The Truth About Cars » New Or Used? The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:30:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » New Or Used? New or Used? : This Musician Wants An Escort (Wagon) Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:30:28 +0000 Escort

I’m a working musician from NYC. I have a conundrum.

Since 1998 I’ve owned a 1989 BMW E30 ‘vert, which has served me well as a touring artist — it just hit 160k, most of those miles mine. However, all those miles have come at a price, between 40k timing belt changes and other occasional maintenance items, I wind up putting roughly $1500 into it every two to four years.

But I’ve always loved it, and it never let me down, until recently.

It’s hit that point where everything is wearing out at the same time – seat backs (not easy or cheap to replace correctly), seatbelts, shocks, minor trunk rust, fuel filler neck, and it needs new tires and rotors–though it is still mostly intact and in lovely condition mechanically and otherwise and drives great.

I’ve been worried about having my DD be a 26-year-old car without airbags that could theoretically be pummeled by a lowly Civic or equivalent, and while it still kicks ass on B-roads, every time I drive it on interstates I feel utterly vulnerable in a way I never used to.(Other cars have gotten so heavy and big!)

But right now I simply need a car, and the BMW is safely garaged as it’s not roadworthy for the aforementioned reasons. I live paycheck to paycheck. So I need to make the best use of what little money I have to remedy the situation.

The way I see it, I have three options:

1) Spend $2k on repairing my baby and DD it, Irv Gordon-style, till I or it crumble

2) Take a neighbor’s 1998 Escort wagon that I’ve been offered for free–it is rusty and a bit long in the tooth but more or less reliable, (but again, I’m a little worried about its safety compared to new cars, even though it has airbags and is engineered for the 1997 side impact protection regs)–and repair it as a DD (needs a new muffler and other small repairs-worried it might need a head gasket as those engines blow ‘em, though it seems fine now), and then insure the E30 through Hagerty and restore it slowly as a project.

3) Try to find another used car for around the same $2k that is a simple appliance and much much safer than either the Escort or my E30, and insure the E30 through Hagerty. I could also sell the E30, but I don’t feel ethical selling it in its current condition…plus it’s got many memories, and feels more like an heirloom at this point…sigh…)

I do love driving that darn thing, and it’s never really let me down. But I don’t know what the best use of my limited money is here, and if I’m just being paranoid about using my E30 or the Escort as a DD. Or even if I can get any car for $2k that isn’t a garbage heap. (I’m also 6’2″, so that too is a consideration.)

Thoughts? Recommendations?

Steve Says:

Start by getting the Escort looked at by an independent mechanic. If it’s worth keeping for a while, then it’s time for you to have one less heirloom in your life. 

Yes, I loved those old E30s too. I remember one road trip where I was stoned out of my gourd, and my best friend just happened to be driving a forest green 1991 BMW 318i convertible through California’s Highway 1. We eventually made our way east to Reno where we blew our remaining cash on blackjack and cheap booze.

It was money well spent, as was your BMW. But once the party was over, we knew it was time to move on.

So move on donate your car to an enthusiast who has more money to deal with all the problems you mentioned. If all you have is surface rust, and that BMW is structurally sound, it may be worth selling for around $2000.  Just make sure you disclose everything to the buyer first. You want a buyer who will pay a premium for honesty, and those folks are out there. 

Escorts of this generation do have one notable weakness, and that is valve seat failure.  They also tend to like mid-grade fuel. Even the non-Zetec engine, which is the version your friend owns. My wife and I had a 1997 Ford Escort LX for four years during my early years in the auction business, and other than having to put higher octane fuel to avoid pinging issues, the Escort was completely trouble free. It also had a decent safety record for that time.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 (<— nice video)

I only sold it because we were expecting a second kid. Even today my wife prefers to drive compact vehicles like that Escort.

So what would I do?  I would sell the BMW so long as the frame isn’t rusted out, and bum rides for a short while. I would then get the Escort inspected and have the repair costs assessed before committing to it. If it doesn’t work out, you’re only out $100.

Finally, if the Escort is worth more dead than alive, I would opt for a similar, older, unpopular vehicle that has cosmetic issues, but has been mechanically well kept. You’re a musician… so aim for something with lots of records (bad, bad pun… I know) and get the vehicle independently inspected before you buy it.

Save up. Weigh your options. Don’t be afraid to say no to both vehicles if it comes down to it.

One more thing. Nobody knows how to drive a stick anymore. I now have five of them at my lot, and a sixth at a nearby auction. So if you’re still in the market for one, let me know. Please!

Steve can always be contacted directly at . 



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New or Used: Can One Car Last Through Five Kids? Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:58:29 +0000 brady1

I currently have three cars and I feel a hankering to buy a fourth. My wife has bought into the idea, now it’s just a matter of what to get.

The particulars:

- Five kids between the ages of 5 and 15…

- Active duty military with seven (7!) moves since 2005 with a couple more likely over the next several years
- Three current cars are all paid for
- Commute is 35 highway miles each way and will be that way for at least the next 18 months and maybe longer
- Car #1 – 2006 Honda Odyssey with ~120,000 miles (bought new)
- Car #2 – 2007 Honda Accord 5 speed with ~83,000 miles (bought used)
- Car #3 – 1969 Jeepster Commando that’s been in my family since 1973.

Our oldest turns 16 in a few months and we’d like to get a vehicle that the kids can all drive over the next 13 years. Note that I said ‘a’ vehicle as we keep our cars a long time and don’t intend on getting another car for the kids to share. One and done.

What should that fourth vehicle be? I see really only two paths that make sense.

First option: Get a car that pushes 40+mpg to ease the pain at the pump my commute causes. Possible vehicle: my Dad is selling his 2011 Jetta TDI 5 speed wagon this fall and I have dibs, if I so choose. This option would mean that the kids would drive the Accord, which we’re fine with.

Second option: Get something that can double as the kids’ car and that we can use to tow the Commando on our future moves. This means I would keep commuting in my Accord, which is also fine. Budget is about $7K max and we’ll pay cash.

We are leaning strongly towards getting a third gen 4Runner (’96-’01) with a V6, 4×4 and tow package as the min requirements. Manual is highly desired but not required. There are several for sale where we live (north of LA) and examples with 150-175k miles can be found for around $5k, although most are automatics. Reviews and 4Runner forums seem to portend good news regarding longevity with relatively straight forward maintenance required. My fear? My vehicle aperture isn’t nearly wide enough and that there are lots of other good options out there that we’re not considering. Whatever the fourth vehicle ends up being, there isn’t a requirement that it be able to carry all seven of us.

I leave it in your capable hands. What does your magic 8 ball say? (It better not say to buy a Panther, ’cause it ain’t happening!)


Steve Says

I like your first option the best.

If your kids learn how to drive a stick (good move there!), they will eventually get a far better vehicle in the marketplace as they get older and more independent.

As a car dealer circa 2014, it amazes me how so few people know how to drive a stick these days. When it comes to older vehicles, I find that sticks will go for about 15% to 35% cheaper than their automatic counterparts with a few notable exceptions

I still buy a lot of em’ for retail, and although they sit at my lot for longer periods of time, they also attract customers who are far more conscientious about maintenance and upkeep. This helps me when it comes to financing these rides. Since a car that is well kept tends to have fewer issues.

As for option 2, yes, the Toyota 4Runner has an excellent long-term reliability record. But let me throw in an alternative that will cost thousands less and have a solid reliability record as well.

I would consider a Mitsubishi Montero  from the early 2000′s. If you buy one with the 3.5 Liter, they are virtually bulletproof, and the kids will benefit from a higher seating position.  The gas mileage will remain abysmal. But in the real world the 3.5 Liter in the Montero will get you a vehicle with about half the miles of the 4Runner for the same price, and the reliability of that particular powertrain is solid (<—click).

Maintenance history is critically important when buying older SUV’s because a lot of them are neglected and inevitably hot-potatoed in the used car market . So get it independently inspected and only opt for ones that have a strong maintenance regimen. Otherwise you will also be buying someone else’s problems.

Good luck! Oh, and if you decide to not buy an older SUV, I have a beige on beige Toyota Solara with a V6, no CD player, and a hand shaker in between the front seats. I’m thinking about naming it, “The Rolling Leper” in honor if it more or less being an unsellable car.

If you don’t have to tow, go find the west coast version of a low-spec Solara. In a non-rust climate like central California, I think a car like that would probably be the optimal fit.

All the best.

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New or Used : Do Two People Need Three Cars? Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:29:39 +0000 ymo


Thanks for sending along your email address, and for you all that you do to demystify the process of buying and owning cars. I find myself in a unique situation, and I would like your thoughts.

My wife is considering taking a job that is 135 miles away from our home. She will commute up once and return 3 days later. We have 3 young kids, and they attend a school that is about 15 miles from home and a similar distance from my office. Should she take the job, I will be in charge of picking them up 3 days a week, in addition to dropping them every day already.

I share this background with you to illustrate that we are already driving some significant miles. Her car is a 2011 Honda Odyssey with about 45,000 miles on it (and rising at about 19K per year), mine is a 2002 BMW M5 with about 84,000 miles (perhaps 14K per year). Simply put, she doesn’t want to drive my car to the job because she’s afraid of it, and I could really use the utility of the van from time to time when she is gone. I have no intention of selling the BMW—it’s worth less than I have in it, and it makes me smile.

We’re considering an additional car for my wife for the commute. It has to be dead reliable, as she will be far away with no time to spare while she’s using it. Right now I’m considering a lease (never thought I’d say that) or buying used (although I’m nervous about picking up someone else’s problems). When crunching the numbers, I see that the Corolla/Elantra/Civic segment is going to cost me more in insurance than going up a class, so the all-in cost is probably similar to a larger vehicle.

