My First Car Was A Heap Of Junk How About Yours?

After getting my driver’s license at 17, I talked to my parents about finally getting a car.  I don’t remember why I didn’t get my license at 16, but perhaps it was because I had such a spiffy bicycle the ladies loved.  *Ring a ding a ling * was the sound of my bell every time I rode by a hot girl.

It always felt odd that I had to walk or ride my bike to school when other kids got to drive their new Ford Explorer SUVs, and VW Jettas.  Even my parents drove an 8 year old car at the time.  Oh well, I thought to myself.  Perhaps one day.

THE HIDDEN GEM THAT WAS NOT A GEM

The day I got my driver’s license was one of the most memorable days.  One, because I failed the written test the first time, and my mom wasn’t too happy.  Two, because my parents took me to “Fresh Choice”, an all you can eat buffet restaurant to celebrate.  I had dreams of rumbling in a 5.0 liter Mustang for my first car.  Nothing sounds so beautiful.  In fact, I actually test drove one of my classmates because he was selling it to buy an Acura NSX!  “$9,000 and it’s yours Sam!”  Yeah right.  All I have is like $900 bucks, but I sure am glad I got to test drive!

My parents gave me a $2,000 budget, so I searched the Auto For Sale section of the papers gleefully to find my dream vehicle. Damn, even in those days $2,000 wasn’t too much money.  There was no internet at the time mind you so all I could do was base my impression on some text in a paper.  I finally stumbled upon one ad that just sung to me, “Excellent condition 1987 Nissan Sentra with only 135,000!  Seller is running for District Supervisor. Only $1,699!”  $1,699 was $500 cheaper than all the other comparables and I thought I had a deal.

We drove out to the aspiring District Supervisor’s shoddy apartment and took a look.  What a junker!  The car had a faded yellowish color, with a newly painted driver’s door, because obviously someone bashed into it.  Even still, we took it for a ride, and I just loved it.  We paid cash on the spot and drove it home.

With all the scrubbers and cleaning chemicals I bought from the auto store, I got to work detailing every single inch of my new baby.  I even got one of those scented pine cone car fresheners to hang from my rear view mirror.  It was a dream come true.  My very first car to drive to school in!

FIZZLE POP

Too bad only a month had past when * boom * my clutch broke down and my car no longer could shift gears and move.  No wonder it was $500 cheaper than all the other cars in the paper.  I had to replace all of the CV boots as well.  $1,100 later, the car was as good as new.  Curses to you District Supervisor!  Now I remember why I don’t trust politicians.  It all started at age 17.  I’m glad I started with a piece of crap, because nothing could have been worse!

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Updated: 9/14/14

Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. David M says

    My first car was a 1978 AMC Gremlin in dark brown which I purchased in 1983 for $1,800. This $1, 800 was about 1/2 of my savings. The outside of the car was in excellent shape. However, soon after I purchased it I needed to buy new tires, a water pump and shocks – there was another $500 gone from my meager savings and I was starting to worry.

    I was absolutely proud of my car – it was my wheels for making the big bucks! That summer I worked at a Canada Dry bottling plant. I worked the second shift (3:30pm until 2:00 am) and we worked 50 hours a week. I took home about $260 a week – spent about $60 a week and banked $200 a week. Thus my AMC Gremlin was a big money maker for me.

    After that summer I started college and could not aford the insurance on the car. I thus sold the car to my mother who needed a car for work and her car had just died.

    All and all, I have great memories of my AMC Gremlin.

    Regarding your question – I’m not sure parents should buy their kids any car. I realize times have changed, however, having to pay for my own car has taught me a lot about the “value of money” and making “choices”.

    My next car purchased in 1988 was a “brand new” 1988 Toyota Coralla which I had until 1998 – this car gave me 10 great years. In 1998 I “unfortunately” purchased a 1998 Chevy Malibu – this car did not give me any great years – it ate up tires and brakes and the tranmission gasket went when I only had the car 4 years – thus I was happy to get rid of this car in 2005. In 2005 I got a Honda Accord which has been great .

    • says

      I like it man! “Wheels for making the big bucks!” whooo hoo!

      Can’t believe you splurged on a brand new 1988 Corolla and shocked u went from most reliable to least reliable car!

      • david M says

        Regarding the new Corolla – why not, I had graduted college and now had credit! I only had to put $1,500 down and I could finance $9,800 – America is great. I got a 36 months loand but paid it off in 18 months – I HATE debt.

        Regarding the Malibu – I let the tail wag the dog on that one. I had the GM credit card and had $2,500 in points. Thus I HAD to by a GM car. I already had a corolla and thus dis not want to get the Chevy Nova which was just like the Corolla – thus I traded up to the Malibu.

