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. Sun, 02 Aug 2015 00:58:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 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 » Hammer Time http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/news-blog/hammer-time/ The Warren Buffet Way To Buy And Sell Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/warren-buffet-way-buy-sell-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/warren-buffet-way-buy-sell-cars/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1097681 The august founder of TTAC, Robert Farago, asked me to shop around for a Lexus IS F nearly seven years ago. Those were bad old days. The “Fall of 2008″ was a brutal, hopeless, and downright dire time in the American retail car market. Nobody was buying $50,000+ sports cars like this Lexus, and the few […]

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isf

The august founder of TTAC, Robert Farago, asked me to shop around for a Lexus IS F nearly seven years ago.

Those were bad old days. The “Fall of 2008″ was a brutal, hopeless, and downright dire time in the American retail car market. Nobody was buying $50,000+ sports cars like this Lexus, and the few that could afford to were too busy watching their stock values sink like stones and their home values dive straight into the ass end of a 20 year time warp.

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My hometown of Powder Springs, Georgia and nearly every other American city and small town were getting neutron bombed by man-made financial WMDs known as CDOs – collateralized debt obligations. Where people had once occupied new homes and burgeoning small businesses, now all that was left in much of America were empty buildings and unfathomable levels of debt.

The American people, yet again, had been scammed by an elite that relied on passing the fraudulent buck to whomever was willing to hold the empty bag. The Wall Street margin calls of the 1920s had transformed into the main street liar loans of the 2000s. But this time, millions of businesses throughout the world would feel the unforeseen effects of these complex financial implosions. Credit soon became scarce even for the well-connected, and the American economy would become a borderline bankrupt marketplace.

What did Robert do? The same exact thing Warren Buffet did at that time. He went shopping!

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High-end niche models like the Lexus IS F were especially tough to sell. Back then, I couldn’t quite figure out why Robert wanted this car when the Audi RS4, Cadillac CTS-V and BMW M3 were considered to be the better choices by the brunt of the automotive press. I had recently driven the RS4 thanks to a friend from Texas who picked up a brand new one that was languishing at an Audi dealership in North Georgia. I negotiated that deal on his behalf and, as a surprise thank you, I also wound up with my very first experience with a brand new high-end sports car.

I may need to wait about 7 more years before I get to relive that experience – but I definitely want to do it again. The question most of us have is when does it make the most sense to buy on the right side of the automotive bell curve?

There is always a sweet spot where you can enjoy the fruits of an automaker’s labor and not have to pay the ridiculous price premiums usually attached to such a ride. On conventional cars here in the south, the depreciation curve tends to plateau around the nine to eleven year mark. The more popular cars hit it right around years 12 thru 15. Keep in mind I rarely get to see the tin-worm that is rust out here, so those of you who have to deal with 50 shades of brown may find that these points hit a few years newer for you.

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Then there is the “buy low / sell high” method which for the keepers among us can also be termed “buy low / sell nigh.”

There are the usual suspects, such as buying SUVs and trucks if gas prices are high or gas sippers when the gas prices are low, but gas really doesn’t have an enduring impact on the deal simply because it fluctuates all the time.

What does have an impact are three things:

  1. Asymmetric information
  2. The seller
  3. The car’s condition

Asymmetric information simply means you know something about that particular vehicle that the seller does not. How to fix a repair issue. The rarity of a particular trim. Sometimes, such as the auctions I attend, you may find out that the car in question has a lot of expensive modifications, or that a pricey repair has already been performed. Auto auctions are a rolling paradise for these things, but Craigslist and Autotrader can also offer a few eyebrow raising surprises.

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The seller and the car’s condition always go hand in hand. As we all know, you’re not buying a used car so much as you’re buying the prior owner’s driving style and maintenance habits. A walking turd of a car owner often drives in a rolling turd of a car. Great cars are usually owned by folks who understand that machines need to be tuned and maintained – and garaged if at all possible.

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I have enjoyed some beautiful rides over the years that hit all of these sweet spots: the right time to buy, the right seller, and – most importantly – knowing a little important something beforehand that made all the difference. Toyota Celica All-Tracs, Ford Mustang Police Interceptors, and several Mazda RX-8s have been in and out of my hands simply because I was able to find the right ingredients for the car buying recipe. The 2005 Mazda RX-8 cost me all of $2,300 last year because it had a flooding issue that was easy to figure out. I had a blast with it for three months and sold it for $4,500.

How about you? Have you ever been able to buy the right car with the right history at the right time?

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CPO To Go: 2014 Lexus IS F http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/cpo-go-2014-lexus-f/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/cpo-go-2014-lexus-f/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1093425 I usually have more fun with $5,000 cars than with $55,000 cars. It’s not because I’m cheap. Well, let me rephrase that. I love investing in a quality vehicle, but in the world that is wholesale auctions, I rarely get to see them. You can find nearly anything at the auctions that has been traded-in, repossessed […]

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is7

I usually have more fun with $5,000 cars than with $55,000 cars.

It’s not because I’m cheap. Well, let me rephrase that. I love investing in a quality vehicle, but in the world that is wholesale auctions, I rarely get to see them. You can find nearly anything at the auctions that has been traded-in, repossessed or not picked up at the end of it’s lease. What you can’t find are the keepers.

Toyota imported only a bit over 5,000 of these IS F sports sedans from 2008 thru 2014. The number brought to auction so far in 2015? 35. Annualized, that’s less than a 1.5% turnover rate in a business where anywhere from 20% to 60% of late model vehicles will revisit ‘wholesale heaven’ before getting shucked back into a retail dealership.

After a week and change behind the wheel of this 2014 Lexus IS F, I finally figured out why you see so few of these vehicles at the auctions. It’s the one missing ingredient that nearly every enthusiast publication glosses over when they review any high-end sports car.

The real world ownership experience.

is3Not the arduous race tracks specifically designed to distinguish the better from the best in mere tenths of a second. Not those drop-dead gorgeous long and winding roads that make you contemplate the existence of God and the beauty of all creation.

I was able to find joy with the IS F in the everyday banality of middle-aged life. Impromptu burger runs, long stop lights, even in the worst of rush hours. There was always either a burbling exhaust note or a 13-speaker stereo system that made the IS F experience rare, valuable, and difficult to imitate.

Then again, this attitude towards the IS F really has an awful lot to do with where I live. I spend most of my driving time in the outskirts of a major metropolitan area. The ex-urbs. The test tracks that highlight the 0 to 60 4.2 second time for this 416 horsepower screamer regularly slammed straight into the brutal brick walls of reality that are artificially low speed limits, frequent stops, and excessive police enforcement.

is5In my real world of traveling from auction to auction, I need an exterior that blends in so that I can get what amounts to a short-term thrill between stop lights, stop signs and traffic that just seems to stop without any rhyme or reason.

Except for the wheels, which has a bit of a dulled out boy-racer vibe to them, the exterior of the Lexus IS F is a rolling representation of Clark Kent. It is the Captain Anonymous of four-wheeled superheroes in a sports car universe where the loud and proud high rollers have become all too easily recognized.

Other than the wheels, which I would replace with a more Q-ship styled quartet, there is nothing else that stands out aesthetically with this super-fast sports sedan compared with other less powerful, and less expensive alternatives.

Enthusiasts may be able to pick out the small chorus of ‘F’ badges along with a few unique exterior touches from the wider fenders to the imperceptibly larger rear spoiler. Yet, in the end, the IS F chooses a conservative route that makes it less popular for the flashy and attention seeking owner, and far more useful for stealth seekers like me who are trying to avoid the revenuing schemes and speed traps of local police departments.

YouTube chronicles this unfortunate neverending battle between an enthusiast’s love, and the desire of the legalized theft cartels to revenue out the nicest rides whenever possible.

Corvettes? Dead! In the world of speed enforcement, these cars should come with a “Kick me!” sign.

Black M3? Halt! (Credit to the nice cop.)

Mercedes C63? Damn those 1%’ers! Speed trap cities and towns consider a Mercedes to be their proverbial ten pound fish in the easy money barrel.

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A little compact Lexus? In ultra-white? (yes, that is the color description!)

Just feel free to hide your 5.0-liter 416 horsepower V8 and blend in with the sea of traffic until the sharks swim away for better prey. In the real world of driving, the IS F – less those wheels – can be driven as the ultimate Q-Ship.

is11The inside of this Lexus tells a very different story.

The contrast between the suit and tie exterior and this loud and proud interior is probably the biggest dichotomy in high end sports sedans. For those not wanting to relive the trombone case red hues of yesteryear, Lexus also offers a dark suit gray and a bright white leather seating package that is closer to mainstream tastes.

See all those controls on the steering wheel? I wish every competitor would just copy this layout and call it a day. The current IS, with nearly twice as many buttons and fidgits falls far below the real-world ease that is this simple five-by-five design.

As a circa 2008 car with minimal updates the IS F, suffers from two incurable era specific maladies from that time period. The excessive use of interior design cues that originated 10 years ago, and this scratch happy material called aluminized composite accents. Enthusiasts know it as fake carbon fiber while middle-aged men like me who are still stuck in the 1990s scratch their heads and say, “What’s wrong with using some nice thick wood instead?”

is13Ahhh, that’s much better. No gimmicky crap. No little icons or infotainment driven cartoon style graphics. Just a simple layout. Everything neat and quick to read. Truth be told, that prominent tachometer combined with the digital speedo is a great combination. Still, the IS F instrument cluster offers as much useful information about the powertrain’s activities as a 25-year-old Toyota Celica All-Trac. If you are looking for a video game style display with trivial feedback about every little nuance of the driving experience, look elsewhere.

The Lexus IS F dashboard carries over Toyota’s love for the big simple buttons and knobs over rotating dialers and plasticized joysticks of the competition. It took less than a day to get used to the flow of the layout.

There are also several other unique take-it-or-leave-it touches to this interior such as…

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This shift gate along with the single cupholder. A definitive post-Y2K design element.

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What is this strange contraption? I thought this would house the USB connection and maybe an adapter or two. Ash trays are gradually becoming the CD players of the modern day and the cassette players of ten years years ago. By the way, Lexus was also the last brand to get rid of the old cassette players.

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Interesting… on a slow news day I’m sure we can debate the right place for these plug-in connections.

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The rear seat room is about on par with a Civic. Small, but amazingly comfortable if you’re 5’8″ or less.

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The kids never complained, even after two several hour jaunts. As for seat comfort? These seats depend highly on your height and your girth. This 5-foot-8, 170 pound guy was perfectly happy; as were my smaller wife and kids. Bigger people should take extra care to feel out the seats in any car of this ilk.

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As for the driving experience, it’s pretty much bipolar. When you are light on the throttle it’s as easy to drive as any Camry except for the fact that your handling is precise to a surprisingly minute degree. When you hammer it, even a little bit, the IS F is so incomprehensibly fast and fun that you feel like you’re driving a car that can easily handle the racetrack and the twisted road – but not necessarily the beaten one. You better make sure that the open road in your neck of the woods is sports car friendly because the suspension can get brutal if you live in pothole central. It was a pleasure to drive in the one-lane rural smooth roads of Deliverance country, but an unforgiving misery to navigate through the steel plates and bottomless road pits in the city of Atlanta.

TTAC ended up reviewing the car multiple times way back when it was new and fresh. Michael Karesh, Robert Farago, and Jack Baruth all reviewed the IS F back in its new car heyday, and, other than the Scion FR-S, I’m having a hard time finding any other vehicle that was so broadly reviewed and admired as this one. This is one of the few sports sedans left that doesn’t take the driver and completely destroy their line of vision under an ergonomic catastrophe of thick A-pillars, small windows, and side mirrors the size of a football.

You see nearly everything, and the driving experience is in the thick of the fun quotient. All for a real world cost of around $55,000.

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Did I say $55,000? Yep! The average wholesale price for a 2014 Lexus IS F at the auctions with about 7,000 miles on it is in the $52,000 range. Throw in the seller fee, transport, and maybe a minimal bit of reconditioning and you’re looking at around a $53,000 wholesale price, and a meeting of the minds at around $55,000. If you want to get a certified pre-owned version, plan on paying around $700 more for it.

That nice little condo in West Palm Beach that you planned on using for your retirement can now be all yours in the form of four wheels and a driver seat that may be easier to sleep in than most hotel beds. About halfway through the week, I thought about driving off to some remote part of north Georgia and sleeping in the thing. Then again, I’m also the type of guy who buys a $100 SUV sight unseen. Your financial risk tolerance and desire for daily weirdness may be far different than mine.

Speaking of cost, do you want to engage in basic DIY maintenance on the IS F? Don’t. Or at least if you do, and rarely do any work yourself, just relegate yourself to raising the hood between oil changes and looking at all the pointless plastic that keeps you away from all the dirty icky engine parts.

is24Every maintenance item seemed to have either a seal or a plastic cover tormenting your inner grease monkey.

