The Truth About Cars » Steven Lang http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 04 Jul 2015 15:51:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Steven Lang http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Warren Buffet Way To Buy And Sell Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/warren-buffet-way-buy-sell-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/warren-buffet-way-buy-sell-cars/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1097681 The august founder of TTAC, Robert Farago, asked me to shop around for a Lexus IS F nearly seven years ago. Those were bad old days. The “Fall of 2008″ was a brutal, hopeless, and downright dire time in the American retail car market. Nobody was buying $50,000+ sports cars like this Lexus, and the few […]

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isf

The august founder of TTAC, Robert Farago, asked me to shop around for a Lexus IS F nearly seven years ago.

Those were bad old days. The “Fall of 2008″ was a brutal, hopeless, and downright dire time in the American retail car market. Nobody was buying $50,000+ sports cars like this Lexus, and the few that could afford to were too busy watching their stock values sink like stones and their home values dive straight into the ass end of a 20 year time warp.

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My hometown of Powder Springs, Georgia and nearly every other American city and small town were getting neutron bombed by man-made financial WMDs known as CDOs – collateralized debt obligations. Where people had once occupied new homes and burgeoning small businesses, now all that was left in much of America were empty buildings and unfathomable levels of debt.

The American people, yet again, had been scammed by an elite that relied on passing the fraudulent buck to whomever was willing to hold the empty bag. The Wall Street margin calls of the 1920s had transformed into the main street liar loans of the 2000s. But this time, millions of businesses throughout the world would feel the unforeseen effects of these complex financial implosions. Credit soon became scarce even for the well-connected, and the American economy would become a borderline bankrupt marketplace.

What did Robert do? The same exact thing Warren Buffet did at that time. He went shopping!

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High-end niche models like the Lexus IS F were especially tough to sell. Back then, I couldn’t quite figure out why Robert wanted this car when the Audi RS4, Cadillac CTS-V and BMW M3 were considered to be the better choices by the brunt of the automotive press. I had recently driven the RS4 thanks to a friend from Texas who picked up a brand new one that was languishing at an Audi dealership in North Georgia. I negotiated that deal on his behalf and, as a surprise thank you, I also wound up with my very first experience with a brand new high-end sports car.

I may need to wait about 7 more years before I get to relive that experience – but I definitely want to do it again. The question most of us have is when does it make the most sense to buy on the right side of the automotive bell curve?

There is always a sweet spot where you can enjoy the fruits of an automaker’s labor and not have to pay the ridiculous price premiums usually attached to such a ride. On conventional cars here in the south, the depreciation curve tends to plateau around the nine to eleven year mark. The more popular cars hit it right around years 12 thru 15. Keep in mind I rarely get to see the tin-worm that is rust out here, so those of you who have to deal with 50 shades of brown may find that these points hit a few years newer for you.

jag7

Then there is the “buy low / sell high” method which for the keepers among us can also be termed “buy low / sell nigh.”

There are the usual suspects, such as buying SUVs and trucks if gas prices are high or gas sippers when the gas prices are low, but gas really doesn’t have an enduring impact on the deal simply because it fluctuates all the time.

What does have an impact are three things:

  1. Asymmetric information
  2. The seller
  3. The car’s condition

Asymmetric information simply means you know something about that particular vehicle that the seller does not. How to fix a repair issue. The rarity of a particular trim. Sometimes, such as the auctions I attend, you may find out that the car in question has a lot of expensive modifications, or that a pricey repair has already been performed. Auto auctions are a rolling paradise for these things, but Craigslist and Autotrader can also offer a few eyebrow raising surprises.

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The seller and the car’s condition always go hand in hand. As we all know, you’re not buying a used car so much as you’re buying the prior owner’s driving style and maintenance habits. A walking turd of a car owner often drives in a rolling turd of a car. Great cars are usually owned by folks who understand that machines need to be tuned and maintained – and garaged if at all possible.

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I have enjoyed some beautiful rides over the years that hit all of these sweet spots: the right time to buy, the right seller, and – most importantly – knowing a little important something beforehand that made all the difference. Toyota Celica All-Tracs, Ford Mustang Police Interceptors, and several Mazda RX-8s have been in and out of my hands simply because I was able to find the right ingredients for the car buying recipe. The 2005 Mazda RX-8 cost me all of $2,300 last year because it had a flooding issue that was easy to figure out. I had a blast with it for three months and sold it for $4,500.

How about you? Have you ever been able to buy the right car with the right history at the right time?

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CPO To Go: 2014 Lexus IS F http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/cpo-go-2014-lexus-f/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/cpo-go-2014-lexus-f/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1093425 I usually have more fun with $5,000 cars than with $55,000 cars. It’s not because I’m cheap. Well, let me rephrase that. I love investing in a quality vehicle, but in the world that is wholesale auctions, I rarely get to see them. You can find nearly anything at the auctions that has been traded-in, repossessed […]

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is7

I usually have more fun with $5,000 cars than with $55,000 cars.

It’s not because I’m cheap. Well, let me rephrase that. I love investing in a quality vehicle, but in the world that is wholesale auctions, I rarely get to see them. You can find nearly anything at the auctions that has been traded-in, repossessed or not picked up at the end of it’s lease. What you can’t find are the keepers.

Toyota imported only a bit over 5,000 of these IS F sports sedans from 2008 thru 2014. The number brought to auction so far in 2015? 35. Annualized, that’s less than a 1.5% turnover rate in a business where anywhere from 20% to 60% of late model vehicles will revisit ‘wholesale heaven’ before getting shucked back into a retail dealership.

After a week and change behind the wheel of this 2014 Lexus IS F, I finally figured out why you see so few of these vehicles at the auctions. It’s the one missing ingredient that nearly every enthusiast publication glosses over when they review any high-end sports car.

The real world ownership experience.

is3Not the arduous race tracks specifically designed to distinguish the better from the best in mere tenths of a second. Not those drop-dead gorgeous long and winding roads that make you contemplate the existence of God and the beauty of all creation.

I was able to find joy with the IS F in the everyday banality of middle-aged life. Impromptu burger runs, long stop lights, even in the worst of rush hours. There was always either a burbling exhaust note or a 13-speaker stereo system that made the IS F experience rare, valuable, and difficult to imitate.

Then again, this attitude towards the IS F really has an awful lot to do with where I live. I spend most of my driving time in the outskirts of a major metropolitan area. The ex-urbs. The test tracks that highlight the 0 to 60 4.2 second time for this 416 horsepower screamer regularly slammed straight into the brutal brick walls of reality that are artificially low speed limits, frequent stops, and excessive police enforcement.

is5In my real world of traveling from auction to auction, I need an exterior that blends in so that I can get what amounts to a short-term thrill between stop lights, stop signs and traffic that just seems to stop without any rhyme or reason.

Except for the wheels, which has a bit of a dulled out boy-racer vibe to them, the exterior of the Lexus IS F is a rolling representation of Clark Kent. It is the Captain Anonymous of four-wheeled superheroes in a sports car universe where the loud and proud high rollers have become all too easily recognized.

Other than the wheels, which I would replace with a more Q-ship styled quartet, there is nothing else that stands out aesthetically with this super-fast sports sedan compared with other less powerful, and less expensive alternatives.

Enthusiasts may be able to pick out the small chorus of ‘F’ badges along with a few unique exterior touches from the wider fenders to the imperceptibly larger rear spoiler. Yet, in the end, the IS F chooses a conservative route that makes it less popular for the flashy and attention seeking owner, and far more useful for stealth seekers like me who are trying to avoid the revenuing schemes and speed traps of local police departments.

YouTube chronicles this unfortunate neverending battle between an enthusiast’s love, and the desire of the legalized theft cartels to revenue out the nicest rides whenever possible.

Corvettes? Dead! In the world of speed enforcement, these cars should come with a “Kick me!” sign.

Black M3? Halt! (Credit to the nice cop.)

Mercedes C63? Damn those 1%’ers! Speed trap cities and towns consider a Mercedes to be their proverbial ten pound fish in the easy money barrel.

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A little compact Lexus? In ultra-white? (yes, that is the color description!)

Just feel free to hide your 5.0-liter 416 horsepower V8 and blend in with the sea of traffic until the sharks swim away for better prey. In the real world of driving, the IS F – less those wheels – can be driven as the ultimate Q-Ship.

is11The inside of this Lexus tells a very different story.

The contrast between the suit and tie exterior and this loud and proud interior is probably the biggest dichotomy in high end sports sedans. For those not wanting to relive the trombone case red hues of yesteryear, Lexus also offers a dark suit gray and a bright white leather seating package that is closer to mainstream tastes.

See all those controls on the steering wheel? I wish every competitor would just copy this layout and call it a day. The current IS, with nearly twice as many buttons and fidgits falls far below the real-world ease that is this simple five-by-five design.

As a circa 2008 car with minimal updates the IS F, suffers from two incurable era specific maladies from that time period. The excessive use of interior design cues that originated 10 years ago, and this scratch happy material called aluminized composite accents. Enthusiasts know it as fake carbon fiber while middle-aged men like me who are still stuck in the 1990s scratch their heads and say, “What’s wrong with using some nice thick wood instead?”

is13Ahhh, that’s much better. No gimmicky crap. No little icons or infotainment driven cartoon style graphics. Just a simple layout. Everything neat and quick to read. Truth be told, that prominent tachometer combined with the digital speedo is a great combination. Still, the IS F instrument cluster offers as much useful information about the powertrain’s activities as a 25-year-old Toyota Celica All-Trac. If you are looking for a video game style display with trivial feedback about every little nuance of the driving experience, look elsewhere.

The Lexus IS F dashboard carries over Toyota’s love for the big simple buttons and knobs over rotating dialers and plasticized joysticks of the competition. It took less than a day to get used to the flow of the layout.

There are also several other unique take-it-or-leave-it touches to this interior such as…

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This shift gate along with the single cupholder. A definitive post-Y2K design element.

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What is this strange contraption? I thought this would house the USB connection and maybe an adapter or two. Ash trays are gradually becoming the CD players of the modern day and the cassette players of ten years years ago. By the way, Lexus was also the last brand to get rid of the old cassette players.

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Interesting… on a slow news day I’m sure we can debate the right place for these plug-in connections.

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The rear seat room is about on par with a Civic. Small, but amazingly comfortable if you’re 5’8″ or less.

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The kids never complained, even after two several hour jaunts. As for seat comfort? These seats depend highly on your height and your girth. This 5-foot-8, 170 pound guy was perfectly happy; as were my smaller wife and kids. Bigger people should take extra care to feel out the seats in any car of this ilk.

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As for the driving experience, it’s pretty much bipolar. When you are light on the throttle it’s as easy to drive as any Camry except for the fact that your handling is precise to a surprisingly minute degree. When you hammer it, even a little bit, the IS F is so incomprehensibly fast and fun that you feel like you’re driving a car that can easily handle the racetrack and the twisted road – but not necessarily the beaten one. You better make sure that the open road in your neck of the woods is sports car friendly because the suspension can get brutal if you live in pothole central. It was a pleasure to drive in the one-lane rural smooth roads of Deliverance country, but an unforgiving misery to navigate through the steel plates and bottomless road pits in the city of Atlanta.

TTAC ended up reviewing the car multiple times way back when it was new and fresh. Michael Karesh, Robert Farago, and Jack Baruth all reviewed the IS F back in its new car heyday, and, other than the Scion FR-S, I’m having a hard time finding any other vehicle that was so broadly reviewed and admired as this one. This is one of the few sports sedans left that doesn’t take the driver and completely destroy their line of vision under an ergonomic catastrophe of thick A-pillars, small windows, and side mirrors the size of a football.

You see nearly everything, and the driving experience is in the thick of the fun quotient. All for a real world cost of around $55,000.

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Did I say $55,000? Yep! The average wholesale price for a 2014 Lexus IS F at the auctions with about 7,000 miles on it is in the $52,000 range. Throw in the seller fee, transport, and maybe a minimal bit of reconditioning and you’re looking at around a $53,000 wholesale price, and a meeting of the minds at around $55,000. If you want to get a certified pre-owned version, plan on paying around $700 more for it.

