What should win out: nostalgia or safety?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

We're buying a car for my 17-year-old son. I've found two cars locally that appeal to us -- a classic 1968 VW with a few thousand miles on a rebuilt engine, and a 1992 Honda Accord with power everything, a four-cylinder engine and 162,000 miles. From my experience, having owned a Bug in my glory days, the delight of working on the vehicle and maintaining it myself might outweigh the practicality of a new car that could have subsequent issues -- you know used cars! The price of each is comparable ... what do you guys think?

-- Mindy

TOM: I think you may be having a midlife crisis, Mindy. When people start musing wistfully about VW Bugs, that's a pretty clear danger sign.

RAY: Like most of us do, you're conflating your glory days with the car that you drove in your glory days. During that period of your life, you were single and carefree, you had long, flowing, not-gray hair, you wore a size 6, and you drove to Woodstock with four boyfriends competing for your attention and Hubert H. Humphrey bumper stickers on your car. That was a good, old time.

TOM: But it wasn't the car that was good. Even in its day, it was a cheap, dangerous car. And now it's infinitely more so -- due to the greater number of cars on the road and the percentage of them that are now enormous.

RAY: And since young drivers -- and especially young male drivers -- tend to crash their cars at higher rates than other people, you don't want your teenage son in a VW Bug when that happens.

TOM: Back in the '60s, we knew people who died in VW Bugs. And some of them had to be buried in them, because the car was too compacted to get them out!

RAY: So, get him the Accord. While there are things he won't be able to do to the Accord, he can learn to do the basic maintenance. And when things beyond his capability break, he'll learn the hard lesson that every one of us has had to learn as a young driver: How to get a job, and then fork over your hard-earned money to a lousy mechanic.

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