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Dear <lj user=bluemamie>,

Friday, 8 December, 2006

I am woefully out of practice when it comes to finding a car,
especially a second-hand one. While I attempted to shoot Patrick some
advice several years ago, I have not selected a second-hand car for
myself since 1994, therefore never in Texas. The requirements are
somewhat different here, as one won’t find any rusted-through frames
under 10-year-old cars, and the number of backyard mechanics are
relatively few. Additionally, the types and styles of vehicles
available are very different.

On the other hand, certain elements are constants. Misspellings in
online ads, later model cars with over-sized wheels, conspicuous
repainting, and the ever present “it just needs [insert $300 repair]”
are all signs of big fat trouble. Considering with whom you’re working
you may be directed toward boring, reliable vehicles with which you may
not be familiar. Were a 96 Corolla and a 90 MCA Jet come up, I’d steer
you toward the Jet as it is easier (read fewer labor hours) to repair
with the same reputation … and should come in at half the money of
the Toyota.

I have a few rules. No GM cars. (Technically, no GM after 1973.) Few
European imports. No Koreans, at least within my assumed price range.
Nothing initially sold to “first time buyers” unless being
sold by a professional mechanic, and few of those. (Chevy Sprint, Ford
Festiva/Aspire, Pontiac Lemans from the 90s, etc.) Nothing that “just
needs” something. A few older cars will pop up if and only if they are
well proven and show signs of being refurbished. Few prestige marques;
Ford is preferred over Mercury, Honda over Acura, &c. Manual
transmissions strongly preferred for reasons I could go into, but won’t
right now. No “personal luxury” or sporty cars. They have high
insurance and people who buy those don’t tend to them. No 8-cylinder
engines … I could go on.

Because I’m doing that thing where I can find any excuse not to
leave the house, I’ve cruised the net a little on the assumption that
your budget is four big ones. I present these not as actual suggestions
to be investigated further, but rather to gauge your reaction in the
interest of narrowing the list of possibilities.

  • 1979 Chrysler La Baron, CL Slant 6, the world’s most
    durable gasoline engine, obviously a transplant. (Chryslers came with
    V8s only in this era.)  This is a survivor, and a lovely
    example, but expect only about 23 MPG. Considerably more on the
    highway. Of course Chrysler-badged vehicles tend to have lotsa xtras
    which simply mean more things which can go wrong.
  • 1999 Ford Ranger, CL You will find any list I
    provide a little heavy on Rangers, if a truck is not categorically
    inappropriate. Ideally, a pre-’98 Ranger is preferred as they swapped
    the heavy-duty suspension to something “car like” that year. A solid
    fleet-level 88-97 Ranger would get my highest recommendation, although
    I would advocate wider than OEM tires as soon as could be arranged.
  • 1987 or later Volvo 24?, CL I would not advocate for this
    particular one, as the owner isn’t sufficiently aware that the model
    and year are germane, or actually doesn’t know. You can’t really go
    wrong with pre-Ford Volvos as this town is filled with “Volvo Nuts”.
    However, maintenance on the iRolls runs a little steep, and you can’t
    really take them to Jiffy Lube, et al for reasons I’ll go into if you
    really want me to.
  • 1990 Dodge D50 by Mitsubishi, CL a tough little runner.
  • 1973 Volkswagen Thing ebay a Beetle-based SUV. If it was
    good enough for Hitler …
  • 1998 Dodge Stratus, ebay not very exciting but
    reasonably economical with the Mitsu engine.
  • 1980 Mercedes-Benz 240D, ebay, classic W123 with a
    literally million-mile diesel. Possibly a retrofitted A/C system. Not
    as expensive to repair as a Volvo or late model VW. Low insurance and
    watch the faces as you pull up in an M-B.
  • 1972 Volkswagen “Beetle”, ebay,
    refurbished where it counts. An example of the world’s most durable and
    reproduced car, but needs paint.
  • 1995 Nissan Sentra, yahoo,
    uninspiring and legendary. Only 185K miles, it’s just broken in.
  • 2000 Toyota Corolla, yahoo,
    suspiciously cheap. It’s a Corolla.
  • 1990 Volvo 240DL, yahoo,
    Vol-Tech is in the business of refurbishing and selling Bricks.
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