That nice little condo in West Palm Beach that you planned on using for your retirement can now be all yours in the form of four wheels and a driver seat that may be easier to sleep in than most hotel beds. About halfway through the week, I thought about driving off to some remote part of north Georgia and sleeping in the thing. Then again, I’m also the type of guy who buys a $100 SUV sight unseen. Your financial risk tolerance and desire for daily weirdness may be far different than mine.

Speaking of cost, do you want to engage in basic DIY maintenance on the IS F? Don’t. Or at least if you do, and rarely do any work yourself, just relegate yourself to raising the hood between oil changes and looking at all the pointless plastic that keeps you away from all the dirty icky engine parts.

is24Every maintenance item seemed to have either a seal or a plastic cover tormenting your inner grease monkey.

At least the battery is on top and easy to get to. On the flip side, Lexus calls their automatic transmission fluid a lifetime fluid. The word “lifetime” for any fluid, from any automaker, should always be replaced with the phrase “warranty period”. Lifetime fluids don’t exist if you happen to be one of those types who keeps their new cars past 120,000 miles. My advice for the long-term keepers among you is to keep abreast of the Lexus enthusiast forums that you can find here, here and here.

A late model IS F will cost you about as much as a well-equipped 2014 Avalon and a prior-gen 2014 Miata… combined. Is this 2014 model worth that much?

Let me put it to you this way: in the real world of car buying and long-term car ownership, the Lexus IS F offers all of the pleasures of a high performance sports sedan with very few of the vices.

That’s the good news. Now having said that, this car is only a good fit for a very small group of enthusiasts.

Do you prefer conservative styling? Do you need room for a small family? Do you live in an area where potholes don’t exist and police enforcement hasn’t quite yet fallen off the cuckoo’s nest? If the answer to these questions is yes, and if your desire for an ultra-fast sports sedan burns into the very core of your being, then the IS F may very well be worth your time.

Just take one piece of advice should you ever decide to trade all that money in for those keys. Do invest in a radar detector. The IS F is made with speed in mind. And get a good lawyer who knows how to get out of speeding tickets. If you buy a car with this much performance, you will probably need to put that lawyer on a retainer.

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New Or Used? The $25,000 Question http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/new-used-25000-question/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/new-used-25000-question/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 15:00:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=860633 Michael writes: This August, we will have a 23-year-old German au pair coming to live with us. She will be taking care of our three boys – ages 6, 4, and 1. I am looking for transportation for said au pair that fulfills the following criteria: accommodates 2 boosters and 1 car seat– i.e. older […]

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2012 Toyota Sienna

Michael writes:

This August, we will have a 23-year-old German au pair coming to live with us. She will be taking care of our three boys – ages 6, 4, and 1. I am looking for transportation for said au pair that fulfills the following criteria:

  1. accommodates 2 boosters and 1 car seat– i.e. older boys need to be able to access the seat belt buckles with the car seat in place (presumably in the middle?)
  2. reliable and low maintenance
  3. safe
  4. good in snow and ice (we live in Cleveland); preferably AWD
  5. under $25,000

My wife drives a 2013 AWD Toyota Sienna. It fulfills all the criteria but number 5.

My first thought was a used Volvo wagon, but a quick internet search revealed a very limited selection under $25k with less than 150k miles on the odometer. Used minivans are similar… not a great selection, and those under $25k are generally high-mileage specimens.

Currently, I’m thinking along the lines of a used Grand Cherokee, but I’ve never owned or driven one. I just know that there are a buttload of them on on the road and in used car lots.

My other thoughts: Escape/CRV/RAV4/CX5/Cherokee, but might be too small in the back. Forester, also might be too small, and seems overpriced right now.

I’m not a car guy and I’ve never bought a used car… so please, any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated. And yes, having been a loyal TTAC reader, I realize that the car I’m looking for is a used rear-wheel drive sport wagon with a set of snow tires, but no. We both work 40+ hours a week (hence, au pair) and barely find time to get oil changes. (I know, I know. I don’t change my own oil… THE HORROR!)

Steve says:

You are dead to me. But really, even us emerging middle-aged enthusiasts let others change the oil every now and then.

As for your next issue, none of the crossovers you mentioned can easily seat three children across. Even the old school Volvos that offered real space aplenty back in the ’90s could never accommodate three super-sized child seats and/or boosters of the modern day. Today’s side impact technologies put an even tighter squeeze on middle-row seating. So long story short, since you have the Sienna, I would keep that and get your wife a third car.

If you absolutely must have all-wheel-drive and a new vehicle, my top pick would be a Kia Sorento. You are going to be $2,000 to $3,000 over on the $25,000 budget before tag, tax, title, and the inflated doc fee. But the Sorento has received outstanding reviews, and you should be able to make it a keeper for a long time given the third row.

Another good option would be a front-wheel drive vehicle that comfortably handles three adults and three children with proper restraints which also offers a solid safety record. If you chose this path, investing in a good set of snow tires would make a far greater difference in inclement weather than all-wheel drive. I happen to love the Ford C-Max. A small army of owners prefer the Chrysler minivans, and I’m inclined to think that the extra space for the full-sized minivan would come in handy for your family.

A Chrysler minivan will likely be a great fit if your au pair is comfortable driving something that big. I would encourage you to rent out both of these vehicles and see whether your au pair is comfortable with them on the road if, and only if, your wife is resistant towards offering her the Sienna.

All the best!

You can reach Steve Lang directly at carselect@gmail.com

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The Ultimate Fit: Aston Martin Van Damn! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/ultimate-fit-aston-martin-van-damn/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/ultimate-fit-aston-martin-van-damn/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 12:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1092177 Introducing a brand new column at TTAC: The Ultimate Fit, where you get to figure out the unfortunate souls who would best fit for the rolling relics of the used car world. Let’s take this 15 year old, 3-door Chrysler minivan with only 59,000 original miles. Better yet, you take it and try to find the perfect buyer. […]

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2000 Chrysler Voyager

Introducing a brand new column at TTAC: The Ultimate Fit, where you get to figure out the unfortunate souls who would best fit for the rolling relics of the used car world.

Let’s take this 15 year old, 3-door Chrysler minivan with only 59,000 original miles. Better yet, you take it and try to find the perfect buyer.

2000 Chrysler Voyager

This 2000 Chrysler Voyager represents the best and worst of the Clinton Era minivans. On the plus side, you get a stunning lack of standard features that were doomed to fail somewhere between the Al Gore presidential campaign and the undoing of the Patriot Act.

2000 Chrysler Voyager

No plastic wheel covers that would likely look like broken frisbees by this point. No passenger door for the driver’s side that would probably drop off its hinge. No rear air, which also happens to be a retail killer here in Georgia. As a sixth strike here in heat and humidity central, this minivan supplements the lack of a rear chiller with no tinting of any serious consequence for the side and rear windows. You better have a garage if you buy this one!

2000 Chrysler Voyager

On paper, this appears to be one of those unsellable cars. But wait, are those aftermarket power windows on the left hand side of the door? The interior is relatively clean which adds some healthy bonus points to what is a spartan interior. The 2.4L four-cylinder seeing a 16 year run in the Neon and PT Cruiser has a similar presence in these particular Chrysler minivans. I strongly prefer the widely revered 3.3L V6, but this particular van may be better than most others of its time, given it’s the last year of its generation and the interior hasn’t been hopelessly white-trashed all to hell.

 

This was more than likely a retiree’s van. All three rows are there and the little things, such as the plasticized bumpers and rear taillights, are still fully intact and in cosmetically sound shape. That isn’t too common when it comes to these 15+ year old mini minivans. So, who should buy it?

2002 Aston Martin DB7

Vehicle #2 is a rolling testament to the Travis Tritt song T-R-O-U-B-L -E.

2002 Aston Martin DB7

This is a 2002 Aston Martin DB7 Vantage. 4 owners. 29,000 original miles. Plus one of these unusual units.

2002 Aston Martin DB7

It may look exotic, but what you’re really getting are two Ford Duratec engines fused together in one powerplant. The 5.9 Liter V12 offers a rip roaring 424 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque, which apparently helps make this car the perfect long-distance highway cruiser according to the folks at Car & Driver. This Aston Martin may have never trounced a competitor in the comparos of yesteryear, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a helluva bang-for-the-buck for the used car shopper who can handle the maintenance and the fuel bills.

2002 Aston Martin DB7

Those seats are drop dead gorgeous… and the dash is…

2002 Aston Martin DB7

Pretty nice from about seven feet away. Let’s get closer…

2002 Aston Martin DB7

Well that looks a bit retro. I wonder about those three little holes. Up close it detracts a bit from the design – although, I would probably appreciate the ease of removing that section of the car soon enough. On the other hand, the steering wheel is…

2002 Aston Martin DB7

A bit large, and surprisingly spartan compared to the modern day 24 button à la carte which seems to come standard in everything from Camrys to Cadillacs these days. To be frank, I like the Aston Martin’s approach a lot better than the modern day one.

2002 Aston Martin DB7

There are some unusual benefits to owning a car whose design dates back to 1994 and was conceived in a less technologically complex time. The 11 miles per gallon in the city would make it a gas hog par excellence for intown, but the 19 miles per gallon on the highway would likely be worth the long-term experience for that highly unusual customer who wants to rack miles on an exotic convertible cruiser with distinctly British flair.

2002 Aston Martin DB7

Or maybe it would be better off as a Sunday driver and a glorified museum place. I always loved the looks of these things, but never enough to pull the trigger on one.

So what type of customers would make the best customers for the Aston Van… and the minivan? You make the call!

1 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 9 10 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 voyager5 voyager4 voyager3 voyager2

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Where Have All The Clinton Era Cars Gone? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/clinton-era-cars-gone/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/clinton-era-cars-gone/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1086449 That moment you realize the oldest car in the parking lot is yours. Yeah, I just had that moment. The car in question is a 2001 Honda Accord EX. Four-door. Five-speed. A dodo bird of a used car stuck in today’s finance driven market. I walked around the parking lot you see above trying to find […]

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MyrtleBeach

That moment you realize the oldest car in the parking lot is yours.

Yeah, I just had that moment.

The car in question is a 2001 Honda Accord EX. Four-door. Five-speed. A dodo bird of a used car stuck in today’s finance driven market. I walked around the parking lot you see above trying to find one vehicle, any vehicle, that’s as old as mine.

The blue ’05-ish Caravan on the bottom left came a bit close, but it didn’t happen. Instead, everything else seemed to be on the younger side of the curve, the overwhelming majority of vehicles sold new at a later time in history.

When the hell did my car – the class of 2001 – become the old fart of the village? In this case, the village happened to be Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – a touristy place that regularly displays thousands of trinkets, tchotchkes, and recreational drunks often as old as a Michael Dukakis bumper sticker.

You think I kid? I do! But really, trust me on the trinkets. The same exact souvenirs around during the ’80s and ’90s on the main tourist strip have now relocated to the flea markets and thrift stores. That nice flowery ceramic cup mass produced in Hong Kong back when ‘China’ couldn’t be rubber stamped on cheap Chinese goods is still out there for $1.99 trying to find that one last customer whose name is Alfred or Milly before the flea market finally donates it to Goodwill along with the MC Hammer posters and VHS tapes.

Apparently, older used cars are rapidly approaching the same life cycle when it comes to consumer demand. Everyone is buying new these days – or, at least, new enough. Seven year loans? Nobody did them only a few years ago, but now they’re to our economy what buying stocks on margin were in the ’20s or real estate just a few short years ago. If you can make the note work on paper, you can quickly be given the keys to America’s most fashionable new assets.

