Suddenly a 30 year-old Mercedes looks incredibly attractive to me
November 6, 2013 6:33 PM   Subscribe

After riding in a friend's 30 year-old diesel Mercedes today, I want to get off the hamster wheel of monthly car payments and save that cash by trading down for a much older car. We two adults share one car between us and it will stay that way. When not being used for trips, this will be a daily driver racking up fewer than 30 miles in a week. Which car should we aim for?

We live in a walkable area and have access to public transportation and an excellent nearby mechanic, so if there are repairs that put it out of commission from time to time, it's ok. What we're trying to avoid is breaking down on one of our frequent rural trips.

Minimum requirements:
- Less than $4k
- Wagon, because dog
- Enough power to get up a steep gravel mountain road a few times a year
- Reliable enough that a 250-mile trip in rural areas several times a year isn't taking a big risk of being stranded (we do and will continue to have AAA, but still)
- Does not require premium gas
- Not less than about 18MPG

Nice to haves:
- Better than 20MPG
- Parts for repairs fairly easy to acquire
- Timeless look (eg no Olds Custom Cruiser from the 80s, definitely no Aztek)
- Stereotypically tight European handling and feel (eg steering, suspension)
- I won't lie: I like the style our current Mini Cooper affords us (we are both Anglophiles), so I'd love to have something that I love to look at and don't hate to drive.

So, what are your recommendations, MetaFilter? Volvo? Mercedes? BMW? Is there a Toyota wagon that fits this bill? What am I not considering?
posted by ImproviseOrDie to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Mid to late 90s Honda Accord Wagon. Anything else that cheap, and it won't be reliable. Anything older and either parts will be hard to source, or wiring/vacuum under the hood will make you cry.

As little as you drive, who cares about mileage? Even at five bucks a gallon, the difference in gas cost for your 250/mile trip is thirty bucks, between a 15mpg car and a 25 mpg car. Your biggest challenge is going to be keeping your oil in good shape.
posted by notsnot at 6:42 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want something as rugged as a tank, economical and admittedly butt ugly you might consider a vintage Subaru Wagon...
posted by jim in austin at 6:49 PM on November 6, 2013

Will you be keeping your car in a garage, or park it on the street? What's the weather like year round? Is there snow and a lot of salt?
posted by hooray at 7:40 PM on November 6, 2013

ImproviseOrDie: "Stereotypically tight European handling and feel (eg steering, suspension)"

This will be hard to obtain in a 20 year old car irregardless of the manufacturer without doing extensive work. All the suspension bushings will be worn and deformed and things like strut and shock seals are likely to be hardened or worn. So you'll need to budget a significant portion of your 4K budget to replace those items in order to tighten things up.

What am I not considering?

They are boring as unbuttered toast but the 96-2000 Dodge Caravan (the short one not the longer Grand Caravan) with the 3L (best option) will have lots of room for your dog and luggage, easily make your 18 mpg requirement with 20 attainable depending on your driving style, has sufficient power to even haul a modest trailer up a significant grade, and is cheap like borscht to acquire and maintain.
posted by Mitheral at 7:48 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

This might sound crazy, but what about just keeping the car you have? Keep making your payments until it's paid off then.. do nothing. Just keep driving your car.

You know its complete history and how well its been taken care off
Meets all of your minimum requirements (I am assuming)
Meets most of your current requirements

You might lose the impetus that has driven you to this point
The Mini Cooper might look dated in a few years (old enough to look old, not old enough to look classic)
The future payments from now until it's paid off may be more than $4000.

I hope this helps.
posted by valoius at 7:58 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Volvo. Diesel wagon. You might find one you can work with, but be prepared to get a guide book and do repairs yourself.
posted by vrakatar at 8:05 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mid-90s Toyota Camry wagon. They're nigh-indestructible, get decent mileage, and you can fit entire couches in the back.
posted by zjacreman at 8:18 PM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Ok, lemme break this down for you. I've never owned a car newer than 1986. And the w123 240 or 300d was my dream car from the age of like 14. I did a ton of research on them all through high school, and have almost bought one several times since then. I'll probably own one at one point still.

