The Truth About Cars » Hammer Time http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Hammer Time http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/news-blog/hammer-time/ Hammer Time: Might As Well Go For A Soda http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/hammer-time-might-as-well-go-for-a-soda/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/hammer-time-might-as-well-go-for-a-soda/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:56:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793313 Click here to view the embedded video.

“Steve, what car should I buy?”

“Well, if I give you the real answer, you’ll roll your eyes and buy what you want anyway.”

“No really. I’m open to new ideas.”

“Okay then! Buy a 2012 Malibu. Buy a Buick Park Avenue. Buy a Dodge Raider or buy a Suzuki Equator.”

“Ummm… are you sure about that?”

“Hell no! Now go buy me a soda and buy yourself a Camry!”

A lot of enthusiasts give grief to the mainstream publications in this business. Sometimes I kinda don’t get why because to be brutally blunt, the “best car”  is usually firmly planted in the third row of most folk’s priorities when it comes to buying their next car.

For all the manufacturers desires to offer power, performance and utility together in one great vehicle, most of the general public just doesn’t care.

They usually want a brand first. Looks second. Then there’s fuel economy, safety, perceived quality… and a long, long list of excuses to get away from the less popular alternatives.

The best new car is rarely the best selling car in this business. There are Mazdas that I love which have a snowballs chance in hell of taking on the Toyotas and Chevys. Even if they do a far better job of checking off most consumer’s real world priorities, it’s a moot point and an inevitable outcome.

If Volvo came out with a breakthrough product, I seriously doubt that most shoppers of prestige brands would even remotely consider it. Never mind that there are plenty of reputable sources out there that can help dispel those myths as to which models now offer the best bang for the buck. Volvo no longer ranks in the pantheons of marketplace leaders. Case closed.

Even when mainstream publication have the gall to endorse an Oldsmobile or a Suzuki over a Camry or an Accord, the result of that neighborly advice is that people just won’t take it.

Why? People are brand loyal, and they are bias loyal.

Click here to view the embedded video.

That Ford station wagon that killed Aunt Edna’s dog 35 years ago?  Well, that just means Detroit cars are pure crap. Never mind that carsurvey, TrueDelta, and even the long-term reliability index I am co-developing have disproved a lot of those myths.

Cadillac can’t ever match a Mercedes. Mercedes isn’t as good as a Lexus. Lexus isn’t as good as a BMW. On and on through the merry go round of biases and BS until you can’t help but SAAB at the futility of recommending a great car at a steal of a price.

Kizashi! What? Exactly. It’s a great car if you play around with a stickshift version. You say you’re an enthusiast… but then when I recommend a stick version, you look at me like I’m from Mars.

The truth is that enthusiast cars don’t sell. The best cars for pure driving enjoyment, don’t sell. The Miata has been shucked in the low 10k range of annual sales for a long time now. Mustangs? An ungodly sales decline. There are some who blame these types of things on demographics or the police state. But I have a third theory.

American tastes increasingly resemble the American interstate. There is a sameness and sadness to the menu which is dictating that the best cars are psychologically unaccessible. Nobody wants to get off the straight and dull road that leads to the Camcrods, the Cor-antr-ics and the American badged truck.

Are all those models good? Well, yeah. But good seldom equals love. You want love? Go tear down a bias and rediscover why a great car is worthy buying.

Don’t forget the radar detector.

P.S. :  Feel free to share your thoughts below on great cars that have missed that elusive mark of mainstream acceptance over the years. I am going to be spending most of today getting a bonded title for a 21 year old Cadillac limousine. I will need intensive comic relief thanks to the interminable tortures that come with taking care of that type of title issue at the DMV. So please, feel free to share your stories and insights. I can always be reached directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com .

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Can Car Sharing Work In Suburbia? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/can-car-sharing-work-in-suburbia/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/can-car-sharing-work-in-suburbia/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=787705 car-share-parking-photo111

20 lawnmowers.

20 internet connections

20 videos of The Lion King.

Oh, and 60+ vehicles on one street.

I recently delved deep into one of the more challenging ideas of the modern age: car sharing in suburbia. It’s an idea that many non-enthusiasts and city dwellers love. But is it a good idea for suburbanites and the rest of us?

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If we’re talking about the traditional form of commercialized car sharing, such as Zipcar and RelayRides, then the answers for right now are,= “No! Nein! Nyet!”.

Most of these services cost anywhere from $30 To $100 a day, and at least $10 an hour. For most folks who have to take their vehicles to the supermarkets, restaurants, friend’s houses and all the other places that make up the modern day ‘to-do’ list of suburban life, these services are just not economically viable.

The financial equation can be even worse for rural folk, and for auto enthusiasts in particular who happen to live in suburbia. The thought of giving up our rolling treasures to the pirates of bad driving is a big-time no-no nadir.

But that doesn’t mean car sharing can’t work if you have the right long-term relationships in place, and the right types of vehicles that complement each other for occasional use. Let me offer a real world example.c4

 

My neighbors who live diagonally from me have a small truck: a 1996 Toyota Tacoma with over 250k. They are retirees, and most of their daily transportation involves no more than one or two people. When they have visitors, they also have a 10 year old Cadillac Seville.

However, that Caddy just doesn’t offer enough seats for grandkids, parents and gransparents. Nor do the midsized cars that arrive on their driveway.

So what do they do?

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Well, I just happen to have a 2003 Chrysler Town & Country minivan these days. Seven seats. Dual sliding doors, and about 125,000 miles.  I have known my neighbors for a very long time, and we have both seen how we drive and maintain our vehicles. At the same time, even though I’m a car dealer, I can’t keep small trucks on my car lot. They are expensive to buy these days at the auctions, and the rare affordable one tends to sell quickly once it’s front-line ready.

As for minivans? They have become the modern day unsellable car in my world. So whenever he has a need for a minivan, which is about once every couple of months, I give him the keys to my ride. And whenever I need to move a lawnmower, a refrigerator, or just recently, a $20 bench press and weight set from the world famous Blue Chicken Auction, I borrow his small truck.

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We’re not the only folks who do this in my neck of the woods. The neighbors who live down the street from me have a full-sized van with plenty of towing capacity for their irrigation business. They also have a trailer for their equipment and a tow dolly. What they don’t have is space to house everything without parking on the street and encouraging the local code enforcement dimwits to get on their case.

So I offer them free storage at the back of one of my shops, use the tow dolly or trailer if there is ever a need, and the local suburban Gestapo has one less target for their punitive fines and harassment.

The van, trailer and dolly are also used in that rare event when a neighbor needs to move a riding lawnmower, or when a car is laid down on the side of the road. We get the keys and move the heavy things to wherever they need to go. No need for AAA or a U-haul.

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The goal of this light version of car sharing isn’t to share one vehicle 100% of the time. It is to satisfy that occasional 1% need. So that you don’t wind up wasting money on a one-size-fits-all, high-cost vehicle.

 

Is this a better idea for suburbanites? The article here summarizes a lot of the benefits and pitfalls. But as the old acronym goes, YMMV.

So what do you think? Can car sharing work in suburbia…and would you be willing to do it?

Note: You can reach Steve Lang directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com

 

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Auction Day : Pullin’ A 1080 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/auction-day-pullin-a-1080/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/auction-day-pullin-a-1080/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 11:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=784601  

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Auto enthusiasts often dream of taking an exotic car through some of the nicest stretches of winding roads the world can offer.

Hairpin turns… beautiful smooth roads…. nice scenery… and all the power and finesse one can summon in a car made for the perfection of that very moment.

Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, the list of great cars serving this unique purpose of vehicular bliss is as long as the opportunity is unique. Even the most frugal of gearheads want to experience this thrill sometime between now and their eventual nirvana.

But then again, I may be completely wrong on all of this. Actions speak louder than words in the enthusiast community, and what I find inside a lot of gearhead garages looks a bit like…

This 1999 Solara  vs. a 2002 BMW 525i Wagon. Same price at a car lot and same mileage. Guess which one sells quicker?

This 1999 Solara vs. a 2002 BMW 525i Wagon. Same price at a car lot and same mileage. Guess which one sells quicker?

This…

Let’s face it. How often do car people proclaim their automotive passions, and wind up buying an old boring car?

Does the performance car represent the best of what enthusiasts want these days? Or is there something else?

My wager, after 15 years of buying and selling cars at the auctions, is something else. In fact, my hunch is that many enthusiasts are more enamored with the deal of buying a good cheap car, rather than the performance potential of their daily ride.

This shift has little do with our actual tastes. In a world where there is far greater traffic enforcement, higher insurance rates, and fewer opportunities to enjoy a long and winding drive without getting tagged by the revenuing activities of various government entities, the opportunity to cloak our rides seems like the best option.

Also, we are now in that unique point of automotive history where even plain-jane Camrys and Chrysler minivans can offer as much power as the Acura NSX. It’s hard to get as excited about horsepower and performance when Mom’s Accord can now go 0 to 60 in 6 seconds.

We want the deal… and often times we consider real world performance to come standard. Even though our opportunities to use it are often hindered by the local environment.

The core of automotive enthusiasm these days seems to come from getting the unsellable car at a steal of a price, and transforming it into a sleeping beauty that will endure far beyond the exotics and their commercialized fantasies.

So with that in mind, let’s look at one of the cars coming up to bid this week. A car that even in the most extreme of situations, won’t ever find itself making that long trip from my car lot to your own driveway.

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A 2002 Hyundai Accent: Is this a hermit’s heaven? Or is this a transformer stuck in partial ‘transform!’ mode?

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Well, let’s say you want a cheap-to-own vehicle with low mileage, minimal depreciation costs, that will serve as a rolling theft deterrent system in your daily travels?
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If that is you, then it looks like I’ve found your next ride. A 2002 Hyundai Accent L, 5-speed, with 25,769 miles. It may have looked like it got into a fight and lost– however, if you want to have reliable transportation that will allow you to avoid transporting family and friends, this may indeed be the ultimate beater ride.
a4This car embodies what I call the “1080″ — a car that can be bought at 10% of the new price and still easily has about 80% of its life left.
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In the case of this dead bone, basic and broke Accent, it’ll still probably sell for about $2000 plus the auction fee at the sale tomorrow. So maybe we’re looking at a 2085. Or a 1590.
Or maybe, this car will go for a far higher price than a lot of folks would assume.
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The reason is unless these pictures deceive me, all those body panels can be replaced either at a junkyard or a catalog. Frame damage can be hard on panel gaps if a car is hit the wrong way.
This car looks like it needs two bumpers, a hatch, and some miscellaneous clips and brackets along with a $260 paint job and some minor body work. With about $1300 in reconditioning costs and extremely low mileage, this car could be financed for $500 down and $50 a week for as long as the customer can’t do the math.
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36 months? 48 months? 60 months? The sad fact is that our society seems to relish and promote a long-term debtful existence.  If an Aston Martin can be financed by some poor soul for 144 months, then surely a cheap used Hyundai built with better quality control techniques can last at least 5 years.
Gas sippers are a very hard niche to buy on the cheap. Stickshifts do help lower the demand, but it’s often not enough to attain a true 1080. For that you need something in the lines of an unpopular trifecta… plus one.
An orphan brand. V8. Wrong wheel drive, and an association with owners who care as much about what’s popular these days as you or I do.
In a word, retirees.
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On the other side of automotive apathy comes this Y2K MGM GS.
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Why not say what it is in long form? Because when you drive one of these things, it doesn’t really matter now does it?
b5Colors are a blah, common as a cold, silver exterior, accompanied by an 80′s surplus, yawn-inducing, Metamucil inspired gray interior. This one can seat five adults and an ungrateful brat, and has 33,532 miles.
b2
A “Shoneys Frequent Dining” sticker comes standard in the glovebox, along with empty blood pressure medicine bottles, and a “marching band music never gets old damn it!” cassette collection.
AAA decals along with AARP credentials must be shown in plain sight at all times. Only the 1st button on the radio is indexed to a talk radio station, while the cutting edge cassette to CD adapter will be sold separately.
b3
It’ll probably sell tomorrow for $4000 and the auction fee. The Stevie Lang out the door price for non-state residents will be around $4500.
One other kicker. If you only drive a car sparingly and have a boat or jetskis you tow on the weekends, it’s not a bad deal.
b6
Do you drive less than 7500 miles a year? The gas premium will likely be swallowed up by the insurance discount. Plus with the right aftermarket parts these cars are surprisingly fun to drive.
You may still have that plastic intake manifold  issue and those seats may require a leather upgrade. But once you’re over those humps, the only thing stopping this car from lasting another a decade is the potential redoubling of gas prices.
So… what about your world? Have you been able to merge these two divergent forces that are excitement and affordability into one great car? Or has the ultimate fun-to-drive, affordable car, been as rare for you as an Italian tractor.
Note: You can always reach Steve Lang directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com or at his Facebook page
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Hammer Time: Don’t Buy With Your Eyes! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-dont-buy-with-your-eyes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-dont-buy-with-your-eyes/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:04:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=781577 Click here to view the embedded video.

