By on December 4, 2013

Imagine you’re going on a 27 mile hike over the course of three days.

It’s a long journey ahead. Hills nearly as big as mountains. Wet and slippery ground everywhere.

And the sun? It can beat you down to the point where you feel as ragged as a wore out mop. There will be no hiding from the obstacles ahead. None.

Now imagine if your partner for this journey came up to you, and the first words he blurted out were, “Those are some nice boots you have! But I got a killer deal on mine.””

Would you think they were, well, a schmuck? To put it lightly?

Now consider this…

Every car buying decision can be summed up in four simple words.

Buy

What

You

Like

Deals don’t matter. Really. Take it from a guy who does this for a living. Buying a car, and keeping it, just because you got a good deal for it, is almost always the mother of all future regrets.

As a personal example, I once bought a 1993 Subaru Impreza for $25 that surprisingly ran like a top after I replaced the battery and the shiftlock mechanism. It had been in the inop lane of a nearby public auction with nary a glance of interest from anyone else.

I was inspecting over 10,000 vehicles a year for a finance company, and had the fortune of having the right car in front of me at the right moment. Except the Roo’ had one small issue. I hated driving it.

I hated the thin sheetmetal. The sound of the engine. The cheaper than tupperware interior. It just rang all the wrong notes for me whenever I turned the key.

But that wasn’t true for the man who wound up buying it . The guy who bought it from me on Ebay was a long-time Subaru enthusiast, and knew these cars better than I ever will.

He flew all the way from California to Atlanta, and drove it nearly 2500 miles back to Orange County.

Then he drove it for another 50,000 miles. After which, he likely used it as a parts car since he was a Rally Coordinator for Subaru.

He bought a 9 year old Subaru with 168k miles for all of $1576 (plus the auction fee) on Ebay.

Did he get ripped off? Did he get a killer deal? Does it really matter?

No, nein, and nyet! He bought what he liked, and let the laws of commerce take their course. That’s it. Game over, and everyone involved left with a nice smile on their face.

That’s how car buying decisions should work in the real world… and this story also serves a greater purpose as it relates to the tired old  buy new vs. buy old arguments.

Value, is usually not something you can mathematically calculate when it comes to your passions. If you find yourself bragging about the dollar bills you saved by buying x vechicle over y vehicle, that’s fine.

But you’re not acting like an enthusiast. You’re a frugalist, and very likely a delusional one. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s call things a spade instead of bullshitting about how frugal it is to buy a new or old sports car.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have enjoyed my share of victories serving those who are tried and true enthusiasts. As for my losses, one I can’t forget was a stomach-churning $1500 loss on a SAAB 9000 CSE  that also, thankfully, wound up with the right owner.

No matter what I did to that SOB of a car, it just wouldn’t run right. I began to think that SAABs came out of the factories with blinking check engine lights.

Then it finally found the right caretaker and nearly 12 years later, it’s still running like a top.

God I hate those things!

A lot of folks want advice on buying a car. Heck, I’ve republished a series about it for six years now.

So instead of posting yet another testament to personal victories (and notable incompetence), let me spare you all the false bravado and simply offer ten classic sayings for this holiday season, finely wrapped in a long forgotten Hammer Time of yore.

Hopefully that will help you or your friends buy that next best car.

1. Buy what you like. Life is too short for cheap boots.

2. Be honest with yourself. Are you a trader? Or a keeper?

3. Traders either specialize, like I did starting out. Or they try to ride the wave of new car fashions.

4. As for the keepers? They usually pay less in the long run.

5. Depreciation kills,  monthly payments stink, and everyone from the tax man to the insurance companies favor the economics of a well kept used car.

6. Want cheap? Buy a Corolla.  A car that is made cheap won’t stay cheap.

7. Before you consider any car, new or used, get feedback from actual owners of that vehicle. The media will only tell you so much.

8. Enthusiast forums in particular can better help you navigate the path of ownership.

9. As for lowering long-term cost? The best recipe is investing in quality parts. Because there is nothing wrong with a quality product

10. That can’t be made right with quality product. 

Now having said that, I now need to get rid of a thrice repoed, 12 year old Dodge Intrepid. Any takers?

 

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32 Comments on “Hammer Time: An Old Pair Of Boots...”


  • avatar

    This is how I responded to someone asking whether or not his purchase of a 240Z was a “good buy”

    1. Do you enjoy it?
    2. Is it a financial drain?
    3. Is it sound?
    4. Do you regret buying it?

    If you answered Yes, No, Yes, No, then you have a good buy.

