Topic: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Here's the context. I'm finally getting to a point in my life where I can afford to justify spending some money on a car that I can tinker with. I'm a huge fan of the Lemons community and figure this would be a great place to ask this kind of question.

What I want is a car that I can buy and repair/update/maintain for about $5000 total including getting tools. I'm literally starting from zero. No tools, no knowledge, no garage, just a wad of cash and an internet connection.

My first thought was a second gen miata. Less desirable than the first gen so pretty cheap to find one in decent condition. Lots of people have worked on them and any problem you could have has already been solved on YouTube. They are all manuals so no need to pick and choose and they're RWD so I get that experience as well.

My plans for the car, whatever it is, is to spend weekends tinkering on it, modifying it, and generally learning how to do more than just change oil and tires.

What do you suggest and why?

2000 Hyundai Accent @ 279,982 miles
2014 Ford Focus Titanium
Currently residing in Denver, Colorado

2 (edited by OnkelUdo 2019-06-22 05:36 PM)

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Hey buddy...you are so asking for trouble here.

NB Miata is not a bad choice and with your height could be a reliable daily driver...if you buy it from the south.  I have a parts car NB right now that I bought for the go fast parts and it is a good thing...front frame horns are literally no longer there.  That said, lets talk about end goals...

Answer the following questions honestly:

I plan to be able to allow other people in this car as either passenger or driver...maybe?
It needs to also be useful for X?
I like scouring obscure fan websites for parts?
I feel the need to be unique in my choice of car?
At the end of the day, just want to hoon the crap out of something and learn some wrenching skills in the process but it kinda has to be a real car?

I ask these because there are o many rabbit holes you can choose to follow here.  Is wind in your hair important?  Is RWD a requirement?  Do you need airbags and ABS to feel safe?

Other than an garage queen automatic, Southern NB that you buy to use my 5-speed swap to make a real car...I have a few suggestions:

FWD:

First Gen Honda Fit Manual...Swaps exist and a SC is available.
GTI VR6.  Glorious sound, rust prone so go southern (or colorado since you have connections)
Fiesta manual and the most base model you can get.  The amount of Eurotrash hop up parts for this i insane.
Mazda3, first gen.  Just a great car and there are upgrade paths.
Cobalt SS or Ion Redline (or like me, HHR SS)

RWD

Miata NB but stick to VVT years.  Buy southern and automatic for CHEAP and we can work out a deal on a 5-speed swap from my parts car.
Maybe modern GTO (Randy sold his) or G8...same with early Chrysler 300's
Non-mustang Fox bodies
Volvo 240 1989+ manual tranny.  Trust me...with a "stage 0" replacement of suspension stuff, they are a ton of fun.

AWD
Second Gen WRX hatch..not as beloved as the bugeye and kinda more capable.

Honestly i have a ton more but they go from wacky to expensive long term to impossible to find (Mercedes 190E Cosworth for instance).

Edit:  Mini, not S, Manual without the horrible panoramic sunroof...less options the better as the electrics are the #1 downfall.

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Thanks for the reply. I have a 2014 Focus right now as a reliable, safe, 4 door daily driver right now and what I'm looking for is something I can learn wrench on until I move out of state (1-3 years from now depending on a lot of variables). It doesn't have to be great. In fact, the crappier the better so that I feel less bad about having to sell it when the time comes because whatever I get I can guarantee I will not be taking to Colorado with me when I make the move.

I have never owned (or even driven I think) a RWD car which is why the miata appeals to me right now. Before my current focus my car was a 2000 Hyundai Accent which was a piece of junk but I loved that car because it "felt" fast to me even though it objectively wasn't fast in literally every measurable way.

I know that FWD is easier to work on in general and I'm not opposed to it. At the end of the day this car will be hooned on backroads and thoroughly abused and tinkered on before being cast to the wind. Because of that I want something that will have plenty of parts available both online and at my local parts store when things inevitably go horribly wrong.

I also want to make sure that when I do have to sell it I can turn it over reasonably quickly, another reason why the miata is appealing to me. People are always looking to grab one for any number of reasons. I know I will lose money when I sell that which is why I want to keep the initial investment as low as I can while still getting a car that doesn't need too much done right away.

So, after typing all that up, I'll answer your questions point by point.

I plan to be able to allow other people in this car as either passenger or driver...maybe?
1 passenger is all I need and I don't even really need that honestly.

It needs to also be useful for X?
nothing, this is the fun car not the practical car.

I like scouring obscure fan websites for parts?
no.

I feel the need to be unique in my choice of car?
again, no. This is the first project car of many and I want to start with something easy.

