I’ve got three kids, so no M Coupe or other common object of pistonhead lust for me. Since 2003 I’ve been stuffing the brood into the back of a Mazda Protege5 while casually looking, off and on (mostly off) for a suitable three-row people hauler. Most people don’t spend six years looking for a car, but I’ve never found the right one at the right price. The right one being quite nice, since I’m picky (about cars at least). And the right price being low, because I’m cheap.
Category: Car Buying Tips
In Part 1, we found that, despite its large overall sample size, Consumer Reports’ has serious gaps in its coverage. But what about the reliability ratings they can provide? An FAQ asserts CR’s ability to split results by engines, drive types, and so forth. At first glance, this appears valuable, as CR’s reliability scores often differ from powertrain to powertrain. But are these differences valid? Should you avoid the V6 in the Camry or insist that your Flex be EcoBoosted?
What you see above is the cutaway of the Ford 5.0L mill, taken from the 2010 New York Auto Show. Formerly known as the Coyote V8, the 5.0-packed 2011 Mustang GT hit the showroom floors, winning rave reviews with every journalist lucky enough to get their hands on one. While blogging for TTAC at the New York Auto Show, I hit up the Five-Oh engine displays at the Ford booth. It was a thoroughly technical and suitably beautiful exhibit. Only problem was, it gave away a secret that nobody should know. Camera in hand, I did the deed: a picture tells a thousand words, but this TTAC Editorial still needs about 800 words to go with.
In recent years Sweden’s car makers have staked out an uneasy position above the mainstream brands but below the premium European marques. With profits elusive, both were recently sold by their American owners. And both are about to introduce new sedans that they badly need to sell well. How does the pricing of the new 2011 Volvo S60 and 2010 Saab 9-5 compare? Has either been priced aggressively to pump up sales?
With strong new auto safety legislation being debated in congress,the role and scope of government regulation in the auto industry is becoming a hotly-contested issue. But one important consideration is being left out of the discussion: the role of private “regulation” of the auto industry. Even as the new legislation was being drafted, we were treated to an object lesson in non-governmental regulation when the non-profit Consumer Reports issued a “do not buy” warning for the Lexus GX after it exhibited lift-off oversteer on a test course. Because CR performs independent testing on a wide variety of dealer-example vehicles, it was able to detect this error, which prompted Toyota to stop sales and production of the model until a fix was released. Throughout the incident, NHTSA played second fiddle to CR, merely checking the non-profit’s work. The lesson: a subscriber-based, non-profit is the real front line of US auto regulation. But, as the Wall Street Journal [sub] reports, Consumer Reports is being shadowed by another organization called Consumers Digest… and you don’t want to make the mistake of confusing the one with the other.
That Bible of the intelligencia, Consumer Reports, has released its 2010 Annual Auto Issue, and once again, denizens of Cambridge, Austin, Berkeley, Eugene, and their sister university towns all over the land are parsing its pages, seeking cars that will maximize their utility. Or maybe I’m projecting. Anyway, with apologies to Michael Karesh and True Delta, here’s a summary of the work of the wonks from Yonkers and East Haddam.
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The 1969 Camaro is an automotive icon. Because of this juggernaut tag there are tens of thousands of these late 60s pony cars restored or under restoration. The late Reverend Jimmy “drink the Kool-Aid” Jones would have been humbled by this kind of blind loyalty-the sole reason the 09 Camaro exists was GM’s critical need for a home run.
But which car is going to be more valuable in 2019? Even after 10 years of service as a daily driver?
I recently came across a brand new Lincoln MKS. I’m a pretty hard core Japanese car fan but I had to admit that this car looks pretty slick. I had heard that it was pretty fast too. I like fast. Upon inspecting the exterior of the car it came to my attention that the MKS is equipped with ‘EcoBoost.’ Not being up on the very latest in automotive tech, the unfamiliar name intrigued me. Was this some hybrid or electric technology? Curious, I started off on a quest to find out what this EcoBoost is and what makes it so… EcoBoost-y.