I'm not writing this to burst your bubble or shit on your parade, but just to warn you that this isn't all sunshine and rainbows to do this.

* The engines themselves are incredibly reliable. Everything else is wearing out or breaking if it hasn't been replaced at this point. And unless every single bit and bob has been replaced it will break at some point. I have never, ever been in or seen one of these that didn't have some stupid minor issues. There will always be a rear passenger side window that doesn't roll down, or the heater won't switch in to one of the vent modes, or the radio only works on half the speakers. Some little auxiliary belt driven engine part or hose will always be going bad once or twice a month. If you aren't willing to do this work yourself, you will get really freaking tired of constantly ponying up what seems like oddly large amounts of money for stuff like fuel system and electrical components, or the fan clutch(my friend had a w201 from the same era, also an awesome car, fucking thing killed like 3 OEM fan clutch units) or just something.

I know you said your ok with repairs taking it down from time to time, but are you cool with there being random and fairly consistent repairs that are regularly $500+ on a car that's only worth 3-4k? The good news is that the engines and transmissions are essentially infallible and will run for 400k miles no problem. But as i said, everything else. And the parts are easy to get, but pricey.

* You will never get the mileage that these are claimed to get unless you barely ever touch the throttle the lightest amount and drive around in a perfectly maintained car with perfectly inflated tires downhill. Driving one of these is like driving one of those old v8 cars from the 60s or 90s(and i say this because emissions and such ruined the mileage and power of the 70s and 80s ones for the most part). You'll find people online saying they get 18 out of those, or 30+ out of these diesel benzes... but you won't. That's advanced driving right there. borderline hyper miler tactics stuff. In real life, yea, these get like 18-25

I know you said you were ok with it as long as it gets over 18, but i just wanted to cover that people really puff up how efficient these are online a lot. I feel like it's because they're an eco-hippie beard classic.

* Do not buy one that has had been run on WVO. Biodiesel is fine if the lines were changed, but way too many people are idiots about WVO. It's a silly fad like gluten free food, and similarly often done really halfassedly. It can clog up and damage all kinds of fuel system and other components and just cause headaches for ages and premature wear/damage. Run even faster from people who run waste oil of the non vegetable variety.

* the prices are GREATLY inflated for their age, what they are, and what you get. Sure the body paint is mile thick and theres, iirc, galvanizing involved like the volvos of that era so their indestructible, and the drive trains are reliable. But you're still paying serious money for basically just the style and the fact that it's a "cult car". They're pre airbags, not particularly safe, and really getting on in the years now. The same cash would buy an older subaru forester that would do everything you want better. Proceed only if you specifically want one of these for the sake of wanting one, not because it's the most practical option for the money.

On the positive side however, it will absolutely handle going up hills... just not quickly. Diesels have assloads of torque. I see several people in my town pull trailers around with these cars. It also, if dialed in and run for 6 months or so for you to get the kinks out so to speak, is a very reliable car. I know i mentioned parts and constant little gremlins, but having driven and owned old cars(and known people who drove these, or old volvos, etc) strand you day ruining component failures are quite rare. At worst it's generally "oh great now that function doesn't work now" or "now it's really irritatingly hard to start" sort of stuff.

What would i get for the same money? A late 90s/early 2000s 1st gen volvo v70, just the basic one. That or a 1st gen forester. My parents have a forester from that era, and a good friend has the volvo. They've both been indestructibly rock solid(if you ignore stupid shit like jamming sunroofs, or sticking electric windows occasionally). The volvo especially feels nice. It has the handling you describe wanting, feels surprisingly powerful in a restrained polite "big burly police dog" sort of way. The seats are amazing, it has lots of room, and every part of it just feels like a solid brick. The doors, seats, everything just moves in to place in a really decisive way or feels rock solid in its place. And people drive them to 300k+ all the time. Only thing to watch out for is that the previous owner changed the timing belt right on time, or that you change+the water pump it RIGHT when you get it.

