By on February 4, 2015

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If you’re a fan of automotive personality Matt Farah and/or his show, “The Smoking Tire”, you probably know that Matt recently bought a 1996 Lexus LS400 with 897,000 documented miles on the clock. That’s right. Do not adjust your television. That’s nearly a million.

You might also know that “The Driver”, Alex Roy, and I took the Lexus from Long Beach to Texas and beyond, finally coming to a halt in my hometown of Powell, Ohio. If you’re really up to speed on the adventures of the Million Mile Lexus, you know that it’s currently in the hands of Jalopnik contributor “Tavarish”, who drove it from Upper Arlington, Ohio to New York.

Take a minute and read the above paragraph again. I drove it to Powell; Tavarish drove it from Upper Arlington. And thereby hangs a tale.


LATrip2015 035

My new friend “Tavarish” is well-known on Jalopnik for writing articles on used cars that manage to combine honest advice, shameless clickbaiting, and hurricane-force trollin’ in neatly-wrapped little packages. He’s a big fan of paying cash for old cars and being personally able to fix your own car no matter what, kind of like the TTAC reader whose response to Bark’s article on subprime buyers was to straight-facedly suggest that a working father swap his own minivan transmission in his apartment parking lot. If you check out Tavarish’s stuff, there’s a lot of “DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU CAN GET AN S65 AMG FOR THE PRICE OF A FORD FIESTA?” and whatnot.

Prior to meeting the guy I thought he was engaged in some elaborate Exit-Through-The-Gift-Shop hoax at the expense of the notoriously stupid Jalopnik commentariat. I mean, nobody really thinks it’s a good idea for someone with a $15,000 car budget to spend that money on a Maserati, right? Having worked on a few different sides of the car business for nearly a decade in my misspent youth, I believe that I have a thorough understanding of why people buy the cars they do — and I believe that the market is remarkably efficient when it comes to pricing used cars. Nearly-new Civics often sell for close to their original dealer invoice price because the risk of purchasing one is exceptionally low.

A Mercedes S65 AMG, on the other hand, can be had for one-tenth of the original MSRP because owning one past the warranty is an invitation to enter a Boschian nightmare — and I mean Robert Bosch, not Hieronymus Bosch. The number of ways in which you can spend fifteen or twenty grand in parts on one of those cars has to be experienced to be believed. Hell, even my R107 560SL, which should have been about as thoroughly debugged as a car design could possibly be, was chock-full of stuff that was NLA (no longer available) from dealers or the aftermarket but RFN (remarkably fucking necessary) to the vehicle’s satisfactory operation.

For that reason, I consider Tavarish’s “Hey College Students! You Should Consider A Six-Cylinder Jaguar XJR As A Right-Priced Alternative To A Honda Ruckus 50” articles to be simply invitations to spend a pleasant evening strolling through eBay Motors. They’re fun to read, and they’re fun to write. They’re also a good way for him to demonstrate his talent to the audience. As many a would-be famous auto-blogger has found out, it’s tough to consistently churn out new content about cars if you don’t have much access to new cars. Most of the people who try to break into the business have enough personal experience for about five worthwhile articles. Maybe ten. After that you’re either making up stories about how you (insert ridiculous story here, leavened with enough self-deprecation to make it vaguely believable) or you’re second-guessing billion-dollar corporations on the strength of no education or business experience other than watching your helicopter dad bail out your West Coast lemonade stand. Compared to that stuff, telling people they can own a LaForza for the price of an ’06 CR-V is relatively harmless and entertaining.

Nonetheless, when I saw the steam exiting the LS400’s left headlamp on State Route 315 last Saturday morning, I permitted a slight smile of satisfaction to appear on my lips. This would be a chance for Tavarish to eat his own dog food, so to speak. I’d been on my way to Tim Horton’s when the Million Mile Lexus decided to experience a temporary interruption in Toyota reliability. This was doubly ironic because I’d just driven the thing across the country, right into the teeth of a major Southwestern winter storm, without any mechanical issues besides an increasing reluctance on the part of the transmission to shift properly and a slug trail of oil drips stretching some 2,190 miles. I considered the trip a bit of a vindication of the Tavarish philosophy, actually. The Lexus has been serviced correctly since new, and Matt spent about $1,500 on preventative maintenance prior to my departure. A V-8 Toyota with all the stamps in the service book and a solid check-out by a respected mechanic? Every know-it-all on the Internet will tell you that such a car is as good as — nay, better than — a leased 2015 Ford Focus.

And so it had proven to be, right up to that moment. I pulled off the freeway and fancy-parked in an apartment complex. My breath froze in the air as I indulged in the time-honored masculine ritual of popping the hood and taking a look. Oh. Upper radiator hose popped off. Not a problem. That’s twenty bucks and ten minutes. Wait… there’s something in the hose. Oh, that’s the plastic tube to which the hose attached, fragmented and roasted.

It might have been possible to emergency-fix it by Dremeling the remaining part of the tube on the radiator smooth then reattaching the hose, but I knew that Tavarish would be driving it to New York and I didn’t want him to do it on a jury-rigged radiator. So I called home to get a ride, and I called Advance Auto Parts. Upper hose, lower hose (for good measure) and a new radiator for a Lexus LS400, plus a gallon of full-strength coolant? Just $197.56, and it would be available within five hours.

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Come Sunday morning, I picked Tavarish and his friend Al up at the bus station. We grabbed my Craftsman tool set and went to work. The two of them had the radiator swapped in less than an hour. It was no trouble whatsoever, even in twenty-degree winter weather. Nine hours later, they were safe and sound in New York. Clearly, this was further proof of the Tavarish philosophy, right? You pay cash for a well-maintained used car, and when problems come up you fix them yourself, and situations like this are only a minor bump in the road of financially-savvy used-car ownership.

Except.

There’s such a thing as “privilege”. If you read the Gawker sites you’ll hear about it all the time. Privilege is what allows rich white cisgender straight men to do whatever they want in this world while everybody else takes it in the shorts. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Normally I consider the use of the word “privilege” in a conversation to be the brilliant peacock plumage that identifies a third-rate pseudo-intellectual from ten paces away, but in the Case Of The Million-Mile Lexus And Its Low-Stress Repair, there was a whole lotta privilege goin’ on. Let’s recap my experience and point it out:

  • I was on the way to see a friend when the radiator blew up. I wasn’t traveling to my second McJob where I’d be fired for being late. I don’t have jobs where you get fired for not punching a clock on time. Therefore, this didn’t affect my livelihood. Privilege!
  • My son wasn’t in the car with me, because I don’t have to take the risk of driving him around in a crappy old car. We use my Accord or my 993. The former is nearly new, the latter is in outstanding repair and has low mileage. However, were this not the case, I’d have been placed in a situation where my five-year-old boy would have been exposed to fifteen-degree temps, maybe by the side of a dark freeway somewhere. In reality, he was at home, playing Minecraft on his iPad. Privilege!
  • I was able to immediately call home and get a ride, because the other person living in my house doesn’t work weekends and has an expensive SUV that is available at a moment’s notice. Were I a single mother, I’d have been forced to call around until I found someone who had the time and ability to get me, while my children froze. Privilege!
  • Because I live in a decent neighborhood and drive in safe areas, I didn’t have to worry that my car would be towed or broken into while it was waiting for parts. Privilege!
  • I was able to put two hundred bucks on a credit card without planning in any way for this eventuality or taking the money out of my food budget. Had it been two thousand, I’d have been fine. Had it been twenty thousand… well, I’d have lit a match and burned Matt’s Lexus to the ground. But the important point was that I was financially capable of getting whatever parts the car needed. In the America of 2015, very few families can say the same. Privilege!
  • Tavarish and his friend are both skilled mechanics. They have an understanding of auto repair that cost them money and time and effort to acquire. Al, in fact, was a former Lamborghini tech. What’s that training worth? Do most poor people have it? Of course not, so they’d have had to pay to have the car towed ($100 at least) to a mechanic and have two billable hours put in (~$170 in Ohio, more elsewhere), raising the price of the repair to nearly five hundred bucks. Not us! We just fixed it, because we knew how. Also, I had a $400 toolbox available. Privilege!
  • The three of us had the time and the inclination to handle it. We weren’t responsible for children or parents or animals or anything, really. If it had taken all day… well, it would have taken all day, and nobody would have been any the worse off for it. Privilege!
  • Last but not least, I had the ability to just let the car sit. I didn’t need it for anything. It wasn’t the way I was going to make my rent money that month, it wasn’t the way I was going to get my child to the hospital. It was just a car that I was driving for fun. And that’s the biggest kind of Privilege! I can imagine.

On the Internet, everybody has a six-figure savings account and a seven-figure retirement account. Everybody pays cash for everything while simultaneously dumping massive amounts of money into investments. They’re all the Millionaires Next Door and they know more about money and investing and prudent decision-making than Warren Buffet and Sam Walton combined. In the real world, people are victimized by everything from economic downturns to poor decisions they made when they were too young to know any better. In the real world, most families are just getting by and the rainy-day money they’ve saved rarely measures up to the endless tide of rainy days.

For those families, a new-car payment is a burden — but it’s one they can predict and live with. It sucks to “throw away” $300 or $400 every month, but it’s never a surprise and in exchange they have freedom from surprises. They have freedom from the surprise of losing two days of work or being stuck with their children by the side of a fifteen-degree freeway all night or having to diagnose mechanical issues using a cellphone flash and whatever conventional wisdom their parents bothered to impart when they weren’t off doing their own thing. They know that every month they are exchanging a fixed sum of money for certainty and reliability.

Viewed from one perspective, this incident absolutely validated the cash-for-used-car-and-learn-to-fix-it mentality. Viewed from another perspective, it was a damning indictment of a philosophy that requires plenty of time and flexibility to make work. To own and run a million-mile Lexus, or any other car where the maintenance and repair is your sole responsibility, requires that you have time to deal with the breakdowns, resources to cover the gaps in your life when problems occur, and the ability to pay for and install anything from a radiator to a differential. Which means, when you think about it, that a million-mile Lexus is something that it perhaps wasn’t quite when it hit the showroom back in 1996.

It’s a luxury car.

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488 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: You gotta be rich to own a cheap car....”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “A V-8 Toyota with all the stamps in the service book ”

    So, what are the Toyota service recommendations at 750,000 miles?

    Praying?

  • avatar
    John R

    Jack, if this were Reddit you’d get gold.

    • 0 avatar
      Speed3

      Jack! This is one of the best articles you have written. Serious props!

      I just sold my 2008 Mazdaspeed3 which I bought new so I got to experience both sides of this. When it was new and everything worked great, vs at 5 years when parts start to break (the price premium on Speed3 specific parts over the non turbo was not high up on my list when I purchased it in my early 20s). All it takes is having to drop 2K+ on a new clutch and suddenly a monthly new car payment doesn’t sound too bad.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      Reddit be damned – this post is gold no matter where its published!

      Jack – this maybe your finest work yet.

      • 0 avatar
        BC

        Interesting post. I wholeheartedly disagree, however. But instead of arguing with the internet, I am going to take a break from my low paying 70+ hr a week job and go replace the vacuum hoses on a car I paid $4,600 for.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Those are awesome points. I learned it long time ago when my dad forced me to sell my rotting 2002 and get a 240sx. I still remember that $600 sting when my Dodge’s timing belt went in the middle of the Bronx. Good thing my dad had the cash. Now I am able to drive an old 240 and that’s only because I don’t use it for commute and my wife has a new car. Still, the average maintenance expense is $160/mo for 6 years. Given the mileage I cover, I would have been better off with a cheap lease for all this time if I needed a decent car.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    This is, hand’s down, the finest piece of philosophy I have ever read on an auto blog. It neatly sums up much of the smugness of the “Everybody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps! (because OF COURSE everybody has boots!)” that is pervasive in many corners of the internet.

    P.S. Totally unrelated to the general thrust of the article (which was excellent), but would it be too much to ask to request that TTAC writers use model years and names, in addition to (or instead of) platform codes, when referring to cars? BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche platform codes are clear-as-day to an enthusiast of those brands, and mean absolutely bupkis to somebody who isn’t. I know vaguely what a mid-70’s SL is, but not an “R107”. I know what a mid-90’s Porsche 911 is, but not a “993”. I can’t even remember the last TTAC article about a BMW that used the platform code to refer to a particular generation BMW instead of the model year (Half the time it even leaves out the model number, leaving the reader to wonder what on earth it is besides “a BMW”. And a decent amount of the time, the articles even leave out the fact that the code refers a BMW at all, so all we know (without Google or knowledge of BMW platform codes) is that it refers to a car of some sort.) Yes, Google can easily answer those questions, but it’d be nice not to have to.

    It’s just as jibberish if the article referred to the Lexus in question as a “UCF20” (its platform code) instead of a “1996 LS400”.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      AMEN sirwired!! Even though I am more knowledgeable about cars than the average person, it irks me every time these self-appointed brand experts resort to using platform codes rather than the actual commercial model of the vehicle. Thank you for bringing this up, excellent point!

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        Well, in Jack’s defense, he IS an expert on nice European cars (and cars in general.) It’s just that he forgets that many (most?) of his readers are not.

        Note that Murilee never uses platform codes as the only ID for Junkyard Finds. It makes the articles much easier to read and more meaningful.

        OTOH, it took me quite a while reading TTAC before I Googled “Panther” and found out it referred to a specific set of cars. Before that, I thought it was just a nickname for BOF sedans. (Kind of like how “Pony Car” refers to a whole pile of makes and models.)

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I agree. And I even know what 993 means (or something like X308), but have no idea what Toyota or Honda platform numbers are.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      (oops… that should have been “I can’t even remember the last TTAC article about a BMW that DIDN’T use the platform code to refer to a particular generation BMW instead of the model year.”)

      (Curse intermittently-broken edit function!)

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      This is an enthusiast site and the platform codes the writers use are not obscure or strange, they are pretty much “car-guy-101”. Its much easier to write “E36” than to write “1992-1996 BMW 318/325, unless you are in Europe or talking about sedans which changed in 1995, etc…”. The platform name is neat and descriptive, and you should be able to learn and remember the common ones pretty easily. Or, go read MSN Autos instead.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        This is a car site that runs on clicks, and wants to attract more readers. Providing a year and model name along with the platform number covers both bases and harms nobody.

        Knowing all the platform names already should give you more time though, to remove that stick from behind you.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        Platform codes are NOT car guy 101. Car guy 101 is manufacturer, model, and year; that is better than most people can manage. Platform codes are meaningful to fanboi’s of specific brands and models (particularly MB & BMW) and knowing them is an effective way to preen within a particular group.

        To 95%+ of us platform codes mean nothing and just add confusion.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        There’s no reason to use the platform code exclusively. In an article about a group of cars it’s totally not needed that you write the awkward “1992-1996 BMW 318/325, unless you are in Europe or talking about sedans which changed in 1995” as the only possible replacement for “E36”. “Early ’90’s E36 3-series”, while longer than just “E36” is not really awkward at all.

        And, of course, in an article about a particular car, there’s ZERO advantage to saying “E36” instead of “’94 318”. Those “in the know” will know it’s an E36, those not in the know will have some idea what car the article is talking about.

        “Car guys” come in all stripes. A devoted GM enthusiast isn’t going to know “common” Porsche platform numbers, while a Porsche snob is going to be completely baffled by a reference to a “2nd Gen J-body”. Both of them can be considered “car guys”, but may have trouble understanding the point of an article without having to look something up.

        I’m not saying the platform code has no use (like when applied to, say, low-production Euro-only cars that used US platforms) just that it should not be the exclusive designation for a vehicle within an article.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Naah, platform and engine codes are more 201-level. It would be a good idea to have a reference series of articles detailing these by manufacturer. Could probably get volunteers from the audience to write them up.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          When they started the forum, and some of us thought that people would use it, user Blackcloud_9 came up with this idea. There are some goo explanations of BMW chassis codes, and I added a description of common Mercedes codes.
          http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/forum/suggest-a-news-story/car-jargon-glossary/

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        Oh I get it, since I have never owned a venerable BMW or know the various platform codes I am less of an enthusiast…good point

        We all have our interests; old vs new, import vs domestic, muscle cars etc. learning the platform codes for bmw provides no enhancement to my quality of life. Just like learning the difference between a M21 and M22 and why the term ‘rock crusher’ came about would not matter to the BMW lover.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        >This is an enthusiast site and the platform codes the writers use are not obscure or strange, they are pretty much “car-guy-101″.

        More like that particular make/model-enthusiast-101. I’d seem like a real ass ranting about my V8 powered DN101 without alluding to what nameplate/generation that actually might be.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        E30, G-body, 993, etc are fairly common knowledge for anyone who reads this site regularly, however M21/M22 and DN101 are completely obscure. I am no German car fanboi, not a fanboi of any car brand in particular. I know the common ones because I read and retain knowledge. I admit I don’t know the Benz platforms very well, but I don’t really care, I understood the point of the article without having to know exactly which Mercedes is an R107. And if I did care, then I would Google it and add to my knowledge.

        But as a compromise, how about a link? Jack likes linking to detailed points of interest in his articles like guitars and watches. Then all you would have to do is click on the word you want more information about.

        Or we could take a poll, see what most readers want.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      This is a solid point. I will admit that I use the shorthand because it more readily conjures the particular car being discussed for most of our readers than the model year does.

      There’s also the fact that different markets often see a particular generation of vehicle appear in different years. Case in point: a 1994 Porsche 911 is a 993 in Germany but a 964 in North America.

      In general, I’ve used the chassis codes where they are widely known (E30 BMW) and the model year where it’s more obscure (“1991 Hyundai Excel” instead of “X2”).

      With that said, electrons are (almost) free so it doesn’t hurt to identify the car as clearly as possible.

      Please feel free to read “1986 560SL” in place of “R107”. :)

      • 0 avatar
        phlipski

        Jack,
        I’d love to see a write-up of your experience with owning the R109 so far. I’ve always wondered about buying one used. Although the real soft spot in my heart is for the R129 which I know I should probably never own, but sometimes a guy needs to make a dumb decision now and again – to stay grounded…..

        • 0 avatar
          Siorus

          The R129 isn’t as bad of an idea as you might assume. The power top mechanism is a nightmare if it breaks, but that’s true for all power convertible tops.

          The rest of the car, well… They’re one of the last “old style” Mercedes; aside from a very small number of known issues they’re basically bulletproof.

          My recommendation would be a 1997 or 1998 SL500; that gets you the best of both worlds-the newer 5spd 5g-tronic, and the older M119, 32v/DOHC V8.

          The 1999+ SL500s got the updated 24v/SOHC, 2 plug per cylinder M113 V8. Mechanically, it’s a fine engine, but it is not as good as the M119. The M119 has better throttle response, better power delivery, it sounds better, it revs better, it’s just… better. In every possible way. And it won LeMans.

          You don’t want the V12 or the I6, and you don’t want a pre-1997 car. I can go into the whys if you like, but you do *NOT* want a pre-1997 car.

          I can type up a quick buyer’s guide of exactly what to look for, but the cliff’s notes version is find a 1997-1998 SL500, with under 60,000 miles, change the transmission fluid, filter, and the wiring harness connector on the transmission harness, and enjoy it.

      • 0 avatar
        ellomdian

        Let’s be frank – the reason why we ‘enthusiasts’ use chassis codes is so that we can lie about the age of our cars, and to demonstrate the obscure, tribal knowledge that signifies us as ‘worthy.’

        “My 996 911” sounds a lot more exciting to people who don’t know that it could be a 15 year old car, and it leads people who know what it means to believe that you know what you are talking about.

        Side Note – Jack, this in probably one of your Top 5 articles. When is your damned book coming out?!?!?!

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      No privilege required to use Google (or, more precisely, no more than required to read this article in the first place).

      The first Google result for “R107” is the Wikipedia article on that generation of SL.

      The first Google result for “E36” is the Wikipedia article on that generation of 3-Series.

      If you see an unfamiliar term, Google it before you get upset. I’ve learned a ton about cars that way.

    • 0 avatar

      I nth what everyone has said about how great this article is.

      As well as the comments on use of platform codes in lieu of model names and years.

      • 0 avatar
        Opus

        Count me as another who dislikes the exclusive use of platform codes. To me, an “E30” could mean a standard Mercedes (E300) as easily as it means a 30-year old BMW 3-series. And I have NO idea what the proper code is for that Mercedes line, or a current 3-series.

  • avatar
    Waterloo

    This is 100% spot on. I drive a new car and I make sure my wife drives a new car because we have three kids and very busy lives. Privilege affords me to have a 67 Mustang Convertible and a 76 Honda CB360T. Both of which take way too much time to keep on the road for the very little amount if time I drive/ride them.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    “On the Internet, everybody has a six-figure savings account and a seven-figure retirement account. Everybody pays cash for everything while simultaneously dumping massive amounts of money into investments. They’re all the Millionaires Next Door and they know more about money and investing and prudent decision-making than Warren Buffet and Sam Walton combined.”
    Jack I have been saying this for about ten years now and its not just auto sites its every type of site you can think of. Also everyone is 6’4″ and 190lbs and votes for the right person and never been taken advantage of. They buy nothing but the best and new every year from computers to clothes to cell phones.

    I have been through the buy it an fix it type deal before and it worked for about two years however after that I got tired of reading those books I bought from Advanced auto on how to fix my 92 Taurus wagon. It would have lasted longer if I had the time to keep fixing it.

  • avatar
    furiouschads

    After we paid off our 1996 Sable wagon (painted teddy bear golden brown), we bought a Focus ZX3 in 2000. After we paid that off, we put the monthly payment equivalent into savings. That fund has covered repair costs for both cars (two transmissions in the wagon, one steering rack in the Focus) as well the recent cash purchase of a ’91 Lincoln Mark VII LSC. We now have enough cars to stay mobile when one goes down for a while. We also arranged our lives so we have access to good mass transit when we need it.

    Privilege–some. But choices can make a difference and provide room for maneuver.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      Well, that’s great, but many with even a fairly stable financial situation can’t do the N+1 car. It may be the cost (extra insurance, registration, taxes–these add up in a lot of places), or simply a function of parking (condo, apartment). Also, project/hobby cars aside, the idea of keeping three questionable cars on the road to make two sounds miserable.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        Yeah, it’s my understanding that if you have a teenager with a driver’s license in the house, the insurance company will decide that the teenager is a “primary driver” if the number of cars exceeds the number of adults.

        Growing up, I was “free” on my parents insurance because we only had two cars. It wouldn’t matter to the insurance company at all if my Dad bought a another beater as the backup to our ’77 VW Microbus and ’85 Civic Wagon. Ka-Ching! on those liability insurance payments!