It’s a bubble and not the first in our business by a long shot. From Chrysler trying to finance their creaky old K-cars to people they lovingly called PODS (Poor Old Dumb Shits) to Mitsubishi supplementing their ‘zero down, zero interest’ offers to anyone with a pulse and a paycheck, this industry has always been about securitizing and moving the cheap metal. Even if the amortized metal isn’t so old, the wheels of conspicuous consumption have to be greased just right in order to keep that assembly line of wealth flowing – at least until the next bust cycle.

accord3

It’s an interesting juxtaposition for a guy who still buys a lot more newer cars these days than older ones. Fourteen years old just isn’t old to me anymore.

Granted, there is no tinworm here in Georgia and the roads are exceptionally smooth, which probably ages the bodies and suspensions of most cars at a rate no more than half the overall northern average. However, the interesting part in most areas of our country is you can drive a 17-year-old Camry or Accord brand new from the late Clinton Era to the present day and not really feel like you missed all that much.

Safety? A bit, though most folks don’t really make it a continuing priority after they’ve bought new unless 1) they have a young family, or 2) they’re shopping for someone else. I find what makes most commuters kick their older cars to the curb is either an expensive repair, maintenance issue or a seemingly incurable emissions problem.

Power? The four-cylinder Accord comfortably did 80 mph for the entire trip and passing power was always there. It doesn’t have as much horsepower as an old Acura NSX, like a 13-year-old Nissan Altima offers at a similar selling price to that 14-year-old Accord. Yet, the lack of power never hurt when it came time to utilize the two- to three-tenths of the performance limits of this vehicle, which is what 90+% of the car driving public already does for the most part.

Fuel economy? Hell no! Over the next five years, for every new car dollar you spend if you’re paying cash, you’re looking at a dime and a nickel in return in lower fuel costs.

accord15

In my Accord scenario, I wouldn’t save a single cent in fuel costs if I bought the average new vehicle of today versus keeping that 14-year-old Accord for the next five years. The brakes and timing belt were also recently done, so chances are the next owner will have a good shot at driving it right up to year 20 so long as they take care of the little things before they become big.

And that’s where the problem lies for most folks: the little unpredictable things versus the big long-term expense. Unpredictability, for a common machine that has tens of thousands of parts in varying states of wear, is a greater psychological problem for most car owners than having a $500 payment for years on end.

Most folks simply don’t know much about their cars and manufacturers are increasingly finding ways to capitalize and expand on that lack of knowledge. From adding plastic covers to the top of car engines to removing dipsticks and ease of maintenance opportunities for the aspiring DIY owner, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors done by automakers under the guise of technology.

Additionally, government edicts improving a given vehicle’s performance in some ways add great cost to everyone involved in the design, manufacture, and upkeep of a new car. Long-term goals in improving fuel economy and emissions have always begat new problems for the auto industry and those producing the fuels and oils we use to power our machines.Dupont CAFE impact

Just as old CAFE and environmental regulations resulted in billions of repair related expenses back in the ’70s and ’80s, the new regulations of the modern motoring era are pushing technologies with a similar trajectory. Continuously variable transmissions with ‘lifetime fluids’ that increasingly don’t hold up and ever more expensive catalytic converters (and their associated sensors) will likely shorten the time of planned obsolescence.

Sometimes older models really are the better ones, at least when it comes to the real world of car ownership. Am I wrong? Perhaps. But every time I hear an average non-enthusiast bequeathing over $30,000 of their financial earnings to something as financially pointless as a commuter car, I realize that the new car marketplace is just becoming increasingly dependent on the idea of long-term financial dependency for the average car owner.

Will that be a good thing? For anyone? I doubt it if you want to be a car owner. Whatever breakthroughs we achieve through innovation will more than likely be negated by corporate sponsored legislation designed to make the consumer the ultimate bearer of those costs. Whether it’s the brave new world of car sharing helping to eliminate the cyclicality of the auto industry’s boom/bust cycles or the ever declining market segment of DIY owners and long-term keepers who won’t have the money needed to keep their cars on the road, we’re now in an era where long-term financing and perpetual payments have become the new short-term solutions.

And that’s a big problem.

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The Deeper Dive: When Is It Time To Junk Your Car? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/deeper-dive-time-junk-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/deeper-dive-time-junk-car/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 13:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1080377 About a third of the questions I get from readers center around one issue: euthanasia in the car world, or what I like to call “automotive decrapitation”. In other words, when is it the right time to recycle an old car and transform it into a cheap Chinese washer and dryer? The logical answer I […]

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Junked ford Focus Derby Car

About a third of the questions I get from readers center around one issue: euthanasia in the car world, or what I like to call “automotive decrapitation”.

In other words, when is it the right time to recycle an old car and transform it into a cheap Chinese washer and dryer?

The logical answer I give these folks is shockingly simple. You should get rid of a car when it’s worth more dead than alive.

When a car costs more to repair than replace with another one just like it in better condition, it’s time to put it on Craigslist and pray for a real customer – one that hopefully isn’t some hideous combination of scam and spam.

Once I tell a non-enthusiast this, the conversation too often changes direction and they usually blurt out something along the lines of, “Oh! Well…let me tell you about this problem that my mechanic can’t figure out,” as if I have some paranormal E.T.-like power to figure out which of the 10,000+ parts of a given car are going wonky at a given moment. After a few minutes of whistling old Bruce Springsteen tunes inside my head, I start to feel like Tony Soprano when one of his drugged up underlings starts spouting off on how he should run his business.

“Look. I do this for a living and let me tell you, your car is not special. Really. Toyota produced over 400,000 of them that year and they were all boring as hell. Go get a Miata and live a little bit!”

Of course, I only say this to the people who can withstand a Jersey verbal barrage without going psycho, which in Georgia means absolutely nobody at all. So my response is usually a tame version of this.

“Oh. Um… well…. let me ask you, why do you want to keep the son-of-a-bitch?”

Weddings. Family life. The trouble-free miles of times past. Nobody really mentions those things. Most folks don’t want to keep a car because they loved it not too long ago.

Instead it’s usually because they’re either too financially strapped, too cheap to ‘invest’ in the maintenance the car needs, or too bored with their present life not to turn a simple decision about a crappy car into a rolling rendition of Hamlet.

The car buying public is not logical. If they were, you wouldn’t see the common citizen finance over $30,000 on a new car that makes the daily commute only 6 percent less miserable than the old car. You also wouldn’t see a MINI with an automatic.

So let me offer the five best answers to the question, “When is it the right time to get rid of your car?”

  1. When you can no longer refer to it as a “shitbox” in a loving manner.
  2. When you decide to become an owner that deserves the last name Kevorkian.
  3. When you visit the repair shop so often that you start up old conversations with the owner right where they left off.
  4. When any interest in your car immediately conjures up the words, “Please! God! Thank you!”;
    and finally,
  5. When you have enough resources to pay cash, and some foolish entity is willing to heavily subsidize your purchase with cash back, rebates, incentives, tax credits, and 0% financing. Then you tell a friend or family member about the car, and they sell you their old one at a steal of a price.

Feel free to share any advice, especially bad pearls of wisdom you have come across in your travels. In my experiences, most old beaters deserve better than their owners, but some broken down claptraps truly need to have their old Kia recycled into a higher quality Kenmore. Feel free to share those as well.

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New Or Used? : Try To Hit Em’ Where They Ain’t http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-try-to-hit-em-where-they-aint/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-try-to-hit-em-where-they-aint/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 19:24:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=856001 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. […]

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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:

No.

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 steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com

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Hammer Time: The $700 Repo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-the-700-repo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-the-700-repo/#comments Sat, 28 Jun 2014 02:07:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=854689 My brother-in-law’s 1997 Honda Civic took a vacation recently, and it only cost me about $700. The customer who escorted the Civic to the humidity ridden swamps of Crystal Lakes, Florida, let’s call him, Mud, had already been financing a 2005 Ford Freestar from my dealership. Some weeks he would pay on time. Other times, […]

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civic1

My brother-in-law’s 1997 Honda Civic took a vacation recently, and it only cost me about $700.

The customer who escorted the Civic to the humidity ridden swamps of Crystal Lakes, Florida, let’s call him, Mud, had already been financing a 2005 Ford Freestar from my dealership.

freestar

Some weeks he would pay on time. Other times, he would be late. The phone always worked though, and since the Freestar had been one of my unsellable cars of the past year, I was just happy to have the vehicle out there to what I hoped would be a good owner.

If only it were so.

One day, I got a call from Mud while his chain smoking soon-to-be pregnant ex-girlfriend was screaming at him in the background.

“Hello?”

“Steve, I’m returning the Freestar today. Me and Wildflower are splitting  and…. shut up! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!!”

“Aaahhh… that’s fine. Just call me back in a few.”

The few turned out to be a day.

“Hello?”

“Hey Steve. That  Civic you have on the lot. Can I exchange that with the Freestar and just make the same payment?”

Normally I say no to these things because the math doesn’t work out and, even if it does, exchange customers often get into the habit of delaying maintenance on their vehicles. Right around oil change time, these customers will come back to the lot and ask for an upgrade. What I do instead is tell them of a place a mile down the road where they can get the oil changed for $20. The cheap price has a surprisingly nice halo effect on the affordability of the vehicle they drive, and then I never hear from them until I start having payment issues.

freestar2

Mud wasn’t bad when it came to payments. But his ex-girlfriend’s smoking meant that the Freestar would need to have the interior detailed, and God knows what else.

“Bring the Freestar down and let me see what we can do.”

When I saw the platinum colored Freestar, I was both surprised and not surprised. The interior was still in decent shape. It had a faint smell of smoke, but not too bad. What did surprise me was a nice big dent on the driver’s door. That would cost some money to pop out along with the interior detail.

178,000 miles. When he had bought it from me it had all of 170,000. Or so I thought. This guy was driving close to 1,000 miles a week, and whatever I gave him, if I gave him anything, it needed to be able to handle that constant driving.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law’s Civic had more or less been overhauled before I got it. New belts, water pump, tensioner, plugs, wires, on and on. I did need to put four new tires on it, which turned out to cost only $233 thanks to my usual discount and a $100 gift card promo that the chain tire store was offering at the time.

I tried retailing the Civic for $3500, then $3300, and then $3000.

Nobody wanted it, and those that did just didn’t have the money. I had two kids in college and one older fellow tell me that they were going to get it in the next week, two weeks, when they got a settlement check, etc.

I didn’t care that much either way. Even though it was an unsellable car, I enjoyed driving thanks to my brother-in-law’s maintenance regimen. I knew it would eventually sell.

Then things started to get a bit, complicated. My sister-in-law mentioned to my wife, that my BIL hadn’t sold the vehicle for a lot of money, and that she thought it would get more than the $2000 I had paid for it.

When I hear things like this, I pretty much assume that this recent decision may not have been as smooth as I had initially thought.

I also couldn’t ask for nicer in-laws over the years. They have always been wonderful to me and my wife,  and I didn’t want anything that would cause hard feelings.  When their Camry’s engine blew up a couple years ago, I bought the vehicle for all of $500 with a very nice body and a perfect interior.   I replaced the engine with a JDM 2.0 four cylinder, financed it, had it voluntarily repoed in Denver (owner went out there and ran out of money). I then paid $750 for it to be delivered back to Atlanta, and sold it for $3000 cash which turned out to be my net profit.

I was thinking about selling the Freestar for cash, financing the Civic, and when I got my money back out of the Civic (about $2400), I would give my in-laws the profits. They had two young kids and I figured out this money, nine months from now, would be a perfect way to balance out their monthly daycare costs that I remember paying for back in my 30’s.

It was not meant to be. At least not when it came to Dirt, I mean, Mud. He was a pathological liar along with, what I would later found out, a serial impregnator. I should have taken the keys to the Freestar, shot him, and Jersey dumped his ass in Deliverance country.

Instead I took $305. $120 for what he owed on the Freestar, $120 as a payment cushion on the Civic, and $65 for the actual cost of the detail. I forgave the dent on the Freestar because, psychologically, if you do a nice favor for someone, they tend to be far less screwy with you in the future. However this isn’t always the case,  which is why I also asked him to give me the afternoon so that I can straighten it all out with my bank.