At the end of the day, just want to hoon the crap out of something and learn some wrenching skills in the process but it kinda has to be a real car?
It just has to be able to move after I take some tools to it. (preferably it can move before hand though so I have a decent starting point)

So, with all that in mind, how does that effect your suggestions?

2000 Hyundai Accent @ 279,982 miles
2014 Ford Focus Titanium
Currently residing in Denver, Colorado

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

The answer is always a C4 corvette.  smile

That said if you want a miata, then get a miata.

5 (edited by Spank 2019-06-22 09:49 PM)

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Whatever car you get, make a commitment to it and yourself by signing up for a junior college or ROP course for automotive mechanics.

These are usually set up as a lecture/classroom work one day a week and a lab the other day of the week. Or sometime it is an "all-day" class with lecture in morning and lab in the afternoon on a Saturday or something.

Either way, it'll be one of the best "tools" you can get, and it's cheap, it forces you to set aside time in your life to focus on you/your car, and you can use it as an excuse to get out of other stuff. If you say, "I can't go to the baby shower-- I need to work on my miata in my driveway" vs "I can't come to the baby shower because I have class", it's a totally different thing. "I gotta go out to the garage to study for my upcoming test" vs "I gotta go change my spark plugs" are miles apart.

Just look to see what's available in your area. The ROP courses are usually free-- aka job retraining classes -- and the junior college classes are cheap and you get to use their tools and then decide which ones you want to go out and buy for yourself.

And don't let anyone talk you in to getting top of the line tools. These aren't something you need to earn a living using. Buy cheap, like whatever car your'e going to get, because you're going to replace them at some point so may as well lose or give away cheap yet functional stuff than get stuck loading up a bunch of snap on and mac tools in your closet for 5 years in hopes you get to use them when you get to wherever you're going to end up in life.

Quick google says Elgin Community College has a good program
But don't get caught up into taking a bunch of classes toward a particular degree or certificate-- heck, you can just audit them and not worry about grades-- but DO look for classes that you think would help you get off the ground. Usually there's an automotive basics 101 class.

Looks like they may be 151 and 153 at Elgin

https://catalog.elgin.edu/degree-progra … oursestext

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

(just chiming in since I am on vacation in San Francisco...)
Waidaminute....
You got a wad of $5K, an zilcho else? Doda mathy....(oh, this is a easy drinking wine...)
Tools- I'm guessin $1K
Which leaves you with $4k...
(did you include entry fees in your budget? $1400....are you going to be the sole owner and benevolent dictator of your (assumed) team?
And race expenses (fuel, transportation, lodging, etc.)
Or are you going to get more team members to help you out with $$$ and split the costs?
Tires, prep, brakes, fire system, seat, belts etc.--$1K
So leaves you with $3K--can not/difficult for amateur really do a new build with $3K but can get a nice pre-raced car....
Which limits your choices, based on what is available and where it is....
Beggers can't be choosers....which really is fine, since you'll see what the previous team did to prep the car, and you'll still need/and want to do more to fix it up and make it your own...and there will be a steep trial/and error learning curve

Having someone install a cage will likely run you over $2K

But if you are really set on doing something stupid, impractical, thoughtless, impulsive, then I suggest going back to your roots.....
HYUNDAI ACCENT
Like you implied: you don't really need a fast car to have loads of fun, you just need one that "feels" fast.
Unless you are a Class C citizen: whole different ball game...

Best of luck!

MarioKart Driving School: 1987 Honda Prelude Opus #28  (still can't win anything...)
RIP: Oct. 25-26, 2014 (Loudon, NH) - June 8-9, 2019 (Millville, New Jersey; Lightening)
New and improved: 1987 Honda Prelude Opus #11 April 17-18, 2021 (Pittsburgh, PA)  --  ??

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

$5k. Man what I would have done with $5k when I started getting into cars. I was in the same place as you, I wanted to learn to work on cars and build something fun. I was 19, had just gotten an internship and had a real paycheck, and my parents said I could use the lower level of their barn if I cleaned it out. I bought a $600 1987 Porsche 924S and a tiny 3/8 socket set from sears and just went to town on that sucker.

What I learned, first of all, is that you do not buy an 80's porsche if you want to do this cheap. Clutches were like $500+ at the time. I had a ton of fun working on that car, but I never did get it driving. I had the engine out, went through it, fixed a couple things, and eventually sold it to a Lemons team who ran it a decent number of races. I sold the chassis to a local kid who had dreams similar to me and needed parts for his own 924s.


Decide your goals up front as mentioned. You want to learn to wrench, good first goal. But eventually you'll want to do things with the car, make sure it is something that fits what you want to do.

