20 year old male looking to buy first car, parents willing to help with cost, limit around $15,000

I will have to admit that my dad helped me out after I bought a 1955 Pontiac that was a disaster. My parents had a 1960 Rambler that was totaled in an accident–resr ended by a semi at a stoplight in 1963. The insurance company that insured the truck located an equivalent 1960 Rambler at the same dealer where I purchased the 1955 Pontiac and got a guaranteed price on the 1960 Rambler. My dad had a 1954 Buick he wanted to sell. We took both the 1954 Buick and the 1955 Pontiac to the Rambler dealer. The dealer offered more for a trade-in for the 1955 Pontiac than the 1954 Buick. I got the Buick which was more reliable and the Rambler dealer got the Pontiac back again. Both my dad and I came out ahead

Several years ago, when I worked at a local university, there was a young Asian guy who drove a Maserati. At the time, I thought, “Must be nice.” When I was his age, I drove an eight year old Dodge sedan. At the end of the day, I got in my Corolla and went home to my wife.

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Try to go for lower mileage. I started replacing things like brake calipers at 150,000 miles on my 2005 Accord EX V6. For a Civic, that would mean looking at an LX. If you look at the Accord, avoid the V6. The timing belt needs to be replaced at about 105,000 miles. Any seller parting with an Accord V6 with up to 130,000 miles probably hasn’t changed the timing belt. It could cost you $1000 or so. It cost me $700 in 2012.


So many boring suggestions. If your only qualification is “it will not break down” you’ll be stuck with a Honda or Toyota.

Find a Mustang or Camaro in your price range. You’ll get a hell of a car that is fun. I would suggest a V6 or I4 though. Life is too short to be driving boring cars.

Something fun, yet with reasonable running costs, for around $15k

In no particular order;

  1. Subaru WRX (insurance might be higher than desired)
  2. Lexus IS 250/300/350
  3. Honda Civic Si
  4. Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 (rare)
  5. Ford Focus ST (rare)
  6. 2010-2013 Ford Fusion Sport
  7. Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
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This is one way of thinking about it, I suppose. The other way of thinking about it is that a car is an appliance, and people generally shop for appliances in terms of quality, reliability, and value. I certainly shop for a car in terms of trying to keep my monthly cost of ownership as low as possible, while trying to keep the car running for as long as possible.

To be honest, if I was sending my son to college right now, and buying a car for him, I’d get a 1997-2001 Toyota Camry with the 4-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. And of course, no sunroof, and no leather seats. I’d get one with the lowest mileage I could find for a reasonable cost, and I would complete any deferred or unproven maintenance before giving it to him.

I wouldn’t even ask “what kind of car do you want” or offer any other options. I cannot think of any other vehicle which offers as much bang-for-the-buck, and is as commonplace and easy to find parts and service for. A young person starting out–especially one who is enrolled as a full-time student–needs a car which will provide reliable transportation with minimal cost of ownership. Not something which is expensive to own, but perceived as “fun” and “cool”.

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@bcohen2010 I agree. Maybe others consider the cars I have owned “boring”, but all but the 1955 Pontiac were reliable transportation. I suppose the Toyota Sienna minivan I own today would be considered boring by many people, but when I have my musician friends with me heading for a gig, the ride is certainly not boring. However, driving someplace by myself, even in a BMW would be boring.
Back in 1964: when I was in college as a graduate student, the university I attended had some Checkers in its fleet. One of the Checkers in the fleet was traded in at the Ford dealer and was on the Ford dealer’s used car lot. I didn’t have the money to buy the Checker, but it ran well and had not been wrecked. For me, it would have been a great buy if I had had the money. If I had bought the Checker, I would still be driving it today. I would never had needed to buy another vehicle.

$15,000 is not a lot for many people living in California to spend on a used car. A house costs $800,000, this is a different economy than what others are accustomed to.

I drive old cars but most people don’t receive pleasure out of “appearing” to be poor. My co-workers seem to take pity on me for being poor, I just can’t see spending money on an expensive vehicle to sit in the employee parking lot 60 hours a week.

Just out of curiosity, do people not drive out of state to purchase vehicles if the pricing is that much different? Can’t do that with a house, obviously. Right now, vehicles are pretty expensive everywhere I suppose. I have my doubts about that subsiding. I hope I’m wrong.

I live on a border town (NH and MA). Bought several vehicles in MA over the past 30+ years.

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Many years ago, a lot of people from NJ would drive to a mega-dealership (Reedman Motors) in PA in order to get a lower price. Back in the days (late '70s-early '80s) when Honda dealers typically added a ridiculous “ADP” to the sticker price, I knew a guy who drove to Rhode Island because there was one dealership there that didn’t charge the “ADP”.

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I’m planning to replace my current Mustang with a new (probably 2024 model, which should be the 2nd year for the upcoming S650). And I’m paying attention to how dealers are conducting their business during the current supply shortage. I’ve already written off two local dealerships that are gleefully slapping $12k-$25k markups on everything they have the on lot currently. I’m not going to reward that kind of behavior.


Luckily, I’m not in the market for a new vehicle in the short-term, but I will be watching dealer prices/markups toward the end of 2022, when microchip shortages will–maybe… hopefully–begin to ease. Like you, I can afford to wait until pricing comes back to a realistic level, even though the wait might be a bit longer than we hoped for.

Luckly ford and chevy are starting to get mad about the dealer mark-ups.
they have been threating cutting allocations and penalties. I am also have been looking into getting a new vehicle. my first choice was the new C8 corvette but there is too long of a wait for one. so, now I am thinking of getting the Mach 1 with the tremec tranny and the HP package.


If a 20 y.o. wants to have a high fun factor at a low cost and good reliability, all he must do is spend about $4000 on a motorcycle. It beats any car you can buy for four times that, insurance is much lower, the upkeep is in the easy DIY range. If he lives through the first year, he will be a much better defensive driver for life.

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And he has to live in the South where he can drive it all year round. You have about a 9 month (and that’s pushing it some years) of riding a motorcycle here in New England.

On a somewhat-related note, a few years ago an in-law of my brother bragged about having just bought an expensive three-wheeler for his long daily commute. Since this in-law lives in NJ, my brother asked, “What are you going to drive on rainy/snowy/icy days?”, and the guy admitted that he had never thought about the reality of operating that thing in lousy weather. Duh!

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LA is warm!

It’s pretty much impossible to die in your sleep during a snow-storm. Not so much during an earthquake.

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One of my college roommates used to ride all year long in Allentown, PA. While it doesn’t get as cold as New England, it does get cold there. He rode many days in sub-20 weather and even if the high is 30, the low is right at the morning rush, and it could easily be 10.

Isn’t that the how you die when you freeze to death?