At least the battery is on top and easy to get to. On the flip side, Lexus calls their automatic transmission fluid a lifetime fluid. The word “lifetime” for any fluid, from any automaker, should always be replaced with the phrase “warranty period”. Lifetime fluids don’t exist if you happen to be one of those types who keeps their new cars past 120,000 miles. My advice for the long-term keepers among you is to keep abreast of the Lexus enthusiast forums that you can find here, here and here.

A late model IS F will cost you about as much as a well-equipped 2014 Avalon and a prior-gen 2014 Miata… combined. Is this 2014 model worth that much?

Let me put it to you this way: in the real world of car buying and long-term car ownership, the Lexus IS F offers all of the pleasures of a high performance sports sedan with very few of the vices.

That’s the good news. Now having said that, this car is only a good fit for a very small group of enthusiasts.

Do you prefer conservative styling? Do you need room for a small family? Do you live in an area where potholes don’t exist and police enforcement hasn’t quite yet fallen off the cuckoo’s nest? If the answer to these questions is yes, and if your desire for an ultra-fast sports sedan burns into the very core of your being, then the IS F may very well be worth your time.

Just take one piece of advice should you ever decide to trade all that money in for those keys. Do invest in a radar detector. The IS F is made with speed in mind. And get a good lawyer who knows how to get out of speeding tickets. If you buy a car with this much performance, you will probably need to put that lawyer on a retainer.

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The Ultimate Fit: Aston Martin Van Damn! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/ultimate-fit-aston-martin-van-damn/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/ultimate-fit-aston-martin-van-damn/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 12:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1092177 Introducing a brand new column at TTAC: The Ultimate Fit, where you get to figure out the unfortunate souls who would best fit for the rolling relics of the used car world. Let’s take this 15 year old, 3-door Chrysler minivan with only 59,000 original miles. Better yet, you take it and try to find the perfect buyer. […]

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2000 Chrysler Voyager

Introducing a brand new column at TTAC: The Ultimate Fit, where you get to figure out the unfortunate souls who would best fit for the rolling relics of the used car world.

Let’s take this 15 year old, 3-door Chrysler minivan with only 59,000 original miles. Better yet, you take it and try to find the perfect buyer.

2000 Chrysler Voyager

This 2000 Chrysler Voyager represents the best and worst of the Clinton Era minivans. On the plus side, you get a stunning lack of standard features that were doomed to fail somewhere between the Al Gore presidential campaign and the undoing of the Patriot Act.

2000 Chrysler Voyager

No plastic wheel covers that would likely look like broken frisbees by this point. No passenger door for the driver’s side that would probably drop off its hinge. No rear air, which also happens to be a retail killer here in Georgia. As a sixth strike here in heat and humidity central, this minivan supplements the lack of a rear chiller with no tinting of any serious consequence for the side and rear windows. You better have a garage if you buy this one!

2000 Chrysler Voyager

On paper, this appears to be one of those unsellable cars. But wait, are those aftermarket power windows on the left hand side of the door? The interior is relatively clean which adds some healthy bonus points to what is a spartan interior. The 2.4L four-cylinder seeing a 16 year run in the Neon and PT Cruiser has a similar presence in these particular Chrysler minivans. I strongly prefer the widely revered 3.3L V6, but this particular van may be better than most others of its time, given it’s the last year of its generation and the interior hasn’t been hopelessly white-trashed all to hell.

 

This was more than likely a retiree’s van. All three rows are there and the little things, such as the plasticized bumpers and rear taillights, are still fully intact and in cosmetically sound shape. That isn’t too common when it comes to these 15+ year old mini minivans. So, who should buy it?

2002 Aston Martin DB7

Vehicle #2 is a rolling testament to the Travis Tritt song T-R-O-U-B-L -E.

2002 Aston Martin DB7

This is a 2002 Aston Martin DB7 Vantage. 4 owners. 29,000 original miles. Plus one of these unusual units.

2002 Aston Martin DB7

It may look exotic, but what you’re really getting are two Ford Duratec engines fused together in one powerplant. The 5.9 Liter V12 offers a rip roaring 424 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque, which apparently helps make this car the perfect long-distance highway cruiser according to the folks at Car & Driver. This Aston Martin may have never trounced a competitor in the comparos of yesteryear, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a helluva bang-for-the-buck for the used car shopper who can handle the maintenance and the fuel bills.

2002 Aston Martin DB7

Those seats are drop dead gorgeous… and the dash is…

2002 Aston Martin DB7

Pretty nice from about seven feet away. Let’s get closer…

2002 Aston Martin DB7

Well that looks a bit retro. I wonder about those three little holes. Up close it detracts a bit from the design – although, I would probably appreciate the ease of removing that section of the car soon enough. On the other hand, the steering wheel is…

2002 Aston Martin DB7

A bit large, and surprisingly spartan compared to the modern day 24 button à la carte which seems to come standard in everything from Camrys to Cadillacs these days. To be frank, I like the Aston Martin’s approach a lot better than the modern day one.

2002 Aston Martin DB7

There are some unusual benefits to owning a car whose design dates back to 1994 and was conceived in a less technologically complex time. The 11 miles per gallon in the city would make it a gas hog par excellence for intown, but the 19 miles per gallon on the highway would likely be worth the long-term experience for that highly unusual customer who wants to rack miles on an exotic convertible cruiser with distinctly British flair.

2002 Aston Martin DB7

Or maybe it would be better off as a Sunday driver and a glorified museum place. I always loved the looks of these things, but never enough to pull the trigger on one.

So what type of customers would make the best customers for the Aston Van… and the minivan? You make the call!

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Where Have All The Clinton Era Cars Gone? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/clinton-era-cars-gone/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/clinton-era-cars-gone/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1086449 That moment you realize the oldest car in the parking lot is yours. Yeah, I just had that moment. The car in question is a 2001 Honda Accord EX. Four-door. Five-speed. A dodo bird of a used car stuck in today’s finance driven market. I walked around the parking lot you see above trying to find […]

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MyrtleBeach

That moment you realize the oldest car in the parking lot is yours.

Yeah, I just had that moment.

The car in question is a 2001 Honda Accord EX. Four-door. Five-speed. A dodo bird of a used car stuck in today’s finance driven market. I walked around the parking lot you see above trying to find one vehicle, any vehicle, that’s as old as mine.

The blue ’05-ish Caravan on the bottom left came a bit close, but it didn’t happen. Instead, everything else seemed to be on the younger side of the curve, the overwhelming majority of vehicles sold new at a later time in history.

When the hell did my car – the class of 2001 – become the old fart of the village? In this case, the village happened to be Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – a touristy place that regularly displays thousands of trinkets, tchotchkes, and recreational drunks often as old as a Michael Dukakis bumper sticker.

You think I kid? I do! But really, trust me on the trinkets. The same exact souvenirs around during the ’80s and ’90s on the main tourist strip have now relocated to the flea markets and thrift stores. That nice flowery ceramic cup mass produced in Hong Kong back when ‘China’ couldn’t be rubber stamped on cheap Chinese goods is still out there for $1.99 trying to find that one last customer whose name is Alfred or Milly before the flea market finally donates it to Goodwill along with the MC Hammer posters and VHS tapes.

Apparently, older used cars are rapidly approaching the same life cycle when it comes to consumer demand. Everyone is buying new these days – or, at least, new enough. Seven year loans? Nobody did them only a few years ago, but now they’re to our economy what buying stocks on margin were in the ’20s or real estate just a few short years ago. If you can make the note work on paper, you can quickly be given the keys to America’s most fashionable new assets.

It’s a bubble and not the first in our business by a long shot. From Chrysler trying to finance their creaky old K-cars to people they lovingly called PODS (Poor Old Dumb Shits) to Mitsubishi supplementing their ‘zero down, zero interest’ offers to anyone with a pulse and a paycheck, this industry has always been about securitizing and moving the cheap metal. Even if the amortized metal isn’t so old, the wheels of conspicuous consumption have to be greased just right in order to keep that assembly line of wealth flowing – at least until the next bust cycle.

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It’s an interesting juxtaposition for a guy who still buys a lot more newer cars these days than older ones. Fourteen years old just isn’t old to me anymore.

Granted, there is no tinworm here in Georgia and the roads are exceptionally smooth, which probably ages the bodies and suspensions of most cars at a rate no more than half the overall northern average. However, the interesting part in most areas of our country is you can drive a 17-year-old Camry or Accord brand new from the late Clinton Era to the present day and not really feel like you missed all that much.

Safety? A bit, though most folks don’t really make it a continuing priority after they’ve bought new unless 1) they have a young family, or 2) they’re shopping for someone else. I find what makes most commuters kick their older cars to the curb is either an expensive repair, maintenance issue or a seemingly incurable emissions problem.

Power? The four-cylinder Accord comfortably did 80 mph for the entire trip and passing power was always there. It doesn’t have as much horsepower as an old Acura NSX, like a 13-year-old Nissan Altima offers at a similar selling price to that 14-year-old Accord. Yet, the lack of power never hurt when it came time to utilize the two- to three-tenths of the performance limits of this vehicle, which is what 90+% of the car driving public already does for the most part.

Fuel economy? Hell no! Over the next five years, for every new car dollar you spend if you’re paying cash, you’re looking at a dime and a nickel in return in lower fuel costs.

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In my Accord scenario, I wouldn’t save a single cent in fuel costs if I bought the average new vehicle of today versus keeping that 14-year-old Accord for the next five years. The brakes and timing belt were also recently done, so chances are the next owner will have a good shot at driving it right up to year 20 so long as they take care of the little things before they become big.

And that’s where the problem lies for most folks: the little unpredictable things versus the big long-term expense. Unpredictability, for a common machine that has tens of thousands of parts in varying states of wear, is a greater psychological problem for most car owners than having a $500 payment for years on end.

Most folks simply don’t know much about their cars and manufacturers are increasingly finding ways to capitalize and expand on that lack of knowledge. From adding plastic covers to the top of car engines to removing dipsticks and ease of maintenance opportunities for the aspiring DIY owner, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors done by automakers under the guise of technology.

Additionally, government edicts improving a given vehicle’s performance in some ways add great cost to everyone involved in the design, manufacture, and upkeep of a new car. Long-term goals in improving fuel economy and emissions have always begat new problems for the auto industry and those producing the fuels and oils we use to power our machines.Dupont CAFE impact

Just as old CAFE and environmental regulations resulted in billions of repair related expenses back in the ’70s and ’80s, the new regulations of the modern motoring era are pushing technologies with a similar trajectory. Continuously variable transmissions with ‘lifetime fluids’ that increasingly don’t hold up and ever more expensive catalytic converters (and their associated sensors) will likely shorten the time of planned obsolescence.

Sometimes older models really are the better ones, at least when it comes to the real world of car ownership. Am I wrong? Perhaps. But every time I hear an average non-enthusiast bequeathing over $30,000 of their financial earnings to something as financially pointless as a commuter car, I realize that the new car marketplace is just becoming increasingly dependent on the idea of long-term financial dependency for the average car owner.

Will that be a good thing? For anyone? I doubt it if you want to be a car owner. Whatever breakthroughs we achieve through innovation will more than likely be negated by corporate sponsored legislation designed to make the consumer the ultimate bearer of those costs. Whether it’s the brave new world of car sharing helping to eliminate the cyclicality of the auto industry’s boom/bust cycles or the ever declining market segment of DIY owners and long-term keepers who won’t have the money needed to keep their cars on the road, we’re now in an era where long-term financing and perpetual payments have become the new short-term solutions.

And that’s a big problem.

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The Deeper Dive: When Is It Time To Junk Your Car? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/deeper-dive-time-junk-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/deeper-dive-time-junk-car/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 13:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1080377 About a third of the questions I get from readers center around one issue: euthanasia in the car world, or what I like to call “automotive decrapitation”. In other words, when is it the right time to recycle an old car and transform it into a cheap Chinese washer and dryer? The logical answer I […]

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Junked ford Focus Derby Car

About a third of the questions I get from readers center around one issue: euthanasia in the car world, or what I like to call “automotive decrapitation”.

In other words, when is it the right time to recycle an old car and transform it into a cheap Chinese washer and dryer?

The logical answer I give these folks is shockingly simple. You should get rid of a car when it’s worth more dead than alive.

When a car costs more to repair than replace with another one just like it in better condition, it’s time to put it on Craigslist and pray for a real customer – one that hopefully isn’t some hideous combination of scam and spam.

Once I tell a non-enthusiast this, the conversation too often changes direction and they usually blurt out something along the lines of, “Oh! Well…let me tell you about this problem that my mechanic can’t figure out,” as if I have some paranormal E.T.-like power to figure out which of the 10,000+ parts of a given car are going wonky at a given moment. After a few minutes of whistling old Bruce Springsteen tunes inside my head, I start to feel like Tony Soprano when one of his drugged up underlings starts spouting off on how he should run his business.

