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. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:54:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Steven Lang http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com New or Used : Tastes Of The Weird http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-or-used-tastes-of-the-weird/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-or-used-tastes-of-the-weird/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:28:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=799402 beachsideresident

Steve L., just a short note to thank you for your TTAC articles. They are my favorite at TTAC and I look forward to a new article each week.

Quick question: I noted in your last article you like some of the newer Mazdas. Can you tell me what new Mazda you would consider keeping for your own personal vehicle?

regards, Steve T.

The Other Steve Says:

My personal tastes are probably a quick study in the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

I like weird stuff. Part of the blame lies in the fact that the wholesale auctions are slam packed with the lemmings of modern day transport. There will often be a line of 30 to 60 cars at the factory sales where the same exact model will be offered with minimal changes in features and specs. The strength of rental cars at auctions also skews me away from the common place car, which is why the rolling Big Mac Value Meal that is/was the Chevy Impala doesn’t raise my eyebrows.

What interests me Mazda wise? I like the Mazda 2. If you are careful with the spec sheet, you can get one out the door for under 15k. One of the regulars here bought one recently for less than $14,000 out the door, and made a nice pithy summation of it’s virtues, “The 100HP is plenty. The stereo is outstanding. The controls, shifter, it all works, and none of it makes you feel like you gave up anything.”

A generic popular car is not my thing because every day I’m surrounded by overproduced generic popular cars. What interests me is a Ford Fiesta hatchback. A base Mazda 3 with a stick that I likely won’t see at the auctions for a while. Even the new base Corolla with a 6-speed would interest me on paper because it offers the better engine and shifter of the high end model and cost about $5000 less.

If I had to buy new I would keep it cheap and try to hit em’ where they ain’t. Not because I want the deal. But because I just don’t value touchscreens, over-sized A-pillars, and a car that I can’t maintain myself. The cars I keep at the retail lot reflect my weirdness compared with mainstream consumers. 20% are sticks, and I always seem to have a couple of offbeat ones (Solara V6 /5-speed, green Beetle TDI) on hand that I buy for low prices, due to their lack of mainstream popularity.

Small, stick, powered for real-world performance, and preferably in the last year or two of production. Throw in easy access for basic DIY maintenance, and you pretty much have my perfect recipe for the in-town commuting and smooth Georgia roads I see on a daily basis.

So what about you? What would be the perfect ingredients for your new car recipe? Does anything in particular strike your fancy?

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Hammer Time: Might As Well Go For A Soda http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/hammer-time-might-as-well-go-for-a-soda/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/hammer-time-might-as-well-go-for-a-soda/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:56:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793313 Click here to view the embedded video.

“Steve, what car should I buy?”

“Well, if I give you the real answer, you’ll roll your eyes and buy what you want anyway.”

“No really. I’m open to new ideas.”

“Okay then! Buy a 2012 Malibu. Buy a Buick Park Avenue. Buy a Dodge Raider or buy a Suzuki Equator.”

“Ummm… are you sure about that?”

“Hell no! Now go buy me a soda and buy yourself a Camry!”

A lot of enthusiasts give grief to the mainstream publications in this business. Sometimes I kinda don’t get why because to be brutally blunt, the “best car”  is usually firmly planted in the third row of most folk’s priorities when it comes to buying their next car.

For all the manufacturers desires to offer power, performance and utility together in one great vehicle, most of the general public just doesn’t care.

They usually want a brand first. Looks second. Then there’s fuel economy, safety, perceived quality… and a long, long list of excuses to get away from the less popular alternatives.

The best new car is rarely the best selling car in this business. There are Mazdas that I love which have a snowballs chance in hell of taking on the Toyotas and Chevys. Even if they do a far better job of checking off most consumer’s real world priorities, it’s a moot point and an inevitable outcome.

If Volvo came out with a breakthrough product, I seriously doubt that most shoppers of prestige brands would even remotely consider it. Never mind that there are plenty of reputable sources out there that can help dispel those myths as to which models now offer the best bang for the buck. Volvo no longer ranks in the pantheons of marketplace leaders. Case closed.

Even when mainstream publication have the gall to endorse an Oldsmobile or a Suzuki over a Camry or an Accord, the result of that neighborly advice is that people just won’t take it.

Why? People are brand loyal, and they are bias loyal.

Click here to view the embedded video.

That Ford station wagon that killed Aunt Edna’s dog 35 years ago?  Well, that just means Detroit cars are pure crap. Never mind that carsurvey, TrueDelta, and even the long-term reliability index I am co-developing have disproved a lot of those myths.

Cadillac can’t ever match a Mercedes. Mercedes isn’t as good as a Lexus. Lexus isn’t as good as a BMW. On and on through the merry go round of biases and BS until you can’t help but SAAB at the futility of recommending a great car at a steal of a price.

Kizashi! What? Exactly. It’s a great car if you play around with a stickshift version. You say you’re an enthusiast… but then when I recommend a stick version, you look at me like I’m from Mars.

The truth is that enthusiast cars don’t sell. The best cars for pure driving enjoyment, don’t sell. The Miata has been shucked in the low 10k range of annual sales for a long time now. Mustangs? An ungodly sales decline. There are some who blame these types of things on demographics or the police state. But I have a third theory.