People buy with their eyes in this business. Always have and always will.

I don’t care if you are a pseudo-sophisticated Yuppie wanna-be who thinks that Subaru is a value brand, (It’s not. They cater to the Costco crowd.) Or an impoverished mother of five who is taking her $6000 tax check and blowing it on the Cadillac of minivans.

Image completely rules this business. New or used. As much as I would love to sell old sturdy wagons and functional minivans that will last for another seven years, my customers want the modern-day crossover. The SUV that hypothetically gets great mileage if you read the window sticker upside down. A compact with an impossible to find leather interior, and of course, the upscale ride with the nice big wheels.

The first test of whether a car sells in this business comes down to a simple question.

“How much is it worth?”

That question is not answered by the window sticker. It’s figured out by the eyes, the hands, the ears, and all the senses within your body when you touch, see, and even smell that vehicle.

New or old? Doesn’t matter.

The reason why the Mazda 2 and the Honda Insight haven’t sold a lick, while the Mazda 3 and the Honda Accord are still wildly popular, is because those first two cars have completely flunked that test for most of the buying public.

Doors, steering wheels, and dashboards. Most cars are psychologically sold within the first twenty seconds of sitting in a car, looking at your surroundings, taking it all in, and turning the key. Your facial expressions and implicit behaviors tell the whole story. If you sit in a vehicle that feels and looks cheap, it doesn’t sell. Not enough sound insulation? Buttons and knobs that have the tactile qualities of a dog’s rubber-bone chew toy? Those are the things that quickly submarine the sales potential of a car well before the dealer tries to four-square you into a higher price.

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The same dynamics take place on the wholesale level. At the wholesale auto auctions, where your trade-in’s, off-lease and repossessed vehicles get sold to the highest bidder, it’s the look of a vehicle that creates the market demand.

You want a premium price at an auction? It has to look clean and front line ready. Interiors need to be cleaned out and deodorized. The wheels need to be shiny, and there is one more missing ingredient that 99% of my fellow dealers miss when they come to sell at the sales.

Click here to view the embedded video.

A well-paid auctioneer and ringman.

You want the premium price? Tip them well. The guy who uses  his powers of persuasion to buy with a microphone, and the guy on the floor with him, are no different than the salespeople on the showroom floor trying to shuck off leftover Cruzes and Silverados.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Incentives create sales. And unlike the commission based salesman at the new car stores, auctioneers and ringmen get paid a flat fee by the auction. Which means that when I come on the block and sell my inventory I always tip them.

Typically I give $20 to each one if it’s a smaller run of ten or fewer vehicles. Larger runs get $50 and a particularly successful one gets $100. As an auto auctioneer and ringman in my earlier days, I lived the importance of getting good tips and back in the late 90′s and early-2000′s, your tips often exceeded what the auctions paid you. These days tipping is scarce, which frankly gives me even more incentive to do it.

I had a small run of six cars two Tuesdays ago which was a rolling representation of how important clean cars and well-paid staff are to any organization.

99CV

A 1999 plain-jane beige Lincoln town Car with 211,000 miles was bought for all of $425 late last year from a title pawn. This was crusher money (the market price for junkyard bound vehicles) and with the interior driver’s door panel smashed to hell and five months of sitting around with dirt and debris, it wasn’t worth much of anything to the pawn company. The body was perfect. However long-term neglect can make even the nicest of vehicles looking like junkyard relics.

I took my Snap-On battery box, started it up, and bought it. From there I hired a detailer who works for Carmax $70 to do a good thorough clean-up on the Crown Vic, topped off the fluids, and had a driver take it to the auction for $25.

It sold for $1800 less the $125 auction fee. Two guys who never bothered to open the door on this thing got into a dogfight and the auction staff, composed of a World Champion ringman and a sharp competitive bid-caller, squeezed every single penny possible from that thing.

Most of my other vehicles fell into the same pattern. Even my mistakes from 2013. A 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP that was bought for $3200 and tripped a transmission code only after I had driven it for a week sold for $3800. A Kermit-the-frog green Rodeo with a knocking engine that blew up after the absent minded customer forgot to put the oil cap back on it went for $900. A Y2K red VW Golf four door with low miles, but a tranny that couldn’t stay in overdrive had been bought for $2155. Another mistake that does happen in the course of buying lots of vehicles where, in essence, you are sometimes playing the percentages between good cars and bad cars. I made a few hundred selling it that day. If I hadn’t tipped my auctioneer and ringman I have no doubt it would have sold for at least $500 less.

ls400

What didn’t sell? A 94′ Lexus LS400 that I had bought for $900 plus a $120 auction fee way back in late 2012. That one had been bought without a serpentine belt and to be frank, I got lucky on it. It has been financed twice and even though I did not want it back, the brief owners had employment issues. Not even four months of grace each time could keep this vehicle away from the lot. So I drive it to and fro these days, and since I rarely have time to clean it, I was expecting a low price at the sale.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I no-saled it with a bid price of $1450. Much less than the crappy Lincoln. Enough to break even on a pure purchase basis. But not enough to pay for the set of new tires I bought for it that usually go for $600 a pop, and the Lexus still has plenty of life left. A clean one at this time of year will usually sell wholesale for at least $2000.

That’s how the cookie crumbles in the car business. Homework and good work lead to the higher returns. But what about you? Has there been a vehicle you bought with your eyes instead of your head? How were you able to finally get out of that never-ending expense?

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Hammer Time: The Mitsubishi Banana http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-the-mitsubishi-banana/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-the-mitsubishi-banana/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 09:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=778649 ec6

Otherwise known as the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

No car has better embodied the sad decline of a once competitive automaker.

Awkward styling. Poor interior space and wonky ergonomics. Plus, you got a double whammy if you decided to keep them in the arid parts of the country.

Thin flaky paint… and a weird flaw with the glues and vinyls used on the dashboard. The net effect of which is…

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This.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of other vehicles that suffer a similar fate — especially here in the heat enriched world that is Hotlanta.

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The Ford Taurus dashes are legendary for their ability to serve as cubbyholders for your paperwork. If it’s late-90′s model that doesn’t get garaged, this storage space comes standard.

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Kia products were even worse during the early 2000′s. Part of this was abated by the long warranties that Kia offered to compensate for the second-rate glues, foam paddings and adhesives. Even today though, the headliners and dash materials for their older used cars don’t seem to be holding up to Kia’s  aspirations for value and quality.

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But the worst of them, the crème de la crème of substandard materials with nary a fix in sight, goes to Mitsubishi.

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The good news is you can buy a 2006 Eclipse that has been well kept for all of $4000 these days at a wholesale auction and if you fix them up, they can be retailed for around $5000 to $6000. Not a bad price for a sporty vehicle that came from a manufacturer that offers surprising reliability on their four-cylinder models.

The hard part is fixing those peeling bananas on the dash. There seems to be no enduring fix for this cosmetic ailment because the foam rots from within..

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So to make it an enduring fix, you have to replace it all.  Then you have the paint issues which were thankfully rectified in later model years. As for the earlier ones? Consider a basecoat/clearcoat paint job and a healthy level of waxing to keep it looking good.

It’s a shame because, at least in mind, no car has been more important to the successes of Mitsubishi than the first generation Eclipse. The image of that model as a class leader could have set the stage for a long, long list of Mitsubishis that were both sporty and practical.

Instead we ended up with this…

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this…

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and this…

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What’s your take? Is it worth it for Mitsubishi to invest in a recall for the last of these rolling dodos? Or does the sordid memory of a defunct model deserve to be buried and forgotten?

 

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Hammer Time: The Third Set http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-the-third-set/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-the-third-set/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 17:16:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=772345 shoot1

“Gimme Carter!!! Gimme Carter!!!”

“You can have him!” My brother Lewis, a lifelong conservative was watching me, a hyperactive  six year old, pointing eagerly at our home’s only TV.

“I’m voting for Reagan.”

“Pa-tau!!1 Pa-tau! To a 1st grader’s ear, the word Reagan sounded just like “Ray gun”. And for all I knew, Carter and Reagan were locked in some Star Wars parallel universe fighting each other for control of the presidency.

Lord knows that 34 years later, I would need every single ounce of that youthful imagination to get through a day long movie shoot.

My wife and I always try to spend one day out of the month together. No kids. No work responsibilities. Just the privacy and solitude that comes with two people who are well-matched in what has become a picky, picky world.

She wants to get back into the film and video world, part-time, and so I took it upon myself to get two vehicles that would be a good fit for that elusive older car that looks neither brand new nor decrepit.

shoot3caddy

The 1980 Cadillac Seville that I mentioned last week was the optimal fit for this journey.  Black on black. Perfect leather seats. A little bit of wear. But not enough to make it look like anything more than a five year old car for the one to two seconds it would wind up on film.  After I put in a new master cylinder and properly bled out the brakes, it was good to go.

The second car was a more interesting case. I had sold a 1983 Mercedes 300D Turbodiesel to a fellow that I thought was a hardcore Mercedes enthusiast for all of $1700. I only made about $400 out of the deal. But I always take personal pride in making sure older cars are given to true enthusiasts. Instead of chucking it to someone looking to donate a car to the human hurricane within their family.

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I got a great deal on that old Benz and in turn, left nothing to chance. New filters, fluids, brakes, two new tires. I spent about $300 prepping it for sale in parts and sold it to a guy who I thought would do a good job keeping it.

The good news is he didn’t abuse it. The bad news was that I couldn’t find out whether he took the lease amount of effort of changing the oil.

He said he did it recently. But a quart low already? The alignment is off? And that inner-tie rod end needs to be replaced? Mother of pearl!

A friend of mine who works for Porsches and Maseratis decided to give me the full-report on it while I handled the Cadillac.  The Cadillac was flawless. The Mercedes? Still tight. Just minor stuff…

“You’re getting picky-picky with this one Steve! Damn things old enough to be a Grandma in Alabama.”

“My wife wants to drive it out to a movie shoot. She hates big cars. So I’m gonna be drivin’ out the Caddy.”

“Get her an Impala or a Malibu instead Steve. I hate the smell of this diesel…$^^%$!!!”

My wife came by with her 1st gen Prius, and after I spent over ninety-five dollars filling the two vehicles up, we headed straight for Conyers, Georgia. A small town located somewhere between civilization and Deliverance.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The drive was the usual homicidal freakshow that is Atlanta traffic.  Folks don’t use their turn signals. Cell phones are surgically attached to most commuters, and two people driving 65 mph are justifiably banished to the right side of the freeway where they belong.

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The Cadillac was just majestic. GM ‘s styling may have been a bit off the mark for this generation of Seville. But the 6.0 Liter Cadillac 368 engine was just perfectly matched to this particular generation, and it’s a shame that GM decided to off it after only one year for their diesel and 8/6/4 abominations. As for steering and handling,  you can do the same exact one finger cruising with this car that you can do for nearly any good Lincoln or Cadillac of days gone by… and it’s easier to drive than the Mercedes.

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The Mercedes was meh. A 300D is expected to be infinitely higher in decibels than an old school Caddy and, even for the time, it wasn’t quite a luxury car.

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I will admit that the material quality alone is easily a parallel universe beyond the Cadillac.  All the fake wood and cheaper vinyl of the Cadillac pales to the glory that is the W123′s design and engineering excellence.

That difference though is eliminated once you turn the key.

For the experience that is daily driving through a busy metropolitan area, I preferred the Cadillac. It has enough luxury to keep you isolated from the rampant vehicular stupidity that surrounds, you while allowing the driver to hear the smoothness of a big Detroit 6.0 Liter V8 over the 3.0 Liter clackety-clack-clack of the Mercedes. This noise difference is especially noticeable during the interminable traffic jams that happened on the ride back.