“Look. I do this for a living and let me tell you, your car is not special. Really. Toyota produced over 400,000 of them that year and they were all boring as hell. Go get a Miata and live a little bit!”

Of course, I only say this to the people who can withstand a Jersey verbal barrage without going psycho, which in Georgia means absolutely nobody at all. So my response is usually a tame version of this.

“Oh. Um… well…. let me ask you, why do you want to keep the son-of-a-bitch?”

Weddings. Family life. The trouble-free miles of times past. Nobody really mentions those things. Most folks don’t want to keep a car because they loved it not too long ago.

Instead it’s usually because they’re either too financially strapped, too cheap to ‘invest’ in the maintenance the car needs, or too bored with their present life not to turn a simple decision about a crappy car into a rolling rendition of Hamlet.

The car buying public is not logical. If they were, you wouldn’t see the common citizen finance over $30,000 on a new car that makes the daily commute only 6 percent less miserable than the old car. You also wouldn’t see a MINI with an automatic.

So let me offer the five best answers to the question, “When is it the right time to get rid of your car?”

  1. When you can no longer refer to it as a “shitbox” in a loving manner.
  2. When you decide to become an owner that deserves the last name Kevorkian.
  3. When you visit the repair shop so often that you start up old conversations with the owner right where they left off.
  4. When any interest in your car immediately conjures up the words, “Please! God! Thank you!”;
    and finally,
  5. When you have enough resources to pay cash, and some foolish entity is willing to heavily subsidize your purchase with cash back, rebates, incentives, tax credits, and 0% financing. Then you tell a friend or family member about the car, and they sell you their old one at a steal of a price.

Feel free to share any advice, especially bad pearls of wisdom you have come across in your travels. In my experiences, most old beaters deserve better than their owners, but some broken down claptraps truly need to have their old Kia recycled into a higher quality Kenmore. Feel free to share those as well.

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Hammer Time: Halt and Catch Fire Jeep Cherokee http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/this-jeep-cherokee-is-a-show-car-that-wont-halt-and-catch-fire/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/this-jeep-cherokee-is-a-show-car-that-wont-halt-and-catch-fire/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 18:25:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1076370 “Extras with cars! This way!” A 20-something assistant to someone else’s assistant guides us to where the next shoot will take place. “You! You! And You! We need you for wardrobe!” Me? This can’t be good. My wife and I were already dressed in early 80’s clothes for the upcoming scene since they emailed us […]

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Jeep Cherokee

“Extras with cars! This way!”

A 20-something assistant to someone else’s assistant guides us to where the next shoot will take place.

“You! You! And You! We need you for wardrobe!”

Me? This can’t be good.

My wife and I were already dressed in early 80’s clothes for the upcoming scene since they emailed us the specifics on the night before the shoot.

Our outfits, pretty much a combination of earthly browns and worn out beige, weren’t too hard to find. Any thrift store will do. Here in the Deliverance country that is North Georgia, nobody pays any mind to what you wear, so long as you’re wearing something.

Unfortunately, for Hollywood standards, we’re both old now. She’s forty, and I’m forty-two. Or to put it another way, we’re both really 42 and climbing too damn fast.

Hollywood doesn’t want us. But they do want our Jeep.

Jeep Cherokee

You see this Jeep Cherokee? It’s apparently the Hollywood version of Michael Caine before he became famous. It’s old enough to play in a variety of movies without ever seeming out of place or out of fashion.

’80s, ’90s, or Y2K era, this Jeep even fits the modern day world of 2015. Even though it’s old enough to buy itself a six-pack and light up an unfiitered Camel at the back of my used car lot, it’s young enough to be appealing to those who enjoy all things that are truly American.

AMC and Chrysler made this Jeep forever and, bless em’, the look hit the bullseye of bullseyes – especially when it comes to show business.

Jack Horner on Jurassic Park 3 set

There are two things that make this Jeep such a workaholic when it comes to it’s booking as an extra car.

The first is the color. Forest green is pretty much the perfect color for blending a vehicle into the background of any given scene. Dark greens may be as unfashionable as MC Hammer pants when it comes to today’s new car market. But in movie scenes, forest green offers the right blend in the background without being too bright.

Red, white, black, and zonker yellow tend to be big rolling no-no nadirs when it comes to using cars for a given scene in the movie world. The director wants the actors and plot to take over, not a 40 year old van that looks like a rolling Cheech and Chong pinata. So it’s the blues, the dark greens, and the grays that usually win out.

94ba94e08bcd1db95b18790bc7e8fb55

The other big plus for this Cherokee is class. What movie studios want wherever they can find them is cars and trucks that were owned by middle-class Americans.

There must be 27 silver diesel Benzes within a 25 mile radius of every movie shoot. Nobody wants ’em anymore. Lincolns and Cadillacs? There are probably more of them running now than 10 years ago when old-school American bling wasn’t yet retro.

Movie studios aren’t looking for these high-end cars on a regular basis. What they do want are Cherokees, old Camrys, pre-sporty Maximas and Malaise era cars that were designed in the unholy automotive era that covered most of the ’70s and ’80s.

Cars more square than Lawrence Welk – the blander the better. That’s what sells in the movie world if you decide to become an extra who furnishes an extra car.

1980 Chrysler LeBaron

The pay for doing essentially nothing with an old car except parking it is surprisingly strong. $100 per day for the car. Sixty-eight dollars for eight hours, plus time and a half for overtime – just enough to make my wife a habitual extra with a thick reading book for the endless hours of waiting.

My wife was also in the movie business for years before settling down for full-time motherhood. Sadly enough, this ‘job’ represents the best combination of good pay and low stress in her entire show business career. The work is more steady as well.

Halt and Catch Fire

We’re now in the third season of Halt & Catch Fire, a popular show on AMC (the channel, not the defunct automaker) where I furnish old cars on a regular basis. Try to imagine the tech world back in the early ’80s, plots that are designed with intelligent souls in mind, and toss in some sci-fi special effects into the mix. It’s a perfect fit for hopelessly geeky folks like me and my wife.

“Hey Susan! Go ahead and park the Jeep over there.”

She does as told, walks back in the shade, and reads her thick book. For a mom with two pubescent kids, this is heaven.

For me, it’s a matter of making money and buying her happiness while selfishly finding a bit of my own. As many of you know, I have a love for old cars that just won’t quit. It may be the late models that pay my bills, but it’s the modern day classics, like the Jeep, that regularly capture my heart.

Jeep Cherokee

A lot of my writing work beyond TTAC now revolves around the idea of helping folks figure out older used cars. That career path has reached a mainstream audience but, in my soul, I’m still that strange guy who finds a deep sense of joy in reviving old beaters. What better way to do that than to cater to an industry that has the means to make that hobby worthwhile. A paid mini-vacation for my wife? I’ll take it!

Show business is now my side business thanks to Hollywood getting cheap and spreading out across the USA. These days, once I finish buying cars at the dealer auctions in the early afternoons, I like to take a break from what used to be a 16 hour work-day and hang out with my wife at a shoot. Sometimes, if it’s at a movie set like this one, we sit for a while underneath a shady tree, look at all the young people using their walkie-talkies, and watch them move props, cameras, and movie equipment for hours on end. We remember being just like them in our own tough jobs. Trying to get ‘established’, whatever the hell that meant, and just how chaotic and difficult our lives seemed to be.

In truth we really weren’t doing much of anything useful except moving things around, big and small, and following the orders of others. We live out our careers where everything is, “Hurry up… and wait!” Just like a movie set, but with people and papers instead of props.

It’s all chaos in slow motion. You solve a crisis that is hopefully suitable for a G-rated sitcom and then, if you’re really smart, you remember to have a shitload of fun before the next unwelcome episode takes place.

When you get older, you also realize careers don’t really matter. Not usually in this life at least. What does matter is that we nourish our souls in the things that bring us true joy and enough unique misery to open our eyes a bit. Kids. Spouses. Friends. Old cars. Whatever makes our boat float as we drift along this long journey.

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Hammer Time: The $700 Repo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-the-700-repo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-the-700-repo/#comments Sat, 28 Jun 2014 02:07:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=854689 My brother-in-law’s 1997 Honda Civic took a vacation recently, and it only cost me about $700. The customer who escorted the Civic to the humidity ridden swamps of Crystal Lakes, Florida, let’s call him, Mud, had already been financing a 2005 Ford Freestar from my dealership. Some weeks he would pay on time. Other times, […]

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civic1

My brother-in-law’s 1997 Honda Civic took a vacation recently, and it only cost me about $700.

The customer who escorted the Civic to the humidity ridden swamps of Crystal Lakes, Florida, let’s call him, Mud, had already been financing a 2005 Ford Freestar from my dealership.

freestar

Some weeks he would pay on time. Other times, he would be late. The phone always worked though, and since the Freestar had been one of my unsellable cars of the past year, I was just happy to have the vehicle out there to what I hoped would be a good owner.

If only it were so.

One day, I got a call from Mud while his chain smoking soon-to-be pregnant ex-girlfriend was screaming at him in the background.

“Hello?”

“Steve, I’m returning the Freestar today. Me and Wildflower are splitting  and…. shut up! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!!”

“Aaahhh… that’s fine. Just call me back in a few.”

The few turned out to be a day.

“Hello?”

“Hey Steve. That  Civic you have on the lot. Can I exchange that with the Freestar and just make the same payment?”

Normally I say no to these things because the math doesn’t work out and, even if it does, exchange customers often get into the habit of delaying maintenance on their vehicles. Right around oil change time, these customers will come back to the lot and ask for an upgrade. What I do instead is tell them of a place a mile down the road where they can get the oil changed for $20. The cheap price has a surprisingly nice halo effect on the affordability of the vehicle they drive, and then I never hear from them until I start having payment issues.

freestar2

Mud wasn’t bad when it came to payments. But his ex-girlfriend’s smoking meant that the Freestar would need to have the interior detailed, and God knows what else.

“Bring the Freestar down and let me see what we can do.”

When I saw the platinum colored Freestar, I was both surprised and not surprised. The interior was still in decent shape. It had a faint smell of smoke, but not too bad. What did surprise me was a nice big dent on the driver’s door. That would cost some money to pop out along with the interior detail.

178,000 miles. When he had bought it from me it had all of 170,000. Or so I thought. This guy was driving close to 1,000 miles a week, and whatever I gave him, if I gave him anything, it needed to be able to handle that constant driving.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law’s Civic had more or less been overhauled before I got it. New belts, water pump, tensioner, plugs, wires, on and on. I did need to put four new tires on it, which turned out to cost only $233 thanks to my usual discount and a $100 gift card promo that the chain tire store was offering at the time.

I tried retailing the Civic for $3500, then $3300, and then $3000.

Nobody wanted it, and those that did just didn’t have the money. I had two kids in college and one older fellow tell me that they were going to get it in the next week, two weeks, when they got a settlement check, etc.

I didn’t care that much either way. Even though it was an unsellable car, I enjoyed driving thanks to my brother-in-law’s maintenance regimen. I knew it would eventually sell.

Then things started to get a bit, complicated. My sister-in-law mentioned to my wife, that my BIL hadn’t sold the vehicle for a lot of money, and that she thought it would get more than the $2000 I had paid for it.

When I hear things like this, I pretty much assume that this recent decision may not have been as smooth as I had initially thought.

I also couldn’t ask for nicer in-laws over the years. They have always been wonderful to me and my wife,  and I didn’t want anything that would cause hard feelings.  When their Camry’s engine blew up a couple years ago, I bought the vehicle for all of $500 with a very nice body and a perfect interior.   I replaced the engine with a JDM 2.0 four cylinder, financed it, had it voluntarily repoed in Denver (owner went out there and ran out of money). I then paid $750 for it to be delivered back to Atlanta, and sold it for $3000 cash which turned out to be my net profit.

I was thinking about selling the Freestar for cash, financing the Civic, and when I got my money back out of the Civic (about $2400), I would give my in-laws the profits. They had two young kids and I figured out this money, nine months from now, would be a perfect way to balance out their monthly daycare costs that I remember paying for back in my 30’s.

It was not meant to be. At least not when it came to Dirt, I mean, Mud. He was a pathological liar along with, what I would later found out, a serial impregnator. I should have taken the keys to the Freestar, shot him, and Jersey dumped his ass in Deliverance country.

Instead I took $305. $120 for what he owed on the Freestar, $120 as a payment cushion on the Civic, and $65 for the actual cost of the detail. I forgave the dent on the Freestar because, psychologically, if you do a nice favor for someone, they tend to be far less screwy with you in the future. However this isn’t always the case,  which is why I also asked him to give me the afternoon so that I can straighten it all out with my bank.