Pick something with cheap parts. Which means Japanese or american. But make sure it isn't some obscure car who's parts are all hoarded by super fans.

Whatever you pick, get the factory service manual. A haynes is ok, but the factory manual is better. It will walk you though the right way to do all jobs. They are invaluable.


For tools, go cheap, but not too cheap. When I started diving into cars around 2007 or so craftsman was still decentish. It wasn't amazing, but they held up better than the super budget stuff. I built my tool collection from craftsman tools. Start with a decent ratchet and socket set. You'll want at a minimum 3/8 drive and larger sockets in 1/2 drive. Go with 6 point sockets, they'll strip old bolts less than 12 point. Next get a full set of combination box wrenches, again 6 point not 12. A GOOD set of screwdrivers, and a cheap pry bar so you don't use your flat heads as pry bars. You'll want a jack and jack stands. The harbor freight aluminum jacks are good for the money. Mine's over 10 years old now and still works great. Jack stands you don't need to go fancy. With the above you can dive in and get going. Depending on your car you'll start to figure out the random specialty tools you'll need. You'll slowly start acquiring random puller tools and specialty sockets and other weird stuff.


Do your homework on whatever you get. there's never been a better time to get into this stuff with how much is available online. Take the time to learn how to be safe under a car too. It's easy to put the car in an unstable position that could fall on you. Do not be like the guy at my local makerspace who tried to compress a front spring by putting the car on a lift, and then lowering the car with a stool under the control arm which was then lifting the car off the lift and trying to dump it backwards..... He no longer has lift access, because those kinds of things are how you hurt/kill yourself. Do not be like him, be safe.

Good luck, ask lots of questions, have fun.

20+ Time Loser FutilityMotorsport
Turbo Dodge Powered E36 Build
2008 Saab 9-5Aero Wagon
Retired - 1989 Dodge Daytona Shelby 2011-2015 "Lifetime Award for Lack of Achievement" IOE, 3X I got screwed, Organizer's Choice

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

M.I.A.T.A.  Miata is always the answer.

Just want to make sure that you are aware that not all of them are manuals.

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

MZAVARIN wrote:

(just chiming in since I am on vacation in San Francisco...)
Waidaminute....
You got a wad of $5K, an zilcho else? Doda mathy....(oh, this is a easy drinking wine...)
Tools- I'm guessin $1K
Which leaves you with $4k...
(did you include entry fees in your budget? $1400....are you going to be the sole owner and benevolent dictator of your (assumed) team?
And race expenses (fuel, transportation, lodging, etc.)
Or are you going to get more team members to help you out with $$$ and split the costs?
Tires, prep, brakes, fire system, seat, belts etc.--$1K
So leaves you with $3K--can not/difficult for amateur really do a new build with $3K but can get a nice pre-raced car....
Which limits your choices, based on what is available and where it is....
Beggers can't be choosers....which really is fine, since you'll see what the previous team did to prep the car, and you'll still need/and want to do more to fix it up and make it your own...and there will be a steep trial/and error learning curve

Having someone install a cage will likely run you over $2K

But if you are really set on doing something stupid, impractical, thoughtless, impulsive, then I suggest going back to your roots.....
HYUNDAI ACCENT
Like you implied: you don't really need a fast car to have loads of fun, you just need one that "feels" fast.
Unless you are a Class C citizen: whole different ball game...

Best of luck!

This is in "other stuff" not Lemons tech.  Trust me, if this guy wants to race he is doing it first on our team as he current plays Team Mom at most of our races and is awesome at it.

10 (edited by Lemon_Newton-Metre 2019-06-27 09:13 AM)

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

2001 Toyota Celica GT:

Craigslist, Aurora, $500. Owner indicated new brakes, battery, something else new; just an overheating problem to diagnose. RWD for the experience, and a Toyota, clean title, auto, decent body and interior. For this purpose, I'd have been all over this.

Listing deleted 06.27.

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

rlchv70 wrote:

M.I.A.T.A.  Miata is always the answer.

Just want to make sure that you are aware that not all of them are manuals.

But his wrenching experience can be putting in the swap from my parts car!

Seriously Nick, Look at that 318ti I sent you then let me know if you want a southern contact for rust free auto Miatas.

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Hey Nick,

Here's a guide with some good options.

https://imgur.com/w7obSav.jpg

My advice is to get something that you're truly interested in.   Rather than what might be most recommended or make the most sense on paper. 