American tastes increasingly resemble the American interstate. There is a sameness and sadness to the menu which is dictating that the best cars are psychologically unaccessible. Nobody wants to get off the straight and dull road that leads to the Camcrods, the Cor-antr-ics and the American badged truck.

Are all those models good? Well, yeah. But good seldom equals love. You want love? Go tear down a bias and rediscover why a great car is worthy buying.

Don’t forget the radar detector.

P.S. :  Feel free to share your thoughts below on great cars that have missed that elusive mark of mainstream acceptance over the years. I am going to be spending most of today getting a bonded title for a 21 year old Cadillac limousine. I will need intensive comic relief thanks to the interminable tortures that come with taking care of that type of title issue at the DMV. So please, feel free to share your stories and insights. I can always be reached directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com .

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New or Used : Do Two People Need Three Cars? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-or-used-do-two-people-need-three-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-or-used-do-two-people-need-three-cars/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:29:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791657 ymo

Steve,

Thanks for sending along your email address, and for you all that you do to demystify the process of buying and owning cars. I find myself in a unique situation, and I would like your thoughts.

My wife is considering taking a job that is 135 miles away from our home. She will commute up once and return 3 days later. We have 3 young kids, and they attend a school that is about 15 miles from home and a similar distance from my office. Should she take the job, I will be in charge of picking them up 3 days a week, in addition to dropping them every day already.

I share this background with you to illustrate that we are already driving some significant miles. Her car is a 2011 Honda Odyssey with about 45,000 miles on it (and rising at about 19K per year), mine is a 2002 BMW M5 with about 84,000 miles (perhaps 14K per year). Simply put, she doesn’t want to drive my car to the job because she’s afraid of it, and I could really use the utility of the van from time to time when she is gone. I have no intention of selling the BMW—it’s worth less than I have in it, and it makes me smile.

We’re considering an additional car for my wife for the commute. It has to be dead reliable, as she will be far away with no time to spare while she’s using it. Right now I’m considering a lease (never thought I’d say that) or buying used (although I’m nervous about picking up someone else’s problems). When crunching the numbers, I see that the Corolla/Elantra/Civic segment is going to cost me more in insurance than going up a class, so the all-in cost is probably similar to a larger vehicle.

What am I overlooking? Is there some magical bare-bones vehicle I can lease or buy used that will provide decent MPGs and trouble-free motoring? Ugly/unloved models are no problem. I can be patient in looking for the right vehicle, but time is a semi-precious resource.

Thanks for your help!

Steve Says

You have just described why so many people now drive Camrys, Accords and Altimas.

A lot of folks like to match the size of the car to the size of the commute. Small commutes are often done with smaller vehicles. Long commutes encourage more stretching room and since many mid-sized cars now have as much room as full-sized vehicles a generation ago, they are becoming the new norm for road warriors.

In the case of your wife, she will likely have about six empty seats and space that will likely remain unused for those journeys with the Odyssey.

But as you mentioned, your minivan is still needed. It works. As for fuel economy, the Odyssey gets around the mid-20′s in mixed driving and the high 20′s on the highway. Plus you never know how the world changes. That potential job for your wife may come and go within a year or two. Or it may be you who winds up caring for the family thanks to an unexpected downsizing.

You didn’t mention a budget, but given your Wall Street money management job and the fact that you seem to be in that fungible mode where so many cars can potentially fit the bill, I would start with sampling a few rentals before finally paying the big bill. You may also put some feelers out there to see if any of your colleagues are trying to get rid of a used car that has been well kept.

I would wait a bit picking an alternative to the Odyssey. See how things work out once the financials are well-established, and then go forward from there. As for a family friendly mid-sized vehicle, or anything else in the world of new and used cars, I’m sure the Best & Brightest will have far more popular choices than the 12 year old brown Saab 9-5 wagon I just bought at the auction.

Then again, maybe not. How would she feel about a brown SAAB wagon?

Note: I can always be reached directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com .

