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. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:19:48 +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? : Try To Hit Em’ Where They Ain’t Mon, 30 Jun 2014 19:24:37 +0000 keeler

Hi Steve,

I have been trying to find a Lexus GX470 for several months now. Either a 2012 or a 2013.

What I have found is that these vehicles simply don’t exist here in Tennessee.

I have gone through every Lexus dealer in the state, along with a few others that are out of state. I can’t find a GX anywhere.

So I thought that maybe I should try to look at a Toyota Sequoia, or maybe even a Toyota Tundra instead. I have found a few of these vehicles at the dealerships, but the prices are stupid high, and I just can’t justify paying what they want me to pay.

I am a cash customer, and I don’t think I’m too picky when it comes to cars. What I wanted to ask you is whether you can actually find a good deal on a late model GX at the auctions.

Steve Says:


As of today there isn’t a single 2012 or 2013 Lexus GX that is listed for sale at the dealer auctions, and there are several reasons for that.

First, no new car dealership is going to get rid of a popular car that they can sell for a very stiff price premium.

That Lexus GX470 that goes off-lease is going to be looked at online by every Lexus dealer in the region before it ever winds up at the auction. If that popular SUV is even in lousy shape, they will still buy it.

When it comes to the most popular vehicles, those new car dealerships are in the pole position to make a strong profit thanks to CPO programs, today’s lenient sub-prime financing policies, and the salient fact that nearly everyone looking for a late model Lexus will shop the dealer first.

And it gets even worse for the cash customer. Certain vehicles, such as that Lexus GX and the Toyota Land Cruiser, are extremely popular overseas. Even if that off-lease vehicle looks like it got into a fight, and lost, any new car franchisee who has decent relations with wholesalers will make arrangements to flip that vehicle in very short order and get it sold to an exporter.

So the question now becomes, “Are there other avenues to buy a popular late model vehicle at the auctions?”

The answer is, yes. There are three opportunities.

The first are repossessions. Toyota Motor Credit and other financial institutions that specialize in primarily serving one manufacturer tend to give new car dealers the priority. They will even have “closed auctions” where only new car dealers for that particular brand will be allowed to bid on those vehicles. However, large independent banks such as Citibank Financial and Capital One offer their repossessions to all dealers at the auctions, and this is also true for many smaller banks and finance companies as well.

Second are traded-in vehicles. You are not likely to find many late models traded-in these days. But sometimes you get lucky and either find that needle in the haystack. That needle you find though is usually not a popular one. You are far more likely to find a tough to sell vehicle in this situation, but there will be some breathing room over the wholesale versus the retail price.

Finally, you have wrecked vehicles. Virtually every vehicle that is totaled out and has some value to it will wind up at a salvage auction. Exporters tend to be a very strong presence at these sales because the cost for overseas labor is a very small fraction of what it is here in the United States. These vehicles will be purchased, put in containers with whatever parts are needed to semi-accurately repair these vehicles, and they will be sent abroad where less costly labor will help put the vehicle back together. The North American market has become a hotbed for this type of activity thanks to the high content (features and options) of vehicles available here versus those vehicles in developing markets.

The key to getting a good deal at the auctions is to, “Hit em’ where they ain’t”. A high end Lexus or Toyota SUV is not where you’ll find that opportunity. Unpopular vehicles though can often have a healthy 20% to 35 % discount from the retail environment, but that’s not taking into account transport, reconditioning costs, and the substantial overhead of actually operating a car dealership.

So you want a good cheap vehicle at an auction? Go for an unpopular and well-made one. Think less about a loaded Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey, and more about a Mazda 5 or Nissan Quest. The Mazda 3 is super-expensive. A Dodge Dart? Not so much. Hope this helps.

Steve Lang can always be contacted at

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New or Used? : Sadly, Infiniti Will Never Sell An M80 Fri, 20 Jun 2014 13:00:00 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Dear Mr. Lang,

Your most recent article put the final nail in the C4 coffin for me and for that, I’m everlastingly grateful.

The VW GTI is but a distant infatuation, another foolish pleasure set aside.

Onward to the Infiniti M35.

My wife, county librarian, needs a reliable safe car to visit her 34 branches.

The M35 sounds like just the ticket. It would also be a good road car for our forays to Las Vegas. Any recommendation on good/bad model years would be appreciated. We’ll find a good home for her ’03 Grand Marquis with 99k. It’s time to move on.

Thanks again for your help.


Steve Says:

Wow! 34 branches! Remind me to move to where you live after I get my kids through high school. One of my non-negotiables for what I hope will be the post-Dad phase is a library I can walk to.