        In my 3rd car, I made the smart decision to go Japanese again – I have not spent $1 in repairs on my Accord which I have had for 5 years.

  2. says

    I was so proud of my 85 Nissan Sentra Wagon- I got a deal from a friend for $300. Sure it had a big hole in the dash (an extra air vent!) and the seats were low to the ground (needed a pillow to drive), but it was mine!

    The car needed work, but it got me from point A to point B. One day someone broke the back window, so I had to put up a plastic sheet until I had money to replace it. If I went past 30mph it made a fwomph sound as I drove. Taking pity on me a family friend replaced the window. Ah…those were the days….

    I had to finally admit I needed a new car when about a year or two later, it kept stopping on the road. By then I had some cash saved up for my next car. Good learning experience and actually a bit of fun.

  3. says

    My first car was Lada Samara. It’s a junk even when new, it’s an awful junk when used. My parents bought it when it was 5 years old for $2500. In the next 2 years we’ve paid more than $3000 to get it fixed (constantly!). After that I bought a slightly used Toyota and never regretted it.

  4. says

    Yikes was I embarassed by my first car. It made an awful ‘weet, weet, weet’ sound as I drove it and people could hear me coming a mile away. The door would randomly fly open. The best was when it happened on a freeway entrance ramp. I strung the exhaust system up with hangers. Rusty as hell.

    It was a 1979 Sunbird…

  5. says

    My first car was a 1996 Ford Ranger…..and I’m still driving it haha. I bought this thing for $3000 when I was 15 and 6 years later it still runs like a charm. I don’t understand understand why parents buy their kids brand new cars. The high school I went to was full of these people who drove expensive cars. I guess it’s just my opinion but I think having a clunker first helps you appreciate a nice car you have later on in life.

  6. Aloysa says

    My first car cost $1500, had 125K miles, no air conditioner and pretty heavy rust in some places. It was Chevy Cavalier and I still remember it as a very good car. It served me 4 years (!!!). Finally it died (by then I had about 160K). I took it to a service and requested it to be fixed. You should’ve seen the looks on the service guy faces. LOL

  7. says

    My very first car was a huge problem. It was too cheap and had to be replaced almost immediately. My next two cars were inexpensive and used, but high quality modestly-miled vehicles that lasted a long time.

    I am never embarrassed by material items. I am satisfied with having the necessities and a few small luxuries. When I see people spending tons of money for depreciating assets, I am not impressed or embarrassed about my assets. I really liked one of my cars in particular, even with its big dent.

    To answer the last question, I think parents should buy their children what they think is fit. Personally, I feel that a reasonable quality used car is the best investment, because it should last a while yet still be fairly inexpensive.

  8. BD says

    My first car was my parent’s AMC Concord. Not even sure of the year, all I know is they had it forever before they passed it down to me. It may have been ugly to everyone else, but for me, it was wonderful because it was totally free, and on top of being financially free, it represented freedom to me, since I could finally go wherever I wanted to. :)

    My second car was a 1991 Nissan pick-up truck. I drove the 91 Nissan til October 2009.

    I’m middle-aged now, and back to having no car. But I can say that I never spent much money on cars, nor did I ever have anything fancy and expensive.

  9. says

    My first car was a Volkswagen Jetta. It was a cool car but I ran it into the ground. I feel bad for my mom because insurance for a teenager is so expensive and I didn’t appreciate it then. But, I’ve got two kids so and that leads to a whole LOT of appreciation now!

  10. says

    It was actually quite a nice car, $1500, had about 180000k on it. Mazda MS6 sedan. Lasted about six mo before the gearbox went…

    Buying a cheap car, you need to be prepared to put a bit more money in to get it up to scratch!

  11. says

    I think they should probably buy their kids no car at all, or a safe beater if they must.

    My first and second cars looked kind of like the cars in the photo! The second one was a really old carbureted Toyota Corolla with a body rusting away; one of the wheels was sort of just hanging on. Bought it for $400. It was a lot of fun though… that engine and manual tranny could really take a beating! Eventually the tires exploded and the car wasn’t very safe to drive, anyways, so I drove it to the junk yard. :(

    • says

      “Safe Beater”…. maybe an oxymoron?

      $400 bucks for a car? Wow.. It’s so fun how when we were kids, we KNEW the junker would die on us.. but we’d deal.

      Nowadays as adults, if a car dies on us we go ballistic!

