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Everyone Hates Traffic -- but What's a Good, Cheap Car for Sitting in It?

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author photo by Justin Hughes August 2018

My commute has gotten to a point where it regularly takes twice as long for me to get to the office as Google says it should with empty roads. People just refuse to get out of the way on my own personal race track, it seems. The worst is when traffic crawls along at a speed slower than I can maintain at idle in first gear with my manual transmission. My left ankle begins to hurt after so much throttle blipping and clutch slipping in and out of gear. My Subaru WRX is a great car, but I can't take advantage of its sporty nature and really enjoy it, and its manual transmission is a disadvantage in most of the driving I find myself doing these days. So I've been considering other options for a cheap daily driver. They fall into several different categories, and an automatic transmission is a must.

The Beater

A rally driver recently told me that in order to win, you need to be prepared to throw your car away on the first turn of the first stage. Applying this philosophy to traffic means choosing a weapon that you simply don't care about. This 1999 Ford Taurus is not desirable in any way. It's old. It's ugly. And it only costs $250. No, I didn't forget a zero -- two-hundred and fifty dollars. The beauty of such a car is that you can drive it like you don't care, because you genuinely don't. Since it already has dents, rust and misaligned body panels, you have nothing to lose in a fender bender. If someone else smashes into you, you get $1,000 from their insurance, then go buy another $250 beater and pocket the rest. That's the one redeeming quality in a car with no redeeming qualities.

The Tank

Maybe you want something a bit more substantial that will keep you safe in a fender bender rather than send you to the gates of Valhalla. To gain the advantage on the field of highway battle, ally yourself with a Viking -- like this 1991 Volvo 240. These cars are among the toughest on the road. The fact that there are so many old Volvo 240s for sale on Autotrader is a testament to how well they were built and how durable they are. Even cars in the rust belt show little signs of the iron oxidation that eats other cars as a midnight snack. If you don't believe that the old Volvos have maintained their structural integrity over the years, this video may change your mind.

It can roll over twice and drive away, not catch fire like Ken Block's rally car. This Volvo isn't the cheapest option at $2,995, but you could argue that you get what you pay for.

The Fuel Sipper

The Toyota Prius is probably the most anti-enthusiast vehicle available today (Tyler Hoover's Fast and Furious inspired Prius notwithstanding. Maybe.). But the qualities that make it a boring enthusiast car also make it an excellent choice for everyday use -- especially sitting in traffic. This is also an excellent choice for someone interested in saving money on gas, which is consumed at the insane rate of zero miles per gallon when you're stopped. And contrary to the idea that hybrids cost more money, older Priuses are extremely affordable. This 2006 model is for sale for just $1,998.

The Sofa

If you're going to spend most of your commute stuck in traffic, you might as well be comfortable. For less money than an actual sofa, you can buy this 1998 Buick Park Avenue Ultra for a mere $799. It's not the nicer looking 1996 model that Hoovie refuses to sell, but it's still an Ultra, which means it has the same supercharged Series II 3800 V6 to get you up to speed quickly when traffic finally breaks. It's not pretty, but all that matters here is the interior experience. You'll still pay top dollar for brands like Cadillac and Mercedes -- but the near-luxury brand of Buick is almost as good, and far less expensive.

Looking Cool

If you're going to be seen by all these people stuck in traffic with you, you might as well look cool doing it. Nothing says cool like this 2003 Ford Mustang convertible. It has sporting pretensions, but is still very much a comfortable street car. The King of Cool himself drove a Mustang in Bullitt, making any Mustang cool by association -- including this one, for just $1,995. Plus, this one's a convertible, so you can put the top down and be seen looking cool in your cool car. And if you actually start moving at some point, you can always put the top up if you don't want the wind messing up your hair. This one is also a V6 model, not the V8-powered Mustang GT, so you don't have to worry about skidding wildly into your local Cars and Coffee.

The Intimidator

Dale Earnhardt drove Chevrolets, but the real Intimidator on today's streets is this view, right here: the Ford Crown Victoria. Ubiquitous among police departments until recently, the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (CVPI for short, or P71 if you're a code nerd like me) simply exudes authority. Even with no lights, sirens or police markings, you will get more road respect in one of these than in any other car on the road -- short of an actual tank. They're pretty cheap, as well, with this 2000 CVPI listing for $1,499. However, the Crown Vic's days are numbered in this role, since the last one rolled off the production line in 2011. As more and more Crown Vics go to the Great Junkyard In the Sky, expect it to be replaced as "the Intimidator" by the Dodge Charger, as prices for early 2000s models keep coming down.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Everyone Hates Traffic -- but What's a Good, Cheap Car for Sitting in It? - Autotrader