The Truth About Cars » Frugality The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +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 » Frugality Question Of The Day: How Much Would You Pay For… Perfect Diagnostic Information? Wed, 02 Jan 2013 14:00:02 +0000

Flashes and pulses.

I was staring at an archaic diagnostic system on a 1992 Volvo 940 wagon.  It was located underneath the hood, inside a plastic cover, with six little holes for each one of the six digits, along with a cheap plastic wand.

What came out was morse code. Three little reds, stop. One little red, stop. Two little reds, stop. Code 312. Time to visit the brickboard, where the code could be translated to about fifteen different potential issues.

21 model years later, and we’re still not quite there yet.

Not too long after my experience with Volvo code readings, OBD-II system would roar into the scene during the mid-90′s and seemed to change everything for the better.

Instead of having a shop that required an expensive tool du jour and a book full of possible translations, nearly everything became universal. Code P0420 would always a bad catalytic converter. Code P0301 became a random cylinder misfire for cylinder #1. P0131 would be an oxygen sensor with low voltage.

So what do you do with an oxygen sensor with low voltage? Well, the good news was that there were only three possibilities.


A code P0131 meant that one or more of the following has happened:

  • Faulty o2 oxygen sensor
  • Short to voltage on O2 signal circuit
  • High resistance or open on O2 signal circuit

Possible Solutions

  • Replace that faulty sensor!
  • Repair short, open, or high resistance on o2 signal circuit?

(Information courtesy of

Option 1 was simple and potentially expensive. Some oxygen sensors were cheap. Others not so much.

Option 2 could be cheaper… or even more expensive. You could buy the tool needed to measure the resistance. Then read up on how to determine if that 02 circuit is short, open, or high.

With option 2 you were always taking a gamble. You may have to pay for a good voltmeter and a new o2 sensor in the end. Or just the voltmeter.

Then there was the wealth of online information that either enlightened you or intimidated you when it came to figuring the whole thing out.  Click here, here and here for a small taste of that experience.

For many enthusiasts out there, all this potential for misdiagnosis represented an “I give up!” moment, and a trip to the local independent repair shop.

The mind would wander, “Perhaps that oxygen sensor could just be loose, or defective. Or maybe the problem was truly beyond the confines of that sensor.”

Who knew? Not you.

The world of yesterday and today still has one link in the chain that keeps everything together. A good mechanic. An expert with knowledge and experience that can find the resources needed to zero in on a problem which is elusive to most owners.

But what if you could do diagnose it instead? With absolutely no question as to what needs to be done?

What if your car also monitored all the essential fluids and components that wear out over time?

Many of us have a good ear for a starter or alternator that is about to conk out. However, a rear main seal or a water pump may escape our attention as we travel from here to there.

How much would you pay for perfect diagnostic information?

Let me toss in another reality for you to consider?  Hundreds of thousands of vehicles are exported overseas, in part, due to the high feature and option content of vehicles sold in North America.  There are certain marques I routinely sell, such as Honda, Toyota, VW, and Mercedes, which continue to have a strong demand in overseas markets.

Would you be willing to keep a vehicle for 200,000 miles if such a system was installed on your vehicle for let’s say $750, in exchange for an extra $1500 at trade-in time? Let’s say such a system would also save you, on average, about $1500 in repairs and maintenance expenses as well. Not to mention saving a few of our resources.

It’s your call.

How much would you pay? Would you keep it for the long haul?

Is the offer I described attract the keeper side of your personality? Or is the temptation to trade it before that 200k mark simply too great? Feel free to exchange 200k for 13 years if you don’t drive much these days.

All the best… and happy new year!


]]> 36
Question Of The Day: Have We Passed The Peak Of Cheap? Fri, 21 Sep 2012 15:25:27 +0000

The good old days of late summer 2009.

It was a great time to buy a new car. Monthly new car sales in North America had plummeted to under 10 million units.  Access to financing seemed to be near impossible for a lot of consumers. Brands were orphaned. Leasing collapsed. Banks were picky. The future was uncertain and… raw materials were cheap.

It was a good time to buy new at a deep, deep discount.  Has that time passed?

What got me thinking about this was a late model car I was using for my auction travels. A popular car. One that sells like hotcakes. Yet it looks like nearly every interior component within it has been parts binned, deconteted and cheaped out to epic proportions.

It offered good fuel economy, a nice radio display, and several hundred pounds of plastics that were in varying forms. Could the car get any cheaper and remain marketable?

I had my doubts. From the wafer fin door panels. To the glossy, Tonka like display of the center dashboard. It reeked of cheap to the point where an hour inside of it felt like a petrochemical bath.

As I went to that evening sale, I thought,  “I wonder if this material is cheaper to buy than cardboard boxes?” It was an honest question because everybody uses this cheap stuff. From the mightiest of manufacturers to the most irrelevant of niche players. The hollowness of material quality and feel for anything 20k or under seems to be an epidemic of cheap these days.

Yet everything costs more. Reconsider those MSRP’s for a moment. There was a time not to long ago when a $13,000 Yaris, Versa, Cobalt, Aveo, Rio, and PT Cruiser were publicized on a paperish pulp we used to know as a newspaper. Remember those?

Now a few of these names, along with their far more marketable descendants are venturing hard towards the $20,000 mark. There a few discounts. Maybe even a rebate or two.  But the hard march to the next big round number seems to be the new tune of 2012. A loaded Camry can now retail for well over $30k. The Lexus LS400h can now cost nearly $100k.  We’re talking two decent foreclosed houses in the ex-urbs here folks!

This brings the TTAC readers to our question for today. Have we passed the peak of cheap? Are we bound to a new world of car buying where commuter cars only feel cheap and the ‘nip and tuck’ of cost containment has run the course?

What says you?