      • says

        For sure. Whenever the car would die, I would think “well, guess I’m taking the bus tomorrow”. :P

        Beaters might be too harsh of a word for the kind of cars I’m thinking of. A $3000
        to $4000 Corolla or similar car should be reasonably safe.

  12. says

    My first car was a 1962 Chevy Impala. Sounds cool right? Well, remember that I’m 25 years old today. That car was born over 20 years before me.

    I bought it for $2,300 (paid off the loan in a year) and then dumped all my money into fixing it up, repairs, and gas. I thought that I could sell it at a profit if I fixed it up since it was a classic car. A couple thousand dollars later, I found out that only 2-door classic cars are worth anything. I ended up putting it on a consignment lot and sold it for $1,500. I will forever be jaded with automobiles after that experience.

  13. says

    I had a love/hate relationship with my beater, which I never got to say goodbye to properly. It was an 89 Pontiac 6000, a generic white four-door sedan with a blue ragtop that leaked when it rained — while I was driving or not. 80K miles or so, which was great, and only $1200 for a then-7-year-old car. The transmission was going on it, but it was mine, dammit. Just four years later, it was stolen, probably ending up in some chop shop somewhere in Newark, NJ (GM cars were hot around that time).

    I think as long as the car is safe to drive and will protect the driver and passengers well, parents should get used cars for their kids.

    1) The car insurance will be much, much cheaper.
    2) You know darn well they’ll get into at least one minor fender-bender in the first year.
    3) They shouldn’t be spoiled with a new car — at least not until they’ve proven they can take care of a car, period.

    P.S. I would never buy my kid a new car, even if I had the money.

  14. says

    That sounds awfully familiar! My parents actually wouldn’t let me drive until I was 18. They didn’t trust me! (I was going through a very rebellious period.) I took the test 3 weeks after my 18th birthday with my friend’s grandmother’s car (grandmother didn’t know about this.) Thankfully, I passed.

    That same week, I went out and bought a $500 clunker on my own. My parents had kept telling me they would give me one of their old cars, but it was just taking too long and I was very impatient. I drove home in my two-toned primer 1971 Plymouth Valiant. It actually lasted 2 years, but constantly needed oil and tune-ups to keep it running. Eventually, my parents gave me their 1978 Datsun B210 Honeybee and I sold my beater for $400 (not too shabby!)

  15. Tom Nguyen says

    First off, great blog! I’ve been following for some time, but this post calls out to me, so I have to share.

    My dad was a bit of an automobile tinkerer, so my first car was a Frankenstein of parts from the salvage yard that coalesced into the body of a 1982 Toyoata Celica. At 17, having a car meant the world, and i certainly appreciated what my father gave me. However, the car had one quirk: it would screeeeeeech at 100+ decibels when I accelerated. Despite all his skill, he couldn’t figure out what made the sound, so for two whole years, EVERYONE kne when I was approaching. And I was too mortified to ever go through a Drive-Thru.

      • Tom Nguyen says

        I try to be inconspicuous in my ’09 328i, which I got used in a killer deal. It was a previous exec car, fully loaded and marked down 35% after a year of use and 5700 miles. I was incredulous at the price and kept thinking “something has got to be wrong”, but its been great. Like yourself, im a bit of an automobilephile, and the BMW driving experience calls out like a Siren to financially rocky shores, and I answered.

  16. says

    In college I had a two of ’78 Toyota Corollas, bought for $500 each, one after the other. They met untimely demises, one by an accidental short circuit to the electrical system (which made repair too expensive) and the other by road accident (don’t lend your car to relatives). Very economical cars, great value and easy to work on. My very first car though was a ’72 Mercedes 200c 4 door sedan, bought for $2000. Mercedes, you’re thinking…. heh, it sounds better than it looked. The car was pretty well broke in.

  17. says

    It is so funny how you can tell how old some of us are!!

    My first car was a blue 1980 Saab Turbo 900. I was a sophomore in college when I bought it for $1000. It was a stick shift, and had a sun roof (and no air conditioning….unless you count the windows!!). I thought I was sooooo cool.

    It was cool…..until the springs in my seat broke and I had to stuff pillows under it to prop up my tushie. And then there was the time when I stepped on the brake, and all this greasy fluid shot out all over my feet. That was the master cylinder blowing out.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  18. says

    My first car was an old blue Chevy Chevette. It had been parked outside for a few years and barely made it home after I push-started it with the help of my friends.

    No power steering with a stick shift, that thing was a little beast, but it had rear-wheel drive, so I could hang-out the backend around corners in the snowy winters.

    I wasn’t embarrassed by it at all, wheels were wheels when you had no place to go and just wanted to have fun getting there.