What am I overlooking? Is there some magical bare-bones vehicle I can lease or buy used that will provide decent MPGs and trouble-free motoring? Ugly/unloved models are no problem. I can be patient in looking for the right vehicle, but time is a semi-precious resource.

Thanks for your help!

Steve Says

You have just described why so many people now drive Camrys, Accords and Altimas.

A lot of folks like to match the size of the car to the size of the commute. Small commutes are often done with smaller vehicles. Long commutes encourage more stretching room and since many mid-sized cars now have as much room as full-sized vehicles a generation ago, they are becoming the new norm for road warriors.

In the case of your wife, she will likely have about six empty seats and space that will likely remain unused for those journeys with the Odyssey.

But as you mentioned, your minivan is still needed. It works. As for fuel economy, the Odyssey gets around the mid-20′s in mixed driving and the high 20′s on the highway. Plus you never know how the world changes. That potential job for your wife may come and go within a year or two. Or it may be you who winds up caring for the family thanks to an unexpected downsizing.

You didn’t mention a budget, but given your Wall Street money management job and the fact that you seem to be in that fungible mode where so many cars can potentially fit the bill, I would start with sampling a few rentals before finally paying the big bill. You may also put some feelers out there to see if any of your colleagues are trying to get rid of a used car that has been well kept.

I would wait a bit picking an alternative to the Odyssey. See how things work out once the financials are well-established, and then go forward from there. As for a family friendly mid-sized vehicle, or anything else in the world of new and used cars, I’m sure the Best & Brightest will have far more popular choices than the 12 year old brown Saab 9-5 wagon I just bought at the auction.

Then again, maybe not. How would she feel about a brown SAAB wagon?

Note: I can always be reached directly at .

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New Or Used? : More Troubles With Old GM Tue, 08 Apr 2014 13:42:10 +0000 rogerhuyseen
A reader writes: 
I have a 2007 Pontiac G6 coupe which, up until last fall, had been a pretty decent car.
Then, in October, I had to replace a clutch and a flywheel ($1,700).  While the clutch was being fixed the driver’s side window stopped working and is now propped shut with wooden blocks.  Within a week the check engine light came on.  Friend who works at a GM dealership checked it (no charge) and determined it needed a air temp sensor.  The OnStar report also indicates that the ABS and Stabilitrack is not working and requires attention.  Then, about a week ago the key fobs and trunk release stopped working.  At first I thought it was ironic that so many things could go wrong at once, but now I wonder if all these problems are interrelated and somehow result from some kind of electrical bug.
Do you have any input on whether this could be the case and how expensive a fix could be?
In addition to these problems, the car also requires a ball joint, a tie rod end, and 4 new tires by spring (I have winters on it now).  This takes me to my second question, which is whether it is worth fixing this car or cutting my losses and buying something new.
I am really not keen on having another car payment, but if I do buy another car I would be looking for something used in the $10,000 to $15,000 range.  Because I live in Canada and have been experiencing the winter from hell, I would be looking for all-wheel-drive and would prefer a manual transmission.  This seems to leave the only options as BMW, Audi, and Subaru.  The only problem with those are the fear of ghastly expensive repair bills, particularly with the Germans, and especially considering these cars, at that price range, will have in the range of 125,000-200,000km on them.
So, the questions are, should I dump the G6 now and move on to something else?  Am I crazy for even considering the above-mentioned cars?  Are there other options available?
Steve Says
Your car is suffering from an acute case of Roger Smith syndrome.
This is a chronic disorder that is attributable to a bacteria known as planned obsolescence. All cars have it to varying degrees. However, certain defunct GM models that only existed to placate a bloated bureaucracy of bean counters are now the poster children of this disorder.
How do you cure your car?  By taking the current issues to an independent mechanic who is well regarded, and pay for those repairs. Window regulators, ball joints, tie-rod ends, ABS Sensors, all of these have shorter lives in a harsh environment. None of this is fatal for your Pontiac unless you are compelled to pay the new car dealer premium for fixing them all.
I would spend the $2000 (my rough estimate) since the car will likely sell for that much less with a propped up window, the ABS issue and the needed suspension work. If you just hate the car and want to go back to that merry-go-round of new car payments, that’s fine as well. But I am a card carrying member of the “fix-it” union, and your car is still worth far more alive than dead.
So fix it. Consider a nice seat or stereo upgrade at a local auto recycling center or Ebay. Give it a good detail, and pretend like it just came off the showroom floor. Because you know what? More than 99% of the good within this once new vehicle is still there.
You just have to bail it out… and remove those few parts that are old GM.
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New Or Used : To Fleet? Or Not To Fleet? Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:10:34 +0000
Hi Steve,

I really enjoy your articles.  Thank you.

I have a question about fleet cars.  I was driving to a meeting in one of the fleet cars my employer has.  Nothing special, a late model Ford Fusion .  And I was thinking is this a better deal to buy when they get rid of it than another used car?  Then I realized that people who use a car that doesn’t belong to them trash it. So I thought, “No way!”

Then I realized that the same people who don’t take care of it, aren’t the same people who maintain it.  So are fleet cars a better deal then non fleet on the market? After giving them a good cleaning does it not matter one way or the other all other things being the same?

There is an age old saying that applies here, “It’s not the horse. It’s the rider.”

If you have ever seen a horse trained, or experienced a long scenic horseback ride with someone who had never been a horse before, you’ll get the gist of this saying real quick. Folks who use natural horsemanship techniques to train their horses are usually able to give their horses a better life. As it relates to cars, just change two words and you’ll have the core of what differentiates a good life for a used car from a bad one.

It’s not the car. It’s the driver.

The daily driver is going to have a far greater impact on the long-term quality and longevity of a vehicle than the manufacturer. So let me cut to the chase and ask you the two salient questions that apply to your particular situation.

Do you know who drove this vehicle? Or how they drove it?

If you don’t know, then either try to find out or accept the fact that there is more risk to the long-term ownership equation. The deal may offset those possible expenses.

What has always shocked me over the years is that most consumers are willing to throw thousands of dollars into the wind without first taking a car to have it independently inspected. I look at everything before I buy, as did my grandfather who came from a long line of successful cattle traders. My advice is to get that vehicle looked at by someone who has wiser eyes when it comes to cars. A fleet vehicle may have a good maintenance regimen but that doesn’t mean it will be a sound purchase.


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New Or Used : Go Fetch! Tue, 18 Mar 2014 12:38:22 +0000 Yummy Food + Fire Hydrant Red = A Dog's New Best Friend

Yummy Food + Fire Hydrant Red = A Dog’s New Best Friend

We own a pet supply delivery business and use two vehicles. A 1995 Toyota Tacoma with 360,000 miles, and a 2004 Chrysler Pacifica with less than 20,000 miles.

Guess which one has given us more problems?

In fairness, the Pacifica wasn’t intended to be used for our business. However my dad no longer finds the Tacoma to be comfortable for the 150+ mile daily journeys, and the Pacifica has us a bit scared thanks to multiple high cost repairs.

We are wanting to save money on fuel, and have the ability to trade in a vehicle (or both) to save money on insurance, fuel, and downtime. With my dad’s age, he wants something much more comfortable than the truck.

We’ve looked at various models of Prius, Scion xB (1st Gen), Transit Connects, and lately have thrown in an Insight (2nd gen) and Escape Hybrid. He doesn’t like German (due to threat of high repair costs), though I’ve tried to convince him a diesel could be an option. Other than that, he has no brand loyalty.

Total cost should be under $10,000 – and we are able to do driveway fixes. The fewer miles the better. It does not need to be comfortable for passengers. We do haul about 300 to 400 pounds of product in our travels. So we want something that can handle that load without any issues.

Steve Says:

I would start with the seat. No, I am certainly not joking about that.

With all that driving, you will eventually prioritize that throne over all other considerations. Even those you already mentioned. What is different now versus nearly 20 years ago is that the Toyota/Honda quality dominance is no longer an absolute when it comes to cars. Every manufacturer can offer a durable product these days. However seat comfort seems to run the gamut. Some cars are wonderful. Others I can barely stand.

There are also so many vehicles that offer sold fuel economy, that it will be hard for me to say that one vehicle will equal out to more dollars and cents than another over the course of time. All that traveling for a mature person requires a supremely comfortable seat, a well constructed interior (a.k.a. avoiding Tonka level plastics)  and an overall environment that will allow for low stress.

My top pick for a $10,000′ish wagon like vehicle with good fuel economy? A Hyundai Elantra Touring wagon.  Like this one.

These models have plenty of room inside. A nice smooth suspension, plenty of good lumbar support… well, I’m not the review guy. So visit here, here and read the comments left by several owners and renters.

I’m sure there are other folks here who will recommend everything from a Dodge Magnum to a (gulp!) Ford Ranger. But if I were looking for a roomy economical transport vehicle for about $10,000, a late model Elantra Touring would represent the bullseye within a bullseye.


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New or Used : Care Free? Or Car-Free? Mon, 17 Mar 2014 17:32:31 +0000 1999 Buick Century: Where Automotive Novocaine Meets Ambiguous Androgyny.

1999 Buick Century: Where Automotive Novocaine Meets Ambiguous Androgyny.

Dear Steve,

I just graduated from college this past December and found a wonderful job at my old alma mater.

The good news? I can walk to everywhere I need to go. My work, two nearby parks, the supermarket, and to most of my friend’s apartments and townhouses. I’m living an ideal life at this point.

Which brings me to the big question. Do I even need a car?

I have inherited a 1999 Buick Century with about 130k miles that my parents bought brand new.