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New Or Used? : More Troubles With Old GM http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-or-used-more-troubles-with-old-gm/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-or-used-more-troubles-with-old-gm/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 13:42:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=790249 rogerhuyseen
A reader writes: 
I have a 2007 Pontiac G6 coupe which, up until last fall, had been a pretty decent car.
Then, in October, I had to replace a clutch and a flywheel ($1,700).  While the clutch was being fixed the driver’s side window stopped working and is now propped shut with wooden blocks.  Within a week the check engine light came on.  Friend who works at a GM dealership checked it (no charge) and determined it needed a air temp sensor.  The OnStar report also indicates that the ABS and Stabilitrack is not working and requires attention.  Then, about a week ago the key fobs and trunk release stopped working.  At first I thought it was ironic that so many things could go wrong at once, but now I wonder if all these problems are interrelated and somehow result from some kind of electrical bug.
Do you have any input on whether this could be the case and how expensive a fix could be?
In addition to these problems, the car also requires a ball joint, a tie rod end, and 4 new tires by spring (I have winters on it now).  This takes me to my second question, which is whether it is worth fixing this car or cutting my losses and buying something new.
I am really not keen on having another car payment, but if I do buy another car I would be looking for something used in the $10,000 to $15,000 range.  Because I live in Canada and have been experiencing the winter from hell, I would be looking for all-wheel-drive and would prefer a manual transmission.  This seems to leave the only options as BMW, Audi, and Subaru.  The only problem with those are the fear of ghastly expensive repair bills, particularly with the Germans, and especially considering these cars, at that price range, will have in the range of 125,000-200,000km on them.
So, the questions are, should I dump the G6 now and move on to something else?  Am I crazy for even considering the above-mentioned cars?  Are there other options available?
Steve Says
Your car is suffering from an acute case of Roger Smith syndrome.
This is a chronic disorder that is attributable to a bacteria known as planned obsolescence. All cars have it to varying degrees. However, certain defunct GM models that only existed to placate a bloated bureaucracy of bean counters are now the poster children of this disorder.
How do you cure your car?  By taking the current issues to an independent mechanic who is well regarded, and pay for those repairs. Window regulators, ball joints, tie-rod ends, ABS Sensors, all of these have shorter lives in a harsh environment. None of this is fatal for your Pontiac unless you are compelled to pay the new car dealer premium for fixing them all.
I would spend the $2000 (my rough estimate) since the car will likely sell for that much less with a propped up window, the ABS issue and the needed suspension work. If you just hate the car and want to go back to that merry-go-round of new car payments, that’s fine as well. But I am a card carrying member of the “fix-it” union, and your car is still worth far more alive than dead.
So fix it. Consider a nice seat or stereo upgrade at a local auto recycling center or Ebay. Give it a good detail, and pretend like it just came off the showroom floor. Because you know what? More than 99% of the good within this once new vehicle is still there.
You just have to bail it out… and remove those few parts that are old GM.
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Can Car Sharing Work In Suburbia? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/can-car-sharing-work-in-suburbia/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/can-car-sharing-work-in-suburbia/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=787705 car-share-parking-photo111

20 lawnmowers.

20 internet connections

20 videos of The Lion King.

Oh, and 60+ vehicles on one street.

I recently delved deep into one of the more challenging ideas of the modern age: car sharing in suburbia. It’s an idea that many non-enthusiasts and city dwellers love. But is it a good idea for suburbanites and the rest of us?

gigaom

If we’re talking about the traditional form of commercialized car sharing, such as Zipcar and RelayRides, then the answers for right now are,= “No! Nein! Nyet!”.

Most of these services cost anywhere from $30 To $100 a day, and at least $10 an hour. For most folks who have to take their vehicles to the supermarkets, restaurants, friend’s houses and all the other places that make up the modern day ‘to-do’ list of suburban life, these services are just not economically viable.

The financial equation can be even worse for rural folk, and for auto enthusiasts in particular who happen to live in suburbia. The thought of giving up our rolling treasures to the pirates of bad driving is a big-time no-no nadir.

But that doesn’t mean car sharing can’t work if you have the right long-term relationships in place, and the right types of vehicles that complement each other for occasional use. Let me offer a real world example.c4

 

My neighbors who live diagonally from me have a small truck: a 1996 Toyota Tacoma with over 250k. They are retirees, and most of their daily transportation involves no more than one or two people. When they have visitors, they also have a 10 year old Cadillac Seville.

However, that Caddy just doesn’t offer enough seats for grandkids, parents and gransparents. Nor do the midsized cars that arrive on their driveway.

So what do they do?

c2

Well, I just happen to have a 2003 Chrysler Town & Country minivan these days. Seven seats. Dual sliding doors, and about 125,000 miles.  I have known my neighbors for a very long time, and we have both seen how we drive and maintain our vehicles. At the same time, even though I’m a car dealer, I can’t keep small trucks on my car lot. They are expensive to buy these days at the auctions, and the rare affordable one tends to sell quickly once it’s front-line ready.

As for minivans? They have become the modern day unsellable car in my world. So whenever he has a need for a minivan, which is about once every couple of months, I give him the keys to my ride. And whenever I need to move a lawnmower, a refrigerator, or just recently, a $20 bench press and weight set from the world famous Blue Chicken Auction, I borrow his small truck.

c1

We’re not the only folks who do this in my neck of the woods. The neighbors who live down the street from me have a full-sized van with plenty of towing capacity for their irrigation business. They also have a trailer for their equipment and a tow dolly. What they don’t have is space to house everything without parking on the street and encouraging the local code enforcement dimwits to get on their case.

So I offer them free storage at the back of one of my shops, use the tow dolly or trailer if there is ever a need, and the local suburban Gestapo has one less target for their punitive fines and harassment.

The van, trailer and dolly are also used in that rare event when a neighbor needs to move a riding lawnmower, or when a car is laid down on the side of the road. We get the keys and move the heavy things to wherever they need to go. No need for AAA or a U-haul.

c3

The goal of this light version of car sharing isn’t to share one vehicle 100% of the time. It is to satisfy that occasional 1% need. So that you don’t wind up wasting money on a one-size-fits-all, high-cost vehicle.

 

Is this a better idea for suburbanites? The article here summarizes a lot of the benefits and pitfalls. But as the old acronym goes, YMMV.

So what do you think? Can car sharing work in suburbia…and would you be willing to do it?