The forester is similarly indestructible. My parents is at 205k right now and everything major, and nearly everything minor is still 100% including the interior and little cosmetic bits. The little dash clock died around 100k, one of the windows is slow, and one of the speakers came unglued from the door. that's it. It shifts crisp, accelerates strong, and handles like a WRX. The all wheel drive is still present and accounted for as well and kicks ass in screwy weather or gravel/dirt roads.

Both of them also have the advantage of not having as much weird proprietary shit as the mini(like the weird batteries, and other almost VW like needlessly proprietary stuff). The subaru especially is pretty much a toyota corolla and is easy to get cheaply serviced anywhere. The volvo takes more expensive bits and bobs, but my friends as of yet hasn't needed much of anything. A bonus on the v70 is that it's fairly easy to find ones that were bought new and owned by one older woman the entire time who just took it in to the dealership when the service light came on or the schedule said to.(which is exactly how my friend got his) score.

They're also both new enough that they don't look totally dated, but are old enough that they're just generic enough that you can park them anywhere any time and they completely blend in. I will add that i think the volvos look very sharp still, and that's one of my favorite car designs. Sort of a final evolution of the 240 before everything got all weird and bulbous.

I would wholeheartedly recommend either of those over the mercedes w123 unless you specifically want one of those for the sake of having one, as i said above. They're a lot more about style than "good reliable efficient car" now unless you specifically plan on making your own biodiesel in your garage or something. They ride like a dictators limousine and just plow down the road like a hovercraft, but the newer cars have quite a bit more going for them.

And really, the mercedes will not handle at all like you want it to. It's a mushy boat, like a 60s american battleship. Especially with, as stated above, all the suspension bits and bobs worn down now.

I realize you may not have specifically asked about those, but i figured i'd address them since that's what sparked your interest. As for the 80s volvo 240s or a BMW of that era just... no. First of all the US didn't get BMW wagons until the 90s, and second they're just kinda fiddly. Once again, a friend of mine drives an e30 325 that's fucking beautiful and just generally pretty awesome, but it's spent about as much time not working as it has working. And her dad is a well known BMW mechanic, and she has quite a bit of experience because of that.

old volvos have a similar problem to the mercedes' in that the value you get is greatly below what they cost because they have a following. An 80s one can cost just as much in good shape as a late 90s/early 2000s one. And don't even get me started on the diesel ones. Those sell for so much. Like enough that you could get an early 2000s jetta TDI wagon and still have the fiddly problems, but also a car that's 10 years old instead of 25.(which is also, honestly, not a totally stupid idea of a car to get to fit your needs. but fuck to VWs have constant small nagging problems just like older cars do. i've spent hours helping my friend track down gremlins in his beetle TDI with the VAG-COM scanner and software on a laptop).

oops, i wrote a novel.
posted by emptythought at 8:22 PM on November 6, 2013 [38 favorites]

You aren't the only person that thinks Mercedes are cool. Four grand will not get you a vehicle with less problems than whatever you're currently making payments toward.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:37 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

My 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee is pretty excellent. I get 14 avg MPG in town, but 27 Hwy.

It's a tank. Cheap to maintain. Body style more stylish than newer models IMHO.
posted by jbenben at 8:41 PM on November 6, 2013

Like Mitheral I'd go for a late '90s Dodge Caravan. Ours was still going strong at 250,000 miles, with minimal repairs, until a large oak tree fell on it.
posted by anadem at 8:57 PM on November 6, 2013

Yeah, old minivan. There are a lot out there. Beware of transmissions on old chryslers, but honda and toyota made some awesome and quirky ones for their first models, the original honda odyssey is almost a civic wagon, and the toyota previa is the only mid engine minivan in the world (or at least ever sold in the US). I am not sure of the prices but they can't be much more than 4k these days. Minivans are the epitome of uncool and priced accordingly, and old used odd ones are even less desired.