I HATE this car with a passion. Every time I drive it, I think about quarters shooting out of the tailpipe and onto the oncoming traffic. This year alone my parents spent nearly $2000 trying to keep this money pit on the road.

They want me to keep it, but I don’t want it within 300 square miles of my daily life. What should I do?

Steve Says:

Lao Tzu had a wonderful saying when it came to these types of situations.

“When in doubt, do nothing.”

You don’t know what the future holds. So I wouldn’t get rid of the car just yet. At the same time, you don’t need to add a lot of unneeded expenses in your life.   So I’m going to encourage you to re-allocate some of your funds so that you get the maximum pleasure minimal level of misery from owning this joyless machine.

First, see if you can get an auto policy that will offer a reduced rate for less driving. Preferably one with either a 5,000 mile limit or a 2,500 mile limit. This will save you a nice chunk on your insurance costs, which is a big expense for most folks in their 20′s.

From there you should take some of those savings and invest in a car cover.

The advantage of using a car cover is that…

1) It becomes a bit of a pain to constantly put the cover on and take it off. Therefore when you’re on that fence between either driving or using some alternative motor-free transportation, you’ll opt for the later.

2) A car cover enables you to avoid spending money on giving exterior care to a car you no longer use. It also helps you avoid wear issues such as faded paint, peeling dashboards, and other cosmetic wear items that result from a car that sits in the sun for far too long.

3) This may be a bit anecdotal. In my own travels, I have found that buyers don’t negotiate as much when you use a car cover and keep the car in good running order. A car dealership can’t pull off this trick with their inventory. However enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts are frequently able to offer a halo of extra care and value to their rides when they use a car cover.

I would change the oil once a year, keep an eye out for leaks, and drive it once every two weeks or so. Even if you don’t want to. Just find a good excuse.

Maybe you will use ye olde Buick Century, or maybe not. But at least you’ll be able to keep this unwanted car out of sight and out of mind. At least until your lifestyle changes, which it will. Trust me.



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New or Used? : I Loves My Truck Fri, 28 Feb 2014 13:00:14 +0000 f150

Thanks for your recent article about buying auto parts.

I recently bought a well used ’95 F-150 with the venerable 302 and Mazda five-speed.
When I say well used, I mean the engine has about 253,000 on the clock and sounds like it is on its last legs. I’m pretty sure I can hear the jugs rattling in the cylinders when I first fire it up, the idle hunts all over the place and it has about as much power as the Ukrainian president.
I’d like to put a new mill in it. The previous owner spent a lot of time and money doing everything but engine work. Where’s a good place to start looking for a used motor, or should I spill the coin to have this tired old unit rebuilt?

Steve Says:

I wouldn’t be sold on replacing the engine just yet.

For some reason, old Fords tend to have more idling issues than any other manufacturer I see at the auctions. They can be a pain to track down, but that that doesn’t necessarily mean that the engine is on it’s last legs.  It just means that you or your mechanic is going to have fun tracking down vacuum hoses and a long, long line of other diagnostic possibilities. If you want to do this yourself I would strongly recommend buying up the Alldata information for your F150.

As for the start-up noise, that can be a variety of things. However if the timing chain and guides haven’t been replaced at this point, that may very well be your noise at start-up. I see a lot of Explorers, Rangers and F150s with this issue, and it can require the removal of the engine in order to properly replace the chain and guides.

Let’s assume for now that you have a truck that now drinks, smokes and hangs out with the bad boys. If your engine is as wore out as an old mop then you definitely need to take a tour through the automotive scenery of the nearby auto recycling centers.

First go to Since the 5.0 Liter V8 was only offered for two years on the F150, you will only have about 1000 of them to choose from. The going price will be around $500. However, I would strongly advise that you buy a new water pump, a chain and guide replacement set, and take the time to replace any hoses that may be in need of attention. Especially in those areas where hoses can be near impossible to reach.

This engine is easy to install but time consuming. Would I rebuild it? Not unless you have the time and some serious achievements when it comes to DIY work. You can get a nice rebuild done that would give you more power. But you are looking at north of $1500 for it to be done right.

I prefer durability upgrades (a.k.a. relying on enthusiast forums for guidance and getting a transmission cooler) and stock engines instead of mods when it comes to older trucks. There also may be an opportunity to get the VIN number for the engine that interests you online and find out if it was regularly serviced at the dealership through a Carfax history. Ones that have been serviced at the dealerships will at least be given a quality oil filter and the recommended oil weight. Although with an older vehicle this information gets to be a bit scanty.



Good luck!



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New or Used? : A Road Trip… Geo Metro Style Wed, 19 Feb 2014 13:00:23 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

We want to go on a road trip this summer.

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

Why do I mention this?

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

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

Any ideas?

Steve Says:

Yes, rent a trailer or RV first.

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the cheapest route? Not going cheap.

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

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New or Used? : Should I Salvage My Shady Tree? Wed, 12 Feb 2014 20:01:15 +0000 littlebangtheory.wordpress


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

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

Here’s where my doubts creep in.

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

Any experience or stories ?

Steve Says:

Plenty of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Or Used? : Excuse Me While I Contradict Myself… Mon, 10 Feb 2014 16:06:17 +0000

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


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New Or Used? : A Twofer… And One For “The Bossth!” Fri, 24 Jan 2014 17:07:15 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

I have three choices for a “New or Used?” column today.

#1 Is a real estate agent from San Francisco who is looking at spending $13,000 on her next ride. She needs something ‘nice’ to shepherd around her clients.

#2 Is the owner of an Acura RSX Type-S that has 108,000 miles. He is looking at whether to spend about $1500 in new tires and suspensions components. Or whether to blow the budget and spend $40,000 on something new.

#3 Is Baba Booey

Hi there. I’m a guy who lives right outside of New York City and the winters here can be brutal. For a guy like me that leaves work at 4:30 in the morning, temperatures can sometimes be in the low single digits.

That’s why I’ve always had a remote starter on the car. I need my next car to be one that can heat quickly, has good handling on icey roads, and strange as it sounds, a small glasshouse area. Every car I have ever owned tends to fog up whenever I drive it in the middle of the night; regardless of how strong the defrost is. This is why the contours of the windshield and surrounding windows are a big pet peeve of mine.

I would strongly prefer  a car with flat windows and good visibility all the way around.  Just about every two months, I also need to put some Windex on the windshield to clean it up, and a large one with hard to get to corners results in a cloudy, foggy build-up over time that I just don’t like.

My budget is about $30,000 and I’m buying new. What out there represents the best combination of great heat, solid handling on slippery roads, and easy to service windows?

Steve Says

#1 Should get the second to last generation Infiniti Q45. They are unique in the marketplace, incredibly luxurious, and a well-kept one will only cost about $7000. The right color combination can exude all the luxury and prestige you would ever want in an older car, and I can easily see a silver one with a dark tan to black interior exuding all the upward mobility you need for your customers who are trying to get that little edge in the real estate market.

#2 should visit the RSX forums and see what they have to say about tires and suspension upgrades. There would really be no point in spending $40,000 or even half that amount on another car. For less than $2000 you can have a car that can ride like new and continue to give you all the fun you ever wanted back. The RSX also has a solid long-term reliability record. So I would just keep what you have and look at the upgrades as a healthy investment.

#3 just described every new Scion that is currently selling for less than $20,000.

Beth Ostrosky Celebrates FHM Coverwakpaper

A Scion iQ would have the advantage of finding parking spaces in the traffic congested areas of New York City. All the windows are easy to access and the front-wheel drive should be a nice plus on the open road. Plus you can buy two of them in different colors and mess with the minds of your co-workers.

Then there is the Scion xD which is a Yaris on stilts, and the xB which is a Corolla on stilts. With both these models you would get better crash protection than the iQ. However I would say that the best deal on the road for what describing is a late model Ford Flex. I know… don’t want to buy used. Would you consider a Kia Soul?

I’m sure the folks here will have plenty of good recommendations. Any thoughts?



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New Or Used? : A Young Driver Wants His Milk & Cookies… Right Now! Fri, 10 Jan 2014 13:00:59 +0000 123rf


I just got a job that involves a fair amount of driving and I am looking to spend about 11-13k on a car that is fun to drive but at the same time practical and reliable.

I have a large dog, bicycle, and significant other that I transport on a regular basis (not all at the same time). I’d like to get a manual but the fact of the matter is that I am very likely to get stuck in a traffic jam one way or another so I am still debating on that. My job covers gas and a modest vehicle allowance that will cover wear and tear maintenance with a little pocket change left over. So gas mileage and little things going wrong are not a big deal. However it does need to be reliable in the sense that it will start everyday and get me where I need to go.

Some cars I have been thinking of are Mazda 3, GTI, Focus, E46 3 series(wagon if I can get it), and Mustang(thats a wildcard). I would prefer that any car I get be 2006 or newer so I can finance a modest amount but I do not want to get in the hole of financing a new car thus my budget. Help out a fellow car enthusiast and let me know what you think.

Steve Says:

Your question reminds me of the all too scary fact that my own soon-to-be 11 year old son may someday be in your shoes.

I hope to hear this in, oh, about 15 years from now.

“Hey Dad! Guess what? I just got promoted to hedge fund manager at Milken, Milken & Dacau.”

“Great to hear it son. Remind me to retire soon.”

“I’m sure you’ll die first Dad (thanks son!). Oh, the bosses boss wants me to trade in the Camry and get something really nice. Like a Lamborghini Flatulencia.”

“Jeez! That will be quite a bit of bitcoins!. Are you sure you can afford it?”

“Sure! I’ll just get a loan with….”

… the uncomfortable thought of a loan on a car is enough to stop that happy daydream dead in it’s tracks. It may not be a good idea quite yet to arrange for a long-term divestiture of your wealth. Why?