Well, the Bank of Steve has certain strict requirements. One of them is when you have a high-risk customer, you always put a GPS on that vehicle. Since I had initially planned on selling the Civic for cash, I had to take it to the mechanic shop so that we can put one in it. The cost of the unit is $129, and once we had three successful hits on the GPS, Mud got the keys.

Mud then took the car, went to Florida, and decided to play the BS game.

Instead of telling me the truth, that he had no job, he decided to tell me over the weeks, “I’ll get the money in on Tuesday.” Or, “I’ll be riding up to Georgia this weekend and I’ll get the money in and set up an automatic payment with Wells Fargo.” Every week was a new lie, a new excuse, and a new headache.

My policy with payments is relatively straight forward.

If you can’t pay me, then just tell me the truth.

If you can’t tell the truth, at least return my call.

If you can’t bother to return my calls over the course of three days, I’m going to get back my property.

And it is my property. Just because someone pays for the use of it, doesn’t mean they own it.

I get especially steamed when someone tells me, “It’s my car.” or “I already paid too much for it.” Hello? You don’t own my property. I am also not here to lecture you . My business is to provide for my wife and family and if you have some genuine catastrophic event that’s taken place, I’ll put the payments on a temporary hiatus. If you’re nice, I may even try to figure out a way to work off the balance with a side job related to your former work, so that you can become a long-term owner (and keeper) instead of a perpetual debtor.

Most of the time, I don’t want the car back. In the past I’ve had cleaning women do interior details. Small farmers pay me in chicken, eggs and tomatoes. I have even accepted lawnmower repairs, small generators, automotive repair work, assistance with transporting vehicles to and from the auctions, and  minor landscaping projects.

However in this case, I wanted the car back, big time. Last night the repo company scooped up the Civic that was suntanning in Lakeland, Florida. The old cost was $250 for the repo. $65 to transfer it to a nearby auction. $20 to mail the auction the keys so that it can be loaded onto a transport truck next Tuesday, and $275 to have it hauled back to my dealership.

I hope to see it on Thursday. From there it will likely need a $65 interior detail, and $42 to relist it on Autotrader and Craigslist.

So now I have another stickshift back on the lot. The Freestar sold for $3000 cash to a Latino family thanks to my posting the Craigslist ad in Spanish. By my calculations, this guy managed to do about 10,000 miles of driving for which I netted about $700. I got nailed by Mud, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wash myself of him and move forward to the next chapter in life.

 

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Hammer Time: Craigslist English http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-craigslist-english/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-craigslist-english/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 13:03:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=852529 If there is a hell, you will probably find it on Craigslist. Also, if there is a Santa Claus, you will probably find him performing some advanced NSA style hacking that tracks all the emails and texts people like me have to endure. I’m pretty sure that Saint Nick would also have an amazing Craigslist […]

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squidoo

If there is a hell, you will probably find it on Craigslist.

Also, if there is a Santa Claus, you will probably find him performing some advanced NSA style hacking that tracks all the emails and texts people like me have to endure.

I’m pretty sure that Saint Nick would also have an amazing Craigslist to English translator for that purpose.

“Wut” very roughly translate to what, of course…. unless “wut” happens to be a typo, in which case, start thinking of words that end with “ut.”

“Whass u got???” is, “Excuse my kind sir, but I have texted 33 people in the last 22 minutes. I can’t even remember why I texted you but… whass u got?”

I miss the good old days.

10 years ago, the average person you dealt with on Craigslist was a professional in many respects. They knew what they were buying. They knew that it would take a reasonable amount of cash money to buy it. And they knew that their free time shouldn’t have to become your time to the tune of 13 texts that could mostly be answered by just reading the ad.

These days I feel like I’m left with the far left hand side of the bell curve. Of course, there are a few stragglers that find a way of making it to the middle of that curve and beyond. But most times, I’m left to deal with folks with those 13 questions that are spelling catastrophes, and a budget that has mostly champagne on the mind and Schlitz in the wallet.

So, I may as well have fun with it. Here is a nice little cheat sheet that will help you translate those terrible texts with high annoyance, and low rates of sales success.
Text message: “What is your absolute lowest price?”Translation “Whatever you say, I’m going to try to knock it down another 50%. You’re welcome!”

Text: “R u farm? I have $$$!!!”

Translation: I am the doofus who hogs the computers at the public library playing Farmville. I have no $$$!!!.

Text: “What’s the lowest you’ll go?”

Translation: Because whatever you say, it will never be low enough.

Text: “Is it a diesel?”

Translation: I am confused. What does the word gas mean in the description? Also, is this 30 year old Mercedes cheap to own?

Text: “Is it a V8?”

Translation: I can only afford to look at pictures while goofing off in high school. You mentioning that it is a V8 in the title AND description has no bearing on my current reading level. 

Text: Can you send me pics?

Translation: Because 24 pictures of a 15 year old Ford Escort wagon is certainly not enough!

Text: “Can you come to my place?”

Translation: No, trust me. You don’t want to go anywhere near my place.

Text: Can I check it out? What is the VIN#? Any mechanical issues? What about maintenance? Did it pass emissions? Tires?
Translation: I am going to drive your car for an hour and a half. Then give you a checklist of all the things wrong with your car. Even the ashtray I’ll never use! I will do this on the nicest day of the year.  
Text: Kelly Blue Book says your car is only worth $2400.
Translation: Assuming your five year old Impala has 280,000 miles… is in poor condition… is a base model… and has a rebuilt title.
Text: Does it have leather seats?
Translation: I will lie to you and say I want cloth instead.
Text: Does it have a 5-speed?
Translation: I don’t know how to drive one. But can I practice on yours?
Text: Are you the original owner?
Translation: What does one owner mean?
Text: I have cash money!
Translation: But not enough to buy your car.
Text: My mom needs a car and I have $1200 in cash. Can we work out a deal?
Translation: My mom is really my father’s cousin’s former roommate from Hoboken, and he knows absolutely nothing about this.
Text: Would you mind if I combine the test drive with some local shopping? I have to get…
Translation: The keys are in my hand. The tank is full, and that back seat has my girlfriend’s name written all over it.

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Question Of The Day: What Was Your Closest Call? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-was-your-closest-call/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-was-your-closest-call/#comments Mon, 23 Jun 2014 18:28:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=850290 Well, I nearly died today. I was driving on a winding one lane road, when  a silver mid-2000’s Dodge Ram Club Cab broke through the double yellow, and swerved halfway into my lane. My car was a 7 year old Toyota Corolla, and if it weren’t for a last split-second swerve, I would have been […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

Well, I nearly died today.

I was driving on a winding one lane road, when  a silver mid-2000’s Dodge Ram Club Cab broke through the double yellow, and swerved halfway into my lane.

My car was a 7 year old Toyota Corolla, and if it weren’t for a last split-second swerve, I would have been dead. No question about it.

The surprising thing about the experience was my lack of a frazzled state immediately afterwards. I drove a couple hundred feet more, thanked God, did a U-turn at the nearby precinct headquarters, and dialed 911.

For all I knew it could have been anything that caused the near death experience. Texting, drugs, a spilled drink, a medical emergency… anything. But I surely wasn’t going to let that vehicle remain on the road without police involvement.

caught up with the truck enough to see it turn right onto a dead end street and stayed on the phone with the dispatcher for about 10 more minutes. The driver stayed in the car the entire time. No words between us. Nothing but me and a dispatcher, who told me that three police cars were already on their way. I kept the Corolla a good 700 feet away on the top of a large hill. I wasn’t going to play hero. But at the same time, I was betting that Atlanta’s 95 degree weather with 90% humidity would discourage the driver from coming out of his car.

Sure enough, he just stayed where he was at. 

Once the police showed up, I told them the story I just told you. They confronted what turned out to be a guy who had sweated out of his shirt. He was animate, allegedly he was working on the home where he was parked, and it took a good five minutes or so before the police were willing to let him speak with me.

“I’m sorry. I just spilled my drink and I know I crossed that yellow line. I’m really sorry.”

“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t impaired, or texting, or something like that.”

We shook hands, and it seemed like every 15 to 20 seconds, he was apologizing and trying to shake my hand again. I wish I had told one of the police officers to corroborate the spilled drink and other parts of his story. They don’t add up now. But to be honest, all I was thinking then was that my family could have experienced the worst day of our collective lives. His alibi was not my concern.

I thanked the officers and got the hell out of there. And now, well, I’m a bit frazzled. A neverending march of random questions goes through your mind when you experience something like this.

Do I stop driving compacts? Do I share what happened with my family? There’s a life lesson here, and I’m going to have to dwell on the ramifications for quite a while.

I’ve experienced plenty of close calls before. When I worked the Atlanta auction circuit I used to drive over 40,000 miles a year through three states as a ringman, and later, an auctioneer. But I never experienced anything quite like this in terms of a split second difference between life and death.  A 40 mph head on would have made me a corpse, and my family is sometimes the only damn thing I give a shit about in this world. I would rather endure the trials of Job than to leave them in such a terrible state.

This is why I like the idea of  self-driving cars and crash avoidance systems in general. I love cars, but if I had to make a deal with an angel and trade in my keys for the chance to simply stay on this Earth and be with my family, I would pack up our belongings and move away from the ex-urbs of Atlanta in a millisecond. New York City, Amsterdam, Costa Rica. Anywhere I could walk would be fine with me.

I need to get some perspective here folks, and maybe a good story or two would be the right prescription. So let me ask you, what was your closest call? More importantly, what impact did it have on the future of your driving?

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QOTD: Would You Ever Pay For A Stripper? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-would-you-ever-pay-for-a-stripper/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-would-you-ever-pay-for-a-stripper/#comments Fri, 20 Jun 2014 17:10:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=848106 No nav. No leather. No premium or power nuttin’. All yours for $12,800 before fees, tax, tag, title. You don’t want it? Don’t think you’re alone. Strippers have represented America’s premiere unsellable car for quite a while now. Everyone says that they just need a car to get from A to B. But easy credit […]

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versa

No nav.

No leather.

No premium or power nuttin’.

All yours for $12,800 before fees, tax, tag, title.

You don’t want it? Don’t think you’re alone. Strippers have represented America’s premiere unsellable car for quite a while now.

Everyone says that they just need a car to get from A to B. But easy credit and low monthly payments have made basic low-end models as popular as a 2014 Toyota Camry L and as hard to find as, well. I’ll put it to you this way: there are now three L models available in Atlanta for a population of six million.

Don’t think that Toyota is alone on this. There is only one Nissan Versa S with a five-speed that you can buy here for less than $13,000. Not one trim level. One car. When Honda was busy liquidating the last of their 2012 Accords for the new generation, my nearby Honda dealer still had two base five-speed Accords on their lot. One had been there for 10 months and the other had remained unloved, and unsold, for nearly a year and a half. They were each bought for only $17,300 which sounds like a fantastic buy, except that a few months later I would see an identically equipped 2012 Accord go through the auction, with fewer than 8,000 miles, sell for all of $10,000.

It didn’t have dents, dings, damage or even dowdiness. It was just a base car, and these days, base cars don’t sell.

There are a lot of reasons for this lack of attention to what I now call, the disappearing stripper. An article I recently wrote for Yahoo! pretty much highlights the financial mindset of today’s customer versus those of just a decade ago. It’s a different car market out there. The economy may still be in the slow growth to recession mode here in the USA. But we still like our creature comforts, and the good price really comes second these days to the “affordable” monthly payment. So long as loan terms remain long, and interest rates remain low, that better equipped car will usually only cost an extra $20 to $50. Even cash strapped buyers can afford that wiggle room.

I always get emails from folks who want a deal, and I always try to tell these folks  to hit em’ where they ain’t. But few folks are ever willing to take that plunge. So far in 2014, I have known only one guy who was willing to buy a stripper car, brand new, for cheap money. $14,000 out the door for a Mazda 2. If he had been in one of the five states with no tax, he could have sliced another $1000 off that price.