        • 0 avatar
          seth1065

          In my case when my daughter got her DL, my insurance doubled to over 5 K a year for her to drive 4 miles a day to and from school, a real eye opener , and for everyone who will write in have her take the bus , they is not on to the local high school, you walk, or you get driven by mom or dad, in NJ you can only have one other person in your car if the driver is under 18 so no car pooling with a group of kids, stupid law but it is what it is, rant over.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I did the two-sucky-cars-to-make-sure-one-was-always-working thing for a couple of years when I had no money and a job where showing up on time was the most important measure of performance.

      I got rid of them both for one new car as soon as I was financially able.

      I’ve *never* (at least since I moved out of my mom’s house at 18) had a space where I can work on cars, and figuring out the logistics of getting them to and from mechanics and paying unpredictable repair bills was too much effort for the privilege of driving old crappy cars.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        I also think that people that talk about fixing everything themselves don’t place any value on their time. I leased my Impreza because I was tired from fixing other peoples cars all week, only to have to come home, and have to fix my own car on the my back in a cold garage. I’m going a bit in the other direction this time around, so we shall see. I’m going to buy an old Mercedes ML (163 Chassis) because they sell for cheap and I know them very well. There isn’t many problems on them that can throw me for a loop. The average person doesn’t have this, and it could drain their pocket books very quickly.

        My least favorite customer to get is the guy who just picked up an S-Class or CL and because why buy a lightly used Civic when you can drive a flagship Benz for the same money? They bring it in for their first service visit and leave with some very soiled underwear after they see their estimate.

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    I wish popcorn went with coffee. This is going to get fun.

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    I believe there absolutely is such a thing as privilege. The problem with the Gawker people is that they think it’s ALWAYS privilege. Sometimes, sometimes, people just make good choices, and work hard.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    “Linux is free if your time is worthless”

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      The guy that originally made that quote, switched to Linux two years afterwards. That quote is 17 years old and inaccurate today.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Windows 10 is “free” never thought you’d hear that, huh?

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Is the UI any better than 8? I cant stand that Smartphone stuff, blech.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            I dunno, I’m a Windows 7 Luddite

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Ryoku yes it’s not nearly as f*****, the only thing I had to do thus far is install the Classic Start button and that’s only because I prefer a Windows 2000/XP look.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            You’re not old enough to prefer a Windows 2000/XP look.

          • 0 avatar
            psarhjinian

            Give me PRGMAN.EXE or give me death.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            My associates degree is in Windows 2000 network design and my employer used Window XP well into 2011 before we switched to W7/Server 2008R2/SQL2008R2. Windows 2000 was the best overall version of Windows release despite its 64,000 known defects, IMO – so good in fact it served as the basis for Windows XP. If W10 takes off expect to see the industry go through another big switch, everyone skipped W8 but some adapted Server 2012.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I love the prompts on Windows 8.1, which say things like “Swipe your finger left to right on the screen” on my NOT TOUCHSCREEN laptop.

            Makes my day.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            “Windows 2000 was the best overall version of Windows release despite its 64,000 known defects, IMO – so good in fact it served as the basis for Windows XP”

            But, the whole world uses XP that’s why 7 is so popular and why 8 was such a miss. Like what Corey said what business is going to mess with an OS that tells you to swipe your non-touch screen? 10, so far looks good

      • 0 avatar
        Richard Chen

        The closest I’ll get to desktop Linux is my kids’ Chromebook.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Doesn’t make it any less true.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        I’m going tonight to fix yet another Windows machine for a friend. I’ll take free Mint Linux 17 KDE-LTS any old day over Windows. I used Windows when I have to which is pretty much only when I need Solidworks.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Hey now! Once you debug it it’s pretty solid.

    • 0 avatar
      Topher

      I feel like my two interests just collided: cars and linux.

      I’ve used a variant of Ubuntu since 2006, and I have to say that it’s come a long way. Currently using Ubuntu Gnome 14.10.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        I’ve run Linux as part of my livelihood since 1999, I’ve met and worked with Stallman and Brad Kuhn, and I was part of the Spindletp “free hardware” thing back in 2000.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I have to say, I find you a bit more awesome knowing you met Richard Stallman.

          For those outside the industry:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stallman

        • 0 avatar
          tubacity

          Any linux experiences to impart to the masses? Or maybe you have published them elsewhere in a less automotive area. Inquiring minds want to know.

          On another topic, used Win 2000 and XP with good results. But Win 8.1 has blue screens of death most times when doing Avira system scan. Curious. Was enough for me to re try Linux.

          Linux much easier for the novice than 10yrs ago when I last tried and gave up. Used pen linux on a Usb drive and let it install Zorin or Puppy slacko to run from Usb drive. Worked ok. Some other distros lock up, maybe due to my video card.

          Many distros have office suites included and install as default. A usable alternative if you don’t want to buy Microshaft software. However I still want to install music editing software. Will have to figure that out.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Nothing difficult about Mint Linux. I run it on four computers and one thumb drive. A little slower on the thumb drive but then it’s an old thumb drive.

            Install it and then open “software manager” from the desktop menu (in KDE the menu button is the same as Windows). Give it your admin password and then look for Audacity. That’s one editor. There are others to try. For office I run LibreOffice, Calligra, or Abiword. I have Kingsoft Office but it’s not quite there. Seems to soft lockup sometimes. Never takes the OS down but the app locks up so I open the system activity manager (same as Ctrl-Alt-Del in Windows) and force the app to close.

      • 0 avatar
        zamoti

        Ubuntu with Gnome, Unity is for punks, pfft. Mint KDE 4 life yo.

        Technically one could say the the “Signal & Slot” mechanism in Qt is far superior to the call-back mechanism that was used in GTK+, before it copied, although inadequately, Qt’s S&S. One could also say that the Qt AIP is far superior to the GTK+ in both depth and breadth. It is also better documented. The last time I checked, when one installed Glade & the GTK+ API there were at least 6 different independent projects that had to be version coordinated, whereas with Qt a single SDK zip file was all that was needed. KDE’s mime implementation is superior to Gnome’s.
        (Note: shamelessly stolen from some KDE geek’s post FYE).

  • avatar
    carguy67

    Shoulda changed the serpentine belt while you had the rad out (unless it’s new or close to it).

  • avatar
    319583076

    Nice piece, Jack.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Great article, Jack.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Great article Jack ! .

    I’m not rich by any means but I have privilege , mostly because I worked hard to get where I am , got more than a few lucky breaks along the way .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Nicely reasoned article. A lot of us, myself included, fall into the trap of failing to realize other people are in different situations, with different circumstances and limitations from our own, and therefore our life experiences and advice don’t always translate. This of course goes well beyond cars.

    Besides, we all know that if you are going to get a near-million-mile late model Japanese S-class competitor on the cheap it should be a Q45. Duh.

    • 0 avatar
      Chocolatedeath

      “Besides, we all know that if you are going to get a near-million-mile late model Japanese S-class competitor on the cheap it should be a Q45. Duh.”
      Was thinking the something.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        The Q45 is much harder to find in nice condition, as they fell to poor owners more quickly. As well, there were many fewer to go around, due to much lower sales figures.

        I like the mid 90s Q45 (and they were reliable, as long as you change the oil in the 4.1L on time), but I think I’d still go LS.

        • 0 avatar
          Chocolatedeath

          My dream is to own a 90 Q45 and a 2006 Q45. Then I would feel privileged. Although I have no idea how to fix either.
          If I were to get an LS it would be 2008 hybrid. Bet I could drive that for about 100k miles with no issues.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I would add in there an 00 Q45 Anniversary. Then you get all three body styles at their peak. The 06 had some nice exterior updates (basically mimicking what was on the M, because they knew it was going away).

          • 0 avatar
            juicy sushi

            I think I’d opt for the old, first generation M45 myself, but it would be a total money pit.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I’m not sure they’d be so bad. Same engine as the later M45’s. What goes wrong with those?

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          LS4xx > Q45.

          Ward’s 10 Best Engines of the 20th Century[21]
          General Motors V8 engine Small-block
          General Motors 3.8 L V6 engine 3800
          Cadillac 5.1 L V8 engine L-Head
          Ford 2.9 L Inline-four engine Ford Model T engine Ford Model T
          Ford V8 engine Flathead
          Porsche Flat-six engine 1964 –
          BMW Straight-six engine 1968 –
          Volkswagen Flat-four engine E-motor 1936-
          Honda Inline-four engine ED CVCC
          Toyota 4.0 L V8 engine UZ DOHC

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ward%27s_10_Best_Engines

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            The Audi 4.2 V8 and the Lexus 4.3 V8 (21st century) should also be on this list. And why is any VQ 3.0 not on here?!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            This is the list of the twentieth century, not the twenty first.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            The 4.2 was around since at least 98, and the VQ 3.0 was what, 95?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Ward’s evidently did not share your opinion on greatest motors of the twentieth century, but the VQ30DE did make the 1995 list and its VQ cousins were listed every year till 2008.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Good enough!

            I am very in favor of that 4.2 though. It got either 300 or 310 HP, and would turn out 23-24mpg highway at 78mph in a gigantic AWD A8L.

            My VQ35HR won’t get that unless you’re super careful and never exceed 68mph.

            The 4.2 is also much smoother.

        • 0 avatar
          jberger

          There are a couple of reasons you won’t find the early Q’s on the road. I’ve had a couple of them and they were fantastic cars IF you knew what you were getting into and did the correct preventative work.

          1) they didn’t sell nearly as well as the LS in the first couple of years, so fewer to start with.
          2) Serious issues on the timing chain tensioners which lead to catastrophic engine failure if they were not replaced in time. This issue killed a bunch of early Q45’s and was a VERY expensive repair.
          3) Transmission failures due to improper cooling. Again, the cost of the repair was a killer, even though it used the exact same unit as the Turbo 300ZX.

          If anyone is really interested in old Q’s the http://www.nicoclub.com is the place to be.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The first couple years of Q45 had notorious transmission issues. No thanks. I’ll take the LS.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I’ve owned a lot of beaters and bangers throughtout time, and even if I hate ‘throwing away’ money on (close to) new car payments, it gives me some peace of mind to know that I can get through the day without spending any of my ‘privilege. And even if I get annoyed at people who buy brand new cars at outrageous prices, I also understand that most of them can’t do as much on their own car, and handle as much annoyance as I have gotten used to over the years.
    But, all cars can break down. You are never safe, even if you can choose to buy better or worse odds for yourself.
    I am privileged in that I actually have the space and spare time to buy two old cars if I want to, although I will have to work on the out in the open, with very unstable weather conditions, so soon enough the modern, boring (and extremely expensive) car will have to go.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Tavarish is not writing his pieces for MSN Autos or Consumer Reports. I don’t think his philosophy is “everyone can do this!” It is “Jalopnik readers can do this!”

    I’m high on tools, free time, and mechanical knowledge while low on children and pets. I also live in Florida so the weather is generally pleasant. This means I can daily drive a ’68 Pontiac Executive if I feel like it. That doesn’t mean I recommend it to everyone though.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      I don’t think even most Jalopnik readers could do this for a daily-driver commuter car (ESPECIALLY if they don’t have space to park a backup vehicle.)

      I’m TOTALLY on-board with the idea that car-payment-wise, it makes complete sense to keep repairing any car (even professionally instead of DIY) more-or-less indefinitely until the drivetrain grenades, parts aren’t available, the body rusts out, or it gets claimed in an accident. Even a rebuilt warrantied engine is often just a few months of payments on a new car.

      But once the rest of life intrudes on this financially-wise utopia, it really means a car’s life for you has an upper bound of “likelihood it’s going to leave you stranded and/or broke at an inopportune moment”.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I’m sure Tavarish has plenty of free time when his articles are the same cheap format each time.

    • 0 avatar
      Don Mynack

      Agreed. Tavarish’s pieces are more a celebration of near-old cars that are great and reasonably restore-able than some kind of endorsement of fun over practicality. One would have to be a dunce to read his stuff and not think that.

    • 0 avatar
      kmoney

      IIRC his pieces flow from cars he flips on a short-term basis. There is a big difference between buying them, repairing them and getting them off your books faster than a bundle of sub-prime mortgages vs. actually using them for a couple years.

      Many of the cars in his articles have frequent and expensive problems that would be nightmares for even professional mechanics. Google “s600 oil cooler leak repair.” Even if you were a skilled tech, doing this at home in your spare time would probably take 2+ weeks.

  • avatar
    scott25

    GREAT article, as usual from Jack, and one I hope everyone who regularly comments on automotive sites reads

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    One reason why I love TTAC. Brilliant socio-economic commentary masquerading as a story about cars.

    As someone who for years could not afford to take time off work to repair a car, had small children who needed to get to and from activities in all kinds of weather and largely at night, I made sure that my wife drove the newest, safest vehicle that we could afford.

    That meant leasing a new base model Dodge Caravan/Chev Venure/Pontiac Montana for her or taking over an existing lease on a low mileage vehicle.

    The costs were guaranteed. Any major repairs under warranty. No worry about breakdowns at night, far away or in the dark and cold.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “Oh, that’s the plastic tube to which the hose attached, fragmented and roasted.”

    This is the exact thing which happened to me on my way home from high school (in 02) on one hot day, in my good-for-first-car 87 Audi 5000. The radiator replacement was much more costly than $197.50.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      That’s because Audi probably requires some ridiculous radiator shiped from Ingolsadt. The 5000 then has to be put on a lift, have the front end removed, and three German born techs take 14 hours to complete the job.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        IIRC, even considering it was 2002 dollars, I think it was something like $430. I don’t recall waiting more than a day or so to have the replacement part. But $430 hurts a lot when you work at Kroger, making $5.25/hr (before union dues).

        We used a jack, no lift, and managed to do it without full front end removal. I think my dad was most irritated with that car because of the many skid plates.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      The memories! The SECOND backbreaking steering rack replacement on my dad’s ’85 5000S was a sure sign it was time to go. That and the most awful automatic climate control ever. Terrific car to drive, though.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        It seems like a bunch of people around here have Audi 5000 memories. It’s like TTAC is a former Audi 5000 owner support group. I know there is a guy that posts on here from time to time that owns two 5000s and DDs them.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Yes him! He put a great pic once of his two lovely 5000s. One sedan and one much rarer wagon, which I believe was also a manual.

        • 0 avatar
          sproc

          It makes sense. It was a beautiful car with a fresh shape, had tons of room, and handled really well. If 60 Minutes hadn’t done their smear piece, many more folks probably would have owned them and remembered them fondly.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    I completely agree, and I’ll take it one step further: I enjoy basically all of the same priviledges as Jack, with the white collar job, ability to absorb a surprise $200 repair bill, etc, but even these can only insulate me so far. I’ve got a non-clock-punching moderately flexible lifestyle professional job, but I figure I’ve got 1-2 opportunities a year to use the “can’t make it in because my car broke down” excuse before I get the “we pay you a good salary, why can’t you buy a reliable car” question. I work with very reasonable understanding people, but still at some point you’re going to get the “he’s just not that reliabile a worker” reputation if you’re taking surprise days off every couple months because your old luxury car sucks.

    I place a huge, huge value on knowing that every single day my car is going to start and run, and if it isn’t it’s getting towed to a VERY apologetic dealer who will fix it and lend me a nice new luxury car to drive in the mean time, all at their expense. Doubley so for my wife’s car.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Nailed it! Dependable people don’t drive undependable cars

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      At least where I work, no one has an issue if I need to work from home because a kid is ill, repair guy is coming to the house at an inopportune time, etc. Dependability means I get my crap done, and if I don’t happen to be in the office but haven’t gone dark, there is no issue.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        @Nick

        The sort of people who punch a clock are not the same ones who have work from home or remote capabilities.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Like anything else, it’s not a problem until it’s a problem. You miss 1-2 days a year because your car broke down? No one cares. But if it’s every few weeks, or once a month, after a while it’s “why can’t you make this problem stop.” If my kid is sick occasionally and I need to leave work to tend to her fine. If my kid is sick once a week, it’s “you need to figure out alternate child care.”

        Agreed, getting your work done goes a long way towards keeping it “not a problem” but eventually you’re going to miss enough face to face meetings or the big boss will wander by your vacant desk enough times to start asking questions. Besides, Murphy’s law dictates your car will never break down that quiet Friday when you’ve got nothing going on, it will only break down the day you’re giving the big presentation or hosting the big meeting.

        • 0 avatar
          Nick 2012

          I fully agree. My point was in the same vein as S2K’s – doing good work gives you the privilege of not having the occasional unforeseen absence – regardless of cause – counted against you.

        • 0 avatar
          Japanese Buick

          Another thing to keep in mind is how expectations for cars have changed. In the 1970s and early 1980s, no one would hold it against you for having car trouble several times a year. Of course people were driving Chrysler Newports, Ford Granadas, and for fun Fiats or MGs. Getting stranded or being late because of car troubles was part of life.

          Nowadays, cars are so much better and so much more reliable… that doesn’t wash any more. Thank you Honda and Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      nwa2014

      Not sure if anyone already pointed it out, but non-shift work doesn’t necessarily mean that work-at-home is an option. There’s plenty of salaried people in the natural sciences and engineering who need to work in a lab environment. With engineering comes the pain of late nights, tight deadlines, and demos. Hobby cars don’t cut it there.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I think this fear is wildly overblown. When I made a lot less money, I drove an assortment of older sub $5k Saab’s, Volvos, vws, bmws, even a bunch of Peugeots. I had maybe ONE breakdown that caused me to be late for work in about 20 years. If you maintain a vehicle correctly, it won’t break down. Even my notoriously unreliable P38 Rover has only broken down once, because I ignored a problem I was well aware of too long. Oops!

      I do think tavarish takes it to a ridiculous extreme. It is one thing to drive and maintain a $3k Volvo 940 wagon, it is a different thing entirely to maintain a $15k AMG S-Class. There is a happy medium in there somewhere.

      But I am a privileged half-white guy, with a 2700sq-ft garage, a zillion dollars in tools, and two lifts. ;-)

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Okay, I agree with the general, and I’d argue, inarguably sound logic of the points made using this or any other used vehicle, even of the legendary reliability type, BUT –

    – only after a literal mileage threshold.

    Could the same points Jack makes here (assuming a well maintained LS400 or equivalent) be made of a 150,000 miles-on-the-odometer?

    Seriously think about the difference between a 150,000 mile used yet bona fide, stone cold reliable vehicle, that’s been well maintained, yet will still sell at an impressive discount to a much more cheaply built, cheaply priced (when new) new vehicle, VERSUS A NEARLY MILLION MILE EXAMPLE OF THAT SAME VEHICLE.

    Does the equation change?

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      But you’ll lose Jack’s shock factor! Then the writing isn’t as good!

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I know. That’s a legitimate point & I understand why Jack had to raise the bar so high to hammer this point.

        I want to adjust my criteria as state above, too, coming from the opposite, or at least non-parallel point; instead of 150,000 mile used (legendarily reliable, well-maintained vehicle), how about one with 85,000 miles on the promoter?

        The reason I make said adjustment is that I came within mere hours of buying a one-owner (private sale), absolutely mint 2006 Lexus LS430, with 56,000 miles on it located in Connecticut, for $21,000 in 2011.

        What would that $21,000 buy me in the new market that would have been as solid, comfortable, well-built, durable, and overall, as good as that used LS430?

    • 0 avatar
      Don Mynack

      Agreed. Jack seemed to take 5000 words to make an incredibly obvious point with this.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      If you can afford a 150,000 mile LS, you’re already doing fine in the privilege department. They’re not that cheap.

      Apply Jack’s logic to, say, the 160,000-mile ’89 Taurus SHO that I had at the point in my life when I was the poorest, and it holds up perfectly.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Privilege is excessively misused by the lazy.

    There are situations when driving a used POS does put more money in your pocket so that you can buy food. I could afford to eat and heat my dingy Livonia apartment because I worked on things myself with the time that I had when I wasn’t working and living off of unemployment checks.

    I sure as heck wasn’t on the internet back then because I had other things to tend to and the library had all the internet I needed to apply for jobs.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Livonia is straight pimping compared to my pre-hipster influx Midtown studio apartment with a view of a brick wall. N-body love got me through. I will always love the Olds Acheiva.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        heh. that is bad ass.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Ahh the Acheiva. Available in Sports Coupe form, with mixed style Olds logos, depending on if you’re looking the front, sides, or interior.

      • 0 avatar
        AoLetsGo

        I had an apartment on Cass back in 1986 and I had to walk up hill both ways to get to campus:) It definitely was not the same place as the Midtown hipster haven it is now. I had quit my job and sold my new CJ7 to go back for my masters and my new ride was a four door 69 Impala ($200) that no one ever fucked with.
        The saddest story of that time was about the nice old man that ran a tiny used book store on Cass just south of Warren. I liked to stop in and just browse, chat and pick up a book. Some punk came in one afternoon and shot and killed him for the $30 in the till.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          Ahhh, my Saturday college nights driving from Ann Arbor to the Ramada Inn basement ‘City Club’ in the 90s.

          There were all kinds of broad spectrum college girls there, from all-American types (really) to sophisticated la femme nikita type European Au Pairs (my first ride in a BMW was one belonging to a Danish Au Pair’s – temporarily residing in Birmingham, MI – host parents).

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      You don’t know what it’s like, bootstrapper. Being poor is too expensive to escape.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I thought the government was supposed to pull us up by our bootstraps and give us all the stuff.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          You had a studio in Midtown AND a car, you were never poor

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Studio/zero bedroom apartment. And Midtown Detroit, not Midtown NY. I should have called it the Cass Corridor because Tres would have known what I was talking about and that’s what it used to be called before businesses started branding the area between downtown Detroit and New Center, “Midtown”.

            My rent was $375/month, plus $20 for parking. I never considered myself “poor” because I worked 40 hours a week and went to school. I didn’t have time to worry about labels.

            The other thing that gave me an advantage was military service. Three years of service will get would get you a four year degree from a state school that you are a resident in. That’s a government program benefiting me, but I paid for it. I certainly paid less than others though.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            “And Midtown Detroit, not Midtown NY”

            Oops, my bad, BIG difference lol

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Here’s the location of Honest? John’s, my favorite bar while I was in college (well maybe even now too):

            http://goo.gl/maps/2Wjky

            It’s kind of the opposite of NYC.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Is that a scary place to be at night? On that sunny StreetView day, it looks alright. But I dunno about walking out of there at 11PM.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            It’s significantly less scary than 5-10 years ago. I’ve taken my daughter, and other family down there at night. I wouldn’t have in 2004 or 2005. At least you can see someone coming a block or so away :).

            The new Red Wings arena will be viewable on that street view in a couple years, so it will continue to get nicer.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          Nope, it’s job is to strip you of your privilege and make sure some other *lucky* person gets a piece by virtue of their race and/or sex.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      What kind of POS were you driving?

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        a 1996 Ford Explorer with a bad transmission while my wife (now ex wife) was driving my Cavalier to her minimum wage job… I had to repair collision damage to her car (front end collision – radiator bracket on forward).