You just got a job.

You haven’t made any money yet at this particular job.

You are now what we called in my native state of New Jersey, “working class”. Your financial security is exactly equal to your “new job” security. There is good news and bad news with that.

The good news is that you have work. The bad news is that if you’re smart, you are going to be in saving mode for the next several years and eventually buy those things that are worth keeping. Which means that when it comes to cars you may want to hold off on the late model throttle a bit.

I would go a little bit deeper down the model year range and consider an 03 to 05 model that has 100,000 miles or so and has been furiously depreciated. A stickshift on a medium sized coupe or sedan (Infiniti G35, Lexus IS300, Acura CL/TL) would be a worthwhile consideration. You can even go more into the affordable arena and wait for what we call the “rare birds” in the car business. A supposedly plain jane Solara that has a nice V6 and a 5-speed. Or the last of the Q45′s that often gets blurred out of the car shopping process.

If it were me, I would start nagging friends and associates for a well-kept older car and then tweak the suspension and upgrade the tires over time so that it rides the way you like it to. However I can hear my son in the 15 year distance revving up his Flatulencia and wondering how his Dad became so debt averse. The truth is I was raised that way. Debt to me is still a four letter word. So I’ll leave it up to the folks here to offer some more recent 11k to 13k alternatives with financing in tow.


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New or Used? : How Much Is MPG Really Worth? Fri, 03 Jan 2014 16:07:59 +0000 autoguide


Dear Steve:

My wife and I finally bought a brand new Honda Accord.  She loves it, and I now have one less worry in my life.

With that one less worry though comes two more things, in the form of two similarly sized cars. At least one of which I no longer need.

We have a 2003 Honda Civic and a 2011 Mazda 3.  The Civic has served as my wife’s faithful commuter for the last 10 years. While the Mazda 3 has served as my own daily driver and our road trip vehicle. I love the Mazda, and it has served me to an absolute T for nearly 50,000 miles.

I just don’t know if I need it now that the Civic is available. Here’s the thing. The Civic gets far better fuel economy than the Mazda 3 which has averaged only about 24 mpg. Now that my wife has a new car that will also become our road trip vehicle, I only need my daily driver to serve as a commuter car. My round-trip commute is 47 miles a day and I just don’t see myself ripping up the asphalt with the Mazda 3 while listening to NPR. So I’m thinking the Civic may be the better long-term bet. Even though I absolutely love the hell out of that Mazda.

Another random thought came to me while adding up the resale numbers. Should I perhaps sell both vehicles and maybe, just maybe, buy a new one? The Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte would be a great match and if I sell both vehicles, the cost difference between a new car and a used one may only be a couple thousand bucks.

So what should I do? Sell the Civic? Sell the Mazda 3? Buy an Impreza? Or should I just keep both used cars?


Steve Says:

The #1 mistake I see folks do in their car buying decisions is overstate the importance of gas consumption.

Enthusiasts want fast… and they want their MPG.

Commuters want comfort… and they want their NPR… and their MPG.

Retirees want luxury… and plenty of unused horsepower, and they want their MPG.

Each one of these sub-species in the automotive buying world has to deal with two big problems related to this want.

The first is that high MPG doesn’t always equate to high personal satisfaction with the vehicle. Let’s take your two cars for example.

The 2011 Mazda 3 has an enthusiast bent to it, and your list of alternatives seem to point to the desire to have a car with great handling and solid performance.

As for the 2003 Honda Civic? My wife kept one for three years. It’s a perfectly pleasant vehicle, and like most cars given that level of mild praise, it’s definitely more aimed towards the non-enthusiast crowd. If all things were equal, the Mazda 3 would likely be your easy choice.

The second problem with putting gas consumption on that highest pedestal of want,  is that gas consumption represents a very minor cost when two vehicles of comparable size and engine displacement are pitted against each other.

Let’s say you kept these two vehicles as your commuter for the next 8 years and 120,000 miles. The Mazda 3 averages 24 mpg during that time (your average), and the Honda Civic averages 30 mpg (my wife’s average).

In that time, the Mazda will consume 5,000 gallons of gas, while the Civic consumes 4,000 gallons. If the average price of gas is $3,50 during that time, you end up with $3500 extra in overall gas cost. This equates to $437.50 a year or a little less than $1.80 a commuting day.

Still with me? Good. Because that level of difference can become a complete wash in the long run when you factor in repair costs to the older high mileage Civic. Maybe that will happen. Maybe not. Insurance, depreciation, resale value, opportunity cost may all sway this one way or the other. But the bottom line is this…

When you make this decision, the driving experience and the quality of the interior in particular should be the two biggest considerations. You will spend months of your life inside that car. So you need to raise ‘quality of life’ to the top of the list and gas consumption, far lower in the list of wants.

You love the Mazda, and like the Civic, and I’m willing to bet that the Mazda 3 hits those two quality of life check marks with a darker #2 pencil than the Civic. So sell the Civic and keep the Mazda. As for the list of new car alternatives, I don’t think any of them are worth the financial leap given that the Mazda 3 already hits your wants and needs. Good luck!


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Electric Vehicles Suffer Depreciation Harder Than ICE Counterparts Fri, 27 Dec 2013 16:01:36 +0000 2013-Tesla-Model-S-fire-2

Driving a new car off the lot takes off 20 percent immediately upon leaving the dealership, so it goes, but for EV owners looking for some green for being green, they may wish they’d bought a Toyota Camry instead.

At the request of USA Today, Kelley Blue Book projected the residual values of EVs over a five-year period in comparison (for most cases) with their diesel, gasoline and hybrid brethren. The results? A much lower overall residual value for the pure electric models according to KBB Director of Residual Consulting Eric Ibara. One of the worst offenders mentioned, the 2013 Nissan Leaf (which has no petrol-driven sibling at all) will hold only 13 percent of its $28,000 base price by 2018, while a Sentra SL will keep 36 percent of its $19,500 base in the same period.

The causes? Discounts, incentives and federal tax credits, for one; though owners might not feel the pain as hard when they return their lease to the dealership thanks to heaping helpings of these financial goodies, the overall effect hurts residual values in the same way too much candy hurts your little one’s tummy and teeth. The other is that consumers want to own a new EV more than they want to pick up a Leaf that may need a new battery sooner than later.

Those who opt for plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt or Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid, will fare better come re-signing at the dealership; the latter will keep 37 percent of its value versus 41 percent for the gasoline-only model. Overall, however, the EV market is still in its growing pains, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

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New or Used? : The Unwelcomed Gift Edition Mon, 28 Oct 2013 12:00:26 +0000 mbeans
I’ve written before for “New or Used?” regarding my ’04 Scion xB 5MT that I (mistakenly) ended up trading in towards my family’s 2013 Outback 3.6R last year. Since then I’ve been driving my wife’s ’06 Accord EX-L V6, now at 105k. It’s a nice enough car to drive, but was never “my” car, if you know what I mean (and I’m sure you do).

Due to my recently starting a new job, the wife has given the go-ahead to look for something new that’s modestly priced. I became smitten with a 2013 VW GTI 6MT and was mere seconds away from signing the lease agreement. I had completed the credit application, indicated the radio stations I like, and then started examining the P&S contract, but got that funny feeling you can get and pulled the plug. I don’t know what it was. Dealer shenanigans. Fee overload. Slight indecision perhaps, as I’m only driving a grand total of 8 miles per day for my new commute. (Do I really need to change cars??) Or perhaps it was the X factor.

The X factor is my father-in-law. Due to age and health he is no longer driving. My mother-in-law recently traded his minty 1986 928S4 to their contractor for some money owed. She is offering to give me his 2006 Cayenne S with 75k miles. I’m feeling pressure from the wife to accept it. I’ve offered to take it and sell it for them, but my wife feels that there is a sentimental thing going on, and they want to see us drive it. I really would have preferred that 928.

Sure the Cayenne a nice car, but again it’s not really “me.” Although I’m 6′ 3″ I like small cars with stick shifts that I can throw around, not heavy pseudo-SUVs that get 12 MPG city/. However, am I crazy to turn down a free Cayenne?? I have concerns because (A) it’s not my kind of car, (B) the Carfax has 3 accidents on it, (C) maintenance costs are going to be crazy. Supposedly the frame is fine, but I know he had more than 3 fender-benders (he should have stopped driving years ago), and we have two small children so I would want to verify that. Also the car has been immaculately maintained. He did pretty much whatever the dealer’s service department told him to do.

Part of me thinks I should drive it for 1-2 years and then trade it towards something I want, while the other part of me would be worried about being stuck with a 10 year old SUV with a bad Carfax. And of course the third part of me (if that’s possible) is sick of driving an automatic.

I’m getting some serious pressure to act on this soon. Any advice from you, along with the best and brightest, would be greatly appreciated.

All best,

Steve Says:

Any gift that comes with strings attached is not a gift. Ever. When family members give you something that you must absolutely positively keep under the penalty of (insert snubbing method here), then what you end up with is a family tie that will bind and gag you and your family. 

I’ll give you a personal example. My MIL is a truly generous person and, one day, she decided to give me and my wife a doghouse. The only problem was that we didn’t have a dog. So about a year later, we have a garage sale. The kid down the street just got a puppy and it just so happened that they were the same folks who Freecycled a trampoline to us the year before.

So what did I do? Well of course! I gave them the doghouse!

My wife goes outside about an hour later, and invariably asks where the doghouse is. I tell her what happened and she tells me in no uncertain terms that my MIL is going to be ticked off to the nth degree.