Forget about the beach or the mountains. I want a quiet nice place where I can read.

As for your situation, the best way to approach this is to look at everything from the inside out. Let’s start with the M35.

The interiors on these vehicles are pretty much a love/hate affair. My advice is to find one. Let her spend some time inside (without you), and see whether she likes her surroundings.

I have always thought that the dashboard, seats and interior trim are far more important to most owner’s long-term happiness than the exterior design. Sexiness sells, but you will spend 98+% of your time looking at the car from the inside out. Those interior materials make an epic difference for a road warrior, and it sounds like your wife may need to become one.

Second, you are far better off visiting an enthusiast forum than to rely on the opinion of one guy. Let them tell you about the best years, worthwhile modifications, and unique challenges to your vehicle. Every vehicle has a weakness of some sort, and taking advice from actual long-term owners will give you a far better frame of reference than any other source in this business.

Here is the M35 enthusiast forum. Related to that, the M35 happens to also be the most reliable Infiniti car in my long-term reliability study. I recommended it not too long ago, and I think you are making a wise decision by considering it.

Do you a question? A rambling epiphany? Or even a hunch that is carried by nothing but thin air? Feel free to contact me at .



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New or Used? : Why Are Old Corvettes So Cheap? Thu, 19 Jun 2014 04:32:47 +0000 1984vette
O.K. Steve
Why are old Corvettes so cheap ? .
Just Monday I saw yet another 1984 ‘Vette for sale in a used car lot for $2,500, are some years simply so bad they’re worthless?
I have never owned one and only driven a few . Mostly my buddy’s ’68 350 W/ 4 speed back in the very early 1970′s when it was a neat car.
He built it from various junked and wrecked ‘Vettes at a specialized Corvette junkyard . We rode it very hard and it was a good , fun car that took quite a beating right until he drank himself to death .
I see the 1990′s (I think) four valve versions undamaged in Pick-A-Part Junkyards all over California. They are low mileage (under 150,000), zero damage, nice paint etc. ~ how is this possible ? .
I’d think they want to sell them whole and not part them out. But no one wants them?
Steve Says:
If only it were so.
I would be more than happy to drive a late model Corvette through the winding roads of North Georgia. Unfortunately, I have found them to be among the worst types of vehicles for my travels.
They are flashy, easy to drive too fast, and cops seem to enjoy hanging around them on highway jaunts.
That 84′ Corvette you were looking at may very well be the worst Corvette of the last 30 years. The quality was downright abysmal for what was, way back then, the first year of the C4 launch. The 1984 model was built in the thick of the Roger Smith era. There were very few good GM vehicles made during that time, with the most expensive models often getting shot and neutered quality wise well before they left the factory floor.
I’m willing to bet that Corvette at the used car lot was worth more dead than alive. By the time you see these vehicles at the auctions and the car lots,  they have suffered years of neglect.
It’s sad because, at least to me, that generation of the Corvette may truly be one of the most beautiful vehicles of that time period. They were gorgeous. But I never would want to keep one, or recommend it to someone who wants a sports car worth keeping.
The flip side of the coin is that the newer C6 Corvettes tend to be pretty reliable. I mentioned this in a recent Yahoo! Autos article, and if I were in the market for a used sports car, a C6 Corvette would definitely be a  top pick.
Old sports cars that had quality issues are now, just old crappy cars. A lot of 10 year old family cars will go faster than that 1984 Corvette without the quality control issues issues that come with a Reagan era ride.  Speed is often times a given in this day and age, and with America’s aging population, sporty two door cars are just not as in demand as they were back when the C4 was first released.
There is one big plus to the used Corvette marketplace that is shared with other niche vehicles such as the Mazda MX-5 and the Jeep Wrangler. 
They are usually not daily drivers. Most of these vehicles spend their time inside a garage and are used during weekends or whenever the owner gets that longing to enjoy their ride.  Corvettes tend to be lower mileage garage queens, and the powertrains are rarely stressed.
In the used car market, there is almost always a lot of them out there. Not because they aren’t worthy of ownership. It’s just that the demographics and long-term reliability of Corvettes have changed dramatically since the days of that 1984 Corvette. Today’s Corvettes are the sports car version of a cockroach. They can outlast their owners, along with most modern day bugs of the German variety.
Oh, and as for the C4 you saw, do yourself a big favor and don’t look back. I have yet to see one from the 80′s that didn’t drive like a bucket of bolts.