        She had a 600 dollar student loan payment (that was tanking us monthly), I put my loans on hold after I got laid off and was using my cancelled car insurance and 1996 ford explorer scrap yard money to fly around the country and interview.

        at the time I wasn’t stressed out at all. I just looked at it was ‘the usual.’
        Today I have a new appreciation for my mundane routine, loving girl friend and my sh1tty boat and average auto supplier job.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          I consider a boat purchase once or so each spring, but decide to stick with FWBoats instead (and I do buy their gas & beer/liquor tabs no matter how much they try and resist; it’s still way cheaper).

          • 0 avatar
            AoLetsGo

            Exactly, I consider myself a first class first mate. I can drive, dock, do the lines, clean, buy the beer, food and gas.
            Like you said much cheaper for me and every captain likes to have a good first mate.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            I have the best deal ever at the moment. Good friend has a nice 24′ boat, but nothing to tow it with. I have a big SUV, but no boat. I let him use my SUV to tow the boat as needed, I have use of boat as wanted. Just costs me gas, and I help him winterize it and put the dock in and out of the lake.

            I only want to go boating about 2x-3x a summer anyway, and usually when I do it I go haul it out of the lake and take it down to the ocean. Which he also appreciates as the salt water kills a lot of the guck that grows on the hull in the lake.

            I won’t consider buying a boat until I can afford one large enough to use as a winter residence somewhere much warmer than Maine, and I am not holding my breath on THAT one.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      That’s great, if you live in a place that lets you work on cars. Both of the apartment complexes I lived in when I was at my poorest would impound your car and evict you if you did mechanical work in the parking lot.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        I wasn’t supposed to, but I laid down some particle board to protect the pavement from stains. I also buttoned up the front end every night and gave the site manager lunch from Subway every so often.

        I would spend 2-3 hours a day just in tear down and rebuild to make the car look like it was operational.

        I should have lived in midtown with bball40dtw as I paid 700/month for that 1970’s sh1t hole.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          You should have. Then I could have gotten a bigger place and had someone to split a case of beer with.

        • 0 avatar
          Wheeljack

          Similar experience here – I lived in a decent (but pricey) apartment in Northville when I was working for Ford and commuting to the RenCen every weekday. Even though it was against the rules, I would maintain and repair my Merkur Scorpio in the apartment parking lot. I went to special pains to make sure that the car “appeared” functional at the end of the day even if the repair wasn’t done yet. Heaven forbid some delicate flower walks by and sees a car part on the ground – the horror!

          More than once there was a friendly reminder in the monthly newsletter that tenants were not permitted to repair their cars in the parking lot – no doubt because of me :)

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            I once changed my timing belt in my Volvo S70 in the parking lot of a fairly “nice” condo/apartment complex (“nice” means it was gated- although the gate was broken a lot). It took me four hours(!). I had banked on two (my 240 had only taken me one hour). I tried to do a front wheel hub/bearing on the same car in the same parking lot, but hit a dead end and gave up, put it all back together, and let the stealership do it for me.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          Back in the mid-90s I rented a mini-storage place to use as a garage while I was in the military. Manager was cool with it as long as I kept everything clean. Used an inverter to power my tools and drop light. Kept me sane when I was mentally done with the military. We had an on base auto shop but the gate guards would not let me towbar my project car on and off base. Someone was always busting my chops over something. And leaving it at the auto shop cost something too. Every once in a while I could talk my way back on base with my project car early on a Sat morn.

          Consequently all my living accomodation choices for 25 years came with a nod to my hobby/economic need to maintain my ride.

      • 0 avatar
        greaseyknight

        Somehow my cheap apartment in the middle of a nice part of town forgot to put that term in the lease. Valve adjustment on a full fairing bike, sanding and painting rust on the car, not to mention oil changes and brakes. Managers never said a word to me with stuff strewn all over, but I keep the pavement clean and everything looks put together and clean by the end of the day.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Livonia chicas can be cute, but I grew up around Grosse Pointe girls, yet preferred St. Clair Shores ones (GPS girls were too whiney, spoiled & demanding – SCS girls were fun, fun, fun).

      What are the equivalent of GP girls near Livonia? Northville?

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Northville or Novi. Novi is way different from even 10 years ago.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          I thought Novi has become rattier since 2008, no?

          I am pretty sure Canton got more Cantontucky (not Taylortucky level…but just on a relative scale).

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            It might have. I was out of Michigan for awhile, and I rarely stray west of Telegraph now. Novi was a very different place in the mid-2000s than it was in the late 90s. I grew up in Livingston County, and the whole county changed since I graduated from high school in 2002.

            My wife is from the Plymouth-Canton area and she hates going back there.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    Jack, this may be one of your best pieces.

    It was concise, insightful, and a nuanced examination of different perspectives on what is supposedly a simple topic. And it was a pleasure to read at the same time.

    It’s a pity that more writers/thinkers who supposedly shape opinions on “big issues” aren’t capable of this.

    Thanks for writing this.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    privilege – a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.

    I assume Jack was overusing this word with his tongue firmly in his cheek. I for one can’t stand the assertion that my place on the socio-economic totem pole was granted to me simply because of my ethnicity and/or gender.

    I started with nothing and worked my way through college in various food service jobs. I’m now making a decent living, have a house and three cars, and am still paying on a college loan. And actually, the only thing my college education got me was the ability to work hard, I never used my degree.

    Aside from all that, I agree with the premise of the article. A “cheap” car is only cheap until it breaks. Owning any car take a certain level of disposable income. If you don’t have that, you’re better off using public transportation until you can really afford a car.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Success in life, no matter how smart or hardworking you are, depends on at least some luck.

      While certainly some frothing left-winger types assert that demographic luck is nearly the sole determinant of success, that’s just as much of a fallacy as the far-right wingnut insisting that a single parent with two young kids (maybe he/she is a widow(er))working three jobs (with unsteady hours) will magically rise up the economic ladder if only he/she “works hard”.

      “Better off using public transportation” is really not an option in a huge swath of the country. For those people, no car = no job.

      • 0 avatar
        mcarr

        I will grant that luck certainly has a place in one’s success of failure. It would not take much of a string of bad luck for me and my family to be out on the street. The issue I have is that some people point to their definition of “privilege” as an excuse why they, or some segment of society, will never be able to crawl out of their current economic situation. Lot’s of excuses why they can’t, but never actually doing anything about it. I’m not saying that hard work is any sort of guarantee, but strangely enough, good luck seems to happen more often when you keep trying.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        No, if demographics and etnic backgrounds were all it took to be successful then all the country dudes and dudettes around here sitting on their backsides couldn’t help but be successful. Instead they emulate all the mistakes of those minority members who also can’t seem to find financial success and security – substance abuse, children out of wedlock by various fathers, lack of education or training, lack of motivation, lack of financial plan, etc.

        There is a recipie for success with varying ingredident proportions that change depending on where you live, when you live and who you are. Opportunities are different everywhere. Best to be well prepared to make good use of those opprtunities when they are found or present themselves.

        I too am not using much of my education. That piece of paper opened alot of doors for me though. So did my military service and training. So did all my life experiences b/c I chose not to sit at home and watch TV day in and day out. So have self taught skills like carpentry, IT support, vehicle repair, plumbing, etc, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “And actually, the only thing my college education got me was the ability to work hard, I never used my degree.”

      The degree brought you credibility. Regardless of whether you’ve ever worked in a field related to your major, people with a bachelor’s degree — any bachelor’s degree — are taken more seriously and have more opportunities than those who do not. You would not be in the same position if you had not been able to get that degree.

      “I for one can’t stand the assertion that my place on the socio-economic totem pole was granted to me simply because of my ethnicity and/or gender.”

      Certainly not, but if you are honest, would you have really experienced exactly the same outcome if you had been of a different race? Would all the same lucky breaks have gone your way, and would all of the people who invested in you have chosen to do so? I’m in a very good position, and a whole lot of hard work went into it, but I can say with a lot of confidence that I wouldn’t have had all the same lucky breaks if I hadn’t been born into an upper-middle-class white family.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        @dal

        Fully agree. I would not have the job I got after I returned from S. Korea if I did not have a BA. They don’t hire people here without at least a BA. The only ones left are the ones who have worked here since pre-1985ish, when it was not a requirement. I spent my year that HR requires in that position, then moved somewhere else.

        “Certainly not, but if you are honest, would you have really experienced exactly the same outcome if you had been of a different race?”

        Also very true. Though this probably is less applicable in areas of the country where minorities are more prevalent?

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          Also depends on whether you walk into an interview with some charisma or whether you walk in acting like a knucklehead. I’ve met all sorts of people that broke their ethnic sterotypes. Plenty of minorities I’d happily work beside b/c they had their life in order and were making good choices. And I’ve met far more white guys who I wouldn’t hire to even mop the floor.

    • 0 avatar
      PJmacgee

      I didn’t get the impression that any of this was tongue-in-cheek, it sounded like an honest self-reckoning, and gentle reminder to [even unwittingly] self-righteous knuckleheads everywhere.

      “If you don’t have that, you’re better off using public transportation until you can really afford a car.”

      Spoken like a true person of privilege…

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Yeah; I have no problem with the idea that “just because you know how to work on a car and have the tools and capital to do that, that ain’t the universal experience”.

      It’s just not “privilege”; it’s not a *private law*, which is the root of the term.

      I despise that abuse of language, not that Jack invented it – he’s just using it as the people who like to use it do.

      But they should find a different term, or coin an apt one.

      Because that just isn’t what “privilege” is.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Even experienced *privileged* white, financially secure, mechanically adept people can still appreciate a new car without feeling guilty.

    Take the case of a friend of mine who is a well seasoned tech who bought a manual transmission 540il. $3,700 worth of parts in 8 months and countless hours in the garange fixing it, he gave up, sold it and bought a brand new Ram. Now that time can be spent on project cars instead of on his daily. It’s not only the cost, but the time. Opportunity cost too, as he had to pass up a lot of side work in favor of getting his daily back on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      This is a good point. I’ve been frustrated for a while now chasing down a driveline vibration in my old 4Runner for the past year or so, the money invested into this troubleshooting has not been very much but the time it takes for me to swap driveshafts, take the shaft to a shop for balancing, then putting everything back together (4 or 5 times now) adds up. Now I enjoy some tinkering in the garage, don’t get me wrong, and this is my secondary vehicle to my 2012 Civic commuter, but my patience does run out. I prefer to only have to do maintenance, even when it is fairly intensive. Repeat repairs and not being able to track down an issue start to grate on my nerves.

      I’ve taken that 4Runner all over, multiple times from Indiana to NY and PA and back, down to the Outer Banks. I had to cut one drive short and leave it with my gfs parents’ place when one of the fuel injectors started cutting out. Much like in this story, we just took my gf’s 2012 Camry instead and my brother and I diagnosed and swapped in a new $50 injector in about 1.5 hours. That would be a very different story for a family traveling with children in an area where they didn’t have family nearby to just leave the vehicle, or someone to diagnose the issue and repair it inexpensively.

      Even as a DIY car guy, I’ve been looking longingly at 2014 4Runners, in search of a totally reliable trouble free experience.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Hey, what did the driveshaft rebalance cost? What state? Having trouble finding somone in my state believe it or not and have no idea what it should cost.

        I put new U-joints in my CR-V driveshaft and one yoke was machined a bit wonky. The u-joint clips center the joint on the inside of the yoke and I welded a bit of steel in and then machined both surfaces with a Bridegport mill. Its balance is close but still a bit off. Honda never expected that surface to be something that was dimensionally important I suspect. The original u-joints were staked in. The replacements clipped in.

    • 0 avatar
      Don Mynack

      I have a practical 2007 Toyota Sequoia with a couple of major design flaws from the manufacturer (the $4000 Air Induction System problem and weak lower ball joints) both or which have lead to recall, neither of which cover my vehicle, yet the problem still exists. I was able to bypass the ridiculous Air Induction System with an easily installed fix bought from ebay, and I’m going to have to bite the bullet and put in new lower ball joints to keep the wheels from falling off. What’s your point?

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      This is true. Allocation of resources. When I was unemployed and broke, my time was worth absolutely nothing except for the services I could perform to better my life. My full time job was to save money and to find another job.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Perfect point. I am completely capable of buying and maintaining older used cars, and I would save most of the $1000 a month I put towards new car payments. But I don’t HAVE to anymore. And I only have so much free time with my crazy travelling job. So a couple toy cars I can mess with as I have time, and a new car or two that I don’t have to.

      I scew up occasionally on the toys. I absolutely lost my shirt, pants and underwear on the Porsche 924s that turned out to be waaaay more of a project than anticipated. Cut my losses and bought a new Abarth to autocross instead.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        For cars you depend on daily, nothing beats new cars, once you’re on the ‘rebuilt parts’ treadmill. It’s all crap rebuilds, even “Factor Authorized” dealer parts. I’ve resorted to junkyard OE parts and had much better luck.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          True dat. Many reman parts are a crap shoot. Luckily, many are available with lifetime warranties. It’s still a piss off to swap the same part in a short amount of time though.

  • avatar
    harshciygar

    Great piece and something I can relate to.

    I spent most of my youth driving and fixing hoopties. I often said out-loud I’d never buy a new car, but I finally had a breakdown when both my 92 Mustang and 98 Accord shit the bed in the same week. In addition to the cost in parts, because I work for myself it was quite literally costing me income, because every hour fixing the cars was an hour I wasn’t making money.

    For the first time in my life I don’t worry about whether my car will make it home or not. More importantly, I don’t have to worry about whether or not my wife will be safe in an accident, as the Sonic has more airbags than all my previous cars combined (not an exaggeration).

    Owning a new car is also a privilege, and one I had to make sacrifices to get. My wife and I share the car, which often means getting up early or staying up late so I can drop-off/pick her up from work. We also bought had a budget that put 90% of new cars out of our reach, and even though I have no reason to be embarrassed, it’s a little disheartening when even a Ford Focus is a bit of a stretch for the budget.

    Still, my monthly car payment is less than our student loan payments. I could damn near afford a Lexus were it not for that, but such is life in the 21st century.

    • 0 avatar
      MeJ

      Nothing to do with the article but my wife just bought a Sonic and she absolutely loves it! She is not a “car person” at all but now is always saying how much she adores her car. I actually really like it too, it has a very cool stance.
      How do like the Sonic?

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Add a $1500 Chevy sedan to the mix. I just did. Minimum investment, lots of utility. We were sharing our Honda 100% of the time previously. $25 per month insurance.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Great article, Jack. The time and resources to keep an old vehicle running is a luxury/privilege that most people do not have. It’s not reasonable to expect a single mom to change her own alternator (or any other repair) in a parking lot so she can get to work.

    I would note that a lot of the same principles you applied to owning an older car also apply to owning a house. The older the home, the more time and money it consumes to keep it maintained, let alone updated. Too many people go from renting to owning without realizing how much time, money, and effort it takes to clean the gutters, paint, replace the hot water heater, etc. Unlike renting there is a lot more to home ownership than a house payment and if you don’t have the time/skills/motivation it can become a headache at best and a nightmare at worst.

    • 0 avatar
      AoLetsGo

      Good point, as the owner of a 19th century Victorian home in a town where it is worth your while to keep it cherry. You would not believe the costs to maintain an old home.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    It’s expensive to be poor. A fact that many of the bootstrapper “B&B” fail to realize.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Very much agree.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      I agree, the poor are taken advantage of at every opportunity. But being middle-class certainly isn’t cheap, either.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Rentier capitalism is currently turning what’s left of the American Middle Class into debt serfs for life (as in the UK).

        • 0 avatar
          spreadsheet monkey

          “debt serfs for life (as in the UK)”
          Why is the UK so bad that you’ve picked it out as an example?

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Because they used to have way less upward mobility & a much smaller true MIDDLE class (people that can afford a decent life for them and their children w/out going into BK level debt) than we did.

            We’ve managed to catch down to them since the 70s at a fast rate, though (especially since the late 80s).

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I may be expensive to be poor, but if someone can get through high school and get above a 35 on the ASVAB, they can get job training, room & board, a paycheck, and paid college tuition. There are obviously exceptions, but the military is still taking applications.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        …along with iffy post-military job prospects, an environment that works very well for some personalities and very poorly for others, and the ever-present chance of being torn apart by IEDs.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          You have less of a chance of encountering IEDs now than at anytime in the last 15 years. Plus, many jobs don’t require being on the front lines. The Navy will let you lob cruise missles at ISIS from hundreds of miles away.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        This isn’t as clear cut as you might think. In rural Ohio, where jobs don’t exist, the Army has a nine month waitlist.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Nine month waitlist for basic or nine month waitlist to sign up? The Army has been doing delayed entry (DEP) for awhile now. In 2003, I waited six months to go to basic. It’ll depend on job and BT location.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        @bball40dtw: Absolutely. Did that twenty plus years ago and it was the best thing in the world for me. Money in my pocket, grew me up, etc. Hope my sons do the same when they turn 18 or 19 if they aren’t motivated to immediately start college. GO NAVY!

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Right on the money Jack.

    Why do I own a 46 year old car? Because I don’t have to rely on it as primary transportation. It is a toy.

    If I didn’t have a 2010 (50,000 miles) and a 2004 (105,000 miles) in my driveway I would have no business owning an elderly vehicle.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Nice piece, although an extreme example. That said, most cars today remain serviceable well beyond the point people trade them for a new one and a new lease or car note payment.

    Every car that I have owned, I have bought new and owned at least 10 years. The exception is a 1980 Audi 5000 diesel that I bought new and unloaded after 7 years. It was a repair queen. And a 1987 Mustang GT that I bought 6 months old and unloaded after 6 years. It was just too impractical. Granted, most of the cars I have owned since then were Toyota or Honda products. However, even the Saab 9-5 wagon I bought new in 2002 I kept for 12 years and 110,000 miles. It was not exactly reliable, but it wasn’t a total repair queen. The 2001 Z3 3.0 that I bought as a CPO in 2003, I still own. It’s been very reliable — a few sensors failed, which I replaced on my own; and I replaced the entire cooling system prophylactically at 60,000 miles. I also replaced the brake discs and pads, but I consider that maintenance.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    The trick has to be knowing how old is too old, and how many miles are too many miles. My fiancee and I are running the pay cash and fix-as-you-go route right now, and so far so good. She’ll reach break-even on the van by summer time. I consider “break even” as the point where the cost of the used car and the total of any repairs would equal the sum of making $300 per month payments up to that point. My Altima has probably 18 more months, so it’ll be a while before I know I made a good move.

    Another advantage though is that if the cars run problem-free for a few years we can still sell them and get more than 50% of what we originally paid. Most of the depreciation was covered long before we bought either vehicle. Someone will ALWAYS scoop up a reliable beater.

    Combined we slightly cross the 6-figure income mark, but man, 2 car payments was quite painful. We had to hit up the credit cards way too much our first year of living together. I love cars, but I fell out of love with car payments.

    When we take our cars to our personal mechanic, I make a point to ask “do you see anything else under there we need to take care of?” every time. I’m basically offering him a chance to make extra money, so if he says no then I’m pretty sure everything’s good. Time will tell!

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Really, the blue book value of a car is a poor measure of when it makes sense to replace it. What a car is worth to you is VERY different from what it’s worth to a prototypical purchaser, assuming you use the car for actual transportation.

      Some examples:
      – To you, driving to work every day, a ’98 Chevy Prizm is worth the same as a ’98 Corolla that rolled of the line 15 seconds later. It doesn’t matter if you can’t otherwise give the Prizm away.
      – A car “worth” $15k at trade-in is a complete money-pit if you are one missed start time away from getting fired and the car stranded you by the roadside twice in the last month for rinky-dink $100 repairs.

      If you have a spare car, everything changes. If you don’t (many people have no place to park one) if you need reliable transportation your “makes financial sense to get rid of it threshold” is very different.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        @sirwired: VERY true. VERY…

        I have been amazed from time to time by the reasons I hear people give for replacing a vehicle. Or for what they buy. None of my business but if they are making small talk…

        This week’s doozy was the Mom I work with telling me how her daughter who is possibly upside down in a lease (wrecked it the first few months) is looking for a brand new $25K something or another. Daughter is a college student making a bit over minimum wage but not working full time.

        I offered to put them in touch with my friend who sold me his $1500 Chevy I bought last week before I bought it. Nope. Not good (new) enough. Might need expensive repairs or something eventually. Like four hundred per month wouldn’t pay for alot of repairs on a used car? That’s okay. Glad I bought the Chevy.

  • avatar
    ItsMeMartin

    It was definitely a good piece, even by Jack’s high standards, and brought up some wise points about used car ownership. I would like to add one thing to it, however.
    Jack made it clear that having a well-used car as a DD is not a sensible proposition for those who have neither the money, nor the technical acumen or time needed to keep it in drivable condition.
    The thing is: when does a dependable car become a potential liability? The problem with you Americans is that far too many of you are inclined to believe that the car is only good for 3 years or so. You might get sold a true lemon or rack up so many miles during those 3 years that in your case it would make sense; but is it so for the majority? Definitely not.
    There’s nothing inherently wrong about flipping cars every 3 years if you can afford it. The problem is, how many Americans can actually afford it compared to how many think they do? As someone on this site once said, most Americans have no idea how close to homelessness and carlessness they are. Instant gratification has its price and I thought the events of the last 8 years would make you take notice. No such luck.
    Coming back to cars: ain’t nothing wrong with getting a new car every 3 years or so but don’t try to pass it off as sensible investment or a true necessity. In the majority of cases, it’s a luxury, plain and simple.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      I think somebody’s been reading too much about us “problem Americans” flipping cars.

      The average age of a car in the US is 11.4 years. The average age of a car in the EU is 8.6.

      • 0 avatar
        ItsMeMartin

        Believe me, there is nothing I am more happy and willing to criticize than the European Union. Yes, Western Europeans change cars far too often, and the reason for that is that the safety inspections are so strict and labor costs so high that it makes more financial sense to just keep buying new ones. Those strict requirements are a way of making sure that the car sales remain high and the car companies get their share of sweet, sweet money. It’s a reliable and efficient process of transfering money from individuals to corporations made under the acceptable and politically correct guise of “safety”. The aim of those strict inspections is the same as that of the Car Scrappage Scheme or Cash For Clunkers programs – destroy good items in order to artificially prop up new car demand so that the Government’s corporate sponsors can benefit from it on the expense of the taxpayer. By the way, look at some images of british junkyards. The cars scrapped there are in no shape or form rustbuckets. They are usually decent cars with a lot of life left in them, whose fate was decided when one or two expensive components just gave up.
        I do not intend to criticize Americans only. Believe me, the wastefulness connected with the treatment of used cars in Europe is beyond criminal, and Western Europeans are even less responsible with their new car purchases. What I’m criticizing is firstly consumptionism and secondly trying to rationalize a decision that for most is not a necessity (as those who engage in it are eager to pass it off as) but rather a luxury. The only reason why I presented my take on the American side of the phenomenon is because most of the readers of TTAC are American.

