The Truth About Cars » frugalist The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:00:52 +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 » frugalist Hammer Time Remix: The Ultimate Tightwad Car Sun, 11 Nov 2012 19:03:09 +0000


Saturn? Civic? Neon? A diesel owned by this long-time TTAC commeter?

For the longest time I’ve been trying to figure out what penny pinching prodigy earns the most keep. I’ve spent years pondering this question.

Well, more like a few dull moments at the auctions.

I finally figured out the answer this evening. The cheapest car to own  is the one you like so much… that you’re willing to buy another one just like it so that you can keep yours on the road for years to  come. I’ll give you a recent example of two ‘cheap’ cars with two very divergent destinies.

A family bought two vehicles from me recently. In turn, they traded two cars in for $500 altogether. One  was a 1996 Taurus Wagon. The other was a 1992 Volvo 240. Both of them  had ‘issues’. The Taurus had a weak tranny and looked like.. a Taurus.  The Volvo had been in a fender bender where it looked like it got into a fight, and lost. Both of them were worth more dead than alive. Perhaps…

The Taurus and Volvo were put on Craigslist  for $700 apiece. The Taurus had at least two dozen contemporaries over the prior seven days that had also been listed for $1000 or less.  If variety was the spice of life, the dozens of Tauruses on Craigslist  seemingly offered more spice-filled suggestions than an old Simon &  Garfunkel tune. Mine thankfully was a more luxurious version of Ford’s attempt to wreak utter havoc on the Camcords of that era.

A 200 HP Duratec engine in this one equaled  the output of the late Toyota Celica All-Trac. A well adorned cloth  interior with foldaway cupholders and storage bins made it family friendly. The ‘Mach’ premium sound systems made the ancient Volvo seem tinpot  cheap. Let’s see what else. Did I mention the engine already? Anyhow the 1996 – 1999 Taurae represented a billion plus dollar project for Ford at a time when the Taurus was fighting it out for the ‘best selling  car’ award in North America. Surely people even today must want to  snatch these things up?

Nope. Nothing moved. Not a one. Not even my ‘gem’ with only 115k.

Most already had blown trannies that were underengineered just like all the prior ones. But there was an even bigger problem.

Working on the dang thing. Compared to a Camry, Accord, or even a Lumina of the same vintage, the Taurus is an absolute pain to diagnose, repair and maintain. We’re not talking about Nightmare on Elm Street or 30 year old Fiat levels. Just enough fragile electric doo-dads, strangely configured parts, and cheap stuff to make the whole upkeep process a trying one.

Plus there’s nothing special or unique about the Taurus. No character. No longevity. No strengths within it’s design  or presence to make a keeper want to keep fixing it.

I wholesaled it for $550.

Now the Volvo 240 was a complete paradigm shift. Volvo had built these cars to last decades with proper maintenance and everything about this vehicle was ‘authentic’. No marketing cabal in their right mind would ever design something like a Volvo 240. It’s as utterly square in it’s appearance as Lawrence Welk with a bubble machine and a baton. But thankfully the parts within the 240 also make it as soulful as Coltrane on a light blues riff.

The red brick engine under the hood has become to the classic Volvo enthusiasts, what the V-twin engine has become to Harley enthusiasts. A symbol of the vehicle’s strength and  character. On the road the Volvo 240 has a sound and feel unlike anything else on the road.

It’s not fast at all in stock form. Even compacts from the same era offered far more power.

It’s not the smoothest. The cheaper Camrys and Accords of that time were far more refined and quiet.  So were Maximas, Intrepids, and almost any other pricey competitor of the early 1990′s. The interior? Even calling it luxurious in the early 1980’s would have been a stretch. By 1992 the only thing saving it from an early grave were the glacier like changes in American luxury cars, and that the Lexus ES300 was not yet a known commodity.

But the sound and feel of a Volvo 240  in motion has made thousands of folks around the world smile and enjoy their ride. It’s genuine and earnest in all it does… which you either love it or hate it.

This one was merely one of nine available from the past six weeks at the thousand dollar or less ‘TLC’ level.  At that range of time and prices, the Tauruses on Craigslist were as  common as herpes at an Elliot Spitzer fundraiser.

I got calls, calls, and more calls. They ranged from a fellow who had an almost Rain Man like knowledge of these vehicles, to a parent who couldn’t understand how a radio could be  removed out of any car. My first question to everyone was,

“Do you know how to work on cars?” If they didn’t get the hint or read over my listing, I explained layer upon layer of cosmetic issue until I finally received the polite response, “I’ll keep on looking.”

A missing interior door panel. No radio. A bad A/C compressor. A couple of broken door handles. A passenger side  hit with just enough force to make the front passenger door nearly impossible to open. Oh, and no antenna! Eventually I was able to ferret out the cheap and inexperienced and find the hobbyist who would put the Volvo 240 to good use.

The fellow who bought the 240 was already driving another 240. His had a bad wiring harness. A frequent issue with pre-1988 Volvos. It would be far easier for him to part out his current ride in favor of this commuter. Door handles and panel? Check. Radio  and A/C? Check. Engine and transmission? Two of each in great shape. Before my ‘Raging Bull’ Volvo received it’s battle scars from the teenage son, it had been expertly serviced by a Volvo specialist with OEM parts for nearly 15 years.