I personally would go with a mid to late 90 cherokee or grand cherokee (they are NOT the same) with the straight 6 (4.0) engine. I stronly prefer the cherokee (classic for the last few years they made them). The V8 in the grand cherokee is a horrible gas hog and not nearly as reliable as the straight 6. I usually got about 20 around town in my 93 manual transmission one. However, Jeeps break, a lot. Usually nothing big but a ton of little things. If you are not willing to learn (or already know how) how to fix little things like alternators and window motors and hoses and belts than older jeeps are going to eat you alive. However with regular maintenance and care they last forever.
posted by bartonlong at 9:07 PM on November 6, 2013

What valorius said, plus: one problem with cheap, old car is that you almost always need more than one of them. They're not as reliable as a new car, and you sometimes have to make repairs on them that are tedious and time-consuming. Hence, the backup car.

If you're looking for a 30 year old car, get one with fuel injection. 30 years is old enough that you're on the cusp of wide availability, and carburetors just suck compared to any form of fuel injection.

Emptythought, if you were to do that kind of writing every day, you'd win at nanowrimo.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:29 PM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I picked up a '94 4Runner a while back for $2100. It's rock solid, and they have a reputation for being that way. Get the I4 if you can find it, not the V6 (which is what I have). That 22R motor is as immortal as they come, though the 3VZ isn't half bad either. The overall build quality on these 2nd-gen 4Runners is just incredible, they are tanks. My truck has 200,000 miles on it and every little button and light works perfectly, just like it was new. Parts and maintenance are not hard to come by, it's a pretty common vehicle and there's nothing weird or exotic in the mechanics.

It's pretty good-looking and has loads of room in it. It's not sporty at all but it's a very laid-back and comfortable ride. It's definitely not a fast car but I can't imagine it would flinch at a steep gravel road. (They come in 4WD too if you want that.) The mileage is more like 15mpg (on the V6, the I4 might be able to do 18 if you're careful) but for the amount that you drive I wonder if that'll really matter. (Over the 1500-2500 miles a year that you say you plan to drive, 15mpg vs 20mpg is a difference of $100-$170 a year even if gas is $4/gallon.) If you care, they only got airbags starting in 1995, though the 2nd generation runs from 1989-1995.

The 3rd gen has a good reputation too. It's more luxurious (the 2nd gen is very utilitarian) and is built on the Land Cruiser chassis rather than the Hilux. Those are both solid, legendarily-reliable pedigrees. It'll cost you more though.

I'm a bit of a 4Runner evangelist.
posted by Scientist at 9:30 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

That thing emptythought said about old W123s' mileage? It's true. Also, I am probably going to pay upwards of $1K to have my very worn-out and sloppy gearbox replaced tomorrow.
posted by mumkin at 10:34 PM on November 6, 2013

Best answer: Yeah, a Camry wagon or an old Cherokee. A classic car is not transportation, it is the doorway to your new hobby: fixing classic cars every weekend.
posted by LarryC at 11:10 PM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, old minivan. There are a lot out there. Beware of transmissions on old chryslers, but honda and toyota made some awesome and quirky ones for their first models, the original honda odyssey is almost a civic wagon, and the toyota previa is the only mid engine minivan in the world (or at least ever sold in the US). I am not sure of the prices but they can't be much more than 4k these days. Minivans are the epitome of uncool and priced accordingly, and old used odd ones are even less desired.

I can't recommend any of these. All of this is anecdotal but:

* The odyssey used the accord transmission, and as such was not an "under stressed" design like honda and many japanese automakers(and ford in their fleet vehicles, etc) generally use. It's running right at it's limits. They melt transmissions if you use them for hauling anything but people, or use them on say trips where you're climbing through the mountains and going up steep hills as you wanted to, OP. This is not coming from my posterior, google around about it. They have just as much of a reputation of exploding transmissions as...

* The Chrysler vans. these can be indestructible, but although this is personal preference there's an awful lot of anecdata you can find online to support my theory that everything chrysler has made since about 1971 up until somewhere after daimler stepped in is disposable. The transmission thing is just the tip of the iceberg. The only good thing to come out of that time period is the 4.0 straight six jeep cherokees. Which are actually great trucks... that get 10mpg. They literally suck more gas than my 66 V8 plymouth.

