By on September 27, 2012

Mark writes:

Long time reader, first time commenter here…

I am in the market for a car for my daughter and I have noticed that the market is quite a bit different since the last time I bought a used car (2 years ago). When we bought a car for our oldest, I was looking for a 5/5/5 car — 5 years old, less than 50,000 miles and under $5k. Two years later I had to change that to 5/5/7 (for under $7,000). Now, I am seeing plenty of 8-10 year old Corolla/Civic/Elantra/etc with way north of 100k on the odo for $8,000 and more (private sale — dealers are even higher). This is in the NYC/Long Island area. $4 gas and crushed Clunkers have sure changed the market. My metric is out the window. Which brings me to….

I have found a clean 2008 Saturn Astra XR 2-door hatch, automatic with 31k on the odo. I drove it, found it to be a nice car, not too fast (good) and the original owner seems to be a guy like me who takes care of his stuff. We have mostly agreed on $8250. When I drove it, the AC was blowing hot, so he brought it in to a shop that is across the road from my regular mechanic, so he is going to look at it today. The A/C guy has to order a hose for it. And, this brings me to my question.

This car is a Belgian import sold under a defunct brand. It certainly seems unlike any other GM car I have ever looked at — no common switchgear save for the OnStar mirror, weird 24-hr display only clock. Members of Saturn fan sites like the cars, and I have not read of any major common problems, but, still, is this orphan car going to prove problematic a few years down the road when I have to start replacing stuff? To the motor engineer’s credit, the oil filter canister is front and center — a good sign to me.

What advice might you have for a loyal reader like me? (should I lay it on any thicker?)

Mark

Steve answers:

Excellent choice.

I was planning on getting the same exact model in four door form not too long ago. My wife likes compacts and the Astra pretty much checked off all her boxes. Unique. A solid safety record. 30+ mpg if you have a light foot. Plus the power train is surprisingly common. It’s the exact same one that is now being used ad nausea in the Chevy Cruze and Chevy Sonic.

You think it’s going to be hard to find parts for the Astra? Nope. Not at all. Trim pieces may be a bit more expensive down the road. But we live in a world where trim pieces for brands that have already been defunct for decades are still easily available. From Plymouth to Packards, the internet has enabled the once fearful buyer of an orphan brand to find what they want with relative ease.

Long story short, I would buy it.

Sajeev answers:

Not all orphans are created equal. This isn’t a nightmare scenario like a Daewoo Lanos, the Astra’s unique bits will be only mildly irritating to procure. I suspect the toughest bits will be collision repair items, but see Steve’s comment about the Internet being an awesome force for people who appreciate obscure metal.

I’m less concerned about availability, more about price.  If that display panel in the head unit needs replacement, how much is THAT gonna cost?  Probably more than the price difference between the Astra and a Cavalier/Cobalt/Focus/Sentra/etc.

Buy something else, unless you just love GM’s German engineering.  As a Ford Sierra owner, I certainly appreciate that sentiment…but I won’t encourage it.

 

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

57 Comments on “New or Used: Not All Orphans Are Created Equal...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    Coming from a family that owned Opels as second cars pretty much my entire childhood (always..always..always a white Rekord four door..regardless of year), I have a very soft spot in my heart for these cars. When I was (less seriously in need of) looking at used cars, I drove a manual version, four door, Astra XR and very much enjoyed it. The owner was a widow and she and her husband had taken extremely good care of the car. It was solid, familiar and even entertaining with the manual in a way that I found few small cars to be. Sadly, I wasn’t quite ready to buy, and the little “Opel” didn’t last long. I wanted to get it, order replacement Opel badging for it and drive it for years as a sort of rememberance of my late father who loved his Opels.
    Not that this story helps the writer in his decision! I’d not worry about replacement parts. And as for the used car market in general, yes…it has changed. I just sold my mother’s 2003 Corolla for $8000 in less than three days. Crazy…

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    “You think it’s going to be hard to find parts for the Astra? Nope. Not at all. Trim pieces may be a bit more expensive down the road. But we live in a world where trim pieces for brands that have already been defunct for decades are still easily available.”

    Having owned a Saab, I’d agree. Sorta. Kinda.

    The thing is, parts will get expensive, maybe not stupidly so, but it’ll be just enough to annoy. The powertrain in this car is shared with nothing else GM sold in North America, and some bits will probably tougher to find, and more troublesome to install, and more expensive in general.