In the wake of JD Powers’ Initial Quality Survey, several other lesser-known awards are giving OEMs a whole new reason to cobble together a press release touting their top place, improvement or mere presence in one of these meaningless satisfaction surveys. And why not? It’s summer, and things (sales, in specific) are slow. And the award fandango is win-win. The awards allow OEMs to ridiculously inflate the importance of their results, while publicizing the research firms that created the awards. Case in point, the Dodge Ram.
The Ram got top full-size truck honors in the “Strategic Vision Total Quality Index,” a result that prompted the Chrysler Blog headline “Ram Ranked as Best Truck Ever (No Exaggeration).” Except that the survey (like so many meaningless surveys) only gathers impressions of quality and satisfaction from owners of 2008/2009 models, providing a less-than complete picture of “total quality.” In other words, yes exaggeration. But by embracing subjectivity and endless categorization, the awards dance keeps shuffling along.
“We know Total Quality is strengthened by delighting customers and getting them to love you. We stand ready to include love in all the work that we do since measuring love is the next step in discriminating between winning and losing in today’s competitive environment,” explains Strategic Vision’s Darrel Edwards.
But how do you measure such an ineffable emotion with any reliability? As the Bard put it, “love is not love which alters when it alteration [Ed: or awkward panel gap] finds, Or Bends with the remover to remove. O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark.” In short, who doesn’t love their new car? Finding out whether a car lives up to its owner’s expectations is more a measure of the owners than the car.
“Vehicles that score highest in the Vehicle Satisfaction Awards hit the mark with their buyers by delivering value and satisfaction across a wide range of attributes,” says George Peterson, of Auto Pacific, and grand pimp of the 2009 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards. “The winners perform well in 48 separate categories that objectively measure the ownership experience.”
Leaving the challenge of “objectively measuring satisfaction” aside for a moment, that’s 48 freaking categories! Which means every OEM is guaranteed to have at least one “class-leading” vehicle to brag about in press release which backhandedly legitimizes the award. Which is the whole point.
Not that such circle-jerkery is necessarily an inherently bad thing. People often buy cars for irrational reasons, a fact that has gone a long way towards making the auto industry what it is today. If consumers want to factor an aggregation of opinion and after-the-fact purchase justification into their decisions, so be it. But it’s not like either partner in the awards fandango acknowledges that the data in question is scarcely an improvement on a single random opinion of a given car.
“In a year that promises to be the toughest in more than a decade, car buyers are being especially prudent, and the data we’ve analyzed for the Vehicle Satisfaction Award will help this year’s customers make wise purchase decisions,” says Peterson of his award. “We’ve found that more than 25% of respondents are positively influenced by awards like the VSA when deciding on a car and this trend will certainly continue given the economy.”
But wise purchase decisions have nothing to do with it. These awards are little more than marketing information, to be overemphasized by marketing departments. To the consumer, a test drive will tell you more about your likely satisfaction with a given vehicle than any survey can (incidentally,whatever happened to the 24 hour test drive?). Meanwhile, despite slow sales across the industry, every OEM has at least one “winner.” And therein lies the real problem.
The proliferation of meaningless awards contributes to what is already one of the banes of the auto industry: attention span drain. Just as most consumers would be hard pressed to match every automotive brand with its OEM, the public is so inundated with quality survey awards that it’s impossible to expect consumers to seperate the wheat from the chaff. And the wild divergence in results only adds to the confusion.
Jaguar/Land Rover and Volkswagen, for example, may rank towards the bottom in more objective long-term quality and reliability testing, but a press release based on the opinions of buyers who have yet to experience engine sludging or electrical issues conveniently allows them to tout their quality and out-publicize their negative results.
Meanwhile, the awards keep on coming. There are infinite paths to an ill-advised vehicle purchase, but awards purporting to measure intangible attributes using questionable methodologies continue to be the best publicized of the bunch. Deluding consumers and OEMs alike may be good for business, but not in any meaningful or sustainable way.
