What kind of car can I afford in High School?


Asked by Sep 04, 2017 at 11:48 PM about the 2010 BMW 3 Series

Question type: Shopping & Pricing

Let me give a little bit of background here.

I am a sixteen year old junior in high school located in Illinois. I am a huge
hockey fan (go Blackhawks!) and play hockey for my high school. I currently
work a part-time job at a local grocery and am trying to get in to the
University of Wisconsin, Madison, for college.
Very soon, I am going to need a car for myself. Being a hockey player, I travel
a lot, and most of my weekends are spent on the road. Last year, my family
put well over 20,000 miles on our GMC (my family's primary car), and I would
say most of those were for sitting in traffic for hockey. But not only for hockey,
I will need a car to commute to school, run errands, commute to work, and for
personal pleasures. I will also need a car to drive my younger brothers in
situations where my parents cannot, as my father already works a full time job
and my mother will be starting a job in the near future.

My question mainly pertains to my first car; what can I afford for a car, is the
car I am currently looking at reasonable, and, if it's unreasonable, what kind of
a car should I be looking at, all of which ties into a bit of personal financing.

Working at my part time job, I make $10.25 an hour (after taxes, closer to
$7.50 or $8.00 per hour), and I am aiming to make at least $200.00 a week,
which I have been able to achieve for the most part. The money I make is
deposited into a checking account that I have access to, but plan on rarely
using, as I want to save for this car. I have worked at my job for around 1
month now, and do not plan on leaving anytime soon. My job is also part of a
union, and from what I understand, I am practically un-fireable (though I
wouldn't be fired anyways because I am more responsible than a typical 16
year old).
Separately, I have around $5,000.00 in a savings account as a child. I am
planning on using this money towards my car; I am unsure, but I believe this
account is separate from a college fund my parents have set up. This,
however, may not be the case, as I have not talked about this with my
parents. If it were not the case, this would also account as my savings for
With this in mind, what kind of car can I afford? My parents, at this moment,
can contribute at most around $2,000.00 to my first car, but it will most likely
be over time (like if they were helping me finance a used car, rather than
giving me the two grand for the downpayment).

With my checking account (and my job), my savings, and my parents
contribution, I am really looking to buy a used BMW 325i, 330i, or 335i (3
series) from around 2006-2012. Ideally, I am looking for one with no more than
80,000 miles on it and the most expensive I have searched for is from
$16,000.00. However, if this is deemed too expensive, the cheapest one that
fits my criteria is around $7,000.00. The BMW would also have to be
automatic (which, for the most part, they all are). I have found several different
kinds of these BMW 3 series' that fit my criteria, including one that was priced
at $8,000.00 with 40,000 miles on it and one that was $16,000.00 with
100,000 miles on it. There are thousands of different kinds of these BMW 3
series' that range in price and mileage, and I am able to find one very easily
that fits my search (under $16,000.00 and under 80,000 miles).
I have not explicitly mentioned this yet, but I am a major auto-fanatic and I
jump at the opportunity to drive. My father owns a Mercedes and I drool over
the thought of it from my bedroom window. While it may seem impractical
and more than I can afford, I understand that I may be spending more than I
should and I would like to devote a larger portion of my money and savings
towards this specific BMW than I should, even though it is a rather upscale
and expensive vehicle for a high school student and teenager. The BMW is a
very good car that perfectly fits my needs, and the drive quality is
unbelievable. The sole problem I might be able to foresee is possible but not
guaranteed maintenance and repairs costs, but that is a risk I would like to
take, if it is still somewhat financially reasonable. When researching, I
commonly see that someone should spend around 10% of their income on
their car (which is part of the reason why I am asking this question, to see if
this applies to me, and how), but can spend up to 30%, 40%, even 50% of
their income on a car if that's something they value above all else and doesn't
spend much on house or isn't in debt. This, I feel, would apply to me, as I am
willing to spend more to have this nicer car.
That said, I'd really like to know if this is a reasonable car for me at this price.
Like I have talked about, I have found this car at $7,000.00 with low mileage.
With that in mind, is this car reasonable for me?

Finally, if the BMW is not reasonable for someone in my situation, what kind
of a car would be? I am a high school student that needs a car, and while it
sounds typical of every other high school teenager, I am not someone who
will be willing to drive a twelve year old used family station wagon every day.
My car will become my most valuable possession, and I would like to own an
upscale car. I understand that by spending more money, I will forfeit spending
money or put myself in more student debt for college, but what is a
reasonable spending price for someone who wants to devote more money
towards a car in my case?
Part of the reason I like the BMW too is because of the drive quality. I am
responsible and a good student, but I want something that if I am in a
situation (such as entering a short on-ramp, which seems to be a lot in
Chicago) that I need to floor it and get some power, that the car will respond
sufficiently. A cheap, fifteen year old American car simply will not do. If there
are any suggestions on what kinds of cars I could look at that are like this,
that would be of great help!

Again, this is all a hypothetical. As much as I would like, I will not be going to
a car dealership tomorrow to buy my car on a whim. All of this is to help me,
and any responses or suggestions to my situation would be greatly
appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read through my question!

2 Answers


If you drive a German car, understand that scheduled maintenance and incidental repairs will be much more expensive than domestic or Japanese cars.


If you're looking at an E90 (2006-2011ish) 3 series, I would be looking to spend less than $16k. Much less. More like $10k max. BMWs are great cars, but you have to maintain them properly in order to avoid costly repairs in the future. If you don't do your own work, you need to have a good BMW-specific shop nearby (NOT the BMW dealer) that you can trust to maintain it. Make sure you take care of all cooling system parts, as that's a weak point on ANY BMW. If you really want a BMW, they're great cars, I highly recommend just about any of them, but you have to have the money to maintain it. If you're not prepared to spend the money, look elsewhere. Personally, I'm 18 years old and I've been working on cars since I was 14, and I love to do it. My dad has a BMW and from that experience, I can tell you they're not expensive to maintain unless someone else works on it. Just want to clear up that stuff, because I know someone is going to come in and talk them down and call them "unreliable" because they're jealous... Anyway, if you think you can afford the payment and approximately $800/year as a "just in case" repair fund, go for it. Honestly, I have a 1998 Volvo V70 and it's a fantastic car. I paid $300 for it and put a couple bucks into it to fix it up, and I drive it every day. Especially since you mention you travel for hockey, I would highly recommend a car like this. You can find a good one for a couple grand and drive it 'til the wheels fall off. And trust me, it's not some beater that just runs and you can't enjoy. They're actually nice cars that have some of the most comfortable seats in the world and are great for traveling. Take care of some maintenance depending on the mileage and drive it across the country without a worry. I have 180k on mine and it still runs like it's brand new. My cousin has an S70 (essentially the same car only a sedan) with 225k on it and it runs just as well. Just a suggestion for something that's practical, good on gas, and nicer than something like a Honda or Toyota. Plus you don't have to worry about car payments. It's not going to handle as well as a BMW, but it'll last as long as one for much cheaper.

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