        • 0 avatar
          sirwired

          Pro tip: When you refer in a post to “you Americans” followed by some criticism, it’s generally understood you are criticizing Americans specifically, even though it’s less true here than the EU (where I’m presuming you live).

          If you meant to say “Americans and Europeans” you should have said so.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Martin’s alright, he didn’t mean it like the those from the other side of the planet might

          • 0 avatar
            ItsMeMartin

            @sirwired

            Will do. You’re actually right, the situation in Europe is very similar (and far worse when it comes to the used car market, as I tried to desribe in my last post) and I shouldn’t have singled out America as the sole culprit, so to say.
            Believe me, there is not a bit of Euro-snobbery in me. I try to keep my TTAC commentary roughly car-related because I could singlehandedly increase the level of EU-hate in the comments at least tenfold (until the ban, that is).
            But anyway, point taken.

            @ Lie2me

            Thank you! I’m glad you saw through my poor choice of words; I intended to criticize the phenomena that I mentioned in my previous post rather than Americans in general.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          I watched a scrapyard series from BBC recently. People were scrapping cars for $150 that they drove in with. No collision damage, no smoke, etc. Look at the cars that Top Gear UK supposedly buys for cheap. I’ve owned worse.

          FWIW around here in my town cars are generally much older than three years old. Some folks can’t afford to drive anything newer (lots of poor rural folks coming to town to shop or rent an apt). Other folks like me can’t see the point of buying new when the old car still gets the job done.

          Our cars (all five of them now) are 16/16/18/37/50 years old. Obviously the last two are “fun cars”. I can afford new but would rather save the money right now. Some well to do friends are doing the same. We want to retire some day.

    • 0 avatar
      thats one fast cat

      +1 and goes to the point that deadweight made (and it hurts me to say this) – if this piece was about 1 130K miles civic and not a nearly 1M mile lexus would we all be singing hoseana about this article? I suggest we wouldn’t. The truth is, the VAST majority of cost of a vehicle is depreciation. Full stop.

      Yes, I know there is insurance and wear and tear items that need to be considered, but the suggestion that most poor people would do better to just pay monthly notes for a new car is terrible advice. For those at the lower end of the economic ladder, the cost of the car is the insurance and gas with maintenance deferred because they do not consider maintainance a “cost” that must be budgeted.

      To quote my father : you pay for it on the barrelhead or down the road, but you do pay. Trading money on depreciation vs. “certainty” that the care will get you to your job is a false tradeoff.

      Other than that, I thought it was a finely written story (and I am ok with using model designations, he says as he gets into his NA miata)

      • 0 avatar
        juicy sushi

        Sorry, I beg to differ.

        Jack’s point remains the same. For many, likely the majority of the population in North America, the situation is largely as Jack explains it.

        It’s not about the cost of maintenance, it’s the cost to their life of a mechanical failure. They cannot afford the failure to happen in the first place. It’s not the cost of transportation which is the issue. It is the ripple effect that unreliable transportation has to their lives as a whole.

        And the state of public transportation networks in North America leave many without any options besides car ownership.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Absolutely.

        Most cars (certainly commuter ones) pretty much stop depreciating between year 7 and year 9.

        IOW, a 7 to 9 year old reliable vehicle can be found, some with relatively (to their age) low miles, where the depreciation from thence on will be on the order of $350 to even $0 per year, having a ton of useful, reliable life left to give as transportation.

        He!!, many of the vehicles, if kept & maintained well by prior owners, can fairly be described as nice, and maybe even better in a substantive sense than their newer successors.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        “The truth is, the VAST majority of cost of a vehicle is depreciation. Full stop.”

        It depends on the original selling price of the car, and where in the depreciation curve you get on and off. Case in point, i bought a Mk I Focus new in 2002, for $14,500, sold it almost exactly a year ago for $2500, for depreciation of $1000 per year. The 130,000 miles I put on it consumed about 5200 gallons of gasoline, average price probably right around $3, for a total of $15,600, or $1300 per year. Maintenance and repairs were around $6000, including tires, brakes, struts/shocks, timing belt, and a few repairs, mostly in the last four years of ownership. If you buy an older car, most likely your biggest expense will be gasoline, followed by maintenance and repairs. If you buy a new BMW every three years, no question, it will be depreciation.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          The trick, no matter the price of the car, is to buy it as reasonably as possible (be that new or used), maintain it extremely well, and keep it until the depreciation is but a distant memory.

          Keep it long enough, use it sparingly enough, and you can make money on it even, if it is anything remotely interesting. My Triumph Spitfire is worth enough more than I have in it at the moment to rival having put the money in a decent savings account (though not the stock market). And it sure is a whole lot more fun than a bank statement.

          • 0 avatar
            Zykotec

            From previous experience, the ‘trick’ is to buy a car when it has stopped depreciating, and make sure it’s a common model of a ‘bestseller’. Try to find one that is well-kept, but has little value to the previous owner for some easily repairable reason . There should be many similar cars to choose from at around scrap value, or at self-picking yards at the same time.
            It also helps if you have the space for a similar car to strip for parts from time to time (this can usually be done quite quickly), and space to store some of these parts. And you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. This method requires that you don’t get too attached to your car (this is the hardest part for me, since I get more attached the more time I spend on it) , and you have to have some overlap when buying a new car, since they will almost always need some work to ‘be made reliable/roadworthy’. It is also a great way to learn how to work on cars.(necessity is the mother of invention etc.)

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Zykotec: buy a none best seller and the junkyards might still have plenty of examples to pick parts from b/c the resale chart says it is worthless and one repair puts it in the yard. Nobody is competing for the parts so you can get a trailer full for cheap.

            My counter example is our first gen CR-V. Honda sold a ton of those cars but few around here made it into the yards b/c they lasted and when they did make it into the yards they were either flat worn out or picked over quickly. And those parts were expensive. In some cases for the trouble of cleaning up the used parts I was ordering new OEM parts from online dealers and just dealing with the cost. I did a mix of that when a kamikazee deer jumped out in front of us and the “Deerslayer” did it’s job. Broke all the front plastic. ben the hood and the bumper beam. Rest of the car was okay and I drove home.

  • avatar
    brettc

    This article nicely sums up the plight of a lot of people in the U.S. I agree that car payments do suck, but they do offer peace of mind to people that they won’t be stranded and on the hook for a several thousand dollar repair bill.

    While I’ve been alive, I’ve learned that to not end up homeless and crapping in a bucket, you need cash and access to cash. A large emergency fund and a high credit score help immensely.

    Unfortunately most that live payday to payday don’t have a cash horde or a high credit score, which results in people shopping at greasy BHPH lots for a vehicle to get to their crappy jobs, like an old Aveo or some other POS that was turned out domestically before the great crash.

    Eventually their BHPH POS breaks down and they’re deeper in debt trying to keep it going because they likely don’t have access to a space to fix it even if they know how to do it. Then they get stuck in a vicious debt cycle and might eventually end up using a bucket for a toilet. Unless you’re that guy in Detroit that had the Gofundme thing setup for him to get a car. That guy’s gonna be okay…

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I was told a little “wisdom” one time by someone successful. He said that successful people are ALWAYS working towards their goals. In other words they make their time pay – all the time.

      That might mean shaking hands at a BBQ (networking) or learning (formally in a classroom or reading like we do here at TTAC) or physically working on a project which will earn them money directly (sell it) or indirectly (building a business). A man can sort out alot of ideas even while fishing…

      The people who seek to check out as often and as long as they can might not be prepared for adversity.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    We are almost always a 3 car family. Wife gets a new car every 4-6 years and I usually own 2 5-7k used vehicles with one of them being a SUV. This way we have a safe reliable car for long distance trips and I get to have fun with what I want. With 2 old ones one is usually running and I can afford to park one and fix when time permits. It ends up costing me about $100 per month per vehicle for my habit and that includes depreciation.
    My current two are an 01 Jeep Grand Cherokee and an 04 BMW E46 wagon. Paid 6k for Jeep 3+ years ago with 47k miles, now has 82k miles and I could sell for $4.5k. Spent $1,500 on repairs and maintenance so far. BMW was < than $7k with 71k miles. Figure I'll keep it for 3 years 30k miles and sell it for what I paid for it but will spend $3k on maintenance/repairs (hopefully). BMW replaced a 91 Integra that I paid $1,500, kept for 9 years and sold for $1,500. Would still have it but didn't feel safe putting kids in it kids in it.

    So yes I could lease a camcord for $200 a month but this is more fun. Having the time to get a part from pick and pull and/or doing it myself is part of the fun. But the ability to have fun is a privilege. One that circumstances luckily permit me. The skills that I have learned by doing this will hopefully still serve me if my circumstances change and I have to do this out of necessity.

  • avatar
    RHD

    I disagree that knowing how to change a radiator or having a toolbox is because you are privileged. Basic mechanical schools aren’t inherent to wealthy white men, they can be learned equally by anyone. Community colleges are available very cheaply to take autoshop classes, even where high schools don’t offer such amenities.
    Single mothers aren’t underprivileged, although their children certainly have the disadvantage of not having a father. They became mothers by their own choices, not because they inherently have no privileges.
    The radiator on ANY car can give up the ghost at any given time, whether it’s a trip to see a friend or while commuting to work.
    N
    Having a partner at home who doesn’t work weekends doesn’t mean a single person who works weekends isn’t privileged. I could fix my own car in college, and I was single and worked every weekend! Your situation was certainly convenient, but not because you were born with a silver spoon.
    Having two hundred dollars available on a credit card isn’t privilege, it’s the product of being employed and paying your bills on time. Anyone working weekends at McDonald’s could have a credit card with a much higher limit, if they are responsible.
    So you have built a comfortable life for yourself, have usable skills and a stable family. None of that was handed to you, you worked hard, learned life skills and treat well those who treat you well. Your life is good because YOU made it that way.
    NONE of this is unavailable to those born without a penny to their name, but those too ignorant to figure life out as they go along shouldn’t blame being “underprivileged”.

    Maybe I’m being snooty at feeling just a little pride in being self-sufficient, at the ability to change a tire or replace a radiator if the situation were to arise… but those who can’t, and never bother to figure out which end of a screwdriver is the business end, who just call AAA, and feel superior to the grease monkeys, are the ignorant, lazy and inferior among us.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      It has been echoed earlier in this thread that to many people, privileged means “made better life choices than I have.” At the same time, some people really have just had bad luck. I am in a comfortable position based on good choices and good luck, but that does not mean I shouldn’t be appreciative of the fruits of my labor as well as my good fortune. That in and of itself is a privilege, and I am proud to have earned.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Yes, your average struggling middle-class family TOTALLY has the time to schelp to the community college (which may be on the other side of the county) twice a week to take auto shop classes. Bonus points if the only time the classes are offered conflict with their work shift. Double Bonus points if you they are stuck in one of those jobs with hours that change every week. Yep, lots of time to take classes, as opposed to actually going to and from work (in their one car) and then having to take care of the kids once they get home.

      And many single parents aren’t there by choice. Perhaps prototypical parent WAS in a committed, long-term relationship (maybe even married) and Significant Other up and leaves (or died). Any sympathy there?

      And, just about any apartment or townhouse resident simply CANNOT work on their car, no matter how willing or able. If an ASE Master Mechanic wants to so much as change their oil at most apartment complexes… too bad.

      Let’s say a family just had a bunch of medical bills which caused them to declare bankruptcy; their credit is now shot to heck. (Medical bills are the most common cause of BK.) They aren’t getting a credit card for years; they may not even be able to get a checking account. It’s BHPH and check cashing stores for them!

      Being poor is expensive, and one string of bad luck can hold you back for YEARS.

      Are there people that blame their background for their problems when they DID make bad choices? Sure! But it’s not true (or even common) for demographic luck to have nothing to do with success. Success (or failure) for nearly everyone is a mix of work ethic, skills and pure blind luck.

      Bootstrapping is all well and good… if you ever have enough money to buy the boots.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        I didn’t learn my auto repair skills from community college or high school tech classes. I learned them from a Haynes manual, available at the public library, from my own trial-and-error, and from necessity. Nowadays there is the internet and youtube, which is a LOT better than the old Haynes manuals (which were pretty decent).

        A lot of apartment complexes where “poor” people live don’t have rules about parking lot repair… and a lot of auto parts stores also don’t seem to mind a bit of wrenching in their parking lots (though to be honest, a radiator R&R out front of the local store wouldn’t fly). And some junkyards certainly don’t mind (it would drive away a lot of their business).

        There are some surprisingly resourceful poor people out there.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          @JimC2: BINGO! You said what I wanted to say first. I started out with a Haynes manual and $40 worth of Chinese elcheapo tools at 16 years old.

          I didn’t have the internet (this was long before that) and I certainly did not have access to YouTube.

          Just went to YT and searched “hot to change a radiator” and there are hundreds of videos to choose from.

          I did repairs in parking lots, junkyards, driveways belonging to friends, mini-storage units (rented one for a garage when I was in the military).

          I for one worked damn hard to get out of the apartment lifestyle. I found it expensive and trying to live under a roof that did not belong to me. I can’t stand sharing walls with disrespectful neighbors and that one drug dealer we had next door for a while in college.

          Bad luck can put a person in a tough spot but if they prepare for rainy days a little each day – they’ll have friends and family to help them through a tough spot. They’ll have a bit of savings. They’ll have the skills that make them valuable enough to their employer that the employer will give them a bit of slack to get through that tough time. And if you are really lucky – you’ll have a social net from friends and family and a social org like church who will throw your family a benefit dinner that pays for the repairs to your home or vehicle. I’m not that guy b/c we don’t go to church but we’ve been on the helping side many times.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      “those who can’t, and never bother to figure out which end of a screwdriver is the business end, who just call AAA, and feel superior to the grease monkeys, are the ignorant, lazy and inferior among us.”

      What a shi*tty attitude. I can fix a lot of things on my cars if I chose to because I have some mechanical aptitude, but most people can no more repair their own car than they can speak Chinese. Assuming other people have should have your own skills and abilities is beyond arrogant.

  • avatar
    slance66

    I fully appreciate the premise(s) being validated and torn down. I think it is pretty much crazy to RELY on very old, high mileage or exotic vehicles as transportation. Now if you want one for kicks as a second car, it may offer something a late model Civic does not. But for anyone making such a choice, they may also want to consider things like air bags, hands free calling and other modern conveniences that will be lacking on those older cars.

    That being said, I don’t agree that owning the right car out of warranty is any daunting task for most people and usually makes more sense than buying new and eating a payment that hurts your budget. Any very high volume late model car or cuv should be reasonably cheap to maintain and repair.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “owning the right car out of warranty is any daunting task for most people and usually makes more sense than buying”

      Is that really true any more? A 3 year old Civic with 36k miles isn’t all that much of a deal these days.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        It’s been my observation that the greatest determinant in the ownership costs of a vehicle is its original purchase price when it is new. In other words, low priced cars make for low ownership costs. The problem with buying a reasonably late mode inexpensive used car is that the vast majority of them are ex-fleet cars, either rental or commercial fleet, as individual owners tend to keep them.

        If you’re going to keep the car for 8-10 years, there’s not much of a premium in buying new over late model used, when you look at cost per year.

      • 0 avatar
        slance66

        I was taking issue with that premise. I think a lightly used car is usually a better total cost of ownership risk for most customers.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Checked last week and it was a $2K to $3K discount under the price of new. I’d rather just have new for that kind of money. My parents decided the same when they shopped GMC last week. Buy them and keep them forever. 16 yrs and counting for my last new car.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Fantastic piece, Jack. Really.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    Privilege is an interesting thing. it really put it in perspective for me when talking to a relative of my wife’s over a family event last month. She’s driving a early 2000ish VW Beetle convertible (first mistake, I know) that she’s owned forever. The thing is in an absolute sorry state of repair, as most MKIV era VW products are wont to do. She’s dumped over $3k into maintenance and repairs over the last year, and right now it looks like the transmission is going out as well, and it could use a new top.

    She’s trying to get rid of it, and having very little luck with Craigslist, while she doesn’t have the income/credit to afford a real car payment due fallout from a divorce a couple years back. She’s looking at $1-2000 late-90s Hondas to replace it but doesn’t have the cash to pick one up either, and she’s working constantly so she doesn’t have the time, tools, or skills to fix the VW on her own. I feel like her situation is more reminiscent of many people’s out there.

    I’ve driven a beater as well, but I’m in a position to call it my beater, because it got me through the winter while I had something nice/fun for the summer. That’s privilege.

    I eventually had the beater die on me last late summer, so I needed something to use for the winter. My wife’s car was paid off and she was in need of a mommy-mobile, so we decided the smartest move was to sell the beater, give me her car (Mazda 3 Hatch), and get her an SUV with actual space inside (Santa Fe). We debated selling the Mazda and getting another beater (newer/better than my 92 Rodeo) but decided against it. The benefits of a reliable car that get you to work without worry can’t be overstated.

    I do most of my own work on the cars, but having 3 means I have a contingency vehicle for downtime that any one might have. And I have the disposable income that I can afford parts when needed without affecting my ability to afford necessities. And I have enough time off I can get maintenance done within a week for the most part. Plus access to tools and a lift.

    I fall into the camp that Jack described and never really thought about how the other half lived, but it really opens your eyes when you realize the level of knowledge/skills/resources that others have.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      This is not the only story out there of a VW product ruining someone’s life/finances.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Volkswagen of America: ruining the lives and finances of hardworking Americans since 1955. Peak financial ruin has to be directly related to the introduction of the MKIV vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          tpepin

          Heh, my first car loan was from VW credit, I was a pup just out of college with not the greatest history of on time payments and a new job, they pumped me nice and hard @14.9 on a five year note for a MKIII Jetta. I swore off credit for 15 years after that.

          Speaking of MKIV VAG products, a couple of years back a co-worker’s MKIV Jetta burst into flames just down the street from our office. No reason, just driving down the road and it started smoking and was quickly engulfed, she made it out with her gym bag. It was replaced with a MKV that seems less combustible.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            It burst into flames because it was an MKIV Jetta. That’s the best thing that could happen to it. At least it gets totaled that way, and it can’t hurt anyone else.

      • 0 avatar
        LeeK

        Why are $3,000 in repairs on a fifteen-year-old Beetle ruining a life? My 1999 CR-V has gone through a radiator, oxygen sensor, oil leak, busted lugs, and non-functioning central locking module in the past two years for a similar cost. It’s what I expect of a car at this age, even for a super-duper-reliable Honda.

        My 2006 Element just went through $2000 of suspension component replacement work. Again, I think that’s expected at this stage in its life (9 years and 110,000 miles).

        • 0 avatar
          mnm4ever

          You must be getting really ripped off on labor if you paid $3k to get those items replaced on a CRV. That is at most $500 in parts, and depending where the oil leak is, all of that could be repaired in a few hours tops. I have fixed every one of those issues on my CRV, not a big deal. I even had the suspension replaced but at 200k, not 100k, and in hindsight I wish I hadn’t bothered, it was fine. The entire front and rear suspension was around a grand or so. All it really needed were the front control arm bushings, which even at the dealer were under $400 to replace.

          • 0 avatar
            LeeK

            Oh mnm, there were more repairs in there: clutch master cylinder, brake reservoir, hoses, new gas struts for the rear hatch, a battery, a gas cap (I don’t have the records with me as my son now has the car, but I certainly remember the bills) and some other stuff all done by an independent shop with very reasonable rates.

            The point I was trying to make is that the comments above ridiculed the woman for owning a 2000 Beetle as if a fifteen year old car of any other make wouldn’t have those issues or similar maintenance expenses. Having had five VWs in my life, I certainly understand the poor reputation of the Mk IV era cars, but I’ve also owned four Hondas and they all experienced significant maintenance bills in the eight to fifteen year period. As I stated before, it’s what I expect for any vehicles of that age and mileage and I paid the bills without much complaint because it’s still cheaper than buying a new car. Unlike most owners, I fix everything that breaks immediately, do preventative maintenance by the book, and take care of my cars’ appearance. The Atomic Blue paint on my CR-V still polishes up nicely and the interior is clean.

            Jack points out that it’s the unexpected bills that devastate economically disadvantaged families in ways that more prosperous families don’t really comprehend. Even the $3000 I spent over two years on my car in the 14th and 15th year of ownership is beyond their means.

          • 0 avatar
            mnm4ever

            @Lee – fair enough, I see how it can add up and I totally agree with your point. I have had almost the same repairs on my CRV!

            I do almost all of my own wrenching, I use a friend who owns an independent repair shop for things I can’t handle, I shop around for good prices on parts, I bought the CRV very cheap from my parents too. Basically that car is the poster child for smartly buying and maintaining an older used car. I also fastidiously track all my automotive expenses.

            After 3 yrs owning the CRV and 2 yrs leasing a 2013 Civic, here is what it boils down to: The cost of ownership per day for the CRV is $9.99, for the Civic, $10.13. They are both driven almost identical miles too, so its a very valid comparison. The only difference is at the end of the lease the Civic is returned for nothing, and I can theoretically sell the CRV, with 250k miles, for probably $2k or so, which will swing the cost of ownership in the CRV’s favor a bit. Assuming the engine or trans doesn’t give up first. But if I wasn’t so handy with repairs, and didn’t have 3 other cars to drive when the CRV needs attention, those numbers would be higher than the brand new leased Civic.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          I have a ’99 ‘V with 285K miles. Let’s compare notes.

          The central locking problem is a known issue with the terminals in the door jamb wires breaking off with age. There is a guy on HondaSUV.com that has documented the fix and it’s about $10. He includes pictures and part numbers and parts sources.

          Busted lugs sounds like the tire store is over tightening the lug nuts. The spec is 95 ft/lbs i believe. I take a torque wrench and have the tire store snug them tight and then roll the car outside so I can torque them. The mechanic laughed at me once for this. Said his impact wrench and “dog bone” was calibrated to get it just right. Best I could measure was he zipped the nuts on to 150 ft/lbs of torque and he was trying to get it just right. Imagine what the sloppy tire man might zip them on to. I did this b/c years before a different store zipped them on so tight I needed a cheater bar to loosen the lug nuts on a different Honda. Not a corrosion problem. An older machinist/mechanic friend told me that some cars can end up with warped wheels and hubs this way. Both of which I had. A torque wrench is about $15 at the Chinese discount tool store. I recommend a quality tool from a different source. I am using a $40 clicker torque wrench from China from 25 years ago. Release the tension before you store it. I check mine at work with a calibrator. It does pretty good.

          I’ve been through three radiators. Am on the fourth. Honda rad lasted 160K miles. Cheap replacement 13 months. NAPA replacement 8 years. Am on second NAPA rad b/c it has a lifetime warranty. Task takes less than an hour.