Consumers, in particular, would be well served to ditch the annual awards and focus instead on methodical, long-term reliability studies such as Consumer Reports or True Delta. If emotional reactions to a vehicle are (for some reason) important to your buying decision, even online forums offer a broader range of reactions and dialogue than an awards aggregate. The truth is out there, but only if you look past the press releases touting useless awards.
CarMax prides itself on creating a dealership experience unlike any other. Well, now that Saturn is going Tango Uniform. CarMax emphasizes no haggle pricing, easy financing, and a process that involves only one person. No more having your salesperson go back and forth between you and “Bubba” (or “Cowboy” if you are Dodge). You’re greeted warmly, shown any car you like, and guided through a completely transparent transaction, with nothing hidden. That’s the theory. How does it hold up in practice? In true TTAC tradition, I offer a personal critique of one of our biggest sponsors.
My first CarMax transaction occurred before my prose ever graced the pages of TTAC. After buying a Ford F-150 I didn’t need, I decided to celebrate two years cancer-free and 40 lbs. of weight loss by purchasing a sports car I could drive on the weekends.
After wandering through the four-square, fishbowl wilderness, I pulled into my local CarMax. A salesperson immediately guided me to a computer to search the dealer’s nationwide inventory. I’d already settled on a Porsche Boxster S. They located a bright red model in Houston. For a modest $250, they’d transfer the Porker to my 10-20.
Inexpensive relocation is CarMax’s trump card. However, there’s a string attached. When the car shows up, if it’s not to your liking, you can walk away. But your up-front transfer fee payment is toast. To forestall this possibility, CarMax provides an electronic “walk around.” Customers submit questions about the vehicle of their choice to a representative at the relevant dealership. Within a short time, the answers are transmitted back
Like with any computerized solution, there’s a large element of garbage in, garbage out. The remote CarMax rep will answer all your questions, but you’re still talking to a car salesman. A question on how the wear of the driver’s seat returned “normal wear, some wrinkles, looks great! Ready for purchase!” The more specific your questions, the better information you receive.
Once you decide to purchase said vehicle, financing is a simple process. You plug in your vital information on a computer, wait fifteen minutes, and choose which bank loan fits your needs best. Easy. No dealing with an F & I guy breathing down your neck. No fancy calculations, hidden fees or emotional games.
Next: your trade-in appraisal. The sales rep plugs-in the salient facts about your gem/turd into the same computer. While you wait with your salesperson, going over warranty information and other plugs for add-ons (yes there is still that), CarMax’ trade-in expert gives it the once-over.
CarMax describes their trade-in prices as fair, and many times they are. However, top dollar is not yours for the taking.
My Ford F-150 was valued at $14,000 at the Ford dealership, and $15,500 at CarMax. Seems reasonable—until you realize Ford completely low-balled the offer with the full expectation of giving more on the trade to sweeten the deal.
Cars above 100K miles are given paltry values, as CarMax doesn’t sell high mileage vehicles; restricting their income to auction values (where 100K-mile cars are almost worthless).
To my mind, CarMax’s non-negotiation policy is the mega-dealer’s biggest flaw. While it’s great for people inexperienced, wary or anxious at the prospect of haggling, the lack of any sort of negotiation proves troublesome for experienced buyers, especially when they realize they’re going to pay more for a vehicle than they would at a “traditional” dealership.
CarMax justifies their higher prices with a simple guarantee: the vehicle they’re selling you has never been in a frame damaging accident, flooded, or experienced any other incident that would make it an “undesirable.” CarMax has so much faith in the quality of their vehicle selection that all of their vehicles are available with an extended warranty.
To be fair, I’ve found that nearly every car that I’ve inspected on a CarMax lot looks clean and tidy. More often than not, it’s in much better condition than an equivalent vehicle waiting for unsuspecting punters across the street at Super Bob’s Auto Liquidators. WYSIWYG.
For example, I’ve been trying to find a steed to take to Europe. I tried to buy a Dodge Challenger SRT-8. The Dodge Boys changed the numbers overnight. I then attempted to buy a brand new Audi A3 DSG from a franchised store. Audi’s finance company wouldn’t approve it for export. Whilst wrangling with Audi, I looked across at a CarMax lot and spotted a 2004 Pontiac GTO.
