head. Thusfar, I’ve just fixed everything on it myself (I do a fair amount of shade-tree wrenching), but I’m wondering if this should be the end for my car. I’ve hit two deer (one on each fender, causing small dents, but not much more) and cracked the windshield in a hail storm, so it’s no longer is pristine(ish) shape. The only upgrade I have on this car (besides recent maintenance) is a receiver hitch, which wouldn’t be that expensive of a loss. The car’s worth about $850 in good running condition; not sure I could even sell it with an engine tick.


The things I love about the car:

  • It’s a wagon. That’s, like, my most important requirement for a car.
  • It’s got 3 pedals. Completely necesary for me.
  • It gets me about 32MPG highway. 30MPG is my minimum; I drive a lot. If I’m going to get much less than that, I might as well just drive my Aerostar everywhere (it gets me 22MPG).
  • It’s reliable. I drive 300 miles once every week, and need a vehicle that won’t strand me. This one has only stranded me once (and it was the deer’s fault, not the car’s; the radiator was damaged.)
  • The styling. I love that it’s an innocent-looking, happy car. The styling reminds me of an NA Miata. I strongly dislike the popular ‘angry’ face on cars.
  • It has the two accessories that I need: Cruise Control and A/C. I live somewhere that gets way too hot in the summer, and I can’t show up to a client’s house covered in sweat. Also, I can’t afford speeding tickets, and CC is the only thing that prevents them.
  • It’s really small. I mean, I have the same interior capacity as my wife’s Escape, but the roof height is only about 6" higher than a Corvette. It’s also got a very tight turning radius, and handles not unlike a go-cart.
  • It’s really a Mazda. I love Mazdas; the way the drive, the fact that they’ve been very reliable for me thusfar, the fact that they’re easy to work on. Actually, Japanese engineering in general is great, but especially Mazda.

There are, of course, a couple of downsides to the car:

  • It only has a rated 110HP. It’s really not that bad, considering how light the car is, but it would be nice to have about 20 more.
  • ....and it’s FWD. The real kicker.

So I have options.

Oh, I should mention that I have no budget. Like, zilch. I’ll be lucky if I can scrape together $1,000.

  • I could fix my car, which would mean a very long day in the cold, and about a $300 investment. Net result would leave me right where I was 6 months ago.
  • I could buy another Escort Wagon just like the one I have, for $800 (they’re pretty easy to find.) I’d have fewer miles and possibly better overall condition, but otherwise I’ll be right where I was 6 months ago
  • I could buy a Ford Zx2, and swap the engine into my ‘scort. That would cost about $500, and would give me a 20HP-bump, but would be a long, difficult weekend in the cold.
  • Or I could buy a whole new car. So far, the ‘cons’ for my current car is a pretty short list. A new car would have to come with a shorter list, or be really cheap. The one car that I’m considering is a Protege5, as it’s the newer generation of my current car, and has about 20 more HP with everything else the same. Slightly out of my budget, though.

What would you do?

I would love to get something RWD, but the fuel mileage and purchase price requirements generally get in the way. As far as the power goes, I just don’t want to drop to a lower power:weight ratio. Higher would be nice, but not really that important, if I could get RWD. Age doesn’t matter, as long as it has cruise control and AC.


There are a couple newer cars I would love to have, but couldn’t afford. And, no, payments are not an option for me, so don’t try to convince me that I should get a loan. Not happening. They are: Mazda6 Wagon, Transit Connect [tragically only automatic], Subaru [anything with a 3rd pedal], and Mini Cooper S.

An ideas? The whole budget thing is the real kicker, but I suppose that’s always the case with buying a car.

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