          Am on the original oxygen sensors and temp sensors. No CELs. Good fuel economy.

          And I’m still on the original suspension parts and everything is still tight although it’s about ready for another pair of swaybar bushings. $15 or so from NAPA. This seems to happen every 4-5 years. Starts thumping on slightly rough roads as the left wheel and the right wheels are trying to do different things and the sway bar is trying to limit suspension movement a little.

          Oil leaks: cam plugs leaked. ~$20 and VERY easy to replace. Bought an oil pan gasket this week to replace the next warm day. ~$20 again. Will do at the same time I change the oil which is due. Have done this task on my other car (VW MKIII) and it takes less than an hour with the car on ramps. Even faster if you use air tools to take it apart. I would never reassemble it with air tools. Maybe with my cordless drill and a socket driver and the drill clutch set to “3”. Start it with my fingers, zip it in with the drill and then torque them all at the end with the torque wrench.

          There is nothing inherently high tech about working on cars made in the past 25 years. Oil pans are oil pans, suspensions are suspensions, wheel bearings are the same, engine parts are the same as they always have been.

          Sensors are generally very easy to replace if you do the work to figure out what needs to be replaced. I have a $20 OBD bluetooth dongle that talks to $25 Android software on my tablet that tells me all the codes and clears them when the job is done.

          There are probably some high end luxury cars with weird tech that requires special tools for a few tasks but even those cars are machines with very common components for the most part. My VW Westfalia from 1978 needs a special tool to drive the balljoints out and a press capable of 13+ tons. I rented the tool from a website for nothing b/c I bought the balljoints from them. Then I found that someone made the tool with four bolts and two pieces of steel plate about 4×4 inches with a couple of holes bored in the plates. I even found where to buy the tools new if I wanted to invest in them. There is a company in my state no less making oddball tooling for all makes. MUCH better than the el cheapo tools sourced from China and put in glossy parts catalogs with cheap VW parts.

          Am trying to be encouraging. Not disrespectful. Don’t let working on a car be intimidating. I learn stuff all the time. This spring I’m working on learning to lay cinder block and brick. I’m reading a library book and watching You Tube videos on long cold winter nights. Have spoken with a couple of old timer friends who lay brick and one has explained it all and the other offered to come help or guide me. Need to rebuild a retaining wall along my driveway. Tools are simple, tools are cheap. Want to work up to an ambitious retaining wall project to level and widen my driveway eventually. Learning to estimate the cost.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Even with a Honda, if you are only spending $1-$2k on the thing, you are, more often than not, buying somebody else’s problem.

      That’s a perfect example of being in a lousy situation that no amount of hard work is going to get you out of. If the Jetta keeps breaking, many folks in her situation would lose their jobs, but SINCE it keeps breaking, there’s never enough money to replace it.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      First rule of beater cars is to have more than one as a back up plan.
      Or have a pickup truck that can stand idle as an emergency backup even with worse gas mileage.

      And find those internet forums for the specific model too…

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Privilege is built into the price of used cars. Wildly depreciated exotics are only a “steal” if you have one or more of the privileges outlined by Jack, which in reality means a very limited market potential and hence a “low” purchase price. Slow depreciating cars tend to require less privilege and hence appeal to a larger potential market and thus command “high” purchase prices. On the other hand, it also tends to require privilege to buy/lease a new car in the form of enough savings for a substantial down payment, and enough income and intact credit rating to qualify and pay off the monthly payments and potentially hefty insurance premiums. Mass-transit requires the “privilege” to use a transport system that often doubles or triples travel time, is frequently unreliable and inflexible, and expensive if separate tickets are required to transport an entire family. Thus the secret of success is understanding which option (used, new, bus, bike) maximizes the privileges you were born with or acquired due to hard work and life experience.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I earned my money through alot of hard study and hard work. Let’s quit calling it priviledge. It’s only privilege if someone thinks that money arrived in my bank account by magic or inheritence.

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    I have alot of privilege, and I take advantage. I have a very nice paying job in the finance industry, so much so that my wife can stay home and raise our kids. She drives a 2008 Pilot with 105k miles, I drive to the train station (30 miles each way) in 2005 Outback with 190k miles, both bought used. I rather enjoy that I do all of the appropriate maintenance and keep these cars running nicely. The Pilot is due for a timing belt change which I will do myself when it warms up. The thing is, we drive ALOT of miles due to where we live so I just don’t feel like wasting money DD’ing new cars since they don’t stay new very long.

    We own new cars, but they stay in my garage in the winter because road salt is a killer. When it warms up, they will get driven. One is a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, the other a Boss 302. They are cars that are worth holding onto, hence why I try to keep the salt away. The Jeep goes offroad, just stays away from salt, since its a true killer.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      Both of my Jeeps stay in the garage during the long salty winters too. Most people I tell that little factoid to think I’m crazy by not busting out the 4wd when the snow flies. I simply explain to them that I like my Jeeps and want them to be around a long time. FWD is fine in the snow if you know how to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        That is a little weird that you don’t use your Jeeps for winter driving. It’s kind of like saying you watched the Superbowl on your 32″ TV because you want your 60″ TV to last a long time

        • 0 avatar
          Pinzgauer

          I’d rather have the $3k car get covered in salt vs the $35k car. If you had two televisions and you had to throw one in a vat of acid, would you throw in the expensive new one, or the old crappy one?

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Is that a realistic comparison?

            How about I live in a tent on my front lawn because I don’t want to get the floors dirty in my house

            Well, wash the frickin’ floors and live in the damn house, geez

        • 0 avatar
          Wheeljack

          My Jeeps are toys, and unfortunately TJ series Jeeps (1997-2006) are fairly rust prone thanks to the ancient body design that goes back to the original M38A1/CJ-5. Even if I had them undercoated and washed frequently during the winter, I fear rust would still rear its ugly head.

          Besides, I have a lease car as a daily driver. Its FWD and does just fine in the snow. Probably better than a SWB Jeep to be honest – they have a tendency to swap ends pretty easily. As to the daily driver, when the lease is up, it’s not my problem any more.

          The Jeeps get to come out in the summer on nice days, and they get to go on trips out west like Moab (as well as other places) to go 4-wheeling. That’s enough for me.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Great article.

    Without going as deep as Jack’s commentary, here is your socioeconomic transportation ladder:

    Poor: the bus and/or the used up BHPH fare.
    Poor to Avg: neo penalty box @ $400/mo buy or $200/lease but desires $500/mo fake suvs.
    So called middle class: Either one new(er) car of any type or just have two, a newer neo penalty box for commuting and a real car/truck.
    Ballin’: One new car and up to three additional toys including late model Porches.

    Additional:
    “To own and run a million-mile Lexus, or any other car where the maintenance and repair is your sole responsibility, requires that you have time to deal with the breakdowns, resources to cover the gaps in your life when problems occur, and the ability to pay for and install anything from a radiator to a differential.”

    This is true and I thought was common sense for any used car. Even the most reliable require service and an occasional quirky repair outside of warranty. While I could see the argument of privilege I see used car ownership intended for those who can keep a budget and afford the repairs Jack refers too. This is also why my stable consists of a W-body 3800, a Z-body, and a Volvo 244 which despite its issues is tough, rugged, and easily serviceable as opposed to owning X308 or W124.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      To be fair, a w124 is tough, rugged and easily serviced too. There is just a lot more to service. But in return you get a lot more too. Fair trade, I say. A Jaguar is a hobby.

      240s really need to be compared to garden tractors, not actual cars. :-) I do love them though.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        I have always thought of W124(and the w123’s too) as slightly posh 240/740’s tbh, but I haven’t seen to many of the high end versions, and they were popular taxis over here ( I have seen a 500E once). Never quite understood why people like them, or found them the least bit comfortable.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          The W124 sold in the US is somewhat nice as it usually came configured with the reasonably solid I6 (as opposed to the gas guzzling V8) and wasn’t as long or difficult to park as the W126. If I didn’t have my 244 a W124 would make a nice Sunday car but as KRhodes points out its just a slightly more complicated and expensive car to service and maintain.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Just call me Farmer 28. I agree though you can do much worse than a W124 but those gold dipped Mercedes parts can put a hurt on your checking account. I can get new Bosch parts to fit the 244 for a pittance in comparison and for what I need to car to do, I’ll roll the crude farm equipment.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          In my experience, having owned both, for a given part Mercedes is often cheaper than Volvo. Certainly cheaper at the dealer. The Mercedes has MORE parts, by a lot, but the difference is nowhere near what you would think it is on a w123 or w124. You can get cheap Bosch parts for the MB too. LOTS of the car is bought in, just like for Volvo. And more of the MB is available as individual pieces, vs. buying a whole assembly.

    • 0 avatar
      AoLetsGo

      I will add bicycles to your transportation ladder:
      Poor: $20 garage sale bike as one of the primary transportation modes
      Poor to Avg: no bike
      Middle Class: bike in garage – goes around the block once a year
      Ballin: $10,000 road bike, $4,000 mountain bike, $2,000 hipster bike

  • avatar
    smartascii

    While I agree with the thrust of Jack’s piece, there’s a layer of nuance that’s missing, and it’s this: There are a lot of people out there driving old, high-mileage *luxury* cars, and these are people who could have paid the same money for a much newer, much lower-mileage domestic sedan that would reliably get them where they need to go without eating parts that cost luxury car prices. At Auto Parts Warehouse, a replacement radiator for the LS400 in question is $123.77. For an 01 Impala, it’s $84.28, and it’s certainly not unreasonable to think that the Impala’s radiator might not have failed at all. I realize that everyone wants nice things, but even mechanically savvy people with free time can work out pretty easily that, if money is a big consideration, keeping any old luxury car running will cost more than they have. Buying one is a bad decision, and while I don’t fault people for their circumstances, it’s reasonable to fault people for bad decisions.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      You assume the materials quality size and output are the same between them (GM 60V6 vs Toyota UZ V8). Assuming everything is equal you’re right it sucks they are priced roughly $50 apart, but $123 is probably a bargain for a so called luxury car part.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        One thing that’s nice about those early LS400s is that Toyota parts can often be used at non-luxury prices. The water pump in mine is from Toyota, for example. While the LS400 is a unique vehicle (i.e., no Toyota stablemate) it does use a decent number of garden variety Toyota parts in its running gear. Now parts unique to the car are a different story, and hard to get from junkyards because the car is so reliable. Case in point the bank of four power window switches on the driver’s door in mine broke at about 230K miles, as some of the switches just wore out and snapped off. Replacement switches would have been $1200 for parts alone and no junkyard parts were available. My mechanic recommended, and I agreed, to just not fix it.

        I’ve owned my LS400 since I bought it CPO with 48K miles in 2001. It now has 260K. Until November, it was my daily driver all that time. Now it’s sorta-parked (I make sure to drive it once a week so it won’t rot on flat spotted tires) while I decide what to do with it because it’s reached a point where it’s going to need several expensive things all at once (new tires, valve cover gasket, power steering pump).

        Nothing really went wrong with it until it passed about 225K miles. Now it’s more like an older car, with something going wrong often enough that I can no longer call it rock solid. I really love the car though and am having a hard time deciding between spending a few grand to make it a cream puff again, or finally retiring it. What makes the decision harder is that I just “inherited” a 2012 Prius from my wife that we planned to sell. But while the Prius is no Lexus it’s reliable, cheap to own and drive, and has much better in-car tech and (surprisingly) significantly more legroom. It may be car enthusiast apostasy but now I’m seriously considering keeping the Prius and retiring the venerable LS400.

        Part of the “privilege” discussion is that while I can afford to keep the LS400 running, I live in the sticks well out of town and my wife and I both work full time demanding jobs, so any trip to the shop that isn’t a lunchtime oil change is a significant logistical undertaking. And until relatively recently all the LS400 needed was the proverbial lunchtime oil change. Now its got more needs and I’m not sure I can keep up with them (logistically and hassle, not financially). And no I can’t fix it myself except for very minor things, the thing about full time demanding job comes in there.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          I just found your window switches new aftermarket for $60… That took about 3 mins. Google is your friend here. They might be the same as the Landcruiser window switches from about 45 seconds of hunting.

      • 0 avatar
        smartascii

        Oh, no, I make no such assumption. The assumption I *do* make, however, is that for the price you’d pay for almost any given Lexus LS, you can get a much newer, much lower mileage Impala, which is much less likely to need any given part replaced simply because those parts are newer and have less wear.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      I agree with your point – the phenomena I witness on a regular basis around here (Detroit area) is people driving older German luxury cars in a poor state of repair. Many of these folks are undoubtedly literally one breakdown away from complete financial ruin, yet they feel the need to drive a “prestige” brand even if it is older. Honestly they’d be better off with a 3.8L Buick LeSabre or a Crown Vic/Gran Marquis or something else along those lines and forget about what other people think of your car.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        @Wheeljack: +1

        Frankly I’m more impressed by a well kept bread and butter car than I am a ratty luxury car. Seems to be alot of folks I know who roll around in rolling trash cans. No thanks – not riding to lunch in a car where the food wrappers and crumbs need to be swept off of the seat, and the debris pushed to one side of the footwell. YUCK.

        The well kept ordinary vehicle sort of implies to me that they have reasonable priorities. Clean clothes, clean car, maybe a clean house, etc. Nothing needs to be fancy.

  • avatar
    tpepin

    I spent most of my life purchasing well used but in good shape cars and doing some of my own wrenching – Brakes, oil changes, occasional timing belt/water pump, shocks, basic PCV service (Volvo Flametrap FTW!). There was nothing a little elbow grease and AAA plus couldn’t overcome.

    All that went out the window when my twins were born. I was no longer willing to accept the possibility of being stuck somewhere in the dark and cold with my tiny little babies. 7 Months after they arrived my wife’s 2001 Volvo V70 was replaced with a 2012 Rogue and exactly one year after that my 1989 240 was replaced by a 2013 Altima when I no longer had the time to deal with minor issues – I’d rather spend time with my children then in the driveway contorting myself to replace a $5 plastic valve. Prior to that I’ve had a single car loan (I’m 41) and long considered payments thusly: “Might as well take a wad of cash and light it on fire” but once my time became more valuable and the “possibility” of being stranded came with a perception of increased risk – We bought new.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    I was a buy used and fix it person myself, (I was in the Navy and a vehicle wasn’t a crucial to survival) until I retired and started driving my B5 A4 (1998.5) 650 miles per week in order to hold a job. The repair bills started mounting, and the preventative maintenance bills started looming, and the gas bill just plain sucked.

    Since I was looking at ~$3K or more in just upcoming maintenance in the next year, a $300/month car payment on a vehicle that wouldn’t leave me stranded was just the thing. And with a Cruze Eco, I saved enough in the gas bill over the Audi ($70/week) to nearly cover the car payment. So I became a “certainty and reliability” owner.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    Great article Jack. IF you are into cars and are handy you might get away with an older car but it seem the luck of the draw. My wife and I are both retired and the kids are gone and own our home and two 3-year-old cars still under warranty. When the warranty runs out I might flip them but so far no problems. I do my own service on both cars and I have my 25-year-old Miata that I use on weekends. I can do my own repairs on my house and I have a good supply of tools. Wood working, plumbing, construction and automotive tools. Being in the export business I worked with a lot of tool manufacturer’s and a lot of them rewarded me with some high price tools for helping them out with various problems. I do agree if you are not handy with your hands you are at a disadvantage. I have helped quite a few people over the years with their cars when some dumb mechanic screwed up their car. I have even come across some people who never check their oil. Then complain that it’s the manufacture’s fault.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      That’s what the oil light is for – right? Drive it until there is no oil pressure and then they’ll get around to it in the next day or so (if it doesn’t surprise them and seize). That might explain a few engines I have heard over the past year in parking lots that sounded like they had very little oil pressure left – lifters rattling, rods knocking, etc. Some were not that old but they were clearly neglected.

  • avatar
    Noble713

    1. Makes me wonder about those mid-90’s Toyota radiators. The exact same area broke on my friend’s Chaser. I took the opportunity to upgrade MY Chaser with a used Mishimoto aluminum radiator and some Alibaba silicon hoses, then gave the stock radiator to my friend. We are both priviledged enough to not have our Chasers as daily drivers.

    2. This issue of automotive necessity is exactly why I ignore any gearhead recommendations to modify said daily driver. I NEED at least 1 vehicle that is “Mission Capable” 100% of the time. “Dude you should totally move all of your ’97 Chaser’s parts over to your ’03 Mark II.” So instead of having 1 bulletproof reliable factory-spec car and 1 tuned unreliable POS I can instead have 0 reliable cars and 1 unreliable POS? Thanks but no thanks….

  • avatar
    John

    Great article. I’ve been privileged to own a reliable daily driver and a motorcycle most of my life, and my experience is this: if the car breaks down, the motorcycle won’t start – always!

  • avatar
    Preludacris

    Very good article. I don’t usually think of mechanical experience as privilege, because I feel like I paid for mine in blood and frustration, but it is.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    As someone who has had to have their car towed three times because of a “non-running condition” (AKA something was broken, I didn’t know what, but my car isn’t starting), I only wish I had an environment I could fix my car in. I can’t even change my oil in my own neighborhood.

    Of course, I also wish I could afford a car payment so I could have something with a warranty…

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      All you need to do is get privilege and be rich white people!

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Under the current regime’s economic policies, things are going downhill fast with more and more rich white people losing their wealth and their privilege.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          No, the rich are doing fabulously well. The middle income folks were still slowly declining up until last year, but that’s what happens when Wall Street blows up the economy.

          Median household income peaked in 1999, it has yet to recover.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Time to look for a different place to live. Seriously. I do what I want to do where I live. I am a good neighbor. A great neighbor in fact b/c I help out my neighbors. I also keep the place neat and tidy.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    “30 seconds of googling taught me it is a hardtop Super Beetle”

    Ah ~ _no_ : that’d be a # 131 .

    A # 113 is a left hand drive DeLuxe Beetle….

    No sunroof .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It helps to be rich, or very crafty at ghetto engineering. Not just the baling wire, zip ties and duck tape, but knowing what Nissan starters will fit a Dodge van, for example. Common “suppliers” and whatnot.

    But a friend had her Mustang’s headlights fail the turn-signal stalk, so I told her I’d fix it for FREE with a jumper-wire, used relay, etc, having done that to various beater cars I owned. She said she didn’t want her precious “rigged”, and would wait til she could pay for the “right” dealer part. She and her boyfriend got into a serious head-on collision in that Mustang GT one night a few weeks later. He almost died (driving). No headlights.

    At the time, I knew little to nothing about cars, but learned quick. Had to. Oh and JB Weld. 99% of the stuff that broke or left you stranded on older or ’80s cars and trucks was a commonsense “fix”. No need for scanners or laptops.

    Sometimes the ghetto fix was better that what the factory engineered.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      The parkng brake release handle on a Chevy S-10. My buddy broke his. Dealer wanted $196 in labor to fix it right with new part.

      I fixed it with bailing wire and a metal key ring. Works good!

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        In those days, a “Push Button Start” was the fix for a bad ignition switch. I’d use the existing ‘momentary’ “Trunk Release” switch in the glove box. It was the “Theft System” too!

        • 0 avatar
          tpepin

          I had an 89 VW Fox with a broken ignition switch. I wired a button to complete the circuit. Insert key, turn it to run, wait to hear the fuel pump hum, press the button to start. Drove it like that for two years. The button was mounted under the steering column.

          Only car I made “Made” money on. Bought it for $75.00, put 36,000 miles on it, spent $300.00 in repairs and sold it for $500.00 two years later.

          *Figure does not include oil changes and other wear items. $300 was spent on a wheel bearing and broken clutch cable.

          • 0 avatar
            MTD

            JB Weld does work wonders – I’ve seen it used for everything from holding spark plugs to stripped out heads to patching tractor tires. A tube of silicone and a decent pair of wire crimps and a cheap multimeter are also great tools.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Jack….I’ve always enjoyed your writing. This, however was your best piece, I’ve ever read. So very true, and an insight into the “real world” that so many are insulated from.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    My 98 Corolla with close to 400k miles is my livelyhood, I don’t know how to fix anything at all and depend on an honest tech to do it for me, however I have learned not to skimp on parts, better off paying more for one than having it quit on you too soon and having to pay for a replacement.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Great article, Jack. The next time there is an awards competition, enter this one. Kick Dan Neil’s ass.

  • avatar
    don1967

    A refreshing break from TTAC’s “clunker culture” which sometimes defies common sense.

    Just because cars are a conspicuous expense does’t make them the be-all and end-all of financial planning. The idea of Joe Average slaving to keep his ’93 Toyota Rustbucket alive just so he can save 4% of his annual income is ludicrous. Spend the 4% on a better car, but quit smoking. Or learn to buy groceries on sale instead of on impulse. Or get the hell out of suburbia and live closer to work. There are better ways to get value for money than slaving over a car.

    Of course, I’m not advocating new cars on the 8-year finance plan either… especially those with rapid depreciation or a “budget” character that will wear out their welcome. Better to treat yourself to a nicer used car that you can enjoy for 8 years, but pay off in 4. Every car after that will be paid in cash, with the money you’ve accumulated during the payment-free period.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Yeah, there are few groups as masochistic and self-hating as car enthusiasts when it comes to finances. When I read golf forums or sailing forums or travel forums or snowmobile forums, no one is whining about how buying a new golf club or boat trailer or whatever is impacting their 401k contributions. You only go around once.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        As I like to say, I can’t take it with me and I don’t like my brother enough to leave him any cash. He might inherit a cool car or two though. I don’t smoke, barely drink, and generally live a very modest lifestyle other than my cars.

        And as I pointed out to one of my colleagues, a Fiat Abarth is one year at a public college, and a new BMW is one year at a private one. :-)

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Good post.

    In most contexts of late, the word Privilege should be substituted with the word “Accomplishment.”

    • 0 avatar
      Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

      Not in this context. The gist of privilege is that accomplishment is easier when you have been handed advantages that seem trivial to you but actually give you an enormous leg up on those who don’t have the same advantages. It shows itself under the illusion of “good life choices” and “hard work”, of which many of the commenters subscribe to, when there is a significant luck of the draw involved.

      The thoughtfulness of the comments section impresses me. That’s why I keep coming back.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        It’s just as easy to piss it all away. My brother and I had fundamentally similar upbringing and advantages. I am very successful, my brother is just barely getting his life together at age 38. Knocked up a woman and got a kid at age 21, so to add to the fun he is in debt to the state for back child support in an amount greater than I borrowed for undergrad and law school. I have tow cousins that are even worse than my brother – deadbeats, in and out of jail their adult lives. Also the products of a “very good home”. And I have three other cousins who are as successful as I am, whose parents had not nearly as much money as the other two. The “advantages” only do so much, you still have to make something of yourself.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          @krhodes1: +1.