He bought it right. So let me ask you. Would you have taken that deal? How about a base MX-5 or a Mazda 3 with nothing but a stickshift and that olfactory new car smell? Before you instinctively say yes, take the time to go online and look at the vehicle as it is so equipped.

Would you ever pay for a stripper?  If not, then just feel free to share your story of a stripper you once owned and rode on a daily basis. It’s a Friday and we can all use the laughs.

 

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New or Used? : Sadly, Infiniti Will Never Sell An M80 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-sadly-infiniti-will-never-sell-an-m80/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-sadly-infiniti-will-never-sell-an-m80/#comments Fri, 20 Jun 2014 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=847225 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. […]

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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 steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com .

 

 

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New or Used? : Why Are Old Corvettes So Cheap? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-why-are-old-corvettes-so-cheap/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-why-are-old-corvettes-so-cheap/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 04:32:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=846233 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 […]

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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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Hammer Time: Screw Zipcar, Just Share A Govcar http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-screw-zipcar-just-share-a-govcar/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/hammer-time-screw-zipcar-just-share-a-govcar/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 11:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=844042 There a few things I can’t wrap my mind around these days. Take for example, Zipcar.  The car sharing firm that supposedly offers the Millenial vibe, is actually run by the old GM dumping ground for unpopular vehicles established rental company Avis. That’s not a bad thing at all. Long story short, the opportunity for […]

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govcar

There a few things I can’t wrap my mind around these days.

Take for example, Zipcar.  The car sharing firm that supposedly offers the Millenial vibe, is actually run by the old GM dumping ground for unpopular vehicles established rental company Avis.

That’s not a bad thing at all. Long story short, the opportunity for Zipcar to buy and manage vehicles at Avis procurement levels makes what was once a pipe dream, financially realistic. Avis gets to expand their fleet with minimal overhead costs (the two companies share the same vehicle fleet), and Zipcar gets to focus on expanding the idea of car sharing.

The problem for me is that the economics of car sharing under a corporate umbrella is still a bad idea for 99% of the folks out there.

You live in a university? Car sharing may make sense, but not when you deal with the strict asterisks and time-related gotchas that come with the corporate version of it.

There are times when you may want to go shopping, or to the movies, or to your favorite pharmacological distributor. Zipcar allows you to do that for about $10 an hour, plus an annual membership fee of about $15. If you are a student who doesn’t have the right to purchase a parking pass at your school, Zipcar gives you the sole out from those crowded university shuttles and long bike rides.

 

I’ll be blunt, Zipcar only works if you are denied a marketplace substitute, almost never drive, or once owned a rolling lemon money pit.

It’s also not a bad deal if you drive exactly twenty minutes, shop for exactly twenty minutes, and come back to where you live in 19 minutes and 59 seconds. Four students can gleefully share the ten dollar cost and a new deep seeded hatred for stop lights, slow drivers, and parking lots.

Or…

You can enjoy the infinite convenience of buying and sharing a car that you own.

You could have this. A 2009 Ford Crown Victoria.

The type of car that sparks fear in the eyes of a meandering motorist with just a few antennas on the roof, and a quick flashing of the headlights.

The price for a used one is still well short of $2500 with good mileage. Why so cheap? Because nothing is more unfashionable these days as a well-made, V8, rear-wheel drive car, bathed in government black and white, and incapable of getting more than 15 miles per gallon in the city.

Yet the economics of sharing this age old gas house, Animal House style, makes far more sense than supplementing the blogging income of cultural creatives and multi-national firms that see you as an easy target for their ecological phoniness.

That’s what ride sharing is about. They want your money. That’s it. If they cared a lick about you, the companies that foolishly overpaid acquired these operations wouldn’t have spent their resources de-contenting rental cars and removing important safety features that may impact your well-being should that terrible day come.

So, let’s say you decide that you want to own a car, but want to get some car sharing levels of help paying for it.

It’s not that hard if you are willing to hustle a bit. Yes there is Uber, and Lyft, and a few other firms that let you become the designated driver of the local university (invest in rubber floormats and keep the cop car). However, there are an awful lot of better ways to skin that cat.

So let’s say you decide to buy this car.

Definitely click on the link, because it’s not what you would expect. A 2004 Ford Taurus SE Wagon. Stop drooling.

Yes, this car is about as hip as a 35 year old frat boy. But that’s part of my point. It has 65,000 original miles. One owner, that being a local government, and all the maintenance has been done at the dealership according to the Carfax history.

New spark plugs. New tires. New starter. For $1175 plus a new battery and the bogus buyer premium, you’re still looking at less than $1500 out the door.

The price is right, and the hipness level is perfect as well. Why? Because you want to attract the types of people who are looking at the “transportation” end of the deal. People who are capable of doing math better than the average American.  In colleges and universities, these are usually grad students from overseas who have limited funds and a desire to travel. In the suburbs, or in your 20’s, it’s the young family that is trying to get established on one income. When you get to be in your 30’s and older, it will likely be the neighborhood where older folks and younger folks are already on good terms with each other.

You can have them all pay for part of the vehicle. Car insurance follows the car, not the driver, and that should be reimbursed as well along with a monthly charge for auto expenses. It is not against the law to allow a friend or relative drive your car under the permissive use policy. But, make extra sure that you are allowed to do this.  Every insurance company, and many states, have varying levels of coverage and liability when it comes to permissive use. This article is a good primer on it,

Even with that said, you always want to contact your insurance company. I have done this, twice, and both times, I contacted my insurance company to make sure that everything was kosher. This isn’t a big hurdle to climb, but some states simply say yes or no to the idea of permissive use.

The whole idea about making car sharing work is nothing new. It’s older than a Bluto Blutarski belch and as utilitarian as an old government mule. If you put even a minimal level of energy towards it, you won’t need a corporation to make it work.

Do you need faith in your fellow man? Meh. But if you pick your fellow man wisely, and don’t over-invest in the asset, you should be OK for years. A cheap government car that has been maintained right can offer a value proposition that is far better for most infrequent users than the ticking two-way time bomb that is trying to shop around town with a Zipcar.

 

 

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Question Of The Day: What Lame Duck New Car Is Worth Your Bills? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-lame-duck-new-car-is-worth-your-bills/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-lame-duck-new-car-is-worth-your-bills/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:30:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845569 I always tell folks that they should try to hit em’ where they ain’t. Want a Camry? Look at a Mazda 6 first. A Prius C? One of my personal favorites.  But I still have a soft spot for far cheaper closeout models like the Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta. You may also wind up […]

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mazda2

I always tell folks that they should try to hit em’ where they ain’t.

Want a Camry? Look at a Mazda 6 first.

A Prius C? One of my personal favorites.  But I still have a soft spot for far cheaper closeout models like the Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta. You may also wind up enjoying them a lot more in the long run.

That final year of a model’s run can sometimes provide that unique, one-time steal of a deal that would put today’s popular car to shame. There is a unique value quotient that frequently can’t be replicated with the brand new stuff, once rebates and slacking consumer demand start chipping away at the true cost of purchase.

So speaking of new cars…

One of our frequent commenters, tryochatter, was recently in the market for a brand new vehicle. His first in about a decade or so.

His tastes are a bit Y2K oriented. He doesn’t care about navigation systems, infotainment modules, or any of the other premium offerings that help boost the MSRP of a given new car to a healthy 15% to 25% premium.

Like a lot of us, he’s a rare breed in today’s marketplace. Stickshift, basic Ipod integration, comfortable seating for two, with maybe four in a very tight pinch, and one other small thing.

Airbags. In his words, he wanted a car that had, “enough airbags to turn the whole mess into a volleyball if need be.”. These days, even a base entry level car like the Chevy Spark comes with 10 airbags. So this wasn’t a tough hill to climb.

The car he wanted was listed for $15,515. One day of negotiating, and waiting… and waiting… and he finally bought his next new car. A 2014 Mazda 2 for $13,000 before the usual tax and potential bogus fees were added on. In Ohio, this came to just below $14,000 after tax, tag and title.

He loves it.  The monthly payments are reasonable, and with a new job within biking distance from his home, he is probably not going to need another new car until the oldest of the Millenials start hitting their 40’s.

This isn’t a common happy ending for what many in our industry call, “the lame duck cars”. Popular cars get the spotlights, auto show turntables,  and dealer traffic. While those about to be axed or replaced will usually get the moonlight that is the back of the new car lot.

Are those lame duck cars the better buy? Well,  I’ll put it to you this way. My late father was incredible at getting these types of cars at a rock bottom price. The 1992 Lincoln Mark VII that had an MSRP of $33,000, he pretty much stole it at $22,000. The leftover 2001 Lexus ES300 that followed also got a nice, but more moderate discount.

He had a knack for buying great cars during their final year of production, and with the daily driving he did around the third world roads of northern New Jersey, he wanted a car that could handle that daily brutality.

If he had bought a 1993 Dodge Dynasty, or a four door 1993 Saab 900, chances are I wouldn’t be bragging about it, and he would have quickly changed his strategy.       

So this is the question I want you to consider. If you had to buy a new car that is in its final year of production, which one would you choose? Keep in mind you’re spending your own dollars here. Let’s assume that this is a car you plan on keeping for a long while.

Which one would you pick?

Have a question? An Insight? A lame duck, first generation Honda Insight? Please feel free to contact Steve at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com 

 

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Question Of The Day: What Is The Most Common Vehicle You Have Seen… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-is-the-most-common-vehicle-you-have-seen/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-is-the-most-common-vehicle-you-have-seen/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 16:09:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845185 …on the side of the road? Way back in the day, I used to work as an auctioneer at Logandale Auto Auction. I used to call it, “the red light district” because every vehicle there sold under the red light, which meant AS/IS. AS/IS meant, as it is. That means whatever you bought when it […]

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sideofroad

…on the side of the road?

Way back in the day, I used to work as an auctioneer at Logandale Auto Auction. I used to call it, “the red light district” because every vehicle there sold under the red light, which meant AS/IS.

findautoauction

AS/IS meant, as it is. That means whatever you bought when it came on the auction block. it was yours. That also included whatever spilled or fell off the vehicle as it was leaving the barn. You, and you alone, were the new owner of a vehicle that probably drank, smoke, and hung around with the bad boys.

Why do I mention this? Well, most of the vehicles that were sold at the sale were impounded or abandoned vehicles. Those vehicles you see on the side of the road in the USA? Well, out here, most law enforcement officers will stick a nice bright tag on the front and rear windshield of the vehicle, giving the owner “x” number of days to get the vehicle or the local wrecker company will pick it up and impound it.

find2

From there, it’s a waiting game, and the vehicles get ever the more expensive to get out of impound. Here in Georgia, the standard rate is around $126 for the tow and $20 a day for storage. If you don’t get it in time they end up having a public auction which is usually advertised in the local county paper beforehand.

15 years ago, I would say that about 90% of these vehicles that were at those nearby auctions would eventually wind up at Logandale. The buyers would usually just fill up the coolant levels to the max, oil if it needed it, a cheap refurbished battery, a quick wash detail, and voila! Brand new auction vehicle sold to the general public with the ultimate of caveat emptors as the buying policy, AS/IS.

flickriver

Back in the Y2K era, I would see a ton of old K-Cars make it through the auction along with Chevy Blazers, 1980’s GM econoboxes, and most notably, the Ford Taurus. Sometimes it seemed like the majority of the inventory at this sale matched one of these four categories to some degree or another.

I was reminded by this from my ride home yesterday from an 85 mph racing circle here in Atlantan that we call Initerstate 285. Now that the weather is hot, I’m seeing a lot more vehicles on the side of the road with bright stickers to alert the local wrecker services. A 25 year old Buick Lesabre may have finally earned it’s wings on Exit 27. But the 2002-ish Cadillac Seville on Northdside Dr. may have fallen victim to the reptilian four figured fangs of GM’s Northsatr head gasket issues. A mid-90’s Sable wasn’t far away, and finally, a similar era Roadmaster sedan rounded out the four I saw over the course of the 20 mile drive.