Well, the Bank of Steve has certain strict requirements. One of them is when you have a high-risk customer, you always put a GPS on that vehicle. Since I had initially planned on selling the Civic for cash, I had to take it to the mechanic shop so that we can put one in it. The cost of the unit is $129, and once we had three successful hits on the GPS, Mud got the keys.

Mud then took the car, went to Florida, and decided to play the BS game.

Instead of telling me the truth, that he had no job, he decided to tell me over the weeks, “I’ll get the money in on Tuesday.” Or, “I’ll be riding up to Georgia this weekend and I’ll get the money in and set up an automatic payment with Wells Fargo.” Every week was a new lie, a new excuse, and a new headache.

My policy with payments is relatively straight forward.

If you can’t pay me, then just tell me the truth.

If you can’t tell the truth, at least return my call.

If you can’t bother to return my calls over the course of three days, I’m going to get back my property.

And it is my property. Just because someone pays for the use of it, doesn’t mean they own it.

I get especially steamed when someone tells me, “It’s my car.” or “I already paid too much for it.” Hello? You don’t own my property. I am also not here to lecture you . My business is to provide for my wife and family and if you have some genuine catastrophic event that’s taken place, I’ll put the payments on a temporary hiatus. If you’re nice, I may even try to figure out a way to work off the balance with a side job related to your former work, so that you can become a long-term owner (and keeper) instead of a perpetual debtor.

Most of the time, I don’t want the car back. In the past I’ve had cleaning women do interior details. Small farmers pay me in chicken, eggs and tomatoes. I have even accepted lawnmower repairs, small generators, automotive repair work, assistance with transporting vehicles to and from the auctions, and  minor landscaping projects.

However in this case, I wanted the car back, big time. Last night the repo company scooped up the Civic that was suntanning in Lakeland, Florida. The old cost was $250 for the repo. $65 to transfer it to a nearby auction. $20 to mail the auction the keys so that it can be loaded onto a transport truck next Tuesday, and $275 to have it hauled back to my dealership.

I hope to see it on Thursday. From there it will likely need a $65 interior detail, and $42 to relist it on Autotrader and Craigslist.

So now I have another stickshift back on the lot. The Freestar sold for $3000 cash to a Latino family thanks to my posting the Craigslist ad in Spanish. By my calculations, this guy managed to do about 10,000 miles of driving for which I netted about $700. I got nailed by Mud, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wash myself of him and move forward to the next chapter in life.

 

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Hammer Time: Craigslist English http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-craigslist-english/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-craigslist-english/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 13:03:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=852529 If there is a hell, you will probably find it on Craigslist. Also, if there is a Santa Claus, you will probably find him performing some advanced NSA style hacking that tracks all the emails and texts people like me have to endure. I’m pretty sure that Saint Nick would also have an amazing Craigslist […]

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squidoo

If there is a hell, you will probably find it on Craigslist.

Also, if there is a Santa Claus, you will probably find him performing some advanced NSA style hacking that tracks all the emails and texts people like me have to endure.

I’m pretty sure that Saint Nick would also have an amazing Craigslist to English translator for that purpose.

“Wut” very roughly translate to what, of course…. unless “wut” happens to be a typo, in which case, start thinking of words that end with “ut.”

“Whass u got???” is, “Excuse my kind sir, but I have texted 33 people in the last 22 minutes. I can’t even remember why I texted you but… whass u got?”

I miss the good old days.

10 years ago, the average person you dealt with on Craigslist was a professional in many respects. They knew what they were buying. They knew that it would take a reasonable amount of cash money to buy it. And they knew that their free time shouldn’t have to become your time to the tune of 13 texts that could mostly be answered by just reading the ad.

These days I feel like I’m left with the far left hand side of the bell curve. Of course, there are a few stragglers that find a way of making it to the middle of that curve and beyond. But most times, I’m left to deal with folks with those 13 questions that are spelling catastrophes, and a budget that has mostly champagne on the mind and Schlitz in the wallet.

So, I may as well have fun with it. Here is a nice little cheat sheet that will help you translate those terrible texts with high annoyance, and low rates of sales success.
Text message: “What is your absolute lowest price?”Translation “Whatever you say, I’m going to try to knock it down another 50%. You’re welcome!”

Text: “R u farm? I have $$$!!!”

Translation: I am the doofus who hogs the computers at the public library playing Farmville. I have no $$$!!!.

Text: “What’s the lowest you’ll go?”

Translation: Because whatever you say, it will never be low enough.

Text: “Is it a diesel?”

Translation: I am confused. What does the word gas mean in the description? Also, is this 30 year old Mercedes cheap to own?

Text: “Is it a V8?”

Translation: I can only afford to look at pictures while goofing off in high school. You mentioning that it is a V8 in the title AND description has no bearing on my current reading level. 

Text: Can you send me pics?

Translation: Because 24 pictures of a 15 year old Ford Escort wagon is certainly not enough!

Text: “Can you come to my place?”

Translation: No, trust me. You don’t want to go anywhere near my place.

Text: Can I check it out? What is the VIN#? Any mechanical issues? What about maintenance? Did it pass emissions? Tires?
Translation: I am going to drive your car for an hour and a half. Then give you a checklist of all the things wrong with your car. Even the ashtray I’ll never use! I will do this on the nicest day of the year.  
Text: Kelly Blue Book says your car is only worth $2400.
Translation: Assuming your five year old Impala has 280,000 miles… is in poor condition… is a base model… and has a rebuilt title.
Text: Does it have leather seats?
Translation: I will lie to you and say I want cloth instead.
Text: Does it have a 5-speed?
Translation: I don’t know how to drive one. But can I practice on yours?
Text: Are you the original owner?
Translation: What does one owner mean?
Text: I have cash money!
Translation: But not enough to buy your car.
Text: My mom needs a car and I have $1200 in cash. Can we work out a deal?
Translation: My mom is really my father’s cousin’s former roommate from Hoboken, and he knows absolutely nothing about this.
Text: Would you mind if I combine the test drive with some local shopping? I have to get…
Translation: The keys are in my hand. The tank is full, and that back seat has my girlfriend’s name written all over it.

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Hammer Time: Screw Zipcar, Just Share A Govcar http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-screw-zipcar-just-share-a-govcar/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-screw-zipcar-just-share-a-govcar/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 11:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=844042 There a few things I can’t wrap my mind around these days. Take for example, Zipcar.  The car sharing firm that supposedly offers the Millenial vibe, is actually run by the old GM dumping ground for unpopular vehicles established rental company Avis. That’s not a bad thing at all. Long story short, the opportunity for […]

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govcar

There a few things I can’t wrap my mind around these days.

Take for example, Zipcar.  The car sharing firm that supposedly offers the Millenial vibe, is actually run by the old GM dumping ground for unpopular vehicles established rental company Avis.

That’s not a bad thing at all. Long story short, the opportunity for Zipcar to buy and manage vehicles at Avis procurement levels makes what was once a pipe dream, financially realistic. Avis gets to expand their fleet with minimal overhead costs (the two companies share the same vehicle fleet), and Zipcar gets to focus on expanding the idea of car sharing.

The problem for me is that the economics of car sharing under a corporate umbrella is still a bad idea for 99% of the folks out there.

You live in a university? Car sharing may make sense, but not when you deal with the strict asterisks and time-related gotchas that come with the corporate version of it.

There are times when you may want to go shopping, or to the movies, or to your favorite pharmacological distributor. Zipcar allows you to do that for about $10 an hour, plus an annual membership fee of about $15. If you are a student who doesn’t have the right to purchase a parking pass at your school, Zipcar gives you the sole out from those crowded university shuttles and long bike rides.

 

I’ll be blunt, Zipcar only works if you are denied a marketplace substitute, almost never drive, or once owned a rolling lemon money pit.

It’s also not a bad deal if you drive exactly twenty minutes, shop for exactly twenty minutes, and come back to where you live in 19 minutes and 59 seconds. Four students can gleefully share the ten dollar cost and a new deep seeded hatred for stop lights, slow drivers, and parking lots.

Or…

You can enjoy the infinite convenience of buying and sharing a car that you own.

You could have this. A 2009 Ford Crown Victoria.

The type of car that sparks fear in the eyes of a meandering motorist with just a few antennas on the roof, and a quick flashing of the headlights.

The price for a used one is still well short of $2500 with good mileage. Why so cheap? Because nothing is more unfashionable these days as a well-made, V8, rear-wheel drive car, bathed in government black and white, and incapable of getting more than 15 miles per gallon in the city.

Yet the economics of sharing this age old gas house, Animal House style, makes far more sense than supplementing the blogging income of cultural creatives and multi-national firms that see you as an easy target for their ecological phoniness.

That’s what ride sharing is about. They want your money. That’s it. If they cared a lick about you, the companies that foolishly overpaid acquired these operations wouldn’t have spent their resources de-contenting rental cars and removing important safety features that may impact your well-being should that terrible day come.

So, let’s say you decide that you want to own a car, but want to get some car sharing levels of help paying for it.

It’s not that hard if you are willing to hustle a bit. Yes there is Uber, and Lyft, and a few other firms that let you become the designated driver of the local university (invest in rubber floormats and keep the cop car). However, there are an awful lot of better ways to skin that cat.

So let’s say you decide to buy this car.

Definitely click on the link, because it’s not what you would expect. A 2004 Ford Taurus SE Wagon. Stop drooling.

Yes, this car is about as hip as a 35 year old frat boy. But that’s part of my point. It has 65,000 original miles. One owner, that being a local government, and all the maintenance has been done at the dealership according to the Carfax history.

New spark plugs. New tires. New starter. For $1175 plus a new battery and the bogus buyer premium, you’re still looking at less than $1500 out the door.

The price is right, and the hipness level is perfect as well. Why? Because you want to attract the types of people who are looking at the “transportation” end of the deal. People who are capable of doing math better than the average American.  In colleges and universities, these are usually grad students from overseas who have limited funds and a desire to travel. In the suburbs, or in your 20’s, it’s the young family that is trying to get established on one income. When you get to be in your 30’s and older, it will likely be the neighborhood where older folks and younger folks are already on good terms with each other.

You can have them all pay for part of the vehicle. Car insurance follows the car, not the driver, and that should be reimbursed as well along with a monthly charge for auto expenses. It is not against the law to allow a friend or relative drive your car under the permissive use policy. But, make extra sure that you are allowed to do this.  Every insurance company, and many states, have varying levels of coverage and liability when it comes to permissive use. This article is a good primer on it,

Even with that said, you always want to contact your insurance company. I have done this, twice, and both times, I contacted my insurance company to make sure that everything was kosher. This isn’t a big hurdle to climb, but some states simply say yes or no to the idea of permissive use.

The whole idea about making car sharing work is nothing new. It’s older than a Bluto Blutarski belch and as utilitarian as an old government mule. If you put even a minimal level of energy towards it, you won’t need a corporation to make it work.

Do you need faith in your fellow man? Meh. But if you pick your fellow man wisely, and don’t over-invest in the asset, you should be OK for years. A cheap government car that has been maintained right can offer a value proposition that is far better for most infrequent users than the ticking two-way time bomb that is trying to shop around town with a Zipcar.

 

 

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NASCAR For The Novice (The Prequel) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/nascar-for-the-novice-the-prequel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/nascar-for-the-novice-the-prequel/#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 19:46:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=843553 I am pacing back and forth in a 200 square foot wooden building that I had exchanged for a 1996 Volvo 850 sedan back in 2008. “What the hell am I going to write about? I know nothing about racing! Zip!” “Well Steve, maybe we can arrange for a few interviews.” “Would they be racers?” […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

I am pacing back and forth in a 200 square foot wooden building that I had exchanged for a 1996 Volvo 850 sedan back in 2008.

“What the hell am I going to write about? I know nothing about racing! Zip!”

“Well Steve, maybe we can arrange for a few interviews.”

“Would they be racers?”

“Aaahhh, no.”

“Owners? Hookers? How about the guy who fires the gun?”

“What gun?”

The truth was that I didn’t want to go to any race. I had a long line of issues to deal with at the used car lot. Customers that needed help either finding cars, or paying for them.  The grass was growing back where the gravel was, and I hated to leave money on the table. If I left, either some deals would be lost, or I would have my cell phone surgically attached to my ear for the entire time.

It wouldn’t be fun. But that was the big problem for me at this point. Life wasn’t fun when it came to my daily work life. I rate every working day from a 1 to 10 scale for that key elusive ingredient known as, fun. For the past year my days have been 2’s and 3’s. They used to be 7’s and 8’s, back in the time when I had not built this beast of the business up to the point where I felt like was a subservient tail of a great big fire breathing dragon.

I was dealing with too many cars with weird problems, and amateur bullshitters who thought they could get one up on me. There were countless times over the past two weeks where I just thought about taking all my retail cars, wholesaling them, and taking time off from what had become a pressure cooker of human stupidity.

Instead, I went to my first race.