  • avatar
    993cc

    Really. My approach has been if you buy a car you’ll want to keep for ten or fifteen years, what you pay for it doesn’t matter so much. As you discover the car’s shortcomings: update, modify, adapt, improve. Money spent to maintain a car in a condition so that you’ll WANT to keep it, thus postponing the expense of a new(er) car, is money well invested.

    By the way, I still have, and use, though less often now, the hiking boots I got 37 years ago. Re-soled three times, they fit better than ever.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      As an enthusiast, that’s often part of the fun. Sometimes I can’t wait for stuff to wear out so I can replace it with something better. It’s the poor man’s path to tuning :D

      If you look at all the 20-year-old cars on the road, it’s mostly either Hondas that just don’t break, or cars that really evoke passion in their owners (and are worth the upkeep). I remember a related discussion not long ago about why you see so many early 90s BMWs still on the road, but very rarely an early 90s Lexus. That’s not in proportion to their cost of upkeep.

    • 0 avatar

      It is usually cheaper to keep her than go elsewhere. This applies to cars too.

      I take “it wore out” as a chance to upgrade. Shocks, tires, etc can be gotten better aftermarket, as you are choosing, not a bean counter saving .50 per part.

      Put good tires on. A set of Michelins or other top shelf will be nice every day. Brand X will rumble and wear funny, if you can get them balanced at all.

      Every time my 300k BMW spits a part, I ask…how much to replace part…how much to fix. The car is mostly worthless to sell or trade but looks OK and runs well. Until the engine quits it is worth fixing. I’ve replaced most of the pumps and rubber bits over time, so it isn’t an old car, it is a collection of parts of varying ages. I change oil on a schedule, trans and diff too.

      Likewise, my used MDX is way cheaper to fix than sell or trade. A $1000 repair job is smarter than a $10,000 hit for a new vehicle, plus the bonus of a payment book…..

      The key here is I love the BMW irrationally. The MDX is a love hate, but driving it is very good, especially that I have fresh shocks and bushings. I always buy a car with the idea of a ten year lifespan in my driveway. It has to be fun, well built, and most importantly, there MUST be a thriving aftermarket for it. This keeps parts prices down, means that weak parts will be fixed, and there will be internet discussion of the vehicle, which can be helpful for weak parts.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Buy the car that’s right for you. There’s a lot of cars I like that are wrong for me and my needs. Be honest, think about how you use the car. If you need to haul kids and stuff don’t buy a 2-seater, I don’t care how much you like it your kids and stuff that can’t be hauled will make you miserable. Once you decide what the best car for your needs is, find one within your budget. Stretching to pay for a car you can’t afford will make you hate it. Take care of it. The better you treat it the longer you two will be happy together

  • avatar
    ash78

    I generally agree, but would like to add a corollary: Figure out what you really want and need, and THEN work to find a deal on it. But don’t be swayed by cheaper competition after you have decided what you really want.

    A lot of car shoppers (and I spent some time hocking cars at a used car superstore a decade ago) will literally come in and look for ANYTHING that meets their basic needs at a certain price point. I think ~75% of my sales were to first-time walkins with no specific car in mind. They came in saying “I need a car for $20k” and left with a car (or truck, or cute-ute, or SUV) a couple hours later.

    It was insane, and it goes against every bone in my body, both as a car enthusiast and as a finance guru/hack. There is so much flash and glitz in the carbuying process, it’s easy to be swayed by marketing, image, promotional deals, and so on. Figure out your needs and wants, make a shortlist, then shop for a deal. By the time you get to step 3, you shouldn’t “accidentally” jump back to step 1 because you saw something else. A lot of buyers will literally ignore their needs and wants and cross-shop totally unrelated cars just because the pricing is similar. And virtually everyone I’ve known who has purchased a car that way has kept it 2 years or less.

    And in a larger sense, the used car superstore model works well because people can basically do all three steps in one place. And they might pay an extra $1,000 or $1,500 vs spending multiple days at a traditional dealer, but that doesn’t much matter in the long run.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I just wait for a really good deal on something I like. And by like, I mean “can tolerate”.

