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Which would you pick, the high-end used car, or the low-end new car? Tom and Ray help Tim make the call.

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Dear Tom and Ray:



I am in the market for a newer car. My girlfriend says I am too mature (I'm 61) for my '96 Miata, and I should be driving something in my maturity range, if not my price range. I plan to spend about $20,000 for the newer car, but have discovered an interesting situation in the used-car market. I can get a bottom-end, high-end car (a late-model Volvo S40, for example) or a high-end, low-end car (a late model Kia Amanti or Nissan Altima, for example) for about the same price. Which way should I go? I'd enjoy telling folks I bought a Volvo, but would they see through my cheapness? I wouldn't enjoy telling folks I bought a Kia, but would the luxury of the Amanti assuage any embarrassment I might feel? I'm not locked into these brands, but find the same dilemma across the board - starter "luxury" cars versus well-equipped beginner cars. Which way to go? - Tim

RAY: Remember, Tim, there's always the option of keeping the Miata and trading in the girlfriend. But we'll try to stick to the automotive part of your question.

TOM: I think you should drive whatever the heck YOU want, Tim. We're far too concerned about our images these days and what other people think of us. Who cares? You're the one driving the car. Drive whatever makes you smile!

RAY: Yeah, as long as - like my brother - you don't mind if people come up to you, uninvited, and drop a few sympathy coins in your coffee cup.

TOM: Hey, who can't use the extra cash?

RAY: Well, I agree that you should drive whatever pleases YOU, Tim. Even if it's the Miata. But in terms of the high-end, low-end car vs. low-end, high-end car debate, personally, I would definitely go for a loaded cheaper car.

TOM: Me, too. Cars aren't like houses, where you want to buy the cheapest house on an expensive street. Cars don't appreciate in value.

RAY: You say you'd enjoy telling people you bought a Volvo. But will you enjoy DRIVING it? I'm guessing you'll spend many more hours driving the car than talking about it.

TOM: You might enjoy driving the Volvo. But you have to test-drive one to see. Volvos have a firm, European-style ride, especially the small S40. And if a stiff ride and tight handling is what you crave, that might be the car for you.

RAY: But if you like cushy comfort, soft, heated leather seats, a power tilting and telescoping steering wheel, a powered rear sunshade, a 10-speaker stereo system, room for five adults and a quiet, luxurious ride, you can pick up a one-year-old, loaded Hyundai Azera for 20 grand, and have all of that. And the balance of a 10-year, power-train warranty.

TOM: Or you can get a slightly used, loaded Kia Amanti, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry or Ford Five Hundred if you like those better. And then, every day, you can feel like you're living it up like P. Diddy. Or maybe Wayne Newton is a better cultural reference at your age, Tim. Good luck.

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