Ask Bark: How To Replace A Long-Term Love

That’s right, bitches (I only call you bitches because I don’t know your names individually), Ask Bark is BACK! I have a gazillion emails sitting in my box, and I have this nifty website that I can use to answer them, so why not? Plus, since this site is not designed to generate anything resembling “clicks,” I can ramble on and on about whatever I want, and I’m not obligated to pick something “interesting.” Also, here’s a cool picture of a Bronco. Yay!

Let’s kick this off with a letter from an actual female reader who’s looking to replace her tired ‘Lude.

Jenica writes:


I’m attempting to look for a reliable car within my preferred ($8000 or less) budget, that’s a little sporty. I’m about ready to break up with my faithful partner of about 10 years, at over 200k miles, a ’98 honda prelude. A manual is a must, and a coupe is quintessential. Of course within my budget, the only cars I like (ie: have style) with less than 100k miles on it come with a sad salvage title. I’m having some trouble weeding out the ones that will last as long as my current partner without numerous major bills. And as much as I would love to own an s2000, I do need something with some semblance of a back seat. I live north of Sacramento, Ca in the Chico area.

Looking forward to your reply,


First of all, congrats on having a cool, unique name. Also, congrats on being a woman who drives a manual transmission and would love an S2000. Now, let’s get to the answer—it’s not as simple as either of us would like.

Your search is somewhat complicated in that you live in an expensive used car market. If I were looking for a car for you in, say, Lexington, Kentucky, we’d be able to swing a dead cat and hit dozens of good choices. In Northern California, it gets tricky. I did a search for coupes with manual transmissions and less than 100k miles within 100 miles of your zip code, and the only result was a 2008 Smart ForTwo. I don’t think that’s what you had in mind.

So your choices are to either raise your budget a little, lower your expectations a little, or expand your search range a bit. If I go up to $10,000 and widen the search radius to 250 miles, we have a few more options.

From my searching, it looks like NorCal is where old RX-8s go to live out their lives. Let me save you the pain and hassle and tell you that you want no part of these, unless you’re gonna call our pals the Boost Brothers to do an LS swap on one. Horrendous fuel mileage, never-ending purchases of expensive, hard-to-find oil, and a ticking time bomb under the hood.

My rubber stamp in this case would be a Scion tC. Hey, like this one! Clean Carfax, manual transmission, 75,000 miles. It’s at a Toyota store in San Francisco—they don’t have pictures up yet, which could mean that it’s relatively new into inventory (or that the dealer sucks at taking photos), so I’d contact them directly and ask for some pics. It checks every box you have: coupe, a little sporty, an available manual transmission, and as reliable as the day is long. The thing you have to be careful with with tCs is any signs of ricer mods—like this one. But a good, clean unmolested tC is worth its weight in gold, which is why ten-year-old examples still fetch about 50% of their original sticker price. The big block four cylinder is a great engine, and the car drives faster than the stats would suggest. It’s a worthy successor to your Prelude.

But, let’s say that you don’t want to be sensible. Well, why not buy a 4.6L V8 Mustang? This one has less than 100k, is a real looker of a car, and has a clean service history. I’d want more pictures of the interior and under the hood before I’d make the trek to the dealer, but it’s compelling. These cars will run until the Earth stops turning, and there’s thousands upon thousands of pages of web forums dedicated to the maintenance and repair of these things. If you want to get your hands dirty, there’s virtually no platform that’s been as thoroughly investigated and modified as the SN-95 Mustang.

Whatever you decide to do, I’m kinda intrigued by the idea of flying to Chico and buying your Prelude to drive back across the US. Keep us in the loop—I’d love to run Ask Bark updates here in the future!

If you’d like more Ask Bark content here, then send me your emails at and I’ll answer them. And since this isn’t a car blog, you can send me questions that are about cars or about something else entirely. K? 

41 Replies to “Ask Bark: How To Replace A Long-Term Love”

    • MrGreenMan

      With yet another community tone policing article up there today, and the commenters now openly guessing that this is designed to evict the Other Brother Baruth from TTAC, too, it needs to happen soon.

      • Jack Baruth

        Despite the well-publicized example of Neville Chamberlain, some people continue to believe you can appease a demand that is meant to be beyond compliance.

  1. MrGreenMan

    She’s gone to California to find a car that has never, never, never been born — at least this century.

  2. richard trout

    I have a 97 Lexus sc300, same category, 112k miles, one owner, from florida, immaculate for sale for $7200 and all i get is offers for 3k and insults on how could i think this car is worth that? It’s exactly the car (a prelude with some luxury, awesome driving and handling, awesome stock stereo) this guy is whining isn’t out there!