    I think that, say, the Aura would be a safer bet. The Astra is a nice car (nicer than Aura, I’d argue) but it’d be akin to owning the aforementioned Saab: you can do it, but it’s not worth it for what this vehicle brings to the table. A Focus or Golf would give you about the same driving experience and much less grief.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Your post has me baffled.

      Steve just mentioned in his reply that the 1.8L is used in Cruzes and Sonics, and other than trim pieces, parts availability shouldn’t be that big a deal. This is a Delta I under the skin, the same as a Cobalt/G5/HHR.

      An Aura is larger and much nicer than an Astra, as it’s an Epsilon body, like the Malibu and G6. It would also be thirstier but less to insure, as a driver under 25 with a two door car generally get screwed on rates.

      I have a feeling that considering their location, size matters and (for once) smaller is better in urban environments. I’d have no problem getting an Astra for one of my kids, or using one as my daily driver.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Do they use the Astra’s 1.8L in the Sonic and Cruze? I wasn’t aware that was the same engine. I knew that (when it was on sale) it didn’t share very much with the Cobalt/Pursuit.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        I think Steve got it wrong. Usually the Korean cars use engines that are different than the German cars. And yet they are very similar. Some parts are shared, others are specific.

        That said, I wouldn’t worry much about parts. As Steve said, the interwebZ is there for that, and I say it from my own experience.

        The Astra was and still is a popular car in Europe (and down here too) so parts availability should not be an issue.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        FWIW, it’s not always the case even with a car that’s fairly popular. My Sunfire needed a replacement battery not too long ago; Autozone, NAPA and others only offer one size, one price. No options. This is for a car that inherited the title of “cockroach of the road” from the GM A bodies. It was in production for 11 years, you would think there would be a larger set of choices, but no luck.

        Going back several years with this same car, the craptastic Isuzu 5-speed trans ate a mainshaft. No problem I figured, call the pick-a-part and get a new one, a fun weekend project. Nope. No Isuzu five speeds to be had ANYWHERE in the upper midwest. At any price. Due to the high price of metals, the scrapyards were making more money melting down these trans’s than they did waiting around for folks like me to buy them. Long story short, I got the trans from a kid in Texas, it came out of his wrecked Z24. Instead of a $400 weekend job, it was just $400 for the trans and shipping to Michigan. Again, this is on a car as common as dirt in this part of the midwest.

        You never really know.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        @geozinger

        In Venezuela I tried to source one of those gearboxes for my Isuzu car. No, they don’t bolt in, but the guts are almost the same. It was very hard to find one because everyone sold the A/T for said Cavalier (market wants, market gets).

        The Isuzu box wasn’t that bad, but if you use the wrong oil, which is either GM’s Sychromesh or engine oil, it goes to crap fast. It won’t work with normal 80W-90 gear oil. I also replaced the oil yearly.

        And the box in the Z24 is, IIRC, a New Venture Gear unit. Different than the one found in the 2.2 OHV car.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Athos: FWIW, the car I have is a 1995 model; it’s doing well for such an old car in this environment. IIRC, the cars came with two transmissions in the US during it’s run. The early models like mine came with an (allegedly) iron geared Isuzu transmission from 1995 to 2003, after that a Getrag transmission was issued until end of production in 2006. I don’t recall seeing any production with NPG transmissions, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve forgotten something. Considering the vast majority of these cars were automatics, there had to be very few of the Getrag equipped cars out in the world right now.

        Apparently the Isuzu sourced transmissions are similar to the ones last used in Isuzu cars sold in North America. Supposedly, the transmissions used in those Isuzu cars were better quality (alloy gears?) than the iron-geared ones specified for the North American J bodies. However, on the J-body website, the Isuzu transmissions are routinely disregarded as inferior. My experience would confirm that to a degree. My car was previously owned by a young man who was rather hard on the equipment, however.

        Once I got the transmission from Texas, I had my mechanic go through all of the synchros, seals and bearings, replace the oil with synthetic oil. He made me promise not to do any horseplay with the car. Three years and 30,000 miles and the trans is holding up fine. Although, in a 17 year old car, if the trans were to fail again, I think I would just scrap the whole car…

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        @geozinger

        From what I remember, the box that went into the Isuzu had tappered bearings compared with the normal ball bearings in the one that went from the Cavalier. So yes, I guess it was a bit better.