I started out driving out to Atlanta and entering a humongous underground parking deck that had at least 12 or 13 levels to it.

garage

Turn right, drive. Turn right, drive. I realized that I was doing a 15 mph version of NASCAR with an opposite turn, and all the cars thankfully either gone or parked along the side out of pity.

Once I reached the bottom of the bottom,I realized something highly unusual right off the bat.

I was the only one there.

No cars. No noise. Nothing but me and my car… that happened to have nothing in the trunk. At least for now. Gulp!

As a native Jersey boy, I briefly thought about the ease of whacking someone and moving a body in this parking garage. My southern twang belies the fact that I grew up in Northern Jersey during the Reagan era. A time and place where houses mysteriously burned down, the mafia always handled your garbage, and John Gotti was considered a not-so-bad guy.

This theatrical idea was tempered by me driving  a seven-year old Corolla instead of the black 1980 Cadillac Seville I sold earlier that week. I missed that car. After about 10 minutes of quiet and no phone signal, I met my co-rider, and we quickly made our way back up to the same part of Northwest Georgia I had just left.

Camry-Hybrid-LE-interior

We would be spending our time in a 2014 Toyota Camry LE. The type of car that no supposed enthusiast or auto journalist wants to drive. Yet what did I recommend for my mom to buy back in 2012? A Camry. That is after she pretended to be open-minded and rejected everything else in the marketplace. The brutal truth of this business is that most folks have minimal needs to get from A to B, and reliability is still the #1 driver of sales in the new and used car markets.

As I exhume myself from this tomb of automotive storage, my mind wanders to the blandness of the American driving experience. Cruise at 70. Seats comfortable. Driving straight and uneventful. Talk on cell phones.  That’s what the American open road is like these days. The media driven garbage about cars representing the penultimate of freedom and sexiness is, at least in my mind, castrated by the salient fact that everyone plays the game “follow the leader” when it comes to daily driving, and detailing is already a pure misery for most car owners.

This is what I’m thinking about while going through six different lights on one of 30+ Peachtree Streets here in Atlanta.

stoplight

I enjoy a winding one lane road as much as anyone in this business, but city driving sucks and the suburbs aren’t much better these days. Traffic is a constant pain because turn signals are optional, people play with their cell phones, and drivers often turn for the hell of it.

Cars are mostly a burden in most cities like Atlanta, and what joy can be had by revving your engine every now and then is often throttled back by a city police force whose only opportunity for pay raises is to issue more traffic tickets.

The racing world is a healthy rebellion from what has largely become a speed hating society.

The light turns green. I hit Interstate 85 and after about 30 minutes of driving, we finally become free of the monetary clutches of quick changing stoplights and legalized theft cartels. I and my co-driver are hitting 80 on our way up to northwest Georgia and beyond.

crosscountryroads

The scenery gets better. I like to tell folks that when you’re in Atlanta, you’re in Atlanta, and when you’re in Georgia, you’re in JAW-JA! Never the twain do meet.

Atlanta is a bit of a weird place. Very corporate, yet not quite conservative, and often times city officials are downright delusional about where their strengths lie. A few years ago these guys wanted to get the NASCAR Hall of Fame down here, which would have been kinda like asking the New York Yankees to move to Winnipeg.

I’m not a NASCAR enthusiast at all. But one thing I do know is that the cultures of “NASCAR Country” and “The ATL” are about as close to each other as Mercury is from Pluto.

The College Football Hall of Fame will be in Atlanta, right near Georgia Tech, which is a great fit for the culture and the community. The guy I’m riding with is pretty much a foot soldier for promoting these types of projects around Georgia, and as the scenery around us changes from commercial parks to pine trees, we start changing a bit.

Our accents become a bit more country. By seeing my neck of the woods, I begin to relax. The phone gets turned off.  The beauty of North Georgia becomes all encompassing, and I realize something at that very moment.

I needed this.

 

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How I Royally Screwed Up My Life And Bought… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/how-i-royally-screwed-up-my-life-and-bought/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/how-i-royally-screwed-up-my-life-and-bought/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 11:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=839793 A 33 foot stretch limo that was formerly owned by a famous run down strip club in Miami. Two small TV’s that dated back to the beginning of the Clinton era. Cheap burgundy upholstery that I probably would never want to study with a forensic light. 104,000 miles, and a corded phone right next to the champagne glasses in […]

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limoclosetvphone

A 33 foot stretch limo that was formerly owned by a famous run down strip club in Miami.

Two small TV’s that dated back to the beginning of the Clinton era.

Cheap burgundy upholstery that I probably would never want to study with a forensic light.

104,000 miles, and a corded phone right next to the champagne glasses in the mini-bar. Oh, and it was a Cadillac. Not just any Cadillac. But the last of the old-school rear wheel drive Cadillac Fleetwoods with rear-wheel drive and the 350 V8.

Everyone screws up at some point when it comes to cars. But when I screw up… it’s something truly special.

This limo from Stripper Central had wheels that were (cough! cough!) begging for what most mother’s call “negative attention”.

limowheel

These were 90’s era gangsta wheels that, here in Georgia, are the rolling equivalent of MC Hammer pants. 

The reason why I bought this rolling showcase of 90’s era bling was the same reason why most car dealers and hobbyists end up buying this stuff.

We got drunk and saw it on Craigslist.

Now, in my case, someone from Alabama had already seen my own personal screw-up of a badly bought vehicle. A 2007 Crown Vic Police Interceptor that had been overhauled to a point of being practically brand new.

vic

Transmission replaced recently? Check!

Suspension overhauled? Big check.

A stack of papers that made the history of this car look like a paperback book? A never ending stack of papers and check copies.

vic2

I paid a bit for the Interceptor since it was so new mechanically. About $2600 in total.  Drove it for a bit around town just to revel in what was a good deal on paper.

And then… nothing… nobody wanted a gas guzzling police car. It sat for months on end.

So what did I do? Well, first I got the phone call.

“My name is Sherman K Wires June-yah! I have a Cadillac stretch limo and an old Inidan bike I’m tryin’ to sell. You want to do any tradin’ with that police car?”

limointerior

My business is right near Deliverance country and, as such, I’ll pretty trade anything except chickens and tomatoes. I have a neighbor back a bit who raises both and I got all of those I need.

In the south, you get more than your share of folks who want to trade due to their own car’s mechanical issues. More times than not, you’re better off not doing it.

limotenseats

“Tell me about em’?” and thus started a 30 minute monologue I put on speakerphone while drinking bourbon, and going on Craigslist to look at the pictures of his two vehicles.

The first thing I noticed was that the Indian motorcycle was a fake. Fake Indians are as common as kudzu around here thanks in large part to a powersport auction that gets thousands of repossessed motorcycles every single month. The first play toys to bite the dust are always the phony ones. Yesterday’s Chinese scooters with Honda-esque names to them have largely been replaced with full-blown imitators of classic machinery.

limodriverseat

So that Indian was out. But a Cadillac limo? Hell, I had never bought a limo before. May be worth at least checking out now…

I ended up falling in love with the old bastard. It had that perfect combination of retro-kitsch and “Look at me!” uniqueness to it. I drove the Crown Vic to central Alabama through winding one lane roads, and met the fellow halfway.

Within ten minutes we exchanged keys and papers. I was shocked to find out that this behemoth could actually manage right near 20 miles per gallon if you kept it going at a 50 to 60 mile per hour clip. Just don’t press hard on the accelerator. Ever.

My goal was to surprise my wife by rolling it up to our driveway.

limoside2

 

Well I certainly did, and I managed to surprise a lot of neighbors as well who knew my regular work. Pretty soon, I was filling up the limo with folks I had known since forever and giving them a joyride.

There were lots of ideas hatching up in my enterprising little head while I took that drive. Most of them bad ones.

limootherside

The Atlanta Braves will soon be coming to about 15 miles from where I now live. So why not create a party/limo service to that new stadium and back?

Well, there were liability concerns. Old car concerns. People potentially barfing in a 100 square foot space with only two rear doors for ventilation. All of these things conspired to keep me conservative with that use and abuse.

limoprius

Then I thought about putting a big wrap around it and advertising it at the big box stores a few miles from my car lot. Other nearby dealerships use old military trucks to hang banners and pollute the aesthetics of the nearby Walmart and Home Depot parking lots.  So why not do the same with a vehicle that people would actually want to ride in?

To be blunt, I just saw it as hokey, and this thing had a neverending assortment of electrical issues that required a battery jump if I let it sit for a few days… which always happened. $2000 for a wrap seemed like a lot. But I realized that a supersized magnet could be had for about a tenth of the price. So financially, that was in the running. I just never warmed up to it.

limonightinside

In the end, I just used the old limo as my own personal party and fun time vehicle. I took my wife and her friends to the movie theater when it came time for her birthday. I used it for my son’s birthday as well along with one of my mechanic’s kids. When Black Friday came, I was able to get a 32″ TV mounted on the wall behind the driver.

So now I had 3 TV’s. A ton of leather, and a vehicle that gets easily noticed wherever I took it.

That was the good news. The bad news was that like all novelties, I got tired of it after a while. It took up space. It required a lot of little things to be done which all soon added up, and this past week I finally sold it for $2800.

limolast

So now I have one less limo in my life.  As for other automotive screw-ups, I have plenty to share. Dozens in fact.  But what about you? Have you ever bought a fun vehicle that became a rolling mistake as soon as you were given the keys?

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Hammer Time: Memories of Metros http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-memories-of-metros/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-memories-of-metros/#comments Fri, 30 May 2014 04:01:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=834201 There it stood, right next to the Michael Jordan Wheaties display. A brand-new 1992 yellow Geo Metro convertible. Price Chopper, a local New York supermarket chain (think Pathmark or Albertson’s on crack) was opening up a brand new location in Saratoga Springs. The Metro would be the perfect vehicle for upstate New York’s salty roads […]

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metro1

There it stood, right next to the Michael Jordan Wheaties display.

A brand-new 1992 yellow Geo Metro convertible.

Price Chopper, a local New York supermarket chain (think Pathmark or Albertson’s on crack) was opening up a brand new location in Saratoga Springs.

The Metro would be the perfect vehicle for upstate New York’s salty roads and wickedly cold weather for one irrefutable reason. It was free… after tax, tag and title.  The only thing I had to do was figure out how to win it.

So I got busy. 150 entries a day for 3 full months. 13,000 in all. The day came for the drawing, and I won!

25 pounds of free meat. To make matters worse, I was a vegetarian at the time.

So what did I do? I got a friend’s cooler. Put in 25 pounds of filet mignon, and took a three and a half hour drive home to impress my dad.

He was impressed. Sadly, it would take me another 10 years before another Geo Metro would enter my life.

metro7

The first was a burgundy 1997 four door automatic. I bought what was arguably the shittiest of all Metros for $2000 back in 2002, and sold it for $4000. Doubled my money. Even the paint flaking on the roof and the trunklid didn’t detract from the mythical promise of exceptional fuel economy.

Unbeknownst to the buyers of these loveless shitboxes, the automatic version of the Metro drained the MPG numbers by at least 7 mpg. The powertrain was like a rubber band that gave you more resistance as you tried to stretch it out. If you drove it around town and wanted to keep up with traffic, the four-door three speed automatic got only about 30 mpg combined.

I would later find out that a a Tercel could beat it in real world driving. A far heavier and better engineered Civic could match it. Even the almost as cheap Chevy Cavalier could keep up with the Metro in terms of real world fuel economy. Once I sold that Metro, I thanked the good Lord for separating me from this piece of mobile tupperware and proceeded to focus more on W124’s, rear-wheel drive Volvos, and anything made by Subaru.

I called those nicer models the “wanna-be’s”. As in folks who wanted a Lexus or a BMW, but couldn’t afford their price premium in the used car market, would wind up buying one of these three models instead. I bought plenty of other vehicles as well. But chances are, if there was a well-kept trade-in at the auction that matched one of these three models, I would buy it. New car dealers only cared about financing the new and late model vehicles back then. Older cars were a no-no nadir. So it was relatively easy to find good ones to resell.

As time went on, I began to see those Metros regularly hit the $500 to $1000 mark at the auctions. Quality sold, and the Metro wasn’t it. Nobody wanted them until very late 05′ when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Then things started to get a bit weird at the auctions. I would see Metros matching the prices of Volvos that were not much older and infinitely more deserving of a buyer’s attention. Contrary to the frequent eulogizing of cheap defunct cars, I had zero love for the Metro. It was a deathtrap that anyone who cared about their well-being would stay the hell away from.

swift

Then I found a Metro with good seats. It was called the Suzuki Swift. A 5-speed hatchback with a 4 cylinder engine, the Swift was surprisingly fun and for $600, as cheap as the average repair for a newer Volvo. My wife loved it. My mom thought I was an irresponsible father, and after an interminable delay in market interest, I was finally able to unload it for $1500.