My response was, “And??? This is our house! Just tell her we exchanged it for the trampoline. If she complains then we know it wasn’t a gift ”

Is your wife an only child? Then take the car if, and only if, it is truly a gift with no strings attached. Thank your in-laws profusely for their generosity either way it turns out, and consider yourself a lucky man. Don’t complain. Not even if it isn’t ‘your’ type of car. Just be a mensch, and when this isn’t such a hot button issue, you can sell it and set up a fund to handle any health issues for your in-law’s. By that time you will also have a better perspective on the security of your new job.

If your wife has siblings, then you can’t keep this car. Don’t even try. Let them know that you hope your father-in-law will live for a long, long time. Then you can do the right thing for everyone.

Research the true market value of the vehicle. Post the vehicle for sale online.  Handle the transaction for your in-law’s. and then finally, thank them for thinking of you and your wife.

As for your desire to buy a stickshift, I’ll let the folks here sort that part of your life out.

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New or Used? : The Brass Ring Edition Mon, 13 May 2013 11:00:01 +0000 (photo courtesy:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

I am about to graduate college (this week in fact) and before I start my new job I need a new/used car. I am lucky enough to be graduating college debt free and with an excellent new job lined up. I will be moving from bone dry Texas to rainy Seattle.

For the past 6 months I have been driving my father’s 2006 Avalon, but he will need it back once school is over and I don’t think I can take another day driving it. The lack of steering feel, the horrendous turn radius, the size etc.

I am leaning heavily towards something fun and sporty with a manual transmission. I am looking at cars between 15k and 18k. 20k if I can find something really clean. I will be getting an interest free loan from my parents that I will be paying back within the first year. My top three choices are an E46 M3, a E39 M5 and an RX-8. Yes all notoriously unreliable cars. Is there something I am missing? Should I forget the M badge and get a E46 330i or an e39 540i? Or should I go in debt and get an FR-S or BRZ?


Steve Says:

If those are your top three choices for buying a used car, I have one simple piece of advice.

Buy the new car.

The only caveat I can give you is that a new sporty sedan, hatch or wagon will likely be far more useful to you than a sport coupe. A lot of my friends who owned a sports coupe back in the 90′s ended up shelving them once the wife and kids came into their life.

Right now you may be as close to that stage in your life as Mercury is to Pluto. But trust me. Life happens fast and your needs (and tastes) always change in due time.

Sajeev Says:

Your taste in fresh-outta-college cars is just disturbingly awful.  It means that if you aren’t a shadetree mechanic, you hate your pocketbook.  If you can (and will) turn a wrench, you are obviously a masochist. And the RX-8 is so terrible that even loyal Rotor-heads begrudgingly include it in the family…so you need a reality check.

Then again, when I graduated from college (post Enron-collapse in Houston) I was lusting for…a damn job. So perhaps I should take the personal equation out, and be more like My Man Lang.

I know you’re hot to trot with your sweet gig and no debt, but you are overlooking your future needs of a house, fancy clothes, lavish vacations, expensive dinners/cocktails with the pretty ladies, etc.  Such items not only require a more reliable mode of transportation than a used up BMW M, but something with a lower total cost of ownership.

Are you traumatized by your father’s Avalon? Apparently so. But, for crying out loud, don’t swing to the other end of the spectrum just because of it!  There are plenty of reasonably nice sports sedans, that will be a better overall machine.

My advice? Test drive every sports sedan from a Kia Optima Turbo to a Focus ST, to a VW GLI, to…well every dealership in town.  If that all fails, then you get an E39 M5 and rule the world. For a moment.

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New or Used? : The Blasphemy Of Accountancy Edition Tue, 30 Apr 2013 10:00:16 +0000

TTAC commentator Gannett writes:

This has now become an important question around our house: what’s the best/cheapest (not necessarily the same thing) way to drive 25,000 miles a year?

My wife commutes about 90 miles a day round-trip.  She has been driving a ’98 Crown Vic P71, but that’s getting to be about done.  I want to get her something newer. So I start looking around, and there’re a lot of choices.  But then I start running the numbers in my head.  25k miles a year.  That’s 100k miles every 4 years.  Holy crap.  By the time whatever-it-is is paid for it may be mostly used up.  Not good.

So now I’m in a quandary as to basic approach, and would appreciate the advice of you and the commenters.  Not about which car to buy, but what the buy/sell strategy should be.  Do we:

1)  Buy new or near-new and trade in 1/2/3/4/5 years (not fond of this as I hate initial depreciation, but I’ll listen).

2)  Buy an off-lease and trade in 1/2/3/4 years?

3)  Buy something 1/2/3/4/5 years old and run it into the ground?

4)  Buy something 1/2/3/4/5 years old and just keep it for one year?

5)  ??

Does the question make sense?  I’m trying to figure where in the vehicle’s lifetime to buy, and where to sell, to try and keep the capital cost per 25k miles, including depreciation, the lowest, but still keep reliability, etc., high.  Fuel prices are not really under consideration – there you pay for the comfort/performance you want.  I would probably want the sell-it mileage to not be more than 150k for reliability’s sake.

We’ve never dealt with this sort of annual mileage before (we moved out to “the country”) so this is unfamiliar territory.  I know other folks have this situation.  What to do?

Steve Says:

The smartest thing to do is expand your mileage expectations a bit.

Most cars these days with proper care will easily last over 200k, and a police interceptor like the one you have is often durable enough to get past the 300k mark. I have financed a lot of former police cars over the years and from my experiences, it’s easy to figure out why taxi companies use them in spite of the gas penalty.

They just don’t wear out and they take abuse better than nearly anything else out there. Even the new police cars don’t measure up to the Vic.

If you want to have a worry-free ownership then find a good independent mechanic and don’t cheap out on parts.

It’s that simple when it comes to these models.

If you’re still looking for a relative point where the depreciation is minimal and the longevity is respectable, I would say a 9 to 11 year old vehicle would be the ‘average’ sweet spot.

A rust free climate is a big help when buying the older aged vehicle. I bought two 03 models recently, an 03 Impala and an 04 Volvo XC70, and both of them will likely sell for about 15% of their new car price and I would roughly estimate that they have about 35% of their service life left.

But they are also both a bit over 150k. Five years ago the 8 year old vehicle with 100k miles was the sweet spot. Now for the same money, it’s somewhere around the 10 year mark with a spread between 135k and 165k on the mileage.

Sajeev Says:

I don’t believe people own a car perfectly suited to their pocketbooks, short term or long term.  Too simplistic. But this isn’t about owning a Camry and lusting for a Ferrari; this feeling is far, FAR more mundane.  The lure of newer Panther Love (5 year old Town Car vs. a beat up P71) or any scenario that surprises and delights is stronger than a strict budget for the next 8+ years of use.

Your eye will wander and you’ll think, “I coulda had this instead and not pay much more for it!” If we recommend a Corolla to replace the Crown Vic and you hate the seats after 6 months, will you keep it for long? Not likely. 

To avoid future email saying, “thanks for the advice guys but it was wrong, now I need a new car” I’m asking you to narrow down the parameters. The intangibles. The things that make us human beings, not robots! Get something you’ll actually like for this time period.  A car that, flaws intact, will still be interesting enough to avoid the lure of newer metal.  Panthers are good at that…if you actually like Panthers.

My gut is telling me to recommend a 2-3 year old Camry, Fusion, Accord, Altima or just about any other mainstream family sedan with a proven track record for reliability and (somewhat) low cost of ownership after 100,000 miles.  The Camry is kinda numb and isolating, so maybe that’s the best for someone who likes the ride of a Panther.  Again, if you actually like the ride of the Panther.

Catch my drift? Don’t even bother running the numbers until personal preferences are matched to test drives. 

]]> 42
New Or Used? : What Isn’t Better Than A Panther Edition Fri, 12 Apr 2013 12:00:42 +0000
TJ writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

Need your assistance for a fellow panther lover (my aunt) who is going to be looking for a new ride this fall.

She currently has a Mercury Grand Marquis (her second or third) and loves the car and would replace it with another in a heartbeat if they were still for sale.  If you’re asking why she’s getting rid of it, there isn’t any particular reason.

My aunt always replaces her cars ever 3-5 years (so B&B please no exhortations to keep the car, that was my original advice and it isn’t happening) and this one is coming up on it’s expiration date.  A word about my mother’s family so you realize how committed they are to this sort of car: My mom is one of 4 sisters, and between them, they’ve owned (at least) 2 Cadillac Devilles, 2 Eldorados, the aforementioned MGMs, a Buick Lesabre or Park Ave, and a Lincoln Town Car.  You get the idea.  They like them big, floaty, with a cavernous trunk, and preferably with a leather couch or recliner in the front.

I’m gonna try to take her to the Miami auto show this fall so she can see sample all her options at once, but wanted to see if you had any guidance.  Of the new cars that will be on offer, what is the next best thing to her beloved Panther?  My aunt realizes most people have migrated to SUVs/CUVs, but she says they won’t work because she finds them too difficult to climb in and out of (she’s 65 and barely over 5′ tall).

My first two suggestions were shot down, which were a Chrysler 300 (does’t like the styling) and a Chrysler Town and Country (doesn’t want a minivan).  I still hope that maybe sitting in the 300, or seeing the versatility of the T&C may change her mind (she has two still growing grandkids).  The next best option I could think of was the Ford Flex, with the Taurus being a distant 4th.  Any other suggestions?

I’ll have her look at the LaCrosse, Genesis, Azera, Avalon, and ES350, but I’m concerned they will be too small and/or not cushy enough, and the Cadillac XTS may be too pricey and not torquey enough.  While she is a 65 year old Grandmother, after 20 years of Ford 4.6 and GM 3800 ownership, she’s also used to lazy, effortless low end grunt helping her force her way through South Florida’s insane traffic, and I know the XTS has been hit hard in reviews for its combination of a peaky engine, high curb weight, and tall gearing.  Have I missed any other worthwhile options?  Thanks for your help.