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New or Used? : Vroom! Crunch! Cha-Ching! Thu, 12 Jun 2014 19:47:47 +0000 Source:


Troyochatter submits this request for your perusal.

Hey there, I have a dilemma that you might be able to help with.

Got a sec?

My brother had a motorcycle accident. All is well, but here’s the issue.

The bike is a 1996 Honda Nighthawk that books for $1895…except I have never seen one sell for  that cheap.

AND.. his is a one year only model, in yellow, and it is mint.

The insurance company wants to total it. But I have looked at it and, honestly, high end, maybe $600 total in parts and labor puts it back to 98% before it was wrecked.

Steve flippantly Says: Offer to keep it with a salvage title and find out the price difference. Then you can paint it purple with green zigzags like those old Kawasaki Ninjas.

Troyo:  See, that’s the thing, it’s not even close to totaled. So can he keep it and request a salvage title and xxx amount of dollars?

Steve: Yes and no. Older vehicles are historically undervalued and typically, you have to offer examples of why their valuation is wrong. All older vehicles, cars and motorcycles, have been historically undervalued in certain price books. The best thing you can do is visit them all. NADA often provides higher valuations due to their primary clientele (banks and finance companies), while Kelly Blue Book does a good job as well with the consumer side. Although older vehicles in general tend to be a bit of a hit or miss, depending on their rarity and the fact that average older vehicles tend to have fewer accurate data points.

He should use Ebay’s completed items, Craigslist, and Cycle Trader to find examples that reflect what he had, which won’t be easy. Even an expert’s opinion in the industry can go a long way. I have helped insurance companies with automotive appraisals. But motorcycles are a very different animal.



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New Or Used? : A Mitzvah For The Mazda Wed, 11 Jun 2014 00:11:15 +0000 redflagdeals

I have a 10 year old Mazda Protege which I have loved ever since new.

There is just one small problem.

Rust. This car rusts like Dolly Parton sings. There is rust on the frame. Rust on the rear wheel wells which I have steadfastly removed ever single year. Rust on various parts of the powertrain. All the wheel bearings have been replaced, twice, and after yet another near dire prediction of expensive rust related maintenance, I’ve decided to sell the Protege.

I put it only at around $5000 and it finally managed to sell at the $4100. Right around where you said it would when I emailed you a few weeks ago.

Except now, I have a bit of a problem. I promised the car, but the guy I promised it to had a bit of a problem getting his finances in order. A little over a week ago we agreed to put off the final sale of the Protege until Friday.

So I decided to just do some detailed inspection of the rear of the vehicle a couple of days ago and I found my decade old nightmare. A huge swash of rust on the rear of the frame that has been untreated since new.

I decided to get that entire area treated and rustproofed. Total cost was around $400.

I then let the fellow know about the treatment and asked if he would split the bill with me. He gave me a firm and unfriendly no as the answer. I was a bit pissed off because, yeah, I didn’t have a green light from him. But at the same time, he hasn’t given me the green light either now for quite a while.

Part of me (a big one) wants to drive it to Asheville, give it a last go on Tale of the Dragon, then sell it down there.

What do you think?

Steve Says:

This is why all of my holding of vehicles come with non-refundable deposits.

You want a car? Great! Two weeks. $500 deposit. No exceptions.

This is what you should have done in the first place because it discourages future window shopping and keeps the buyer focused on his obligations in the deal. Nickelshiters stop nickel and dimeing you when they have enough skin in the game for there to be a major downside to their flakiness.

As for the repair work, stuff like that you don’t do as a favor until the buyer is on board with it. Life is short. If you were afraid that this guy was going to bite the big one if he got in a rear impact, then you were obligated by a higher authority to do the right thing.

You did half the right thing, and the funny thing is you did the tougher half. You paid for a somewhat expensive repair that you were under no obligation to do. That fellow though owes you nothing but gratitude. You should have put him in the loop. Even if that meant eventually losing the deal on the car.

What I would do is honor the trade. The financial hit sucks, but you know what? You are a person with integrity and honor, and that is something that money can never bestow upon you.

So honor the deal and if he doesn’t have the money by Friday do the second most honorable thing and offer to split the repair costs on Saturday. If he doesn’t bite, take it to Asheville but don’t sell it. I’m begging you. I already see enough rolling rustbuckets at the auctions from you damn Yankees.

Author’s Note: Steve has a short memory that comes and goes with his once thick New Jersey accent. You can always reach him directly at


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New or Used : Buy Retail? Sell Wholesale? Mon, 05 May 2014 17:55:55 +0000 a1


Love your articles on TTAC. Especially those on auctions, your dealership, and used cars.

