The Truth About Cars » Rent The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:48:26 +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 » Rent Piston Slap: The Buy or Rent Pitfall? Wed, 26 Mar 2014 12:44:41 +0000 pitfall2

Henry writes:


My wife and I are planning on taking a large 20 day vacation this summer where we plan on driving aver 5000 miles with our three older children. My wife drives a 2008 Ford Taurus X, which we love, but does not have enough space for a family of five for such a long journey. We were originally going to rent a minivan from the local enterprise, but a two week rental will set us back $1,300 with tax.


Recently I noticed that there are some good deals to be had on fourth generation Chrysler minivans. My wife and I bought two of these vans new, a 2001 and a 2005, and we loved both vans. This has me thinking, why not just buy a loaded up low mileage van for around $3,000-$4,000, use it for the summer/trip, and then sell it after we are done. Any advice?

Sajeev answers:

If you have the cash flow/time to buy-then-sell AND assuming you can do a bit of repair with your own hands, then yes, you should absolutely do this! This will be cheaper than renting (obviously) and maybe even flying to your destination. Plus, road trips are all about the journey.  That said, let’s make sure you are safe and not stranded on the journey.

A list of items you must check on your short list of minivans you want to buy, then sell:

  • Tires, tires, tires. Road trips are hard on old tires, so new-ish tires are almost mandatory. And not just tread depth wise, also age wise. Don’t forget the spare, either!
  • Service records: buy the van with the most comprehensive service history. Even if it’s Barney purple and has stains/rips inside, that’s the safest bet.
  • Fresh fluids, good rubber hoses/wipers/belts/vacuum lines, fresh brakes and all the stuff we preach in this column on a regular basis.
  • Clear headlights with new bulbs, as you will drive at night and want to actually see where the hell you’re going.

There are other granular bits to discuss (strength of transaxle if subjected to neglected ATF) but that’s hard to armchair in terms of being a relevant concern to your short-term ownership.   I would buy the van with the most records, the best tires/brakes you can find and hope you can add value in your ownership (via repairs and detailing) so you can actually make money on your vacation!

Best of luck with that.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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Rent, Lease, Sell Or Keep: 2001 Toyota Prius Thu, 08 Nov 2012 16:23:50 +0000


Six years ago I managed to make a $2000 profit on a car without it ever leaving the auction.

A few winks to the auctioneer. A few clicks on a digital camera. A few paragraphs on Ebay. Done. I had managed to purchase and remarket a 2001 Toyota Prius in mint condition with 113k miles. It was near factory clean inside and out. A spanking new hybrid battery. Brand new Michelin low resistance tires, and a maintenance history that showed it had been dealer maintained since day one.

In the car business we refer to these opportunities as an automatic slam dunk.

I bought that Prius $6650 and sold it for $8950 to a nice family from Alabama who met me at the auction two weeks later to pick it up. Back then, I was one of the very few who did his homework when it came to researching older vehicles. These days not a lot has changed… at the public auctions.

Condition (6.5/10):

Whenever anyone sees a hybrid with a check engine light at the auto auctions, they discount the price accordingly. A lot of folks who end up having bad battery packs will dump these vehicles to a new car dealer who will then invariably attempt to recycle their trade-in at a variety of nearby auto auctions.

Rarely do you ever see one that doesn’t have this problem. Although this was only one of three 1st gen Priuses I have ever seen at the sales.

This one was a little ugly on the surface. Two doors had dents. The check engine light was illuminated at the time it was bought, and there was even a rust spot on one of the lower rocker panels.

However when I dug below the surface. I found the true beauty of it.

Dealer records. A recent battery pack replacement. Reasonably low miles at 109k, and the rust spot was little more than residue from a scuff that was never fully tended to. The rest of the vehicle was fine except for that check engine light which was  code P1436. That turned out to be nothing more than a bypass valve (non-advert clicky) near the catalytic converter that usually required some PB Blaster.

A few good sprays. A check for $2860… and a far tougher decision than in the past.

Should I…


I can’t think of anything that would be more popular to rent than a Toyota hybrid. If I took this route, I would likely charge $25 a day and have it only offered with a seven day minimum rental period. Plenty of customers who have vehicles in need of major engine or transmission work wouldn’t mind driving a car that gets two to three times their usual fuel economy.

Out here in the ex-urbs of Atlanta, people drive a lot. If anything this would be a heck of an attraction for the rest of the business.


$1000 down. $65 a week for 24 months. I have no doubt that this will make the note so long as I can find a good owner.

Except in this time of the year, that’s hard to do. The last three months of the year are pretty close to a no-man’s land in terms of finance customers. October and November offer no spending holidays. While December tends to be a good month for smaller ticket items, and dumber than a bag of hammers new car leasing options.