We didn’t hit anything other than air molecules for this first 35 miles journey. We arrived early. Just in time for the most important event for movie extras between the waiting and the shooting.

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The eating. Lunch for a successful TV program is a true wonder to behold, and since there were only a few extras for this show which we’ll assume is called, “Go And Throw Ice At The Devil!”. Since there were only two of us at the time, we were spared of the usual culinary segregation and got to eat with the cast and crew.

I saw a familiar face as soon as I got out of the Seville. “Steve! I miss that old yellow pickup truck!”

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“It’s down the street from me. The guy is using it for his lawnmower repair business.”

“He’s not restoring it? Damn! I wanted that thing.”

“I’ve been to his house. The family doesn’t believe in anything after 1984. He spent an hour going through the truck and it’s now the ugliest good running truck in town. ”

Brando and I caught up on life, and my wife caught up on crossword puzzles. At least until the opening shoot.

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It was supposed to easy. The main character leaves his driveway in some Grizwold 1970′s woody wagon. My wife’s car goes straight past. The Caddy turns right, a Ford truck turns left, and a Triumph TR6 idles away at a stop sign.

Sounds easy enough? Not when you don’t have enough walky-talkies.

We did the shot 16 times. 16 TIMES! And every time I did the shoot, I got an unwelcome surprise.

The police officer blocking off the road I turned into decided to change his cruiser’s parking position after each shoot. Why? I have no idea. His vehicle wasn’t even in the camera shot. But sure enough, every single time I made that turn, I found myself performing another new and exciting three point turn with a 34 year old Cadillac.

“Ka-thunk! Ka-thunk!” Asthamtic sounding acceleration back to position. Then wait….

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I also discovered something else. Black on black plus even a 70 degree time will equal about 90 degrees inside one of these things. The A/C worked, thanks to the prior owner who converted it into R134. Unfortunately the director wanted the vehicles to idle at all times. So we likely wasted about $30 worth of gas in the shooting process.

None of the cars broke down or even overheated. However the Triumph had more blue smoke than anything I had ever seen that didn’t already have a two stroke engine in it. I’m willing to bet that the thing was dirtier than any old scooter you can find… but it ran. That vehicle was a bit rough around the edges. But this gorgeous Riviera helped smooth out the line-up that day.

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After the shoot, we had dinner and then… a holding cell. No joke. The extras had to stay four abreast in a 2 foot by 10 foot room with no nuttin’ for two hours.

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Conversation, yes. Smartphone? Wonderful! A TV? Surely, you’re joking Mr. Feynman.

Once the clock struck exactly 8:48 P.M. we were out on parole. No overtime this time. Brando signed us out and we quickly made a 37 mile skedaddle towards the north Georgia woodlands we call home.

Will we do it again? Probably. However, Georgia weather is rather nasty and brutish during the summer time. A Malibu with light colored cloth and a snow white exterior may be the perfect match for the next set.

 

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Hammer Time: Rediscovering My Inner Jersey http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-rediscovering-my-inner-jersey/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-rediscovering-my-inner-jersey/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 11:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=764689 sev1

114 car dealers. Every single last one of them looking for an impossibly good deal among the 150 vehicles at the auction on a near-Arctic Monday morning.

Even if it’s a seemingly bad deal. It doesn’t matter during this time of year.

This is officially tax season… which means that cars that couldn’t even get a $500 down payment during the post-Christmas drought will soon be picked up in earnest by the sub-prime, debt happy public. A $1200 down payment as their first financial tombstone of 2014 will be followed by a long line of bogus fees, and a note that will hopefully be flipped into funny money (now known as sub-prime asset backed securities) before the drowning debtor becomes financial roadkill.

Everything is high. But surprisingly not as high as in years past. Orphaned brands are mostly cheap. Minivans are cheap, and everything from older luxury coupes to younger hatchbacks can be had for decent money if they’re not sporty or popular.

Speaking of popular. Let me show you a little somethin’.

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This 1980 Cadillac Seville is the King of Swing and the purveyor of all things cool.

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I’m not even sure if I can give this vehicle justice by these pics. Like a lot of older cars that are unfashionable but well cared for, this Seville has “it”.

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The paint is a perfect compliment to the design. Unlike the wretched vinyl tops, two tone medicine blues, and malaise era engines that made this car into a rolling joke, this Seville seems to be one of the few exceptions to the rule that was GM mediocrity.

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For starters, it’s an 80′ model with no smoke. Which means it ended up with a decent engine. The 6.0 Liter Cadillac V8 which produces… well… let’s just say it’s the best of the worst.

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The black interior and low seating position is designed for the future low riders of these models. You know. The ones who were busy listening to UTFO and the Breakin’ soundtrack instead of Snoopy and that Two-pack dude.

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That’s all original. I’m still not sure if it’s real wood or fake wood. Let’s just call it Cadillac wood and move on.

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Everything still works on this vehicle. The auto temp control. The radio. The instant mpg calculator which rarely goes above 25 mpg. It’s all there. Actually I was hitting around 28 mpg on that thing. But I’m not sure if that was due to the equipment getting some Imperial calculations between 1980 and today.

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93,000 miles. Original. Well, it is a repaint and I have  to work on a few wires (cough! cough!). When I saw it, I knew I would never see anything quite like it ever again. Time marches on and the unpopular rides of yesteryear get dumped into the hardcore and borderline psychopathic of car owners. I know enough of my fellow compatriots to realize that come hell or high bidding, I was going to have to buy this thing.

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So I did my usual trick. I hid in the back with my leather jacket and jeans against the cold cement wall. I saw my friend, the auctioneer, who knew me back when I was an auctioneer. He started at 3k. I made eye contact. Shucked two fingers onto my U2 leahter jacket. And quickly put them back in my pocket as my friend wailed, “Habadagive two grand! 21! I got money! 21! Habadagive 21!”

Except no one believed him. I had put in the bid within three seconds of his downward cadence from three grand, to two grand, to what was usually a grand opening bid. Most starting bids go down about $2000 to $3000 at the auctions before they head back up to where the sellable range is.

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This particular time, there would be no uptick.  After about five seconds of low ball signs of one finger (for $1000) and the words $1500 mouthed out to the auctioneer… the hammer fell. I had bought one of the last of the pseudo-luxurious mohicans for $2000 plus a $155 auction fee.

Was it a steal? Hell no! I bought it because I want to enjoy the experience of owning it, and then later, sell it to someone who will love it a bit more than yours truly. One of the first rules of the car business is, “Never fall in love.” So I’m going to play around with it for a few weeks, and then let it go to an enthusiast who will make this baby Caddy endure.

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Oh, one other thing. Cadillac may have screwed up their brand big-time throughout the 1980′s. From this Seville to the Allante, Cadillac was completely castrated during this time and I have no fondness for the bean counters and the Howdy Dowdy CEO who guided them during the Reagan Era.

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However this Fisher Body Seville, with an engine solely (and soul-ly) given to the Cadillac division represents a high mark within the low mark.

This downsized Seville rides just like one of those older, floaty Cadillacs from the 1970′s. It’s an amazing ride. Easy to steer, and a beauty to behold in the flesh.

I plan on selling it for $2500.

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Should You Sell Your Car At Carmax? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/should-you-sell-your-car-at-carmax/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/should-you-sell-your-car-at-carmax/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 10:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=766585 carmax

100,000 miles?

200,000 miles?

300,000 miles?

Everyone has a certain point with their daily driver when they would rather see money back in their pocket, instead of seeing more money fall out of their pocket.

Time marches on. That old clunker loses it’s endearing qualities and then, what do you do?

Well, the answer depends a lot on what type of vehicle you’re trying to sell… which is why I’m introducing Carmax’s wholesale operations into this write-up.

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A lot of us are already familiar with Carmax’s retail operation.

No-haggle pricing. No hard sells or bait-and-switch tactics. The foundation for what made Saturn such a successful new car brand back in the 1990′s has been refined, improved and eclipsed by Carmax.

Like em’ or hate em’, Carmax is now the official used car Goliath of the auto industry.

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This article from Automotive News does a great job of highlighting the retail side of their success. Carmax is now twice the size of second-place Autonation, and larger than the third, fourth, and fifth place automotive retailers combined. If Carmax manages to stay on track with a forecasted 500,000 units sold for 2014, and maintains their $2,150 in net profit per unit, they will likely eclipse over a billion dollars in profits… just with their retail operations.

That first billion is the one everyone here is already familiar with. However it’s the other side of their business, the wholesale side, that’s proven to be the more consistent money-maker during good times and bad.

This is how it works.

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You are tired of your car. More times than not, it has some type of problem that is either expensive or elusive. You have probably spent a fair penny trying to solve that issue, and even if you succeeded, you are weary of having to deal with yet another one down the road.

Enter Carmax. Have you ever noticed how much money Carmax spends on radio advertising? That little 30 second spiel about bringing your car in and getting treated right is more than just a hokey way of trying to get you in their door.

It’s arbitrage, with a churn that now numbers close to 7,000 vehicles.

Every… single.. week…

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Carmax inspects your vehicle. Appraises it’s value. Successfully buys it (or at least plants the seed for further business), and then they does something that is unique to automotive retailers.

They have weekly auctions for all of these vehicles. Wholesale auctions frequented by dealers who sometimes travel long distances to buy the very same cars that you are tired of driving.

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On average, a Carmax auction gets more eyeballs per vehicle basis anyone else. An auction with 100 vehicles will often have more than 100 dealers who are ready to bid up and buy all those vehicles.

It’s a free market, and because Carmax eliminates uncertainty by disclosing major defects to this dealer audience, they get a premium return for much of what they sell.

If the engine or transmission has mechanical issues. If there is frame damage or a salvage title, Carmax will disclose that issue in writing to all dealers before the sale.

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Even if it’s a $500 vehicle, you can dispute the vehicle if there was a major defect that wasn’t disclosed. I’ve done it successfully in the past many times and so have thousands of dealers who attend their sales. No system is perfect. But Carmax’s selling policy is designed to eliminate those uncertainties and provide disclosure with both the high end car, and the beater car.

That’s where you, the public, comes into the mix. Because Carmax can get the premium return along with a seller fee of about $165 for each vehicle sold, Carmax can pay more for certain cars than other dealers.

What types? In my experiences, Carmax tends to offer a solid edge to consumers in three distinct areas.

1) The unpopular car with expensive mechanical issues.

2) The Craigslist nightmare car.

3) The “I need money right now!” car.

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You may notice that these are the first two types are cars that few public individuals want to buy in the first place. That five year old Chevy Aveo with a bad automatic transmission, and a 25 year old Honda that looks like it got into a fight and lost, will have one thing in common.

They will both be lowballed by the general public. Once you put that Aveo online for $3000, someone will offer you $1500 over the phone and then not show up.

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That 1990 Honda Accord which has been driven 356,168 miles? Someone’s kid or an aspiring scammer is going to light up your cell phone with a never-ending torrent of stupid pointless questions.

“Is your car a diesel?” says the guy who doesn’t understand that the letters g-a-s do not equate to d-i-e-s-e-l.

“Is there anything wrong with it?” “Is it an automatic?” “What’s the least you’ll take for it?” “Can you drive it to my place?” “Um… Give me your address!”

It’s this moron brigade that helps Carmax make hundreds of millions of dollars. By giving you the opportunity to not deal with them, and giving dealers the opportunity to capitalize on your automotive misery.

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There’s also a more lucrative side for those dealers that visit these auctions. That Aveo I mentioned earlier? It can be bought for $2300. Then it will be fixed with a cheap tranny found through car-part.com, and then financed at $500 down and $260 a month for 36 months.

The sub-prime side of the car market can help a dealer more than double his money over the course of a few years. Not risk-free mind you, but the Carmax auctions provide them with a golden opportunity to buy 20 or 30 low-priced vehicles a week that actually come with mechanical disclosures.

Once you know what you’re buying and have the means to it marketable,  your risk of failure goes down substantially. This, along with the push of immediate competition, motivates dealers to pay more money for your impaired vehicle.

Nobody else does this when it comes to cheap older cars.

The creation of a free market with thousands of used vehicles, and fair disclosures, will likely net Carmax well over $300 million in profits by the end of this fiscal year.