        Since my gearbox had the output shaft with some little chips, we changed the output shaft and the diff ring (they’re paired). We also used some other bits and pieces, but that was it.

        It worked beatifully for 4 years and roughly 70K miles.

        From what I investigated, the Getrag ones arrived with the Ecotec engines.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Hi Athos: First an apology, you mentioned New Venture Gear, I saw it as New Process Gear. Since NVG had management from NPG in it, I see them as the same company.

        I think your description of the two transmissions is correct, I couldn’t remember last evening. Glad to see you got yours fixed and received good service from it. I’ve been happy with mine.

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      @ psarhjinian

      Parts would be hard to find, if not for the fact they are used in cars that are still being made and sold as “Chevys.”

    • 0 avatar
      bill h.

      Since it’s been so many years since you dumped your Saab, how would you know? So far we’ve not noticed things getting out of whack expensive or unavailable, and that’s for cars up to 10 years old. Granted, there’s a larger market of some makes vs. the Astra, but OTOH the lack of a dealership network with its usual parts markups mean that indy shops can be readily used, as can other, aftermarket parts sources.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Just because you can probably get any part for a car like this one doesn’t mean you can get it when you need it. Sourcing parts on the internet is fine for a hobby car, a disaster when you need to get something fixed on a Sunday so you can get home. An orphan car that sold 18,000 units years ago is not going to have the same level of support from NAPA or Pep Boys as a car that sells hundreds of thousands a year from an automaker that is still in business. That would describe most of the Astra’s competitors for your used car budget.

    • 0 avatar
      Gannet

      I agree. So you save a grand, if that, over a more common make. So what? The first time it’s down for a week waiting on parts it’ll get cussed.

      I’ve been down this road. Never again, not unless it’s a second or third car.

  • avatar
    rustyra24

    Some orphan cars parts are probably stupid expensive but that’s if you keep the car for twenty years

  • avatar
    infinitime

    While I generally agree that the Astra is no Daewoo Lanos, there are a few things to keep in mind. I looked at one in 2008, contemplating it as a new car purchase to replace a Pontiac Vibe.

    While the platform is similar to the Cobalt, there are few parts which are interchangeable. The biggest surprise is that the automatic transmission is an Aisin AF-17 unit (http://www.gearsmagazine.com/view.ashx?article=54d1bffb-3445-492d-bcd1-f21e89d08f8b) which is unique to the Astra.

    I can’t remember the specific figures now, but my research at the time suggested that the max torque load that the unit can bear, is considerably lower than comparable Hydramatic transmissions found in other GMs. Automatic transmissions have always been a GM strong-suit, but that doesn’t seem to apply here with the Aisin unit.

    Furthermore, given that the unit is quite sophisticated and not used on many other models, you may have problems getting it serviced by the run-of-the-mill transmission shop, should you need a rebuild in the future. Given the model’s relative rarity, finding a replacement unit from a junkyard may also be an issue.

    A quick search on Germany and UK Ebay also suggests that the equivalent models were mostly equipped with the standard. This means that buying this transmission from Europe used, would be just as difficult.

    I may be overly cautious, but generally speaking, when looking at a used vehicle, I favour one with plentiful replacement parts.

    May I suggest a first-gen Vibe? Basically identical to a Matrix, but with different sheetmetal and higher depreciation. As most of the mechanical bits are interchangeable with a Corolla, finding parts down the road would not likely be a problem…

    • 0 avatar
      MRL325i

      “May I suggest a first-gen Vibe?”

      Yeah, I had the Vibe/Matrix on my search list. Again, once one would show up on CL it would inevitably have 90,000+ miles on it. There was one an hour east of me that was listed on a Friday morning. $8500/60k/04 or 03. It was early enough in my search that I thought it was way overpriced. I called Sat morning to arrange to head out and it was already gone. The guy seemed nice and we had a conversation. He told me that he had several calls right away and sold it for his asking price. He regretted that he did not ask for more in his ad. That’s when I started to realize that the market was quite a bit different than the last time I purchased a used car.

  • avatar
    piro

    I live in the UK and have an Astra H (this generation, although different front end), and I can tell you here they’re pretty damn common, so I imagine parts availability overall isn’t going to be a situation that’s tough, and I think they’re pretty decent cars.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      piro, tried to convince Tottenham to sell me the Police car graphics and bits to turn my American spec Astra into a gen-u-wine HotFuzz patrol car. Not surprisingly, the city magistars said, No, and called me a “cheeky fellow’. So much for my fantasy designs to be Simon Pegg.