Why the hell did I like that thing? I had two kids and a stay at home mom to think about. Not some ancient tin can of a car.

Well, it got worse, because within three months, I would buy two more Metros.

metro3

 

The first was a 1996 3-cylinder hatchback. White. 90k miles.  $500 plus a $50 sale fee.

It was a steal of a deal. I eventually replaced the wheels and sold it for $2800. Then, I struck fool’s gold with a  first generation Geo Metro at an impound lot auction in South Atlanta.

Imagine 27 dents, 37 dings, and three shades of green.

Imagine 27 dents, 37 dings, and three shades of green.

It was a snot rag. Three shades of green and inexplicably worth my time. The driver seat had virtually disintegrated and yet, there was an immaculate one on top of the back seat along with a driver side mirror. It was a salvage vehicle that was wrecked way back when it was worth something.

188,000 miles. Rebuilt title from Alabama. I bought it, running, for $125. I figured why the hell not.

Well, no A/C in Georgia and a slim chance for profit for starters.  I wasn’t about to put it up at my retail lot. So I drove it around the neighborhood for a bit.

It ran fine. Perfect. After replacing the driver seat and tossing the old one in a nearby dumpster, I decided to sell it at the one place that could give me a price premium for unique crappy cars.

Ebay.

Old Peugeots at the auctions? Ebay.

A Volvo 780 bought for $90. A nine-year old Subaru Impreza with nothing but primer for paint that I bought for $76.25 out the door? Both ended up on Ebay.

Low-mileage Crown Vics, Colony Parks, Mark VIIIs and 1st gen Priuses with body damage. All I had to do was buy them, take 24 pictures, and write up a glorious soliloquy of pithy summations worthy of an Ebay audience. They brought strong money.

I would buy, sell, and meet the new owner at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport with a free Starbucks in my hand. I averaged about 150 deals a year during the mid-2000’s and about a third of them were on Ebay.

This car held onto my conscious thoughts like a fungus. One day, I decided to do a financial spreadsheet. Like a lot of former financial analysts, I suffered from this nasty little OCD-like tendency to put anything that required a long-term mathematical answer into a spread sheet.

This time, I pitted the Metro against a 2001 Yamaha XC125 and did the math to figure out which one would be cheaper in the long run if you maximized their passenger count. Long story short, the two trained monkeys riding a scooter wouldn’t match the five Pygmys that would be stuck in the Metro.

Now that I figured out the Fantasyland part of my life, I decided to sell the Metro. My first law back then, which I still abide by now, is to never fall in love with a car.

10 days later, the Metro sold for all of $700. This is where things got weird. The very next day, the buyer drove 6 hours from western Tennessee down to Atlanta to meet me. He was one tough looking, intimidating, son of a gun.

Sunglasses, tattoos, one of my friends remarked that he had the smell of shit and spit. I said one word, “Hi.”, and for the next hour, all I did was listen to a really nice guy tell me about every single Metro he has ever bought while staring at my reflection on his sunglasses. This guy was made for this car. I pocketed the $700 and decided that I had made a match in small car heaven.

All these memories came back to me this evening for one reason.

mirage

 

The new Mitsubishi Mirage. I have yet to drive it. But the Mirage is probably the first car whose parsimonious pedigree harkens back to that nearly forgotten world of basic cheap cars in the United States.

In today’s world, where a basic economy car comes with over 100 horsepower, 15 inch aluminum wheels, and 10 airbags, the Mirage strikes me as something that is worthy of the old Metro’s econobox heritage.

So count me in as one guy who is willing to cheer for a contender that is a pure pretender.  I look forward to buying them real cheap when 2020 comes around. Who knows? By then the Mitsubishi Mirage may replace the Geo Metro as the penurious used car of choice for the modern day tightwad.

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Hammer Time: Are Shareholders Worth It? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-are-shareholders-worth-it/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-are-shareholders-worth-it/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 14:20:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=448804 Capitalism has no loyalties. Everybody is replaceable. Products. Employees. Employers. Services. Alliances. Joint Ventures. Financiers. Even the executives of multinational firms along with their board of directors are only as good as whatever quarterly numbers can be cooked up by their ‘independent’ auditing firm. Capitalism is the ultimate “Let’s go!”, “Do it!” and “Screw you!” […]

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balancing act

Capitalism has no loyalties.

Everybody is replaceable.

Products. Employees. Employers. Services. Alliances. Joint Ventures. Financiers. Even the executives of multinational firms along with their board of directors are only as good as whatever quarterly numbers can be cooked up by their ‘independent’ auditing firm.

Capitalism is the ultimate “Let’s go!”, “Do it!” and “Screw you!” of economic systems. You name the angle or need in capitalism, and chances are that there is a market substitute that can immediately fill the gap. Even government regulations can be routinely challenged by trade organizations, international courts, and the all too common political handshake.

All this reality happens… on paper.

The truth is that capitalism is tempered by the culture where it’s practiced.

In the world we live in today, corporations and industry interests always pursue laws and relationships to protect their gotten gains. The ultimate goal of some companies isn’t progress. But to keep certain competitors and market substitutes far away from the hands of the free market.

Consumer first? Hell no! Earnings first? Hell yes! This brutal reality of corporate self-interest brings on a few tough questions when it comes to the American auto industry in particular.

Everyone has their own hierarchy of worthiness when it comes to an automaker’s success. Bonuses, dividends, stock options and pensions are all realigned to account for the rewards of good work.  So with that in mind, let me have you think about a question that has bugged me now for several years.

Are individual shareholders worth it?

As I look through the recent history of our industry, I am having trouble figuring out a single scenario where individual public shareholders made the difference. Ross Perot couldn’t kick Roger Smith’a ass into gear. Lee Iacocca and Kirk Kerkorian were the crown jesters of a pointless takeover exercise. As for Ford, wasn’t the fact that the Ford family held sway the major reason why an industry outsider like Alan Mulally was successful at restructuring the company? He didn’t need to worry about holding off on a strategy, or hiring some lackey to his management team,  just because some schmuck with a big block of stock thought he knew more.

Smaller shareholders are nothing more than gamblers. If something bad happens, they are the last to know and for good reason. They don’t know anything. Even if they did, their shares don’t enable them to help create that change. I can’t think of one solitary situation in the last 50 years where a small shareholder has been able to make a difference in any automobile company.

Who has offered the greatest stability and success in the long run? In our industry it may very well solely rest in the wiser and more patient hands of the family controlled business.

The most successful Japanese auto company is owned by the Toyoda family. The most successful European company, Volkswagen, is ruled by Porsche Automobil Holding. A German holding company owned by the Porsche families.

As for American manufacturers, only Ford, a company controlled by the Ford family for well over a century, was able to survive the 2008 meltdown without a direct bailout. The shareholders did nothing but lose all their money and offer many of us a golden opportunity to short their stocks. John Q Public and Cerberus were inevitably replaced by the unions, Fiat, and Uncle Sam.

Could individuals shareholders ever make a difference in this business? If not, do they simply make it easier for the family with limited resources to control the business?

Instead of offering a reflexive yes/no based on ideological allegiance, I want you to also think about the financial issues. We are in a heavily cyclical industry. White knights, along with new leaders, have helped save nearly every automaker from bankruptcy or a hostile takeover at one time or another.

But can this defense be better executed with a family that has their own name and reputation to defend? Instead of a bunch of shareholders who are in it simply for the stock price?

My answer is yes. I think small shareholders serve as nothing more than a money pool for those who are doing the real work. In a well-run organization they offer liquidity. In good times, they get dividends and stock appreciation. In bad times, they usually don’t have any means to change the running of a car business for the better.  This business has far too many influencers on too many levels for public shareholders to effect change.

Am I wrong?

Author’s Note: Even when Steve is wrong you can reach him at Steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com

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Hammer Time: Not All Cheap Cars Are Beaters http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-cheap-cars-are-not-beaters/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-cheap-cars-are-not-beaters/#comments Mon, 26 May 2014 10:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=829882 One dollar of depreciation in four years. Fifty-five miles per gallon. Forty-eight thousand miles. I may have very well owned the cheapest car in America a few years ago. Back in 2009, I bought a 2001 Honda Insight with 145,000 miles for all of $4001 at an auction. After four years and with 193,000 miles, I […]

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2001-honda-insight-rear

One dollar of depreciation in four years.

Fifty-five miles per gallon.

Forty-eight thousand miles.

I may have very well owned the cheapest car in America a few years ago. Back in 2009, I bought a 2001 Honda Insight with 145,000 miles for all of $4001 at an auction. After four years and with 193,000 miles, I sold it last year for exactly $4000.

That’s all well and good, but let’s face it folks. I’m in the car business. Plus, a first generation Honda Insight is pretty much a cheat when it comes to cheap cars. It was designed with stingy bastards like me in mind who use the edge of the technological envelope instead of individual ingenuity and improvisation.

That Insight was a cheap car… but definitely not a beater. Why? Too much money and too few stories about personal travels and other unique mayhem. To me, a beater is a concept that has far more to do with the owners than the actual car.

Three qualities define the beater.

Personalization: Murilee’s 1992 Honda Civic may outlast the Crown Vic dinosaurs that find their way to government auctions and taxicab companies.  But his 1965 Chevrolet Impala was a rolling embodiment of the glories that come from a beater that has true inner beauty. He made that car whole in every sense of the word.

Parsimony: Beaters must always remain cheap when it comes to cosmetics. A 1983 Lincoln Mark VI that drools out liquids on a daily basis and has duct tape on every seat and door is more of a beater than a Metro bought new and maintained with someone’s obsessive compulsive disorder.

Stories: Rolling sewing machines that spend their days droning around on traffic-laden roads are not what beaters are about. To me at least, I want the really out there stuff. The Volvo wagon whose ten foot headliner meticulously chronicled the unique exploits of two young female lovers who traveled the country. The other Volvo wagon that was bought cheap and proceeded to financially emasculate one of our writers. The other, other Volvo wagon that was rescued from the crusher and brought back to the loving hands of a brick enthusiast.

An ability to outlast other cars to the point where it contradicts all known levels of applied physics should be spiritually welded with the stories that inevitably come with a good personalized car.

So what about your story? Did you one day find a lonely old 1980’s Subaru wagon that was used as an official beer car for your local hash events?   Did an old family car help you more fully understand the pharmacological events that come with attending Grateful Dead concerts? Heck, did you take a Renault LeCar in the woods and chase wild animals with it?

We all have our moments of high weirdness with a beater. So feel free to share yours.

 

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Hammer Time: PT Cruiser? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-pt-cruiser/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-pt-cruiser/#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 21:45:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=461266 $11,800. That was the asking price for a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser down at my local Chrysler dealer back in June 2008. Throw in a $1500 rebate or the “Refuel America” $2.99 per gallon guarantee into the equation, and you may have ended-up with a pre-tax, tag, title price right around $10,300. Not bad. Not […]

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$11,800.

That was the asking price for a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser down at my local Chrysler dealer back in June 2008. Throw in a $1500 rebate or the “Refuel America” $2.99 per gallon guarantee into the equation, and you may have ended-up with a pre-tax, tag, title price right around $10,300.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Then again, was it? There are a lot of long-term factors to consider when approaching any of the less popular new cars that are in their last years of production. Not all will be a good deal.  But you may be surprised. Join me now as we journey down the PT-shaped rabbit hole.

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If you’re not an enthusiast, and simply wanted a ‘keeper’ car, that $10k Cruiser may have been a great deal in 08′. Even with the abysmal gas mileage and the pointless towel rack in front of the passenger seat.

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Folks who don’t drive very much… hmmm… Let’s say that folks who frankly don’t give a damn about cars at all were the target du jour for most Cruisers that went out the door. It was a styling statement in a cheap car world that ranged from plasticized SUV wanna-be (Dodge Caliber) to automotive androgyny (Toyota Yaris).

PT Cruisers of the time typically came in two packages. Blah boring basic and turbo/convertible kinda interesting. This is a nuance that shouldn’t be missed. Sometimes you can find a nugget of used car goodness within an ocean of a model generation’s ennui.

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The right engine. The right trim package. The right seats. Pretty soon you are going from a strip model to a street hooner.

So what to buy?

As a long-term dealer and enthusiast let me cut one big choice out of your lineup.

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The entry level model. You like driving? Forget it. Don’t even bother. When you see an old PT Cruiser that has a low number in bold, and think to yourself, “Hey, that looks like a good deal!”, pretend like you just ordered a sundae and all you got was the ice cream.

Look at that sad little melting scoop of ice cream. It’s store brand surplus without the real whipped cream, the sweet maraschino cherry, sprinkles, nuts, caramel and whatever other trimmings you long for.