I was wondering, do you provide services to buyers looking to buy a specific car? The prices in ATL are much better than the market in New England, to the point where I would be willing to fly down, buy a car and drive it back up. (I also have some friends in ATL anyway.)

If you do please let me know. I’ve been hunting for a decent priced NB Mazda Miata – and in my neck of the woods many are quite over priced.

If not no worries. I’ll continue to enjoy your articles.


Even before I wandered aimlessly around the Internet and found this place, I tried to build a car buying service that would serve the public.

The problem back then was the same problem that exists now. The general public wants to buy “showhorse” cars for “workhorse” prices.

That’s a tough market to serve, and to be frank, I got tired of being jerked around.



Corporate customers were willing for me to buy the workhorse so long as it met certain criteria. Before AirTran merged with Southwest, I used to buy their vehicles for the Atlanta market. All I had to do with them is check three simple boxes. White, under 60k miles, and it had to be a Ford. Windstars, Rangers and Tauruses were their primary wants. They paid me cost plus $500, and I was trusted to serve their interest at the sales.

Meanwhile, I ended up dealing with three types of public buyers.

1) The Online Hamlet

This is the guy who sees a great vehicle that fills every single one of their needs and then says, “Let me think about it.” 90+% of the time these customers are just wasting your life’s energy.

2) The Illusionist

These folks always thought that the auctions were loaded with a  cornucopia of cheap and plentiful vehicles. These misguided souls wanted the quivalent of an immaculate five year old Maxima for $5000…. with leather! After showing them the realities of the auction market through the Manheim Market Report, they would write back every once in a blue moon asking me if I had anything. When I did, they became an Online Hamlet.

3) The Extremist

There were two versions of the extremist. Those who wanted me to find a very specific type of vehicle; which was almost always old or rare. They weren’t so bad to deal with because they knew their stuff, understood that old cars aren’t perfect, and could often carry a conversation that went beyond the words, “I, me, mine… gimme! gimme!”

The flip side of that coin were those who had absolutely no care about what I got, because I was buying a car to help them solve a problem. The goodhearted fellow who was purchasing a car for a parent or child who needed a car to drive. Ss for what type of car, it didn’t matter so long as it was white and the size of a Camry.

I would ask these customers what car the person had been driving before, and just buy a newer version of it. Camry drivers got Camrys. Accord drivers got Accords. Volvos begat Volvos.

Which brings me to your unique situation. To be blunt, there are two issues. The first is I wholesale the overwhelming majority of the vehicles i buy
(about 80%) to other dealerships in the metro-Atlanta area.  These customers look at cars as investments. Not a coveted possession or a depreciating asset. I find the cars that can check off all their boxes and move on to the next one.

The second hurdle (more like a brick wall)i s that you are asking me to buy a highly popular and seasonal vehicle during the very worst time of year to buy it. A well-kept Miata in the springtime will get all the money in the world at the auctions. Even an unpopular droptop, such as the Volvo C70 I bought for $1000 last November, will end up selling for about $2700 (less auction fee) during this time of year. I was unfortunate to buy it with a transmission that was going south, but fortunate to buy it at the right times. So I made money on it.

If you want me to buy a vehicle, it’s cost plus $500 and I will only buy a “lemming” these days. Late model cars that are off-lease, a rental, or a repo. A 2012 Mazda 5 Sport, silver with a black/gray interior an 62k miles I’ll try to retail for $12k. But if I bought it for someone who already gave me a 20% non-refundable deposit on the average book value before the sale, they would wind up paying around $10,500.

Late model, less popular cars are worth my buying. A car that I can flip to another dealer that specializes in that type of vehicle? Not so much.

Good luck!


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New Or Used? : The Most Reliable Car In The USA Is A …. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:42:56 +0000  


Hi Steve,

What would be the most reliable car I can purchase for about $7000-8000? And what would be the upper limit on mileage that I would even consider?

Steve writes:

I grew up in the food import business. So to me, the answer to this question is a lot like asking my Dad, “What is the best cake I can get for $70?”

He would probably tell you that it depends on your ingredients, your cooking methods, your recipe, and what parts of the ingredients matter to you the most.

The ingredients when it comes to a used car is… the prior owner.

Like a pitcher in baseball who has an overwhelming influence over the outcome of the game, the prior owner’s maintenance habits and driving style has the greatest impact on the longevity of the vehicle when you’re shopping at this lower price range.

The cooking methods are… your own driving style and maintenance regimen. The way you cook those ingredients once you get them determines a lot of that long-term reliability.