Clean as a whistle. Burbled like a dream. Did I pay more than I could have? Yes, I did. Did I get an exceptionally clean car and a decent offer on my trade? Yes, I did.
CarMax provides a welcome departure from the high pressure, cloak and dagger methods of a “normal” dealership. They charge a premium for the lack of aggro and peace of mind. For me and for hundreds of thousands of customers, it’s worth it.
Everybody who knows me knows I’m a tightfisted son of a bitch. I may own Benzes for their profits, but gas sippers are my daily drivers. My wife’s daily driver has been an old Volvo wagon (which she loves). And like many of you, I’m nearly OCD when it comes to buying quality on the cheap. When Robert asked me to find him a $5000 car, I found a $4000 car. Why? Because $4000 is the new $5000. For those of you contemplating a new ride and have the cash, now’s a good time to buy. The Manufacturers’ Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) is dead.
Reality check. At the moment, there are only two types of car companies: the living and the dying. Brands such as Toyota, Honda, VW, Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, MINI and Nissan still have healthy balance sheets and great products. As long as they stay true to their core talents, today’s recession will lead to long-term global progression. But even though these brands offer quality vehicles, the money to support the demand has disappeared. That’s bad for some customers. Good for everyone else.
Most credit-driven customers have been cut off. Many of the banks that were ‘helped’ by the recent bailout are also among the largest auto finance lenders in the U.S.: Capital One, Citibank and Bank of America. The bank’s balance sheets are looking better– in the same that clothes can hide leprosy. Unfortunately for the ‘fleeced’ taxpayer, and the political ‘yes’ men, the banks are hoarding their new found, taxpayer-funded wealth.
This net drop in the amount of money truly available has resulted in a cliff-face 20 to 40 percent drop in new car sales for even the “good” brands. Although these manufacturers aren’t selling vehicles at Buick levels, the previous customer dealer paradigm has rolled-over and died. To say it’s a buyer’s market would be like saying a jailhouse crack dealer has sway over an incarcerated junkie.
The consumer strategy required to make the best of a bad situation (for the dealer) is simple enough. When you visit that big fishbowl called the dealership just say no to whatever’s on offer and wait. Or leave. There’s no ‘take it or leave it’ or ‘you really need to buy today’ when the inventory is stacked to the roof and the customers are none deep. If you want to squeeze the best deal, all you have to do is say ‘No!’ for a week and enjoy what amounts to a Chinese auction.
Sticker? What sticker? Brand new 2008 Mercedes GLs are going– or not– for $14k off sticker. The same vehicle can be had for a three-year lease for $5k down, $800 a month. Did I say $800? How about $700? $600? I’ve never seen anything like it. Pay no attention to Edmunds or anyone else. Published deals have nothing to do with anything anymore. Desperate doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The same reality applies to the used car markets. Last night I saw a 2003 Mercedes SL500 go for a mere $20 grand, a 2006 Scion Xb sell for $9200, and a loaded 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited with less than a thousand miles no sale at $17k. All of these cars were in strong demand when they were first released. Now they’re just casualties of a credit-driven economy and a repo-saturated car market. In a recession, used car vehicles pick up some of the slack. But not today. Even the market leaders of not too long ago are in a depreciation death spiral.
Then we have the ‘patients.’ GM, Ford and Chrysler are fighting for their survival. Many of their models will not be replaced (through Ch11 or otherwise), and virtually all have record levels of supply. From a 200+ day supply of Corvettes to fields of near-new rental crapmobiles (e.g. Pontiac Grand Prix and Chrysler Sebring), there’s nothing but metal to be moved. Buickman is sending brand new Chevy Silverados our the door at $10k. Again, just say no and reap the rewards. Stupid deals are smart. Don’t be what William Shatner calls timid negotiatiors these days: “mamby-pamby.”
