Waiting for a Mini Cooper
February 2, 2005 11:38 AM   Subscribe

AutomotiveFilter: Adult (over 35) learning to drive for the first time. The car of my dreams, a Mini Cooper, would be waitlisted approximately 11 months. What to do in the meantime? More inside.

Continuing to ride the bus is a less desirable option, because I would like to be able to practice my driving skills and not forget what I have been learning. I am not eligible for FlexCar because they require at least a 5-year driving record.
I would like to acquire a car of my own for as cheaply as possible so that I can work on saving up the money for the Mini. I actually think it would be a good idea to have something else first in case I destroy the clutch or bang it up against curbs.

As I see it, the options are either to buy something used, or lease something cheap like a Kia or a Hyundai. But I'm concerned about the reliability of a used car.

Please offer benefits and drawbacks of either or both options, alternative options, what make/model of car you would get in that situation, and [optional] explain how leasing works and if it's possible/financially ok to lease for just 1 year.
posted by matildaben to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
a beater that runs and will smog should cost you under $1000 if you buy from a private party. obviously, the more under $1000 you go, the less i'd trust it to be reliable. If you go this route it's nice to have a friend who's handy with cars -- and then, at this point, the question becomes "what should i do in buying a car from a private party?"

and for this question, from personal experience, i've learned one of the more important things to do is MAKE SURE THEY SMOG IT. In California, a seller is technically *required* to smog the car for you before transferring the title, unless you agree otherwise. I bought an albatross about a year ago (for too much) and then put another $600 or so in it and can't drive it (legally) now, because i trusted the seller when he said "oh, yeah, it smogs no problem"
posted by fishfucker at 11:53 AM on February 2, 2005

hey there MB, I am not a new driver, but I wanted to pipe up and say that buying a used car that will hold its value and then selling it when your darling mini becomes available will do two things for you

1. you will be able to do more practice driving in a car that is easier to repair in case you get minor dings and/or dents [happens to the bext of us]
2. you will lose very little money because unless you wreck your used car, you can probably sell it for close to what you bought it for.

As an example, I needed a reliable car FAST when I started my new job. I paid $5,000 at a no-dicker dealership [use craigslist to find one near you or ask people's advice on good places to buy cars in the automotive forum] and got a completely reliable late 90's Honda with 100K miles on it that I've driven for 20K more with no maintenance except to change the oil [and one repaired gas tank]. It's easy to fix, pretty okay to drive, dull to look at and as safe as I need. I can probably sell it for close to what I bought it for since I've kept it in good condition. You might also want to go fishfucker's route and pay $1000 for some tank that is indestructible [I'm thinking Chevy station wagon here], less expensive to insure and gives you a lot of safety room on the road when you're a new driver and could use it. I know nothing about leasing, can't help you there.

Email me offlist if you wanna chat cars more. Congrats on getting your license!
posted by jessamyn at 12:04 PM on February 2, 2005

Thanks, FF, but I don't want the conversation that follows to focus too much on the "beater" option. I'm a gainfully employed professional so, even though I'm saving for the Mini, I'd rather spend somewhat more money to have a "grownup" car that has a certain level of safety and reliability. If I bought used, I would probably focus on something less than 6 years old.
posted by matildaben at 12:06 PM on February 2, 2005

matildaben, I would stay away from leasing only because there are so many strings attached to the lease - do you really want to go through all that hassle just for 11 months?

I would recommend buying a reliable used car and getting it checked out by the AAA before you take it off the lot. The AAA (or CAA in Canada) offers car checklists and lists of mechanics to help inspect a used car prior to purchase. An AAA membership is a very good idea while you wait for your Mini (which will come with its own emergency road-side service offering). The AAA will help you before you purchase the used car (with the inspection) and while you own this 'interim car' in case anything goes wrong, they can help with towing, empty gas tank, locked keys, starting problems, dead battery reboot etc.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:14 PM on February 2, 2005

Why not lease a Mini? You can still save up to buy one. And you can get a decent deal at the end of your lease period if you want to buy the one you've been leasing.
posted by profwhat at 12:18 PM on February 2, 2005

Matildaben: you mention that you're concerned about wearing out the clutch in your original post. Seattle is indeed a hilly city but with a little practice, navigating this city isn't that bad. There are only a couple of tricks to driving a manual. I'd be more than happy to chit chat with you about this off-line.