The folks who have bad credit and/or unproven income are usually stretching to make ends meet at this time. I do get customers. But they are either referrals from the current customer base, or folks whose cars just broke down for the last time and don’t have the means to meet the down payment or monthly payment.

More than I likely I would have to hold it until next year.


On a retail sale I would be looking at around $5000. This is a popular car. But I would also have to spend a few hundred dollars to get it to look right.

There is a part of me that would consider putting the Prius on Ebay during the next couple of weeks. Large hurricanes like Sandy usually result in spikes for models that are popular. But usually it takes several weeks for the insurance companies to write checks for all the scrapped units.

I just got a 1983 Mercedes 300D that had been a Southern car for its entire life, which means no rust and minimal suspension wear. The Prius may be a better fit in the online world where folks in the northeast could bid it up.



This is a weird car. The door panels and hood are as about as thin as a wore out brush on an old broom. Frugality is nice. But the side impact safety strikes me as troubling for a young family of four.

Would it be good for me alone? Nope. The Insight likely has far better structural rigidity and side impact safety standards. You may not assume this. But the 1st gen Insight is a surprisingly strong car for the time period. Plus it’s about 67 times more fun to drive than ye olde Y2K+1 Prius.

I’m not keeping it. But would you? Which one of these four choices would offer a monetary economy that would match the outstanding fuel economy?

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Rebuild, Part Out, Export, or Race Out: 2002 Toyota Camry Sun, 21 Oct 2012 18:34:36 +0000

Every once in a very blue moon, I’ll go to a mini-warehouse auction.

The realities of this low-down clearance process is completely unlike the miracles and glories that come with episodes of Storage Wars.  You want junky third world quality furniture? Or memoirs of the 1980′s and 1990′s left behind by your neighbors from their very last estate sale before they finally moved to a condominium? The local storage auctions are the place to go. 80% to 90% pure junk.

This is where I recently found this wrecked 2002 Toyota Solara SE with 140k miles. For $375, it was all mine.

Should I…

Rebuild: The rebuilding business is a huge enterprise in this country. Thousands of vehicles in this country are purchased with the sole goal of rebuilding the body and putting it back on the road.

This particular Solara has three very strong pluses going for it:

1) The engine and transmission are still in good shape.

2) The title was not changed to salvage or rebuilt since the owner only had liability insurance at the time of the accident. Instead of reporting it to the insurance company, she simply had it towed to a storage facility. Probably right after she got cited for having a junk car on her driveway.

3) Toyotas are pretty much the gold standard of automobiles in most of the developing world. If you take our used car market for Toyotas in the United States, which already carry a strong premium and multiply it by anywhere between 2 to 3, that’s the price of a high-content used Toyota overseas.

This route is a non-starter for me since I don’t own a body shop.

However if you have friends or family members that wreck a late model vehicle and have inadequate insurance, they may likely get more money from a body man than they will from a junkyard. A nearby one offered me $1500 instead of the $1000 from the low-ball subsisting salvage yard.

But there is a better avenue…

Part Out: In order to do this right you need three things.

1) Space

2) Patience

3) Time to post online

A surprising number of vehicles can be picked to a vulture like level of skeletal remains thanks to a long list of factors. The popularity of the model in the used car market. Uniqueness of body parts. The price dealers/manufacturers charge for the same part. Interchangeability. The wear out factor of certain used parts. Not to mention the demand from those who export.

I would expect this vehicle to provide a return somewhere in the $3500 range if I had it picked clean. But that would take a few years.

Is it worth the wait?

Export: Forget about going to the guys down the street who have a used tire store and a treasure trove of old junkers behind their building. If you want to get the best immediate return for your vehicle, take it to a salvage auction.

The competition is fierce. In-state buyers compete with out-of-state buyers, who compete with buyers from outside the United States. Mexico, Central America, Bolivia, Colombia, the UAE, Nigeria, Ghana, Malaysia… the help centers for the two largest salvage auctions offer over a dozen languages for conversation and even go so far as to advertise their services on local radio stations, online publications, and wherever else they can get an audience.

I happen to have one nearby that offers a special low rate for towing and selling a wreck. I have to wait for a court order title. But once that goes through, I can bring it there and have a feeding frenzy of bidding from all the folks mentioned above.

One thing you do have to be careful of is making sure that the vehicle is listed accurately online. Make sure the buyers know that the vehicle runs and that the requisite six to ten pictures actually belong to your vehicle. I have pulled and relisted vehicles due to these errors.

The return for the 2002 Solara would likely be right around the low $2000 range. A clean title and a powertrain that runs fine will certainly help build a wider audience for this model than usual. But the fact that I’m selling as a dealer instead of an insurance company will hurt it a bit. Since dealers wind up getting numbers at the waning moments of the auction and the competition is sometimes not as strong.