          Family #1: The real life soap operas I watch are the 15 & 16 year old (now all grown up) who had a baby. They as a family did everything right and it shows. They work hard too.

          Family #2: same roots and they make all the mistakes the first trio didn’t. It shows.

          Family #3: Father can’t retire b/c wife spends every cent and more. 35 year old son is treated like he is 15 and has never had a job, lives at home, they pay for his Mustang. No useful education either I think. They maintain multiple addresses that they can not afford nor spend time at. Hmmm… Sell it all.

          Hard work, careful choices, etc. A person might be born into a prosperous situation and still be a lifelong mess. Fortunate are those who learn about the benefits of hard work and whom have good examples to emulate. Even if they start from zero – they learn what to do to be prosperous.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        In the case of the three gentlemen and the Lexus, it would seem that their accomplishments have allowed them to enjoy their privileges. We don’t really know enough about their backgrounds to be able to accuse them of being handed the lifestyles they lead. Besides, that’s usually done to excuse someone’s failure to achieve in their own lives.

  • avatar
    oldwheelsnewyork

    Jack – kudos on writing one of the best pieces illustrating white, male, cis privilege in language and examples that anyone can easily understand. This is nuanced and accurate, and really respectful. As a woman, as a human, as a gearhead and as a feminist, I appreciate you sharing this story. I hope it sparks further discussion in our community towards positive changes. Many born into privilege don’t know it, don’t see the daily advantages society has given them, regardless of their personal choices. I commend you for making this more visible.

    For anyone who wants to read more on what Jack infers about privilege, here’s a good place to start. https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      The reason those of my ilk (white, professional, straight college-educated men) are so loathe to acknowledge privilege in general is that it is often used as a pretext to propose to take something from us. I will readily admit that being born to educated parents who chose to emphasize education to me and helped me attend a good college and demanded I perform, etc, gave me an advantage, but there was still plenty of deferred gratification, hard work, and sacrifice. Only a statistically insignificant number of people can fall completely without effort into wealth; most of us “privileged” folks had some help, but put in plenty of sweat too, but too often I’m supposed to feel guilted into forking over for those who were not equally advantaged? My privileges didn’t come at cost to anyone else, so I object to any suggestion I “repay” them or “owe” for my theoretical leg up.

      It’s not that I don’t recognize that I’m lucky to be where I am, it’s that I don’t feel that I owe anyone substantially for that success, save for my parents who simply request that I pay it forward (which I fully intend to do for my kids). I have, in my own extended family, people who have made incredibly poor life choices with early pregnancy, failure to take advantage of college educations handed to them, drugs, etc, who have expressed the idea that they are entitled to some of my “wealth” (and I’m no Rockefeller here) simply because I can theoretically afford to share it. I find that attitude disgusting.

      • 0 avatar
        dwford

        I was definitely NOT born to privilege, unless you count my white skin. I was born to a high school educated mom who’s best job was answering phones, and to a dad who spent most of my growing years as a counter person at a hardware store. We were on food stamps sometimes, and always had a garden and chickens. We ate cereal for dinner on occassion and heated with a wood stove. However, the expectation for all of us growing up was to go to college, which all 4 of us did – through hard work, saving, loans and grants. We all worked our butts off to earn our money and keep good credit. Now I have money in the bank, a rental house and earn a good income. I always resent hearing that because I am white that I owe someone else some of my money. No, I don’t.

        As for the cars, I never understood why so many people who can afford a new car voluntarily drive beaters. I am sure it is mathematically cheaper, but why torture yourself with an old car unnecessarily??

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          Depends on how much of a beater that beater is. My beaters are clean, reliable, mostly trouble free and comfortable. A/C and heat. All three are worth around $1500.

          I see the appeal of a new car believe me. Got the new car lust right now. Still, I can delay that gratification b/c I have multiple vehicles that cost me about $100 a month collectively whether I drive them or not. They’ll all be worth about the same for the next several years.

          Meanwhile I am saving for a new roof (cash) for our house and socking back cash for a new car. I want to walk in and lay down $25K cash if I choose and drive out in a new car that I’ll keep 15 years just like the current group of cars. Gone will go one of the “beaters”. I might invest the money instead and take 0% financing if that is still available. Maybe the need to OWN the new car will override the idea to invest the money. Can’t loose a car that I OWN if we have an employment failure.

          Maybe the beater you speak of is a rotted out, collision riddled mess that is worth scrap metal prices. Dunno. To me $1500 and under is the value of a beater. I’ve owned alot of sub $1500 cars over the years. A nice one (that was not appealing at all to me) was a Hyundai Excel that was reliable and clean for $850. Looked very nice washed and waxed. Sold it quickly. Got it for $150 b/c it needed a $15 repair.

      • 0 avatar
        seth1065

        a very true comment, i am amazed by everyone who looks at where I am now and assumes everything was handed to me, i paid for collage myself , paid for my wedding myself, when i bought my first condo i paid it off in 5 years, yes i had luck, good timing but i also worked hard lived well within my means, and invested in my 401 and a rainy day fund, when that rain came i could ride it out bc i planned for something like it. Not everyone will be willing to do what i have done perhaps and some will never have the tools to see they can make a better life , i feel bad for those who do not have the tools, i do not feel to bad for those who live over their means and piss their money away and than complain they have none when the bad times come.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        ” (white, professional, straight college-educated men) ”

        Straight? What does straight have to do with it?

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        +1 S2K – I feel the same way. I EARNED everything I have. My family was effectively bankrupt (Dad was too proud to file) in the early 1980’s, but we dug our way out by sacrificing and living off of our small/modest farm, which started off more as an experiment in “life lessons”* than a working farm.

        I paid for my own college via loans and grants, paid for my own cars and insurance from age 16 on, and never did anything hugely irresponsible because I couldn’t afford to.

        * My Dad grew up on a large family farm in Iowa and wanted me and my two sisters to experience a small taste of the upbringing he had. In the beginning, we gave away most of the produce from our large garden, but when we were in financial straits, all of the food got preserved/frozen/canned/etc. I recall many a Saturday putting corn kernals that my Dad shaved off of the cobs into daisy “seal-a-meal” bags to go into the freezer. We butchered our steer and pigs, sold extra eggs from our chickens to the neighbors for extra money and even cut the field to turn into hay to make a few extra bucks here and there. I don’t own anyone anything as far as I’m concerned.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Just what are these ‘positive changes’ you propose?

      It is my understanding that Jack wrote tongue in cheek about all the race/gender “cis” stuff, and only defined privilege in the space of the automotive world, where a lot of us car guys on TTAC have the following privileges (second cars, spare time, mechanical skills, MONEY) and contrasted it to the average ‘lower/lower-middle class man on the street’ who depended on a single vehicle for their livelihood with little to no safety net.

      If Jack was a black transgender car guy dressed in a tutu, he’d still manage through the above Lexus radiator saga in the same manner given that the ‘car-guy’ privilege I described above was intact.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      If there is a lack privilege in life – its that poor kids of any color don’t always get good adult examples to emulate. The poor kids have to figure out for themselves that thinking is easier than lifting and then create opportunities for themselves to attend training schools or universities by finding jobs to pay for it all. Those jobs require a certain amount of skills too – be it restaurant work, clerking, labor jobs like landscaping or loading trucks, etc. I grew up with alot of these poor white kids. A few of these kids were the ones that always got their school work done well and studied hard for the tests. They valued a friend and all those other “real” things in life.

      My sister has done just as well as I have despite being female. Different path, different motivations, different kind of hard work but same success.

      Hard work. It’ll get you there every time. You might need to move away from the big expensive city to get a start. You might need to move away from the small, poor rural town for a while where you are related to everyone.

      I spent alot of time trying to analyze the success of people around me while I was in my 20s. What did they do differently to get where they were going? Why did they live here? Was it education or hard work or both or a natural charisma? Hard work primarily was the delivery mechanism but it was only part of a long equation that takes years to execute. Some people get by on personality or good looks. The rest of us get there by gaining valuable skills and hard work.

      I don’t see gender or ethnic roots as being a primary determiner of a person’s success in life – even in this small southern town. Even here the old south is just a stereotype. It isn’t 1964 anymore.

      A thoughtful person who works hard and is able to mould themselves into an environment can always find success regardless of their color or gender especially if they are working in a professional environment.

      I think “entitlement” is a BS concept applied to white men as a whole unless they are born with a silver spoon.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I can hear Ed N. and Robert F. screaming all the way from here…what have you done to my site with this socialist piece about privilege?!?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Robert lives in the real world — or at least he travels to it from time to time. I think he’d be fine.

      As for the other guy, I think he’s busy sharing all the industry insights he’s gotten in a five-year-career of sitting at home reading about cars.

  • avatar
    Antediluvianbaby

    Wow Jack, your writing has won me over before despite all the self-importance I hate to see in myself, but acknowledging privilege like this really takes the cake. Inspiring read. Thanks.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Sometimes I wonder what all this talk about “privilege” is really all about. It used to be a given that different people were dealt different cards life. “Life isn’t fair”, and that was the end of it.

    It turns out that equal opportunity just isn’t enough. Essays about privilege these days seem to be used to further the cause based on equal results.

    I just came here for the cars, but all the seeming vindication of this privilege stuff got me triggered.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I can never figure out the ‘end game’ of the people screaming “privilege!” I assume it is to remove said privilege, but by what means? I know these folks want me to acknowledge my privilege, okay consider that done. Now what?

      What more can be expected of me beyond treating those around me with respect and dignity?

      I’ve only recently learned of this strange subculture and all the jargon that comes with it (“triggering” “cis” etc etc). Truly bizarre.

      • 0 avatar
        Antediluvianbaby

        I think all the passion around the topic of privilege is a reaction to living in a culture that is very quick to find clean, cut-and-dry answers to complex problems like income inequality.

        The US has always been madly in love with the idea that we are all masters of our destiny and that everyone has a chance to achieve their dreams with enough hard work. I strongly subscribe to this emphasis on personal choice/responsibility as well, and it motivates me every day to build the life I want despite adversity.

        But what this doesn’t account for (and where the topic of privilege comes in) is true personal ownership- of where each person starts their “adventure in capitalism.”
        I think when I and most proponents discuss the value of acknowledging privilege, we’re not talking about making excuses for hardships or devaluing anyone’s successes, but simply engaging the conversation on an equal playing field, with all factors taken into consideration. Because none of us are born in a vacuum, and all of us have something that was given to us without earning it.

        This is why the the conversation has gotten so complex (or in your words “truly bizarre”) as we go about breaking down all the external factors (those outside of our choice, such as race, gender, socioeconomics, etc) that influence the person’s hand their dealt.

        But to me these issues are nothing but critical for us to face and address if we want to take actual steps to strengthening our middle class (and economic position in the world), and strive for a democracy that truly serves it’s people.

        Bold can of worms to open on a car blog Jack! But I suppose that’s why we love TTAC!

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          I think at the root of most modern day income inequality, as well as most crime, is the decay of the nuclear family unit. Thousands of years of experience had whittled things down to something that works. Parents share the burden of raising children and providing for them, and in turn the children care for their parents in old age and sickness. A single unmarried mother has a much harder time providing both the upbringing as well as the physical care of children when the ‘baby daddy’ is too self absorbed and too busy having a good time to take responsibility and help raise his kin. In the past, it was incredibly taboo to have children out of marriage, and a single mother was seen as an abnormality, someone who is very unfortunate and (unfortunately) ostracized for the taboo-ness of her situation.

          The children growing up without enough supervision are much more at risk to under perform in school and/or ‘run with the wrong crowd.’ From there comes another out of wedlock pregnancy, crime, the cycle starts to take hold.

          That scenario, above all the race and sexual identity nonsense, is the real problem we’re facing. And unfortunately, it isn’t something that can be solved by being more tolerant, or by passing laws, or any one action. You can’t legislate morality, and just instill in people a drive to take care of their children, work through issues and stay together as couples and ‘make things work.’ Flip side to the past was that there was probably a lot of spousal and child abuse as abusive husbands ran households in terror, the wife and kids sticking around because that’s what was expected of them from society.

          • 0 avatar
            Antediluvianbaby

            So you agree that being born into a solid family structure is a privilege?

            How is that different from any of the other indisputable leg-ups we can get in life, such as have a trust fund, or white skin, or a penis?

            All I’m saying is that there are always outside factors that contribute to a person’s success or failure, and there should be no harm in acknowledging them.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            ” So you agree that being born into a solid family structure is a privilege?” _YES_ .

            “How is that different from any of the other indisputable leg-ups we can get in life, such as have a trust fund, or white skin, or a penis? ”

            _IT_ISN’T_ .

            -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            Dan

            “And unfortunately, it isn’t something that can be solved by being more tolerant, or by passing laws, or any one action.”

            Bastardry is exactly something that can be solved with tolerance and legislation because that’s how it became a problem in the first place.

            The most basic foundation of all economics, social and financial, is that people respond to incentives. Reward a behavior and you get more of it. Punish that behavior and you get less.

            We, although I still don’t know who we are – they certainly never asked me, decided that we were going to pay women with children to get divorced on a whim. We decided that we were going to pay single women tens of thousands of dollars in cash and benefits for having children. The more children they have, the more we pay them.

            In short, we made irresponsible breeding into a literal full time government job and, as of 2013, 6 million women – more than the entire federal workforce – were employed in it.

            This, as most problems in the world, is exceedingly simple. Complexity isn’t the problem. Complexity is the excuses that academics comfortably far away from the symptoms make for not wanting to solve it.

          • 0 avatar
            psarhjinian

            “I think at the root of most modern day income inequality, as well as most crime, is the decay of the nuclear family unit”

            The _isolated_ nuclear family is a relatively new social construct. For most of human history, we had extended immediate families: multigenerational families in the same neighbourhood, if not under the same roof.

            The rise of suburban living that ushered in the nuclear family is the exception, not the rule.

            “It takes a village to raise a child” is the aphorism that’s used, and we’ve very much broken that concept.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I agree with psarhjinian.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Again, is ‘acknowledgement’ all that the privilege/feminist (a lot of them seem to be feminists) folks are looking to get out of all of this? is the end goal to assess privilege and then elevate those without it to some perceived level of equality? And if so, what do you define equality by?

            If everyone went around obsessing over every privilege or un-privilege that apparently defines them, why even try anymore? My great grandfather died defending Moscow in WW2, his son grew up without a father but grew up to be a successful steam locomotive engineer. He died in a hunting accident when my dad was 6 years old. So my dad in turn also grew up without a father. He studied hard and left his rural Far-Eastern Siberian village to study physics and earned his PhD, and during the collapse of the Soviet Union grabbed his chance at bringing his family to a better life in America. Thank God none of these men sat around moping about everyone else’s privilege instead of bettering themselves and their families. My dad never turned to me and said “oh look at you with your privilege, growing up comfortably in America with two living parents.” He was overjoyed that he was able to provide me with incredible opportunities.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            ” is the end goal to assess privilege and then elevate those without it to some perceived level of equality?”

            As evidenced by the various overtly racist/sexist “equity” schemes that are now commonplace when selecting job candidates, determining school admission and scholarships, that’s exactly what the end game is.

  • avatar
    baconator

    Jack, this is a fantastic article.

  • avatar

    Airplanes are the same. You often hear from the guys who were flying before I was born how aviation is actually really affordable. Buy a Luscombe for $20k, they say. Yeah, what are you going to do when that 1946 A-65 coughs up a valve…? Not to worry, say the know-it-alls. You just pull the jug, polish the valve seat, etc., have a buddy A&P sign it off. And it costs you nothing except freaking lifetime of experience.

  • avatar
    manbridge

    Ah the choices in life. Sort of like the board game LIFE. Or is that the cereal?

    Remember the joke about the lady doc telling the older chain smoker he could’ve had a Ferarri with all the money he blew on cigs? After her diatribe he asked, “You don’t smoke so where’s your effin Ferrari?” Well in 2000 I decided to do without a cell phone and see if I could squirrel that money away for some kind of hobby/fun car. Made it without the cell bill till 2013. About 6K went a long way toward an old 911 in 2010 before the current frenzy.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I’m with you on the cellphone. Mine is so basic I describe it as a calculator that happens to make phone calls as well. New out the door the phone was $30. No contract. Pay as I go and it costs me about $10 per month. I hate using the darn thing but as a parent doing kiddo taxi duty, it can be very helpful. I share it with my eldest child who takes it when they go out. I too want to keep the $$$ that my peers spend on freakin’ cellphones.

      There will be a day when some folks won’t be able to retire b/c of their TV and cellphone costs. That’s about $200K if a person invested that money modestly.

  • avatar

    I’ve lived my life with nothing but 10 plus year old cars. Some times with a spare but most of the time just one for me and one for my wife. Same thing when I was growing up always had old cars. I guess my issue with Jacks argument is I’ve only had one car really cause me problems breaking down most of the time I could jury rig a repair and keep going (damn you VW). (this is much easier on Japanese or American cars) The most I have ever spent on a car is 6k bucks most have been under 3k all bought with cash. There have been times when i couldn’t afford to buy parts because I was broke, and I thought about buying a new car but then logic kicks in and tells me if I can’t afford $300 for a steering rack how would I pay $350/month for a car loan plus the added insurance. I’ve driven around 240,000 miles on cars with over 100k miles and 10 years on them. In that time Ive been towed 4 times. I had a boss who bought a new V70 and XC90 in the time I worked for him. In 4 years those two brand new cars spent more time in the shop then my beaters have over the last 10 it may have been under warranty but all you other arguments would still apply.

  • avatar
    vvk

    When my mom’s Impreza ground to a halt with a dead battery, I was on my way to work. Black pants, crisply pressed shirt, allen edmonds shoes. I don’t always have my multimeter in the car but that morning I did. After driving for about an hour in the opposite direction to get to my mom, I immediately realized it was a dead alternator. Luckily, I was able to start it and drive it to a nearby Subaru dealer, only a few hundred yards away. The service advisor said it would be $750 and they cannot get to it until three days from now. You are saying I should have not had the privilege to say no to that.

    Well, I did say no to that. I escorted my mom to work, where she parked the Impreza under a street light. I knew it would be dark by the time I put my daughter to bed and helped my wife with the house work. I may not be the working father with the minivan but that was lucky for me because my BMW had a nice tool kit. Armed with this toolkit I stopped by a u-pull-it junk yard on my way to work. Lucky for the allen edmonds, it was a dry day. I rolled up my sleeves and removed an alternator from a wrecked Impreza in the junk yard, struggling to remove one of the bolts with my BMW wrench — it was really stuck. A short and very polite latino man nearby let me borrow his socket wrench. I paid $14 for that alternator. I installed it late that night under the street light, with my mother watching. It worked perfectly and lasted until the end of that Impreza.

    Was it my privilege to save $750 plus tax plus several days without a car? I don’t know about that…

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      You Subaru-Boxer-Americans don’t realize how privileged you are to have easy access to your alternator, all up on top of the engine like that, where you can swap it out with simple hand tools without getting under the car.

      You people should pay reparations to less privileged people, such as Duratec-Americans or Northstar-Americans.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Please add a Northstar trigger warning to your post, I’m very sensitive about head bolt torque.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          I’ve been close – really – to pulling the trigger on a used ’09 Black Raven DTS Performance (from my uncle who was trading it in), but could never get a straight answer on whether GM ever really did or did not fix the head bolt pulling backwards issue in the N* – even experienced GM techs gave complicated, inconclusive answers.

          GREAT highway cruisers & extremely roomy and comfortable, but I do not want to risk having to pull an engine out of a car and pay for those many hours to do that repair, whether at 50,000 miles or even 110,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Nice story.

  • avatar
    don1967

    My, what a loaded word this “privilege” is. Well done, Jack.

    The modern Pavlovian response is to bark something about skin colour. But this does a disservice to all skin colours, while trivializing the importance of hard work. The only people who truly inherit privilege are the wealthiest 1%; the other 99 must earn it regardless of their skin colour.

    Perhaps we can agree that a privileged person is simply one who has more options in life than a non-privileged person.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” Perhaps we can agree that a privileged person is simply one who has more options in life than a non-privileged person.”

    This . many here don’t like to see themselves as privileged when they’ve worked so hard for what they’ve gotten .

    FWIW , I’ve been working on German cars (mostly) since the 1960’s and I’m a dedicated Mercedes owner/mechanic/apologist/fanboi , trust me on this :

    A ‘ cheap ‘ Mercedes is the MOST EXPENSIVE CAR you’ll ever own .

    I own three right now , all are daily drivers , two are closing in on 400,000 miles rapidly , I beat those bushes for the deals on parts .

    -Nate

  • avatar

    Jack, outstanding and thought-provoking.

    And something I’ve lived for most of my driving years. I truly am privileged.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    You have an excellent point here Jack. I’m probably what most people would considered privileged – I make a mid 5 figure income as a healthy single childless adult with no student loan debt. I have a garage. As I’ve mentioned here before, I have a 2004 BMW 330i, and in truth, it has not been that unreliable. I have two good independent shops I can take the car to for service and lots of family and friends in town that can pick me up at the mechanic and that have extra cars to loan me. So overall, pretty privileged (I’m a CIS gendered male but only half white and definitely not straight so I’ll have gawker post a reader poll to determine the degree of privilege there)

    That being said, I’m at work an an average of 64 hours a week (two 24 hour shifts at my full time job and two 8 hour shifts at my part time job). Neither has flexibility or room for tardiness or unreliability. This makes affordable ownership of the sort talked about by Tavarish next to impossible. Despite my support network, it took me a month to find the time to get the car to my mechanic to get a CEL looked at because of the difficult in coordinating schedules with him and my rides to and from the car. While I’m grateful to have it, it sucks being a 31 year old and still be calling my parents to pick me up from the mechanic and let me borrow a car. The appeal of dropping it off at the local dealer and driving away in a craptastic enterprise loaner so I can get to work, grocery shop, cook, mow the yard, do the laundry, etc while a warranty means I don’t have to worry how much it will cost me is hard to quantify. I don’t know how those of you with kids do it but I tip my hat to you. Fixing it myself? If I can’t find the time to drop the car off, when am I going to find the time learn to, and then fix it?

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    A privilege to read this one, Jack. Chapeau.

  • avatar
    BrashL

    First of all you used the word “cisgender” which I regard as “the brilliant peacock plumage that identifies a third-rate pseudo-intellectual from ten paces away”

    Second, using a one-of-a-kind million mile car to make a point about used cars in general….really? I guess this is what happens after you run out of your 5-10 good automotive articles.

    Or this is a big troll in which case, Well Done!

  • avatar
    superchan7

    Privilege in both time and money are needed to operate unreliable cars.

    But not all cheap cars are unreliable.

    A Corolla with 150,000 miles is “cheap” by most people’s standards. Make sure the belts are good, tires are good, electric power is strong, fluids are flushed, body and frame aren’t rusting. It probably has drum brakes in the rear. Perfect $1000-2000 car, and not much to go wrong to strand you.

