The $15,000 Question...

2012 Ford Fiesta
So you have $15,000 and your planning on getting a "new" car.  If your looking to buy something brand new, then your options are somewhat limited.  You'd probably be looking at a handful of less than exciting cars.  Don't get me wrong, I think that Ford is one of the best domestic brands and that they build a fantastic car.  That said, the Ford Fiesta (starting @ $13,200) is about as exciting as an orthodontic retainer.  You could also have the Smart Fortwo (starting @ $12,490) that goes 0-60 11.5 seconds, which is about the same amount of time it takes the average teenager to go through puberty.
2012 Smart Fortwo

The fact of the matter is that there really isn't a lot to get excited about in the sub-$15k category.  The best of the group would be the Hyundai Accent (starting @ $14,485) as it is the best looking and most well equipped for the price.  But that's rather like being the winner of a backwoods beauty contest in Alabama.  You may be get the crown but is it actually an honor?
2012 Hyundai Accent

After you get over being depressed about how your life's achievements to date can be reflected in a sub-compact car that will barely accelerate onto a highway doing half the speed limit (and that's if the on ramp is downhill) you wonder, is there hope?  The answer is yes.  That's because the used car market is incredibly saturated at the moment with fantastic cars at great prices, that is if you know what you're looking for.  And, no, I'm not talking about buying a 2004 Chevy Malibu instead of a 2009, I'm talking about cars that you do (or should) actually want to drive because they are great cars.  And in the current market can be purchased for an even better price. 

Because I know many of you are probably thinking "BS," I'm going to prove it.  Below I give a few examples of an SUV, a Mid-size, a Luxury Sedan, Sports Coupe and Convertible that can all be had for less than $15k.  And while my choices are somewhat subjective, anyone with a bit of automotive gusto would probably agree. 

The SUV: 1994 Range Rover Classic SWB (Mileage: 77,500)

The car shown above is for sale in New York for $12,000 (yes, I said $12,000).  If you're in the market for an SUV, you are looking at one of the best classic SUV's hands down, one that shaped the modern SUV market.  In fact, Range Rover's are such good SUV's that to this day people still take these trucks, modify them slightly and use them as their off road toys because they are invincible.  And those who still use them as a daily driver will talk about their comfort and grace, in addition to the acres of glass that surround you making you feel like royalty on display.

Want something newer...

The SUV #2: 2004 Volkswagen Touareg (Mileage: 66,500)

This Touareg is for sale out of Texas for a measly $14k.  What your really getting when you buy a Touareg is the same chassis you would if were to buy a Porsche Cayenne and it is an all-around great car.  Good acceleration, fair off-road performance, low maintenance and something that you wouldn't be completely embarrassed driving.  Its got sat nav, a V8, heated front seats and a list of other options that that simply make this a great car.

The Mid-size: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 190E (Mileage: 95,600)

This car is for sale in New Jersey for $11k.  At 95k miles on the clock you might think that's way to high a mileage, but these cars were over-engineered and having just undergone a major overhaul this will easily last another 200k miles.  Above and beyond being a great looking 90's compact sports sedan, its a legend in its own time, Mercedes-Benz's answer to the BMW M3.  But on second thought, you're right, you should pay more out of pocket for a brand new Hyundai Accent.  Are you kidding?!?!

Want something newer....

The Mid-size # 2: 2006 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro (Mileage: 48,000)

The above Audi is for sale in Texas for $15k and this is probably one of the best deals in the post.  For the money you get a very recent AWD car with very low mileage that gets great MPG and is fun to drive.  No, its not a sports car, but its great value for money and German engineering.

The Luxury Sedan: 2001 BMW 740iL (Mileage: 63,300)

The BMW shown here is an exceptionally clean 2001 with low miles.  Its a Florida car so there will be little in the way of salt damage to the body that you might find on a car that has lived in the North.  It is also a German highway cruise missile with a ride so smooth it feels like your floating.  This car also oozes class (even if you don't have any), and at $15k its a steal.

The Luxury Sedan #2: 2003 Audi A8 4.2 Quattro (Mileage: 70,000)

This car is another prime example of a great luxury car that you can get with reasonably low mileage and really enjoy. Its another German highway cruise missile with an incredibly comfortable ride and it lists for $14k, which is a pretty fair price.

The Sports Car: 2004 Audi S4 4.2 Quattro (Mileage: 60,000)

Ok, so I will preface this choice that although the Buy It Now price is $16k, with some negotiation I'm sure you could get this car for close to $15k.  Also, it has to be said that the S4 is one of the best value-for-money sports cars around.  Its incredibly quick, is well styled, has a V8 that makes you wet yourself, Recaro seats that hug you like your mother and its AWD.  This is personally one of my favorite mid-size sports sedans (are you beginning to notice a pattern with Audi here?)

The Convertible: 2002 Mercedes-Benz SL500 (Mileage: 79,000)

I actually own one of these, well not me but my parents do, so in fact I have a better deal, they pay for it, I drive it.  It really is a fantastic car and mine is a 1997 which is 5 years older than this one, so I can only imagine how better this one is. That aside these are extremely fun cars to drive and because Mercedes now has a new body style for the SL you can pick these up for next to nothing.

Closing Remarks

So have we learned anything?  First, buying a car is subjective and the above cars are simply ones in various categories that I really like, and have liked since I was a kid.  But I only spent about an hour looking all of that up and I found some great cars that could be had for great prices.  So I'm sure that with a bit of effort, you too could find something that you would actually want to drive that fits your budget.

Secondly, none of the cars that I picked are safe bets, because when buying a 11 year old super-luxe BMW, it will be more expensive to maintain.  And, from my choices I'm sure you have picked up on the fact that I am the least practical car shopper ever, and I accept that.  But since when is being practical, fun?

Lets put it this way, when when you were about 15 you probably dreamt of getting a Chevy Camaro as your first car (if you were a boy) or a Toyota Celica (if you were a girl, or a girly boy) and instead your practically boring parents gave you a Volvo station wagon with a "#1 Soccer Mom." bumper sticker on the back.  And if your younger selves could see you now, shopping for an Accent or Ford Fiesta, being practical, well I'm sure they would kick you straight in the shins, put itching powder in your sheets, or worse start rumors about you.

The other real point that I'm trying to make here is that when we are young we let our emotions guide us and somehow as we get older we loose that.  This doesn't just go for cars, this can be seen in almost any decision we make as adults. We focus on the smart and safe decisions, but that doesn't necessarily make them the right ones.  Yes, the smart and safe decisions have a place and are a necessary evil but people work very hard in their lives and sometimes just deserve to be spoiled a little bit.  My hope is that some of you will read this post and say "I'm going to go and buy an old M5 because I've wanted once since I was a kid."  And then actually do it.  I personally am about to dump more money into a car than its actually worth.  Why?  Because I love it, and it makes me happy.  Try doing something like that sometime, your bank account might not thank me, but you will.

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