The situation is even more ridiculous at small dead brands such as HUMMER, Saab and Volvo. Their dealers face the morbid task of selling cars that with virtually no marketing dollars behind them. A 2008 Volvo S80 may theoretically compete with the Lexus LS and Mercedes E-Class, but no one knows or cares. A non-competitive product with no market presence will eventually go out the door for a price that is closer to the lower car class.
RF and I are still debating the ‘when’ of car buying during this current carmaggedon. I believe now’s a great time to buy. Robert points at the sheer volume of unsold inventory at the new and used car level, and the lack of consumer confidence (tied to the housing market). Whatever the scenario, however long it lasts, however MORE desperate things become (fancy buying a C11 Malibu for under $5k?), MSRP for all but the most exclusive vehicles is RIP. Go get ‘em tiger!
For 33 years Jane Hoyt has been driving her baby blue 1975 VW Beetle. Is it love? Madness? A '70's thing? When I asked her about the appeal of her longtime automotive companion, it was none of the above. "It's a story of inertia. Really, it's a metaphor for my life. I always stay too long at the fair." That last word struck me as kinda funny. If a car ownership is a metaphorical "fair," can you get a lifetime of kicks from a four-wheeled Ferris Wheel?
Yes, the Ferris Wheel. It's a nice, simple machine. Like the Model A, VW Beetle and 1960's Chevy Pickup. While reliability-crazed motorists tend to focus on things not going wrong, it's important to remember that simplicity means ease of repair, and that's the real key to longevity
Simply put, if a mechanic working on a vehicle can quickly figure out what fig-a-ma-jig needs to be replaced, the car in question can usually be repaired in matter of hours, rather than days or weeks. It's going to be easier for an aspiring lifer to tolerate the problems that come along. Because once you pass a certain point in a car's lifespan, come along they will.
Thankfully (for you if not the manufacturer), that point of plenty of returns is stretching-out further and further. Six Sigma, lean production and a variety of manufacturing standards and practices that you've likely only heard in passing have enabled all carmakers to move towards incredible heights of build quality and mechanical robustness.
At the same time, there've been steady improvements on the repair front. For example, mechanics– be they shade-tree or franchised– now use an OBDII scanner and Alldata (the name says it all) to diagnose and repair vehicles. Identifying electrical problems has never been easier.
Well, at least post'95 or so. From the mid-90's back to time memoriam, each manufacturer had their own unique way of doing things. To wit: most pre-'96 Volvos had little plastic inserts that looked like a magic wand which went into little holes of a diagnosis system. Toyota's diagnostic system was completely different from GM's, and Honda had their own system.
In fact, cars often had several unique "languages." A mid-1980's Jeep Cherokee may have been given a computer system from AMC, an engine from one of three automakers and a transmission from one of six completely different companies. Throw in a multitude of carburetors and a diagnosing system from a long-ago defunct AMC, and it's no wonder motorists longed for cars that never, ever broke.
It was an automotive Tower of Babel, that forced mechanics to specialize. Which kept both labor and parts prices high. So how come there are still "lifers" out there that stretch back to this pre-historic times?
As I perused the web in search of lifer stories, I found that most of the cars were those made by companies that churned out the same powertrain for as long as possible. Mercedes and Volvo are the two mantle holders of many elderly lifers. Daimler offered very long model runs for the S, SL and E-Classes; the Swedes finished a 20-year run for the Volvo 200 series.
The thinking back then: if a car model made money and customers kept coming back for new ones, keep making the same thing. Only do it a little better every time. Improving the design, making the parts more durable and maintaining the language of diagnosis and repair kept more of these vehicles on the road past the average life expectancy of their rivals.
And then we have to consider the owner. Lifers tend to have what I call a 'blue jean' mentality when it comes to cars. That is, if the basic shape and design of the vehicle fits their needs, they just keep wearing it regardless of the current fashion. They realize that holes can always be sewn or patched, tastes change with time, and that in the end what really matters in most daily driving is that you're comfortable.