Note: You can reach Steve Lang directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com

 

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New Or Used : To Fleet? Or Not To Fleet? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-or-used-to-fleet-or-not-to-fleet/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-or-used-to-fleet-or-not-to-fleet/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:10:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=787681
golfcarts
Hi Steve,

I really enjoy your articles.  Thank you.

I have a question about fleet cars.  I was driving to a meeting in one of the fleet cars my employer has.  Nothing special, a late model Ford Fusion .  And I was thinking is this a better deal to buy when they get rid of it than another used car?  Then I realized that people who use a car that doesn’t belong to them trash it. So I thought, “No way!”

Then I realized that the same people who don’t take care of it, aren’t the same people who maintain it.  So are fleet cars a better deal then non fleet on the market? After giving them a good cleaning does it not matter one way or the other all other things being the same?

There is an age old saying that applies here, “It’s not the horse. It’s the rider.”

If you have ever seen a horse trained, or experienced a long scenic horseback ride with someone who had never been a horse before, you’ll get the gist of this saying real quick. Folks who use natural horsemanship techniques to train their horses are usually able to give their horses a better life. As it relates to cars, just change two words and you’ll have the core of what differentiates a good life for a used car from a bad one.

It’s not the car. It’s the driver.

The daily driver is going to have a far greater impact on the long-term quality and longevity of a vehicle than the manufacturer. So let me cut to the chase and ask you the two salient questions that apply to your particular situation.

Do you know who drove this vehicle? Or how they drove it?

If you don’t know, then either try to find out or accept the fact that there is more risk to the long-term ownership equation. The deal may offset those possible expenses.

What has always shocked me over the years is that most consumers are willing to throw thousands of dollars into the wind without first taking a car to have it independently inspected. I look at everything before I buy, as did my grandfather who came from a long line of successful cattle traders. My advice is to get that vehicle looked at by someone who has wiser eyes when it comes to cars. A fleet vehicle may have a good maintenance regimen but that doesn’t mean it will be a sound purchase.

 

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Auction Day : Pullin’ A 1080 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/auction-day-pullin-a-1080/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/auction-day-pullin-a-1080/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 11:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=784601  

hairpin

Auto enthusiasts often dream of taking an exotic car through some of the nicest stretches of winding roads the world can offer.

Hairpin turns… beautiful smooth roads…. nice scenery… and all the power and finesse one can summon in a car made for the perfection of that very moment.

Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, the list of great cars serving this unique purpose of vehicular bliss is as long as the opportunity is unique. Even the most frugal of gearheads want to experience this thrill sometime between now and their eventual nirvana.

But then again, I may be completely wrong on all of this. Actions speak louder than words in the enthusiast community, and what I find inside a lot of gearhead garages looks a bit like…

This 1999 Solara  vs. a 2002 BMW 525i Wagon. Same price at a car lot and same mileage. Guess which one sells quicker?

This 1999 Solara vs. a 2002 BMW 525i Wagon. Same price at a car lot and same mileage. Guess which one sells quicker?

This…

Let’s face it. How often do car people proclaim their automotive passions, and wind up buying an old boring car?

Does the performance car represent the best of what enthusiasts want these days? Or is there something else?

My wager, after 15 years of buying and selling cars at the auctions, is something else. In fact, my hunch is that many enthusiasts are more enamored with the deal of buying a good cheap car, rather than the performance potential of their daily ride.

This shift has little do with our actual tastes. In a world where there is far greater traffic enforcement, higher insurance rates, and fewer opportunities to enjoy a long and winding drive without getting tagged by the revenuing activities of various government entities, the opportunity to cloak our rides seems like the best option.

Also, we are now in that unique point of automotive history where even plain-jane Camrys and Chrysler minivans can offer as much power as the Acura NSX. It’s hard to get as excited about horsepower and performance when Mom’s Accord can now go 0 to 60 in 6 seconds.

We want the deal… and often times we consider real world performance to come standard. Even though our opportunities to use it are often hindered by the local environment.

The core of automotive enthusiasm these days seems to come from getting the unsellable car at a steal of a price, and transforming it into a sleeping beauty that will endure far beyond the exotics and their commercialized fantasies.

So with that in mind, let’s look at one of the cars coming up to bid this week. A car that even in the most extreme of situations, won’t ever find itself making that long trip from my car lot to your own driveway.

a3

A 2002 Hyundai Accent: Is this a hermit’s heaven? Or is this a transformer stuck in partial ‘transform!’ mode?