And hah, i read the rest of your post and you go on to recommend those. I have nothing bad to say about them except for the horrible mileage i experienced driving a properly tuned up/in good shape one using cruise control on the freeway(and not going 90 or anything! just going 65). I'd be willing to attribute that to the fact that it had slightly larger than stock tires and flares too, and would concede that one. It's not a fuel saver though either way. But, Solid reliable car that will go anywhere. Parts are cheap as fuck, a gorilla in podunk nowhere will probably have the parts and be able to fix the thing in an hour basically no matter what happens to it.(because he probably has 3 of them lifted with chopped wheel wells out behind the shop he goes mudding in). I once tried to reverse and uturn out of the drive through at a mcdonalds at about 4am in that jeep. The medium sized mudders easily hopped the curb at the back end on one side and it slid down into the bushes smashing over small tress and such. The axle smacked a big decorative boulder, etc. I was sure i had fucked up something. pulled out in 4l and there wasn't even cosmetic damage. Not even scratches underneath. Good shit.

* The previas are awesome, because toyota. However, the engine being in the middle makes them a pain in the butt to work on even more than old longitudinally mounted RWD vans were with having to pull apart the center console area to reach the back of the engine. The interior comes apart in a totally slapstick way(like a tilt-cab truck INSIDE of the passenger area). Some mechanics NOPE out of these at this point. Others charge out the ass and take forever to get work done on them. My friend whose sister has the jeep owns one of the generation just before the previa that's still mid engined. Great when it works, but a nightmare when it needs even minor maintenance in the engine bay because of the setup. I'd pass.

Overall i second the recommendation of 4runner/land cruiser variations by Scientist. That's another avenue you should explore. Be aware that at least land cruisers(i'm not 100% sure on 4runners) command a big price premium not unlike the old mercedes and volvos. They have a following, but unlike those you fix them once a year instead of once a month. I have nothing but good things to say about older toyotas.

I also want to give some air time to the accord wagon suggestion notsnot popped in. I discounted that too quickly because i read this more as "talk me into or out of buying a w123 or other quirky 20+ year old car like that" and not "what is a good wagon to do XYZ with dogs in". I let that marinate in my brain and realized my coworker(who is a crazy volvo 240 guy who owns like 4) was gifted one of those by a friend who was moving out of state. It has 275k miles on it, possible even more. It runs like a freaking top and hasn't needed a single bit of work since he got it. He loads it down with tons of tools, components of industrial machinery like coffee roasters and product baggers, and just generally beats on it. it's regularly visibly at lower than normal ride height and just packed with tools and stuff. He also drives it like steve mcqueen half the time. Nothing, no problems. The only thing that's broken is the AC. He's abused it like this for at least a year and hasn't done anything but change the oil. He drives it all around the greater metro area where i live every single day, and has probably put another 5k miles on it. Not cool looking, not fun to drive, doesn't handle particularly interesting or nice... but a great car with tons of room for dogs or anything else you want to throw in it. And the seats aren't bad either, unlike a lot of other older small-medium japanese cars(and it fits my lanky 6'2 body without my head ramming in to the ceiling, unlike sentras or corolla wagons or anything else along those lines). And yea, dude rolls around with his basenjis all the time in it. The trunk is freakishly large for a something that isn't a huge old 60s american wagon. Fold the seats down and that shits like a hearse. Even with them up you could get a Rottweiler back there without him going "fuck you".

So there's some other anecdata and suggestions for you.

and sorry for the weird word swaps and grammar fuckups in my previous post. osx mavericks autocorrect is one of the shittiest things to happen to mac os in years. i slept for 3 hours last night and although i can't fall asleep again yet despite getting up at 7am, i'm not in a proofreading mood.
posted by emptythought at 12:29 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Awesome answers, thank you! I'm going to reread, and in the meantime offer a few myself:

The car doesn't need to be either 30 years old or a Mercedes. One of those was merely the catalyst for knowing I could trade down for something older than wht I have.