But they also don't "let things go"– as most owners do. If they sense a problem with the vehicle, they make sure it gets taken care of by someone who can be a good steward for that vehicle. That makes a huge difference in their overall happiness with that car. In the end, 'knowledge' and automotive excellence enable them to do what they want to do rather than what society, friends or the modern media encourages them to do.
So, if you're looking for a lifetime automotive companion, you're a lot better off now than at any time in the past. But the rules still apply: simple is best, mainstream is cheapest and regular maintenance is critical. With a bit of luck, you'll avoid the roller coaster of high monthly payments, rapid depreciation, repair and hassle.
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Once a car salesman “data captures” you, the calls never stop. Some are rude. Some are sweet. All are pushy. The salesman’s goal: get the sale. Meet the quota (placate the Alpha Dog). Pay the bills (placate the Ex). In America’s cratered new car market, the chances of a car salesman making his nut are only slightly less than that of a squirrel in the Ice Age. Has this stopped dealers from getting up to their old tricks? Hell no. If anything, they’re abusing their customers MORE. Still, if you know how to handle the heat, this is The Mother of All Buyer’s Markets. Here’s how to work the system…
Back in the good old days (for the dealer), when the salesman saw you walking away from a negotiation, they considered it the end of the deal. Hence their “reluctance” to let you go (a.k.a. “We lost your car keys”). While dealers’ “take lots of prisoners” approach is still in force, today, there’s no escape. Phone calls and emails, and emails and phone calls, are headed your way. The good news? All those years of incentives and finance offers have trained salesmen that the deal is all about price. And the price has nowhere to go but down.
So, patience. In a buyer’s market, you hold the cards. For the foreseeable future (well into 2009), the longer you hold them, the more valuable they become. Accept the fact that your purchase should take place over the course of days, maybe even weeks. Again, the greater the delay, the better the deal.
There two types of car customers: “show horse” and “work horse” buyers.
Show horse buyers are looking for one type of car, in one type of color, with a very specific set of options. They’re a dealer’s wet dream. You want a BOSE DVD video navigation system in that minivan? Well, OK! Let’s find you one with option X! Dealers dedicate their lives to “upselling” customers on manufacturer-created option “bundles.” Sound systems, safety packages and other works of “in” technology are carefully packaged so that show horse buyers pay through their proverbial snout for that one cool feature they really, really want.
Salesmen kill to put customers in this psychological/financial box.
The same game applies to paint and trim. When John Q. tells a dealer they will only consider one combination out of hundreds, they effectively eliminate 95-plus percent of the alternative vehicles out there. That gives the dealer, and the parent manufacturer, an awful lot of leverage. For the pistonheads and car lovers amongst us, option and paint specificity is our Achilles’ heel. Overall, the more “choosy” you are, the more you’re going to have to pay. Period.
So don’t be a show horse buyer. Even in today’s doldrums, you’ll save thousands of dollars by tempering your lust with the knowledge that even “dream cars” becomes just another car in a year or two.
The workhorse buyer has the upper hand. They may prefer two or three models. Or they may have several good fits. They may want to consider a wide range of options, paint or trim. Or perhaps just a few combinations. Either way, they understand the most basic law of supply and demand. The broader their taste palette, the better their overall deal.
Take a lesson from the ultimate work horse buyers (also my favorite type of customer): commercial firms. When a corporate purchaser receives a request for three pickups with only a few specifications, they can play the entire field in the pursuit of the deal. They realize the simple fact what’s on the lot has to go out the door. Deal with what they got. If they ain’t got it, or the price is wrong. Move on.
However there is at times an even better avenue than that for the ‘workhorse’ buyer.
As Tony Blair would have said, there is a middle way: the “demo.” Cars set aside for customer demonstration (a.k.a. test rides) often offer better warranties than the new cars on the lot; demos are almost always certified models. The best ones are loaded, owned and driven by high ranking members of the dealership (or their spouses). They see little more than the daily commuting duty. If you’re a show horse who wants all the bells and whistles, and can wait ‘til the end of model year, demos can provide a full list of options for several thousands less than an identical new model.