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Was it worth what you paid? Think about that. Most Sunday advertisements are selling you nothing more than cheap ice cream at a premium. Back in 2008, the real cost for the PT Cruiser came from getting that new car sweet tooth for a car that simply didn’t compare with a nice used Saturn Aura. Today, that same basic late model PT Cruiser car is a poor substitute for a 10 year old Nissan Altima.

Let’s also think about the old value quotient of hitting em’ where they ain’t. A Camry SE, an Accord coupe with a V6 and stick, and even the Malibu SS all have one thing in common.

They are usually too much money in the real world of buying cars. Most folks try to opt for the champagne popular car at the beer budget unpopular car price. In a perverse twist, many of these cars will handily outsell their less enthusiast oriented brothers and sisters.

You want value? Get the cheap wrapper with the nice stuff inside of it. The ‘old’ new car that was well-designed and given the great powertrain of a few years ago. The used car that you buy for the joy of driving instead of the brand or name that came with it.

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If you consider that to be a PT Cruiser, well, all the power to you. They certainly sell cheap.

 

 

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Hammer Time: The Weakness http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-the-weakness/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-the-weakness/#comments Sat, 17 May 2014 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=462939   I love old rear wheel drive Volvos. The way they all start up with that trademark two to three cranks right before the engine begins the never-ending combustion dance. The smell and feel of that interior. Filled with every noxious petrochemical substance known to man between 1986 and 1995. I even love the fact […]

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I love old rear wheel drive Volvos.

The way they all start up with that trademark two to three cranks right before the engine begins the never-ending combustion dance. The smell and feel of that interior. Filled with every noxious petrochemical substance known to man between 1986 and 1995.

I even love the fact that they seem to be hopelessly underpowered in the eyes of some. Fools that they are!

Yet us brick enthusiasts, the enlightened ones, know damn well that they will endure in the only race that really matters. Time… and they’re damn good at towing too. And hauling. And seating the family, And sleeping in. And razing from the near-death of abusive prior owners.

To be blunt, I bid on nearly every one that I find at the auctions. Except these days I can’t seem to find them. The youngest of ye olde progeny is now a 1995 Volvo 940 which, at 17 years old, is legally able to drive itself.

The 960/S90/V90 comes with a white block engine that isn’t quite as authentic in the classic Volvo driving sense as the red block 240/740/940.  Yet when I see one come across the block, if it’s good, I’ll usually bid on it too.

It’s hard for me to say goodbye to an old Volvo. How about you? Is there an old model out there that makes you rubberneck a good ninety degrees or so if you see it for sale on the road somewhere? A W124 wagon perhaps? An old Celica?

What model tickles the nostalgia bone and tries to find any way into your wallet?

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Hammer Time: Batter Up! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-batter-up/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-batter-up/#comments Fri, 16 May 2014 11:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=820914 The bases are loaded and the score is tied. Two outs in the bottom of ninth. 3 balls. 1 strike. You know this pitcher better than you know your brother. The last pitch had almost cleared the left field pole, and the entire stadium. Your swing was as beautiful as Mickey Mantle in his prime. […]

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The bases are loaded and the score is tied. Two outs in the bottom of ninth. 3 balls. 1 strike.

You know this pitcher better than you know your brother. The last pitch had almost cleared the left field pole, and the entire stadium. Your swing was as beautiful as Mickey Mantle in his prime. Just a few inches to the right and you would have been on your way to a private party with friends instead of another walk back to the batter’s box.

The catcher signals, and you catch one finger out of the very corner of your eye. Fastball. The pitch comes, right down the middle. It’s almost like a dream and yet, you can’t do anything about it.

The stomach pangs in stress and anguish as the rest of your body remains still. You watch it go past. The thud in the catcher’s mitt. The umpire bellowing, “Stttaaarrriiikkeee!!!” Your manager had told you not to swing and now, you have 50,000 fans booing as you curse under the breath and step away from the batters box.

Will you get a pitch that good again? The pitcher grins as he now knows, his mistake ended up giving him an advantage.

This is how I felt yesterday afternoon. That manager who I wanted to fire was a neighbor who I had bought a car for nearly eight years ago. A four year old Cadillac Seville with only 26,000 miles, a CPO warranty still in effect, and the exact color they wanted for all of $12,600. It was nearly $4000 less than what the nearby dealer had offered for the same type of vehicle. Except his was a year older and had 10k miles with no warranty at all.

For 8 years they had been happy with it being their retirement vehicle. A lot of long-distance trabeling and one of my mechanics ensured that the vehicle would stay in good running order. No Northstar engine issues. A couple of oil leaks around the 100k mark. but nothing out of the ordinary given what it was. They were happy, and I was happy for them.

Then a Solara driven by an idiot decided to make a turn going against traffic and…. bam!…. hospital visit and totaled car.

The good news was that the folks were okay. Bad news? All the airbags did their job and a 12 year old Seville wasn’t a prime candidate for the replacement of this safety equipment and the surrounding sheetmetal. The car was totaled. There was some soreness. An honest apology from the bad driver, and another page for everyone would be turned.

I get the call that evening, “Steve, someone just totaled out the car. We’re at the hospital”

“Is everyone OK?”

“Kinda. Our friends are about 80 and they were shaken up a bit. A little sore. But no broken bones. Can you come up to the hospital and pick us up?”

“Sure. I’ll be right there.” I palmed the keys to a nearby 2003 Camry and made my way against rush-hour traffic to the hospital.

It took a couple of hours to get discharged. Since there was no bleeding or dying, there would be a lot of waiting. I parked at a nearby church where my wife teaches Sunday school and made the long trudge to the hospital.

“Is everything OK with ya’ll?”

An older lady was resting on a bed and my neighbors, along with an elderly stranger, were waiting for their turn.

“We’ll be fine. But chances are Manda will need a couple of days of rest before heading back to Ohio.”

I became a good listener for the next half hour. Eventually the subject came to their next car.

“Can you help us find a Malibu?”

Sure, what are you looking for?

“We thought we would get another silver car with leather. Two years old. Maybe around $10,000.”

“I hate to say it, but you’ll be waiting for another two years to get that type of car, if you’re lucky.”

“So what do you think we should get?”

A tricky question, and I had to wait a moment to formulate the right response. These people were conservative in tastes, and I knew that I would be dealing with folks who wanted a showhorse car at the same workhorse price I got eight years ago. That deal was a lightning strike, and the auction market is a lot more competitive in 2014 than it was in 2006.

“Go ahead and when you feel able, just go to a dealership and test drive a few vehicles. See what you like and let me know.”

This turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it shocked them back into the reality of modern day car prices. Everything cost a lot more these days. The curse came from them testing cars with cloth interiors they didn’t like, and leather interiors that they thought were the bee’s knees.

“Can you get us a 2010 Buick Lucerne or LaCrosse for around 10k?”

I sighed with my eyes, “Yes, but the reality is a one owner car that has been maintained at a dealership and has a perfect Carfax goes for a stiff premium at the auctions. If you want to buy a clean car, you have to pay a clean book price.”

I showed them the clean Manheim Market Report prices for those two vehicles.

“Well, we can handle a few dings here and there…”

Baloney! Folks who insist on leather for a late-model vehicle aren’t going to tolerate scratches and scuffs. They want the perfect car, and that’s perfectly fine. But there is a price for that.

It’s called the clean book value.

I decided to browse a bit as my neighbors were busy debating each other about the car when, I found it. The perfect car.

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A 2007 Saturn Aura XE in the same color silver as their old Cadillac. It had half the miles of their totaled Seville (68k vs. 136k). The 07 Aura had also been reconditioned by two dealerships that I like to buy from because they don’t scrimp on getting their vehicles front-line ready.

One owner. No accidents. Extensive service history. This would very likely be the best car at the auction that day.

“Hmmm… well that’s interesting. Can you tell me about it?”

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I showed them the Wikipedia listing. I explained to them that the 3.5 liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission were the same one used in my wife’s old Malibu Maxx that they had liked so much. I told them that Saturn was now an orphan brand, but any GM dealer can service these vehicles and that this vehicle would likely be at least a thousand or so cheaper than the Buick since Saturns are no longer bought by most of the major auto-finance dealerships.

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Nobody shops around for a Saturn anymore.

“Yeah, but I’m not sure I want a Saturn.”

“Okay, well I’ll pull out the Carfax and let you read a few of the reviews from actual owners. I gotta eat with the family. Let me know what works.”

An hour later I got the news that I was anticipating…

“Barbara really wants to get the Buick. Just keep your eyes open, and if you find one, let us know.”

The next day the Saturn sold at the auction for $7500 plus a $200 auction fee. Throw in my $500 fee, and they could have bought the Saturn underneath the clean wholesale value. It would have been an easy slam dunk.

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Instead, I wound up buying an 03 Volvo S80 in silver with 130k miles for just under $3000. A re-man transmission was put in it only 2,000 miles ago and the car just got the belt changed at 122k. The only reason why I was able to get it was because the alternator was weak, and only 1 of the other 108 dealers took the time to look at the history.

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Most long-time dealers just assume these Volvos were traded-in for a bad transmission. Plus Volvos tend to be slow moving, but this one has the right color and recent maintenance history for a finance deal. I’ll take my chances.

I hated to see that Saturn go by though. It was the perfect car with the perfect everything else. Will I get another nice easy fastball down the middle? Eventually I will. Unfortunately, my chance to swing at it now depends on two managers who are probably still busy bickering with each other.

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That Aura will now be showcased by a dealer in Alabama. So what about you though? Has there ever been a car that you knew would be the perfect fit? But someone, somewhere, decided otherwise?

 

 

 

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Hammer Time : Saving An Old Cougar From Extinction http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-saving-an-old-cougar-from-extinction/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-saving-an-old-cougar-from-extinction/#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 12:10:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=820450 An unsellable car comes in many forms. The three-door minivan. The stickshift attached to a non-sporty wagon. The Daewoo. The conversion van with design graphics rooted in sexual fantasy. Then there is this car. A car designed in the Reagan era with a cheap plastic grille, an even cheaper plasticized interior, and a luggage rack […]

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An unsellable car comes in many forms.

The three-door minivan. The stickshift attached to a non-sporty wagon. The Daewoo. The conversion van with design graphics rooted in sexual fantasy.

Then there is this car. A car designed in the Reagan era with a cheap plastic grille, an even cheaper plasticized interior, and a luggage rack on the trunk that would do Lee Iacocca proud.

God I love this thing. What the hell is wrong with me?

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well that is true. But when you throw in a kindly old man with a love for old cars, it can get infectious.

This past weekend, I met this old fellow who wanted to get some witches brew to keep the transmission on his Cougar in shiftable shape.

“How many miles?”

“Oh, about 400,000 miles.”

“You’re kiddin’!”

“No, no, no… I take a lot of long trips. I like the seats and all I have to do is get it to 80 and let time take care of itself.”

Mark was about 80 years old and his life seemed to be the ultimate exercise in triumph in hardship. Five great kids, but not a lot of grandkids. A public pension, but not enough to handle the debts that came with esophageal cancer. A long marriage, and a recent death of a lifelong loved one. His Cougar had been the one enduring constant in his life for the last 17 years, and he wanted to keep it roadworthy for as long as possible.

“Hey, let me ask you?” He told me in a raspy voice that reminded me of the old boxing coach from Rocky, “Do any of these things work?”

A lot of you would assume that everything on the auto parts shelf related to improving a transmission is garbage, and over time, you’re right. There is no snake oil that can reverse the process of transmission wear.

But some of the solvents in these products (and many auto-trans and power steering additives) will soften and swell the seals to get the transmission’s internal seals to seal and hold proper pressure and shift properly.

At least for a while.

I told the guy, “Look, transmissions on these vehicles are as cheap to replace as a bad toupee. Here’s a site I use to find auto parts.”

I showed him the car-part.com site…. and it didn’t take. This guy was close to technology as we are to typewriters. So instead, I gave him three names and numbers to get a good used transmission. However, there was still a problem.

He didn’t have the money. Broke is broke, and at 80 years old, this guy simply didn’t have the means for those ends. I hate situations like this, but sometimes you just have to offer a temporary band-aid for a bleeding wound that will probably require further attention down the road.

“Let me buy this for you.” I pulled out some Trans-X. “If your mechanic tells you not to use it, then just return it.”

“No, no, no. I appreciate it. Really.” He gave me an aged smile and a pat just under my shoulder. “What you have already done is a mitzvah. Thank you…” and the rest of his words came out in a blur as I was too shocked to here a Yiddish word from an old man living in northwest Georgia.

I always like to kid about living somewhere between civilization and Deliverance. In truth, all my wife’s friends are smart. All my friends are experienced souls, and  my old life was one that I ran away from in much the same way as those with tough childhoods and troubled pasts move in the search for a better life.

Still I missed a lot. That line of thought is for another day, but sometimes the search for a perfect life can lead to imperfect consequences.

Later that evening, I saw that dealer queen at the auction.