    If you got a good deal on it, you can always resell it if you hate it and not lose out. So to me, the deal is the most important part.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    I think it’s wise to pay some attention to Consumer Reports measure of people who would buy their same car again. This doesn’t necessarily correlate with how well either CR or other outlets rate the cars. Nor does reliability always figure into the calculation. There’s a “rightness” or “wrongness” about a vehicle that only shows up over the long haul. That’s why I’ve tried to keep an open mind about Panthers, though my gut tells me that the very idea is ridiculous.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Given a few extra bucks accumulated after years of living in a financially responsible manner:

    1. Buy what you need. Base model plus one. Keep it forever, because, well, you NEED it.

    2. Buy something you actually WANT, at a price you can afford. Keep it until you want something else, then repeat.

    For example, for a variety of reasons, my wife and I (almost) NEED an AWD minivan. But I hate them. So we keep them for 8 or 10 years, by which time there are usually a few young bicycle racing friends desperately wanting to buy from us, because they have grown sick of having their expensive racing bikes out in the rain on the way to races.

  • avatar
    mikey

    A little over two years ago, my wife,came to me and said “she wanted to buy a smaller car she could call her own”

    I picked up a low KLM’s 09 Cobalt coupe, LT trim. Dealer maintained,non smoker, very clean. I had to reach for it, the Chev dealer knew it was a sweet ride,and he wasn’t about to give it away.

    A month later, my wife has her license suspended forever.{medical reasons}
    The Camaro, and Mustang stay garaged through the Ontario winter. So I figure there is no way I’m going to eat the Cobalt depreciation. I decide to drive it as my winter beater/work horse vehicle.

    Good on gas, easy to park, properly maintained, a Cobalt will run forever. At least that’s how I sold the idea to myself.

    Problem was, I hated it. I couldn’t give one solid reason why I hated it, I just hated it.

    What I really wanted was a reg cab 8ft box 4×4. So early last Sept,while I was lusting over the 2013 long boxs at the dealer, I spy a 2011 Sierra 4×4 crank windows,air,no cruise,rubber floors ,no blue tooth ,manual transfer case, long box. Its got the short side bar step, I’m not crazy about, however wifey needs it. Soft box cover,and spray on box liner. The former owner, was far from a clean freak,so I knocked a 1000 bucks off what I was going to offer.

    A few days of phone calls, and haggling. The dealer has Cobalt and I own the truck I wanted.

    I retired in late 2008. Since then I traded my 01 Grand Am for a 2009 Impala. I sold my 2000 Firebird convertible. I bought a 2008 Mustang Convertible. I sold my wife’s 2003 Jimmy. I bought a 2009 Cobalt. Traded my Impala in on a 2011 2ss Camaro. Traded the Cobalt in on a 2011 Sierra

    Was it all real wise financial choices? No f…n way! But it sure was a lot fun.

  • avatar
    PonchoIndian

    And here comes the comments about people trying to justify their purchase decisions based on price or economics…

    I almost fell over with the enthusiast remark Steve. I’ve been saying that a lot lately and usually get snarky remarks about buying “a used Corolla (even though I could afford a Porsche) because I can’t justify spending the money…but I’m still and enthusiast!” blah blah…sure you are.

    If you can’t afford it then ok, good reason. If you somehow try to justify not buying it because you’re frugal or your V6 Mustang is just as good, well, you aren’t a car enthusiast, you’re a car liker.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “get snarky remarks”

      And you are going to get another one.

      So tell me again, why do you get to decide the proper vehicle hierarchy of enthusiasm? OBVIOUSLY Porsche beats V6 Mustang and Corolla. But, does Genesis 4.6 beat Firebird V6? Does ’96 Roadmaster beat ’08 Lucerne CXS? Is there some sort of flow chart I can see?

      If someone really likes their, say Dodge Dakota, then they aren’t an enthusiast because they could afford a RAM SRT-10? Who could like a Dakota, right?

      I like my cars, I work on my cars, and I know a lot about my cars. Enjoy your GT500 or Z06 or Boxster or whatever, but don’t tell me what I am just because you don’t like what I drive.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Well, there are some people who are simply buying transportation . . . because that’s what they want. No point in looking down your nose at them.

      Then there are people who are buying an experience, which happens to include transportation. For all but the top 1/2% price (cost of ownership) is a factor. Some people might like to have something from Germany but can’t handle the upfront cost and/or the cost of ownership (repairs and parts). So, you look down on them (mere “car likers”) because they own something from Japan, the U.S. or . . . egads . . . Korea?

      What’s up with that?

  • avatar
    cwallace

    Steve, how does the “trader’s” car differ from the “keeper’s” car? Does the keeper go for higher trim levels and more bells and whistles than the trader, since the cost is amortized over several years? Or does the keeper go for just what they really need, to eliminate possible failure points down the road?