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The average unit garners a little less than $900 in profit. Subtract Carmax’s seller fee of about $200, and you’re looking at only about a $700 spread on average between what Carmax will offer you, and what a large free market will pay for your vehicle.

Is that a better return than you will find on Craigslist, Autotrader, or a nearby car dealer? In some cases, without a doubt. The greater the uncertainty about the value of a product, the less an unknowledgeable person (or greedy person) will offer for it.

Personally, I would test out all of these avenues. If Carmax offers the best price, take it.

That is unless you live in northwest Georgia. In which case the address to my dealership is…

 

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Boom, Bust, And The New Car Lust http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/boom-bust-and-the-new-car-lust/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/boom-bust-and-the-new-car-lust/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=753561

6:30 P.M. and three more cars just pulled up to my place… on a Monday…

Have I just bought a McDonald’s franchise? Not quite. This is the start of what we call “tax season” in the used car business.

A time when tens of millions of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck get a nice four figure lump sum from Uncle Sam and his favorite sub-prime debt dealers.

This money will typically be gone within 72 hours. Cars, electronics, and (cough! cough!) indebted personal obligations will be re-distributed to impersonate economic growth.

None of this matters for me right now because my brand new customers, with tax refunds in hand, are looking at three older cars.

The respective ages of these low money down rides?

17.. a red 1997 Honda Civic EX with 130k miles.

18… a gold 1996 Nissan Sentra with 135k miles.

And 19, a white 1995 Pontiac Bonneville SSE with 160k miles.

Two year notes for three cars that are old enough to have been driven daily when I was young.

Should all this age scare me? No. Not at all. I’ve financed hundreds of teenage and twenty-something cars over the last several years, and with the average age of a vehicle in the United States slowly creeping towards the twelve year mark, I’m not even sweating it anymore.

So long as I find the right owners, these cars don’t break. At least not in a terminal sense.

The ones who should be sweating it are the manufacturers. Why? Because they overproduced at a torrid pace from the early-2000′s to late 08′, and now that many of these defunct brands and models are headed towards their middle-age, they’re getting depreciated to kingdom come.

Yet they still run fine. Even until recent times this longevity had not been the usual case.

Ten years ago the average old jalopy on the road was usually a rolling piece of junk that drank gas, smoked oil, and hung out with the bad boys. I saw these cars all days long at the auctions and sold  tens of thousands of them as a ringman, auctioneer, and remarketing manager for an auto finance company.  The wholesale auctions were full of em’ back then, and I still remember getting headaches from all the carbon monoxide and other deadly substances that permeated the air. When it came to older cars, there were far too few manufacturers of quality vehicles. Older Benzes, Toyotas and Hondas were able to handle the long haul. American trucks and gas guzzling body on frame land yachts were pretty good as well. Those were the sweet spots for those wanting car owners who couldn’t do it themselves. Everything else offered a lot more misses than hits.

Now, the average old car… is the family car. The extra car that rarely gets driven. Or even your own car.

It was more than likely designed at a time when lean manufacturing had already become predominant, OBDII diagnostics had become a universal standard, and fuel injection had become a given. Even the recent defunct brands. The Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, and Mercurys of today are light years ahead of the malaise era inspired, quantity driven metal of yore that rightfully deserved to be recycled into Chinese washing machines.

Your current daily driver, old it may be,  is still going to last you for a while. And when it does decide to spit out a part, chances are you can find a cheap replacement for it online or at an auto recycling center. The labor to replace it may no longer be cheap, and your older ride may not have the same tolerance for neglect and abuse than it did when new. But if you drive like everyone else on the road, chances are it’s going to last you well past 200,000 miles, or even 15+ years if you live in a non-rust climate.

We can go on about defunct brands and models that are now overpopulating the used car market thanks to the corporate accounting games of not too long ago. We can even venture forth to the less political causes of what will likely become a golden era for cheap transportation if you keep your eyes sharp on good product. This is in large part thanks to the research engineering advances of the last 15 years, and the amazing convergence of suppliers, standards and even platforms within our industry.

But there is one factor that seems to trump all the others in today’s used car market. Money.

In my world that is running a car dealership, the new car is now matching the eight year old used car when it comes to the monthly payment.

How? Here’s how.

It’s the difference between a two year note for an $8500 eight year old used car at 14%, and an eight year note on a $30,000 new car at 5.9%. The financial difference between those two cars, pre-tax, tag, and bogus add-on fees, is $408.11 a month for the used car, and $392.78 for the new car. You read that right. The monthly payment is now often less for the average new car than it is for the average used car. A lot of consumers who are already used to having a car payment don’t mind paying for a longer period if it means getting a newer vehicle.

Now that automakers and major banks are delving deeper into sub-prime loans, even deeper than they did back in late 2007, used cars are becoming increasingly unmarketable.

The millions of  orphaned brands and models with little to no marketing cache are going to help this process advance far faster than you may realize. In fact, many of the largest used car retailers will no longer buy any orphaned brands because they sit at the lot for far longer periods of time than ever before. A lot of declining brands such as Volvo, Mitsubishi and Lincoln are also on that same walking plank of consumer obscurity that leads to an ocean’s worth of cheap inventory.

No overproduced, over-leased or unpopular used car can compete on a level playing field with a new car equivalent that has the better brand name on the front of it. That is unless you’re one one of those customers willing to pay cash one time for an older product.

If that cash customer is you, these next few years will offer a far better bang for the buck when it comes to buying used cars.  Once the bad decisions of 2007 and 2009 are removed from the credit histories of consumers who had bad luck back in the day, you will see many of these customers ditch their old rides and buy whatever new car they can find which offers a lower payment, a nicer ride, and better cash flow. At least for right now.

I predict that a lot of these cars will contain technologies that will be far too expensive to fix and repair in the coming years. However, by then I’m sure that the manufacturers will be offering ultra-high mileage, aluminum bodied works of wonder with advanced CVT transmissions and software that will enable electric motors to become a worthy alternative to the internal combustion engine.

Meanwhile, someone out there will still be driving an old Honda Insight. New car smell be damned.

 

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New or Used? : A Road Trip… Geo Metro Style http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-a-road-trip-to-munchkinland/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-a-road-trip-to-munchkinland/#comments Wed, 19 Feb 2014 13:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=743577 Click here to view the embedded video.

We want to go on a road trip this summer.

There are four of us. Myself, my wife, a teen and a tween. The wife and kids are thin and I’m about average sized.

Why do I mention this?

We are looking at getting a normal-sized vehicle that can potentially sleep four.  A minivan, crossover, or even a large SUV would be perfectly fine for us. We think that there will be times when we can’t use a tent, and I would rather get away from the overpriced state parks if it’s at all possible.

Our budget is $10,000. We don’t want anything funky to maintain. For us that means no VW vans. We will consider most anything else.  All domestics and imports are on the radar so long as they allow us reasonable sleeping quarters for our family.

Any ideas?

Steve Says:

Yes, rent a trailer or RV first.

A lot of folks think that they can take a big swig of the great American road trip in one feel swoop. But the truth is that close quarters will turn even the slightest of irritable personalities into a smorgasbord of communal hate and vitriol.

A week’s worth of traveling will help you figure out your own family’s tolerances real fast.

Your kids are young? They will want some space. The adults will want some space. Trust me. Whether you chose to give them real space or imaginary space via video games and movies is your call. But if this were my call, I would take the big bite that is the rental of a trailer (if you have a vehicle that can already haul one), a pop-up,  or an RV, and make the most of your time.

Most normal sized vehicles can’t sleep four unless you are willing to do some serious customization.  There are built-in tents and conversion kits for Azteks that can sleep two. Astros with third seats that can be made into a bed… that sleep two. There are even full-sized vans that supposedly seat four. Although the sleeping space me be a bit claustrophobic for some.

Heck, if you were creative enough, you could probably pull off sleeping space four in a stretch limo. But the truth is the only real games in town for road trips that can house four living souls comfortably are the camper conversions, trailers and RV’s.

What’s the cheapest route? Not going cheap.

In the long run your best decision will likely be trying one of these options out and figuring out what would best suit your family’s needs. Long-term road trip vehicles may be the one area where renting first actually makes sense. So rent something you like. Live it up a bit. Then, when you find the right size, make your investment in mobile living.

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Hammer Time: Hey Taxi! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hammer-time-hey-taxi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hammer-time-hey-taxi/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 12:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=743489 Click here to view the embedded video.

Georgia is now seriously weighing in House Bill 907 which opponents have dubbed the, “Taxi Monopoly Protection Act.”

It would effectively outlaw ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft. While also making cab companies victims of the usurious fees that they are required to pay to remain in business.

My solution to all this would be politically tone deaf and probably DOA in GA. My special interest is simply a personal one. I want to see better ideas work for the general public.

So here’s my deep dive into the rabbit hole that is government balancing one man’s freedom with another man’s fears.

 

The nuts and bolts of using your own personal property to transport other folks shouldn’t take much. If I were king governor of Georgia, this would be the way I would do it.

1) Don’t require taxi cab companies to pay for medallions and other mandated fees that serve no purpose other than inflicting financial harm on these businesses.

2) Do require that anyone who wishes to operate a taxi business (which Lyft and Uber are in practice) pay the insurance required to operate those businesses. If these companies want to pay for it themselves, that’s fine as well. But I believe this should be where the level ground should exist, and your insurance company should automatically be notified if you decide to operate this type of business.

3) Anyone who wants to sign up to be a taxi driver should have their license automatically run through the DDS web site every time their services are used to ensure that they still have a valid license. The way it is structured now, drivers can have their history gone through one time, and are okay thereafter.

This is the type of solution that makes no one 100% happy.But yet, it represents the fact that we need to let the government become an enabler of free enterprise. Instead of a perpetual conduit for special interests. It also represents the fact that there are some minor sticky issues that would need to be ironed out should this remote possibility ever come to pass.

The first has to do with handicapped folks.

It cost a lot more money to convert a new vehicle into a handicap accessible one. Since the costs of serving this population is far higher (to the tune of several thousands of dollars per vehicle), should handicapped customers pay more for these transportation services? Or should there be some sort of assistance, somewhere, to subsidize it?

The second issue has to do with vehicle inspections.

Should they exist? And if so, who should pay for it?

The quality of transport requires more than cheapness and minimal standards. Precious few of you are willing to spend a lot of money being transported in a 22 year old Corolla with no a/c (in Georgia), bald tires, and the smell of body odor permeating your nasal passages. Should owner reviews and corporate follow-up handle these issues? Or should there be some type of government standards that prevent the public from bad service?

Finally, what about the children?

Should there be certain child seats that must be required usage on these vehicles? I am sometimes tempted to go back to a 1970′s styled, “Put the kids in the back of the wagon!”. However the young human body is especially fragile, and I think that either the parent or the company should provide kids with adequate protection. So pick one, pick none,  or pick both.

Adults with needs, cars with needs, and kids with needs. The current bill sponsored by 5 Republicans and 1 Democrat doesn’t even pretend to serve their interests. But let’s say we live in a fictional world where the special interests on both sides are mere midgets compared with the general welfare and collective powers of the electorate. Let’s be kings instead of pawns today and try to solve the world’s problems one used car ride at a time.

How would you solve it?

 

 

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New or Used? : Should I Salvage My Shady Tree? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-should-i-salvage-my-shady-tree/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-should-i-salvage-my-shady-tree/#comments Wed, 12 Feb 2014 20:01:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=740305 littlebangtheory.wordpress

 

When I peruse the websites of some of my local yards, it seems like some of these cars have very little damage but some insurance adjuster has written them off based on whatever metric the company uses.

I’m an experienced shadetree mechanic and it seems like getting a 3-4 year old car for 30% of its original MSRP would be a screaming deal, and since warranty coverage is no longer an issue, it comes down to diminished value on the salvage title. I tend to keep my cars for 8-10 years so who cares.

Here’s where my doubts creep in.

If it was such a great idea, I would have surely read more about it. In the case of this one nearby yard,  they have a huge collision repair facility. So why aren’t they repairing and flipping these cars? Googling doesn’t provide a whole lot on the pros and cons, just on the procedural aspects.

Any experience or stories ?

Steve Says:

Plenty of them.

This past storm through Atlanta recently totaled two of my financed vehicles, and late last year, I had two others that succumbed to the laws of physics.

The best way I can answer your answer is by working backwards by starting with older salvage vehicles first.

