What is a reliable car for a 16-year-old?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray
Okay, I'm 16. I need a car. It has to have good gas mileage, a standard shift, and seat about four. I have earned 500 dollars, and my parents are contributing another 1000 dollars. So what is the most reliable car I would be best off with for 1500 dollars?

TOM If you're a regular reader, Don, you probably know that we usually recommend that parents encourage their teenagers to buy huge, old, ugly cars. This makes us somewhat unpopular with the acne crowd, but we think we have some pretty good reasons.

RAY First, ugly cars are already ugly, so teenagers get a chance to perfect their parallel parking skills without fear of gouging dad's RX-7 (unless, of course, they're parking next to dad's RX-7). Second, huge, heavy cars are safer than little, tiny cars. That's important because it gives teenagers better odds against those bridge abutments and telephone poles that tend to jump out into the middle of the road when you're learning to drive. Third, old cars get lousy gas mileage; another safety feature. Since kids can't afford a lot of gas, that keeps them off the road most of the time.

TOM Although parents buy into this reasoning, kids usually don't--until we remind them that huge, old, ugly cars come with big oldback seats. Then, even the densest teen is able to embrace this strategy with open arms.

RAY But you have some specific requirements, Don. You want good gas mileage, a stick shift, and reliability. So we'll make an exception to our rules if you promise not to drive like too much of a knucklehead. The best deal for you is probably a late-seventies or early-eighties Toyota Corolla. Mechanically speaking, these were some of the best cars ever built. At some point, Toyota must have realized it was making them too good, and backed off a bit. But these early ones were real beauties.

TOM One more thing, Don. Don't spend the whole 1500 dollars on the car. Save some of the money for repairs. If nothing breaks, you can always use the money to rent something for prom night, like a limo with a big back seat.

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