    I don’t necessarily think parents should buy their kids cars at all, as they could probably earn it on their own, but I’m no parenting expert or anything. If you could afford a nicer or safer car for your kids, then I couldn’t see buying them a junker, but it does really make me sick seeing sixteen year olds in their birthday BMWs, so you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

  19. says

    My first car was a red Datsun I got as a graduation present. It was used and literally was like driving a tin can. I lived it and it was very reliable.

    I put an 8 track player in it to play my favorites. Thanks for the triggering this trip down memory lane!

  20. cm says

    A 1974 Chevy Impala. Blue. Huge. Looks like this:

    http://cache.gawker.com/assets/images/jalopnik/2008/12/74Impala-LH_Frt.jpg

    My neighbor flat out gave me the car in 1988, as it had been his sister’s and she wanted to just get it away from her. She joked that it was so big you didn’t park it, you *docked* it. As we “test drove” it (I’d take it no matter what that revealed) it made a heavy THUNK sound and my neighbor looked at me and said, “Did I just drop the trans?”. I still don’t know what that means.

    My friends and I called it The Impaler and I used to fit 7 or so high school students in it with me and then go to A&P parking lots at about midnight and use the car to ram into shopping carts at about 20 mph. This was how we passed time in suburban NJ in the late 80s.

    It got a flat, and, being stupid, I just left it on some residential street for a few days. Of course, that was illegal, and cops put huge orange “TO BE TOWED” stickers on it. Neighborhood kids saw that, and somehow misread the signs to say “WHALE ON ME WITH BASEBALL BATS” and so when I finally picked the car up at the junkyard for a release fee, the owner said, “Oh, you’re the one with the Chevy with the smashed in windshield?”. Yep. It was more money to replace that than the car was worth, so that was the end of the Impaler.

    Not bad for free. I’m with the others who say parents should not buy their kids any car. Maybe give them one of your old ones if you’re getting rid of it anyway, but let them save money for as much of the car’s needs as possible.

    • says

      “The Impaler” and “Whale on me with baseball bats” hahahah… SWEET! Love it man. That Chevy looks like a BEAST!

      At least you could probably lay down flat in the back seat with those benchs yeah?

  21. says

    My first car was a 1981 BMW 320i. It had my age and I bought it BEFORE I get my driving liscence (about 5 months before ;-) ). My parents wanted me to buy my first car alone so I had worked from 14 to 16 and paid it cash ($2,300 at that time).

    The car was in mint conditions since it was owned from the beginning by a lady in her 50′s (at the time of the sale). She was using it to go to the office and get back home (about 100,000 miles after 16 years!).

    I had so much fun with this car since it looked awesome from the outside (while it was hard to start and completely rusted under the car). The driving experience was exceptional and I would buy another BMW any time!

    If I had more money, I would have kept my first car to make it a collector’s car… that is too bad I had to sell it 5 years later because it wasn’t starting anymore…

  22. Charlie says

    What a great story Sam. I wish I had a junker in high school. I didn’t have anything except my two feet. Luckily I was able to bum rides from friends after school a couple times a week. On the other days I used to cut through a park (rather a sketchy park now that I think about it) in order to avoid having to walk home past all the seniors in their cars. Ah the agonizing days of high school – boy am I glad they are over. I still have never owned a car so I’ve learned to be pretty savvy with public transportation.

    As for what I’d do for my kids…hmm I think it’d depend where we were living. If we were in a big city I probably would have them stick to buses and trains. If we were in the suburbs I’d probably go for something a little lower than economy rental car grade, definitely used. Ah it’s too crazy thinking about having a 16 year old. Mad props to all the parents with teens out there – I don’t know how you do it.

  23. says

    I STILL Love my first car and keep threatening The Wife that I am going to bring one home. It was a 1993 Green Nissan 240sx Special Edition. I used it my senior year in HS, 4 years of college and 3 years of law school. It finally died on a sad November morning. By the end of her life, she had trouble shfiting gears, and was actually ran over by a truck BUT SURVIVED.

    The odometer stopped working at 169K. Damn it this post brought a tear to my eyes!

  24. says

    I drove an old Honda Civic, owned my parents, that had no power steering or power windows. It was the first car I drove while a high school kid, and eventually took it to college. At the time, I actually felt fortunate, as I knew other people that had total piles of junk to drive – if anything.

    One of my buddies had this big green station wagon we called the “Green Monster”, the same name as the venerable left field wall at Fenway but this car was not a cool classic. I think it was from the mid-1970′s. Once, while driving, his foot went through the floor. It was that bad. Nobody wanted to get in that car.