I’ve seen a lot of rolling money pits and crusher fodder in my travels. But what about you? What’s the most common vehicle you have seen on the side of the road?

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NASCAR For The Novice (The Prequel) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/nascar-for-the-novice-the-prequel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/nascar-for-the-novice-the-prequel/#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 19:46:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=843553 I am pacing back and forth in a 200 square foot wooden building that I had exchanged for a 1996 Volvo 850 sedan back in 2008. “What the hell am I going to write about? I know nothing about racing! Zip!” “Well Steve, maybe we can arrange for a few interviews.” “Would they be racers?” […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

I am pacing back and forth in a 200 square foot wooden building that I had exchanged for a 1996 Volvo 850 sedan back in 2008.

“What the hell am I going to write about? I know nothing about racing! Zip!”

“Well Steve, maybe we can arrange for a few interviews.”

“Would they be racers?”

“Aaahhh, no.”

“Owners? Hookers? How about the guy who fires the gun?”

“What gun?”

The truth was that I didn’t want to go to any race. I had a long line of issues to deal with at the used car lot. Customers that needed help either finding cars, or paying for them.  The grass was growing back where the gravel was, and I hated to leave money on the table. If I left, either some deals would be lost, or I would have my cell phone surgically attached to my ear for the entire time.

It wouldn’t be fun. But that was the big problem for me at this point. Life wasn’t fun when it came to my daily work life. I rate every working day from a 1 to 10 scale for that key elusive ingredient known as, fun. For the past year my days have been 2’s and 3’s. They used to be 7’s and 8’s, back in the time when I had not built this beast of the business up to the point where I felt like was a subservient tail of a great big fire breathing dragon.

I was dealing with too many cars with weird problems, and amateur bullshitters who thought they could get one up on me. There were countless times over the past two weeks where I just thought about taking all my retail cars, wholesaling them, and taking time off from what had become a pressure cooker of human stupidity.

Instead, I went to my first race.

I started out driving out to Atlanta and entering a humongous underground parking deck that had at least 12 or 13 levels to it.

garage

Turn right, drive. Turn right, drive. I realized that I was doing a 15 mph version of NASCAR with an opposite turn, and all the cars thankfully either gone or parked along the side out of pity.

Once I reached the bottom of the bottom,I realized something highly unusual right off the bat.

I was the only one there.

No cars. No noise. Nothing but me and my car… that happened to have nothing in the trunk. At least for now. Gulp!

As a native Jersey boy, I briefly thought about the ease of whacking someone and moving a body in this parking garage. My southern twang belies the fact that I grew up in Northern Jersey during the Reagan era. A time and place where houses mysteriously burned down, the mafia always handled your garbage, and John Gotti was considered a not-so-bad guy.

This theatrical idea was tempered by me driving  a seven-year old Corolla instead of the black 1980 Cadillac Seville I sold earlier that week. I missed that car. After about 10 minutes of quiet and no phone signal, I met my co-rider, and we quickly made our way back up to the same part of Northwest Georgia I had just left.

Camry-Hybrid-LE-interior

We would be spending our time in a 2014 Toyota Camry LE. The type of car that no supposed enthusiast or auto journalist wants to drive. Yet what did I recommend for my mom to buy back in 2012? A Camry. That is after she pretended to be open-minded and rejected everything else in the marketplace. The brutal truth of this business is that most folks have minimal needs to get from A to B, and reliability is still the #1 driver of sales in the new and used car markets.

As I exhume myself from this tomb of automotive storage, my mind wanders to the blandness of the American driving experience. Cruise at 70. Seats comfortable. Driving straight and uneventful. Talk on cell phones.  That’s what the American open road is like these days. The media driven garbage about cars representing the penultimate of freedom and sexiness is, at least in my mind, castrated by the salient fact that everyone plays the game “follow the leader” when it comes to daily driving, and detailing is already a pure misery for most car owners.

This is what I’m thinking about while going through six different lights on one of 30+ Peachtree Streets here in Atlanta.

stoplight

I enjoy a winding one lane road as much as anyone in this business, but city driving sucks and the suburbs aren’t much better these days. Traffic is a constant pain because turn signals are optional, people play with their cell phones, and drivers often turn for the hell of it.

Cars are mostly a burden in most cities like Atlanta, and what joy can be had by revving your engine every now and then is often throttled back by a city police force whose only opportunity for pay raises is to issue more traffic tickets.

The racing world is a healthy rebellion from what has largely become a speed hating society.

The light turns green. I hit Interstate 85 and after about 30 minutes of driving, we finally become free of the monetary clutches of quick changing stoplights and legalized theft cartels. I and my co-driver are hitting 80 on our way up to northwest Georgia and beyond.

crosscountryroads

The scenery gets better. I like to tell folks that when you’re in Atlanta, you’re in Atlanta, and when you’re in Georgia, you’re in JAW-JA! Never the twain do meet.

Atlanta is a bit of a weird place. Very corporate, yet not quite conservative, and often times city officials are downright delusional about where their strengths lie. A few years ago these guys wanted to get the NASCAR Hall of Fame down here, which would have been kinda like asking the New York Yankees to move to Winnipeg.

I’m not a NASCAR enthusiast at all. But one thing I do know is that the cultures of “NASCAR Country” and “The ATL” are about as close to each other as Mercury is from Pluto.

The College Football Hall of Fame will be in Atlanta, right near Georgia Tech, which is a great fit for the culture and the community. The guy I’m riding with is pretty much a foot soldier for promoting these types of projects around Georgia, and as the scenery around us changes from commercial parks to pine trees, we start changing a bit.

Our accents become a bit more country. By seeing my neck of the woods, I begin to relax. The phone gets turned off.  The beauty of North Georgia becomes all encompassing, and I realize something at that very moment.

I needed this.

 

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New or Used? : Vroom! Crunch! Cha-Ching! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-vroom-crunch-cha-ching/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-vroom-crunch-cha-ching/#comments Thu, 12 Jun 2014 19:47:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=842650 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 […]

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Source: Gallagher.com

Source: Gallagher.com

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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-a-mitzvah-for-the-mazda/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-a-mitzvah-for-the-mazda/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 00:11:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=840674 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 […]

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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 steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com.

 

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How I Royally Screwed Up My Life And Bought… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/how-i-royally-screwed-up-my-life-and-bought/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/how-i-royally-screwed-up-my-life-and-bought/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 11:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=839793 A 33 foot stretch limo that was formerly owned by a famous run down strip club in Miami. Two small TV’s that dated back to the beginning of the Clinton era. Cheap burgundy upholstery that I probably would never want to study with a forensic light. 104,000 miles, and a corded phone right next to the champagne glasses in […]

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limoclosetvphone

A 33 foot stretch limo that was formerly owned by a famous run down strip club in Miami.

Two small TV’s that dated back to the beginning of the Clinton era.

Cheap burgundy upholstery that I probably would never want to study with a forensic light.

104,000 miles, and a corded phone right next to the champagne glasses in the mini-bar. Oh, and it was a Cadillac. Not just any Cadillac. But the last of the old-school rear wheel drive Cadillac Fleetwoods with rear-wheel drive and the 350 V8.

Everyone screws up at some point when it comes to cars. But when I screw up… it’s something truly special.

This limo from Stripper Central had wheels that were (cough! cough!) begging for what most mother’s call “negative attention”.

limowheel

These were 90’s era gangsta wheels that, here in Georgia, are the rolling equivalent of MC Hammer pants. 

The reason why I bought this rolling showcase of 90’s era bling was the same reason why most car dealers and hobbyists end up buying this stuff.

We got drunk and saw it on Craigslist.

Now, in my case, someone from Alabama had already seen my own personal screw-up of a badly bought vehicle. A 2007 Crown Vic Police Interceptor that had been overhauled to a point of being practically brand new.

vic

Transmission replaced recently? Check!

Suspension overhauled? Big check.

A stack of papers that made the history of this car look like a paperback book? A never ending stack of papers and check copies.

vic2

I paid a bit for the Interceptor since it was so new mechanically. About $2600 in total.  Drove it for a bit around town just to revel in what was a good deal on paper.

And then… nothing… nobody wanted a gas guzzling police car. It sat for months on end.

So what did I do? Well, first I got the phone call.

“My name is Sherman K Wires June-yah! I have a Cadillac stretch limo and an old Inidan bike I’m tryin’ to sell. You want to do any tradin’ with that police car?”

limointerior

My business is right near Deliverance country and, as such, I’ll pretty trade anything except chickens and tomatoes. I have a neighbor back a bit who raises both and I got all of those I need.

In the south, you get more than your share of folks who want to trade due to their own car’s mechanical issues. More times than not, you’re better off not doing it.

limotenseats

“Tell me about em’?” and thus started a 30 minute monologue I put on speakerphone while drinking bourbon, and going on Craigslist to look at the pictures of his two vehicles.

The first thing I noticed was that the Indian motorcycle was a fake. Fake Indians are as common as kudzu around here thanks in large part to a powersport auction that gets thousands of repossessed motorcycles every single month. The first play toys to bite the dust are always the phony ones. Yesterday’s Chinese scooters with Honda-esque names to them have largely been replaced with full-blown imitators of classic machinery.

limodriverseat

So that Indian was out. But a Cadillac limo? Hell, I had never bought a limo before. May be worth at least checking out now…

I ended up falling in love with the old bastard. It had that perfect combination of retro-kitsch and “Look at me!” uniqueness to it. I drove the Crown Vic to central Alabama through winding one lane roads, and met the fellow halfway.

Within ten minutes we exchanged keys and papers. I was shocked to find out that this behemoth could actually manage right near 20 miles per gallon if you kept it going at a 50 to 60 mile per hour clip. Just don’t press hard on the accelerator. Ever.

My goal was to surprise my wife by rolling it up to our driveway.

limoside2

 

Well I certainly did, and I managed to surprise a lot of neighbors as well who knew my regular work. Pretty soon, I was filling up the limo with folks I had known since forever and giving them a joyride.

There were lots of ideas hatching up in my enterprising little head while I took that drive. Most of them bad ones.

limootherside

The Atlanta Braves will soon be coming to about 15 miles from where I now live. So why not create a party/limo service to that new stadium and back?

Well, there were liability concerns. Old car concerns. People potentially barfing in a 100 square foot space with only two rear doors for ventilation. All of these things conspired to keep me conservative with that use and abuse.

limoprius

Then I thought about putting a big wrap around it and advertising it at the big box stores a few miles from my car lot. Other nearby dealerships use old military trucks to hang banners and pollute the aesthetics of the nearby Walmart and Home Depot parking lots.  So why not do the same with a vehicle that people would actually want to ride in?

To be blunt, I just saw it as hokey, and this thing had a neverending assortment of electrical issues that required a battery jump if I let it sit for a few days… which always happened. $2000 for a wrap seemed like a lot. But I realized that a supersized magnet could be had for about a tenth of the price. So financially, that was in the running. I just never warmed up to it.

limonightinside

In the end, I just used the old limo as my own personal party and fun time vehicle. I took my wife and her friends to the movie theater when it came time for her birthday. I used it for my son’s birthday as well along with one of my mechanic’s kids. When Black Friday came, I was able to get a 32″ TV mounted on the wall behind the driver.

So now I had 3 TV’s. A ton of leather, and a vehicle that gets easily noticed wherever I took it.

That was the good news. The bad news was that like all novelties, I got tired of it after a while. It took up space. It required a lot of little things to be done which all soon added up, and this past week I finally sold it for $2800.

limolast

So now I have one less limo in my life.  As for other automotive screw-ups, I have plenty to share. Dozens in fact.  But what about you? Have you ever bought a fun vehicle that became a rolling mistake as soon as you were given the keys?

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Hammer Time: Memories of Metros http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-memories-of-metros/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-memories-of-metros/#comments Fri, 30 May 2014 04:01:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=834201 There it stood, right next to the Michael Jordan Wheaties display. A brand-new 1992 yellow Geo Metro convertible. Price Chopper, a local New York supermarket chain (think Pathmark or Albertson’s on crack) was opening up a brand new location in Saratoga Springs. The Metro would be the perfect vehicle for upstate New York’s salty roads […]

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metro1

There it stood, right next to the Michael Jordan Wheaties display.