    Cheap luxury cars are the actual target of this article, and it only takes one horrifying ownership experience to show the staggering time and money involved in maintaining them. I’m on my third “cheap luxury car”, each one more involving than the previous. I am damn privileged to be able to afford the time and money required to keep these things running.

    My DD is a Honda with 100k miles, only problem being a bad gas cap seal at 50k miles.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Which ones have you had?

      • 0 avatar
        superchan7

        1. 2002 three-pointed-star coupe. This was by far the cheapest to purchase, but it needed a new steering rack and the alignment could not be returned to factory spec for some reason (suspension damage?). The V8 has 16 spark plugs; $1000+ for an independent mechanic to replace.

        2. 2008 2-seater, Pferd on a crest. Generally reliable, but it sprouted a steering rack leak just after warranty and blew an AOS 1 week before sale. Otherwise, maintenance is not too different from typical BMW performance models. My car had the IMS, but it was the last iteration that a) cannot be accessed for replacement and b) is supposedly not prone to failure.

        3. 1998 2-seater, Cavallo on a crest. All of the issues are very well known in a tight community of owners. Depending on previous maintenance, a major service can expose 5-digit problems. It takes a lot of research and dedication to keep these running on a non-trust-fund-baby budget.

        None of these cars were as rage-inducing as my hand-me-down B5 Passat, which was not even a luxury car. It leaked everything and stuff just falls apart with age, and in the case of a headlamp assembly, stuff can also simply fall OFF. It had more problems than the above 3 cars combined, and could literally bankrupt an unsuspecting buyer looking for basic transportation.

        Inspect and buy a Corolla if you NEED a cheap, reliable car. And don’t just spring for the cheapest example.

        • 0 avatar
          hgrunt

          #3, the Cavallo on a crest, I’ve heard horror stories about low mileage cars having exhaust manifolds that simply crack. Apparently, they’re not that terrible to wrench on, but owners generally aren’t the DIY type.

          I have a 2003 roundel–it’s been good to me so far, but I’ve also been good to it. Many of it’s issues are related to deferred maintenance on the part of previous owners, or use of non-OE parts. The issues that aren’t maintenance related are relatively minor: Auto-recirculate doesn’t work ($12 sensor), door locks do not consistently unlock (a pair of $5 relays), window regulators ($60-80/pc).

          VWs of that generation generally confound me…they can range from “Great” to “miserable.” I’m sure VW dealerships didn’t help at all.

          • 0 avatar
            superchan7

            You are absolutely correct. One side cracked on mine under the previous owner, was repaired, and it cracked again after I bought it. They used mild steel on an infernal exhaust system. In fact, these are still an issue on newer cars.

            I huffed and puffed and splurged on brand new aftermarket headers (T304 steel + ceramic coatings) and cats. FORCED into the aftermarket!

            I have nothing positive to say about VW dealers. They seem to hire the bottom feeders of every sector; they all act like you owe them something. Both indie mechanics who worked my Passat ended up hating it.

            Bimmers seem to do OK with the right maintenance. From my anecdotal experience (never owned one) people seemed to get big problems by not being proactive and delaying expensive work. Recent exception being the fuel pump issues; it’s almost a battle-scar trophy for late-model owners. HPFP, bro!

        • 0 avatar
          sirwired

          Hmmm… my B5 Passat is at 140k and still going strong with few hassles. As essentially a rebadged B5 A4, it has similarly demanding maint. requirements as any other luxury German car of that vintage.

          OTOH, it also drives like a luxury German car of that vintage, for a fraction of the price.

          • 0 avatar
            superchan7

            You know, I have a feeling that if I put in an extra few grand, I would have liked the car enough to keep. I threw in $3k to replace the front suspension arms, only to have transmission and ignition issues a few months after.

            I had other, more desirable cars at the time, so I let go of it, non-running, for peanuts. The driving feel is superb…….when it actually works. Not good enough for me, and downright dangerous for a less-educated buyer who needs reliable transportation.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Why $3K to replace the front suspension arms? I’m looking at RockAuto and they are $150 down to $80 each. I just looked at an online VW dealer and OEM parts are $200 each.

            I’ve installed these myself in my driveway. Not hard. Had a shop replace control arm bushings on my MK3 Cabrio and the price was $50-$75 if I recall correctly.

            What am I missing here?

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” What more can be expected of me beyond treating those around me with respect and dignity?”

    That’d be good , if it was possible , too many are dead set against giving an equal playing field to anyone else

    -Nate

  • avatar
    George B

    Great article Jack. I disagree a little bit. While poor people can’t afford to own a cheap to purchase but expensive to maintain luxury car, some unloved “old man” cars are a relative bargain. For example, a big old Buick with the 3800 V6 and a good maintenance history can provide reliable transportation at a low cost.

    I also believe most people can save money by learning to do some repairs themselves. Start with the scheduled maintenance items that can be done on the weekend or evening. Fluid changes, replace brake pads, etc. If you start with replacing coolant and learn to replace radiator hoses, the next step of replacing a broken radiator doesn’t look so difficult.

    My neighbor’s church started a car ministry where church members with tools and experience helped other church members learn to do car repairs on Sunday afternoon. Overcomes the barriers of lack of tools and experience while helping people save money.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      That’s a good idea.

    • 0 avatar
      superchan7

      Good point on those Buicks. Some of those 3.8 V6s from the mid-90s seem to last forever, and the engine bay should yield great access to fluids and parts. I can’t imagine the fuel economy being terrific.

      Old and known reliable model + thorough inspection + DIY basic maintenance = economical car ownership.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Careful with the GM H-bodies. The older Series I 3800s wear like iron, and are unaffected by the lower intake manifold gasket issues that Series II suffered from. However, surrounding that wonderful OHV lump are a bunch of indifferently manufactured components. But as the old adage goes, a GM will wrong poorly longer than most cars will run at all.

        I’ll make the argument for a 1998-2002 Corolla, with a caveat that the oil is topped off every once in a while. Widely available in the $1500-3000 bracket, peppy and efficient, with a reasonably smooth ride for a small car. The chain driven 1.8L mill can start to burn oil if the oil has been changed irregularly (rings get stuck to the pistons), but as long as an eye is kept on that oil drinking habit, nothing else really breaks. A friend’s gf wanted a cheap car to learn to drive in and to take to Chicago for a few semesters, we found her a 1998 Corolla with 140k for $2200. A valve cover gasket and high pressure steering pump hose later she had a reliable ride that she still owns.

        1990-1993 Accords acquit themselves well too. Helped a different friend snag a 1992 DX Sedan with 130k miles for $950, 2 owner car with a bit of rear quarter panel cancer (the size of a silver dollar). A pair of tires, front rotors, a thermostat, and a power steering hose (weird coincidence?) later, and he drove it for a year without issue, including trips to NYC. Helped him sell it for $1950.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Oh forgot the perennial favorite of mine: 95-99 Nissan Maxima/Infiniti I30. Same price bracket, chain drive VQ30 takes abuse well, and a bonus: rear bank of spark plugs is accessible without pulling the intake manifold! Jatco transmissions aren’t really a source of problems, suspension front and rear is simple and durable. Besides crank position sensors I don’t think there’s much else electrical that can take them out of commission, maybe a dirty MAF sensor but that is true for anything. They are pretty rust prone but in this case it’s mostly a matter of cosmetics. I’d say this is the Japanese version of the ubiquitous 1990s Lesabre, with better component reliability, more pep in its step, and better handling. MPG is probably similar (ie not too terrible but not great around town).

        • 0 avatar
          JD-Shifty

          even if you do a LIM gasket that’s not that hard to do and costs about 300 dollars. big hairy deal.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I’m not going to say it didn’t happen, but I do know 3800 was not as susceptible to LIM as the 60V6.

          • 0 avatar
            JD-Shifty

            and the LIM isn’t the end of the world.
            rarely will it leave you stranded, it just starts seeping coolant. You can fix it yourself for the cost of the gaskets or get it done for a few hundred dollars. another good reason not to buy foreign, american brands are much cheaper to fix.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “My neighbor’s church started a car ministry where church members with tools and experience helped other church members learn to do car repairs on Sunday afternoon. Overcomes the barriers of lack of tools and experience while helping people save money.”

      That’s a pretty cool thing to do. Sadly, many lack the will. I’ve shown 2 separate single mothers how to change their own oil (it’s OK, laugh) because they wanted to know how, though they really won’t save much money over a quick lube place. I do think they get some self-satisfaction out of it.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        At least they’ll be able to tell that the job got done and the drain bolt tightened. An older Asian acquaiance sued a shop that was charging him for work they were not even doing. Finally he took a marker and marked the filter. Nope – same filter. Old oil that they claimed was dark right out of the bottle.

        It helps to be aware enough not to get cheated.

  • avatar
    Timothy

    Without question the best “car” article I’ve read in a very long time. Fantastic work, Jack. Bravo.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    It’s been said many times over in the comments, but bears repeating. This is without question the absolute best piece of automotive journalism I’ve read.

    That was damn good. Bravo.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Thank you, Jack.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    the “risk” of driving around in a car that might break down?

    The stupid in that statement makes my head hurt

    • 0 avatar
      superchan7

      All cars “might” break down, but old luxury cars tend to do it more frequently–and more expensively–than newer economy cars. People looking for cheap, reliable transportation to commute with ought to be educated of the dangers of a tempting old luxury car with a low sale price.

      Those people aren’t likely to be on TTAC writing B&B comments, but at least if our community has family or friends in such a position, we can help them out.

      • 0 avatar
        JD-Shifty

        so what. why does that scare people so much. you call a friend or a towing service.

        • 0 avatar
          superchan7

          What I was trying to say was, some people can get fired (or “staff reduction”-ed) for being late, when they were already late the day before to take care of their sick child.

          So for this person, I would recommend against buying that “Dealer Special” $2000 Jaguar and instead buy a $2500 Toyota Corolla with a stack of maintenance receipts. Pretty sure that was the point of this article. Not everyone can afford to have “car problems.”

          I sold my nightmare of a B5 Passat to a mechanic who said he wanted to try to get it running. He didn’t need it to feed his family. I would have lost sleep if I found out my buyer needed it to get to his next job in the morning.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Time to go searching for another employer. Jobs where employers don’t worry over 15 minutes (give it back by staying later) exist all over the place.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          Obviously you’re not a parent, or a single woman, or someone facing any physical challenges, or anybody besides some dude with plenty of time and no problems in life. Know how I know? You aren’t worried about the consequences of having a car break down.

          • 0 avatar
            JD-Shifty

            You’re right, I’m just a reg guy who drives an old truck. I have a cell phone to call a tow truck if I have to. The amount of extra money people pay for vehicles because they are afraid of a breakdowns should be an embarrassment. all cars break down. “I’ll pay 10 thousand per year because I’m afraid of tow trucks”

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            If your wife and kids are in the car without you you might feel differently

          • 0 avatar
            JD-Shifty

            I don’t understand this forum. why can’t I reply to the las tpost by “lietome”. guys a breakdown is only likely to happen a few times per lifetime. Is that really worth what could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in a retirement fund?

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            “breakdown is only likely to happen a few times per lifetime”

            Not if you bought something like an old Range Rover or S-Class or a Lexus with 300K on it. Cars that breakdown “a few times per lifetime” are 2012 Accords, 2011 Camrys and 2013 Fusions

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            During 1980-1996 we had four kids of our own living with us, plus two of my Portuguese nephews and one each German nephew and niece that lived with us for at least one year each, in addition to the daughter of one of my wife’s sisters we adopted because of an ugly divorce. So we had a lot of cars! A lot of used cars.

            But it was rare, rare indeed, that all of those cars were running at the same time, and none of them ran all of the time. All of them broke down periodically, some even with regularity like my 1988 Silverado or my wife’s Caprice.

            When you live 26 miles from the nearest town, transportation, dependable transportation, moves to the top rung on the ladder of priorities.

            The cars that broke down the least were…….. foreign brands.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @Lie2me

            I drive an old Range Rover. Rather a lot, actually, as I put more miles on it than my other cars combined since I bought it. It has broken down once in 18 months, which may seem like a lot, except it was 110% my own fault. I knew full well that it needed an upper radiator hose (at 14yo and 140K Texas miles, it was original, and bulging), and I procrastinated doing anything about it. Maintenance failure on my part, not the trucks part. Could have just as easily happened to a Toyota.

            I’ve driven nothing but cars that 95% of the people on this forum condemn as “unreliable” my entire driving life of 28 years with the exception of an ’82 Subaru for a couple years. The number of times I have had to have a car towed can be counted on the fingers of one hand in all that time and a crap load of cars. And historically, I have been a 25K+ per year driver.

            Fears of being stranded somewhere are *wildly* overblown.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            But, but… When talking about Range Rovers in the “Best Car You’ll Never Buy” article you said…

            “I love mine to death, but you would be a fool to own one as your only car. And if you are like DeMuro and don’t know one end of a screwdriver from the other, you will NEED that warranty. That guy had the dealer change a taillight bulb. I can’t even imagine doing that…”

            I like you krhodes1, but this sounds a little hypocritical

          • 0 avatar
            tjh8402

            “anybody besides some dude with plenty of time and no problems in life. know how I know? You aren’t worried about the consequences of having a car break down.”

            Well said Jack. JD-Shifty – I’m not afraid of tow trucks. I’m afraid of having to waste sick time at my full time job calling out from work because my car broke down. I’m afraid of job security at my part time job if I don’t show up because of car trouble. I’m afraid of messing things up for coworkers who will either have to work short handed or be forced to wait on relief to come in from elsewhere so they can go home. Never mind time lost waiting for the tow truck, going to the mechanic, and then trying to find a way to get picked up and then try to find a car to borrow (or rent).

            My mechanic told me the BMW’s fuel pump is likely to fail sometime soon based on mileage. I asked him how I would know it was dying and he said “you’ll get in the car and it just won’t start”. I told him to order the part and replace it. He seemed a bit surprised that I didn’t want to wait, and I told him my jobs didn’t afford me the luxury of waiting for the car to just stop working.

            Thankfully, most of the BMW’s problems havent been the sort to require towing or leave me stranded, but I get ever more worried that I’m approaching that point (its 11 years old and has 145k miles on it).

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @Lie2me

            Just because it doesn’t leave you stranded doesn’t mean it doesn’t do all sorts of weird quirky British old car stuff. It would drive the average person around the bend if it was their only car. But so far, it has always gotten me where I set out to go, bar the one time. But I leave a Bluetooth ODB II dongle plugged in 24×7…

            I will say though, its quirks are fairly predictable. It doesn’t like extreme cold. Left it out for six hours in subzero cold last week, next time I drove it the SRS light was on. Left it in the heated garage overnight, and it has been off ever since, just as an example. Driving it around with <1/4 tank of gas will set a CEL every time, as another. One time the tailgate opener button stopped working for a couple weeks, then has been fine ever since. None of these issues will strand you. DeMuro would be running to the dealer every three days though.

            So I stand by my assessment – it's "reliable enough" in terms of getting me where I need to go, but I would not want one as my only vehicle. The 12mpg alone would be enough to rule that out anyway.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Interesting that it’s “Portugese” or “German” relatives – defined by their nationality!

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            CoreyDL, none of my Portuguese relatives owned cars in Portugal. I taught their kids how to drive.

            All of our German relatives own cars in Germany, and grew up with cars in their families. They already knew how to drive, and in fact had attended German classes on driving, like Driver’s Ed in the US.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    lie to me that is a knee jerk statement. I know people who own Japanese vehicles that brag about going over 200 thousand, and I know people who drive american vehicles who have over 400 thousand.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    I might be thinking of a forum where people know about idiosyncrasies and maintenance in their vehicles. To me VW diesels are stupid, but if that’s your hobby you can make it work. I get the value out of american products. if you want to be a sheep in a corolla, that’s another point of view. Utility vehicles make more sense to people who don’t rent and who don’t write checks to get everything done.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    “breakdown is only likely to happen a few times per lifetime”

    Not if you bought something like an old Range Rover or S-Class or a Lexus with 300K on it. Cars that breakdown “a few times per lifetime” are 2012 Accords, 2011 Camrys and 2013 Fusions

    ———————————

    you’re just writing propaganda again. The people I know who own american vehicles built since the mid 90’s have had great luck with reliability.
    In fact my daily driver is an S-10 with 380,000 miles on it, and I would not hesitate to drive it across the country.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Ok, you win, put your wife and kids in an S-10 with 380,000 miles on it and send them across country, you’ll probably never see them again which by all accounts is what you’d want and most likely the best thing that could ever happen to them

      • 0 avatar
        JD-Shifty

        your imagination is really something. why would you “never see someone again” because they drive a high mileage but reliable vehicle?

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I’ll give you a dollar to drive your S-10 from L.A. to N.Y. and write about the wonderful experience, just like Jack did

          • 0 avatar
            JD-Shifty

            I drove it from Michigan to Colorado and back last year. not much to tell you other than stopping at gas stations

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Meh, I flew from Maine to San Antonio TX, bought my 13yo 135K Range Rover, and drove it home – 2500 miles in four days. I’d drive it back down there tomorrow. And I bet the drive would be just as uneventful as far as it starting and running and stopping. Might get a CEL or have the tailgate not open along the way though.

            People are such pansies these days, no sense of adventure at all. And this whole “OMG, I might be late for work” crap – seriously folks, get an adult job where you don’t have to punch a clock. People with kids sure have no problem being late or leaving early for all manner of child related dilemmas as well. My cars are FAR more reliable than your children.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            “People are such pansies these days”

            Real men drive temperamental Range Rovers,

            Arruugghh!

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            “get an adult job where you don’t have to punch a clock.”

            Right, because every single person can choose what job they have and/or are qualified for. No jobs for adults require clock punching, all are salary and come and go as you please.

            Could you think before you spout this nonsense? Most the time you’re relatively benign, but you’re getting worse here lately with the level of obnoxious.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            krhodes-

            I haven’t “punched a clock” in six or seven years, but that just means I have to be at work earlier and stay later than my employees. It’s an even a better reason to have a reliable car.

            As for the kid issue, that’s what I have sick days/pto days for. You use yours how you like, I’ll use mine how I like. I’d rather have an employee that has a kid that may get sick a few times a year than an employee with an unreliable car.

            Don’t you have two, basically brand new cars? It’s not like your LR is anything more than an occasional plaything. Plus you are in rental cars most weeks during the year. Even if your LR was your only car, you would barely be relying on it for a commute.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Yeah, there’s that kind of hypocritical thing again that I mentioned earlier

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I do have one of those “big people” jobs, they are kind of pricks about nine o’clock for some reason. Somebody has a case of the Mondays.

            Ok on a serious note, my old Saturn broke down at least three times on the way to work in four years, and the old boss was cool about it. McJob would not be as forgiving, which is Jack’s point. Regarding the lack of adventure I do agree, but then again what happens when the as-is POS you’re transporting from the Thursday sale blows up way out in BFE where cell reception is limited?

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @Lie2me

            Real men know what to do if something bad does happen, and don’t get their knickers in a twist worrying about the worst case scenario of everything.

            For many years now, “unreliable” means that the window might not go up and down, not that the car strands you on the side of the road, for any vehicle that is not an utter beater.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @CoreyDL

            I am exaggerating for effect just as much as those around here who seem to think that being late because of car trouble once in a blue moon is the end of the world. It is an utterly ridiculous meme around this place.

            @bball40dtw

            It’s winter, and in case you haven’t noticed the northeast is getting hammered this year. Hence my driving the Rover more than anything else – it’s the right tool for the job. My commute is to the airport – and an airplane will not wait for me. I have a couple of newer cars because I *can* not because I have to, one of them I don’t drive at all in the winter, the other I prefer not to. To drive the rentals, I have to get to where I am going, and 95% of the time that means the Rover.

            And if the Rover does break down? Two phone calls – one to AAA, one to a cab company. I’d still make my flight. For the overwhelming majority of my career, I had a daily commute, and a decently long one for a number of years. And I drove cars that most around here would dismiss as unacceptably risky. Yet as I mentioned previously, the number of times I have had to have a car towed in the last 20 years can be counted on one hand.

            The trouble for poor people is that they end up driving beater cars that they can’t afford to maintain at all. Beater cars are unreliable whether they are Toyotas or BMWs.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Meh, I’ve driven plenty of less than ideally reliable cars to jobs as well. The numbers are definetly in your favor with the LR. The chances of it not working, period, are low. I had an employee with a late 90s sebring convertible that he’d have an issue starting sometimes, but he was always on time.

            The only car that really affected my work schedule was actually a new car. My 2008 VW R32 liked to vapor lock in the desert southwest. It would stall and just not start sometimes. I ended up leasing the cheapest Jetta I could fine in order to have a reliable car while the VW dealer puttered around and replaced the gas tank three times. I didn’t want to lemon law the R32 because I knew I could make money selling it once it was fixed.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            “Real men know what to do if something bad does happen, and don’t get their knickers in a twist worrying about the worst case scenario of everything.”

            “And if the Rover does break down? Two phone calls – one to AAA, one to a cab company.”

            Now I get it, “real men” call AAA and/or a cab

            Lol, krhodes1 stop making this so easy for me

          • 0 avatar
            superchan7

            @krhodes1

            I have a car that I can afford the time and money to work on. Carve corners like an enthusiast, admire from afar, or even bring to the hot spots if I feel like a douche. When it has problems, I wait until I have time to mess with it, or get it towed.

            I also have a car that I NEED to be reliable to get me to and from work.

            I sold a car that should have been reliable, but was not designed to be so. A Volkswagen Passat is not some exotic supercar toy. It was made to compete with everyday cars like Camrys and Accords that people depend on for billions of miles. The focus of this article is the allure of cheap cars that these buyers must stay away from.

            It’s easy to see that a cheap old Jag or Benz is probably a bad idea for reliable transportation. But a cheap Jetta 1.8T (nice interior and Autobahn-tuned suspension!) or a slightly more expensive, slightly older Corolla with a 4AT? The guy who needs it to get to work would do well to stay away from that turbo VW.

            I cannot identify with asking someone to “find a better job” or comparing car reliability with kids. I’m in a great position, but that doesn’t mean any old guy from any background could have made it here. What if his kid got sick for a week, and then his VW lunched a coil pack or sprouted a turbo leak the very next day? Is the foreman going to like that? No, he’s going to threaten the poor chap’s job and tell him to buy a Corolla pronto.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        “an S-10 with 380,000 miles on it and send them across country”

        Hah, brought to mind why my best friend bought that Avalon and sold me his 1989 Camry for $1.00.

        It is not unusual in my area, if you have several cars parked outs!de your abode, for people to knock on your door and ask if you’d be interested in selling them one of those cars.