a2
Well, let’s say you want a cheap-to-own vehicle with low mileage, minimal depreciation costs, that will serve as a rolling theft deterrent system in your daily travels?
a1
If that is you, then it looks like I’ve found your next ride. A 2002 Hyundai Accent L, 5-speed, with 25,769 miles. It may have looked like it got into a fight and lost– however, if you want to have reliable transportation that will allow you to avoid transporting family and friends, this may indeed be the ultimate beater ride.
a4This car embodies what I call the “1080″ — a car that can be bought at 10% of the new price and still easily has about 80% of its life left.
a5
In the case of this dead bone, basic and broke Accent, it’ll still probably sell for about $2000 plus the auction fee at the sale tomorrow. So maybe we’re looking at a 2085. Or a 1590.
Or maybe, this car will go for a far higher price than a lot of folks would assume.
a2
The reason is unless these pictures deceive me, all those body panels can be replaced either at a junkyard or a catalog. Frame damage can be hard on panel gaps if a car is hit the wrong way.
This car looks like it needs two bumpers, a hatch, and some miscellaneous clips and brackets along with a $260 paint job and some minor body work. With about $1300 in reconditioning costs and extremely low mileage, this car could be financed for $500 down and $50 a week for as long as the customer can’t do the math.
a6
36 months? 48 months? 60 months? The sad fact is that our society seems to relish and promote a long-term debtful existence.  If an Aston Martin can be financed by some poor soul for 144 months, then surely a cheap used Hyundai built with better quality control techniques can last at least 5 years.
Gas sippers are a very hard niche to buy on the cheap. Stickshifts do help lower the demand, but it’s often not enough to attain a true 1080. For that you need something in the lines of an unpopular trifecta… plus one.
An orphan brand. V8. Wrong wheel drive, and an association with owners who care as much about what’s popular these days as you or I do.
In a word, retirees.
b1
On the other side of automotive apathy comes this Y2K MGM GS.
b4
Why not say what it is in long form? Because when you drive one of these things, it doesn’t really matter now does it?
b5Colors are a blah, common as a cold, silver exterior, accompanied by an 80′s surplus, yawn-inducing, Metamucil inspired gray interior. This one can seat five adults and an ungrateful brat, and has 33,532 miles.
b2
A “Shoneys Frequent Dining” sticker comes standard in the glovebox, along with empty blood pressure medicine bottles, and a “marching band music never gets old damn it!” cassette collection.
AAA decals along with AARP credentials must be shown in plain sight at all times. Only the 1st button on the radio is indexed to a talk radio station, while the cutting edge cassette to CD adapter will be sold separately.
b3
It’ll probably sell tomorrow for $4000 and the auction fee. The Stevie Lang out the door price for non-state residents will be around $4500.
One other kicker. If you only drive a car sparingly and have a boat or jetskis you tow on the weekends, it’s not a bad deal.
b6
Do you drive less than 7500 miles a year? The gas premium will likely be swallowed up by the insurance discount. Plus with the right aftermarket parts these cars are surprisingly fun to drive.
You may still have that plastic intake manifold  issue and those seats may require a leather upgrade. But once you’re over those humps, the only thing stopping this car from lasting another a decade is the potential redoubling of gas prices.
So… what about your world? Have you been able to merge these two divergent forces that are excitement and affordability into one great car? Or has the ultimate fun-to-drive, affordable car, been as rare for you as an Italian tractor.
Note: You can always reach Steve Lang directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com or at his Facebook page
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Hammer Time: Portrait Of A Misdemeanor http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-portrait-of-a-misdemeanor/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-portrait-of-a-misdemeanor/#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2014 04:20:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=760409 lot1

6:30 P.M. on a Sunday evening… and three more vehicles just pulled up to my car lot.

You may think that’s a good thing, and it would be if people didn’t park all over the place.

One person parks in one direction. The guy coming from the west parks right in front of that guy, and so forth. This happens in infinite combination until the process of getting people in an out becomes a personal pantomime of moving and motioning cars. At certain times of the day my work becomes comparable to the late Marcel Marceau.

I knew I had to do something about it. However, I didn’t expect that something to become the enabler of my 11 year old son’s criminal history.

The day started innocently enough. Every Sunday afternoon, my family and I will always do three things.

We eat plenty of samples while shopping for our groceries.

We take long walks with the dogs.

And finally, we do something semi-athletic.

It can be throwing around a frisbee. Shooting hoops. Or on this particular afternoon, playing around with a slightly deflated football which is easier for young kids to throw and hold.

This is the weekly low-cost version of our family’s very own preventative health care plan. This time we drove off in a 1983 Mercedes 300D, and headed to a nice parking spot in the periphery of Deliverance country. A small town. No nearby shops.

You would think that the place would only host a few local biking diehards and that rare Georgia family willing to do an outdoor activity.

Well, the park was completely packed to the gills. Everyone and their dog was out either walking or riding bikes. Just as the 70′s era brought out the fitness craze in the West Coast, the 70′s temperatures resulted in a turnout of outdoor enthusiasts that was more like California and less like… well… Georgia.

So we got out and I did the football thing with my son. A game of catch. Some basic football plays. I threw, he ran. He threw, I jogged. The world was sunny and beautiful.

After about 45 minutes of this we decided to take a break and get some water. This is when the world started to become complicated.

The first water fountain we went to was broken. No water. No chance. So we started walking down the trail to find another one.

 

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Now when I say trail, I really mean a bicyclist’s paradise. The Silver Comet Trail is one of the few things done right in my neck of the woods. Smooth flat ground. Plenty of shade. Everyone follows the rules, and the scenery changes enough to make your car-free ride interesting whether you go north or south.

However if you’re a walker, like the two of us, every minute or so a small fleet of bikes is going to go right past you. After a while you start hearing, “On the left!” so much that you think everyone is trying to pinpoint your personal politics. So after a mile of walking and finding yet another water fountain that didn’t work, we decided to go on an actual dirt trail that was parallel to the Silver Comet.

