Dear Tom and Ray:
Our family is engaged in the "What car should we get for our teenage son?" negotiations. We are stumped as to whether it would be better to get a "new" used car with air bags and other safety devices, or to purchase an "old" used car, circa the 1960s. The '60s Mustang is our son's car of choice. We would want it modified to have three-point seat belts, but we are concerned because it would not have air bags. It is heavier than the newer cars and thus might afford more protection to balance out what it lacks in air bags, etc. Our son is responsible, so we are more concerned about other drivers running red lights than about his occasional lapses of sanity. Any suggestions for a concerned father? -- Bill
RAY: Bill, you're the one having the lapse of sanity. Are you sure it's not you who has the hots for the Mustang?
TOM: The 1960 Mustang was an awful car then, and it's even worse now. It was a lousy Ford Falcon with a different body. It rode terribly, handled terribly, braked terribly. So what did Ford do to improve it other than slap a racier body on it? It put a bigger engine in it!
RAY: In general, even the cheapest new car you buy today is superior in just about every way to cars of the '60s and '70s. The only advantage the older cars have is exterior styling (in my opinion).
TOM: I know we'll get tons of hate mail for saying this, but if you take even the most affordable cars on the market today -- your Hyundai Elantras and Toyota Corollas -- and compare them with a '60s Mustang, you'll find that today's cars ride better, handle better, brake better, are more comfortable, much safer, much more reliable, burn much less fuel and create much less pollution.
RAY: So there's no question, Bill, that your son will be much better off in a newer used car, almost regardless of what it is.
TOM: My personal preference for teenage drivers is an old Volvo DL. Not only are they tanks, but they're slow, too!
RAY: But if the repair costs scare you away from a Volvo, a recent-vintage Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Ford Taurus will do the trick, too, Bill. Your kid might not look as cool in one of those, but he'll be much safer than he'd be in any '60s Mustang.