By on June 15, 2012


Anonymous (no, it’s not Sajeev) writes:

Hi Sajeev and Steve,

I’m toying with the idea of selling my 2009 Honda Fit with an unethical 5-speed manual and trading down to a Panther, a VX10 Camry (in wagon form if I can find a decent one), or a B-body bubble wagon if I had my way. My wife and I have 1 young son and another may be on the way soon. The Fit currently fits (get it? I’m here all night) all of our junk and I love its gas mileage, handling, and low cost of ownership. Its also fully paid for. My wife and I completed advanced degrees in 09, and through a combination of black magic and hard work, we both have good jobs. For the excellent B&B financial advisers, we’re down to $35k of student loans and have a good nest egg stashed away. Free cash flow generally goes to savings and paying down student loans. Our other car is a 2011 Caravan purchased new in part due to its Baruthian driving qualities and crazy prices for used Ody-enna vans. We bought the van sooner than anticipated due to some internal family car shuffling and are very happy with it. We owe $16k on the van, so we’re not under water, and at 2.3% interest, the loan is essentially free money and far less than the 6.8% on the student loans.

Here’s my dilemma: I bought the Fit new because used car prices were obscene and I expected it to hold its value well. It has – I’ve seen similar examples listed at Carmax for damn near what I paid 4 years ago. I’m venturing I could unload it for about $13k private party and eat a $2.5-3k depreciation loss, making it the best performing asset I own. With fuel-efficient used car values still artificially high, I’m leaning towards selling it during a bubble rather than drive it till the wheels fall off.

I grew up driving a 1994 Crown Vic with a landau top that I adored but had to part ways with due to a relative needing a car (I didn’t buy it so it wasn’t my call). Last I heard, it had 240k on the clock and was still going strong. Given my first hand experience with the big cat combined with the obscenely cheap prices these things command on the used car market, I am thinking about buying a loved Grand Marquis in the 3-6k range if I can find the right one, pocketing $7-10k, and handing it over to Aunt Sallie Mae (no Vic’s unless they have landau tops – I hate asking “is that a cop?”).

The MGM and its superior highway ride would be a better long term vehicle as our family expands, but would burn a lot more gas than the Fit – I figure an extra $1000 in gas per year. I always coveted my friend’s VX10 Camry and have seen some good examples go for little money in these parts, including two immaculate and rare wagons. This would be better on gas, but not as luxurious as the MGM. Also, for the same money, the MGM would be 7-10 years newer. If I had my way, a B-Body wagon would be my personal pick, but parts and reliability are iffy. Such a car also may cause some “unpleasantness” at home.

Crazy-ist of crazy ideas would be to sell the van to replace with an MGM, but I’d eat a larger depreciation loss and that may cause issues at home. We also already toyed with getting an MGM when we purchased the van and putting extra money towards student loans, but we determined a van would be the best long-term solution.

I haven’t done the math in a while, but factoring in the extra compound interest if we don’t make a big lump sum payment vs a lump sum payment but a theoretical $80-100/mo drop in extra payments due to increased gas cost nets out to a mild present value win for selling the Fit all else being equal. That’s on a spreadsheet, though, and we’re on track to kill the student loans in the next few years without the lump-sum payment.

Has parenthood caused me to lust for the forbidden Panther fruit, or is this actually a good idea?

Steve Answers:

Nostalgia ought to be a four letter word. Especially when it comes to cars.

Let me explain why. Most people who remember a car from days of yore will remember the ride, the interior, the music they listened to. They may even recall all the love and care they had for that ride back in the day.

What they can’t do is compare that distant past companion with their current commuter. The reason is most cars these days have a level of handling and performance that would make a car from a generation back truly envious. The Fit of 2007 will offer a surprising level of room and comfort compared with a 1994 Crown Vic, while offering nearly twice the fuel economy and a far better level of long-term durability.

If you want to buy a beater to help retire a debt, I’m all for it. But I would expand the search far beyond a Panther. Life should be about enjoying new things, and in the older used car market, you need to put condition first, second and third.