If you are looking for the best deal on a salvage vehicle in terms of daily transportation, it’s going to typically be the older, unloved, unpopular vehicle that merely has cosmetic damage.

A 10 year old Saturn with the rear bumper bashed in.

The older SAAB that was well kept, but was hit in that precise point on the front quarter that would require the removal and repainting of the hood, front bumper, and quarter panel if it were brought up to spec.

There are a lot of used cars that are totaled which fit this description. Minivans that don’t have good leather seats or automatic doors. Sitckshifts in non-sporty vehicles. Unloved older SUV’s, orphaned brands, and of course, station wagons.

The exact same types of vehicles that are unpopular and obscure to the non-enthusiast, are those that can provide the best bang for the buck for the shadetree frugalist who wants to explorer the salvage side of the business.

You have to still do all the homework you regularly do when buying a clean title vehicle. It is essential to go and inspect the vehicle in person and figure out the history. Even with doing all that, the buyer fees will negate much of the advantage you supposedly may have.

Plus, there is that one annoying fact with salvage vehicles. They can often have hidden surprises.

If you are serious about doing this, make sure you have easy access to a spare inoperable car that can be used as a reasonably cheap source for parts.

As for the late model vehicle? Don’t even try. The most popular ones are often shipped overseas where the local markets offer a far greater tolerance for substandard repairs, and where the labor rates are a small fraction of those in the United States.

The price of used cars is also far higher in the majority of countries outside the United States. We are known as a “high-content” market which means that many models that appear to have low to mid-level features are considered loaded vehicles in those overseas markets. The exporters can often buy higher than most others, with a few experienced rebuilders who have the resources and know-how to turn over higher end inventory.

My advice to you is to start small. Heck, you can take two unpopular Craigslist vehicles and make them into one with parts to spare. Or just visit a nearby used car dealership or title pawn company and tell them that you would be interested in buying their inop vehicles.

Specialize in a type of car and who knows? You may find yourself profiting from experience. Just don’t expect a $2000 lick every time you sell a salvage car. The market demand will likely be limited to hardcore enthusiasts and frugalists.

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New Or Used? : Excuse Me While I Contradict Myself… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-excuse-me-while-i-contradict-myself/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-excuse-me-while-i-contradict-myself/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 16:06:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=738593 car.mitula.us

A reader sent me these parameters for picking his next vehicle
I’m at a crossroads. I’m looking for a cheap – laughably cheap – like less-than-$3,000 cheap – car for my next daily driver. It’s got to be economical (near 30 mpg hwy) and fun to drive, with decent aftermarket support (so I can throw a couple mods at it – I’m a gearhead). Oh, and since I’m 6’1″ and have a 1-year old daughter, it needs a back seat.
We can skip the DSM/Mitsubishi reliability warning.
Much to the chagrin of most of TTAC’s Best and Brightest, I am a Mitsubishi enthusiast. Aside from a brief stint in an 89 Volvo 245 a couple years back, I’ve been driving Mitsubishi exclusively since 1996. Any mechanical problems I’ve had over the years were my own damn fault. Such is the price of learning-as-you-go.
I’ve got a giant “Wake up and drive” banner in my garage, and more left over DSM/GVR4/EVO bits than I really know what to do with. I am comfortable rebuilding pretty much anything from ECUs to engines to turbos to even replacing sections of the unitized chassis. I’m willing to negotiate on the character-vs-dependability piece, as I have two other vehicles to rely upon.
My first instinct – the obvious plan – is to pick up another DSM or GVR4; maybe an old Colt or Mirage. Any of the above could easily be a 200-300whp daily driver in short order, without much effort. But I’m looking to lock down my wheels for another 200,000 miles like I did with my bought-new-in-1996 Eagle Talon. I’m not looking to buy another daily driver for another decade after this, so I want it to be really good.
In the meantime, I’m daily driving what is basically a non-air conditioned riding lawn mower with a windshield 40 miles a day back and forth across Phoenix year ’round. I’m proud to be a charter member of the 100HP Club and I love my Rocinante, but I’m itching to get back into something as fun to drive quickly on tarmac as my Pajero is to drive on gravel.
Any ideas? :)
Steve Says:
Here are the two issues I see.
First, you say that you want to drive the vehicle for another 200,000 miles. Then, you say you aren’t willing to spend $3,000 on your next ride.
The avenues for achieving these seemingly disparate goals do exist. But to make it a success, you have to be willing to acknowledge a few things first.
The primary idea you have right now is that you simply don’t want to spend any long-term money in the pursuit of perpetual wheels. Believe it or not, you could do that since you also happen to be an expert in any area of the business where few others have experience or skills. Mitsubishi mechanics, old and new, are not exactly easy to find. I only know of one independent mechanic in over 15 years of this business.
So what I would do is this…
Get yourself a used car dealer’s license and start looking at buying wheels from the wholesale auctions. Start with one vehicle at a time.
Buy it. Fix it.  Advertise it. Sell it. Rinse and repeat.
I know that some folks try to take the tact of buying vehicles on Craigslist and working from there along with other online advertising site. The only problem with that is the time inefficiencies that come with dealing  an audience that is not exactly forthright in their disclosures. You could look at 12 vehicles at an auction over the course of an afternoon versus maybe two by traveling the Craigslist route.
If I were in your shoes, this is exactly what I would do. Take your skills and make them work for you so that you can make money in the long run. However, if time and monetary means make this a bit challenging, I’m sure the folks at TTAC could recommend plenty of DSM and orphaned models that will be worth your investment on a retail level.
Good luck!

 

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Hammer Time: Fharverg-nuttin! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hammer-time-fharverg-nuttin/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hammer-time-fharverg-nuttin/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 12:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=731802 vwvortex

It would take an immense amount of effort to prove that VW was not telling the truth in their latest Super Bowl commercial.

First you would have to pool registration data from dozens of different countries within the US, EU, Japan, China, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

That’s one tall order. To even make that remotely possible, you would have to get the data from the various states within those countries. Quite a few of them would likely have a hard time even coming up with data that is easily downloadable.

As for verification of mileage? Good luck with that! Even in the U.S. of A., not all states require emission and registration checks that verify the mileage.

So let’s remove probability altogether from VW’s Superbowl proclamation, and deal with the cold hard facts related to the wholesale side of this business.

What we have discovered after studying the long-term reliability of trade-ins throughout the United States, is that VW represents the slimey brown stuff above this engine (courtesy of VWVortex.com) when it comes to long-term reliability.

For starters, major VW brands in the USA (Audi and VW) have garnered the 2nd and 3rd lowest ratios for those vehicles that have made it to the 18 year mark. Click here for the results of 300,000+ vehicles currently logged in this study.

Volkswagen also has the lowest percentage of trade-ins with over 180k out of any major automaker in the study as well.

Who is worse out of 30+ brands? Only Jaguar and Mini are worse overall. Land Rover is roughly equal.

Finally, let me offer you an alternative shortcut if you don’t want to believe the data. Feel free to visit car-part.com and see how much it cost to replace various VW engines and transmissions. Call your neighborhood parts store and see how much more it cost to replace the hoses, alternators, and starters on a VW versus say, a Chevy or Toyota.

Hell, I recently bought a 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 with no issues for only $100 more than a stripper 2005 Ford Taurus with the same mileage that functioned as a rental car special, and had vinyl falling off the front door panels.

How did VW’s get to be so cheap in the wholesale side of the car business?

Because for most of the last 15 years, VW has cheaped out on quality parts like a broke Chinese construction company cheaps out on quality concrete. The mothership may blame Inaki Lopez and his minions for that turn in quality. But the truth? The absolute truth?

VW doesn’t care. They have screwed their consumer base for the sole pursuit of short-term profits here in North America for a very long time and are finally, by the grace of God, paying for those sins. Their cheaped out latest offerings in the United States continue to do them no favors, and I’m willing to bet that the “We’re #1 at over 100k!” remark will not resonate in a marketplace where 200k has already become yesterday’s 100k.

Am I wrong? Maybe. So let me ask you. Would you recommend a VW? If so, what model?

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Hammer Time: $100 Worth Of Charity… And Fun? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-100-worth-of-charity-and-fun/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-100-worth-of-charity-and-fun/#comments Fri, 31 Jan 2014 14:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=726314 exp1

By the time you read this, I will have bought the last $100 car sold at a public auction… that actually runs!

This 1994 Ford Explorer XL has just under 94,000 miles and has been sitting at a local water department for a couple of years now. The exterior is nothing special, but the interior is surprisingly intact and well kept.

Which begs the question, what the hell should I do with this thing?

exp2

There are a couple of ideas I have that may be worth the effort, or maybe not.

The first is to donate the Explorer to a local food bank called Helping Hands.  A local non-profit here in rural Georgia that feeds a lot more people in my county than you would imagine. It would be a nice noble gesture, and what helps out even more,  is that I also have a second Explorer.

explorer5

A 1993 model, that happens to run perfectly fine as well. Although it has a few (cough! cough!) cosmetic issues that I covered up with the finest duct tape, thumbtacks, and staple guns that are in my storage shed.

explorer7

So hypothetically, I could give both to the charity so that food runs could be made on a weekly basis. Or I could just retail both, donate the proceeds, and let volunteers continue to use their own vehicles.

It all sounds like a good and easy thought for a rare snowy north Georgia afternoon. But then, I had this strange thought in my head that just wouldn’t quit.

“How far could I make a $100 car work if I kept on retailing the proceeds, and wrote about it?”

explorer6

What if I reconditioned both vehicles a bit, re-sold them during tax season, buy another vehicle or two, rinsed, repeated, and kept trying to pay it forward until the end of the year?

Maybe the $515 I have invested at the moment in these two (along with the duct tape) can turn into $5000? Or more?

Maybe I may just end up with two cars that are junkyard fodder? Financially these two running vehicles would yield more from the local recycling center than what I already paid for them. So the risk here isn’t that much.

exp3

There have been mumblings about getting a fun car for a while now here at TTAC. At the moment, I have a 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood stretch limo that was apparently used by a strip joint in Miami way back in the Clinton Era, and I have, well, these two Explorers. I have about $3200 in the Cadillac, and until my kids have degrees and that rare good job, I need to keep that money working for me. But these two Explorers I can definitely spare, and invest a bit of my time and resources.

So what should I do? Buy? Sell? Hold? Donate? Offer Firestone a golden opportunity to associate themselves with Explorers in a good way? I’m always open to suggestions, and volunteers.

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Hammer Time: Opposites Detract http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-opposites-detract/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-opposites-detract/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=725978 Ford_vs._Chevy_cover

There are some things that I am too damn old and open-minded to understand.

Like hating a car brand. Especially in those common cases where folks haven’t been exposed to any level of vehicle derived hardships.

Toyotas are boring. BMW’s are Yuppie-mobiles. Mercedes-Benzes are for snobs. On an on, through the lexicon of cliche and generalizations comes the silliest of stereotypes. As much as I hate to see it, hear it, and read it, I’m resigned to the fact that there is always going to be some version of this nuttiness in our world.

But what if there was an easier means to defeat it? In fact, as many of you know, there already is. A force of human good that can outdo any scam artist or snake oil salesman.

The enthusiast forum.

Every time I buy a vehicle that I haven’t bought before at the auctions, I try to find out if there is an online enthusiast group that specializes in that particular model.

Some of the sites have surprised the heck out of me for their model based loyalty and goodwill.  Chevettes, Tauruses, Fieros, Old Supras. As for ye olde Volvos and Benzes, there seem to be at least six or so sites that have offered their good word to thousands of devout followers. Even if I have little love for the car, there are hundreds of enthusiasts out there that can make me fall in love with the literary works that come from owning one.

One of the reasons why I love visiting these enthusiast forums is that the main contributors are almost always genuinely interesting people. From concrete layers who are into eastern philosophies, to tried and true professional race car drivers with New Jerseyite vocabularies. There always seems to be a beautiful egalitarian streak of wanting to help other fellow car owners regardless of who they are, what they believe, and even how they behave.

In a business bent on the glorification and financing of everyday transportation, I find that desire to extend the ownership period, and keep people debt free, truly valuable. It functions as a vital counterweight to our society’s commercialized push towards all things new.