Steve Says:

Every model you mentioned from the Lacrosse to the ES350 offers more overall interior space than the ol’ Grand. Though they all fall short of the Panther when it comes to the, “Why the hell would anyone buy a new one?” factor.

As for the ride, the Hyundai models ride a bit more taut than the others. So scratch those two.

The LaCrosse would be a good blue plate special car for her given her apparent apathy for quality interior components. But I would check to see if the interior design agrees with her first.

The ES350 is wonderful, but steep. If your Aunt has a liking for large Marge levels of interior space and a floaty ride, I would strike a deal for the outgoing prior gen Avalon. It also has a cost contained interior that is thankfully two clicks above the last Grand Marquis redesign, and you may be able to cut her a good deal.

Then again, the Shoney’s capital of the world may not offer much in the ways of discounts for a Camry-esque product.

I understand your kvetching about this expenditure. My own mom has that same Floridian ailment that is replacing a perfectly good car for no other reason than the changing of the tides. Every ten years I buy her a new Camry. Why? Beats me. However the depreciation works out to only about $150 a month. For what works out to $5 a day, I can deal with it.

I would focus on helping her with the selling of her car and the negotiation process, if she desires your help, and start with having her rent a Buick LaCrosse for the day. You may be able to find an Avalon for rent as well. This is Florida after all. Give her a couple days to make the decision, and remember to be a mensch when she picks that aqua blue model with the glossy white vinyl roof.

Sajeev Says:

I’m glad to hear she doesn’t like the 300: not because it’s a horrible vehicle, but because it doesn’t personify the values present in Panther Love.  Those proper American Sedans doing their job since the 1950s. That’s history, and that’s okay.  Now she needs to learn to compromise…somewhere.

Aside from a CPO Mercedes with some sort of thumpin’ V8 under the hood, there’s nothing in play that’s torquey enough to be a contender in the motor and styling department.  Make sure she test drives all the cars mentioned above, but there are two machines for me in this situation: the Toyota Avalon and the Camry LE. Yup, the LE.

Granted, I haven’t driven a new Camry yet, and I didn’t like the previous model (because we still had Panthers back then) but this is probably the best machine for a numb, floaty, and isolating cabin.  The Avalon? Perhaps better, but maybe not enough to justify the price.

I once grudgingly admitted that my last trip through NY, NJ and PA was far more pleasant because the (last gen) Camry LE (with those tall sidewalls) did a good job obliterating every bump on the road. While it wasn’t that unique blend of isolating-while-inspiring-confidence like RWD Panther Love, it worked. Aside from the lack of torque, the Camry might be the best bet here.  And I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

]]> 44
New Or Used? : Large Marge Don’t Want No Land Barge Edition Fri, 05 Apr 2013 10:31:53 +0000
Dear Steve and Jeev,

My girlfriend needs a car while in the midst of many other big financial decisions that severely limit her car budget. Here’s the situation.

She has access to a family owned Mercedes 380SL that has what I believe to be transmission issues. It’s dripping dark red fluid from right about where the transmission looks to be and it’s probably also leaking oil.

I’m handy, but I don’t think I’m money pit Benz convertible transmission and rear main seal handy. Then again it might not be so bad and might be a reasonable fix, until the next time it shoots itself in the foot. It currently doesn’t run and last time it was driven apparently exhibited the same problem it has for years, which is that if you don’t take it easy off the line it just dies on you.

So she needs a new car, but she needs something as close to under $4k as possible.

She also has specific tastes, though she’s somewhat flexible. (Oh boy! And here comes her laundry list! -SL)

Click here to view the embedded video.

Completely averse to Panthers (otherwise I wouldn’t have to write this email) and doesn’t want a Taurus ever (her grandmother drives one, it’s been nothing but misery).

Oh also, it can’t be a manual, which means anything remotely – Miata, 2002, Volvo wagon with ls1 swap – fun out of the question. I’ve been looking at Volvo 240s, 740s, 940s, 850s, overpriced Camrys and Accords, Corollas/Prisms and a lot of late 90s early 00s 4th and 5th gen Maximas and i30s. Also G20s and just for good measure the occasional Saab.

Click here to view the embedded video.

I’m very comfortable with the Maxima/i30 as my dad had one for 10 years and it’s what I learned how to work on so I know how to do any repair imaginable and problem areas plus they’re in abundance in this price range. I’m also intrigued by the Volvo option since you could easily sell it for the same you paid for it or more if there’s anything wrong that can be easily fixed.

As I said, I feel comfortable armed with a forum and a Haynes manual to do any reasonable repairs short of transmission rebuilds but I want something that’s easy and cheap to work on as possible. I know that the whole no domestics thing and crapshoot prices don’t help but what should she do? Find out how much the SL will cost to repair? Flush the transmission and hope for the best? What other cars should I be looking for that I’m missing. I assume craigslist is pretty much the only reliable source for these and that I’m buying a car for an owner not the car. Also, should she try to wait out tax season until prices come down, I’ve noticed that even on these sub 5k cars the prices seem higher than normal.

Steve Says:

How does she feel about a minivan?

I would suggest telling her that you want to fill one of those up and your problem should go away real quick. (Childish Giggling – SM)

Here’s the rub on this. Your girlfriend needs to stop looking at the popular cars with the unrealistic expectation of low maintenance and a low price. She wants a cheap Camry? Fine. You will find that the cheap ones are cheap for a reason. I have seen unfortunate souls spending dozens of weekends trying to find a popular car at a cheap price.

Most of them wind up anteing up thousands more than their budget allowed, and buying a popular vehicle with very high miles. Some people are OK with this outcome. The truth is that a better solution is there only if she is willing to adjust her expectations.

I would sit down together in front of the computer and go through the unpopular and orphan brands first. Visit carsurvey, Edmunds, here, there and anywhere else that offers reviews from actual owners. My recommendation is a late 90′s Buick Regal with the 3.8 Liter V6 and about 120k to 150k on the miles. Either that or an Explorer if she wants a bigger vehicle.

Get an older SUV if she doesn’t drive a lot. Or get an unpretentious middle-of-the-road sedan, with a keen eye on the powertrain combination, if her driving will be 10,000 miles or more a year.

Sajeev says:

The Benz might be worth a punt, but that’s only if she doesn’t need to drive very often. My guess is that this conditional statement is rather unrealistic. So the SL ain’t happening.

At this price, tough love is better than proper indulgence. She buys the vehicle with the cleanest interior, newest tires/brakes, the biggest wad of service receipts, and a character that isn’t completely offensive to her sensibility. That said:

“[She's] Completely averse to Panthers (otherwise I wouldn’t have to write this email)”

Come on Son, don’t make jokes like that! Has she not seen the best Music Video ever made on the face of the Universe?

I simply refuse to live in the real world believe that women cannot embrace Panther Love. And I know my man Lang agrees, he came up with the title! While my advice is true, there’s a good chance that the best vehicle for the price will also be a super tidy Panther.

But seriously, get the cleanest, best maintained, late-model, non-European machine you find…buy what she wants when she has more cheddar. Because getting what you want now only hurts you in the future.

Unless it’s a Panther.

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New Or Used? : Wah! Wah! My Life Is Over!… Edition Wed, 06 Mar 2013 13:00:17 +0000

Hello Sajeev and Steve,

I need to get a bit of advice, and I need to get it from real car guys, so I decided to ask the two of you, and the B&B, to give me some input on my situation.

I currently drive a 97 Honda Prelude. I’ve had it for the last 5 years, and it has taken a lot of abuse from me. The problem is that the body has 230k miles on it, and like clockwork, every 2 weeks something goes wrong.

Let me list the things that are currently wrong with it:

There are 2 exhaust gaskets that have perished, there is a rear main seal oil leak, a valve cover oil leak, the alternator bearing is dead, the power steering pump bearing is dead, the high pressure hose for the power steering fluid is leaking, I am missing 2 kick panels from the interior (they were broken by me and/or a passenger), shift boot is shot, the temperature control lever is broken, the temperature control cable the connects the interior lever to the heater control in the engine is rusted solid (that’s a pain to change), the shocks are on their last legs, it seems to be chewing through rear tires at an alarming rate, for some reason, getting an alignment doesn’t work (probably needs ball joint, bushings, the lot), and there are rust spots forming everywhere.

The good parts are the motor and the transmission, since they were swapped over about 70k miles ago, and the car shifts smoothly and the engine feels very strong. I am mechanically inclined, but I really don’t have the time or patients to be overhauling a car that supposed to be my daily driver, so I decided that it was time to upgrade my ride. Now I have always been raised to buy used cars, because hey, don’t be a sucker by taking such a hit on depreciation, but the used car market right now seems to be overinflated. As an enthusiast I am looking to get the most bang for my buck, and really, there are only 2 cars that interest me, one being an S2000, and the other a WRX. Because I realize an S2000 is more of a fun weekend car rather than an all weather daily driver, I have been looking around at a lot of WRXs. The problem is that used ones cost only a grand or 2 less than an equivalent new one! If I want a 2006 WRX with less than 60k miles I am looking at plopping down about 18k, and that’s way too close to the new WRX in asking price.

Another thing to consider is that I am going to finance this car. I know, buying a car cash is the best thing because a car is a devaluating asset, and financing such a thing blah blah blah, but the truth is that I am laden with student loans already (started with 40k 3 years ago, down to 21k today) so most of my spare cash has been going into paying off that debt. I have about 5k saved up for a car, so I wanted to ask: What would you do in my situation, fix my ailing car, sell it and finance a new WRX, sell it and get a used WRX, or quit life and just get a 1998 Civic?

