By on June 28, 2011

Chris writes:

Hi, love the site. I want a play car, but my wife and I have to agree on the purchase.

First, the details on our current situation. My wife drives a 2001 Suburban with 120,000 miles on it. I’m driving a 96 Cherokee 4wd with a 5-speed and 90k on the meter. We’re both happy with our daily drivers.

What I’d like to have is a car with, say, 50-75k miles on it, maybe built in the mid-2000′s, that we could take on trips. Perhaps something less thirsty for $4/gallon gas than the other two vehicles. And I’d like to stay in the $7,000 to $12,000 range, with a preference for the lower end.

I’ve got it narrowed down to a few contenders:

Lincoln LS V8 – wish I could get it in a manual.
Honda Civic SI sedan – might be too pricey.
Mazda Miata – I’ve had one, loved it, miss it terribly. But wife would prefer a car that seats 4.
Mazda3
Mazda6

I don’t do my own work on cars, so reliability and cost of maintenance is a big issue. I prefer a manual, wife prefers auto, but that might not be a deal-breaker either way. The main thing is that I want a car that’s fun to drive. She likes ’05 Mustangs too, by the way.

I’m not saying I’ll get what you guys recommend…but I just might. Thanks!

Steve Answers:

All of those cars you mentioned should be perfectly fine. The LS is a great touring car and the powertrain with the V8 is definitely one of the nicer ones of the past decade. The Mazda’s are perfectly fine as is the Honda. Though that may ride a bit rougher than you may appreciate.

Are you ready for my advice? Wait it out. Used car prices are through the proverbial roof right now thanks to a confluence of factors. Low levels of retail sales over the last few years have been paired with fewer trade-in’s. Dealer consolidations have severely limited competition for late model vehicles. Buy here-pay-here lots are now dominant forces at the dealer auctions along with the price premiums they seek for the common ‘credit’ challenged customer.

All of this means that your money won’t go very far at the moment.

Let me show you a brief example of what I’m talking about.

Make/Model/April 2007/April 2011/Net Change

Toyota 4Runner $13,000 $20,500 $7,500
Ford Explorer $ 7,100 $14,200 $7,100
Toyota Prius $ 11,600 $ 17,300 $5,700
Honda Civic $ 8,700 $12,200 $4,500

* Data courtesy of Kelly Blue Book. Chart compares three year old vehicles from each period.

What this data doesn’t tell you is that prices of used cars are up nearly 20% since January. This is also the first time in history where values of cars have not gone down after tax season. In over a decade in this business I have never seen supply as dry and expensive as it is right now.

If it were me, I would wait until October and the first half of November and revisit the car buying decision. By then you will have dealers and individuals who will be off-loading their vehicles for far cheaper prices since there are no ‘spending’ holidays. No bonuses, and no tax money to inflate the price of your next ride. The quality of the offerings should be far better as well.

Anything you listed for your next ride should be fine. Make sure both of you drive it first… and then wait. Let the current bubble deflate a bit.

Sajeev Answers:

Your wife likes 2005+ Mustangs? I think you just found your answer. While I am far from a late model, overweight Mustang cheerleader (Fox Body ‘fo life, SON!) they certainly have the right hardware. It only needs a few cheap tweaks to hit the sweet spot. A Mustang GT with more aggressive rubber, uprated dampers + sway bars and an SCT tune is stupid fun. On the cheap. And they are fairly reliable, even if I see many with anywhere from 1-4 shorted out taillights. They are in your budget, just try to find one with the premium package and the stitched dash top: it makes Ford’s interior bean counting far less revolting.

Keep the wife happy this time, you won’t regret it. And if you do, getting a Miata and a divorce isn’t the worst thing to happen to a dude. Probably.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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25 Comments on “New or Used: Drive First…Then Wait...”


  • avatar
    jj99

    Honda Civic SI, of course.

  • avatar

    Civic’s are nice, have you looked into volvo’s?

  • avatar
    plunk10

    2003-2007 Honda Accord Coupe V6 6-speed. Its 87 octane friendly, and can get up to 30mpg highway, along with the reliability that Honda is known for. 0-60 in about 6 seconds flat, with a lot of comfort to boot.