Which is a 2010 Mini Clubman I bought when it was a year old. It was a program car with low mileage. I'll be paying on it until 2016. Insanity. Now that its out of warranty, I'm starting with the occasional $1000 repair. (This is not my first Mini.) I don't want to keep paying on a car I don't LOVE. Hence the thoughts of dumping it for something with no payments.

Do not own a garage, so the car will always be parked outside, and it's parked on the street about half the time. I live in Baltimore. Moderate snowfall, not too much salt. Nothing like when I lived in upstate NY and rust was a concern.

I have owned a late 90s Grand Cherokee V8 and would definitely consider something like a (not Grand) Cherokee with better MPG than the Grand. I have driven newer Forresters and older Subaru wagons and they are ok.

My dream car is a Scout. But that is for dreams only, not my actual life. Volvos definitely appeal but I'm scared of the expensive repair reputation. Since riding in the Mercedes yesterday I learned they're coveted by hipsters, which turns me off somewhat.

My self-image is too fragile to consider a minivan.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:38 AM on November 7, 2013

If you don't want to do the SUV thing and are set on a wagon, I think the Accord Wagon and Subaru Legacy options are going to be your best bets. They're both excellent cars that last a long time. The Subaru is probably more fun to drive and comes with AWD, but the Accord probably gets better mileage.
posted by Scientist at 4:42 AM on November 7, 2013

I've been driving a 98 Honda CRV for..ever. It fits your requirements except for handling and "style" but if it a car to ride up a mountain with a dog...having "style" would paint you a novice camper.

I've done basic maintenance (oil changes, tires, replaced radiator (very easy), etc.) No unexpected repairs other than that. It's also been rear ended and driven into a concrete wall and walked away from both incidents.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:25 AM on November 7, 2013

We bought a '99 Subaru Legacy wagon for $3500 and love it. Whatever old car you get, look up the scheduled maintenance and try to find one where the owner can show you what work they've had done. That's actually a lot more important than make/model, in large part.
posted by nosila at 7:28 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

nosila was right on the money. It doesn't matter what you get, do research and ask questions. I personally have three cars that are 10 years old or older and cost less than $5000 used, and it was all about the maintenence when I considered buying them. Check on the timing belt and water pump. These may have been changed according to schedule when the car was under warantee but not after, and if the timing belt goes, in most cases there goes the engine. Also check around and see what things will cost to repair on cars you like. Mercedes and BMW are big money to fix and maintain. Also check tire prices. Of course the bigger the vehicle, the more the tires.
posted by PJMoore at 7:42 AM on November 7, 2013

I have a cousin who is always on the lookout for Ford Taurus Wagons because he loves his so much. Widely available on craigslist and seems to fit most of your criteria.
posted by jabes at 10:34 AM on November 7, 2013

Just popped in to say that if you are going to buy a car older than 10 years definitely factor in replacing the timing belt / water pump and the radiator if they have not been done. Also replacing suspension bushings (and shocks / struts while you're at it) would really make it feel like new provided the engine has a solid reputation. Do this stuff and maintain the oil and you could easily see 300k.

I have a 2002 4runner that is still utterly solid at 120,000 miles. Like brand new. Love it.
posted by jnnla at 10:46 AM on November 7, 2013

I bought the volvo emptythought recommends twice, and have no complaints. They hardly need any repairs or upkeep at all. Every time I brought it into the shop I was told the engine was in excellent condition. I drove the first one for 8 yrs, and it was already 8 yrs old when we bought it.
posted by xammerboy at 10:52 AM on November 7, 2013

Response by poster: Hi again,

I'm loving the suggestion of the Volvo V70, of which there are many in our price range in the area. I fully understand the likely need to replace the timing belt and a few other things right after purchase unless there's evidence of it having been done recently.

The mountain road I mentioned is our own. There's a house at the top of it, so we're not campers.

Thanks for all the answers!
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:06 PM on November 7, 2013

Now, I have my first less than 10 year old car, and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. (It's a FIAT Panda btw, much more value for money than your mini, and I have a huge dog as well).