This area turned out to be a local dumping ground. Every few hundred feet there were some old couches, a kid’s play set, and an endless onslaught of empty barrels.

Then we found this…

lot2

Now when we found this sign, it was encrusted in a nice sized mud hill with about a third of it submerged in the Georgia clay. Stop symbol. Arrow. No words. It resembled the perfect illiterate version of the words, “Please Stop Here!” So naturally, we kicked off the remaining mud, lifted it out, and put it in the back of the old Benz.

It fit perfectly. After finding finding a working water fountain near the fire station, we went off to the nearby Home Depot to straighten out that little bottom arrow portion.

We may as well have been pissing in the wind. If the nearby outdoor places were packed, the Home Depot was swarmed. After about 10 minutes of finding nobody, I took it upon myself to use a nearby clamp to get the bottom portion straightened out a bit. After a few Herculean tight turns, the sign was a bit more straight, but not much.

So the two of us went off to the lot and that’s where the proverbial dim bulb went off in my big head, “Why don’t you use the car to flatten that portion of the sign out?” So that’s what we did. My son kept his future Eagle Scout eyes glued to the lower portion of the sign as I positioned the rear right tire of the Mercedes just so on the flat ground. The first try was a little off. The second try… perfect.

I was planning on letting the thing set overnight and then coming back this afternoon when, lo and behold, a large Latino family came by wanting to test drive some minivans. Interest in minivans in north Georgia is about akin to interest in the New York Mets in the same locale. I had three of them sitting at my lot since late 2013. So naturally, I gave them all the time they needed.

15 minutes turned into 30 minutes, which eventually turned into an hour’s worth of combined testing on all three vehicles. They asked questions in English, I answered in Spanish, and pretty soon the combined Spanglish resulted in a nice late afternoon conversation. It turned out they had bought a minivan from me three years ago, and although I didn’t remember them, I did remember the vehicle because when it comes to used minivans these days, nobody willingly buys the damn things anymore.

My son came up to me and reminded me about the sign, and I asked them for a bit of help. So we used some leftover wire and hung the thing up.

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No worries. All was good until I came home and shared my recent find on Facebook.

One Guy – “That’s government property!”

Me – “That’s abandoned government property…”

Some Guy Named Frank – “Let me tell you about the time when I used a traffic sign like that to hide some rust and a few joints in an old MG. I nearly got sentenced to five years in prison for said deeds!”

One Other Guy Not Named Frank – “Screw the sign… tell me about the 300D.”

Yet Another Guy – “Abandoned or not, it’s still government property. You don’t know who abandoned it. Basically, it could be possession of stolen property.”

Me – “Given that the government sells these things as scrap metal to the general public, I am not too concerned about it.”

Fellow Writer – “… and a mere 24 hours later, he found himself in Guantanamo Bay, rocking the electric waterboard.

“Where is our Steven?” asked the editors of TTAC, Yahoo and R&T, “for he owes us many a story”.

“There never was a Steven”, said the man from the Georgia Dept of Highway Signs and Counterterrorism, as he squared his mirrored Raybans and gestured toward the ceiling with his Glock. “Ya feel me?”

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The ex-urbs of the Atlanta happened to have been neutron bombed during the sub-prime crisis. So to be blunt, a lot of signs, poles and concrete sewer fittings are still out there at this point. But did I make a mistake? Will recycling a piece of metal for a useful purpose land me into Georgia’s  version of Sing-Sing prison?

I would be willing to take the risk… if it weren’t for the fact that most of my customers are still ignoring the sign. My next plan is to buy up a line of deer heads and put them up on the fence with the words, “Park Here Deers!”

Any other ideas?

 

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Hammer Time: Don’t Buy With Your Eyes! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-dont-buy-with-your-eyes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-dont-buy-with-your-eyes/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:04:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=781577 Click here to view the embedded video.

People buy with their eyes in this business. Always have and always will.

I don’t care if you are a pseudo-sophisticated Yuppie wanna-be who thinks that Subaru is a value brand, (It’s not. They cater to the Costco crowd.) Or an impoverished mother of five who is taking her $6000 tax check and blowing it on the Cadillac of minivans.

Image completely rules this business. New or used. As much as I would love to sell old sturdy wagons and functional minivans that will last for another seven years, my customers want the modern-day crossover. The SUV that hypothetically gets great mileage if you read the window sticker upside down. A compact with an impossible to find leather interior, and of course, the upscale ride with the nice big wheels.

The first test of whether a car sells in this business comes down to a simple question.

“How much is it worth?”

That question is not answered by the window sticker. It’s figured out by the eyes, the hands, the ears, and all the senses within your body when you touch, see, and even smell that vehicle.

New or old? Doesn’t matter.

The reason why the Mazda 2 and the Honda Insight haven’t sold a lick, while the Mazda 3 and the Honda Accord are still wildly popular, is because those first two cars have completely flunked that test for most of the buying public.

Doors, steering wheels, and dashboards. Most cars are psychologically sold within the first twenty seconds of sitting in a car, looking at your surroundings, taking it all in, and turning the key. Your facial expressions and implicit behaviors tell the whole story. If you sit in a vehicle that feels and looks cheap, it doesn’t sell. Not enough sound insulation? Buttons and knobs that have the tactile qualities of a dog’s rubber-bone chew toy? Those are the things that quickly submarine the sales potential of a car well before the dealer tries to four-square you into a higher price.