Steve Says:


That’s my answer. Sell it for $2000.

As for what to buy, let’s face it. You are obviously a bit confused. Why do you want to buy a hysterically overpriced, fashionista oriented, financed to the nether-regions of human stupidity, Honda Civic? When you could just easily find yourself a fun sports coupe from a defunct or second tier brand that offers infinitely better real world value.

I would go where the fanbois of the automotive world fear to tread. Domestic. Defunct. Or heck, maybe a 2002 Galant GTZ with all of the trimmings. Throw in a bit of luxury and you may have the makings of a great ownership experience.

There is a lot out there. So my advice is to start venturing down that path. Find a few good owners who don’t treat their cars with all the care of a worn out mop. That’s WRX territory. Now you need to find yourself a fun, sporty car that has been conservatively driven and well maintained.

My choice… is an acquired one. Drive a few cars that have strong owner reviews and fall in the “unpopular because of the brand” category. Find the right prior owner, get it inspected, and you may just find yourself a nice long-term keeper.

Sajeev Says:

Caring about reducing debt and owning a Subaru WRX (especially considering how fragile they are when abused) does not compute. I’m not saying you need to buy a Crown Victoria Honda Civic, but you need to decide if you really give a crap of advancing your future finances, faster.

WRX’s are premium fuel thirsty.  They are expensive to insure, fix, etc.  They are a horrible car for someone in your situation.

Time for you to take stock in what REALLY matters to you, and buy that.  If you want a WRX, no biggie. Just make sure you know how much more money you’ll spend every month over something more normal, more sedate.  I’d suggest a first gen Mazda 6, honestly.

]]> 92
New or Used? : Freddy Krueger And The Talon Edition Mon, 04 Mar 2013 13:00:21 +0000
I am in need of some car advice.

I’m working with about $2000 or so and I’ve found some cars in my area that I’m interested in.

They are a 1993 Eagle Talon with 86k miles for $1800, 1996 Ford Thunderbird LX V8 with 130k miles for $1400, loaded 1999 Taurus SE with 133k miles for $2100 and lastly, a loaded  2002 Ford Taurus SES with 115k miles for $2200.

Now I’m currently a college student and I’ll be graduating this December. I don’t have a lot of money to work with and I’m looking for what, I feel, is the best overall deal, not only in purchase price but the upkeep as well.

This car has to be able to take me back to school for my last semester starting in August (I’m about 4 hours from my home), fit my college stuff in back (we usually rent a van) and last me for a while until I can make money and hopefully get something nicer.

My logical mind is telling me to rule off the Talon and Thunderbird purely on age, but the owners say they’ve been maintained regularly and the Thunderbird is also a spare car its owners want to get rid of quickly. That could mean more room to talk numbers. Plus, I’ve always loved that body Thunderbird.

Both Taurus’ have sunroof and spoiler and are pretty nice overall. But, for some reason, I’m just not feeling them as much as the Talon and Thunderbird. What would you do? When I go home for Spring Break in a couple of weeks, I plan on looking at the cars if they’re not sold and hopefully make a move and take it back down to school with me if all goes as planned.

I feel the Talon with 86k miles could, potentially, still have a lot of life left in it. On the opposite end, I feel the 2002 Taurus would be the best move overall. I’m just not sure. Help!

P.S.: I’ve already looked up the fuel economy estimates, gotten insurance quotes, safety equipment and researched the reliability/problems for each of the cars. I’m a car fanatic. This probably wouldn’t be as hard if I didn’t like so many types of cars. I can honestly see any of them in my driveway and would have no problems with owning any of them.

Steve Says:

A normally aspirated Talon can be a fun vehicle to drive. I bought a black one for only $500 about 7 years ago that had similar mileage. Sold it for $1800 about a week later and thought that all was well with the world.

Well, a few days later, I get one of the creepiest calls of my life. The same guy who I sold the car to starts cussin’ and threatening me for selling him a lemon. We’re talking about, “You’re lucky I’m a Christian, because five years ago I would have beaten the ever lovin @^%#%!!! out of you, and oh by the way, #%$##!!!!!” type of call.”

I texted him back, “Tell me EXACTLY what’s wrong with the vehicle, and don’t ever threaten me again.”

He tells me of a ticking noise that sounds real loud. Almost like a knock. Apparently the Talons of this generation have lifter noise issues. I help him find the information online and he apologizes. All is again well with the world. With the exception of my nerves which are pretty much shot.

Why am I telling you this? Because I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that the Talon will have a huge nuisance factor. 20 year old cars with sporting pretensions are not usually low cost propositions and Mitsubishi powertrains weren’t exactly a gold standard for quality even back then.

I would consider the T-Bird and either of the Tauruses so long as there is a Vulcan V6 in their engine bay. Get them independently inspected and take the best one of the pick. Oh, and make sure you take a long drive before making that decision.

Sajeev says:

For someone in your situation, ownership of a Diamond Star product might as well be the best reason for you to buy a bus pass.  Because that’s what you’ll be using more than your car keys.  Even if it’s a clean, not thrashed, non-turbo FWD model…I wouldn’t trust it to ever be reliable.  Or not leak all over your driveway.

Tbirds are great, as this Lincoln Mark VIII owner will attest.  But, depending on your state/county, insurance can be expensive because it could be considered a performance car just like a Mustang.  And if it’s a 3.8L V6 with a neglected cooling system, expect headgasket problems.

So, odds are one of those Bulls is your best bet.  Buy the Taurus with the best service records, best tires, cleanest interior, etc. Done.

]]> 52
New or Used? Help Me Find My Old Love Edition Thu, 14 Feb 2013 19:09:49 +0000 Dear Steve & Sajeev,

For 14 years I have owned a 1998 Ford Windstar Northwoods Edition with the indomitable 3.8 Liter engine. I love this van! It’s been so reliable. $38,000 and 4 transmissions later, and old rusty is still trucking. Only had to do 4 head gaskets.

AAA absolutely loves towing my vehicle. The tow truck operator and I are nearly best friends now. The autoparts store employees know my vehicle year/model immediately as soon as I walk in the door.

This Windstar is a known commodity in my town. When I turn right, everyone knows now to move out of my way before the vehicle stalls and I lose my power steering. My bottom is permanently embedded into the comfortable 1/4″ padded seat.

My question is, “Where can I find another car with such outstanding reliability?” Here are a few highlights of my Ol’ Reliable…

  • 4 transmissions.
  • 4 head gaskets.
  • 2 engine overhauls.
  • Umpteen O2 sensors.
  • Various engine sensors.
  • Cupholders are perfect!
  • Body panels are non-existent as of 5 years ago (rust).

So what should I get? As you can tell by the $38,000 I spent, I am more than happy to invest in the right vehicle. Thanks!

Steve Says:

Gosh, this answer is as easy as rebuilding a Northstar V8. A job that only takes about three days and a fervent level of prayer.

Come to think of it, I would focus specifically on the late 1990′s vehicles since you apparently have a soft spot for them.

The Cadillac Deville and Seville of that era would easily offer the same fuel economy and comparable mechanical longevity. Oh, before I forget. Ignore the Escalade and everything else with a 350. That engine is pure junk!

Then you have the game changing late-90′s Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde with the tough as nails 2.7 Liter engine. I once bought a 2002 model that was owned by the Salvation Army since day one and had the oil changed religiously every 3,000 miles. It lasted exactly 95,000 miles. Apparently they take to longevity the same way that Richard Simmons takes to pussy.

I think a 1998 model would be about as good as it gets. They rarely go for more than $600 at the auctions and you see them at every auction here in Georgia. A very popular vehicle and surprisingly affordable.

Perhaps you want a more sophisticated car. Maybe something a bit more rare and exotic. How about a Daewoo? I don’t see too many of them out and about anymore. I’m sure the lucky owners must be keeping them in the garage in the hopes that they become the next Barrett-Jackson collectible.

There was a beautiful white Daewoo Nubira wagon at an impound auction in my town a few years back with only 41k miles. The bidding was downright furious that day.  In the very last minute, the guy who started the bidding at $100 was outdone by yours truly. Thanks to an intimidating wink of an eye which raised the bidding to a stratospheric $110. I remember that I gave him a wry smile with a wink that showed no mercy. He never made eye contact with me again.

Anyhow, I went to try to find an engine for it and you know what? None of the junkyards will sell one to you! It’s that valuable! I think the guys hording those engines are the same ones that won’t let me find a transmission for my 5-cylinder 1993 VW Eurovan.

So if it were me, I would go for the 1999 Daewoo Nubira wagon. Make sure you get the automatic.

You’re welcome.

Sajeev answers:

Steve has this all wrong: how can someone that made me laugh hard enough to cry while typing in WordPress trade up from that sweet-ass Ford Windstar?

You need a BMW 7-series (E38), Mercedes S-class (W140 or W220) or Audi A8 (Type 4D) to really max out your “bang for the buck.” By “buck” I mean the money you give people in your community who thrive by fixing horrible vehicles, horribly.  And by “bang” I mean any of the popular component failures that make doing a motor swap on a 3.8L Ford look like child’s play.

The fully depreciated–yet top drawer–German Sedans have it all for you!

  • There’s the air of sophistication and class of a Northwoods Edition Ford product, but more of it!
  • The imminent failure of sensors and modules, at prices exponentially higher than O2 sensors!
  • A single engine/transmission wear item that leads to a rebuild or replacement: costing as much as a not-shitty, fully machined, replacement 3.8L long block from Jasper with enough money left over to replace the radiator and water pump.
  • I have no German counterpoint for FWD minivan transaxles. Any of them!  How sad for me!