My father’s Lincolns were rarely driven hard, and he took fantastic care of his cars. My mom was a rolling hurricane who routinely beat her cars to an inch of their metallic being. Some cars can easily handle the obscenity that is a person shifting from reverse to drive while in motion (Crown Vics come to mind), while other cars would likely be recycled into Chinese washing machines within five years (Chevy Aveo).

You need to be honest about the type of driver you are, the type of driving you do, and the types of wear you have commonly seen in your past vehicles. A diesel is often better for mountainous highways than an older hybrid, and a Lincoln Town Car will likely be a better fit for potholed streets than a Mitsubishi Lancer.

The recipe is usually… the manufacturer.  The ways you get to enjoy it depends on the way they built it.

Cars have their own unique manufacturing tolerances and varying quality levels built into their 180,000+ parts. Honda makes wonderful manual transmissions. Toyota is a world-class manufacturer of hybrids. GM and Ford make highly reliable full-sized trucks and SUVs, and BMW along with Porsche have offered sports cars that were truly the best in the business. The manufacturer that offers the best match for your automotive tastes will impact your reliability because, you will likely be willing to invest in the best parts if that car offers what you consider to be the optimal driving experience.

Does it sound like I’m evading your questions? Well, let me toss around the ingredients that matter to you the most then and give you a solid answer.

If cars to you are like water… no taste is the best taste… and you drive about 50 to 60 miles per hour on flat, boring, mundane roads, then find yourself a 2007 Toyota Corolla. Get a low mileage version with a 5-speed that was driven by a prior owner who knew how to handle a stick. 07′ was the last year of that particular generation and historically, vehicles that are later in their model runs tend to have fewer issues.

If cars are a matter of sport and passion, I have an incredibly weak spot in my heart for second generation Miatas. A low mileage version owned by a Miata enthusiast is a helluva deal. Here in the southern US, an 03 or 04 with around 60k miles would sell for around $7000. I also like the Honda S2000 and the BMW Z4. Those will have higher miles than the Miata, and the Z4 in particular may not match the Miata for reliability alone. But those two models may offer certain ingredients that are more appealing to you.

Finally, if you’re looking for that same automotive luxury and richness as a five layer coconut cake filled with Godiva chocolate flakes, and coconut that was flown directly from the Polynesian Island of Tofoa, the sad news is there are no reliable $7000 Rolls-Royces or Bentleys. However a 2001 Infiniti Q45 is a frequently overlooked luxury model that I would keep a keen eye on if I had $7000 to spend on a ‘rich’ car. One with less than 100k miles, if you can find it, would be a fantastic deal.

Oh well, gotta go and exercise. My morning cake came from an article I wrote a couple of days ago and I now have to remove all the calories that are stuck in my big fat head.


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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? : 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? : 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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New or Used: Should I Beat My Hauler? Or Haul My Beater? Mon, 23 Dec 2013 13:00:30 +0000

To The Best & Brightest,

I need advice on my next used car purchase.

99% of the time the vehicle will be a daily commuter (rural highway and very little city traffic / 26 miles round trip). But during the winter when salt keeps my classic pickup off the roads I need the ability to tow my boat and trailer (combined weight of 4500 lbs.)

The towing distance is only 13 miles and the vehicle must either be front wheel drive or AWD/4WD to get the boat out of the water. The ramps are fairly steep on the lower Niagara river and for obvious reasons can be icy in the winter time. Normally just me in the car but have a wife and two teenagers who come along boating occasionally. A three seat pickup would work but most I have seen are too expensive. It’s either by two vehicles or one if it offers the right combination of capabilities and economy. I would like to keep it under 12 grand but would go as high as 15 for a great vehicle. If it won’t get a t least 20 mpg I would likely go the two vehicle route. I have a neighbor who is a great independent mechanic and for reasonable prices will help me keep an older vehicle on the road.

Lastly, is it worth the cost and hassle to travel to a non snow state to find a rust free vehicle to avoid the rust belt effect of vehicles here in the Buffalo area? I thought a used Grand Caravan would be perfect but those are evidently only rated to tow 3500 lbs. Thanks.

Steve Says:

The good news is that you’re hitting the prime part of the used car market as it pertains to value.

There are a ton of older minivans and SUV’s, hundreds of thousands of them, that are molderizing in wholesale auction heaven as we speak. Unpopular vehicles. Orphan brands. You could pretty much start at the near beginning of the alphabet with the Buick Rainier, and work your way nearly all the way down to the Volvo XC90. Both of those vehicles, coincidentally, would easily hit your price quotient and may have older owners who took proper care of those rides.

