Congratulations! You’re 16 and are now licensed to drive a car. In addition to this terrifying realization you’ve got a few thousand dollars saved up from selling lemonade during the summer to spend on a set of wheels that will hopefully carry you to freedom, but what is the best option for a first car? It depends on what you’re after in a first car. Do you need to commute? Go camping? Haul friends around? Look cool? Go fast? The possibilities are endless, and best of all you can finally do whatever you want.
As a new driver, you’re going to want a few staples in the first car you buy: reliability, decent performance, cheap insurance, the ability to easily find parts, something you don’t mind crashing, and the ability to fix it when something goes wrong. Here are a few choices we recommend for your first car.
Tried and true, Honda Civics are everywhere, which means parts are plentiful and cheap. You can find a 2009 (or older) Civic for $5,000 or less. The base model uses a 1.8-liter inline-four gasoline powered engine with VTEC producing 140-horsepower, gets more than 30 mpg and seats your friends. It can have two or four doors, but if you want more function you’ll want four. Since it is one of the most popular and common cars on the road, it is also less expensive to insure, making it more affordable for a first time car buyer.
Again, we have here a tried and true machine. Early to mid 2000's Ford F-150s drive for ages. They are quite powerful and can haul almost 10,000 pounds. It is perfect for taking your friends to the lake, with your parents’ speed boat hitched to the bed. The only problems facing the F-150 are the poor rollover safety ratings, and the fact that it’s a Ford and that means there might be some uncommon problem at some point. So make sure you find one that's in good shape with up to date maintenance records.
Say what you want about the Eclipse or, if you like, the Eagle Talon, but they are cars that look cool (so cool that they had to put it in GTA 4). They’re sporty, curvy, only have two doors, come as convertibles and get decent mileage. The worst thing to happen to a 1998 Eclipse was its throttle cable and fuel pump recalls, which to be fair are legitimate fears but since you’d be buying it used those recalls should be fixed already. They’re relatively quick, making use of the 2.0-liter inline-four gasoline powered engine made famous by the Lancer Evolution engine. If you do decide on an Eclipse, try to avoid the turbo GSX or GST versions to avoid potential performance issues in the future.
Mazda’s Miata is a sports car perfectly balanced for performance. It’s got two seats, is tiny and has a perfect 50/50 weight distribution which makes bending it around corners that much easier. The Miata’s handling is something to behold with the car’s light curb weight, and while the car doesn’t have a ton of horsepower for a sports car it can be properly quick in the right hands. Like anything else on this list, it’s reliable and can go for a long time. It’s also cheap, simple and easy to fix, an all around great first car for the new driver who wants a fun sports car. The problem with the Miata is that it does not look cool, at least not for the years where you can find deals for $5,000 or less. As long as you don’t care about what you can’t see from behind the wheel, the Miata is a solid and fun choice for a first car.
Yes - it’s been said that if you want to get a date, do not drive a minivan. However, there’s something to be said about a car that’s big, reliable, cheap, and has infinite cargo space. Picture you driving your friends in a Honda Odyssey, mobbing around town at night, and for the weekend you put the back rows of seats down to fit your sport bike on your way to the local race track. Not only is that cool, but it’s definitely a choice that a mom could appreciate in a first car. They’re cheap family vehicles so they’re cheap to insure, are dead reliable and about as practical as you can get.
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