You will also need to put about $1000 worth of repairs and preventive maintenance into the initial calculations, and higher repair costs in the long run. Insurance will be less… but the total cost of ownership between the two models is likely not nearly as much as you are imagining at the moment.

Oh by the way, your question is timely. I wondered whether I should sell my first generation Insight for an immaculate old Saab 900 that cost me less than $1000 and should easily serve me for another five to seven years. I’m keeping the Insight. The more modern Insight is far easier to keep going and the driving experience is far less… archaic.

Good luck!

Sajeev Answers:

Nostalgia should be a four letter word? Even though I love Mister–another four letter word–Lang like family, he’s completely, utterly, SHAMEFULLY wrong.  Because you want to cash out your Fit’s equity and use it for far more useful things.  Good for you!  Plus, you actually like Panthers and you deserve one.

What am I missing? Absolutely nothing, that’s what.

You had to give up a Panther for a good reason last time, so you deserve another one.  Like any other car out there, find one with the most service history and fresh parts (like tires and brakes) to keep the long-term cash outlay to a minimum.  Carriage roof examples are far from uncommon, so wait until you find one with maximum Americana. Because, you are worth it!


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38 Comments on “New or Used: To Lust for Forbidden Panther Fruit?...”

  • avatar

    My retired-NYPD uncle used to LUST after the MGM. He had the desktop wallpaper even. That was directly before the Lincoln MKS was unveiled. He waited for it and bought an Ecoboost model. I never liked the MGM. Back then, I was into SUV’s. I’d probably choose the MGM for the simple maintenance costs.

  • avatar

    This sounds like a case of “if it ain’t broke.. don’t fix it..” It sounds like you have set yourself up nicely where you are in control of debt and will be rid of your student loans shortly. I wouldn’t change a thing right now. You have new, dependable vehicles for your young family. That should be paramount. Do it after the kids are a little older and you’ve less debt. That way, you’ll def have the money for the unexpected and the kids will be old enough to remember dad wrenching on the Marq (and cursing, I am sure!).

  • avatar

    You have one young child and a second on the way. The fit is recommended by the IIHS and the Dodge is very safe. Panthers…..not so much, think about how important the safety of your children is before you swap.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Good lord the Panther even has side airbags in later models and the frame was redesigned in 2003. Just because the frosting didn’t change doesn’t mean the cake is the same.

      • 0 avatar

        Even with side air bags, the side impact rating for an MGM is only marginal. Without the bags, the rating is poor:

        The Fit is rated good for every year it was made:

  • avatar

    If you decide to go with the MGM, get yourself a good mechanic who knows those cars well. I have a cousin who drives around in her ’96 Lincoln Town Car and absolutely loves it (she calls it a couch). Parts are still plenty and cheap but knowing what the car needs at a given time is why you need an “MGM” mechanic.

    I would like to give up my 06 civic 5-spd and have considered such cars — primarily for comfort and the fact that I feel like a cop when I drive it. Insurance would be far less expensive so it would offset the gas costs. Now you got me thinking.

  • avatar

    It’s always hard to judge these things without more information, but it sounds like this scheme of yours is more about you than your family (with no offense intended here). Does your wife agree with giving up a newer, reliable vehicle for something that may require more time and effort than you may have to give?

    As others have noted, you already have a young child and may have another on the way. From the sounds of things, you’ve been making lots of sacrifices and are itching to do something for yourself for a change (e.g. getting a car you’ve longed for). But as itchy as you may be, it’s not about ‘you’ yet.

    If it was me I would put my desire on hold for yet another while and focus my attention on helping with the family. I would keep the Fit and put my panther lust on hold until the kids got a little older and a little less dependent (as I’m sure you know, infants and toddlers need a lot of attention and care). Getting a used car that may distract from that attention may not be such a good idea at this time.