  25. Mike Hunt says

    My first car was a 1987 Nissan Stanza. I bought it in 1990 with money saved up from mowing lawns through high school, it was a manual shift (which I didn’t know how to drive) and had no air conditioning, no power windows, no power locks, no power braking!. The car had 93,000 miles on it which was a huge number for only being 3 years old. It had one owner who took it cross country a few times.

    The owner wanted $3000 but settled on selling it for $2800. I learned how to drive stick shift on the car and put in some minor maintenance work worth a few hundred dollars and then sold it in 1993 for $3100 when in college, with 120,000 miles on the car.

    It was the first and only time I’ve ever made money over the time I’ve had the car. What a great deal that was.

    Now I’d never even think of a car without A/C!

    -Mike

  26. says

    My first car was an old Monte Carlo. It was a beater with a value of about $1,000. I remember wrecking that car in my first few months of driving. Parents should buy kids cheap safe cars because they are likely to have minor accidents. Kids are known to bump curbs, tap cars, and run into all sorts of things.

  27. says

    my first was a limited jeep grand cherokee i bought from a student on campus who had filthy rich parents. the jeep had 60k miles, was perfect and had all kinds of bells and whistles. it was valued over 16k by KBB and paid 9k cash for it (she was asking 12+) – i had negotiated down and literally paid all cash earned from part time jobs i held on campus. it was my first large purchase and still very treasured to date. there is no better feeling than making a DARN GOOD buy with your first hard earned money. the jeep lasted with me several years, and i took good care of it like i do of all my belongings. it had well over 160k miles when i decided to buy a new vehicle and turn this one loose. yes, it was time (sadly). when I finally decided to let go, my family took pictures standing by it (since everyone had their fair share of fun in it). it was our fairwell to it. my friends still remember it and the memories we had in it.

  28. says

    My first car was just like yours but the only difference is that I know how to check the engines. I didn’t go with nice body cars as something tells me the owner is hiding something from the buyer. I went to a car that has a good engine but has some things to fix on the body. It was good that you had learned the ropes early on with cars.

  29. says

    Love this post! Brings back memories of my first car: a $500 Mitsubishi Gallant. It was a horrible car but I loved it and I was really proud of it. Didn’t embarrass me at all. In retrospect, even though the safety might have been below par, I thought it was great for a first car because it made me understand exactly how to treat a car. If I ever hit the breaks too hard, the car would shut off. If I jammed the acceleration too hard, the car would take a long time to respond. It made me understand how a car works. I think it’s a great way to have your kids appreciate their car and understand how to treat it. Mine was awesome until the engine fell out when I went over a bump! At that point, it wasn’t worth it to repair it given that it only cost $500 in the first place!

  30. says

    My first car was a 1992 VW Jetta. If I hadn’t fought a cadillac and lost, I’d still drive it to this day; when I see a 90-92 Jetta driving down the street I get a little misty. One of the best things was there wasn’t a lot to break on them. Crank windows, crank sunroof, vacuum locks. A truly great car that I miss.

  31. saucy626 says

    “I’m glad I started with a piece of junk because nothing could have been worse!” Sounds like my first job (which I still have). I have my first car and it’s amazing, albeit modest. Never breaks down.

  32. Eddie says

    Well my first was a 99 ford explorer 4×4 black i got it off my sister for 450.00 and that’s where the nightmare begun.It did not have a front grill and half the bumper was missing and it also had a big dent in the hood.That was all do to her husband hitting a deer and of course the fun did not stop there.Half of the rear panel was caved in all the way from top to bottom. The sun roof leaks and so does the back window.Spent 800 bucks buying new rotors and brake pads along with other things one rotor was so thin and rusted that it broke off in my hand .Spent 6 months fixing the body and a friend got me a different grill and bumper it was starting to shape up until the the ball joints went out had to get those replaced and new shocks. all of the tires was bad so i got them replaced.Let me see what’s next then going down the road heard and felt a jolt from the rear end and then the cruise control went out and then my abs light came on got those fixed finally.And now my uncle decided to repaint my hood with out my knowledge because the clear coat was coming up.Well that was a disaster he sanded the hood got primer and paint and he just got done shooting the paint his friend showed up.He decided to pick up shop mate that was full of dust to get it out of the way when he laid it back down he dropped it and it threw dust and dirt into the fan and it blew it all over the new paint.My uncle tried to fix it but got mad and left a HUGE pile of paint in the corner of the hood he flooded it.I am just wondering what’s next still have yet to enjoy it cause i am always working on it and sad to report that i still have it drives and shifts good but it has me gun shy as to what’s in store i have wayyyy more money into it then what it was worth

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