This brings me to what I think is going to be the big issue with you, the prior owner. You’re not buying a used vehicle these days as much as a prior owner who may or may not have done the right thing. I would keep your list fairly open and wide while attempting to snag that ride that can handle all of your hauling days.

Would I encourage you to buy it outside of the rust-o-sphere that is northern New York? Hell yes. Not only due to the rust, but the fact that the suburbs surrounding the tri-state area are swarming with used SUV’s (and minivans to a lesser extent) that have been garage kept and dealer maintained. I may sound like a complete snob for saying this. But I would prioritize a vehicle that was dealer maintained over one from the rougher parts of town that was not. I used to liquidate vehicles for an auto finance company and  at the time, I visited quite a few wholesale auctions that had more heavy haulers than they knew what to do with. The difference between a well-kept one and an abused one was quite vast.

If you’re asking for that one vehicle, well, I have a bit of a shocker for you. My choice would be the last year of a good generation from an unpopular automaker. A 2002 Mitsubishi Montero Sport Limited 4WD with all the options. I would definitely opt for the 3.5 Liter with the touring package. As for fuel economy, if you drive with a lighter foot, you’re likely to get about 16 mpg, which is less than the 20 mpg you mentioned. But if you’re only driving it part of the time, say maybe 8,000 miles a year,  you are only looking at a few hundred dollar difference in gas. To me, a better tool for the job and a lower purchase price will more than make up for that cost differential.

If you drive a LOT, then get whatever car interests you for daily commutes… and then get the Montero anyway. The only hauling vehicle with a serious fuel economy edge would be a Touareg TDI, and they are hysterically overpriced. So is the Toyota Highlander.  There is also the SAAB 9-7x with the 5.3 Liter V8.  But most people don’t have the guts to buy an orphan brand. Even though that particular vehicle is composed of the most common of GM engines and the most common of GM platforms, nobody wants em’.

That’s what I recommend. Hit em’ where they ain’t. Opt for a loaded orphaned or unpopular vehicle that was built in the last year of it’s production run.

Good luck!


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New Or Used? : No One Loves My Bimmer Edition Wed, 06 Nov 2013 13:00:42 +0000 bmw


A reader writes:

Steve –

So glad to see you back at TTAC.  I’ve learned so much more about auctions to go along with what you and I discussed a year-and-a-half (!) ago.

I have a question of a personal nature. Well, it’s still car-related, but it has to do with MY car, so I guess that’s what makes it personal.

I am approaching the end of my CPO on my 2008 BMW 535i sedan.  I have kept it in excellent repair (in fact, I’ve had about $7k in warranty claims since July – oil cooler, oil filter housing, both turbos, water pump failure, and, just last week, a new valve cover gasket).  The tires are 10 months old.  It’s never been smoked in, and it’s optioned to the hilt (just missing rear air bags, the fancy window shades, and HUD).

I’m looking to get rid of it before CPO expires on Nov. 27, and jump into a 2014 Mazda 3.  Trouble is, I’m not having much luck in finding what seems to be a fair price for the BMW.

This week, I had it appraised at a Carmax in Houston, and a BMW dealer not far away (a second BMW dealer would not even look at it, on account of it having 82k on the clock).  The appraisals came in at $13.1 and $14k, respectively.  That’s way way way under what Edmunds ($16.2) and KBB ($17k) say is the trade-in value.

Perhaps Carmax and Momentum BMW gave me low numbers because I wasn’t looking to buy another vehicle from either place (and I’m assuming either one would just wholesale my car).  I dunno. I am quite baffled over the discrepancy between their offers and what Edmunds and KBB say.  Is there another online source I should check out?  Should I ask someone at my bank (Chase) to look at something I’ve heard called “Manheim” (which,  as I understand, is a super-secret set of numbers dealers often use to arrive a trade/sell prices).

As an aside – one thing that both Carmax and the BMW dealer mentioned when they gave me the disappointing bids was a re-spray job on the trunk and driver’s rear quarter panel.  I told them both that was done to repair some vandalism that occurred last year in NOLA.. and pointed out that they would have deducted even more had I left the scratches, etc. as is.  Also, I had the work performed at a body/paint shop that is owned by the same company as the BMW dealer, so there.

I would sincerely appreciate any advice you have to offer.  And, thanks in advance for taking time out of what I’m sure is a busy day to help.