  • avatar

    wow this sounds like me! Last summer when my 94 regal got smashed I too was considering these exact same cars, panther, 90s camry wagon, or b-wagon. I ended up going with the 01 Grand marquis. The camry wagons are rare and the pre 94 ones are gas guzzlers (look at their epa numbers). The B-wagons are coveted for their “corvette motor” (even though they’re no faster than a stock vic)and the ones you see on CL are scams or have huge markups. Oh and their EPA “25 highway mpg” figure is BULLSHIT! Meanwhile panthers are cheap and plentiful. I got an 01 with 56k for $3700 (reconstructed title, that’s why it was so cheap for the miles) from a guy in franklin ma who sells nothing but rebuilt panthers.

    So being a panther owner since August (and former honda owner so I know how honda kool-aid tastes) here’s the deal. The grand marquis is a simple honest product that will return 24 mpg with an extremely light right foot and 22 mpg with an extremely heavy one. 0-60 is 8.7. The only fun factor is the fact that it’s RWD. You’ve owned a vic so you basically know how the mgm drives and what you’re getting into. This is a car where it’s enjoyment is just knowing that you can get in it and watch the miles melt away in comfort. That, the trunk, the cheap price, and the awesome reliability basically the core virtues of the panther. They may seem small but over the life of a car (cars are cars, not electronic gadgets) they make you realize this is what a car is engineered to be.

    Just make sure you get one with a tape deck so you can use a casette adapter to hook up an mp3 player.

  • avatar

    My advice is: PLEASE DON’T DO IT!

    Let me explain why: After I got out of the service in 1973 – yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m getting old – I bought a beautiful, good-as-new 1972 Chevy Nova for a fair price. That car never gave me a bit of trouble, but being still young and restless, I sold it after a year-and-a-half.

    That was a decision I regret to this day, because what I bought was an old 1968 C-101 Jeep Commando – my buddies and I were into Jeeps at the time, as we did lots of camping and stuff, but it was nothing but trouble. I sold it after 7 months and bought my first brand-new vehicle: a 1976 Chevy C-20 3/4 ton pickup. Worst car buying decision I have ever made. I suffered for a couple of years in that thing.

    I did sell that almost for what I paid for it, though, so I made out well on that. Of course, I made bad car-buying decisions after that on occasion, but nothing sticks in my craw like the Nova. Wish I had that car back, too.

    So, what I’m saying is to stay in your skin, as it were, and realize what you do have and the advantages of keeping what you have and the benefits of doing so. Debt for anyone is a killer, but for a young man – don’t get yourself into a hole that you may find it difficult to climb out of if you don’t have to.

    Enjoy your youth and rowing those gears while you can – and the gas mileage!

    • 0 avatar

      I have to disagree slightly. I think for most people other than the occasional threat of a Soviet attack or an Arab oil scare we in the United States have pretty much known where our place was in the world, and we could with some degree of certainly predict the general course of our lives. However the current generation of young people find themselves slowly pioneering into a truly unknown future. Massive debts, unsustainable population growth, commodity shortages, peak oil, economic and political uncertainly, whose to say what the world will look like in ten years, or even thirty? We can’t run from the future, and we can’t return to the past, we can only live in the now. Debt is certainly never a good thing, but if something material is going to make you happy and its not out of reason, go ahead and treat yourself. Enjoy life while you can, to paraphrase Phathotep, be cheerful while you are alive. No one lays on their deathbed and thinks “Gee I should have worked more overtime”.

  • avatar

    If you can save the money in a relatively short amount of time (and be authorized by the wife, of course), I would buy the big cat without selling either of your current vehicles, use it for a few months, and see if you really like it: comfort, gas mileage, etc.

    This will also serve you to see how much money and time you’ll spend on maintenance, since normally a used bad car will show its “features” in the first 2 months of regular usage, preferably if you use it as your daily driver.

    Good luck in your quest for your toy!!

    • 0 avatar

      +1. You can find 1998- 2004 Mercury GMs on Autotrader all day long with under 100K miles for less than $5,000. I just found 46 of them within 300 miles of Central Kentucky, Including this 70K mile beauty that they’re already asking less than $4,000 for:

      You could probably have that car or one just like it for $3,500. It’ll give you at least another 150K miles without any drama so long as you do the regular maintenance. Set a goal to save that much by next June and then have both. Insurance on a 12 year- old car will be next to nothing. It’s a little odd choice for a “weekend toy” car, but to each his own.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the 97-02 models have something wrong with the intakes, I can’t recall the exact nature of the problem but it started after the 96es and was rectified when the T/C was redesigned in 2003. I would shoot for ’03 or higher in my search.