A brand-new 1992 yellow Geo Metro convertible.

Price Chopper, a local New York supermarket chain (think Pathmark or Albertson’s on crack) was opening up a brand new location in Saratoga Springs.

The Metro would be the perfect vehicle for upstate New York’s salty roads and wickedly cold weather for one irrefutable reason. It was free… after tax, tag and title.  The only thing I had to do was figure out how to win it.

So I got busy. 150 entries a day for 3 full months. 13,000 in all. The day came for the drawing, and I won!

25 pounds of free meat. To make matters worse, I was a vegetarian at the time.

So what did I do? I got a friend’s cooler. Put in 25 pounds of filet mignon, and took a three and a half hour drive home to impress my dad.

He was impressed. Sadly, it would take me another 10 years before another Geo Metro would enter my life.

metro7

The first was a burgundy 1997 four door automatic. I bought what was arguably the shittiest of all Metros for $2000 back in 2002, and sold it for $4000. Doubled my money. Even the paint flaking on the roof and the trunklid didn’t detract from the mythical promise of exceptional fuel economy.

Unbeknownst to the buyers of these loveless shitboxes, the automatic version of the Metro drained the MPG numbers by at least 7 mpg. The powertrain was like a rubber band that gave you more resistance as you tried to stretch it out. If you drove it around town and wanted to keep up with traffic, the four-door three speed automatic got only about 30 mpg combined.

I would later find out that a a Tercel could beat it in real world driving. A far heavier and better engineered Civic could match it. Even the almost as cheap Chevy Cavalier could keep up with the Metro in terms of real world fuel economy. Once I sold that Metro, I thanked the good Lord for separating me from this piece of mobile tupperware and proceeded to focus more on W124’s, rear-wheel drive Volvos, and anything made by Subaru.

I called those nicer models the “wanna-be’s”. As in folks who wanted a Lexus or a BMW, but couldn’t afford their price premium in the used car market, would wind up buying one of these three models instead. I bought plenty of other vehicles as well. But chances are, if there was a well-kept trade-in at the auction that matched one of these three models, I would buy it. New car dealers only cared about financing the new and late model vehicles back then. Older cars were a no-no nadir. So it was relatively easy to find good ones to resell.

As time went on, I began to see those Metros regularly hit the $500 to $1000 mark at the auctions. Quality sold, and the Metro wasn’t it. Nobody wanted them until very late 05′ when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Then things started to get a bit weird at the auctions. I would see Metros matching the prices of Volvos that were not much older and infinitely more deserving of a buyer’s attention. Contrary to the frequent eulogizing of cheap defunct cars, I had zero love for the Metro. It was a deathtrap that anyone who cared about their well-being would stay the hell away from.

swift

Then I found a Metro with good seats. It was called the Suzuki Swift. A 5-speed hatchback with a 4 cylinder engine, the Swift was surprisingly fun and for $600, as cheap as the average repair for a newer Volvo. My wife loved it. My mom thought I was an irresponsible father, and after an interminable delay in market interest, I was finally able to unload it for $1500.

Why the hell did I like that thing? I had two kids and a stay at home mom to think about. Not some ancient tin can of a car.

Well, it got worse, because within three months, I would buy two more Metros.

metro3

 

The first was a 1996 3-cylinder hatchback. White. 90k miles.  $500 plus a $50 sale fee.

It was a steal of a deal. I eventually replaced the wheels and sold it for $2800. Then, I struck fool’s gold with a  first generation Geo Metro at an impound lot auction in South Atlanta.

Imagine 27 dents, 37 dings, and three shades of green.

Imagine 27 dents, 37 dings, and three shades of green.

It was a snot rag. Three shades of green and inexplicably worth my time. The driver seat had virtually disintegrated and yet, there was an immaculate one on top of the back seat along with a driver side mirror. It was a salvage vehicle that was wrecked way back when it was worth something.

188,000 miles. Rebuilt title from Alabama. I bought it, running, for $125. I figured why the hell not.

Well, no A/C in Georgia and a slim chance for profit for starters.  I wasn’t about to put it up at my retail lot. So I drove it around the neighborhood for a bit.

It ran fine. Perfect. After replacing the driver seat and tossing the old one in a nearby dumpster, I decided to sell it at the one place that could give me a price premium for unique crappy cars.

Ebay.

Old Peugeots at the auctions? Ebay.

A Volvo 780 bought for $90. A nine-year old Subaru Impreza with nothing but primer for paint that I bought for $76.25 out the door? Both ended up on Ebay.

Low-mileage Crown Vics, Colony Parks, Mark VIIIs and 1st gen Priuses with body damage. All I had to do was buy them, take 24 pictures, and write up a glorious soliloquy of pithy summations worthy of an Ebay audience. They brought strong money.

I would buy, sell, and meet the new owner at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport with a free Starbucks in my hand. I averaged about 150 deals a year during the mid-2000’s and about a third of them were on Ebay.

This car held onto my conscious thoughts like a fungus. One day, I decided to do a financial spreadsheet. Like a lot of former financial analysts, I suffered from this nasty little OCD-like tendency to put anything that required a long-term mathematical answer into a spread sheet.

This time, I pitted the Metro against a 2001 Yamaha XC125 and did the math to figure out which one would be cheaper in the long run if you maximized their passenger count. Long story short, the two trained monkeys riding a scooter wouldn’t match the five Pygmys that would be stuck in the Metro.

Now that I figured out the Fantasyland part of my life, I decided to sell the Metro. My first law back then, which I still abide by now, is to never fall in love with a car.

10 days later, the Metro sold for all of $700. This is where things got weird. The very next day, the buyer drove 6 hours from western Tennessee down to Atlanta to meet me. He was one tough looking, intimidating, son of a gun.

Sunglasses, tattoos, one of my friends remarked that he had the smell of shit and spit. I said one word, “Hi.”, and for the next hour, all I did was listen to a really nice guy tell me about every single Metro he has ever bought while staring at my reflection on his sunglasses. This guy was made for this car. I pocketed the $700 and decided that I had made a match in small car heaven.

All these memories came back to me this evening for one reason.

mirage

 

The new Mitsubishi Mirage. I have yet to drive it. But the Mirage is probably the first car whose parsimonious pedigree harkens back to that nearly forgotten world of basic cheap cars in the United States.

In today’s world, where a basic economy car comes with over 100 horsepower, 15 inch aluminum wheels, and 10 airbags, the Mirage strikes me as something that is worthy of the old Metro’s econobox heritage.

So count me in as one guy who is willing to cheer for a contender that is a pure pretender.  I look forward to buying them real cheap when 2020 comes around. Who knows? By then the Mitsubishi Mirage may replace the Geo Metro as the penurious used car of choice for the modern day tightwad.

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Hammer Time: Are Shareholders Worth It? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-are-shareholders-worth-it/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-are-shareholders-worth-it/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 14:20:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=448804 Capitalism has no loyalties. Everybody is replaceable. Products. Employees. Employers. Services. Alliances. Joint Ventures. Financiers. Even the executives of multinational firms along with their board of directors are only as good as whatever quarterly numbers can be cooked up by their ‘independent’ auditing firm. Capitalism is the ultimate “Let’s go!”, “Do it!” and “Screw you!” […]

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balancing act

Capitalism has no loyalties.

Everybody is replaceable.

Products. Employees. Employers. Services. Alliances. Joint Ventures. Financiers. Even the executives of multinational firms along with their board of directors are only as good as whatever quarterly numbers can be cooked up by their ‘independent’ auditing firm.

Capitalism is the ultimate “Let’s go!”, “Do it!” and “Screw you!” of economic systems. You name the angle or need in capitalism, and chances are that there is a market substitute that can immediately fill the gap. Even government regulations can be routinely challenged by trade organizations, international courts, and the all too common political handshake.

All this reality happens… on paper.

The truth is that capitalism is tempered by the culture where it’s practiced.

In the world we live in today, corporations and industry interests always pursue laws and relationships to protect their gotten gains. The ultimate goal of some companies isn’t progress. But to keep certain competitors and market substitutes far away from the hands of the free market.

Consumer first? Hell no! Earnings first? Hell yes! This brutal reality of corporate self-interest brings on a few tough questions when it comes to the American auto industry in particular.

Everyone has their own hierarchy of worthiness when it comes to an automaker’s success. Bonuses, dividends, stock options and pensions are all realigned to account for the rewards of good work.  So with that in mind, let me have you think about a question that has bugged me now for several years.

Are individual shareholders worth it?

As I look through the recent history of our industry, I am having trouble figuring out a single scenario where individual public shareholders made the difference. Ross Perot couldn’t kick Roger Smith’a ass into gear. Lee Iacocca and Kirk Kerkorian were the crown jesters of a pointless takeover exercise. As for Ford, wasn’t the fact that the Ford family held sway the major reason why an industry outsider like Alan Mulally was successful at restructuring the company? He didn’t need to worry about holding off on a strategy, or hiring some lackey to his management team,  just because some schmuck with a big block of stock thought he knew more.

Smaller shareholders are nothing more than gamblers. If something bad happens, they are the last to know and for good reason. They don’t know anything. Even if they did, their shares don’t enable them to help create that change. I can’t think of one solitary situation in the last 50 years where a small shareholder has been able to make a difference in any automobile company.

Who has offered the greatest stability and success in the long run? In our industry it may very well solely rest in the wiser and more patient hands of the family controlled business.

The most successful Japanese auto company is owned by the Toyoda family. The most successful European company, Volkswagen, is ruled by Porsche Automobil Holding. A German holding company owned by the Porsche families.

As for American manufacturers, only Ford, a company controlled by the Ford family for well over a century, was able to survive the 2008 meltdown without a direct bailout. The shareholders did nothing but lose all their money and offer many of us a golden opportunity to short their stocks. John Q Public and Cerberus were inevitably replaced by the unions, Fiat, and Uncle Sam.

Could individuals shareholders ever make a difference in this business? If not, do they simply make it easier for the family with limited resources to control the business?

Instead of offering a reflexive yes/no based on ideological allegiance, I want you to also think about the financial issues. We are in a heavily cyclical industry. White knights, along with new leaders, have helped save nearly every automaker from bankruptcy or a hostile takeover at one time or another.

But can this defense be better executed with a family that has their own name and reputation to defend? Instead of a bunch of shareholders who are in it simply for the stock price?

My answer is yes. I think small shareholders serve as nothing more than a money pool for those who are doing the real work. In a well-run organization they offer liquidity. In good times, they get dividends and stock appreciation. In bad times, they usually don’t have any means to change the running of a car business for the better.  This business has far too many influencers on too many levels for public shareholders to effect change.

Am I wrong?

Author’s Note: Even when Steve is wrong you can reach him at Steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com

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Hammer Time: Not All Cheap Cars Are Beaters http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-cheap-cars-are-not-beaters/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-cheap-cars-are-not-beaters/#comments Mon, 26 May 2014 10:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=829882 One dollar of depreciation in four years. Fifty-five miles per gallon. Forty-eight thousand miles. I may have very well owned the cheapest car in America a few years ago. Back in 2009, I bought a 2001 Honda Insight with 145,000 miles for all of $4001 at an auction. After four years and with 193,000 miles, I […]

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2001-honda-insight-rear

One dollar of depreciation in four years.

Fifty-five miles per gallon.

Forty-eight thousand miles.

I may have very well owned the cheapest car in America a few years ago. Back in 2009, I bought a 2001 Honda Insight with 145,000 miles for all of $4001 at an auction. After four years and with 193,000 miles, I sold it last year for exactly $4000.

That’s all well and good, but let’s face it folks. I’m in the car business. Plus, a first generation Honda Insight is pretty much a cheat when it comes to cheap cars. It was designed with stingy bastards like me in mind who use the edge of the technological envelope instead of individual ingenuity and improvisation.