If worse comes to worse, I can always say no to the final bid price.

So what should I do?

Find someone to rebuild the vehicle? Part it out and become ever more familiar with Solaras? Bring it it to a salvage auction and watch it begin a new life outside our borders? Or maybe use it for the 24 hours of LeMons?  Who knows? Maybe I can call it Eiji’s Ennui?

What says you?



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Rent, Lease, Sell, Or Keep: 2000 Chevy Silverado Wed, 03 Oct 2012 17:21:03 +0000

I stole it.

At least in the purely metaphorical sense. This 2000 model Silverado went through the last of a sparsely attended sale in Acworth, Georgia. For $1350 plus the $95 auction fee it was all mine.

The body was banged up a bit on the left hand side as you can see, which helped in the acquisition price quite a bit. I called a few automotive recycling centers and the best bed and drivers side fender I could find with the same fender would cost $700. Since the truck had 187k and the regular cab, I thought to myself,

“Well, maybe I could just take it the way I got it?”

The question now became… “Which road would lead to that pot of gold?”

Rent: I see these UHaul and Home Depot trucks all over the place and on the surface, I found it a bit hard to figure it all out. Home Depot seems to primarily use their trucks so folks can pickup appliances and scoot them back in record time. That may work. Given that they use heavily modified F250 diesels for the job I could see their fleet working for a long time.

But the UHaul deals seemed to be one of those death by a thousand cuts arrangements. $19.95 for two hours… then $63.00 for each additional hour. Or you could have it for $84.95 a day and 29 cents for each additional mile beyond 100 miles.

There certainly seems to be a healthy profit in this type of arrangement. But here in North Georgia everybody has a father, cousin or former roommate who has a pickup truck. I definitely wouldn’t be renting it out every day, that’s for sure. Still, I could see renting out a truck that is already a bit beat up cosmetically for $50 a day flat for the metro-Atlanta area. Throw in a utility trailer for $50 a day and the profit would potentially spring eternal.

Lease: If you look real close around those rear wheels you will also find something else unique about this truck.

Just one look at the rear axle told me that this vehicle shares the same rear end as a Z71 that is equipped with the towing package. Throw in a solid towing package and dual exhausts, and I have a truck that can now haul around 8000 pounds. If I lease it, I will likely be looking at $500 down and $55 a week.

Chances are I will also have two types of customers for the Silverado.

The first is someone who needs it as an everyday work truck. Contractors. Owners of small construction and tree cutting businesses. These buyers will use the truck for the reasons God rightfully ordained the pickup as the all-American road machine. Utility.

The second type of customer will be someone who needs to haul a horse trailer during the weekend, or some other type of trailer that requires a bit more towing capability than the typical midsized SUV.  There are still plenty of farms in the county and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an older fellow on a fixed income picking it up for that intended purpose.

Either way, it’s not going to the poser crowd or the country Yuppie. It’s too damn ugly with all those dents.

Sell: The cornucopia of the quick buck. The Silverado would probably have a $2995 asking price and a final selling price between $2300 and $2500.

The funny thing is there are already a pretty big glut of old pickup trucks in my neck of the woods. Title pawns (they loan money in exchange for a lien on the vehicle) end up repossessing quite a few of them. City and county governments. Larger construction outfits. Heck, even the voluminous trade-in volume of every day retailing contributes heavily towards the supply.

One other thing that helps is that tastes are changing. Folks are forgoing the regular cabs for trucks that will seat a full family for extended cabs and crew cabs. $4 gas? Doesn’t matter. If the general public wants to have a truck that can be used for all practicalities and possibilities, you damn well bet that an automaker will make it. $20,000 small pickup ‘tools’ already have a smaller market than the $40,000 truck with a cab and a long bed. They also have far smaller profit. Guess what trend will continue to take hold?

Keep: I went to a tool rental auction this past Saturday and could have bought a nice utility trailer for about $550. So for about $2000 I could have hauled a massive amount of goods whenever the mood or need struck.

But I am not into having stuff, at all. As an avid auction traveler in my late 20′s, I got the sense that a lot of people out there buy simply for the sake of buying. They have a barn. They fill it. They have a shed. They fill that too.

I like not having stuff. Except cars… and maybe a truck.

So I guess the question now is, “Should I rent, lease, sell or keep?”

What says you?

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Rent, Lease, Sell or Keep: 1999 Mercury Mountaineer Thu, 07 Jul 2011 07:55:04 +0000 What is luxury?

Back in 1999, that was an easy question to answer in the U S of A. Three Letters: S U V . When I first started in the auction business these mastodons absolutely dominated the marketplace. You could go to the nearest Ford factory auction and quite literally pick out your colors, trim, and options. Want running boards, all wheel drive and a trip computer? Sure. Want it in Black with the all too common grey interior? Absolutely! Want to get it all in a model exactly like the Ford Explorer but call it something different for the hell of it? Well, why not!