        That happened to my best friend as well, and he always told the people inquiring that he couldn’t afford to sell his old cars because he had too much money tied up in them so they could be used as local grocery getters, and that he wouldn’t trust those old cars to take him out of town in them.

        A lot of cars break down in the middle of no-where along US54 and US70 in the desert where I live. Even new cars. But more often than not, older cars, old vans and older pickup trucks.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    If I wanted a reliable car, it sure wouldn’t be a European car. Been there, done that, never again.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” I drove it from Michigan to Colorado and back last year. not much to tell you other than stopping at gas stations ” .

    This .

    I love hearing ” you drove from where ? in _THIS_ ?! ” .

    =8-) .

    Often in European cars no less .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Type44

    It was drilled into my consciousness that cars aren’t reliable enough to own singly when I was 16. I got screwed out of going to the cast party of the high school play after working on building the sets for 4 months. had I a backup, this wouldn’t be a problem. that was 1992. I became a two car family in 1994… I still refuse to go the perceived-reliable Toyota route. Tomorrow morning: Wife leaves for work earlier than me. If her 300D doesn’t start… I’ll drive her there in the 540i. 540i won’t start? 300TD. 300TD won’t start? She’s taking Uber, it’s only three miles to work… And I’ll be driving the Lemons car, which only has one seat. That’s if it rains. If it’s sunny, ride the K75RT, but if that won’t start, then kick over the Honda C70 pit bike, it will start! But still, if somehow that happens, there is the bicycle with light rail combo. That will get me there a half hour late, which sucks. but they’ll be OK with that, because how often does it happen? Only times when I have SIX dead vehicles at the SAME TIME. IOW, never. Since I don’t have kids, I don’t get to call out because of whatever mischief they’re up to… So I have that much of a head start on EVERYONE else there.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      @Type44

      I agree with this 100%. Though it is not the fear of being stranded, it is simply that if you are going to have older cars and work on them yourself, sometimes you just need time to do it. And having a spare car gives you that time. Plus driving the same car all the time would be extremely boring (to me anyway).

      Ultimately it comes down to life choices. If you choose to live in such a way that you can’t have more than one car, and/or you live in a place where you cannot work on a car (or choose not to learn how), then you are probably going to be on a treadmill of buying new or nearly new and probably fairly dull cars if you only make average wages. If you choose to learn to work on your own car(s), and live in a place that facilitates that, you can save a ton of money and/or drive much more interesting things. I was able to VERY reliably drive a wide variety of interesting ~$5K cars over the course of 20 years because I learned to work on them myself, and I bought a place that was ideal for that. I couldn’t afford to spend more, and I refused to drive dreck. I still refuse to pay for someone to do things I can do myself – just the Yankee in me, I guess.

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        I like you, krhodes, and I like your philosophy. I used to own a home with a detached 2-car garage and a large outbuilding. I kept three vehicles and worked on all of them – it was glorious. But, my fiancee bought a condo downtown with one garage parking spot so now I’m relegated to parking outdoors and basically had to give up working on my own cars. Which is OK, I’m more than happy with the arrangement although I’m trying to reduce my current two cars to one.

        In a perfect world – we would have a small acreage near the city that I could fill with cars!

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        @krhodes1 & Type 44: that’s how it works at my house. And it’s taken a long time to get that big boy job with a nice commute across a smallish town with friends who I help and who will help us. I’d have to have all three DD break at once.

        I have not been stranded but three times in 20+ years. Once was my “unreliable” MKIII which had a cracked coil. HEAVY rain and it would not start at the store. Wife came and got me in other car. Went back later and drove it home. Discovered the crack a week later and replaced it for $35 or so. It ran on dry days.

        My ’78 VW Westfalia wouldn’t start once. Starter was hot/struck. We roll started it. It flipped off the alt belt once. We changed it at a gas station (had part and basic tools). Fellow gave us a jump start.

        ’86 Accord timing belt broke. Non-interference engine. At midnight. Called a friend who came and got us out in the country. We went back with a Nissan pickup we owned and brought it 25-30 miles home on a tow strap.

        In the meantime I’ve towed home (tow dolly plus CR-V) the cars of several friends over the years. Also rescued friends and took them to work when their cars new and old wouldn’t start for some reason – battery, fuel pump, etc.

        I don’t know why people are so insecure about breaking down that they insist on driving warrantied cars. You’ve likely got a cell phone. Call somebody.

        Once upon a time my aircooled Beetle lost it’s clutch (worn out) and I changed it in a parking lot. Had a spare clutch with me b/c it was a long trip and I had a spare. It was an old, old car.

        • 0 avatar
          S2k Chris

          “I don’t know why people are so insecure about breaking down that they insist on driving warrantied cars. You’ve likely got a cell phone. Call somebody.”

          Because we can, generally, afford to avoid that particular bit of aggravation. I’ve got an older sports car that I don’t mind spinning wrenches on, and generally when it breaks I fix it. But I also have two newish daily drivers that I EXPECT will start and run the first time, every time, that I use them, and since that is their only mission, when they cease to be good at it they will be replaced. If I couldn’t afford it, things would be different, but I’m past the point in my life where I’m willing to put my day full of demanding job and taking care of my family on hold while I fix a car I can’t rely on.

          Even beyond the simplistic “you’ve got a phone, call someone” great, now they’ve snatched me off the freeway, I still need to get my car to a shop/my house, pay to have it diagnosed or do it myself, source parts, and then fix the car. And find alternate transport in the mean time. Maybe your time is worthless, but mine is not. It’s great that you have a workaround (multiple beaters you can rotate as they need to be fixed) but surely you can understand why this doesn’t work for everyone?

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            People who make such declarations obviously have not broken in the middle of nowhere and out of reach of a cellphone tower. Like out in the desert region where I live.

            People who broke down along the way to grandma’s house before cellphones remember the agony of having to rely on the kindness of strangers to get you going again.

            It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t fun.

          • 0 avatar
            JD-Shifty

            your time isn’t worth 15 grand per year and hundreds of thousands of dollars in a lifetime just because something “might” happen. this is the guy with the S-10 with 382,000 miles that hasn’t left me stranded yet. what a bunch of little old ladies.

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            “your time isn’t worth 15 grand per year and hundreds of thousands of dollars in a lifetime just because something “might” happen. this is the guy with the S-10 with 382,000 miles that hasn’t left me stranded yet. what a bunch of little old ladies.”

            Uh, except it is. Sure, if you could guarantee that my broke down old used car would ONLY break on warm Saturday afternoons when I had no plans and the parts store was open, you’d have a point. But Murphy’s law dictates that it’s more likely my car will break down on a snowy Tuesday in January on the day I have an important meeting at work or have to bring my daughter somewhere or some similar obligation and it will negatively impact my life. I’m not Bill Gates, but I can guarantee it is a MUCH better return on my investment for me to drop my car off at the Acura dealer, hop in the free loaner, and spend a full day at work and let the mechanic fix my car FOR FREE while I go earn a paycheck. Doubly so for my wife who is usually hauling our 2y/o around with her.

            I do the wrenching on the fun car that I can afford to let sit as necessary, but my continued employment and that of my wife, both at decent professional wages, is contingent on our having reliable cars that get us to work (and meetings and allow us to fulfill obligations) every single day.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @S2K Chris

            That’s all fine and good, you can afford to keep a couple cars new under warranty. So can I. But it is INCREDIBLY expensive peace of mind. There is a happy medium in there between the extremes.

            In terms of actually breaking down and stranding you on the side of the road, is there really any substantive difference between a brand-new Acura and one 2-3 years out of warranty? Or even 4-5 years out of warranty? I would bet that the new one is as likely to break down, unless you simply completely neglect the 6-7yo one. You are on the hook to pay for fixing the one out of warranty, but that is one heck of a lot cheaper than depreciation on a new one.

            The only rational reason to buy a new car is because you WANT a new car, not because you are afraid of being stranded somewhere. And that is more than reason enough for me to buy a new car.

          • 0 avatar
            JD-Shifty

            no one said you don’t keep your car well maintained. it’s the people who worry for no good reason that make me laugh.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            krhodes1, I’m with you.

            And even if I cannot afford a new car, I would buy a new one just for the peace of mind of my loved ones on the road, all alone and far from home.

            People who make an argument for keeping old cars running as their main transportation do so because it works for them. I’m cool with that, but I am not going to risk it.

            I have lost count of all the people I have encountered over the last three and a half decades since I have been back in this area, who broke down in the desolate stretches of the desert on Hwy 54 and Hwy 70. None of them had water onboard, and that’s just plain stupid when crossing the desert.

            Yesterday I counted three cars broke down along US54 with their hoods up in the early morning. And there was hardly any traffic on the road in either direction and I was heading in the wrong direction with places to go and appointments to keep.

            By the time I headed back home later that afternoon, the cars were still parked out in the desert but the people must have caught a ride with someone.

            I did do my civic duty and phoned the Sheriff’s dispatcher on my cell phone to let them know that there were people broke down.

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            Well yes, if we want to start talking 2-3 year old cars versus new that’s different, though with my Acuras they don’t really sell for much of a discount versus new when slightly used so it’s minimally more expensive to buy new. But I was most comparing with the hypothetical 380k mile s10.

            The other thing to consider is that there is a marked difference between a car I buy with 100k miles on it and a car I buy new and put 100k miles on. One is a known quantity with known provenance and the other is a crap shoot. Right now my TSX sits out of warranty at 65k miles but since I know it has been meticulously maintained that doesn’t concern me. Our plan has always been buy, pay off over 4 years and keep for 8 years so we alternate payments on cars. This works well for our budget and keeps our cars under about 120k miles this assuring, in Japanese cars, reasonable reliability. What is laughable to me is the idea my time is worthless so any premium paid to avoid dealing with the giant PiTA of an unreliable car is money wasted. In reality, my time has a value and for a variety of objective and subjective reasons, I’m not going to drive some piece of garbage like an S10 with 380k miles on it.

          • 0 avatar
            JD-Shifty

            it’s not a hypothetical S-10, and I’ve put 2 thousand miles on it since this article was posted. just imagine all the shiny new broken down cars I’ve driven past in the last 18 years in this truck. “little old ladies tea party”

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @S2K Chris

            Then you are going the happy medium route for the most part. You made it sound like you were trading them in as soon as the warranty was up. I VERY much agree with buying new, maintaining perfectly, and keeping a long time if you can afford the price of entry.

            @HighDesertCat

            But you are very much an edge case. You live in the middle of nowhere. Or at least the edge of nowhere with the middle a short drive away. Most Americans live in pretty suburban areas, where you are not going to be in much of any danger or out of cell coverage if the worst case scenario happens. Very few people live in the desert southwest, just like very few people live in the wilds of Northern Maine where you could easily freeze to death due to a car breakdown between cars passing by. You have to adjust to the prevailing conditions of course.

            And like a Boy Scout, be prepared. My recent 700 mile round trip (in my aged Rover no less) to the ends of the earth here in Maine passed through many miles with no cell phone coverage in places designated by township and range. I made sure to have extra warm clothes and a couple blankets in the truck (it was below zero for much of the trip), and even a couple bottles of drinking water just in case. And I timed the trip specifically so that I was not driving at night (for both warmth and moose avoidance reasons). I also had some tools and fluids in the truck, along with some fuses and wire and such. Just in case. Didn’t need any of it, not only did she not skip a beat, but the HVAC error that has been on for a couple weeks cleared itself. Was a stuck heat blend door, I assume getting it all good and hot and the repeated bouncing over the frost heaves unstuck it. Got to love self-fixing cars. The air suspension and tall tires were MUCH appreciated on those God-awful heaved roads up there, my BMW would have had square wheels, and I would have had a dent in my head from bouncing off the ceiling.

          • 0 avatar

            As Ive said before a sub 5k 10 yr old old car can be very reliable it’s all I have ever really driven. As other have said the break downs could be counted on 1 hand and they were mostly with the real crap i have bought (1k beaters). As I have also said not all dealers have loaners when your car dies so you may be stuck even with a newer car. I would buy newer cars if it were in the budget but really with 3 kids a new car would be a bit of stretch so. I will stick with our 2 paid for with cash cars. one 14 years old the other 15 years old. I may add a spare in the mix again too I sold my last spare car (a pickup) when I noticed it was getting less than 1500 miles a year mostly to home despot, so I sold it and bought a trailer.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            If I was passing through an urban free fire zone or through a hillbilly settlement fond of playing banjos and inbreeding (I live in the south so I can tease…) or driving 40 miles in the artic wilds of Canada with a baby then yeah – I’d want something very, very new. I’d probably drive some van based RV so I could camp out for a week if the engine failed in the snowy north.

            If I was driving 50 miles to get a gallon of milk – then yeah, I’d probably be worried about breaking down. Except – if I have a cellphone and road side assistance and its not -25F then all I’m out is my time. Of course I wouldn’t live that far out in the boonies.

            For the majority of Americans who drive a few miles to and fro through well populate places then I don’t see the worry about an occasional breakdown. I have owned new and old and always keep cars a long time. My newest car is 16 years old. My best car is approaching 285K miles. Other cars I’ve owned were 200K, 190K, 325K, and so on. Included in the mix are aircooled VWs, Fiats, a few domestics, a Hyundai, and Hondas.

            Since 1990 the times I have broken down could be counted on one hand. Maybe three times? Most of the time it is easy to know there is a problem – the engine sputters a little. A hard start. Smoke or noise. Sudden poor fuel economy. An engine that is pinging more than usual. Less HP or torque than usual. Surging idle or surging engine at speed. A scent of maple syrup that occasionally wafts through the cockpit. A clutch that won’t grab one day when you are on the throttle but it will grab at lighter throttle settings. A vibration. Your car has put you on notice. It amazes me how many people continue driving that vehicle until it dies on the road somewhere. Start studying. Drive it directly to the mechanic.

            In the times I’ve broken down – I’ve not used a tow truck. In fact only one of my cars ever rode on a flatbed and it was a ’64 Mustang convertible basketcase project car without the engine installed.

            The other times I repaired the car where it sat or nursed it to a safe location. My tow rope had gotten some use over the years. We towed my wife’s car home late one night (perfect time to tow, no traffic).

            I don’t understand why you guys don’t invest a little time in the evening while sitting on the coach zoning out in front of the TV learning a few things from a book or reading a forum or two. Start doing the easy maintenance items to build familiarity with your donkey (for it carries you and your’s) and put together a basic toolset. I know women and teenagers that know more about their cars – my wife being one of them. Most importantly she can tell me if an engine will crank (the key is turned to the start position) but won’t START.

            How many times have I tried to coach somebody through a breakdown over the phone and they say “it won’t crank” and they mean it won’t START. No, cranking is what happens before it starts. ;)

            Get roadside assistance (my insurance company provides it) and drive your ride to 200K miles and save a TON.

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            [Long post by JoeAverage]

            I think what you’re missing is that no one is “afraid” of the initial breakdown. Yeah, it’s a pain in the butt, but almost everyone can call someone to pick them up. Not a huge deal. What is a bigger pain is the several days that follow, trying to get that car fixed, especially if we’re supposed to DIY it like you suggest. There will be several days of bummed rides, time away from work, time waiting for parts, blah blah blah…it’s a giant pain in the a$$.

            I also don’t get why you think my not wanting to dive into fixing my car in the middle of the week when I have to drive to work the next day comes from a place of not knowing how. It doesn’t. I can wrench on my cars just fine, and know all about how they work and the signs of them being tempermental and all that. I just don’t care to do it myself on my daily drivers. If I HAD to, could I? Yes. But I don’t have to. So I don’t. Just like most other people.

          • 0 avatar
            tjh8402

            @Joe Average and JDShifty –

            Mechanical acuity has nothing to do with it. I have better things to do with my time than sit on the side of the road in the middle of Florida heat or thunderstorms and try to diagnose why my car won’t start or run, much less as S2K Chris put it, spend days chasing parts and trying to find the time to fix the car once it’s rescued from the roadside.

            I’m a firefighter/emt, and as my retired fire chief father explained to me, the fire service is forgiving of a lot of mistakes except being late. That is the quickest easiest way to get fired. It’s also screwing over your brother or sister whose been at work 24 hours and can’t go home till you get there to relieve him/her. I could call out sick, but it seems rather irresponsible to burn 24 hours of sick time for a broken down car instead of saving it for when, you know, I’m actually sick or hurt. I blew through most of my sick time last year with a simple sprained ankle so I know how valuable it is. My part time job is similarly intolerant of absence or tardiness because it is very disruptive operationally.

            I love how everyone here says “just call a friend, bum a ride” etc. If you have a spouse/significant other that helps. However, plenty are single, or in my case, my boyfriend lives out of town and is in the military, so is pretty much never available to help. Sorry, but I’d rather not make myself a burden to the people around me. One of the reasons I got rid of my paid off meticulously maintained out of warranty BMW for $200/month car payments is that it turned my stomach, as an allegedly self sufficient 31 year old male, to be calling my parents to ask for rides or to borrow a car. I find it amusing to be called an “old lady” for choosing to do (and spend) what it takes to be self sufficient instead of being content to be dependent on others.

          • 0 avatar
            JD-Shifty

            what a laugh. you spend all this extra money for “peace of mind” and you have every bit a chance as breaking down anyway. again. my truck with 382,00 has never left me stranded. sucker born every minute

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Yeah my long posts are a problem. I’m working on that… ;)

        • 0 avatar
          S2k Chris

          It should be noted that I’m not just buying peace of mind, I’m also paying to not have to ride around in a 380k mile truck like a damn hobo.

          • 0 avatar
            JD-Shifty

            lol. you’re trying too hard. you’d never know by looking at or driving my truck how many miles it has on it. a hobo with a house and a job and without a lot of money being wasted on a vehicle. Oh/ maybe this is a forum where people are worried about what others think they are because of what they drive.

          • 0 avatar
            tjh8402

            @JD-Shifty – I’m agreeing with s2k Chris – this isn’t just about buying peace of mind (although my lifetime bumper to bumper unlimited mileage warranty certainly provides that). I’m buying independence from having to rely on friends and family to rescue me. The peace of mind I will admit to buying is safety – as small as my Fiat is, I’d much rather be in it than a Chevy S10 if I get in an accident. I didn’t used to care about crash safety, but after studying how trauma affects the body and, despite all our advances in EMS and Fire Rescue, how easily it can kill or make you wish you were dead, I’ll pay a little extra for the peace of mind provided by side curtain airbags. I know my 500 didn’t do well in the small offset front crash test, but most used cars we drive probably wouldn’t unless they say Volvo, and it did great in every other test.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            If I was an EMT I probably would quit driving. I worked mil.police for a few years and worked several hard wrecks but nothing like what an EMT probably sees. Glad there are people like you out there.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            I’ve got to say – 380K does not guarantee hobo appearance. My 285K mile vehicle looks well kept inside and out. Previous 300K+ mile vehicles also were well kept.

            I see sub 100K mile vehicles every day that are close to crusher fodder.

            All depends on how you keep them.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      “I got screwed out of going to the cast party of the high school play after working on building the sets for 4 months”

      Huh, what? At 16 you couldn’t catch a ride from a friend or have your mom drive you?

  • avatar
    Type44

    guys, I lived 30 miles from HS and the city buses only ran until 6 pm on the exurbia express routes. Mom wasn’t going to collect me 30 miles away far after curfew. Everyone else’s plausible deniability didn’t extend to a 60 mile round trip after said party.

    It happened.

    the stupid Chrysler dicked me out of a hell of a party with some mega-alluring young ladies in attendance, and when the next year I ended up riding a Greyhound bus to go to a concert, for the same reason, I started plotting how to have a backup ride. It has gotten outta hand now that we have 5 cars and two motorbikes for two drivers, but as I explained, I don’t get stuck.

  • avatar
    Type44

    If by that you mean, taught me to be the guy who HAS rather than be the guy who NEEDS, then, yes.

    Whining to be bailed out isn’t a backup plan,despite what some might say…

  • avatar
    Type44

    Kids, my only point was that it’s good to learn self sufficiency early and from something silly, than to wait until Ya have four kids before you learn to read the label on a box of Trojans…peace out…

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    I just got home guys, no breakdowns. 100 mile round trip commute in the S-10.

  • avatar
    [email protected]

    Jack the truth is I’ve never heard of you or this site until Tavarish posted a link in one of his articles. Which mind you comes from a blog full of far more entertaining and talented writers. You purchased the new radiator because you knew Matt & Tavarish would pay you back when the picked up the car so your “priveledged” points are invalid. In fact anyone with half a brain and an internet connection could purchase an extremely cheap 2nd hand car (not luxury) and do the work themselves or learn for free (via the interwebs) how to do the work if they are that way inclined. Or you could lock yourself into expensive loan payments along with excessive insurance (goes for anything not just cars) and stay in a situation where working 3 jobs is the norm to survive.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      THE POSTS ARE COMING FROM INSIDE YOUR MOTHER’S HOUSE

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        ^^^

        (chortle)

      • 0 avatar
        [email protected]

        Who can argue with that haircut and a broken caps lock.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          The comment you’re responding to is down here:

          l
          l
          l
          V

          Anyways, I’m off to read up on Jalopnik’s newest article, “The Best Three Wheeled Cars/Trikes With Under 800cc Of Displacement That You Can Find On eBay For Less Than $921.”

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Tavarish is the man.

      His favorite column of mine, of which I took his advice to heart and followed, was

      WHY YOUZ BUY DAT NEW CAMRY SE WHEN YOU CAN HAZ 2 YEAR OLD CPO ZONDA R FOR DOZE SAME MUNNIES, SON!

  • avatar
    -Nate

    @ Joe ;

    You and I appear to be cut from similar cloth .

    However , not everyone intuitively understand Auto Repairs nor wants to .

    I can feed my self yes and I’ll automatically wash any dirty dishes I see when I get home but I’ll go to great lengths TO avoid actual food preparation .

    Different strokes and all that .

    SWMBO doesn’t know how to shim the tranny gears in a ’37 LaSalle or overhaul the 50 year old LUCAS generator in my LBC if it quits when we’re 2,000 from home nor does she want to .

    Some have the ‘ fix things ‘ gene , others have the musical one or carpentry , whatever .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Nate: Good post. All the music I can play comes out of the stereo… I’d love to sit down for a brew and a long talk with just about everyone on this website. Love this place. Am surrounded by non-car people.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrxqtwRZ654#t=269

    Apparently a great number of Americans would never undertake such a trip b/c they might at some point be driving an out of warranty vehicle… ;)

    Of course there are wild places where it is better to be Canadian or German or Pourtugese instead of American. Geo politics and such. Thank you American government for irritating the whole world…

  • avatar
    -Nate

    “Yeah my long posts are a problem. I’m working on that… ;)”

    No , they are _not_ .

    So , don’t work on making them shorter .

    The _stories_ are what makes this site excel .

    O.K. , obviously the incredible wealth of information too but it’s the stories in the replies that keep me coming back .

    -Nate


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