  3. rich trout

    I have a 97 Lexus sc300, same category, 112k miles, one owner, from florida, immaculate for sale for $7200 and all i get is offers for 3k and insults on how could i think this car is worth that? It’s exactly the car (a prelude with some luxury, awesome driving and handling, awesome stock stereo) this guy is whining isn’t out there!

  4. smallblock

    The thought of a “Big block four cylinder” still makes me laugh. I totally get the concept, this is the largest family of 4 cylinders for Toyota, but my instinct still says big block >= 348 CID.

  5. Ken

    I’d agree w/the TC the most, the mustang is a good one too. Steer clear of the RX-8, good idea, bad engine. Had one for awhile.

    I’d add:
    – G35 Coupe (might be hard to find w/low miles @ 8k, and not riced out)
    – VW GTI
    – Honda Accord Coupe / Acura Coupe
    – Civic Si

    If you were willing to go for a convertible, I’d throw in the Saab 9-3. You can get a LOT of car for the money with those things. $8k can get you into an 08+ w/under 100k miles, a manual, a backseat, and a fair amount of features. They are reliable, and parts are readily available. (Though on newer 2.0T engines 2007+ there is a potential valve issue, but its more so in colder climates.)

    • Deven

      Ken, I like your g35 idea. Good call. Way more car for similar money than the tc idea (which I personally like, btw). I get the mustang love everyone spouts for the latest iteration, but the sn95? Really?

    • CJinSD

      I have a Civic Si sedan that I bought new ten years ago. It doesn’t have many miles, as I’ve had company cars during much of the time that I’ve owned it, but it has been practically trouble free. It was recalled for a passenger air bag last year and I replaced one high beam headlight bulb a couple years ago. The paint on the roof is badly faded, which is a source of irritation. That’s it besides buying tires, gas, and oil changes. I think that the tax assessed value of my car is about $7,400. I suspect the two door models are even cheaper. The reason I’ve kept it while having mid-sized Audis and full sized Lincolns before them is that it’s the most fun car I’ve owned. It’s quick enough to merge with traffic, but not so fast that I’m constantly seeing a third digit on the speedometer. The shifter and engine character are unlike pretty much anything else that’s more practical than an S2000, and the driver seat is still comfortable and supportive after a decade of being subjected to 200 to 240 lbs of me. I would suggest looking for a 2008 or one with navigation, as I think bluetooth was standard in those.

      If you’re not risk averse and don’t care about engineering finesse, you could look at a Fiat 500 Abarth. They’re dirt cheap used and have lots of flair and character. Just remember that you have to push the ‘sport’ button every time you start the engine, or you’ll get mowed down when you try to merge into a gap.

  6. ComfortablyNumb

    Over/under on “buy a Mustang” responses from Mark this year: 17
    But seriously, yeah, she definitely needs a Mustang.

      • silentsod

        She already said manual was required which is good because my sister’s ’06 330Ci had to have a new auto put in at 160k. Otherwise parts prices are reasonable but shit does break, the newest ones are over a decade old now after all.

        • CJinSD

          I met a man yesterday who has a 100,000 mile E90 328xi. The cooling fan sounded like an idling jet. It turns out that the water pump had failed, triggering a self preservation mode that ran the fan full time, which fried the fan’s bearings. $2,200 for the fan, water pump, thermostat and coolant installed, and that’s a friend price. He was on his way to the shop because his oil level sender had stopped working, unlike pretty much any dipstick in the world. Replacing the sender was going to be $355, but it didn’t seem like such a high priority in light of the cooling issues. Recommending a BMW outside of a lease isn’t very nice.

  7. Arbuckle

    Here’s a decent looking 2-door MK.V “Rabbit” in your price range. Although it is in Southern Cal, so a bit of a trip.

    Normally I wouldn’t go VW in your situation but this generation with the I5 seems to hold up pretty well.

  8. Yamahog

    CRZ with a JDM / EDM back seat conversion.

    JDM circle jerk aside – the Mustang is an excellent choice. The prices on them are kind of astonishing and the cost to own is incredible. It really seems like the SN95 is as likely to appreciate as it is to depreciate – you can count on a nice, stock-ish one holding its value probably.

    If you were getting a stock V8, manual SN95 and you were going to spend 1k on upgrades (or 1.5k on upgrades and tires) what would you do (it has to retain some DD sensibility so no stripping out the interior)

    • Bark M Post author

      Since you find it so “hilarious,” what would you recommend? Or did you just come here to be a douche?