And yes, if you're going to get a manual transmission in your Mini, then you need to get a car with a manual in whatever care you get now. It's not as complicated as some people make it out to be. I find that driving a manual makes me pay more attention to what I'm doing and be more involved with what's going on traffic-wise because I have to use both hands and both feet to drive. Other benefits include better gas mileage and better control in bad weather (rain in our situation).

posted by glyphlet at 12:19 PM on February 2, 2005

You can always try swap-a-lease or leasetrade.
posted by trharlan at 12:39 PM on February 2, 2005

Are all Mini's sold at BMW dealerships? If I were you, I'd buy a low-end 3-series that just came off a lease. It'll hold its value really well for just one year and I doubt you'll have any problems with it. Hell, even if you do it should still be under a warrenty and it is not your problem to worry about.

And don't worry about dings and hitting curbs. I think it is one of those reactionary things that first time drivers really worry about.

Even after taxes and depreciation, if you lose even $2500 that's just $200 a month to basically rent a 3-series. Everything else you'd put back into the Mini. I picked the 3-series since a used one is in the price range of a new Mini (or really close).
posted by geoff. at 12:42 PM on February 2, 2005

what make/model of car you would get in that situation. . .

Definitely get a manual transmission so you can learn while waiting for the Mini.

If I were in your situation I would look for a '95 Toyota Corolla. Should expect to pay 4K or less. Outstanding reliability.

Do you have a mechanic you trust? Before you buy used you want someone who knows what they are doing to put the car up on a lift and go over it thoroughly.

Have the mechanic perform a compression test to make sure the engine is in good working order. And spend the $10 or so to run the VIN# through Carfax to make sure the car was not totaled in the past.
posted by mlis at 1:07 PM on February 2, 2005

As a MINI Cooper owner, I applaud you. But also, have you checked any other dealerships? I waited only a few weeks (2 months at most?) or so for mine in August of 2003 with a dealership near Albany, NY. There were many dealerships in other areas with much longer waitlists. Just a suggestion, if possible, to try and cut your wait!
posted by stefnet at 3:09 PM on February 2, 2005

Geoff, Minis are not sold at BMW dealerships new (maybe they have some used ones they got at trade-in, but I really want to customize my own). They are sold at Mini dealerships, and there is one south of Seattle near Tacoma, and one in Portland OR.

Stefnet, Seattle and Portland are both rumored to have 11-month waits. I really don't feel like going to California or the outer midwest.

MLIS, I don't have a mechanic I trust because I am only just learning to drive for the first time! I would probably have to use the AAA option instead.

Glyphlet, the Mini comes in both manual and automatic transmissions. I am reading this thread to see the different arguments for getting one or the other.
posted by matildaben at 3:19 PM on February 2, 2005

As an aside, I am a non-driver to the amazement of many. I'm sure the day will eventually come when I have to learn to drive, but now that I'm quite far removed from high school drivers ed (which I took and passed with flying colors, just never bothered getting my license), how the heck would I go about learning to drive again?

Good luck with your purchase!
posted by sdrawkcab at 4:21 PM on February 2, 2005

The two MINI dealers near me are attached to BMW dealerships. In fact, MINI is owned by BMW, so in alot of cases the two are in close proximity to each other.

matildaben: If you don't know about it already, be sure to check out NorthAmericanMotoring
a MINI enthusiast site.

Congrats on the choice! I've had my MCS almost two years and still love driving it.
posted by sillygit at 5:57 PM on February 2, 2005

Matildaben, another Mini driver in the Northwest here! You're going to love it. I would definitely get the manual transmission; the car begs to be driven and shifting is part of the fun.

A couple I know took delivery of their new Mini only a couple of months after they ordered it. By having it shipped from a dealership elsewhere in the country, they were able to skip most of the wait. If you're interested, or just want to talk Minis, email me at the address in my profile. There are a few local Mini groups, and lots of fun events, for whenever you get the new baby.
posted by icetaco at 7:21 PM on February 2, 2005

could you buy abroad and get it shipped?

(check the alloys)
posted by Frasermoo at 7:45 AM on February 3, 2005

don't know who is still reading this thread but I'm amazed how many MC owners post on MeFi.

BTW, mine (polly) is BRG with the CVT which kicks ass!!
posted by CCK at 11:42 PM on February 5, 2005

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