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The same dynamics take place on the wholesale level. At the wholesale auto auctions, where your trade-in’s, off-lease and repossessed vehicles get sold to the highest bidder, it’s the look of a vehicle that creates the market demand.

You want a premium price at an auction? It has to look clean and front line ready. Interiors need to be cleaned out and deodorized. The wheels need to be shiny, and there is one more missing ingredient that 99% of my fellow dealers miss when they come to sell at the sales.

Click here to view the embedded video.

A well-paid auctioneer and ringman.

You want the premium price? Tip them well. The guy who uses  his powers of persuasion to buy with a microphone, and the guy on the floor with him, are no different than the salespeople on the showroom floor trying to shuck off leftover Cruzes and Silverados.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Incentives create sales. And unlike the commission based salesman at the new car stores, auctioneers and ringmen get paid a flat fee by the auction. Which means that when I come on the block and sell my inventory I always tip them.

Typically I give $20 to each one if it’s a smaller run of ten or fewer vehicles. Larger runs get $50 and a particularly successful one gets $100. As an auto auctioneer and ringman in my earlier days, I lived the importance of getting good tips and back in the late 90′s and early-2000′s, your tips often exceeded what the auctions paid you. These days tipping is scarce, which frankly gives me even more incentive to do it.

I had a small run of six cars two Tuesdays ago which was a rolling representation of how important clean cars and well-paid staff are to any organization.

99CV

A 1999 plain-jane beige Lincoln town Car with 211,000 miles was bought for all of $425 late last year from a title pawn. This was crusher money (the market price for junkyard bound vehicles) and with the interior driver’s door panel smashed to hell and five months of sitting around with dirt and debris, it wasn’t worth much of anything to the pawn company. The body was perfect. However long-term neglect can make even the nicest of vehicles looking like junkyard relics.

I took my Snap-On battery box, started it up, and bought it. From there I hired a detailer who works for Carmax $70 to do a good thorough clean-up on the Crown Vic, topped off the fluids, and had a driver take it to the auction for $25.

It sold for $1800 less the $125 auction fee. Two guys who never bothered to open the door on this thing got into a dogfight and the auction staff, composed of a World Champion ringman and a sharp competitive bid-caller, squeezed every single penny possible from that thing.

Most of my other vehicles fell into the same pattern. Even my mistakes from 2013. A 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP that was bought for $3200 and tripped a transmission code only after I had driven it for a week sold for $3800. A Kermit-the-frog green Rodeo with a knocking engine that blew up after the absent minded customer forgot to put the oil cap back on it went for $900. A Y2K red VW Golf four door with low miles, but a tranny that couldn’t stay in overdrive had been bought for $2155. Another mistake that does happen in the course of buying lots of vehicles where, in essence, you are sometimes playing the percentages between good cars and bad cars. I made a few hundred selling it that day. If I hadn’t tipped my auctioneer and ringman I have no doubt it would have sold for at least $500 less.

ls400

What didn’t sell? A 94′ Lexus LS400 that I had bought for $900 plus a $120 auction fee way back in late 2012. That one had been bought without a serpentine belt and to be frank, I got lucky on it. It has been financed twice and even though I did not want it back, the brief owners had employment issues. Not even four months of grace each time could keep this vehicle away from the lot. So I drive it to and fro these days, and since I rarely have time to clean it, I was expecting a low price at the sale.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I no-saled it with a bid price of $1450. Much less than the crappy Lincoln. Enough to break even on a pure purchase basis. But not enough to pay for the set of new tires I bought for it that usually go for $600 a pop, and the Lexus still has plenty of life left. A clean one at this time of year will usually sell wholesale for at least $2000.

That’s how the cookie crumbles in the car business. Homework and good work lead to the higher returns. But what about you? Has there been a vehicle you bought with your eyes instead of your head? How were you able to finally get out of that never-ending expense?

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Hammer Time: The Mitsubishi Banana http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-the-mitsubishi-banana/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-the-mitsubishi-banana/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 09:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=778649 ec6

Otherwise known as the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

No car has better embodied the sad decline of a once competitive automaker.

Awkward styling. Poor interior space and wonky ergonomics. Plus, you got a double whammy if you decided to keep them in the arid parts of the country.

Thin flaky paint… and a weird flaw with the glues and vinyls used on the dashboard. The net effect of which is…

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This.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of other vehicles that suffer a similar fate — especially here in the heat enriched world that is Hotlanta.

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The Ford Taurus dashes are legendary for their ability to serve as cubbyholders for your paperwork. If it’s late-90′s model that doesn’t get garaged, this storage space comes standard.

spec

Kia products were even worse during the early 2000′s. Part of this was abated by the long warranties that Kia offered to compensate for the second-rate glues, foam paddings and adhesives. Even today though, the headliners and dash materials for their older used cars don’t seem to be holding up to Kia’s  aspirations for value and quality.

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But the worst of them, the crème de la crème of substandard materials with nary a fix in sight, goes to Mitsubishi.

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The good news is you can buy a 2006 Eclipse that has been well kept for all of $4000 these days at a wholesale auction and if you fix them up, they can be retailed for around $5000 to $6000. Not a bad price for a sporty vehicle that came from a manufacturer that offers surprising reliability on their four-cylinder models.