But, ask yourself, what’s the icing on the cake I’m offering you?

The Windstar’s cupholders are fine, but it’s a safe bet these uber-lux sedans have non-functional beverage holders!

Now do us all a solid and make sure you buy one from the creepiest person on Craigslist and insist on a complete lack of service records too!  BAM SON, you done won at the Out-Windstar-My-Windstar game!

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New or Used? The Schizoid BMW Owner Edition Thu, 07 Feb 2013 12:48:38 +0000 Steve and Sajeev,

I have a 98 540 6-speed closing in on 184k miles, and I think it’s time to make some decisions on it. My commute is about 85 miles per day, 3-5 days per week. The things I replaced when I bought the car 60k miles ago are starting to wear out again (lower control arms). It has other issues as well. Some are imminent, others just looming.

I would like to spend less on cars. While repairing what you have (even an E39) is cheaper in the short term than financing  (C-segment, for example), I need to break this repair cycle at some point, right?

Here are my options as I see it, and why I don’t like any of these options:

Keep fixing it. Seems to be the cheapest short term fix, but at this point the repairs aren’t going to stop. I don’t see this as a “spend a grand on it and be good for the next 40k” situation. While I still like the car, I don’t think love it anymore.  Anything mechanical can be fixed, but creaks and rattles drive me nuts and are very difficult to silence. Besides, it still has the rust issue that can’t be fixed for any sane amount of money.

  • Find a used car. Used car prices are beyond outrageous. For what my car is worth, I’m not going to be able to get something very nice. I don’t think I can improve on my car for even double what my car is worth. Seems all I can really do is buy someone else’s problems that will hopefully be cheaper to repair. I also think selling my car might be a PITA.
  • Buy new. Focus, Dart, or Cruze all look worth a test drive. I’m anxious to see the new Fusion as well. Unfortunately, even something like a Focus SE hatch would run close to $20k. Take an optimistic trade in value of $4k and a favorable interest rate of 2.9% on a probable 60 month loan, and I think that’s about $275 per month. Almost $3,300/year in payments alone. I can repair a lot for that, even paying someone else. And this doesn’t even touch on my insurance doubling or depreciation. New cars are horrifically expensive.
If I change cars, a manual transmission is mandatory. I would like something quiet and comfortable for absorbing pot holes and long-distance highway commuting, but also reasonably well planted.
Rear seats should be tolerable for adults for up to an hour. Unfortunately, this description sounds a lot like an E39. Sigh.

Steve Says:

Stop being such a nickelshitter and fix the damn car.

Think about it for a sec. You own a legendary machine. One that if made new today, would put all the other new vehicles you already mentioned to shame. Investing in older cars is a hard thing to do. I realize that. But the outcome is infinitely better nine times out of ten.

So let’s look at this from a human perspective and examine another type of modern day legend. A true cinematic legend. A man who was the Gene Kelly of his generation  A dude that dropped out of my hometown high school way back in the day.

John Travolta… did he pack his shit up and move to Fresno after a few shitty movies in the early-80′s? Hell no! He did a little middle-of-the-road time. Pretended to talk to babies, and finally found a director the would finally fulfill his talents. Before you know it, the guy rediscovered his groove and made the comeback of comebacks.

Your BMW 540i is of the same caliber.

You need to do one of two things. Ante up with top quality parts for the few inevitable bumps on the road that come with this type of machine. Or buy the $20,000+ piece of modern day compromise that would likely bring you back into the same fix, with more debt and less to show for it.

I vote for the Travolta of BMW’s. Of course, like Travolta, you may find a few other unique surprises with the 540i along the way.  But at least you will have developed the healthy habits that allow you to enjoy other great automobiles to the fullest of extent.

As Samuel L Jackson would say, “Pay the bitch!”

Sajeev Says:

Reading your letter was brutal, because you are too picky.  That’s fine, I am the same way: hence the brutality.

I left, kicking and screaming, the world of daily driving my Mark VIII to get something new and unquestionably reliable. The point: the Mark VIII and the E39 are quite possibly the high watermarks for styling/driving pleasure for their respective brands. Your next ride won’t give you any of the stuff you really want, TRUST ME. Abandon hope: fixing the E39 isn’t a super smart idea, if you worry about the likelihood of breakdowns on your 85 mile commute. It’s time to buy something you won’t love…at least not at first.

So, as the story goes, I bought a 5-speed DOHC Ford Ranger.  I love it, even if most people think I’m out of my frickin’ mind.  Perhaps I am, and perhaps that’s what I needed: the Ranger is kinda like a Mark VIII…isn’t it?

I think you, Mister E39 Man, are Kia Optima material.  Yes, it drives the wrong wheels with a mandatory automatic…but it’s one of the few pure sedans that emulates the E39 in spirit. And you could probably afford it.

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New Or Used? : The Three Fatal Errors Edition Fri, 25 Jan 2013 12:05:11 +0000

Hi Steve,

First, thanks for the articles about purchasing cars and your perspective on things. I’ve read the entire series on buying a used car, and they contain some useful pieces of information on how to approach things. However, one thing that was left out was how to purchase a used car from a dealership that’s still on warranty.

Here’s my issue:  I’m looking at a used 2011 Volvo C30 R-design with 19k miles that has most options included, that’s located a few hours away at a used car dealership. Being a newer car, it’s still on warranty so I’d imagine there’s no reason to inspect it. Volvo also provides complimentary routine maintenance for a few years anyways. The car is also far enough away so I can’t easily talk to the salesperson or see the vehicle beforehand. Unlike a new car I don’t know what the dealership paid for it so I can’t look at invoice. Also the car isn’t a very popular car, which means that while the price should be lower, it’s harder to find other examples nearby.

Their selling price was for $22,990. They had initially posted it on eBay and while I “won” the auction at $18.6k it didn’t meet the reserve price.

  • I called them up and offered $19k. Told them I was willing to be there to buy it on Sunday.
  • The salesman said the reserve price was $22k.
  • I then countered offered $21k,
  • Then he said he would “talk to his boss.” That “I’ve gotta eat” and that “someone who took a few test drives is looking to buy the car tomorrow.” Which I assume is all bullcrap.

Anyways, tomorrow comes (Saturday) and I never hear back. I call the guy again, and he tells me his boss says “we’ll be losing money on this deal” and that he can’t do anything about it. He doesn’t counter offer, so I politely reply that “well, I was intending to buy a car this weekend. If you change your mind, please let me know. You’ve got my phone number.”

I don’t feel like I really did that good on negotiation. How would you handle this? I’ve read that used cars often are priced with a markup of 25-40% so was my offer fair? I was intending to just buy it with cash if it matters.

I know that’s a lot of text, but if you care to read it and respond, thanks a lot. In any case, thanks for your contributions at TTAC, it’s always nice to get a different perspective.

Steve Says:

You are committing three fatal errors of judgement.

First, whenever you buy used, you are not buying a car so much as acquiring the prior owner’s treatment of that car.

I have seen countless low mileage vehicles at the auctions abused to the absolute edge of kingdom come. If you don’t know how to detect that abuse, then you need to find someone who is able to make that distinction. Hire them.

Past maintenance records always help a bit.  But a more thorough inspection from an experienced set of eyes will be infinitely more helpful; especially given that this was a sport edition that was likely either a lease or a repo. Whoever had it may not have ever given any serious thought towards maintaining it.

Second, you assume that cash deals are more lucrative for the dealer. If only it were so!

A dealership usually makes far more money on a finance deal. At the auto auctions I regularly see plenty of popular vehicles sell right close to retail because the dealer purchasing the vehicle has been given exceptionally lenient terms by the finance company.

Automotive asset backed securities nearly doubled this past year on the sub-prime segment of that market. Why? Because a 20+% annual return these days on a five to six year note is easily worth the risk, so long as you can repackage that loan among thousands of others and sell it in the open market.

A default on a house simply makes you a renter, even if you have limited funds. The downside is limited.

A default on a car can deprive you of mobility, and make you have to eventually take a 12 year old beater of a Buick instead of a 2 year old hot car with an extended warranty.

The people who buy hot hatches usually want to keep them. America is a transient place. As much as I hate to say it,a lot of folks value their financed cars far more than their rented apartments and houses. After all, if they don’t like where they live, they can find plenty of others just like it or better. That’s not the case with a car.

The final error of judgement I’ll leave to Sajeev. All the best!

Sajeev Says:

Wait…there’s a third error here?  And it doesn’t involve the lack of consideration of Panther Love? Oh dear…

Steve pretty much nailed it. That could easily be an abused auction vehicle, hire someone to inspect it for signs of such concerns.  Cash deals work better on craigslist for private party buyers, most dealerships will wait for/prefer the finance buyer if their margins are getting slim. Or non-existent, which is possible in this case. The third? Perhaps they think they can get you for the full “reserve” price. Or perhaps…

…(calling Steve right now)…Hey dude, mmm-hmmm, uh-huh, mmm-hmmm…OH DAMN SON!

Truth: consider a Volvo dealer’s lifetime value of an R-design customer. Consider this in terms of parts and service. Would they prefer to sell this (zero-profit?) car to someone local? Because you’re gonna hand them a check and probably never come back.  But if it goes to one of their established customers, they will see this vehicle again: in the service drive.

So what’s the deal? They aren’t dying to sell this Volvo…yet.  Perhaps they bought it way too high (as a trade-in, to ensure a sale on another Volvo) or perhaps they can find a more valuable customer for a hot commodity, via financing or longer term service.  This is a niche vehicle, and you don’t necessarily get a smokin’ deal on such rides at the factory matching dealership. While this isn’t an ’05-06 Ford GT waiting for a new owner in a blue oval showroom, it kinda actually is!

Chew on that.

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