The 1999 Mercury Mountaineer rang up at $30k loaded when new. 12 years, $4 gas, and 180k miles later, I bought it at a public sale for $1200. Should I…

Rent: SUV’s tend not to move these days. Everyone who rents a vehicle circa 2011 wants something with 4-cylinders and all the creature comforts. I could offer it for $140 a week and with a sunroof along with leather, it would get a few eyeballs. But it wouldn’t be a top pick and seeing that I now have a fleet of ‘Grands’ at this point (Marquis, Caravan, Voyager), I’m not sure if I should offer yet another sub-20 mpg vehicle.

Lease: Anything with a good leather interior and a sunroof should get at least $700 down. Finance the rest at $60 a week and 24 months, and you have an easy formula for a high return.

Every Explorer and Mountaineer I have ever financed has always ‘made the note’. A good prior history of maintenance always helps. But the 4.0L V6 and 5.0L V8 are pretty much bulletproof and parts at junkyards for the rest of the vehicles are as common as kuzu in the South.

Along with this is the advantage of working with older customers. A lot of older folks in my neck of the woods have shorter commutes and prefer comfort over fuel economy. Some are retired. Many work light retail jobs. But they strongly prefer to have luxury and don’t care too much about gas since their overall mileage is minimal. SUV’s and full-sized RWD cars are absolutely ideal for this market and I cater to this market quite heavily.

Sell: An older loaded up SUV with leather that’s been well kept should get around $2995. The miles on this one do hurt it a bit. But given the lack of good used cars out there it shouldn’t be much of the problem. By the time I recondition it I may have between $1500 and $1700 in it so overall it would be a decent profit if it got sold quick.

Keep: If the Mountaineer had some moderate cosmetic issues I would be tempted. Purchase a trailer with brakes for about $1500 and I can easily haul a vehicle to the lot after every auction. With all the vehicles I get at different sales, this could easily save me about $100 a week in transport costs.

For the general public who have light hauling needs these vehicles can be absolutely perfect. The V8 versions with all-wheel-drive can tow well over 5000 pounds and have plenty of luxury for the rest of the time. Throw in a few small changes to make towing safer (towing mirrors, trailer with brakes, a weight appropriate hitch) and you can move an awful lot of toys without venturing into pickup territory.

This is not an easy decision. What says you?

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The Ugly Truth About Rental Car Recalls Sun, 27 Feb 2011 16:23:15 +0000

Back in November, NHTSA announced that it was investigating how long it took for rental cars to be repaired under recall, saying

NHTSA understands that there is presently a petition before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) seeking to prohibit at least one rental car company from renting vehicles on which safety recall campaign remedies remain outstanding.

Because only vehicles made by the Detroit Three are under investigation, they are the only firms who have been asked to disclose how long it takes rental fleets to repair their vehicles. And, according to the Detroit News

GM and Chrysler told NHTSA this week that 30 days after a recall — 10 to 30 percent of vehicles sold to rental car companies had been repaired.

By 90 days, it had improved to about 30 percent and within a year, the number had improved to 50 percent or higher.

Ford did not make its data public, citing the fact that the release of the information could damage it is relationship with rental car companies and result in “decreased sales of motor vehicles to rental car fleets.”

Rental car companies are not legally required to complete recalls before they rent the cars to customers.


It turns out that the FTC petition was filed by the Ralph Nader-founded Center for Automotive Safety, which sought to force Enterprise Rent-A-Car to repair its recalled vehicles before renting them out. The petition stems from an incident in which two women died in an unrecalled PT Cruiser that caught fire. But, argue rental car firm advocates, targeting rental fleet recall compliance just isn’t fair.

Bob Barton, president of the American Car Rental Association noted, that hundreds of recalls and service bulletins affecting millions of vehicles in North America are issued annually.

“In most cases, members place a ‘hold’ on recalled vehicles so they are not rented until the recall work is completed,” he said.

Because rental cars move around so much it can take weeks or months for the company to find out a model has been recalled, thus taking much longer for repairs to be done, advocates said.

Rental car companies generally have better repair rates than consumers, who often fail to get recalled vehicles fixed.

But then, consumers who experience defects because they do not service their recalled vehicles have only themselves to blame. Consumers who rent vehicles, on the other hand. should probably be able to expect them to be free of dangerous defects. If nothing else, complying quickly with recall repairs would help rental fleet owners avoid legal liability. Still, current laws only prevent rental fleets from selling unrepaired recaled vehicles… there are no current laws requiring fleet owners or private consumers from repairing recalled vehicles. NHTSA’s investigation into the matter is ongoing.

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