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Hard to argue with Steven here .

    When I ran a moderately profitable used car business , I only bought the cars & trucks I knew I’d not mind driving so if one took a while to sell , it didn’t drive me crazy .

    I tend to keep the personal vehicles I buy for decades .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Bought a 2005 Malibu Maxx wagon because I wanted the space, but not an SUV. Hated the thing, even though it drove well and had phenominal cargo space and excellent fuel economy. It just was so cheaply and badly made every mile in it grated on my nerves. Traded it for a 2000 Lexus GS, which despite terrible gas mileage (V8), a smallish trunk and a couple of issues I see myself mileing-out over the next ten years. What can I say, I just feel right driving the Lexus, it feels like they built it for me.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    If you can get a good deal on what you like and want – bonus. It does pay to shop around but in the end, it only matters if you think you did well.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Wholeheartedly agreed, the one pure frugal car I brought, an ’89 Tercel, I ended up getting tired of and it was hardly a good buy with the repairs it needed, I was just desperate for something “reliable” at that point and Asian (and I wasn’t smart enough to understand the drawbacks of neglect).

    At heart I’m still a frugalist, but I’ll gladly take some reasonably priced that I’d like over whatevers at the bottom of the barrel.

  • avatar
    7402

    Liking the boots is important, but you’ll never get to like unless they fit.

    I’m a big guy and I don’t even test drive vehicles I can’t get comfortable in. Since cars, like office furniture, seem designed around an average human who is several inches shorter than I, this sit test rules out some 70% of the cars on the market. Seriously. Only after that can I get into issues like personal taste, aesthetics, performance, options, etc.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Buying a vehicle that you don’t like is bad.

    Buying a vehicle that you can’t afford to put tires on or fuel into (BUT I CAN AFFORD THE PAYMENTS!) is also bad.

  • avatar

    On of my favorite Consumer Reports moments is the fact that the VW Touareg is rated as one of their least reliable cars, but their owners rate as it one of the highest in terms of “would buy it again”. Which shows that there are a few enthusiasts (myself included) who read Consumer Reports.

    But man, who picked that name? I have to google the spelling every time.

  • avatar

    The $5k I spent on my ’89 325is is incomparable to how much I’ve enjoyed owning the car. Repairs and costs associated are more akin to a Doctor’s bill for health upkeep than a burden.

  • avatar
    redav

    “Buy What You Like”

    Some people like money. Thus, they derive enjoyment out of the fact that their car purchase effectively puts more money in their pocket.

    1. Many people like money. Thus, ‘getting a deal’ is exactly what they should do.
    2. Honestly, many people don’t care about their appliances.
    3. Traders may just have ADD and get bored or distrac–oooh, shiny.
    4. Buy and hold *IS* the way to save money.
    6. Taking care of what you have is the best return on investment.
    9. IDK, I would think maintenance is more important than quality parts, because even a lower quality part can do its job and last if it’s taken care of while a well-built part will fail if abused.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I think they only components that you can really abuse that are replaced on even a semi-regular basis are the transmission/driveshaft/differential. An engine can obviously be abused, but when Steve talks about using quality parts, I doubt he means any of these things.

      Probably more like bushings, dampers, and other suspension pieces. Also things like MAF sensors, camshaft position sensors, spark plugs, fuel pumps, etc. Headlights are a good one too. None of these parts can really be abused, unless you seek potholes to damage the suspension. They fail through normal use, and cheap parts fail sooner.

      In short: buy cheap, buy twice.

  • avatar
    cdnsfan27

    Let me clue you in on a little secret, I sell new and pre-owned luxury cars and in this price range there are NO bad cars. Some are better than others, some are more desirable than others and some are more reliable than others but none of them are bad. To paraphrase Steve if you bought a Benz because you got a killer deal instead of the Audi you really wanted will you get in the car every day and smile at the deal you got or will you regret not having spent a few thousand dollars more for what you really wanted. Also, purchase price is but one component of cost. Once you factor in depreciation, maintenance and fuel costs over a 5 year period is the initial purchase price still “a great deal”?

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Heh heh I am on my second and third ’88 528e. I paid 4k for #2 back in ’06 and It is still putting along with about 150k on it. That is nothing for a maintained 528e. #3 is a twice crashed, but otherwise fine car that I bought for 500 $ and fixed with junk body parts. Rust is starting to take its toll, So I’ll be looking for another one.


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