      • Dick Fiddler

        Just being a douche, TC is actually a great recommendation in this instance. I’m just amused by your fondness for the TC.

  9. Ark-med

    Welcome back, Bark! Only last night I wanted to spam one of the posts here asking where you’d vanished.

    • Bark M Post author

      I’m just busy, man. I thought I’d be writing up a storm in February and March, but it hasn’t happened that way. But no worries, I’ve got two very large stories in the works.

  10. Spurt Reynolds

    “I’m having some trouble weeding out the ones that will last as long as my current partner..”

    So what’s that, 10 maybe 15 minutes?

  11. rpn453

    I agree that the RX-8 should never be recommended to anyone. But anyone who already wants one should buy one. Brilliant car with a quirky engine. Well worth what little they go for these days. Fuel economy isn’t even that bad once you realize that you can cruise in sixth at anything beyond 30 mph.

    I don’t get the reference to expensive oil. Any conventional API-rated 5W-20, 5W-30, or 10W-30 is fine for most climates. Add premix oil meeting JASO FD and ISO GD to the fuel at 200:1 to keep the apex seals properly lubed and keep an eye on the typically short-lived coils. They’re easy to change. A timing light tach clipped over the spark plug wire will tell you if it’s working.

    If it floods, just flat tow it around the block in 3rd to clear it!

    • Bark M Post author

      As I owned an RX-8 that I bought new, I agree with your assessment…but it’s just too much hassle for somebody who’s used to Honda reliability.

      Expensive more in the sense that 5W-20 is hard to come by in many places (or at least it was when I was looking for it every 1000 miles eight years ago), so it can be a time and money suck. Nowadays I suppose you could just order it on Amazon. 🙂

      • rpn453

        After I wrote that, I started wondering if you might have been obsessive enough at the time to only run rotary-specific oils, such as Idemitsu.

        5W-20 has since become one of the standard conventional oils – along with 5W-30, 10W-30, and 15W-40 – that can be found anywhere from any brand at the lowest prices possible for modern oils.

        I’d be inclined to run 10W-30 though; at least in summer. It requires less-refined base stocks and/or less viscosity additives, so it probably burn more cleanly and readily. That may be why Idemitsu prefers that grade. Though I doubt that it actually makes any practical difference. A 5W-20 would be more suitable for short trips and in cooler temperatures, and it provides a small fuel economy benefit. Regardless, I wouldn’t have wanted to stray from the manufacturers recommendations while under warranty.

        My buddy is on his third RX-8, and it’s hard to imagine him ever not owning one. He recently acquired a 2007 with under 20k miles to “reset the clock”. CDN$9250 for an almost-new toy like that is a bargain. He’s had a few little issues over the years that have made those cars appear poorly suited to being an only vehicle, but nothing serious or expensive. It’s a third vehicle, for summer only, so the issues don’t affect him much. He’s an electrical engineer with little mechanical background but has enough mechanical engineer friends that he’s been learning to enjoy doing all his own repairs and maintenance the past few years and hasn’t run into anything he/we couldn’t handle.

        With that RX-8, he has finally heeded my requests to respect his fellow motorists, and passengers, by leaving the catalytic converter installed. It will be interesting to see if the relatively small amount of pre-mix has any affect on that over the long run.

        The rotary has charm, but I really hope to drive it with an LS V8 under the hood someday!

  12. kvndoom

    Find an RSX that hasn’t been riced out to hell and back. They are rare, but they exist. You can still get your Honda jones on.

    Couple years back a guy had a 2005 with decent miles in great shape, listed for like $5500. I wrote him and jokingly told him he wasn’t asking enough, and the car would be gone in a week. Sure ’nuff it was gone in a flash.

  13. Crancast

    Since I commented on Jack’s Killer Whale NatGeo expose’, I just wanted to say ‘glad you are back’ Bark. Missed your writing. I will send a question someday for this series. But in the meantime, I hope you have an update on the FoRS coming soon. The inventory squeeze seems to be loosening and the Civic R-type is nearing to add more options.

  14. DirtRoads

    Isn’t “big block 4 cylinder” and oxymoron, or at least somewhat of a contradiction in terms? lol

    Just thinking out loud here…

  15. Watchseeker

    Wasn’t the old GM 2.5 liter “Iron Duke” considered a “big block 4”?
    What a piece of crap that engine was. Less than 100 hp from 2.5 liters!! Whoohoo!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.