Enthusiast forums also contain a unique balance between the driving enthusiast and the car keeping frugalist. The active members of the community want fun, high quality and reasonable costs. More importantly, nearly all these sites espouse a hardcore philosophy that every vehicle should have the opportunity to be used to the fullest of it’s capabilities. Even the lousy lower end versions with trashy engines and interiors that make you feel like you’re stuck in some remote corner of a Tupperware party. That jalopy of a car may indeed drink, smoke and hang out with the bad boys. It may even be worth more dead than alive. But it still has a fighting chance for rehabilitation when it finds the right crowd of auto enthusiasts.

Within all these enthusiast forums though comes a unique problem.

Access to the information. Referencing these places, easily so that consumers can easily jump from reading about the car from an old review, which is where most car searches begin for the non-enthusiast, to truly knowing about that car in one fell swoop. There are thousands of enthusiast sites and yet, it’s hard for them to get the word out about specific issues and recommendations that can better help the mainstream used car buyer before he makes a fatal mistake.

Many of us have the common sense needed to do a thorough due diligence of the car we plan on buying and keeping because, we love cars. But for those who don’t love cars, it’s an inconvenience. Information begats more information and sadly enough, a lot of these used car buyers will be overexposed to the sausage makers of our business who have absolutely no handle on the long-term issues of these vehicles, and no incentive to report them. In fact, a lot of the reviews out there are just rehashed versions of new car reviews that were only written to move the metal.

So I’m debating about whether to expand the long-term reliability study so that it can incorporate links that will allow used car buyers to go directly from the objective data, to the subjective opinions and insights of long time owners and enthusiasts.

Two articles I have recently written at Yahoo!, here and here, have received a lot of emails from used car shoppers who are happy with the data, but want more help with their search. It’s one thing to say that a car is generally reliable, or unreliable, and quite another to show a car’s specific weaknesses so that small problems don’t become terminal in the long run.

The good news is that we should have enough information to break all this out by a model year and even a powertrain basis in the near future. A long lasting Beetle with a TDI engine and a 5-speed should be treated differently than a Beetle with a defect prone automatic transmission and a 1.8 Liter. So in time, as the number of data samples crosses the half-million to million mark, that specific data will be broken out as well.

In a perfect world, I would like to display specific threads at the enthusiast forums that will provide the personal experiences behind these distinctions.  Partially to support the findings as they evolve, and more importantly, to offer an easy way to introduce casual car owners to the value of certain well-run enthusiast forums.

Is it a good idea? Are there certain enthusiast forums that should be the holy books of knowledge for specific models? Any that should be avoided at all costs?

Feel free to mention them below. Oh, and this information in the long-term reliability study will be provided for free, forever. I am not going to pretend that this study will have all the answers or all the resources that can be harnessed on a wholesale level of this business. In fact, I plan on highlighting a lot of the limitations later this week at TTAC so that somebody, somewhere, may have the opportunity to make it better.

No system or study is perfect, which is one of the reasons why I asked for volunteers early on. We, even those who are experts, do not have all the answers. However there should always be free and public resources within the greater community that serve the common good, and this may serve as another good opportunity to pay it forward.

So as this study expands and more refined, I’m going to ask for help from those who have a genuine interest in building this. Statisticians, car nuts, concrete layers, all are welcome. With enough help from the enthusiast community, I think we can fill in the gap between those first owners that are featured by Consumer Reports, who typically keep a car for only about six years, and those later owners who will experience their own unique issues and levels of reliability as the vehicles age. Who knows? Maybe the study may save your progeny from an under-engineered CVT or an electric car that mysteriously loses it’s juice at the 100k mark.

All the best! And thanks for all you do. Feel free to leave your enthusiast forum recommendations below along with your thoughts and ideas.

 

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Hammer Time: The Automotive Extremist http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-the-automotive-extremist/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-the-automotive-extremist/#comments Wed, 29 Jan 2014 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=726490 amazon

Life is sometimes about extremes, and with the extreme life of buying and selling cars comes two cars, recently purchased by me, which easily represent the polar opposites of all things automotive.


Last week, as many of you know, I bought an 03 VW Passat with about 157k and the completely unloved W8 engine.

w81

This Passat was easily the dowdiest looking of all the German V8 cars from that era according to our august founder Robert Farago. Plain jane 10 year old VW exterior. The same cheap interior panels as a $25k Passat. It consumes gas like a 15 year old minivan and yet… the damn thing has a beautiful ride.

w83

 

Strong, stable, commanding, all the things that you find with the top dollar German luxury machinery back then with a pretty wicked four-wheel drive. But it would also be one nasty bastard to maintain if you kept it.

w82
This Monday I bought this Passat’s alter ego.

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A 2007 Corolla CE with the 5-speed, roll-up windows, power mirrors and locks, 145k miles, and a CD player. How Toyota came up with the idea of offering power everything but windows I can’t say, but this car is pretty much the most easy to drive car I have ever owned. Well, the other 30 or so Corollas I’ve bought are pretty much from the same ilk.

corolla3

 

I’m sure it would return 35 miles per gallon and then some if you did plenty of highway and country driving. The only problem with it is the interior is like dwelling in some remote corner of a Tupperware party.

corolla4

You have to keep one car for the next five years, and suicide is not an option. Which one would you chose?

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Hammer Time: What Hath Thou Wrought? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-what-hath-thou-wrought/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-what-hath-thou-wrought/#comments Wed, 22 Jan 2014 17:07:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=705314 07dts1

98 dealers are busy looking at 89 vehicles. Check engine lights are being scanned. The hoods are opened, engines are revved, and Bluetooth is the technology of the moment. Wholesalers, along with professional car buyers like me, are busy making arrangements with those dealers and individuals who want to buy an auction vehicle on the cheap.

There’s only one problem with all this. We’re on the eve of tax season. A time where everyone short on dough files a tax return on the expectation of a nice four-figured refund in early February. Millions of those refunds will eventually be used towards one of three purposes: paying down debt, purchasing electronics, or putting a down payment towards a nice used car that will likely be financed to the hilt.

The prices at this specific auction are always high. But today, they were in outer space.

94Mark1

It all started with #9. A rolling museum piece with only 56,812 miles. Yes, that

This 1994 Lincoln Mark VIII was the cleanest vehicle I have found of it’s ilk in nearly six years. The leather seats were pristine. The body was as smooth as can be with none of the bumper ridden scuff marks that are all too common in the last of the great Lincoln coupes. I was so enamored with it, that I posted the vehicle on Facebook for my fellow Lincoln enthusiasts to admire. One of which apparently goes by the name of Doctor V8.

It’s rare for me to find an old car at the auctions that was a showhorse instead of a workhorse. So naturally, like every other old vehicle I find, I try to get it out to the enthusiasts among us. After a short drive, I am at the auction at the crack of dawn downloading pictures to the doctor, in a climate that I can only describe as the Atlanta arctic.

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mark83 mark82

Yes, that is ice forming on the hood. Atlanta is now nearly as cold as the rest of the east coast.

I told the doctor that I thought the price would go for a round $3300 on the block. Lo and behold, I got up to $3400 and of course, someone else out there outbid me at $3500. If this had been an LSC model of a 96′ vintage, I would have kept going. But a $3500 bid plus a $165 auction fee, plus my fee of $300 for inspect, appraising and buying the car (I gave him a discount) would have resulted in a 20 year old car with $4000 invested. That $4000 is before any unforeseen reconditioning costs, or the cost of shipping it out to Texas. It was obviously time to cut bait. An act that I was bound to repeat with several more cars that day including this one…

03rover80k1

this one…

00Maxima1

and this one… 02SantaFe

 

I just couldn’t get a break, and then of course, it happened.

There are cars that I will sometimes buy just for the learning curve that can come from actually getting it ready for sale. Sounds silly on the surface. But a lot of my early fortunes came from fixing unique problems on vehicles that don’t require as much of an investment as people think.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Administering the Gibbons method on the transmissions of 2000 to 2007 Volvos that have the number 60,70, or 80 in their name.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Replacing the resistors on the instrument clusters of Buick Centurys and Regals that no longer show their odometers.

These types of vehicles, and many others, don’t move that quickly on the lots. Especially these days. But if you focus on a few unpopular vehicles with a lot of high-end features, and try to hit em’ where they ain’t, you can lay the groundwork for doing well on the finance side of this business.  A loaded car that has been maintained well will almost always be taken over the plain jane cloth version of an older popular vehicle.

So every once in a blue moon, I experiment.

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This is a vehicle that nearly everybody in my business is scared shitless over buying. Not because they have bought it. But it is more or less the triumvirate of challenge. Hard to fix. Gas guzzler. Volkswagen. I have never bought one of these before. But the more I looked online on the day before the sale, and the more I talked to one of the mechanics in my neck of the woods who specializes in Volkswagens and Audis, the more I liked the idea of testing the waters and seeing what happens.

sat2

So this is it. A 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 with an automatic and the 4motion all-wheel drive system. 155k and no announcements. I bought it for $2600 plus a $155 auction fee which was only $100 more than a plain jane 05 maroon Taurus with a cloth interior, 130k miles, and the Vulcan V6.

sat3

This car has the fuel economy of a minivan (18 city / 25 highway) and drives ‘heavy’ on the road. It’s actually not a bad vehicle from an engineering standpoint, and I think it has a compelling look to it when you see it in person. At least the color and the wheels are distinctive enough to attract eyeballs at a retail lot. However, as the great Robert Farago pointed out in his review of this vehicle, this car is pretty much the dowdiest V8 luxury car in the German fleet of that era.

If you are a road warrior in the rust belt who happens to know a VW mechanic and isn’t against buying a spare VW from a salvage auction company like Copart or IAA, I can see this car working out. Heck, you could probably sell off the parts through enthusiast sites and make your money back on the donor car with plenty of parts to spare for yourself.

I probably wouldn’t do it though. This uber-Passat came from an era with too many uber-cars that were simply under-engineered for the long haul. Pontiac Grand Prix GTP’s with combustible transmissions, Jaguar S-Type R’s with the potential for more high cost breakables than a pissed off bull in a Chinese pottery shop.

The Audi everything, the Mercedes everything else, the Northstar equipped Cadillacs, and of course the Beelzebub of all luxurious automotive devils, the BMW 7-series from that same era mid-200′s era. The whole heavy, straight line, high maintenance, high repair era of automobiles from the Bush era has given a lot of tinkerers the opportunity to be screwed once they realized that it truly takes a lot of experience and equipment to keep these things going past the 100k mark. Not to mention money for ever more rare electronics. Oh well.

There was one opposite side to that storm of deserved depreciation. This 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser.

99Cruiser1

 

250,000 miles divided by 50 verifiable visits to the Toyota dealership apparently equaled an $8500 net purchase at the auction. That price was $500 more than a 2011 Nissan Sentra S with only 67k miles, and $700 more than a 2007 Volkswagen GTI with 76k miles.

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It even beat the holy water out of a 2003 Land Rover Discovery with 80k miles that went for $5700. The difference is that the Land Rover had the usual Christmas tree lights on the dashboard (check engine, ABS, traction control, hill descent, etc) while the only malady of the Land Cruiser was the odometer cluster that actually worked. This Land Cruiser will likely be exported and have it’s odometer rolled back. As for that Range Rover? It went to a specialist.

Apparently knowing how to fix em’ and offer them to an enthusiast audience has it’s benefits… and it’s pitfalls. What a hell of a way to start off a Monday. Anyone want a Passat?

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Hammer Time: Is Reliability Getting Old? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-is-reliability-getting-old/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-is-reliability-getting-old/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 15:24:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=701097 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“You can have any car you want. So long as it’s a Toyota or Honda.”

My parents had offered to split the costs of a new car with me back in 1994. That matching policy eventually included an awful lot of disclaimers and exclusions.

“No V8! No V6! No turbo! No stick! No convertible! No small car! No! Nein! Nyet!”

I eventually settled on a red Toyota Camry Coupe that served me well for 12 years and nearly 240k miles. It’s still on the road, which is funny because my brother, who had an equal bent on the Toyonda reliability supremacy, did something unusual recently.

He bought an Audi. Then he did something even stranger than that… he bought another.

Now the first Audi he bought was a lease. So that doesn’t count for very much. But the second one he bought outright for his college attending daughter. A sharp girl who simply couldn’t give two flips about the brand of car she drives.

It was a used, CPO, three year old Audi A4. Even with a few minor electric bugaboos, the car went out the door real quick. This car buying decision was highly unusual for a guy who kept up with cars and had bought nothing but new Hondas and Toyotas for nearly 30 years.

