The Art of the Daily Driver

My old 2004 manual IS300



There comes a point in your automotive enthusiast life when you realize that there is a benefit to adding a second (or third) vehicle to your stable.  There are many reasons that you would decide to go down this path. Fun vehicles typically aren’t the most practical and you have a significant emotional attachment to them. You spend a lot on money to keep them in top form so that you can get maximum enjoyment out of your ownership so, why, god why, would you subject them to the road salt of long winters, the careless thrown open doors found in parking lots, and the brutal conditions of rush hour traffic?

Enter the daily driver!

A good daily driver is going to be your workhorse. What you choose to fill this role is entirely up to you though there are going to be some set rules that you should follow to ensure that you get the maximum benefit of ownership.

Rule #1 – DON’T make an EMOTIONAL purchase

You are buying this vehicle to fill a need, not a want. Don’t let your emotions steer you into buying another car that fills the same category as the one you are trying to protect. I know, this doesn’t sound fun at all. You should be making this decision with your head and not your heart. Remember, this thing is going to be absorbing a ton of miles and daily abuse from roads and other drivers. A good daily driver should be able to fill all of your needs year-round. Before you begin the buying process, decide on what your ‘must haves’ are. Stick to those no matter how attractive another vehicle is. It does you no good to have two vehicles that cannot collectively solve all that you need them to do.

Rule #2 – It Should be RELIABLE

An unreliable daily is worthless to you. You might be able to get a hooptie beater cheap but, remember, any time that it is down for repairs is a time when you have to subject your baby to conditions that the daily was meant to protect it from. Having a 2nd vehicle that is prone to breaking down is going to hurt you in two ways.

The first is that its going to stress you out of having to juggle two cars. What happens if unreliability hits when your fun vehicle is down for upgrades or maintenance? Are you going to be comfortable driving the fun car in adverse conditions if your daily decides that today is a good day to not want to behave?

Second, its going to rob money from your budget for the fun vehicle. Every dollar that you spend on your daily is a dollar that isn’t going to go to the other vehicle. The reason you bought this second vehicle is so that its always there to get you where you need to go regardless of the current situation of the other vehicle.

Rule #3 – Decide How Much You Want to Spend

A good daily doesn’t need to be an expensive purchase. As long as you satisfy Rule #2, the rest is up to you. There are plenty of reliable vehicles out there that can be had for a couple thousand dollars. There is a sublime simplicity of going low dollar on a beater vehicle. Chances are that you aren’t going to care too much if it gets the random ding in a parking lot. You will have less of a desire to dump money into fixing it up as, typically, its not going to be a very good trim model that is worth the effort.

Finally, when it comes time to sell your daily, its not going to be a hard decision. It filled its role and it filled it well but you are using the same emotionless decision process that you made in buying it in the first place. Its just time to move on to another workhorse to protect your investments.

Rule #4 – A Daily Can Be Fun, Just Not TOO Fun

Just because you are buying a daily driver doesn’t mean you need to buy something that makes you loathe your existence every time you get behind the wheel. You are an enthusiast after all. As long as its reliable and practical, feel free to find something that satisfies another automotive interest that you have. Expand your horizons! Just, well, don’t get something that is too fun. Remember, you don’t want another vehicle that is a money dump. You want something that is relatively easy on your wallet so that your automotive funds can go into the other vehicle.


Practice What You Preach

I have had three daily drivers so far in my life. Each one of them has a special place in my heart. They might have been the automotive equivalent of a step-child but damn if they didn’t do everything in their power to earn my affections.

My first one was a 2001 Saturn SC-1 Coupe. It was most definitely a beater car. It had the horsepower of, well, a horse and was a shining example of early 2000’s GM build quality. That being said, it was cheap, reliable, and got great gas mileage. It also meant that I didn’t have to worry about the reliability issues of my 1995 Mazda RX-7 (sorry rotary folks). That little $3,500 car lasted me for 5 years and 75,000 miles. The only things I needed to replace were a coil pack and the clutch.

The second was a manual 2004 Lexus IS300. This car was my first foray into something a bit more interesting to drive and almost made me break Rule #4. Come on, it’s a peppy little four door sedan that is rear wheel drive! I was lucky enough to find one of the uber rare manual ones. I was able to keep the modding to a minimum and only make upgrades when something needed to be replaced. It even was the car I chose for my intro into track days since I knew it so well. Sadly, I just sold it the other day after 9 years and almost 100,000 miles of ownership. Aside from the regular maintenance schedule, the only things I have ever had to replace on that car were two O2 sensors and the break pads. In NINE years of ownership.

She was still running impeccably when the new owner drove her away. You might have noticed how I am using ‘her’ to refer to the car compared to the Saturn which was an ‘it’. That’s because I have to admit that I developed a bond with the IS. I mean, how could you not with something that did so right by you for so many years? It was a little sad watching her drive away but it was time to move on. I might have kept her as another project car if I had room for more than two cars.

The IS300 left such an impression on me that it influenced the next car I selected for my daily driver. One of my biggest disappointments in the current car market is the lack of fun, manual, rear wheel drive sedans. Sure, there are the M’s and S’s but then you get into that dangerous ground of another fun vehicle that likes to bleed your wallet dry. I am a hardcore manual enthusiast but it came time for me to decide where my priorities lied  In the end, I purchased a 2014 Lexus IS350 F-Sport as the new horse in the stable. It kept to the rules I outlined above and the vast amount of positives outweighed the one negative of there not being a manual option. I will start a long-term review of the car in the coming months.

Until then, keep your right foot down!


If you are curious as to why I need a daily, follow my project car progress HERE


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