]]> 23
QOTD: How Can You Minimize The Cost Of Keeping A Car? Tue, 28 Aug 2012 14:20:16 +0000

Whether you drive a $30,000 or a $1,500 a car, one variable in life stays constant.

You want to minimize your costs.

The average owner in North America now spends well over $8,000 a year covering all the costs of their car. Gas, insurance, maintenance, repair, depreciation, taxes, financing… and even the occasional upgrade.

When they can afford it.

That’s one issue that I see as the crux of autos ownership for most folks. The means of ownership. Can they afford what they drive.

The struggling family that goes to a dealership and zeros in on the nearest Cadillac or Mercedes these days is just as culpable for their behavior as the fellow who considers cigarettes to be vegetables, and vegetables to be weeds.

They have an unhealthy destructive habit that is a reflection of a marketplace where the bad choices are just as easily available as the good ones.

Forget about big brother. This is overwhelmingly a matter of personal decisions. We can make it out to be as fair or unjust as we like. But in the end, there is a bluntness to all of it that can’t be denied.

On one side of the fence, we realize the Darwinian aspects of it all. People who make bad decisions face consequences. This is an outcome that is healthy for an economy because it extinguishes the unhealthy activities, and encourages the good ones… in due time.

But sometimes you also see the elements of a rigged game. The manipulative capitalize on the weaker elements of human nature. While the ones victimized often don’t know any better and continue to do worse.

After decades of looking at this learned victimization, you can’t help but wonder whether millions of people have been brought up to not live beyond a certain level of struggle and mediocrity. Even if they tried to get ahead, the scourges of debt and dependency would lead them to poverty because they simply don’t know what they need to know.

That’s the issue I have at this point. A lot of folks believe that ignorance and an arrogant attitude go hand in hand. In extreme cases they do. But when it comes to cars, ignorance is born more out of fear and apathy than anything else.

So how do you minimize the cost of owning a car? $8,000+ represents an awful lot of waste and opportunity. A lot of incremental improvements in the ownership experience could yield a better standard of living for an awful lot of folks.

Where should be the focus?

Should education and hands on experience be the primary drivers? Or should engineering and design be the driving forces that minimize cost?

I believe that the common person is simply taught to be ignorant when it comes to automobiles. They have other things to do with their lives. That’s not a big deal when you think about it, because the same level of apathy is true with most other tools and appliances.

A school teacher may get a better financial boost from learning how to repair cars, dishwashers, cell phones, and roofs. But society gets a far greater benefit from letting them teach instead of changing a timing belt.

We need teachers. Not timing belts.

So how can the market forces highlighted in that drawing above better serve the financial needs of an overwhelmingly apathetic public?

]]> 115
New Or Used: Keep Fit Or Blow It? Sun, 26 Aug 2012 21:52:07 +0000

Anonymous writes:

Last year my Ranger blew up on me and all I had to my name was about $500 and a motorcycle. I’d gone through a string of bad cars and decided to go the new route, trading in the motorcycle (it was impossible to sell, no bites) and getting a 2011 Honda Fit. It’s a great car, and as it’s brand new, has needed no maintenance. I’m now making a loan payment of $230, with an extra $60 in insurance.

One of the reasons I didn’t get a loan for a used car was that the used car market here in Oregon is particularly awful. It seems that the cheap, well-maintained $3000 Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas with 110k on them from five years ago are all gone (or not up for sale).

Indeed, even as prices for used cars go up into the $8k range (and beyond), it seems the cars just get later in model year, but not higher in actual quality with attention to proper care and so forth. For the most part, my experience has been that the used car market here has dried up. You have a choice of cars, all with 140k on them and in various states of disrepair, your only choice is how expensive and what year you want. I kid you not, there was a local craigslist ad here in town for a 1987 Toyota Camry Wagon that said $5200 FIRM on it. Oh, goodness.

I’ve put the Fit online, and have some bites but I have no idea if I want to sell it or not. The idea is to come out with around $5000 in cash, spend $4000 on a car and keep $1000, plus the added benefit of around $300 in savings each month. I have a couple of questions for you.

First, how difficult is it to sell a car you still don’t own (the Fit)? Is it a total pain?

Second, is the used car market starting to come down a bit in exorbitant pricing? I’m starting to see a *few* cars online that might be worth the trouble but I’m still leery.

Should I make the move to my comfort zone, a used car and no payment, or should I keep the stability of my new car?

Steve Says:

It sounds like you have commitment issues, not car issues.

There is nothing wrong with paying off a loan and enjoying 10+ years of no payments. Throw in 30+ mpg’s, minimal maintenance for a lot of that long haul, and a past track record for exceptional reliability, and it looks like you have finally found yourself a keeper.

I realize that it’s tough to read an enthusiast site and buy nothing for 10 years plus. On the other hand, the Fit fills in a nice niche that was partially occupied by the Mazda Protege 5 back in 2002.

Sporty, fun to drive, cheap to own.

I would argue that the Protege is a competitive vehicle in today’s world, and that a decade from now the Fit will settle in that same square hole.

Keep the Fit, and invest in your long-term sanity.

Sajeev says:

Steve nailed it: you need to focus on your sanity. Reselling a car for your “payoff+profit” asking price isn’t gonna work smoothly.  I guess if you wait long enough, the right buyer will come along…but that’s not a healthy outlook.

I’ve heard that the sky-high, 2-5 year old used car market is letting up a little bit in some urban areas, but will it last?  I have too much uncertainty in the economy, political elections or not.  And if the economy gets worse, used cars are a better option. Combined with the, um, automotive density of Oregon (relative to my Houston habitat) and that you want an inflated(?) asking price/profit margin for your Fit, I can’t give you the answers you wanna hear for questions 1 and 2.


]]> 47