He knew all too well about the historical reliability issues with VW products. He even enjoyed the two Toyotas and one Honda he bought before going completely cold turkey on them about 10 years ago. When it came to spending that large chunk of cash on a daily driver, he crunched the numbers just like he always does on a spreadsheet, and checked off the usual must-haves.

But those numbers and wants yielded a final decision that was far different than those times of 10, 20 and even 30 years ago.

The 1984 Celica Supra. The 1994 Camry Wagon and the 2003 Honda Pilot have all given way to a 2012 Audi A6 and and a 2013 Audi A4.

I can see three big reasons why this happened.

The first is the length of warranties for used cars Certified Pre-Owned programs. The pushing of long-term warranties into the late model used car market have enabled brands that were once reliability pariahs, to become unusually competitive to today’s once untouchable reliable brands.

The removal of repair risk is a game changer for car buyers like my brother. Just as the Treasury guarantees their notes regardless of the current debt, that CPO warranty is guaranteeing the manufacturers product regardless of it’s potential repair issues. That vehicle may have thick black dots on Consumer Reports. Or even a long list of complaints about a specific mechanical issue that is a mere Google search away. It doesn’t matter, at least for right now. Because all those parts that may go south are covered to a further extent than the boring new car alternative.

The consumer’s perception of a CPO vehicle is that the warranty will make the repair costs for that sporty, fun, prestigious vehicle similar to the most drop dead boring, toaster personality, reliable competitor. Perception is often the only reality that matters in the marketplace, which is why late-model European models in particular have largely adapted a process of catering to the lease crowd first and the CPO seeking customer later.

So why buy a new boring or cheap car when a three old fun-to drive alternative offers more bang for the buck and a better warranty? For those who are used to trading or selling their car once it hits 100,000 miles, the broadened CPO programs have greatly expanded the scope of vehicles that are considered reliable enough to handle that mileage period.

The second reason for the decline of reliability based car buying, is that cars are increasingly  seen as a durable goods in the marketplace. Old diesel benzes, Volvos, Toyotas & Hondas were once the gold standard  for those who were seeking long-term car ownership.

Now, even the worst brands are assumed to have lifetimes well into the double digits. Some may last as long as 15 or 20 years in many parts of this country.

There is a long list of legitimate reasons why this has become the case. The institution of lean production methods. The development of polymers, petrochemicals and other materials that have longer lives and better resistance to age and wear. Even the shuttering of unprofitable brands has enabled certain manufacturers to focus more on the quality of their offerings, instead of what could kindly be called a pointless plentitude of cosmetic primpings.

There are countless honest to goodness reasons why the 10 to 15 year old car of today is seen as capable of lasting 20 years or beyond, and that psychological reality has made reliability seem to be more of a rule and less of an exception.

The final issue I will cover here (I’m sure all of you will chime in with other good ideas) is that the internet has essentially wounded the standard bearers of reliability information in the automotive industry. I can go to carsurvey.org and find over 100,000 feedbacks from folks who have actually owned and kept specific vehicles. Edmunds, Yahoo!, MSN, Kelly Blue Book, a long, long list of automotive sites that provide information to a mass audience now offer reliability information and insights for essentially nothing. Want to go deeper? There are hundreds of enthusiast sites that make the car buying experience as detail driven as you want it to become.

You don’t need to subscribe to anything. You don’t need to wonder what the real difference is between a half blackened oval and an almost fully blackened oval with a strange dot in the middle. You can read actual personal feedback from folks who have owned the specific model that interests you and if you want to learn more, just keep reading… and reading…

This access to knowledge has changed not only what people buy, but what they’re willing to spend. A young person may not have a fondness for older cars in the beginning of their search for a daily driver. But if they reads a long list of happy feedback from a brand that is defunct, or a model that is no longer sold, that consumer may just decide that the popular reliable car is not worth what could amount to a near five-figured price premium.

A 15 year old so-called beater car, at least according to the information in front of them, can do the commutes just as well as a five year old car that would put them in debt. So why not? After all, many of those older beater cars still look great, drive well, and last for the long haul.

There are a long list of reasons why reliability is becoming more of a given and less of a means to differentiate one car over another. So feel free to share your thoughts, and to those of you who offered me a Happy Birthday yesterday, thanks. I am still thankfully young in what may very well be a long, long period of middle-age.

 

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Hammer Time: Blessed Art Thou Sausage Makers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-blessed-art-thou-sausage-makers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-blessed-art-thou-sausage-makers/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 14:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=675834 Phony

In the world of auto journalism, there are a laundry list of used car buyer’s guides that end up molderizing on shelves and stagnating on servers.

These self anointed guides will offer the typical consumer nothing of value except puffed up prose designed solely, and soullessly, to make you feel better about your own car buying biases.

Let me take that back. Did I say nothing of value? My mistake. I meant negative value. As in you’re probably going to get royally screwed if you ever take their advice. Here’s why…

1. The journalists who cover the used car side of the business for these publications typically don’t actually drive the cars they review. A lot of the used car buying guides out there are written by what would kindly be called, “sausage makers.” Journalists who take portions of new car reviews that are already on the web, and repackage them into re-hashed stale prose for the oblivious reader.

2. The other more experienced writers just don’t have any extensive frame of reference when it comes to used cars. They may have kept one to three personal drivers over the last several years, often times classic and custom builds, and that’s about it.  As a result they are stuck in the anecdotal world of, “Well Jack? I know this used car was good for the family member/neighbor/ local taxi company… so I’m sure it will be a good car for you.”

3. Then there are the lucky hundreds in our industry who are forever stuck in that heavenly shangri-la of combed over press fleet cars. They get the pleasure of driving a brand new car, with a full tank of gas, that is usually detailed and tended to by a “Media Fleet Management Company.” These folks will write the types of glossy prose that attract the eyeballs of new car buyers. Some are truly great with the craft and have a well-earned reputation with their audience. Others not so much.

As for the used car buyer? They are tended to by the sausage makers. Folks who will repackage new car reviews for the proverbial buck that comes with mild historic revisionism.

The sausage makers of our business will be dealing with the 2014 models in the years to come once the new car reviews get repackaged, and remarketed, to the used car audience. When it comes to their reviews, you will find the usual chunks of phrasing and rephrasing of information that is already out there. They will have everything the new car review had, and for good reason.

This lack of useful information is not uncommon at all for many industries (and companies) with hundreds to thousands of products available to the everyday consumer. My first job out of school was partially composed of writing glorified descriptions of Korean food for a food import company. I knew absolutely squat about foods like agar-agar or conch. What saved me back in 1995 was the very same thing that saves most used car reviewers of the modern day, an internet search engine.

We all have to start somewhere. Robin Williams has a fond saying when it comes to this type of behavior which he partially borrowed from P.T. Barnum, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, and jerk the rest off!” Automotive publications that attempt to cover the used car market, with a few notable exceptions, are to varying degrees, media driven jerk-off operations.

The reviews are designed to make you fall in love with a given product. Or at least cater to the bias confirmations within all of us. It’s a sound decision on paper given that the used car market tends to be anywhere between two to three times bigger than the new car market. It’s good business, which is why 98+% of most used car reviews range from the mildly positive to the exuberant.

So who can you trust when it comes to used cars?

You can typically only find a small part of the overall truth from two types of sources. Subscription based publications such as Consumer Reports and TrueDelta that actually sample and poll a large captive audience. These are good sources once the number of samples is reflective of a broad audience. You can also go more towards the anecdotal, with owner review sites such as carsurvey.org and enthusiast sites that focus on a specific brand or model. The enthusiast sites have small audiences and a hopelessly inflated view of their daily driver, while Consumer Reports has limited data due to many of their respondents trading in their vehicles at a given point and time, instead of keeping them for the long haul.

It’s not an easy answer, and often times you have to piece things together. A lot of the cars that have been endorsed in times past as reliable and recommended during their early years (think older V6 Camrys and Accords, and a slew of VW products) were often times sitting on a firm foundation of data that only eroded with the irreversible wear of cheap materials and defective designs. That transmission which implodes around the 90k to 120k may seem like the proverbial rock of Girbraltar until that second or third car owner is given an unpleasant surprise way down the line of ownership.

Then what happens to their car? Two things. It gets repaired or traded-in. Contrary to popular belief, automakers won’t typically offer a recall, design improvement, or warranty extension unless it serves their long-term financial interests. That $2000 transmission you are about to pay for may offer the automaker more net profit than your entire vehicle did when new.

As for the second or third car owner goes who got their ride on the cheap? They are mere specklings of marketing dust in a cosmos where the real stars buy new (or certified pre-owned) and get the vehicle serviced at the dealership.

This brings me to what I see as the big question for enthusiasts and the everyday consumer. When it comes to researching a used car, where do you go? Who can you trust? Do the Consumer Reports, Carsurveys, and TrueDeltas of this world offer the content you need to make a sound decision? Or is it the enthusiast sites that highlight some of the more extreme issues and opportunities that come with buying a specific used car?

Should automotive publications that primarily serve the new car market be used as a frame of reference as well? Or do commerce based sites like Autotrader and Cars.com offer more accurate information? Speaking of commerce, does resale price reflect the true worth of a used car or are there some hidden gems that simply don’t get picked up on the popularity radar?

As a longtime car dealer and Sabermetrics enthusiast, I am developing my own unique evaluation tools when it comes to measuring the overall satisfaction with used cars. What should be yours?

 

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Hammer Time: The Cars Of The Cave Bears http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-the-cars-of-the-cave-bears/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-the-cars-of-the-cave-bears/#comments Wed, 08 Jan 2014 13:30:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=693697 Click here to view the embedded video.

I live in a small, genteel, Southern colonial home that comes with all the local goodies.

An over-sized ceiling fan in every room. A little front porch that offers a palatial view of the rolling prairies of Deliverance country.

Throw in a mint julep, homemade lemonade, and the belting baritone of Paul Robeson, and the world becomes my oyster.

Except not right now. It’s too damn cold outside. Which got me to thinking…

What would you say is the best car for cold weather?

Part of me would say that the Swedes would have this wrapped up. Volvos from the 850 on forward have offered heating systems that are warm enough to tend to the most delicate of Southern frailties after a few minutes of cold.

Whenever I used to take my family from their comfortable bucolic life of North Georgia, to my brutal native land of Northern New Jersey, I would take a Volvo along for the ride. Great heat. Wonderful leather seats. A nice balance of good outdoor visibility and a cocoon-like interior. A lot of folks don’t have a lot of love for the 850/S70 Volvos for their long-term cost and reliability issues, but I have always enjoyed their balance of safety, good heat, and solid fuel economy.

I like SAABs as well for many of the same reasons. Great seats, nice heat, livable fuel economy, and packaging that strikes the right balance of sight and safety when visiting the cold strange ancient lands that are no longer my home. The fact that older GM based sleds, like the more recent SAABs, tend to offer outstanding heat, also helps balance off some of the quirkiness of these vehicles.

Still, I wonder on a day like this whether there are other rides that are even better choices? Does a Jeep Grand Cherokee offer a better cold weather package than a Ford Explorer? Would a Lincoln Town Car be more safe and splendorous than a Cadillac Escalade if you had to do your daily commutes in the coldest of cold winters? Small heating area favors the smaller rides. But then you have to worry about everyone else on the road.

So my question for you is, if you had to survive with cold weather, snow and ice for twelve months of the year and had, say, a $30,000 budget for anything new or used, what would be your choice?

Oh, and a one way ticket to a country that plays limbo with the equator does not count. Please consider this a chance to spend $30k on something that would almost make that trade of temp worth it.

 

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Hammer Time: The ‘Almost’ Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/hammer-time-the-almost-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/hammer-time-the-almost-car/#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 13:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=688338
20131212_103035

“You know, I always wanted a…”

Those words are about as common as kudzu at my Georgia car lot.

They aren’t usually reserved for the late model vehicles though. When it comes to the primary drivers, customers are always willing to fork out the money for their dream car.

It’s the second older dream car, or third-string beater dream car that slides down the scale from want to nothingness.

You know what the most popular ‘almost’ car is these days?

Big cars.

The shape or form doesn’t really matter. You have everything from full-sized luxurious chrome ridden mastodons, to bare bones rugged rock climbers whose only real weekend exercises will come in the form of jumping curbs and cutting out the Mini Cooper at the Starbucks.