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A  swan song 1997 Mercury Cougar that would likely be the biggest creme puff of an old man’s car that I would see in the forseeable future. Five pictures rarely tell you the whole story.

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After looking at the Carfax history (1 owner, no accidents, 12 service records) and the Autocheck (nothing weird with the title), I wrote the following on my Facebook page.

“Mr. Sajeev Mehta… I have just found the perfect car to compliment the Conti. 61,185 miles and yes, it is indeed an XR7.”

My timing was bad, and the car Sajeev bought was far, far worse. Thanks to a rare, almost incurable disorder known as, “The Lincoln Syndrome”, Sajeev had just decided to double his investment in one of the most heinous cars ever made in modern times. The 1994 Lincoln Continental. A car so bad that it needs two prestigious emblems to help you forget the fact that you got a gasket chewin’ 3.8 and a tranny slippin’ AXOD.

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Then again, at $900 to buy, and a $900 double-down to bring everything back to day “fun”  condition, it was too good of a buying experience for Sanjeev to pass up. Yes, his brother is a stakeholder as well in this hopeless pastime.

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“There’s only one MN-12 for me baby, and I already got it.”

So the next day, I look at the Cougar. It’s a showpiece. Whoever owned it beforehand had it detailed at least twice a year and rarely took it out of the garage.

Someone would buy it.

I went to the sale that morning, and there was just a ton of weird stuff. A 2014 Chevy Impala Limited, old style, with about 13k miles that ended up selling for $14,200 plus the seller fee. A 2010 Dodge Challenger SE in Blue with some substandard add-ons that went for $15,800. An 04 Viper SRT convertible with 22k that had arbitrated for a bad differential at the prior sale. That one went for $36,100.

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After the 8th Volkswagen and 13th minivan crossed the block, the Cougar was up for bid.

I made a fist and mouthed the word, “Fifteen” so that he would be in at $1500. I was betting that the other dealers would sit on their heels or try to lowball it at a thousand. Sometimes this tactic works. Other times, you’re in for a dogfight.

It didn’t work. Someone in the corner hit sixteen, a friend of mine went seventeen. I was hoping for the King’s Rule at this point where you look out for the other guy, and the other guy looks out for you. But with nearly a hundred dealers looking at one vehicle at a time, the market is too competitive and the King’s Rule doesn’t apply.

The auctioneer went back to me. A guy that I have known for 15 years and worked with back when I was on the auction staff at five different auctions. I was thinking about doing a big bump and flashing two fingers for a two thousand dollar bid. Then something happened.

In those few seconds, I was looking at a car that, to be frank, I truly didn’t want. I had already got rid of four unsellable cars the week before, and already had one brown minivan that I took on trade that wasn’t going to sell for a while. At $2k plus the $155 fee, I would be one major repair away from playing around with a car that had no profit in it. Ebay prices were already at play, and I would more than likely be stuck with what I call an “Almost” car. A car that everyone says they want on paper until they try to find the vehicle they truly love.

I didn’t bid. I walked. The surprise was that there were no more bidders, but even at $1855 ($1700 plus the seller fee), I was just out of love for a car that I never truly liked in the first place.

As I walked away, I realized something. Two guys had loved two Cougars. One had driven the car to it’s very limits of usefulness. While the other had kept it in a time warp and will hopefully pay it forward to another ‘keeper’ among the enthusiasts brethren.

The car world had a strange balance to it.

As for me, I now need to start shifting my own gears before I get stuck in my own version of a 17 year old Cougar. There is a squalidness that comes with shucking old and new metal. Somehow, I need to get away from buying one car at a time and applying myself towards developing a better mousetrap that will have a more enduring impact.

Author’s note: There are a lot of click friendly links to this article that will help you better understand a few of the terms. It’s all click friendly. Feel free to reach me at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com .

 

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Hammer Time : Pick Your Stick! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-pick-your-stick/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-pick-your-stick/#comments Sat, 03 May 2014 18:00:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=814314 5 cars – 5 sticks = 0 Customer Demand I hate looking at that equation. But these days, it’s about as true for the car business as Georgia is hot. An older stickshift vehicle that isn’t an all out sports car will sit at a retail lot for months on end. Nobody knows how to […]

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5 cars – 5 sticks = 0 Customer Demand

I hate looking at that equation. But these days, it’s about as true for the car business as Georgia is hot. An older stickshift vehicle that isn’t an all out sports car will sit at a retail lot for months on end.

Nobody knows how to drive them except for those folks who are either too middle-aged, too arthritic, or too affluent to buy an older car with a manual transmission.

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s five vehicles that have become the equivalent of heavyweight paperweights at my humble abode. The funny thing is I like driving them all… I just wish I wasn’t two stickshifts away from driving a different handshaker every day of the week.

They are….

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2007 Toyota Corolla CE – Wholesale 4k, Retail 5k

I gave this Corolla brand new tires, an interior detail, and a new antenna. It has returned the favor with 29 dealer records and… well… have I mentioned the fuel economy yet?

When you buy the premium vehicles in this business, you always get three options;  good, fast, and cheap.

You can pick any two of the three.

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A car with good demand will sell fast, but you can’t buy it cheap.

 

A cheap car can sell fast, but you don’t always get a chance to buy them in good condition and chances are if it is, it’s not a popular car.

This Corolla has officially served as my decoy car. The one that everyone thinks they want to buy until they find something with more options (it’s a base CE), more miles (145k), or, inevitably, an automatic.

I don’t care. With all the in-town driving I do, and with the honor of having 4 police precints within a 5 mile radius of my workplace, I need a car that will keep me out of trouble while having at least some fun until the points on my license go down. This one does the job and yes, I would have rather sold it by now.

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2002 Volkswagen Beetle TDI  Wholesale $2500, Retail $3500

Right engine. Right leather seats.

The wrong transmission for everyone’s teenage daughter.

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I flipped a 2002 Jetta not too long ago. Ergonomically, the Jetta was about three parsecs ahead of this Beetle. The dashboard on this thing seems to go on forever, or at least three feet of forever. The interior is as cheap as it is kitschy and, well, parts of that interior are the same lime green as the outside.

I should have known better then to buy a lime green Bug. But about a year ago I struck gold with a zonker yellow Beetle. So I thought that a green one could be an acceptable weird color alternative.  It’s not!

Everything works (miracle!), but this one just sits and ponder that decades old VW question,  “To break? Or not to break?”

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1999 Toyota Solara – Wholesale $2250, Retail $3000

Now this one hit all of my buttons for my highway travels. Plenty of space. Comfortable for long trips. A V6 / 5-speed combination that effortlessly cruises down the interstate at an 80 mph clip while barely breaking a sweat. It only has one itty-bitty problem. After I took it down to Florida to see family, and up to Detroit to see the auto show, someone hit it. Figures!

The good news was that this  beige on beige Solara wasn’t badly hurt  at all. A tow square from an SUV pierced the plasticized bumper at a red light. The driver had almost blown through the red in front of a cop, and then decided to back up without looking. An act of stupidity that was hopelessly compounded by the cell phone attached to his head.

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It actually worked out to my benefit.  The old bumper had  already been scuffed up hard thanks to the errant parking escapades of the prior owner. 1990’s coupes always wind up with those scuff marks on the bumper because the paint was put on wafer thin back then  and never held up.

It’s also an SE model, which in 1990’s Toyota-speak means that it has a cassette player only… no roof… and plastic wheel covers. SE really meant “Subtraction Edition” back in the day.

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1997 Honda Civic EX – Wholesale $2000, Retail $3000 130k.

One owner. Sunroof. These Civics were incredibly popular up to a few years ago.

These days they still are here in the ex-urbs of Atlanta, but only the automatic versions. This particular one has the usual cosmetic issues. Some paint wear on the hood, flaking,  and a crack on the front bumper.

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It’s also owned by my brother-in-law. So if I tell you any more negatives, I’ll quickly find myself outside the “Circle Of Trust”. It’s a good car. Really! Oh, and the battery’s dead.

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1994 Mazda Protege – 60k original miles  – bought for $775 two years ago.

This is a bad, bad car. A terrible car. It’s like an ancient venereal disease. A horrific ride of almost Roger Smith-ian proportions.

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But I absolutely love it. Why? Because it was the cockroach of compacts.

I had financed it and got it back. Twice. After it came back to me in an almost Kevorkian state, I fixed it up again and retailed it.  I only had a thousand in it and got over $4500 after two years of tough owners. So naturally, I love this one the most.

But what about you? If you were to handshake your way into the penurious plenitude of older stickshift vehicles, which one would you chose?

Note: The Beetle and Protege sold earlier this week, and I have to confess that my only exposure for these vehicles has been drive-by traffic until recently. I wanted to finance them (well, all but the Protege), but thankfully, I am buying a lot more late model vehicles these days instead of older stuff. If this keeps up I’ll probably continue to chronicle these older rides, but I will be back to my old focus of retailing newer ones.)

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QOTD: The Economics Of Ownership http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-the-economics-of-ownership/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-the-economics-of-ownership/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:27:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=807706   $150 a week. For some folks, this is a mere pittance. A lunch for four at a fancy restaurant that can be easily charged off to Uncle Sam and his seventeen trillion dollar debit card. For others, it’s the beginning of a barnacle that will likely outlast their ability to pay it. They will […]

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$150 a week.

For some folks, this is a mere pittance. A lunch for four at a fancy restaurant that can be easily charged off to Uncle Sam and his seventeen trillion dollar debit card.

For others, it’s the beginning of a barnacle that will likely outlast their ability to pay it.

They will flex their muscles and run while they can. Then once they trip, due to a lost job or a family emergency, they will pick up an even heavier barnacle, with four wheels on it, and keep running.

It’s a vicious cycle of poverty. Where the poor always stay poor. After witnessing this cycle of automotive indebtitude for years on end,  I’ve come to blame one solitary thing.

Education.

Our society encourages dependency under the guise of capitalism. Young teenagers and adults are not taught to maintain anything… other than a bank account.

We, as a society, do not promote the idea of saving money by learning how to maintain things. We do it by offering the “rah-rah” cheerleading of self-help psychology. The anointing of so-called money gurus and experts who bring out the extremes of human behavior so that we feel better about ourselves.

The marketplace is about saving money by spending it. The more expensive the good, and the higher the debt, the more economic growth we have as a civilization.

When it comes to cars, appliances and homes, we are sent from schools of higher learning to a treadmill of perpetual ignorance. We are taught to buy it; not fix it. Maintenance and upkeep is meant for the professionals. Your payments create jobs and keep these hamster wheels of human work spinning in motion. Thereby creating a stronger economy.

It’s a fraud of the nastiest of orders. The mass of humanity spends their days performing relatively mindless work to pay off debts and hoping for a small dose of personal freedom once it’s all over. To keep this cycle going, we inflate everything we can at every level.

All debts are inflated these days by third parties that essentially do nothing. Housing values are pushed up by government policies and funny money paid to banks. The two entities most responsible for the economic collapse are now given all the tools to rebuild the cycle of debt.

As for the savers? They get their savings accounts obliterated from a 3% to 5% interest level, to 0%… plus billions more in fees.

The common citizen earns it, but they don’t get to keep it. Cars are now kept under shrouds of plastic and sealed steel so that ‘lifetime fluids’ and the basic steps of maintaining a car are kept well out of reach.

The CVT will save you a couple of miles per gallon. But once it breaks, your cost is likely to outweigh the entire car because you can’t rebuild it. As for those lifetime fluids, once the warranty runs out, it’s your problem.

One of the by-products of spending over 15 years at the wholesale auctions, and developing a long-term reliability study that focuses beyond the scope of Consumer Reports and other first owner focused publications, is that I get to see firsthand what hasn’t worked in the automotive marketplace.

I get to see the Volvo XC90 with the bad transmission. The Saturn VUE with a transmission driven by a cheap belt that is now broken and financially unsalvageable. The Dodge Intrepid with the 2.7 liter engine, that not even the Salvation Army can get to run right for 10 years.

What I don’t get to see is the educated kid who isn’t taught how to maintain their vehicle. I don’t get to see the title pawns that charge their customers 25% a month interest because their customers are working 40, but keeping nothing. Even with my business which is about 50% self-financing, I don’t get the customers who are under the knife of the seven year note.

One lost job, and their equity position returns to zero. What’s worse is that they get to pay even more the next go round.

Everyone has an opinion about how to reduce consumer debt and dependency. Some believe in the free market. Others would legislate their way into a conscripted paradise. As for me, I like excavators, open containers, and easy access when it comes to cars.

As for housing, health care, education and work life, I think the answer is a bit more complicated. So let’s stick to cars for now. What would you recommend to help change the economics of ownership?

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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 “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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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   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 […]

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 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 […]

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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.

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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.

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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 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 […]

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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…

ec7

this…

i-miev

and this…

ec1

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?

 

The post Hammer Time: The Mitsubishi Banana appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

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