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Your tax refund can buy a decent $3,000 car

Tax season is drawing to a close, and if you're getting a refund, you may be tempted to save it. But why not buy a toy, preferably one you can drive?

Seriously. You can buy a fun car and/or truck for about $3,000 — the average amount of a tax refund — drive it for a year and sell it for the same price, if you know what to buy. For guidance, we turned to Dave Kinney, publisher of the Hagerty Price Guide, which follows the collector-car market.

Given the age of these cars and their low prices, Kinney advises buyers to keep expectations low. He says to expect cars and trucks in this price range to have more than 100,000 miles behind them.

"You're not going to find any pristine examples," he said. "But if you're looking for something to drive for a year or two, there are endless possibilities."

Also, at this age, don't be surprised if you have to repair something. That's why Kinney recommends avoiding European brands, which can be expensive to fix.

"Unless you're kind of handy," he said, "I'd recommend a Japanese or American car."

Let's take a look.

Early-'90s Mitsubishi 3000GT

About the car: With the 1991 3000GT, Mitsubishi produced a car capable of running with the best sports cars of the day. At this price, you're more likely to find a base car than the hot-blooded VR-4 with its turbo V-6 and all-wheel drive.

Dave's take: "They weren't always owned by owners who had the money to take proper care of them when they were new. But there is some upside to these cars, and there are some models that will be collectible."

Early '80s Ford Mustang convertibles

About the car: Ford redesigned the Mustang for 1979, adapting a shortened version of the Fox platform that saw extensive use across Ford in those years. For '79, power ranged from the 88-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder to a 140-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8.

Dave's take: "They don't qualify as collectible; you're not buying it for that. It's just a fun summertime car. Next year, when you go to sell it, you might get the same sort of money for it."

Early '90s Mazda Miata

About the car: A Japanese interpretation of the MG-B, although it runs a lot better than the MG-B did in its day. While not necessarily fast, the Miata is a lot of fun to drive. It's also fairly fuel efficient.

Dave's take: "Early Miatas are available for dirt cheap. It's the classic rear-wheel drive, built-for-two sports car that was built in Japan, not Britain. You just want to be sure that you're getting one that doesn't have a bad history or is too rusty."

1997-2002 Honda Prelude

About the car: This front-wheel-drive coupe had a 195-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and sporty manners. Prelude SH models had Honda's Active Torque Transfer System that transferred torque to the outside drive wheel in corners.

Dave's take: "It's not the ground-breaking car that the Honda CRX was, but CRXs are all used up and there are not many left in the marketplace that aren't beat-up pieces of crap."

1998-2002 Chevy Camaro

About the car: Chevrolet's muscle car saw minor styling revisions in 1998. Mechanically, this model saw few changes aside from the addition of traction control and increased power from the optional V-8, which was then rated at 305 horsepower.

Dave's take: "The last-generation Camaro is definitely a great choice. It's a healthy car. They have strong engines and can run forever if cared for. Also, it has a lot of upside. The styling can be off-putting for some, but every generation will become collectible, some more so than others."

1990s Cadillac Deville

About the car: The DeVille lineup was simplified for 1994. The Coupe DeVille, long a subject of classic rock 'n' roll songs, was killed, leaving just the Sedan DeVille. The front-wheel-drive DeVille would be Cadillac's largest car after 1996.

Dave's take: "You can get some incredibly luxurious DeVilles, and they're hard to kill. But you have to expect that some of the electronics will not work. Despite its age, it's still a very good-looking car."

Early '90s Ford Explorer

About the car: Derived from the Ford Ranger pickup truck platform, the Explorer, a favorite of suburbanites, came to define personal transportation in the 1990s.

Dave's take: "The world is now full of first-generation Explorers, and some of them are pretty nice cars. They're not exactly as sought-after as the Ford Bronco, but just as station wagons became sought-after, these will be collector vehicles too."

Your tax refund can buy a decent $3,000 car 04/30/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 6:22pm]
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