    • 0 avatar
      iainthornton

      Yes, but if the OP needs a new door on Sunday to repair the car to get to work on Monday, shipping from the UK won’t be that helpful.

      Having said that, I do like Astras, and this shape particularly. The 1.8 isn’t a lightning performer but it’s competent and you rarely hear of problems. I recommend it, OP!

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        I’m really not trying to be a smart*ss, but if you need a new door on Sunday, you may have larger problems than trying to get to work on Monday.

        A battery, a starter motor, a slave cylinder for the clutch, it’s possible. If you’ve damaged a door beyond use on Sunday, you’ve entered a whole different set of conditions.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Honestly, who really cares? For less than $10 a month I have car rental coverage on my insurance. If the car is stuck in the shop for 3 weeks waiting on parts, I get a rental car to drive. Body shops rarely work weekends anyway, even repair shops rarely work weekends, if your car breaks down on Sunday you are waiting until Monday regardless.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    I’ve owned my ’08 Saturn Astra XR 5 dr for five years now and have found it at 80K miles to be solid, highly reliable (one battery, two sets of tire), and undeniably fun to drive. The hatch offers enough room to manage a bicycle and accoutrements. The gas mileage is fair to decent for a small car. Issues have been few; however, I will say the lack of cupholders (can order a center armrest console cheap online to replace the single, behind the standard setup) and lack of iPod/MP3 connection is sinful. Parts were hard to find at first, but thats no longer a problem.

    There are weird European quirks. Holding the unlock button on the FOB for three seconds has all the windows rolldown. All windows are automatic rolldown as well, but no driver auto rollup. The cruise control took me a week to figure out (hold the button on the back of the turn signal for three seconds til the computer says CC ON and then set with the top front button). The trip computer speaks 15 languages and converts fuel into gals, imp gals, or litres. Changing the oil was joyfully entertaining as it took me nearly 20 mintues to figure out where the oil filter was located and the oil drain plug was a flat star screw recessed into the pan. The 1.8L Ecotec runs hot so I use 5W-30 SynthBlend and change the plugs every 20K (they’re cheap and extremely easy to replace).

    Still a great car and more important, not a Corolla appliance.

    • 0 avatar
      piro

      Odd cruise control – in my Astra it had none, but I added it by purchasing the official GM cruise stalk off ebay, and using an OP-COM OBDII interface with my laptop to tell the various ECUs I had cruise fitted, pulled the old one off, pushed the new one in, done.

      On mine at least, you don’t need to tell it to turn cruise on, I just tap the top button to set, back button to turn off, bottom to resume.

      Maybe the US version had one that was harder to activate for some reason.

    • 0 avatar
      iainthornton

      I’m glad to hear you like your Astra.
      By the way though, what’s weird about any of those traits? It sounds like a fairly reasonable way to do those things. The Astra I had (UK market model) had single-touch electric windows, so I’m surprised if that wasn’t part of the US spec……

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I didnt see where he said the display was broken… just that it was quirky. The AC is broken but I bet it can be fixed easily.

    I would go for it, this is the type of situation where you can get a good deal because of other peoples unreasonable fears. I even had a Daewoo Lanos, and parts for it were not THAT hard to find. This will be no big deal. And, its a really nice looking car, esp the 3-dr XR. Your daughter will love it.

  • avatar

    I drove one with a manual. Good handling, smooth and quiet for a four banger. Didn’t like the looks of it, but it sure drove nice.

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    Something to keep in mind is that, while this is a defunct car in the US, this generation of Astra was and is a global product for General Motors and is still in production overseas as the Astra Classic III. It was sold new in Mexico for most of its model run, and is still being built in Brazil.

    Besides the fact that GM is legally obligated to continue providing factory parts and service support to Saturn owners through 2019, its not that difficult at all for them to maintain parts inventories in the US. And, if they ever do need to order something from out of the country, it’s not coming from *that* far away.

    This generation of Astra has been something of a cash cow for GM, they’ve built and sold it all over the world under something like a half dozen different names, and they’re still rolling off the lines right now. It’s a somewhat distinctive car in the United States, but, in the scheme of things, it’s got to be one of the most produced small cars ever to come out of GM.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry, it isn’t produced in Brazil anym ore. GM wound down production a while ago. It is supposedly replaced by top trim levels of the Brazilan-specific and built Cobalt sedan, imported from Korea Sonic hatches and sedans. Sadly, it’s real replacement, the Cruze hatch, is mow positioned in a more upscale and espensive segment (nice one GM!).