Like all true beaters the gold mine of value for this Volvo 240 was all beneath the surface. The sum of all it’s parts will definitely be enough to keep the owner on the road for at least another five years. At which time the old engine and or transmission from the donor car can be put into a classic that is already old enough to drive itself.

The tightwad’s car… is always the car worth keeping.

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Hedonist vs Frugalist: 2012 Nissan Quest LE Thu, 26 Jul 2012 15:45:15 +0000


Minivans are indeed fewer in number.

Supposedly they should to able to hold six or seven.

But the truth is the buyers of these vehicles rarely have room for three these days.

See, I have dealt with hundreds of minivan buyers over the years as a small town car dealer and a writer here at TTAC. Nearly everyone I deal with considers no more than three minivans. To be frank, the majority won’t even consider two which is why Chrysler, Toyota and Honda minivans now control more than 88% of the North American minivan market.

What chance does the Nissan Quest have? Even after 20 years in the public eye?

Jacque Hedonist: Minivan designs have always struck me as different forms of breadboxes. Honda Odysseys and Mazda 5′s have nice little waves in their side profiles. While the Chrysler minivans and Kia Sedonas are the traditional upright breadboxes.

The Quest is a combination of the two. The front fascia is upright and traditional with plenty of chrome staring right back at you as you get ready for parenting duties. However the entire side is one curvaceous swoop with a flattish roof that seems to compress and slim down the portly proportions of a minivan.

Stefan Frugalist:  Looks always take a back seat to function when it comes to minivans. A seven passenger people mover like the Quest is no exception. However today’s minivan buyers will be in for a pleasant surprise if they decide to ever consider a top of the line LE model.


The inside is just plain opulent.

The leather seats are thick and supremely comfortable in all three rows. The materials used are top notch; especially compared to the cost contained plastics that are widely used by the competition.  If you are willing to look beyond the names, you’ll find that the Quest in LE trim offers the most comfortable interior in the entire segment.

Hedonist: The luxury focus continues with dashboard features that seem to come straight out of a fully loaded Infiniti. You name the convenience, it’s there for your enjoyment. A Bose 13 speaker stereo system with exceptional sound quality. An 11 inch big screen for the second and third rows with headphones that offer the blissful quiet that rarely will come with rambunctious tikes. Dual sunroofs. Push button conveniences for nearly everything that needs to be folded or closed.  Even the 8 inch front screen offers front seat video pleasures when the vehicle is parked.

The Nissan Quest LE provides all of the comfort, safety and entertainment of a high end SUV, like an Infiniti QX56, for nearly half the price.

Minivan sales may have flagged over the last twelve years. But the value quotient is still as strong as ever if you compare them to similar sized SUV’s.

Frugalist: That value quotient to me depends entirely on the market segments you’re willing to consider. If you want space, plenty of power (260 hp. and 240 lb. of torque), smooth shifts with the CVT, and pure luxury for the family, then the Nissan Quest may be a good buy.

That is if all that mass is required for your commuting and travels.

But let us throw two nasty monkey wrenches into that equation.

Hedonist: The first is need. No, the two of us are not pondering the usual need vs. want equation. This Quest is far more competitive than most consumers will ever realize.

The issue I see is priorities. If you have three kids or fewer, a Toyota Prius V may represent a better alternative. The Quest only averaged 21 mpg with a fuel economy rating of 18 city and 24 highway.

The Prius V, rated at 44 city and 40 highway, averaged 49 mpg for us in mostly city driving. It essentially doubled the Quest in fuel economy while offering a surprisingly large seating space for three in the middle and plenty of room in the back. I showed both of the models to all of my wife’s friends. Even the ones who have already purchased minivans (who were the majority), said they would have opted for the Prius V had it been available at the time.

Frugalist: We don’t necessarily think that hybrid wagons will do to minivans, what minivans did to the Prius V’s large and bulbous ancestors. But SUV’s and CUV’s have already taken a huge chunk out of the minivan market over the past decade.

There may be a minor period of market adjustment. Still, we can easily see many potential buyers of minivans who have memories of being shepherded around in vans and larger SUV’s, moving even further into the world of hybrids and wagons as the ‘family vehicle’; especially if buyers can save $10,000 in the purchase price and another $10,000 in operating costs.

Hedonist: The second issue for us is the purchase price. At $43,000, a loaded LE model represents a heavy duty debt load. This is also true for the higher end models of the competition, and Nissan is offering substantial rebates, incentives and financing at this point.  As we mentioned before, if you’re looking for a minivan, and especially if you haul six or seven people, the Quest is definitely worth your consideration.

However, the overall value equation of a minivan is simply not there anymore if you have three or fewer kids and don’t haul huge masses of items on a frequent basis. Wagons, lower end CUV’s and compact SUV’s can all be had, well equipped, at $35,000 or less.

Frugalist: There is a reason why vehicles like the Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V are outselling all their minivan brethren. If you add all the models mentioned and couple the Equinox with its GMC Terrain sibling, you’ll find that not even the once 500,000+ strong Chrysler minivans can match the modern day sales numbers of any of these models.

As for the 2012 Nissan Quest, it has less than half the sales in the first six months of this year than the Prius V.

The Quest remains at or near the top of its class if you are looking at a minivan as a pure luxury vehicle.

The question is, “What will the consumer be looking for?” The times they are a-changin’ folks.

Note: Nissan provided gas, insurance and a full week of driving time. 

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