Steve Says:

The trick to keeping the German machinery is to get the ones that have the most common powertrains with the fewest bells and whistles possible. Avoid 4matics and other all-wheel-drive systems. Cross out the active suspensions, dual turbos and navigation screens as well, and you are generally fine.

Unfortunately, your car represents the exact opposite of fine. Sell it.

How do you do that?

Forget about selling it to a re-seller. That’s like paying someone $1500 for a repair that costs maybe $200. Oh wait, you almost did that a few times this year. See, that CPO warranty saved your ass, and now it’s time to park this Barnacle Bitch of a car, and haul your ass to a less costly ride.

Sell it on Autotrader,, Craigslist, and especially… local enthusiast forums. This vehicle received the very best of care for the time you owned it. An honest guy like you deserves to be saved from the, “lowballers r’ us”  brigade.

When you advertise it, emphasize the CPO history and all the repair work that was recently put into it. I know it sounds strange. But telling people you recently replaced the turbos in an under-engineered piece of shit car like this with a new factory unit is a big plus. It’s akin to the early 2000′s Chrysler minivan buyer finding out that your ride has a new factory transmission. Or an old Mark IV Jetta buyer finding out all four window regulators have been placed.

They won’t be surprised. They will be relieved. Your CPO warranty bit the bullets that the buyer wants to dodge. So let em’ know about it.

This is the time of year when people don’t have much money. There are no holiday bonuses. No tax returns, and no commercials that show oversized bows on overpriced cars. The used car market dies out a bit in October and November,  so don’t be surprised if it sits for a bit.

As for pricing, I would recommend you average out the three most common mainstream pricing sites for “good to very good condition”; KBB, Edmunds, and NADA. Deduct maybe 5% for the accident and the fact that you want to get this car out of your life, and let the laws of economics take their course. Manheim offers a wholesale pricing guide called the Manheim Market Report. It’s useless for retail. You want retail prices and those three do a fairly good job at pricing the market.

Stay positive and make em’ pay retail because, let’s face it, that’s how you bought this son-of-a-bitch.

Consider this to be a golden opportunity to shape up on your picture taking and writing skills. Tell some stories and post 12 to 27 high res pics. Offer some healthy links that highlight owner based reviews for your audience. If you revel in providing better advertising than those lazy retail establishments then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a multi-thousand dollar return on your time.

It’s a risk I would take.   So sell it straight and when it goes down the road, count your blessings… and your Benjamins.


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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? : Darwin Riding Shotgun Edition Fri, 08 Mar 2013 13:00:19 +0000

I bought my first car six months ago, a dark green 2002 Subaru Impreza 2.5 TS. I purchased it from a local dealership for $5,800 with 97,100 miles on the odometer. Stick-shift, Subaru AWD, and sticky studded snows made this a solid candidate for the harsh Vermont winters. And while this past snowy season didn’t turn out to be too frightening, the car did.

About a month after purchase, my mechanic threw it up on the lift and showed me that my rear subframe was laced with rust and together by a thread. He said that the car was becoming more dangerous to drive and that resolving the situation (new frame, struts, cables) would set me back $1,500 at least. A month later the Subie got involved in a late night tussle with a deer, and the deer won. This repair needed to be made as the deer left the scene with my headlight for a necklace. I got a buddy to reconstruct the face of my car for $500 — headlight, new bumper, etc. I kept driving the heap despite my mechanic’s earlier warnings that soon the frame would fall out and I’d be propelling the thing like my name was Flintstone.

But the final blow came last month when coolant and oil began leaking out onto the engine. By this point the car has only 110,000 on it but Subaru’s are notorious for needing head gasket repairs around this mileage. It was time for me to think about my options. This new diagnosis would set me back another $2,000.

So the sum total of what I would need to put into this car — between frame and engine — would be near-as-makes-no-difference $3,500-4,000 to keep it going. By this point I think it’s a no-brainer. Ditch the Subie and pick up a late nineties Corolla with few miles. I just hate giving up on something I’ve driven a sinful 16,000 miles.



Steve Says 

The only help I can give you is prayer.

“Heavenly father. I pray that you will give this young lad the wisdom of Darwin and the fear of the most conservative of Camry drivers.”

A frame hanging by a thread represents death on the road. At the salvage auctions you will sometimes see these rustbuckets totaled to the point where the survival of the prior occupant was between doubtful and impossible. You will also see the word ‘Biohazard’ scrawled on the windshield to reflect the residue left from the rotting corpse that once occupied the driver seat.

Cars that have severe rust issues end up with failing brake lines, broke axles, defective sub frames, and all sorts of steering nastiness when you are traveling at rates of speed that endanger you and every other human being in your domain.