For every completed project car there are 9 half-complete cars under a tarp in someone's back yard.  The fact is that any project car requires an intense amount of dedication.  There's always an element of frustration as well, not limited to parts you broke on accident, injuries, having to redo work you just did, and/or trouble diagnosing issues.  If you have something that fascinates you, that will keep you motivated to see it through.

-Jeff

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

AT-JeffT wrote:

Hey Nick,

Here's a guide with some good options.

My advice is to get something that you're truly interested in.   Rather than what might be most recommended or make the most sense on paper. 

For every completed project car there are 9 half-complete cars under a tarp in someone's back yard.  The fact is that any project car requires an intense amount of dedication.  There's always an element of frustration as well, not limited to parts you broke on accident, injuries, having to redo work you just did, and/or trouble diagnosing issues.  If you have something that fascinates you, that will keep you motivated to see it through.

-Jeff

Are we counting just our half completed cars or the ones we are storing for others?  If just ours/mine...I have a completion ratio of 4 (completed) to 6 (pending completion or parting out and crushing).

The advice is good, though.  Stalled projects can afflict us all and though I enjoy my lawn art, most do not have the space or tolerant neighbors.

14

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Well now. 

We just completed our first Lemons at HPR in our newly "built" NB Miata a few weeks ago. 

Pluses:
-cheap to buy (I would argue that NA Miatas are a fair bit cheaper overall and a bit easier to prep as well)
-parts are cheap (it's not hard to find spares for everything)
-racing is cheap (wear items wear relatively slowly on a 2,000lb car)
-easy to work on (for a small car pretty much everything is easy to get to)
-EVERYTHING has been done already and likely there are detailed guides for whatever you want to do
-relatively reliable (YMMV of course)
-very fun to drive

Minuses:
-fitting a nice (i.e. non aluminum) seat in a Miata can be tough and your options are limited and not exactly cheap
-you may run into issues if your drivers are of differing heights (two of ours had to sit on pads)
-there might be some guilt when you finish 14 hours of racing with virtually no issues and lots of life left in your 200TW tires
-likely some shame when you look at the lap times and see how much faster other Miatas/E30s were

Advice:
With hindsight I'm torn on if I would have prepped our Miata if I were to do it again.  Cost/time-wise the smart thing to do would have been to buy someone else's race-whip but working on "Scrappy" was extremely satisfying and my wife was there all the while which made the experience all the better.  The list of things to do to prep a car is daunting but manageable if one is realistic and has a good plan.

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Max wrote:

Well now. 

We just completed our first Lemons at HPR in our newly "built" NB Miata a few weeks ago. 

Pluses:
-racing is cheap (wear items wear relatively slowly on a 2,000lb car)

Minuses:
-fitting a nice (i.e. non aluminum) seat in a Miata can be tough and your options are limited and not exactly cheap
-you may run into issues if your drivers are of differing heights (two of ours had to sit on pads)
-there might be some guilt when you finish 14 hours of racing with virtually no issues and lots of life left in your 200TW tires
-likely some shame when you look at the lap times and see how much faster other Miatas/E30s were

Advice:
With hindsight I'm torn on if I would have prepped our Miata if I were to do it again.  Cost/time-wise the smart thing to do would have been to buy someone else's race-whip but working on "Scrappy" was extremely satisfying and my wife was there all the while which made the experience all the better.  The list of things to do to prep a car is daunting but manageable if one is realistic and has a good plan.

Not a race car question...

16

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Not a race car question...


Lol, yeah.   Ignore me.  I'll be over here working on my reading comprehension skills.

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

OnkelUdo wrote:

Are we counting just our half completed cars or the ones we are storing for others?  If just ours/mine...I have a completion ratio of 4 (completed) to 6 (pending completion or parting out and crushing).

The advice is good, though.  Stalled projects can afflict us all and though I enjoy my lawn art, most do not have the space or tolerant neighbors.

You're ahead of the curve, Mike.

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

The only answer is:

The car you always wanted in high school but couldn't afford!

It's now 10-15 years old, worn out, and dirt cheap!
Buy it, drag it home, cage it, race it!
You already know the answer to this question
you just need someone to validate your choice!

'ported, relieved, with bored-out arm rests, and oversize seat covers.

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

stupid_but_tough wrote:

The only answer is:

The car you always wanted in high school but couldn't afford!

It's now 10-15 years old, worn out, and dirt cheap!
Buy it, drag it home, cage it, race it!
You already know the answer to this question
you just need someone to validate your choice!

That would be a toss up between a 32 Ford completely hot rodded out or a 67 mustang fastback... Pretty sure both of those get more expensive each passing year.

2000 Hyundai Accent @ 279,982 miles
2014 Ford Focus Titanium
Currently residing in Denver, Colorado

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Nickanator wrote:
stupid_but_tough wrote:

The only answer is:

The car you always wanted in high school but couldn't afford!