If it’s big and old, a car lover won’t want to drive it every day. But they will certainly love to have the dream of owning.

Folks love to have the space, utility and luxury of a vehicle that can handle all their 1% jobs. Even if the money is not there… for now…

An older Silverado or F150 that could handle the towing of their imaginary boat. The minivan that can help them become collectors and hoarders. Even the once reviled, but now older SUV, is finally at that price point where car shoppers can kick the tires, daydream, shrug, and walk away.

As the years go by, there are fewer and fewer of those ‘good’ older wonders to buy. For example, up to a few years ago, I used to get anywhere from three to six older 240′s a year whether I wanted them or not. Now it seems like this next year may be my one last good chance to own a well-kept Volvo 240 now that the youngest one is a mere whisker away from the drinking age of 21.

For folks in the car business, the rear view mirror of longing for us long-timers is fading into the firmament of long lost glories such as the 1st gen Lexus LS400 and the Mistubishi Eclipse GSX. When we find them in good shape, we often pay a pretty penny just for the privilege of temporarily owning it.

 

I have been lucky as h-e-double hockey sticks

 

A drop dead gorgeous 1995 BMW 540i that I recently bought. Another 'almost' car that is still looking for a good owner.

A drop dead gorgeous 1995 BMW 540i that I recently bought. Another ‘almost’ car that is still looking for a good owner.

to have the pleasure of taking out near immaculate 20 year old rides, and giving them a few days worth of personal sentimentality before unleashing them to the next owner. Then again, I haven’t sampled everything quite yet.

For some strange (healthy?) reason, I never had the pleasure of buying an early 90′s Range Rover or, on the opposite side of the ledger, a Lotus Espirit. I am sure that either one would be a complete money loser for yours truly. But that doesn’t mean I won’t blow my financials brains out in the near future by buying one.

If it was on a bedroom poster back when I was a teenager, I want it, and chances are you’re in the same exact boat of old-school contentment.

20131212_100839

So what out there represents your ‘almost’ car? We all aspire to the right lottery jackpot and a one of a kind Ferrari. But given your current means and ends, what out there makes you say, “Hmmm… just maybe… someday, that will be mine.”

Just not today.

 

 

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Hammer Time: Financial Hypnosis On A Per Mile Basis http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/hammer-time-financial-hypnosis-on-a-per-mile-basis/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/hammer-time-financial-hypnosis-on-a-per-mile-basis/#comments Tue, 10 Dec 2013 17:16:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=676282 ttac

The three year lease.

It entrances and traps the most spellbound car aficionados into a monthly payment that keeps them at the altar of the car payment.

Is that a bad thing? Well, depends on the way you want to look at it. What can’t be argued is that both sides get what they want, and after three years, that customer can choose to stay with the manufacturer or go somewhere else. To me at least, that seems like a fair bargain.

But what if the automaker could offer a better deal? For both parties?

Per mile cost of ownership models are still in their infancy. Yes, there are tacky penalties that are added to most lease agreements in the U.S. and elsewhere. Other countries have also developed unique pricing models, such as in Israel. Where car buyers (in the absolute loosest meaning of that phrase, since most cars are leased) get to own a car for a specific period of time, and then skip the last ‘ballon payment’ and give it back to the dealer who initially sold it.

What I’m thinking is a bit simpler than that.

You have a sliding scale. New cars would start off on the same type of leases that exist now, except they would be marketed on a per mile basis.

Lease a Corolla for only 25 cents a mile! Blow your financial brains out on a BMW for only 59 cents a mile! There would be minimal mileage requirement, say you have to pay for at least 10,000 miles a year, and all the other usual small print that comes with a typical lease.

Except it wouldn’t be a lease. You would be renting it and have an automatic draw done on your credit/debit card on a weekly basis. No hassle. No haggle. Just a flat rate for as long as you want to own drive the car.

Sounds a lot like the past standard rate plans we have with cell phones? Well, sure, but a driver can do a lot more damage to a car than a cell phone. The manufacturers want to protect their own assets, and auto insurance companies don’t make allowances for the lead foots and pigpens of the modern marketplace.

So with that in mind I want to immediately inform you that there will be a few (cough! cough!) restrictions and opportunities that would come with the contract.

Let’s start with the good news. Low cost and no obligation.  Insurance, maintenance, taxes… everything except the source of propulsion would be paid for with your per mile rental price. If either you or the automaker are unsatisfied at any time, simply make the necessary arrangements and move onward with your lives. No debt. No worries.

If you don’t like the way the car drives, looks, steers, looks or smells, you can throw that smelly fish back in the sea of automotive inventory. Of course that luxury would come at a premium on your per mile price. But the actuarial scientists will figure out a way to make it all work for you.

They may also ask for a few healthy modifications to your driving style.

For starters, the speed limit IS your limit. There will be a little warning light that will post on the dashboard for excessive speeds.

During such times your car may be ‘throttled’ to limit the excessive acceleration. Sounds Draconian? Cell phone providers have been doing it to you for quite a while now.

You could press the emergency button to override this feature, which would immediately notify the nearest law enforcement officers that you need to proceed to the nearest medical center. As a public service you will be escorted. and of course, a false alarm associated with abuse of the manufacturers property will result in immediate loss of use of said property, speeding fines, public endangerment fines, a bill for unwarranted use of public services, remedial driving classes, community service, and an uncomfortable visit with the dour men who wear black robes.

Then again, what’s there to worry about?  You, Mr. Customer, aren’t a lawbreaker. So obviously you won’t have to worry about any of this.  As a courtesy, let me inform you of a few other things you won’t have to worry about.

Certain irrational driving behaviors that can damage the vehicle, such as shifting from reverse to drive, will first be met with a warning. Then a fine. Then the disabling of the vehicle with nearby officers en route while a driver training video blares forth on the dashboard.

It may be this one for distracted driving.

Click here to view the embedded video.

This one for excessive speed. (Note: NSFW)

Click here to view the embedded video.

Or even this one in the case of an odd vehicular malfunction.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Long story short, there will be no hooning with these rented rides. No texting. Hell, you better be wearing gloves tighter than OJ’s to make sure it stays in clean condition as well. The low cost of the rental is entirely dependent on a high resale value, which means you must walk that line you agreed to when you signed on the dotted line.

What else? Seat belt? Emergency brake? Mirrors? Turn that phone off!

And a 5 cent per mile credit for good behavior… at least for now…

Here’s the brutal truth folks. I know that there are a few (cough!) exaggerations with this model. And yet, if the marketplace eventually moves forward with driverless vehicles, virtually everything I mentioned above may become a reality for millions of people who see cars as little more than transportation modules.

In otherwords, the majority of today’s automotive market.

Most consumers don’t want to own their cars. They don’t want the debt of a consumer loan. They don’t want to pay lump sums in taxes, insurance and a long line of licensing fees. And they certainly don’t want to be caretakers of a piece of property that they don’t even know how to maintain.

Some of these consumers want low cost while others want excitement. Not so much ‘driving’ excitement, but ‘fashion’ excitement. They want to be seen and be seen in the hottest fashion accessory, while the other folks just go about their business in a comfortable minimal cost module.

Enthusiasts, like you and me, are a declining market. I don’t believe that this is the case because enthusiasts aren’t willing to pay a direct premium for the joy of their ride. Miatas, Vettes, Mustangs, Camaros and the FR-S all call out to our joy of driving. The manufacturers aren’t the ones letting us down here.

What’s killing the enthusiast is the cost of that fun in the form of revenuing schemes by local and state governments, higher taxes and fees, substantial higher insurance costs, and that hidden tax that comes with getting nailed on the open road. This is especially true for the young adult enthusiast. One bout of responsible driving at a high rate of speed for them can result in a four figure blow to their bottom line. Most young people can’t afford that, and once they get stung with that venom, many will opt for the low cost lemming model.

I think in the future a lot of manufacturers and third parties will embrace a permanent rental model. The car ‘note’ will be sold to a third party in much the same way as collateralized debt obligations and your own car note are already sold to third parties. They will be able to handicap you based on your past driving behaviors, and a trade will be made.

Your freedom, for less money.

I know most of you wouldn’t make that trade. It’s the ones who have other priorities in their life that I’m not too sure about.

Would it be a bad thing?

 

 

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Hammer Time: An Old Pair Of Boots http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/hammer-time-an-old-pair-of-boots/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/hammer-time-an-old-pair-of-boots/#comments Wed, 04 Dec 2013 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=669002

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

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

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

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

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

Now consider this…

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

Buy

What

You

Like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God I hate those things!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Hammer Time: Stereotypes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/hammer-time-stereotypes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/hammer-time-stereotypes/#comments Tue, 03 Dec 2013 15:56:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=669546 Click here to view the embedded video.

Video contains offensive language — JB

“Sweetie, please don’t tell them I’m a car dealer.”

“They already know Steve. Oh, before I forget, Jeff will be asking you where to find a cheap transmission for his Dodge Caliber.”

“Hmmm… you know what? I think maybe I should change my name to Siri. I could have the guys pull my finger and the women…”

“No you won’t! And don’t go on about fixing Johnson Valves and torquing your nuts. And please, don’t brag about your John Holmes drill either.”

“Sigh!”

The truth is I never say any of these things. At least when I’m sober. I’m way too nice of a guy in real life.

However, I’m also not much for conversation at party gatherings when it comes to cars.

Movies? I love em’.

Sports? I don’t mind, but love there has come and gone.

Politics? Religion? Well, throw in sex and I may just swim through that morass of moralism.

Cars I deal with all day. I drive em’, buy em’, fix em, fix them again, detail them, and then I get the pleasure of having them sit and molderize before sending them down the road.

One interesting by-product of the variety of my work over the years, is that I can be introduced in different ways at parties. My brother Paul, who can read social signals better than anyone I have ever met, is particularly good at figuring out who can add what value to a conversation at a party. He’s what we refer to in my business as a ‘connector’. Always bringing people together, and managing it all like it’s a natural by-product of socializing.

The way he introduces yours truly at these parties is almost always a signal.

For example….

 

“That’s my brother Steve. He sells cars.” – My brother Paul, bless his ever so cunning Long Island heart, has a wonderful way of helping me avoid unwanted conversations.

Just let em’ know that I’m a used car salesman.

Used car salesmen are extreme social lepers in social gatherings where status has any level of importance. It’s like saying you’re a telemarketer or an IRS agent. Just watch your audience recoil and let Mother time handle the rest.

 

“That’s my brother Steve. He’s into cars.” – Now I get to be in problem solving mode. Chances are the person needs to buy a car or has a mechanical issue with their vehicle. If I’m familiar with it, great. If not, I just refer them to enthusiast sites for the given brand and model.

Nearly every time I buy a used vehicle that hasn’t been in my inventory for a while, I will revisit these forums and type in “most miles”. Weird hobby, but I just enjoy hearing stories about cars that are kept for the long haul.

 

“That’s my brother Steve. He used to own an auction.” – Until 2010 I had a 50% share of the profits of an auto auction in South Atlanta. I wound up picking the wrong partner (long story there), but the by-product of this is that Paul is trying to draw me into a conversation that will likely either involve buying or selling.

It’s a good opportunity to tell stories about $21 Dodge Daytonas or a $20,000 Vladimir Kagan tables, depending on your audience.

 

“That’s my brother Steve. He’s the auctioneer.” – I used to work in the auction staff of five to seven different auctions. All of which were weekly deals except for a powersport sale (think motorcycles and ATV’s) which was once a month. I started out a ringman, worked my way into becoming an auctioneer at public and impound auctions, and eventually became a remarketing manager for  a few years at Capital One Auto Finance.

If I’m introduced this way, the hidden signal I’m given is to entertain. Someone will likely ask how I do an auction chant, or how to get a great deal. Harmless questions, with plenty of good stories to share.

 

“This is Steve. He’s a writer.” – My wife is pretty good at letting me leave the orbit of the car business. Her friends are writers, artists, intellectuals… and moms.

 

A lot of us have worn the hats of different professions and personal interests. Accountants, zoologists, botanists, the world we dwell in is as varied and unique as pizzas with pineapples and anchovies. So let me share a thought with you folks. What work have you done? And if you can vaguely recall, what was the reaction of your audience when you shared it with them? Feel free to throw in former girlfriends, loved ones and those ever so judgmental parents into the usual party mix.

 

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