      • 0 avatar
        ranwhenparked

        I stand corrected, looks like it’s gone everywhere outside Europe.

        The Astra H does appear to still be in production in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine though, but only in the 4-door, 5-door, and wagon bodies.

  • avatar
    Loser

    I’m having a hard time finding a new battery for my ’06 GTO. Autozone, Advance and Wal-Mart don’t have a replacement battery part number listed in their systems. Dealer wants $170 and I don’t want to spend over $200 for the Optima racing battery.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      In 3 seconds of Google searching I found a battery at Advance Auto that is an exact fit for your GTO for $110, and an Optima Red Top for $162.

      And $170 for a dealer installed battery is not uncommon, my GTI battery from the dealer is around $250. My battery from Advance is $145, and they do not even make an Optima for it at all, and VW is obviously still sold in the US.

      Like I said before, unreasonable fears of supposedly “hard to find parts” is what makes orphan cars like this one a great deal.

      • 0 avatar
        Loser

        Thanks,
        The local Advance said they don’t have anything that will fit but they do show it on the web site. The guys at the GTO site I visit say the Autozone and Advance “exact fit” batteries are too tight with fuse box location and issues with the holding bracket. I keep hearing the Optima is the best fit and way to go but it’s $250 at our local Advance. Never had to spend more than $90 on a battery, even for my truck. Just the price for having an odd ball car I guess. Long story but I will never buy another AC Delco battery.

        I obviously have no fear of “hard to find parts” otherwise I would have never bought this car. I bought this car knowing parts would be more expensive than say a Mustang due to the low production numbers. Just surprised the battery isn’t more common and it’s so expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      http://www.batteriesplus.com/products/560-SLI/4929-Car-and-Truck-Batteries/103177-Pontiac/GTO/2005-to-2006-V8-6-dot0L-600CCA/1.aspx

      Batteries Plus has a Rayovac for your car. I don’t know what it costs or if there is a Batteries Plus store near you.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I’m surprised usually the dealer have good deals on batteries. For my Ford I can get a genuine Motorcraft for less than the specials at auto parts stores.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @MRF Tbird: I’ve had a similar experience with the dealer too. Several years ago, my daughter’s Sunfire’s battery died. It was during the week and I was able to buy a new battery from the dealer for less than Autozone/NAPA/Advance. Recently the one in my own Sunfire died, but it happened on a Sunday. Of course, I needed to be at work the next morning, so I did the Autozone/NAPA/Advance shuffle and was stuck with only one battery, one warranty, one price. Which was way more than I wanted. My bad luck to have the battery die on Sunday.

        But no one beats Discount Tire for tires. The dealers try, but it ain’t happening…

  • avatar
    Marko

    The low price might seem tempting, and there are certainly some parts shared with the Cruze or Sonic, but RockAuto’s “Repair Index” gives some shocking results for Astra parts cost.

    Perhaps parts would be cheaper from a site based in Mexico, Brazil, Europe, or wherever else this car was common – but I’m not sure how much the shipping would cost.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Mrs. Panhard and I had a similar situation with our older son. He’s used to driving our cars, a C-Class and a Miata. So when we went car shopping in about the same budget, we drove a lot of cars. Most of them he said, “This is like driving in a bubble.”

    Then we tried out the Astra. I’ll tell you what, I’ve been fortunate to drive some nice cars, and frankly, the Astra had me scratching my head. Why? Because, it keeps me wondering WHY it took GM forever and a day to figure out how to market Opels as Saturns. Had they made Saturns like the Astra from the get-go, and had a car that appeals to enthusiasts AND people who have severe conflict avoidance issues, they’d still be in business.

    The Astra is a joy to drive, and quite frankly, Mrs. Panhard, a size 6, says, “I really like that car. It fits me.”

    No car is perfect. Some cars are less perfect than others. Sometimes we have to make a decision between “Enjoyable to drive but has a potential Repair Bill of Damocles” or “Appliance. Cheap parts that never break.”