  • avatar

    Sounds like Dave Ramsey show caller. To which he would answer no more buying cars until your debt free and college saving plans in place.

  • avatar

    Why not just save up $2-3K and buy a solid beater Panther or B-body to play with?

    You won’t need to rely on it, you won’t need to commute with it, and you can always sell it if money gets tight or you find you aren’t enjoying it.

    As long as you have parking for a third car, this may be the easiest solution to get your Yank Tank fix without having to reorganize your lifestyle to accommodate the downsides of using one as a daily driver.

  • avatar

    Whatever you do, don’t dump the minivan in order to get a Panther. You seemed to have recognized that was the worst solution already, but it really is a bad idea.

    I did something similar. I had a 2003 Chevy S-10 that I paid off and then sold when it was at the peak of it’s used value. I used the proceeds to pay off my wife’s van and bought a 1995 Sierra. The difference is that I didn’t have to rely on the old Sierra for my daily transportation as I have a company car that covers my daily commute. I wouldn’t recommend trading down from a newer car that’s paid off to an older car that you plan to have to rely on as your daily driver.

    Save up for a year or so and then have both.

  • avatar

    Anyone that says a Fit will ride better than a Panther is smoking crack. My 1984 Continental Fox wonder rides better than 100% of all new FoMoCo product and I have driven every single model sans the high end Mustangs, Super Duty’s and Navigators. There are no more soft riding cruisers. And the safety concerns noted above about Panthers are incorrect.

    If you do part with the Fit, keep a few grand from it’s equity set aside for maintenance on the Panther. I think you should do it. Panthers will become more rare in the coming years and the equity from the Fit is just future depreciation. Put the money away for your kids and actually enjoy your commute.

    • 0 avatar

      The Fit handles infinitely better, but if you drive over a dime, you can tell if it’s heads up on not. If your definition of a good ride is plush and boatlike, then yeah, a big body on frame hooptie is going to ride better. I’m not sure the cars have enough in common to even compare how they ride — they’re apples and oranges.

      • 0 avatar

        Apples and oranges? I think the Panther would be more of a cantaloupe.

        Although oranges do have the same grain pattern as the average vinyl top…

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Get one now and then you can say you owned one of the last American style cars. BOF, RWD, V8 powered cavernous trunk, and soft ride.

  • avatar

    If you’re so determined to live in the past, go for it. Why you’d want to put up with a grossly oversized body, pathetic handling, poor gas mileage, and a degree of crash-worthiness that is more in your mind than in the metal is beyond me. Hopefully, your wife is intelligent enough to put a stop to this whole matter, unless you’re buying a third car as a playtoy.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I drive a police interceptor Crown Vic for work and while it’s not the worst car out there, it certainly is nothing to get excited about. The only real advantage of the car is long-distance highway cruising and even then it sucks down gas like there’s no tomorrow. I would really hate to have this car as my personal vehicle.

  • avatar

    Provided your commute isn’t about to get any longer (unless it’s on the highway, of course) and you can afford, financially as well as logistically, to occasionally have your car in the shop for a day at a time, I see no way this could go wrong.

  • avatar

    Fretting over depreciation losses today misses the point–the real issue is which option will work out best over the long haul. Buy and selling and buying and … usually works out negatively, even if it results in more cash on-hand today, especialy when the replacement has higher operating costs. IMO, it is best not to treat cars as ‘investments’ and rather as consumables. Your Fit is still worth a lot because it still has a lot of worth left in it. Cheap, old replacements are cheap because they have little worth left in them.

    But it’s a different story if cash is genuinely needed today, such for a down payment. Then, albeit the car transactions aren’t the most advantageous, you get something else that has a much higher long-term plus to your quality of life.