You can kill people. You can kill yourself. If you want funny on the open road, go ride a lawnmower.

This is what you do. Sell the vehicle at a public auction that is frequented by dealers. Sell it with the following announcement, “AS/IS, Frame Damage, Parts Only, Dealer Bid Only, No Individuals”.

The auction should have a specific bill of sale for “parts only” vehicles. Sell it. Sign it. Consider your cost a cheap education compared to what could have been.

Sajeev Says:

I hope you learned your lesson, don’t buy an older car without a Pre-Purchase Inspection. A PPI woulda spotted the subframe rot rather quickly, and been worth every penny spent.

That’s for next time.  Now you dump this machine with all kinds of warnings (and a Bill of Sale stating it’s sold AS-IS with frame damage) for the next owner.  Should you buy a Corolla?  Maybe.  But any FWD machine with snow tires will be adequate, and some of them have decent suspensions too.  Sure, it ain’t a Subie, but that’s also a good thing in some respects.

Go test drive some sporty FWD machines (Focus, Civic, any Mazda, etc) in your price range and, for the love of all that’s right in this world, get a PPI this time!!!

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New or Used? : Economic Outpatient Care Edition Tue, 19 Feb 2013 13:30:29 +0000

Hello Steve,

I’ve enjoyed for a couple of years now the articles you’ve written for TTAC and the insight you give on used cars and the business you work in. Since you do provide your contact information, I thought I’d write to ask a question relevant to my used-car-shopping situation.

The situation – this girl (my cousin, in her early 20s) used to have a nice 2005 Civic that was given to her new by our grandparents when she finished high school. This would normally have served her until the end of time, but she sold it last year for very stupid reasons.

Now she is back in Atlanta, has no money of her own (she lives at home and is supported by her mom) and is trying to get her life back on a more solid track, but can’t do anything without a car. Her mom would rather not spend a few grand on another car, but it is a much smaller burden on her than using her own car, and they do not live in an area where there is any realistically-usable transit. So cheap used car it is.

My cousin would prefer some kind of SUV for style reasons, but while I love her and want her to get her life together, I don’t think her own preferences have much weight here – she is being supported by her mom, who is also prepared to spend ~$3,000 on a car for her despite her own bad decisions.

I think the primary need is for something as reliable as one can get for that kind of money that is not too expensive to maintain (ex.: my mom’s husband knew of a well-kept one-owner 190E in Toccoa being sold by a friend, but I would not consider an old Mercedes, even a well-kept low-mileage one, to be a low-cost-of-maintenance car.)

It strikes me that in this price range the ownership and maintenance history of a particular car is probably more important than the brand reputation of a given make and model. My own firsthand knowledge is centered around ’90s Nissans and old Fiats, as that is what I own or have owned and maintained myself.

I will appreciate any response you may have the time to give.thanks,

Steve Says:

A few things…

I really don’t know why you are putting yourself out there in the first place. Let’s face it. Her mom doesn’t need to indulge your cousin at this point in her life and neither do you.

The following words you wrote were the only ones that mattered.

“Now she is back in Atlanta, has no money of her own (she lives at home and is supported by her mom) and is trying to get her life back on a more solid track, but can’t do anything without a car.”


She can apply for jobs and get a taxi when an interview comes along. If she’s in the Atlanta outskirts, she has plenty of time to take long walks and reflect on her present and future.

Your cousin has time to read, write, exercise, plan, learn, develop a skill or three, and figure out the way forward. She doesn’t have to worry about where her next meal will be coming from, or whether there still will be a roof over her head in the near future.

This is what we call in life, a learning opportunity. And a golden one at that. We all go through them. A hardship can often be a good thing because it teaches you a valuable lesson about who you are as a person, and who you can trust as a friend.

When you constantly give people things they don’t rightfully earn (such as money, love, respect, etc.), that thinking process stops. The indulgences become entitlements, and the entitlements become expectations. Several books have highlighted this unique process of babying as ‘economic outpatient care’ but it applies to all things emotional and financial. In the long run, you make the person more sick and dependent on handouts by shoveling unearned gifts their way.

So why would you want to help give someone a new freebie when they have recently committed, “very stupid decisions” with their old freebie? Think about it. Some people are smart enough to eventually move a swing when it’s facing a brick wall.

Do that instead. Listen to her. Be there for her. Do what you can for her. Heck, 2 years from now she may be the one on top of the world and you may be experiencing your own struggles.

But mark my words. She won’t be successful if her mom simply gives her a car. Let her earn it.

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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.


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