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By Jim Kerr

I have just gone through a painful experience: I went with my son shopping for his first car. You might think this would be an exciting time, and I am certain it was for him, but it wasn’t for me.

First of all, I had to live through his disappointment when I rejected a Subaru Impreza coupe he had selected. It had eye-catching decals and air scoops, and the price was within his spending range. I didn’t even mind the noisy wheel bearing that needed changing, as I figured this would be a good project for him to tackle, with my assistance. I rejected the car for two reasons: cracked body putty and rust on the driver’s door and quarter panel that started on an improperly repaired body panel; and the general looseness of the vehicle during a test drive, identified by all the squeaks and rattles.

The owner admitted he liked to drive hard and this particular car showed it had been driven so with little maintenance. Too bad: for I like this model.

The next day, another Subaru Impreza appeared in the classified ads. My son didn’t want to go when we first looked at the ad and when we went to look later, we arrived just as the owner was shaking hands with the person who had purchased the vehicle. Too bad for us, because this Impreza looked mint and was obviously well maintained. I think my son finally figured out for himself what I had been trying to tell him: when it comes to buying a used car, snooze and you lose. Fortunately they are still selling new cars, so there are more used ones on the market every day – we just needed to find the right one.

My son was open to other makes too, so we drove out to a neighbouring town to look at a Mazda 626. This was an older car and the pictures looked good, but it needed a windshield, four tires, a muffler and there was the start of a little rust on the body. It drove well, with smooth acceleration and shifting, no rattles and a nice ride, but the price was too high for the car considering the parts that it needed. The owner wasn’t about to lower his price, so off we went still looking for a perfect car – if there ever was such a thing.

The Camry we looked at came close to being right. The car was clean and tight and appeared well maintained. The owner had the timing belt changed recently and the oil and filter were new. Unfortunately it was a thousand dollars above my son’s price range so we had to pass. Learning to live within your means can be a hard lesson at any age.

Then my son spotted a Volvo station wagon. I could find no rust on the body and the engine ran smoothly and had good power. This V70 Volvo was loaded with features, which can sometimes mean trouble on an older high mileage car, but everything worked on this car. A test drive showed the car to be tight, with only a couple minor squeaks and the steering and brakes felt good. It was an all-wheel drive model and the tires showed even wear and good tread remaining. There was even a set of winter tires, although they will soon need replacing.

The owner had bills for recent brake work at all four wheels and admitted that it was due for an oil change. This was the one: my son loved it and we made a deal that leaves him with enough money to keep it maintained – we will change the oil and put a new timing belt in the engine, as a failed timing belt can cost thousands of dollars to repair.

This car has room for his mountain bike and his longboard. He can take it camping and I feel much better knowing he is driving a car that is well built and safe. A careful inspection of the car before we bought it also tells me I won’t have to spend a lot of time helping him repair his car in the future. After all, I have enough of my own to repair!

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