First car, will it make it xcountry?

Hey ya’ll!! Have been asking a lot of people about this around me, but then it just occurred to me: “damn! I wish I could call car talk!!” So I went to the website to see if I could still submit questions to them… and lo and behold! A forum!! So here it is. I am a new driver (in fact, not even a driver yet, road test is in a week), but am looking to get a car that will get me xcountry shortly after. I just got a new job and am relocating from Buffalo, New York to the Napa Valley in California. One of my friends offered me a 1980 Ford Fairmont, with less than 50,000 miles on it. Still driven sometimes in the summer, never been in a Buffalo winter (sits in the garage). It has no power windows, no radio, no AC, and no power steering: just a barebones beast. She’s asking $1700 for it, but I think I can get it for 1500. My parents are telling me this is idiotic and won’t make it xcountry, but it seems in good condition, and it’s from a person I trust. I was thinking I’d rather take the 90 into Washington and head south from there rather than go the southern route, especially if I get this car. Do you think it’s too old? Do you think it will make it? Any advice? My budget is 2k or less for a car, and I don’t know, it looks pretty sweet, though looks can be deceiving.

Well, nobody for sure whether or not the car will make it, but it would be risky and uncomfortable. The tires are probably old. I have no idea what has been done to the car, but all the rubber parts have deteriorated over 34 years. If you do have problems along the way, it would be hard to find the parts. Furthermore, the car probably doesn’t meet California emission standards. It has carburetor as opposed to modern fuel injection.
Save your money–travel by rail or plane–and wait until you are situated in your job to buy a car.

Oh my. A 1980 Fairmont? I wouldn’t drive it from Buffalo to Albany, let alone California.

Yes, it looks good and has low miles. The end. It’s still a 34 year old (!) car that was a POS when it rolled off the assembly line. All the rubber bits are old and ready to fall apart. It has no AC, no power steering. It hasn’t been driven much so it probably hasn’t had as many oil changes, transmission fluid changes, coolant changes, etc, as it should have. It’s just waiting to crap out on the highway. Don’t be fooled.

Take your $1700 and buy the newest, lowest miles Corolla or Civic you can get hold of. And even then you’re probably going to break down at least once along the way.

If it’s a 2.3 4 cyl, I’m sure the timing belt needs replacing too.


Sorry, another no vote. Even if it was in perfect shape it’s a bad choice for a new driver (any driver, really for day to day and long distance use). Look for a '96 or newer 4-door with a 4 cylinder engine.

What’s your max budget?

If it were me in your shoes I would not have a problem with it. In spite of bland being the operative word these cars are not bad at all. I’d catch a few basic maintenance items up and not worry about it. These cars are also simple and cheap to service in the event of a problem.

It sounds like you’re headed to CA so you might do some homework about emissions testing on that car before wading into any deal.

For what it’s worth anyway, I bought a straight bare bones '78 Granada once for 150 bucks and drove it for 3 years.
I also bought an old Chrysler New Yorker one time for 10 bucks (tagged and running) and immediately took off on a X country trip in that. The only issue was a flat tire in the CA desert…

So @ok4450 - really? New driver? No mechanical experience? 34 year old car? Seldom driven? In unknown condition? With few mechanics that could work on it? Taking it cross country right after purchase?

Not to argue…well, yes, to argue…

The flip side of that is a 2 grand budget on a later model EEC controlled fuel injected car with the same new driver and no mechanical experience.

Odds are that 2 grand will buy a 200k miles something which may need who knows what before the trip starts and Lord only knows what if it goes belly-up halfway across Montana.

The fuel pump goes on the Fairmont for example it’s a cheap, easy fix. The pump goes on the later model and odds are it will be between 400- 1000 dollars at a minimum.

My vote would be for a later model but with a caveat or two, or three. How much patience the OP has in searching for a decent car for the budgeted amount, who is doing an inspection of the car (if any), how much money on hand during the trip just in case, possible timing belt issues on whatever later model is decided on, and so on.

That Granada I bought for 150 bucks was sitting in a wheat field for several years before I snagged it. New battery, can of fresh gas, and off I go. The only fault with that car was no A/C; a need in OK.
That was remedied pretty quickly by adding an underdash evaporator from an old Ford Falcon, a Subaru compressor, Nissan condenser, and a handful of homemade hoses. Worked great for the 3 years I drove that car.

Bad idea! Agree with @jesmed1 that this car is too old to be reliable (it was not all that reliable when new) , and if you’re stuck halfway across the country with a brakedown, you may not be able to get the parts quickly.

