My 1st post - and I'm already asking Opponauts like you for help!

Hello Oppo,

I'm looking for a reliable, manual car and need your help. I recently paid off a student loan and so don't have much money to buy a new car right now. This is where you guys hopefully come in.

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A little background:

I had originally contacted Tom McParland (aka AutoMatch Tom) about finding a $4000-5000 car for me. He suggested that with that budget in mind I'd be best served contacting my fellow enthusiasts on Oppo (I can't call myself an Opponaut yet because while I've been visiting the website several times a day for more than an year, I've never posted something here).

I learned to drive a manual from a friend who gave me 8-10 hours of lessons some time ago. While I know how to drive one, my skill level is nowhere near as high as I'd like it to be. Next year, I'll hopefully start a PhD in a University overseas. 90% of cars there are manuals and I'd like to get comfortable asap so I'm not floundering there. Another reason is because driving a manual was exhilarating for me, who finds driving very therapeutic and whose enthusiast alter ego lit up on first making a perfect heel-and-toe downshift! I'd like to experience that everyday.

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I've been thinking of buying this car for a while now but am quite worried because it is a significant amount of money for me. I have consoled myself by convincing myself that I can make a lot of that amount back if I sell it off in an year or so. However, after a lot of sober reflection, the realist in me feels it's better I get a $1000 beater and beat the stuffing out of it before I eventually leave.

Which of the above two options do you suggest? Or would getting an year's lease on a car be better for me?

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Whatever your opinion, could you also help me look for a car in line with it? I scour Craigslist and Autotrader everyday looking for cars, but since I don't have much mechanical knowledge I don't know what to get.

The basic minimum that my car MUST be is manual, absolutely reliable (very very important - I don't have much money anyway and don't want to squander it on repairs) and fun to drive. Other things I'd like to have is RWD (AWD/4WD is ok too), and as small a size as possible.

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I was hoping to find fun Japanese cars like an MR2 or an MX5 but haven't found something for about $1000 so far.

Oh, I should also mention that I live in the Northern Virginia area but don't mind traveling north as far as NJ or PA to find a decent car.

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This is my first post so I hope all goes well. And a big THANK YOU to Tom for his help and advice!

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