From my previous experience, I'd say the most important thing is not your brand of car, but your relationship with your local shop. My first car was a patchwork-job of a couple of Volvo 142's and a bit of a Volvo 242, all ca. 1972. It was a wonderful car, and the maintenance was excellent because the dealer took it in every 6 months and made sure it worked, almost for free. I loved it in bad weather, when all the new cars couldn't start, and I just scraped my old Volvo free of snow, got in, and started.

Another very nice car I had was a VW Polo, -96. But I didn't have a good shop for that and eventually it died. If you have an almost vintage car, you either have to be interested in mechanics yourself, or know someone who is. The great thing about old cars is that they are all mechanic. If I broke down on some German highway, I could use my 9th grade physics and get it running; but I don't want to spend my days in a garage. I want to be able to get into my car and drive, and only open the front to add sprinkler or check oil. For different brands there are different sell-by dates, but if you need a computer to check out your car, it is too young. Also, if you have the good shop, any brand of mechanical car is good. An old Saab is a wonderful car, and my first choice if I ever go back to vintage. But not if you are in a mechanics-desert.

Several of my friends have done the old Mercedes thing - it's a very good deal here. I haven't been inspired to try. But it is definitely a very solid car with almost endless mileage.
posted by mumimor at 3:01 PM on November 7, 2013

This is a bit left field, but may I suggest an early 90s Saab 900 turbo? Look at that. Just look. It's a quirky, cult classic. Fast, safe, comfortable, Swedish, (relatively) reliable, and not coveted by hipsters as far as I'm aware.

I know it's a hatch - but the trunk is huge, and if you remove the parcel shelf you could easy fit a dog in, unless it's a doberman. And good ones are hard to find at that budget. But it's a proper bona fide modern classic, and values are actually going up if it has been looked after. Some articles and buyers guides here: [1] [2] [3] [4]
posted by derbs at 5:11 PM on November 7, 2013

You know, you could probably sell the Mini, get a Taurus wagon, and get a pretty sweet 78-80 Scout and put a fiberglass body on it. And it all be a wash.
posted by notsnot at 7:18 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding a Saab. We own two Saab hatchbacks (one is a 2001 9-3 and one is a 1999 900). We liked the 2001 version so much that we bought the 1999 a couple years later. They were both sold to us reconditioned, with a year warranty, by a Saab nerd mechanic/dealer. They're extremely easy on the eyes and drive really well. Plus, the hatchback and folding down seats lets us haul a lot (the 2001 model is a "turbo" and it has more pick up in accelerating, I guess - not a big deal to me). Saabs aren't the cheapest to fix, but almost every town seems to have a Saab nerd mechanic who has a bunch of used parts and keeps them running up to 300 - 400k miles. With only ~130k each on the clock, I'm pretty confident my cars will do well.

Maybe buy one of those? They were about $5k bought recertified from a Saab nerd like that.
posted by sweltering at 6:14 AM on November 8, 2013

I owned a Mercedes 300SDL for about 5 years, it was the first car I ever bought. I loved it: it looked cool, ran well even in Wisconsin winters (never had to use the engine warmer), and it was huge (I was in a band while I had it and fit all our equipment except drums quite nicely). And did I mention it looked cool?

-17MPG tops.

-Parts were easy to acquire, but expensive. Small plastic doodads I needed for a window repair cost $20, and seemingly everything was shipped from Germany. I was in a rush once and went to an oil-change place, and they laughed in my face.

-Finding diesel serving gas stations in the city isn't always easy either.

-I knew next to nothing about cars, and even my dad, who has driven and repaired a multitude of foreign and domestic autos, would just stand there and scratch his head when I opened the hood of my beast.

I put up with all this because I was confident that the engine would last forever because that's what Mercedes' do.

Then the oil pan cracked wide open and it was done for. I sold it for scrap (which was not an insignificant amount of money, considering the weight of the car, but still, scrap).

If I had a lot of money to burn on luxuries, I'd buy a new one in a heartbeat. But that what it is: a luxury.
posted by hafehd at 5:13 PM on November 8, 2013

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