Buy a later model of a reliable brand and model.

My brother in law had one of these cars and the catalytic converter plugged up and overheated, burning the floor mats and rugs and nearly setting the whole car on fire. The emission controls on these cars were somewhat primitive.

I would only trust an experienced mechanic with several credit cards to drive this car cross country!

Docnick has expressed it very well, IMHO.

My brother owned one of these cars, and–as was already stated–they were not exactly paragons of reliable engineering when they were new. The passage of time has certainly not made these cars more reliable.

If the OP is extremely adventurous, he might want to risk a cross-country trip in this car, but he would be well advised to replace all of the flexible brake hoses, drive belts, cooling system hoses, tires, vacuum lines, and any other rubber parts–all of which are now aged and brittle.

In addition to carrying several credit cards and allowing a few extra weeks travel time in order to take into account the necessary time for obtaining parts when the car breaks down, the OP also needs a cell phone–preferably one with service from Verizon, as they have the best coverage. However, there are many parts of the country where there is no cell phone service of any kind, so a cell phone may not help in certain locations.

Good luck!

old cars are not necessarily unreliable. I d be more afraid of driving an older car thru city traffic than I would be to drive it on the interstate highways. as someone who has driven older vehicles long distances with no problems for many years I would nothave a problem with buying this car assuming you have it gone thru by a good mechanic and service the necessary rubber parts, hoses, belts, tires and possibly fuel lines as mentioned. also all fluids should be refreshed.

granted the fairmount was no peach, but at 50 k miles it is a cherry. worth picking if you can afford to have it serviced properly and inspected by a good mechanic BEFORE you buy it.

as stated above, this car is not nearly as complicated as newer cars and much easier and cheaper to understand and repair for a novice driver.

this car may have been maintained meticulously, if so you may be golden.

young people can tolerate much more discomfort than us old worn out folks anyway. just be prepared. no radio and nothing to distract you or make you feel comfy may even be beneficial, safety wise, to a novice driver. just remember, you don t have airbags to save you. be careful, be aware, and know that people drive like idiots, so don t get to close to other cars if possible.

I think it ll get you there and last long enough for you to make some money and buy a better car. or it may last 100k more miles with no major expense if it was kept up well and has no rust.

good luck!

I owned a 1980 Fairmont and it was a great car. This is not a $1500 car, though. $1,000 even seems high to me. You need to drive it around for several days to see if anything seems questionable (start, idle, brakes, acceleration, etc.). Have a mechanic go over it. As stated above, if a 4-cylinder, it needs a timing belt. If all this checks out, I’d do it. Give yourself plenty of time for the trip; cruise at 60-65 mph; you’re good to go.

She's asking $1700 for it, but I think I can get it for 1500.

A bare bones 1980 Fairmont wasn’t even worth that in 1985.

I’m with the majority here-bad risk unless you change all the rubber parts and fluids and know something about car repair. Being stuck in Montana trying to find a part would not be fun but for under $2000, don’t know what your choices are. Normally a family member would give you a car for that budget, although I’ve got a 95 Olds in the garage that I’d gladly get rid of for that budget. Just paid insurance on it again.

I think the parents are more concerned about a new driver taking off to CA. without enough driving experience in a car that just barely met safety guidelines when new. Besides just the registration (twice) insurance (new driver expensive ) and gas, motel rooms and meals you could fly first class and buy a car after you get there.

Yes, and in California you can get a rust-free car, more or less, unlike the rust buckets you’ll find in Buffalo.

My point about an older car (Fairmont in this case) is that if the engine and trans are solid anything else is a piece of cake as to cost and ease of service if a problem surfaces.

While I don’t necessarily agree 100% with the premise, it’s often stated repeatedly on this forum in regards to later model/2 grand car purchases that reliable and cheap do not belong in the same sentence when questions are posed along that line by prospective buyers.

Rhetorically speaking, should it be assumed that 2003 Honda Accord with 280k or that Taurus with a quarter million miles for 2 grand will be a reliable slam dunk on a long trip…

any well running, garage kept car with only 50 k mi is a bargain at 1000-1500 dollars, even a lowly Fairmont.

I agree with your parents. A Fairmont was not a good vehicle when it new.

@wesw - we don’t know a lot about the car’s condition. Old low miles cars can be some of the worst, with little maintenance done. If it’s in GREAT shape, then maybe, but it’ll need a major inspection.

I just think we car guys of ‘a certain age’ would have no problem making it work, but we’re talking about a complete newbie to both driving and cars, as far as we can tell. Not a good combination IMO.