    And just for the record, asking about getting rid of the Fit sounds like:
    “I have something that I like; it does what it needs to do and does it well. I want to get rid of it.”
    Does that make sense? Because it doesn’t to me.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    God bless TTAC. Where else can you read about someone wanting to ditch a manual Honda Fit for a Crown Vic, and have many of the commenters supporting him?

    I personally wouldn’t do it; the Fit is 1) paid for, 2) fuel efficient, 3) uber-reliable, 4) better around town and for the commute, and 5) surprisingly roomy and useable. You already have the minivan for long distance comfort.

    But if you are going to get emotional on a car purchase, a $5000 Panther won’t do the financial damage that a used Audi or Bimmer or Grand Cherokee SRT8 will.

  • avatar

    The $1000 in extra gas could shoot a lot higher, you know. Right now gas is $3.50 in MPLS but I remember when it was over $4.00. So that extra $1000 a year could become an extra $2000 if Israel bombs the Iram nuke program or if your job/location changes.

    Other than that I see no problem. You’re talking relative chump change in the low four figures. But go into the MPG thing with eyes wide open.

    Personally, I like a mix of very different cars for different uses. A MGM seems like another minivan to me.

  • avatar

    I’d personally trade in the fit for the camry wagon… again condition condition condition. I’ve seen many with well over 200k, so finding one that’s been well taken care of with somewhat lower mileage (150k or less) will be a challenge. Do set aside more money for repairs / zipcar rentals when your 15 year old *insert anything here* decides to retire unexpectedly.

  • avatar

    Dump that piece of Fit as quick as you can. Just make sure your Panther is equipped with the HPP package. It will cost more in gas than the Fit that is for sure but it will cost way less to insure, maintain, and repair. A Panther will come pretty darn close in MPG to that VX10 Camry Wagon when equipped with the V6 auto and will likely do better than it on the freeway if you like to drive fast. The Camry will of course be more expensive to maintain and repair since for the same money you be buying a much older car with way more miles and Panther parts are way cheaper than those gold platted Toyota ones.

  • avatar

    I have a similar fleet of cars at home. We owned a 2000 Corolla and a 2002 Grand Marquis LSE when we bought our new 2011 Volkswagen Routan – two kids and the ease of loading them made a minivan a no-brainer.

    For a family vehicle, the Routan is superior to a Panther – sliding doors and the extra room for cargo is very handy. We drive with the 3rd row seats folded into the floor. It also uses less gas.

    The Corolla is the perfect commuter vehile – dirt cheap to operate, and reliable.

    However, I could not bear to part with my Grand Marquis, so I kept it. I still love driving the car, though on paper it is not logically the best choice, nor the kind of car the ruling class in Washington wishes the unwashed masses to own. I drive it once a week to the office (18 miles one way), and the other four days, the Corolla. I look forward to the one day a week I drive it, typically on a Friday as an early weekend sort of thing.

    The current plan is to avoid buying another new car as long as possible, so with 165,000 miles on the Corolla, and 124,000 miles on the Grand Marquis, I’m set for at least another 6 years driving both a combined 15,000 miles a year. The blessing (or peril) of buying high quality vehicles designed to last.

    Insurance on both the Corolla and GM are dirt cheap (so is the minivan, actually). If you have to have a Panther, buy a higher mileage 10 year old one for $2-$3k, and see how it goes for a few months before selling the Fit.

    • 0 avatar

      “I still love driving the car, though on paper it is not logically the best choice, nor the kind of car the ruling class in Washington wishes the unwashed masses to own”

      Right. Because government fleets are notoriously opposed to Panthers.

  • avatar

    I gotta agree with the keep the Fit and save up for the weekend car to see if it makes sense

  • avatar

    Screw the bubble Panther’s and get a Brick Vic with the cop 351Windsor and the horizontal speedometer that goes to like 140.

  • avatar

    What sort of prices do Marauders command? I’ve always loved those…..

  • avatar

    If you really want something you should get it. We only live once and they are not making those land yachts anymore. My vote says to get rid of the Caravan ASAP and keep the Fit.

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