But plenty of used cars don't require the selling of internal organs to afford, while commanding a distinct air of obnoxiousness about them. To identify these – whether as purchase propositions or as cautionary tales to would-be buyers – we took to Quora.com, the question and answer community. Most of the pre-owned glamour sleds cited by users hovered at or below the 2013 average price of a new car in the US – about $32,000 – and nearly all of them rubbed Quora users the wrong way.
The exotic approach
Felix Chan thinks those who step foot into a used Lotus Elise instantly increase their visibility and cachet. For one, they are not commonly spotted on the street, yet you can pick one up between $20,000 and $30,000. Sure enough, a search on Craigslist yielded a 2005 Elise in San Diego, California, for under $30,000. Chan says the uniqueness of Lotus "will make you stand out soooo much." Introverts need not apply.
But Quora user John Russell thinks there is no substitute for a Ferrari. "For my money, the answer is a Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS," he wrote. "Put any red or yellow Ferrari next to a Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Lexus, Porsche, even the Lotus, and you'll assume the Ferrari owner is the richest and jerkiest of the rich jerks." Not surprisingly, used Ferrari prices vary, but as a recent BBC Autos column noted, 308s can be found for $35,000 and under – for now.
A hint at subtlety, or not
Lotus and Ferrari aside, there are some less exotic car brands that can still emit the distinct waft of pomposity. Brittany Lynn thinks a Porsche convertible hits the mark. "Combine its known reputation for being expensive with how easily identifiable it is from a distance and you've just managed to tell everyone around you, 'Yeah, that's right, I have money, what's up,'" she wrote. There are decade-old Porsche Boxsters on eBay Motors for under $9,000.
Given their outsize footprints, trucks and SUVs are thought by some Quora users to project pretentiousness of a different stripe. Jonathan Brill says Hummers are the right vehicles for the job. H2 and H3 models from the mid- to late 2000s can be found for around $15,000, and Brill thinks they possess ample ego-stoking powers for the cost of entry.
If convertibles and gas-guzzlers don’t appeal, Quora user Nick Nguyen says a Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan might be more your speed. "A recent model (2004-ish) can be had for less than $20K in great condition," he wrote. Or there's the Mercedes CL mid-size coupe. "Nothing says rich jerk like a 17-foot-long car that weighs almost 5,000lbs and seats four people with ample room for their golf bags in the trunk," Nguyen said. These models will run a bit higher, but decade-old examples can still be found for around $20,000 and up.
In fairness, Quora users are not the final arbiters on well-heeled jerk-dom. Can you think of a car that can be bought for under the equivalent of $32,000, but projects preening obnoxiousness? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.