After more than a decade as an auto auctioneer and car buyer, I would argue that flexibility, honesty, mutual respect and patience are the best lubricators for a successful negotiation. Regardless, the bottom line never changes: the only power you have as a buyer is the power to walk away. Now more than ever, use it.
All across the nation, SUV Sally's and Sam's are cussing at the pumps. They're watching the readout with mounting horror: $80, $100, $120+ per fill up. The automotive source of this pain of portly plenitude is has become the pink elephant of the American lifestyle. And it's true: SUVs suck. Not just gas. Depreciation, insurance and street cred. And so, the "Livin' Large" folks of the Oil War Era are giving up their SUVs en masse. Which brings us to a simple question. Should you?
The first thing you should consider is whether anyone wants your SUV. Really. That's not a misprint. The purveyors of maximum mass, maximum profit vehicles have been overproducing these beasts for nearly a decade. GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyondissan, Audi, Porsche, Saab and even granola-happy Subaru joined the fray of seemingly endless profit and demand. And now we have the Mother of All Gluts. On EBay, you'll find a 2006, 23k-mile Ford Explorer Limited ($33k new, at least in theory). The owner's asking $23k. Good luck with that; there isn't a single bid on the vehicle. Not one.
We hear reports that some dealers won't take your SUV in trade. Period. Of course, everything sells at a price. So take four good pictures of your vehicle. Write a glorious soliloquy of its qualities. Price it according to the completed items section on EBay. Put ads on Craigslist and Autotrader. Once you get two serious inquiries on your vehicle that don't involve low-balling, you'll see how bad things really are. And they are very bad indeed. And getting worse.
OK, so, you sell X. You buy Y. The cost to trade is pretty easy to determine (if hard to stomach). The hard part: take into account all the other costs that go into the equation. Depreciation (again), insurance, maintenance, even the ungainly pitfall that is financing are part of the wallet-draining process. These "hidden costs" determine the real cost of escaping your Escape.
A buyer of a Mercedes 320 CDI may love to brag about their outstanding fuel economy– until they start paying for the outstandingly expensive blue urea fluid that can only be had at the dealer. Likewise, a friend of mine absolutely adored his Jetta Diesel– until the dealer billed him over $1300 for 'regular maintenance.' One call to a dealer (or independent shop), a quick visit to an enthusiast's site can add an awful lot of wisdom to your final decision.
When it comes to car buying, knowledge is more important than imagination or instinct.
Along the same lines, you have to be honest with yourself, and God forbid, your spouse. Would either of you really feel comfortable making a leap from Canyonero to Cobalt? Safety, interior quality, and dare I say it, the pleasures of driving these money-suckers should be given weighty consideration over the course of weeks.
In my experiences, folks who drive Suburbans rarely fit in Fits. But they can be more than fine in a Camry hybrid or Malibu. By the same token, drivers who own and enjoy a compact SUV may be perfectly happy in a compact car. My wife went from Volvo wagons and minivans into a Honda Fit without any regrets. However the Scion xB and xD were rolling Edsels in her eyes. We all have our likes and dislikes. Be true to them.
Finally don't be sold on being sold; $2.99 gas, free maintenance programs and lifetime warranties may be a dream come true. But the car behind the fine print 'bling' may be a rolling shit can. When you drive away from the lot, the car will determine the quality of your "ownership experience." If you decide to buy used, it will be the prior owner. And if you keep what you have, it will be your own driving style and maintenance regimen that will likely have the most impact on your satisfaction.
It's true. In these days of $4 gas, many of us have been able to achieve fuel economy figures which exceed the EPA ratings by anywhere from 20 to 30 percent, just by changing the way we drive. Learn to coast. Keep the rpm's low. Pay attention to the traffic. Turn that cell phone off and make driving a 'mileage' game. Hypermiling– within reason– can put dollars back in your pocket and add years to your SUVs life.
In an SUV buyer's market, it's best not to sell an SUV. So how long before the market recovers? At best, two years. At worst, never. If it galls you that you're now an SUV owner for life, don't panic. Drive less. Drive more sensibly. And relax. It still beats walking.