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      This, or a late model 3.2CL with a six speed (you get a limited slip diff too) or an ’04-’08 TL with a six speed. Torque steer would be there but they should last damn near forever. Only bad thing I can think of is the timing belt needing replaced every 90K.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    If you’re looking for a convertible, wait until after summer! In all other cases, a Mustang will not steer you wrong, unless you let it!

    If this is a “fun” car, what difference does it make if it has a back seat or not? If a Mustang isn’t for you, the MX5 is the only way to go. We bought an ’07 a little over a year ago, and for the money, I don’t think you can do any better. Do I like our MX5? Yes and not-so-much, solely for the fact that I’m one of the older ones who post on TTAC and the cars of my youth are still in my mind, and the MX5, while being a superior vehicle in terms of reliability and economy, it lacks the panache of the cars of long ago as to trim and flash, but that’s all. I’m sure this isn’t an issue with you, being much, much younger.

    In order to keep your wife happy, get an auto tranny – our MX5 is a 5 speed and my wife does drive it, but not as often as I would like her to – probably because of the footwear women favor, and my wife feels less at ease driving a stick unless she wears securely-fastened shoes rather than one-step-removed flip-flops! It is a big factor, believe-it-or-not!

    Otherwise, she’s perfectly content to be chauffered around town by me, so get a clear answer as to tranny choice before you buy. For example, we test-drove several MX5′s with auto and stick and I observed carefully as my wife drove the car to gauge her comfort level. It all came down to how she felt, and her honest answer was “it didn’t matter”. I believe she actually preferred the 5 speed, as our car is a sport model – read “stripped” (relatively speaking). The models with the auto tranny were Grand Touring with paddle shifters and a lot of other useless junk we had no need for that just served to up the cost and reduce utility of what we were searching for.

    One final factor in favor of the MX5: the top goes up and down in a heartbeat with no muss or fuss. Though it is manually operated, it’s a snap and you’ll be thankful for that!

    One hint: If you decide on a MX5, I’d advise against getting a bright red one. They’re all over. Ours is a very pretty “granite gray” and it just looks classier and less toy-like.

    Oh, yes, 32 mpg is nothing to dismiss, either! I use regular gas, too, irregardless of what the sticker inside the gas cover says.

    Good Hunting!

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like a good suggestion to me. And some color other than red will make you less visible to the revenooers in police clothing.

      Zackman, I love the cars of our youth, too, but having driven a few of them, I’m much happier driving my Accord. the cars of our youth (I think we’re almost the same age) are great to look at, not so much to drive.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Audi A-4. ‘Nuff said. Great examples from the 2004-2006 myr are available in your mileage range and in your price sweetspot. Performance=fun. 4 seats.

    Don’t believe the haters concerning Audi quality…they are getting better and in this model year actually better than average…

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I wonder if I drove the same LS V8, because while I thought that the chassis tuning was a great blend of suppleness and handling, the V8 sounded like a pot-metal agricultural tractor motor. It made the Nissan 3.0/3.5L V6′s sound like ripped silk in comparison.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I like the Mustang idea. With the new motors out I’ve noticed that used Mustang prices for the old 4.0V6 and 4.6V8 GT are pretty reasonable compared to the lunacy of the current used car market.

  • avatar
    Charles T

    How long and at what speed are your trips going to be? I ask because the Miata has very short gearing (~4k RPM at 70 MPH if I recall correctly), and freeway cruising will be annoying after a while, top up or down. A larger grand tourer will be less flickable in the corners but will be less taxing.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    You might want to take a serious look at a GenII Avalon. I just retired my 417K mile 300D in favor of one of these in April, and it’s been a great ride. I have a 60 mile (each way) commute.
    Pluses:
    *great build quality
    *tons of room in the back seat
    *huge trunk space with pass-thru
    *110V inverter for laptops, cell phones
    *very comfortable seats
    *nice 6CD changer & stereo
    *climate control is more than adequate
    *26-27MPG on my commute,I’ve not had a road trip yet, but it may *approach 30 MPG if babied.
    *3L V6 and auto trans are both silky smooth
    *burns 87 octane
    Prices range from 6-14K, shop carefully and you will find one with 60-70K on the clock even at that age.

    And oh yes, I did have a 2001 LeSabre. Don’t even go there, it’s not half the car. Any comparisons with a Buick of that vintage are an insult.