It's now 10-15 years old, worn out, and dirt cheap!
Buy it, drag it home, cage it, race it!
You already know the answer to this question
you just need someone to validate your choice!

That would be a toss up between a 32 Ford completely hot rodded out or a 67 mustang fastback... Pretty sure both of those get more expensive each passing year.

You can get the Mustang in your budget if you search and willing to settle for coupe and/or 6 cylinder.  Best to go south or west to find a rust free example.

21 (edited by Spank 2019-06-27 01:05 PM)

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Lowes seems to still be having Father's Day sales on their tools. The person at Customer Service said they also will honor Craftsman tool replacement/warranty as they are gearing up for Sears no longer carrying Craftsman come the fall. So maybe look at your local Sears for deals on Craftsman tools.

What particularly caught my eye was a rolling 2 or 3 drawer tool cart thingie with "dump crap here" space on top with a nice mix of sockets and wrenches for like $150 off of regular price there at Lowes. It was the Kobalt brand, which I've had some success with.

edit: I have a10 yr old version of this by made by craftsman. It has served me very well as my travel tools for events.
https://www.lowes.com/pd/Kobalt-227-Pie … 1000642747


Aha! Here's what I saw. But I think it was even cheaper in the store;
https://www.lowes.com/pd/Kobalt-141-Pie … 1000735528

22 (edited by tlburne2 2019-06-28 07:00 AM)

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Lol this is fun.  So many opinions from different points in time.  Age has a major impact on peoples response as what was easy/popular in 2000 is far different from what is easy/popular today.

My 2 cents.  Buy the cheapest tools so you can appreciate the nicer tools once the cheapo's break/fail.  Whatever car you buy, it really doesn't matter.  If you are completely new to this, any car is going to challenge and teach you a lot.  There is a reason Honda's are so popular and common.  They are cheap and easy to work on, and arguably the most reliable beaters on the planet.

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

Nickanator wrote:
stupid_but_tough wrote:

The only answer is:

The car you always wanted in high school but couldn't afford!

It's now 10-15 years old, worn out, and dirt cheap!
Buy it, drag it home, cage it, race it!
You already know the answer to this question
you just need someone to validate your choice!

That would be a toss up between a 32 Ford completely hot rodded out or a 67 mustang fastback... Pretty sure both of those get more expensive each passing year.

Or in my case, a TT Supra, NSX, or third gen RX7... which aren't going for Lemons pricing anytime soon. Although there is a team running a late RX7 in CA, maybe its roofless state is part of how it became a $500 car?

#289 1984 Corvette Z51 (the road goes on forever…)
#111 Tradewinds Tribesmen VW Passat Inde ‘20 (‘21 too) Thunderhill ‘22!
Gone but not forgotten, #427-Hong Kong Cavaliers Benz S500: formerly known as OMG Racing #140
Other foolishness: Finisher of Hell on Wheels (Jaguar) IOE (Humber)

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

For hand tools, I've been extremely happy with the Kobalt set below, bought on recommendation from another racer. There isn't much you can't do with it, and having a blow-molded case always reminds you of the missing 10mm sockets. It goes on sale for $99 pretty regularly.

https://www.lowes.com/pd/Kobalt-227-Pie … 1000642747

I've also used a nut driver with a quarter inch socket, along with a 3/8s way more frequently than I thought I would. Its great for zipping out fasteners on underbody panels, interior trim, etc. Those usually come along with a drill for cheap.

A battery impact gun also is really nice for rotating/removing wheels and larger jobs like brake calipers. Again, I went with an open box special on a Craftsman that came with a battery.

Tekton makes a very nice set of metric impact sockets in 10-24mm for under $50 (it's gone up from about $38, but still very worthwhile) https://www.amazon.com/TEKTON-2-Inch-Im … amp;sr=1-3

Re: If you had $5000 to get started wrenching what would you buy?

As someone who started at a fairly similar place 4 years ago, I have to recommend that whatever you buy, don't start by completely rebuilding the entire powertrain. Then again, how else are you going to learn?

To reiterate what has been already said a lot, start with the cheap tools. You'll learn pretty quick what you need to upgrade, but you'll be surprised how much you really don't. You'll be amazed how much you can get done with a set of wrenches, sockets/drivers, and screwdrivers.

Finally, I have to plug getting a neon. Unloved as they are, non SRT neons are dirt cheap and easy to work on. Parts are super common and cheap, including a lot of aftermarket stuff.

Owner of the Knights Templar Neon
A&D of middling proportions