$11,800. That’s the price for a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser down at my local Chrysler dealer. Throw in the “Refuel America” $2.99 per gallon guarantee into the equation and you end-up with a pre-tax, tag, title price right around $10,200. Not bad. Not bad at all. Then again, is it? There are a lot of factors to consider when approaching any of the bargain basement cars currently on offer during this, Detroit’s [most recent] dark days. Join me as we journey down the PT-shaped rabbit hole…
If you're not an enthusiast, and simply want a 'keeper' car, the $10k Cruiser may be a great deal. What’s that you say? It’s going away? Well exactly. There are a lot of pluses for soon-to-be-defunct, less popular cars like the PT Cruiser that go far beyond the initial purchase price.
A long model run usually translates into a lot of easily obtainable spare parts, from multiple sources. The nearby parts store or junkyard will likely have replacements available for the eight year-old PT in duplicate or even triplicate. The PT Cruiser will also outdo recent entrants like the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Honda Fit when it comes to parts cost. For transplanted customers who have been beholden to the dealer for a $500 repair, that would cost maybe $150 in a mainstream Detroit iron, this is a weighty consideration.
All things being equal, a long model run also has the advantage of offering far fewer defects 'on average' than the latest and greatest models. A car that's been built a million times over has effectively given the supplier and the manufacturer plenty of opportunity to improve the car's design and reduce defects.
[Note: this isn't always the case. Google 'engine sludge' or 'transmission issues' and you'll see a long list of both domestic and transplant products that failed to make the grade, either initially or over time. However a quick visit to an enthusiast's site for your car (Google the model and add 'enthusiast' to the search) or owner's review sites like TrueDelta can tell you all you really need to know about a vehicle's true quality.]
Then there’s the double whammy of depreciation and gas cost.
For a car like the PT Cruiser, depreciation can be an absolute killer. As of writing, a PT Cruiser will lose an estimated 63 percent ($9,644) of it's retail value over five years. That’s far more of a hit than new models like the Yaris ($3,960), or Versa ($5,059), or the Fit ($5,152). For those who keep their rides for five years, the Intellichoice site is a good place to figure out your true costs of ownership, including depreciation.
If you're one of the wiser souls who decides depreciation should be minimized at all [non] costs, you’ll find that a 10-year ownership period will reduce this difference by at least two-thirds. As common sense suggests, when it comes to depreciation, it's the keeper who usually comes out ahead.
There’s a lot anyone can do to minimize their vehicle’s depreciation. Keep it, clean it, use high quality parts, drive conservatively and know your car by joining an enthusiast's group. But gas cost is a far, far stickier wicket.
The PT Cruiser may be seen as frugal wee beasties, but a 19 city and 24 highway mpg rating puts it far behind on the other three competitors. If you keep a PT for 100k miles and drive evenly between the city and highway, you’ll spend $18,605 on gas (assuming $4/gallon). That is $6,105, $4,320 and $5,490 more than the Yaris, Versa and Fit. Double the duration and your gas costs may outweigh any other single cost. Even depreciation. With gas supply on a perpetual plateau and demand only going up, this is a real deal breaker for those who’ve changed their fuellish ways.
Finally, there’s insurance. An older and more conservative car with a strong safety rating will usually do far better here than a fashionable car that appeals to a riskier audience. In this sense, the PT is good news. A car like the PT Cruiser A) generally appeals to conservative and mature drivers B) offers pretty good safety ratings, and C) and requires cheap replacement parts (as mentioned). Most folks will simply call their insurance company and get a quote. That's fine. But being on the right side of these three rankings can make a big difference on the bottom line.
So, for a retiree who drives sparingly, a brand new PT Cruiser is an excellent value. For an enthusiast, the Fit and Versa are the more fun vehicles to drive. If you look at cars as an overall economic proposition over a relatively short time period, the Yaris is probably a better bet. Personally I’d pick a VW Rabbit. But that’s an article for another day.