    I know which car I’ll buy.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    FWIW, I think the Astra is a great choice if you dont mind spending the money. But if you want to save some money, I think you need to adjust your metric down a bit and look at older cars. If you have cash, you can look for older cars that have lower miles and were well maintained. We have beaten this dead horse of a question many times on this site, and the best used car values out there are generally older cars that elderly people drive, usually US brands. Even though your NY prices may be higher than average, I am betting you can still find Taurus or Centurys or Regals in excellent shape for around your $5k target.

  • avatar
    wsn

    When it’s getting to 5/5/8, the solution is incredibly simple. Two words: new Corolla.

    (Or, new Civic, if there aren’t many potholes in your area.)

  • avatar
    sketch447

    If you think used economy cars are expensive now, wait until those new fuel economy regs hit us. The price of new cars will skyrocket and decent used cars will be snapped up within hours……..as for your Astra issue, who can say? I don’t think the Astra is an abandoned orphan like the Merkur brand. However, that Astra ain’t no common Cavalier or Cobalt either.

    Last year, my car got totalled and I was in the market for a used 4cyl automobile. (Northeast area). I found NOTHING. Maybe a few well-used Saturn Ions for 9 grand. I bit the bullet and bought a new Fusion stick. I negotiated and bought it over the phone and picked it up in a few hours.

    In my opinion, you should just buy a new Fiesta/Rio/Accent,etc….whichever has the most discounts. Ford seems to be having trouble moving the Fiesta, I’d start there. Heck, for 12 grand or so, you can land a new Chevy Spark.

    The 4-cyl used car market is a wasteland of futility. Everyone is holding on to them.

  • avatar
    elmwood

    This might not answer your question, but if you’re looking for a decent vehicle that approaches 5/5/8, you’re more likely to find it in Scranton or Allentown than Long Island, or anywhere in New York, both downstate and upstate. I found that used car prices in Pennsylvania are far lower than in New York, for some reason; maybe it’s proximity to the major auctions, maybe it’s different market dynamics. It might be worth a short trip.

    Oh, and if you’re buying a car for a Cornell, Buffalo or Syracuse-bound student, at least get a decent set of all-season tires. If you can pull it off, get a Subaru with mileage as low as possible, or with a confirmed head gasket replacement.

    • 0 avatar
      MRL325i

      Tried that. My son goes to school in Wilkes-Barre, and I was checking out CL for that area and did not see a large difference between there and Long Island/NYC. I would guess that rust issues might be more prevalent there, too.

  • avatar
    MRL325i

    Hello all:

    I am the original poster — I wrote to Steve yesterday and was happily surprised to get a reply that my letter was to be the latest topic of discussion. Thanks, Steve and Sajeev!

    I have decided to get the car. My mechanic looked it over and told me what I already thought — it is solid and well kept. I subscribe to the theory that when you buy a used anything, you are also buying the previous owner’s maintenance habits or lack thereof (this is a Mike Miller truism, if any of you out there know who I am referring to). The current owner was a bit embarrassed that the AC blew hot on the test drive so he brought it into the radiator/ac guy that we both knew the next day. A leaky hose fitting was replaced and, with a new charge, it cools nicely. Then, he dropped it off at my guy who deemed it a decent car, with the caveat that parts might be an issue in an emergency.

    So, the risk that I might have to wait for a part is outweighed by the fact that this is a pretty cool car, drives well, is economical (insurance-wise, too — I checked and it is rated the same as my son’s ’05 Sentra). As others have pointed out, people seem to be keeping their 4-bangers for a long time, and an ’02 Corolla et al with 120k+ was just not attractive to me as a car for my daughter. With $4 gas, a Taurus that I would have to nurse along and that she would be forever filling up was not what I really want, either.

    As a member of the gearhead fraternity, I am biased towards good driving cars, too (I have an E46 and an E30 convertible). We have a PT Cruiser and a Sentra (both penalty boxes, but they get the kids from A to B) and a Town & Country, so when I came upon this car — one that I had only very vaguely heard of and probably had never seen in the wild — and it was clean and shiny and didn’t have a zillion miles on it, I was interested. Then I drove it and I thought it was really pretty cool (even with a slushbox).

    So, I am done over-analyzing this purchase. Thanks to all who have weighed in, and thanks to Steve for helping facilitate this discussion. Em will be quite surprised next week!