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      The Avalon is good car for some people, but the gentleman did specify that he wants a car that’s fun to drive. For me, I can’t think of any other car that says ‘boring’ more than the Avalon.

      • 0 avatar
        55_wrench

        1) Have you driven one?

        2) Look at what they are driving right now. It’s definitely an improvement, and Camry suspension upgrades will work on the Avalon if you want to stiffen the ride a little. But I had a ’96 Panther too,and I don’t miss that car at all.

      • 0 avatar
        rwb

        I’ve driven an Avalon. I did not find it appreciably “sportier” than a Suburban or JGC. It’s not a truck, but that’s the extent of its “sporting” credentials. An F350 is very sporty compared to a Freightliner Classic, but I wouldn’t buy it for that.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    What, no Panther love? (Just kidding just kidding, put down your rotten tomatoes and fire and pitchforks).

    For the LS try and get a 2003-06 since they updated the engines for more power/torque and the prices are similar to the older ones. Any Jag-related bugs just follow the Lincoln forums for fixes. If you don’t want to wrench on it yourself I’d say look away since face it, it’s a Jag! It’s going to cost a decent chunk of change to fix and one of my local Lincoln dealers refer owners to the Jaguar shop up the road when they come in.

    Next, look to it’s cousin twice removed, as Sajeev suggested, the Mustang. Their prices don’t seem to be so crazy right now like Dan said above, perhaps everyone’s trying to jump on the 5.0 bandwagon. It’s a Mod motor so reliability shouldn’t be an issue, and gas mileage will depend on how far you put the pedal down.

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    If you don’t mind owning an orphan brand, check out a SAAB 9-3 or 9-5. They’re actually pretty decent cars when bought used (and post the massive depreciation they suffer). If you have to act soon to scratch that itch, SAAB’s impending demise might deflate the bubble w/r/t to that brand alone. If you’re concerned about servicing, look for a reputable indie shop near you that does SAAB work and ask some questions about likely service and repair costs.

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      Yeah, finally! :)

      For pure thrills – look for a Viggen, the best and pampered ones are around 10K mark now.

      Any 9-3 of 2006+ vintage should be more or less problem-free.

      2004-05 9-5 are the best though – $6,000-10,000, choice of sedan or wagon, manual or auto – all very frugal, reliable and boy they fly.

  • avatar
    drylbrg

    Sorry Sajeev, but 2005 Mustang GT’s aren’t at or below $12k. I just sold mine, to a dealer yet, for a lot more than that and they are asking a lot more than what they paid me. Steve is right, wait out this silliness.

  • avatar
    Tree Trunk

    What about offloading one of you SUV and adding that money to buy a nicer sedan that easier on gas that could be a daily driver not only a weekend toy?

  • avatar
    ajla

    In your situation I’d look at the Scion Tc.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I see two different sets of specs here. If you want a play car, get a play car. Don’t tell my you are going to get it for trips, because all the good play cars (Mustangs, Miatas, etc) are not that great for travel, when you want something smooth, quiet and with lots of luggage room. The trip thing may sell the wife, but it is not the real reason. For a play car, the suggestions above are fine.

    Want a trip car? There are lots of them at Hertz, Budget and the rest. They cost a lot less than $7-10K and you have zero upkeep. I have followed this approach for the last 4 years or so and it works out well. Even on a week vacation, careful shopping (like Hotwire or Priceline) will result in the cost of owning the car for maybe a month. You have to take a lot of vacations to make rentals expensive compared to ownership.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    Wouldn’t a Marauder get the same mileage as a V-8 Mustang?

  • avatar
    CraigSu

    2003-04 Infiniti M45. Definite Q-ship material, it has the 340HP/333lb-ft VK45DE V-8 from the Q45 flagship sedan. Goes like stink. Somewhat soft suspension can be remedied fairly inexpensively. You may be at the higher end of your budget, though, with excellent examples going for $12-14,000 dealer retail.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Keep the wife happy this time, you won’t regret it. And if you do, getting a Miata and a divorce isn’t the worst thing to happen to a dude. Probably Love That line . Perhaps a G 35 might do it for you. You could pick up a Saab 9-3 ragtop say around 2005 in your price range no problem, they seem to be not involved in the use car run up :)


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