That Insight was a cheap car… but definitely not a beater. Why? Too much money and too few stories about personal travels and other unique mayhem. To me, a beater is a concept that has far more to do with the owners than the actual car.

Three qualities define the beater.

Personalization: Murilee’s 1992 Honda Civic may outlast the Crown Vic dinosaurs that find their way to government auctions and taxicab companies.  But his 1965 Chevrolet Impala was a rolling embodiment of the glories that come from a beater that has true inner beauty. He made that car whole in every sense of the word.

Parsimony: Beaters must always remain cheap when it comes to cosmetics. A 1983 Lincoln Mark VI that drools out liquids on a daily basis and has duct tape on every seat and door is more of a beater than a Metro bought new and maintained with someone’s obsessive compulsive disorder.

Stories: Rolling sewing machines that spend their days droning around on traffic-laden roads are not what beaters are about. To me at least, I want the really out there stuff. The Volvo wagon whose ten foot headliner meticulously chronicled the unique exploits of two young female lovers who traveled the country. The other Volvo wagon that was bought cheap and proceeded to financially emasculate one of our writers. The other, other Volvo wagon that was rescued from the crusher and brought back to the loving hands of a brick enthusiast.

An ability to outlast other cars to the point where it contradicts all known levels of applied physics should be spiritually welded with the stories that inevitably come with a good personalized car.

So what about your story? Did you one day find a lonely old 1980’s Subaru wagon that was used as an official beer car for your local hash events?   Did an old family car help you more fully understand the pharmacological events that come with attending Grateful Dead concerts? Heck, did you take a Renault LeCar in the woods and chase wild animals with it?

We all have our moments of high weirdness with a beater. So feel free to share yours.

 

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Hammer Time: PT Cruiser? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-pt-cruiser/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-pt-cruiser/#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 21:45:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=461266 $11,800. That was the asking price for a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser down at my local Chrysler dealer back in June 2008. Throw in a $1500 rebate or the “Refuel America” $2.99 per gallon guarantee into the equation, and you may have ended-up with a pre-tax, tag, title price right around $10,300. Not bad. Not […]

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pt1

$11,800.

That was the asking price for a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser down at my local Chrysler dealer back in June 2008. Throw in a $1500 rebate or the “Refuel America” $2.99 per gallon guarantee into the equation, and you may have ended-up with a pre-tax, tag, title price right around $10,300.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Then again, was it? There are a lot of long-term factors to consider when approaching any of the less popular new cars that are in their last years of production. Not all will be a good deal.  But you may be surprised. Join me now as we journey down the PT-shaped rabbit hole.

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If you’re not an enthusiast, and simply wanted a ‘keeper’ car, that $10k Cruiser may have been a great deal in 08′. Even with the abysmal gas mileage and the pointless towel rack in front of the passenger seat.

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Folks who don’t drive very much… hmmm… Let’s say that folks who frankly don’t give a damn about cars at all were the target du jour for most Cruisers that went out the door. It was a styling statement in a cheap car world that ranged from plasticized SUV wanna-be (Dodge Caliber) to automotive androgyny (Toyota Yaris).

PT Cruisers of the time typically came in two packages. Blah boring basic and turbo/convertible kinda interesting. This is a nuance that shouldn’t be missed. Sometimes you can find a nugget of used car goodness within an ocean of a model generation’s ennui.

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The right engine. The right trim package. The right seats. Pretty soon you are going from a strip model to a street hooner.

So what to buy?

As a long-term dealer and enthusiast let me cut one big choice out of your lineup.

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The entry level model. You like driving? Forget it. Don’t even bother. When you see an old PT Cruiser that has a low number in bold, and think to yourself, “Hey, that looks like a good deal!”, pretend like you just ordered a sundae and all you got was the ice cream.

Look at that sad little melting scoop of ice cream. It’s store brand surplus without the real whipped cream, the sweet maraschino cherry, sprinkles, nuts, caramel and whatever other trimmings you long for.

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Was it worth what you paid? Think about that. Most Sunday advertisements are selling you nothing more than cheap ice cream at a premium. Back in 2008, the real cost for the PT Cruiser came from getting that new car sweet tooth for a car that simply didn’t compare with a nice used Saturn Aura. Today, that same basic late model PT Cruiser car is a poor substitute for a 10 year old Nissan Altima.

Let’s also think about the old value quotient of hitting em’ where they ain’t. A Camry SE, an Accord coupe with a V6 and stick, and even the Malibu SS all have one thing in common.

They are usually too much money in the real world of buying cars. Most folks try to opt for the champagne popular car at the beer budget unpopular car price. In a perverse twist, many of these cars will handily outsell their less enthusiast oriented brothers and sisters.

You want value? Get the cheap wrapper with the nice stuff inside of it. The ‘old’ new car that was well-designed and given the great powertrain of a few years ago. The used car that you buy for the joy of driving instead of the brand or name that came with it.

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If you consider that to be a PT Cruiser, well, all the power to you. They certainly sell cheap.

 

 

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Hammer Time: Batter Up! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-batter-up/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/hammer-time-batter-up/#comments Fri, 16 May 2014 11:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=820914 The bases are loaded and the score is tied. Two outs in the bottom of ninth. 3 balls. 1 strike. You know this pitcher better than you know your brother. The last pitch had almost cleared the left field pole, and the entire stadium. Your swing was as beautiful as Mickey Mantle in his prime. […]

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pitch

The bases are loaded and the score is tied. Two outs in the bottom of ninth. 3 balls. 1 strike.

You know this pitcher better than you know your brother. The last pitch had almost cleared the left field pole, and the entire stadium. Your swing was as beautiful as Mickey Mantle in his prime. Just a few inches to the right and you would have been on your way to a private party with friends instead of another walk back to the batter’s box.

The catcher signals, and you catch one finger out of the very corner of your eye. Fastball. The pitch comes, right down the middle. It’s almost like a dream and yet, you can’t do anything about it.

The stomach pangs in stress and anguish as the rest of your body remains still. You watch it go past. The thud in the catcher’s mitt. The umpire bellowing, “Stttaaarrriiikkeee!!!” Your manager had told you not to swing and now, you have 50,000 fans booing as you curse under the breath and step away from the batters box.

Will you get a pitch that good again? The pitcher grins as he now knows, his mistake ended up giving him an advantage.

This is how I felt yesterday afternoon. That manager who I wanted to fire was a neighbor who I had bought a car for nearly eight years ago. A four year old Cadillac Seville with only 26,000 miles, a CPO warranty still in effect, and the exact color they wanted for all of $12,600. It was nearly $4000 less than what the nearby dealer had offered for the same type of vehicle. Except his was a year older and had 10k miles with no warranty at all.

For 8 years they had been happy with it being their retirement vehicle. A lot of long-distance trabeling and one of my mechanics ensured that the vehicle would stay in good running order. No Northstar engine issues. A couple of oil leaks around the 100k mark. but nothing out of the ordinary given what it was. They were happy, and I was happy for them.

Then a Solara driven by an idiot decided to make a turn going against traffic and…. bam!…. hospital visit and totaled car.

The good news was that the folks were okay. Bad news? All the airbags did their job and a 12 year old Seville wasn’t a prime candidate for the replacement of this safety equipment and the surrounding sheetmetal. The car was totaled. There was some soreness. An honest apology from the bad driver, and another page for everyone would be turned.

I get the call that evening, “Steve, someone just totaled out the car. We’re at the hospital”

“Is everyone OK?”

“Kinda. Our friends are about 80 and they were shaken up a bit. A little sore. But no broken bones. Can you come up to the hospital and pick us up?”

“Sure. I’ll be right there.” I palmed the keys to a nearby 2003 Camry and made my way against rush-hour traffic to the hospital.

It took a couple of hours to get discharged. Since there was no bleeding or dying, there would be a lot of waiting. I parked at a nearby church where my wife teaches Sunday school and made the long trudge to the hospital.

“Is everything OK with ya’ll?”

An older lady was resting on a bed and my neighbors, along with an elderly stranger, were waiting for their turn.

“We’ll be fine. But chances are Manda will need a couple of days of rest before heading back to Ohio.”

I became a good listener for the next half hour. Eventually the subject came to their next car.

“Can you help us find a Malibu?”

Sure, what are you looking for?

“We thought we would get another silver car with leather. Two years old. Maybe around $10,000.”

“I hate to say it, but you’ll be waiting for another two years to get that type of car, if you’re lucky.”

“So what do you think we should get?”

A tricky question, and I had to wait a moment to formulate the right response. These people were conservative in tastes, and I knew that I would be dealing with folks who wanted a showhorse car at the same workhorse price I got eight years ago. That deal was a lightning strike, and the auction market is a lot more competitive in 2014 than it was in 2006.

“Go ahead and when you feel able, just go to a dealership and test drive a few vehicles. See what you like and let me know.”

This turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it shocked them back into the reality of modern day car prices. Everything cost a lot more these days. The curse came from them testing cars with cloth interiors they didn’t like, and leather interiors that they thought were the bee’s knees.

“Can you get us a 2010 Buick Lucerne or LaCrosse for around 10k?”

I sighed with my eyes, “Yes, but the reality is a one owner car that has been maintained at a dealership and has a perfect Carfax goes for a stiff premium at the auctions. If you want to buy a clean car, you have to pay a clean book price.”

I showed them the clean Manheim Market Report prices for those two vehicles.

“Well, we can handle a few dings here and there…”

Baloney! Folks who insist on leather for a late-model vehicle aren’t going to tolerate scratches and scuffs. They want the perfect car, and that’s perfectly fine. But there is a price for that.

It’s called the clean book value.

I decided to browse a bit as my neighbors were busy debating each other about the car when, I found it. The perfect car.

07sat3

A 2007 Saturn Aura XE in the same color silver as their old Cadillac. It had half the miles of their totaled Seville (68k vs. 136k). The 07 Aura had also been reconditioned by two dealerships that I like to buy from because they don’t scrimp on getting their vehicles front-line ready.

One owner. No accidents. Extensive service history. This would very likely be the best car at the auction that day.

“Hmmm… well that’s interesting. Can you tell me about it?”

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I showed them the Wikipedia listing. I explained to them that the 3.5 liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission were the same one used in my wife’s old Malibu Maxx that they had liked so much. I told them that Saturn was now an orphan brand, but any GM dealer can service these vehicles and that this vehicle would likely be at least a thousand or so cheaper than the Buick since Saturns are no longer bought by most of the major auto-finance dealerships.

03s802

Nobody shops around for a Saturn anymore.

“Yeah, but I’m not sure I want a Saturn.”

“Okay, well I’ll pull out the Carfax and let you read a few of the reviews from actual owners. I gotta eat with the family. Let me know what works.”

An hour later I got the news that I was anticipating…

“Barbara really wants to get the Buick. Just keep your eyes open, and if you find one, let us know.”

The next day the Saturn sold at the auction for $7500 plus a $200 auction fee. Throw in my $500 fee, and they could have bought the Saturn underneath the clean wholesale value. It would have been an easy slam dunk.

03s801

Instead, I wound up buying an 03 Volvo S80 in silver with 130k miles for just under $3000. A re-man transmission was put in it only 2,000 miles ago and the car just got the belt changed at 122k. The only reason why I was able to get it was because the alternator was weak, and only 1 of the other 108 dealers took the time to look at the history.

03s802

Most long-time dealers just assume these Volvos were traded-in for a bad transmission. Plus Volvos tend to be slow moving, but this one has the right color and recent maintenance history for a finance deal. I’ll take my chances.

I hated to see that Saturn go by though. It was the perfect car with the perfect everything else. Will I get another nice easy fastball down the middle? Eventually I will. Unfortunately, my chance to swing at it now depends on two managers who are probably still busy bickering with each other.

07sat1

That Aura will now be showcased by a dealer in Alabama. So what about you though? Has there ever been a car that you knew would be the perfect fit? But someone, somewhere, decided otherwise?

 

 

 

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