    Mark

  • avatar
    deanst

    I’ve owned an Astra for 3 years with no complaints. If you like german cars you should like this vehicle, as everything is well built and solid looking (even the glove box door is about an inch thick). I was surprised how cheap the interior of a friend’s Matrix looked in comparison. I was hit in the rear a year ago, and parts availablity was not an issue, but I was told they were more expensive than normal. The biggest downside I’ve experienced is that fuel economy is not what it should be and its certainly not the fastest car in its class. I also have no idea what half of the buttons by the radio do, but thats part of the charm of the car! Also, the three door doesn’t offer the huge sunroof that the 5 door has, and I found that the 3 door had poor rear visibility.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    “Sourcing parts on the internet is fine for a hobby car, a disaster when you need to get something fixed on a Sunday” “An orphan car that sold 18,000 units years ago is not going to have the same level of support from NAPA or Pep Boys…”
    Agree 100%

    You going to put a kid in an orphan car that will cost $$ and time finging parts when they have a fender bender. And I don’t mean ‘if’ but ‘when’. We all had them as teens.

    That $8000 orphan Saturn seems like a ‘bargain’, but it will drop like a rock in value after it’s 5 years old. And when you try to sell it? Phone will not ring, or you’ll get low balled from dealers if trading in.

    Better off getting a high resale car that can be fixed easily and won’t be stuck with when its time to sell. Save orphan cars for hobbyists.

    And where were these mythical “5/5/5″ cars in 2010 [2 years ago as stated]? They hardly existed in 1990′s. Anything with 50K miles these days is maybe 2-3 years old and way higher than $5K. Cars today can run to 150-200k with care. Maybe an orphan Deawoo was “5/5/5″ two years ago, not not any average 5 year old car.

    • 0 avatar
      MRL325i

      “And where were these mythical “5/5/5″ cars in 2010 [2 years ago as stated]?”

      2003 PT Cruiser, bought in 2008, 51,000 miles, $5,000 is the origin of my 5/5/5, which I had hoped was repeatable.

      2005 Nissan Sentra, 48,000 miles, $7,300, bought in 2009, hence the modification to 5/5/7.

      2008 Saturn Astra, bought 2012, 31,000 miles, $8250, so now it’s 4/3/8.25. My metric is out the window, but I don’t have anymore kids to buy cars for, and we only get ‘em their first one.

  • avatar
    AoLetsGo

    Well these posts make me feel better about the car I got my son his college car. I decided to go new and we got the last Cobalt on the lot two years ago, a 2 door, 5 speed, manual everything. It was cheap and so far no problems.

    • 0 avatar
      dts187

      A buddy of mine went from Ohio to Texas to buy a brand new Cobalt sedan he found on the internet. Beige on beige, 5 speed, roll up windows, all for $9500. He dropped a few hundred on a plane ticket, the dealer picked him up at the airport, he did the paperwork, and then drove the car back to Ohio.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I wouldn’t sweat collision repair parts. The bottom of the barrel resale for this car as an orphan brand pretty much ensures this car will be totaled by a collision of any consequence. Of course if we arent talking about carrying full coverage…things could be more dicey, however these cars are plentiful in Europe so it’s not like you are trying to find a NOS nose cone for your hemi Daytona.

    As to the head unit failing, there are fit kits out there for 10 bucks to put a conventional radio in it. If I recall that display is simply a clock and radio station display. Put in a regular head unit and throw a Garmin where that screen sits and call it a day. Nothing particularly exotic about this car.

  • avatar
    sketch447

    I think you made the right decision.
    Don’t worry about resale. Once your daughter is finished with it and wants to move on to something else, it’ll be a disaster anyway….
    Parts won’t be a huge problem. The driveline is mostly domestic. And it’s not a complicated car, it’s basic….
    It’ll perform the services you bought it for, good enough….

    • 0 avatar
      MRL325i

      Thanks. If we taught our kids at least one thing, it is to take care of their stuff. My son’s cars are clean and shiny and well kept, and I expect the same from my daughter. I also thought that it would be better to get them something a bit nicer and encourage pride in their ride, rather than getting a beater that they wouldn’t care about. Seems to have worked so far.

      And, yes, I agree that resale is not a factor for me. We tend to keep our cars until they are well worn out.

      • 0 avatar
        Keith_93

        Congrats on the new car in the family. My nephew has an Astra – has had it for 3 years (purchased new as Saturn was winding down). He loves that Astra… and likes to call it an Opel. On this side of the Atlantic… Opel sounds exotic.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “Don’t worry about resale. Once your daughter is finished with it and wants to move on to something else, it’ll be a disaster anyway…”

      True for a GM car.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India