The hard part is fixing those peeling bananas on the dash. There seems to be no enduring fix for this cosmetic ailment because the foam rots from within..

ec3

So to make it an enduring fix, you have to replace it all.  Then you have the paint issues which were thankfully rectified in later model years. As for the earlier ones? Consider a basecoat/clearcoat paint job and a healthy level of waxing to keep it looking good.

It’s a shame because, at least in mind, no car has been more important to the successes of Mitsubishi than the first generation Eclipse. The image of that model as a class leader could have set the stage for a long, long list of Mitsubishis that were both sporty and practical.

Instead we ended up with this…

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this…

i-miev

and this…

ec1

What’s your take? Is it worth it for Mitsubishi to invest in a recall for the last of these rolling dodos? Or does the sordid memory of a defunct model deserve to be buried and forgotten?

 

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Hammer Time: The Third Set http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-the-third-set/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-the-third-set/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 17:16:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=772345 shoot1

“Gimme Carter!!! Gimme Carter!!!”

“You can have him!” My brother Lewis, a lifelong conservative was watching me, a hyperactive  six year old, pointing eagerly at our home’s only TV.

“I’m voting for Reagan.”

“Pa-tau!!1 Pa-tau! To a 1st grader’s ear, the word Reagan sounded just like “Ray gun”. And for all I knew, Carter and Reagan were locked in some Star Wars parallel universe fighting each other for control of the presidency.

Lord knows that 34 years later, I would need every single ounce of that youthful imagination to get through a day long movie shoot.

My wife and I always try to spend one day out of the month together. No kids. No work responsibilities. Just the privacy and solitude that comes with two people who are well-matched in what has become a picky, picky world.

She wants to get back into the film and video world, part-time, and so I took it upon myself to get two vehicles that would be a good fit for that elusive older car that looks neither brand new nor decrepit.

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The 1980 Cadillac Seville that I mentioned last week was the optimal fit for this journey.  Black on black. Perfect leather seats. A little bit of wear. But not enough to make it look like anything more than a five year old car for the one to two seconds it would wind up on film.  After I put in a new master cylinder and properly bled out the brakes, it was good to go.

The second car was a more interesting case. I had sold a 1983 Mercedes 300D Turbodiesel to a fellow that I thought was a hardcore Mercedes enthusiast for all of $1700. I only made about $400 out of the deal. But I always take personal pride in making sure older cars are given to true enthusiasts. Instead of chucking it to someone looking to donate a car to the human hurricane within their family.

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I got a great deal on that old Benz and in turn, left nothing to chance. New filters, fluids, brakes, two new tires. I spent about $300 prepping it for sale in parts and sold it to a guy who I thought would do a good job keeping it.

The good news is he didn’t abuse it. The bad news was that I couldn’t find out whether he took the lease amount of effort of changing the oil.

He said he did it recently. But a quart low already? The alignment is off? And that inner-tie rod end needs to be replaced? Mother of pearl!

A friend of mine who works for Porsches and Maseratis decided to give me the full-report on it while I handled the Cadillac.  The Cadillac was flawless. The Mercedes? Still tight. Just minor stuff…

“You’re getting picky-picky with this one Steve! Damn things old enough to be a Grandma in Alabama.”

“My wife wants to drive it out to a movie shoot. She hates big cars. So I’m gonna be drivin’ out the Caddy.”

“Get her an Impala or a Malibu instead Steve. I hate the smell of this diesel…$^^%$!!!”

My wife came by with her 1st gen Prius, and after I spent over ninety-five dollars filling the two vehicles up, we headed straight for Conyers, Georgia. A small town located somewhere between civilization and Deliverance.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The drive was the usual homicidal freakshow that is Atlanta traffic.  Folks don’t use their turn signals. Cell phones are surgically attached to most commuters, and two people driving 65 mph are justifiably banished to the right side of the freeway where they belong.

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The Cadillac was just majestic. GM ‘s styling may have been a bit off the mark for this generation of Seville. But the 6.0 Liter Cadillac 368 engine was just perfectly matched to this particular generation, and it’s a shame that GM decided to off it after only one year for their diesel and 8/6/4 abominations. As for steering and handling,  you can do the same exact one finger cruising with this car that you can do for nearly any good Lincoln or Cadillac of days gone by… and it’s easier to drive than the Mercedes.

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The Mercedes was meh. A 300D is expected to be infinitely higher in decibels than an old school Caddy and, even for the time, it wasn’t quite a luxury car.

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I will admit that the material quality alone is easily a parallel universe beyond the Cadillac.  All the fake wood and cheaper vinyl of the Cadillac pales to the glory that is the W123′s design and engineering excellence.

That difference though is eliminated once you turn the key.

For the experience that is daily driving through a busy metropolitan area, I preferred the Cadillac. It has enough luxury to keep you isolated from the rampant vehicular stupidity that surrounds, you while allowing the driver to hear the smoothness of a big Detroit 6.0 Liter V8 over the 3.0 Liter clackety-clack-clack of the Mercedes. This noise difference is especially noticeable during the interminable traffic jams that happened on the ride back.

We didn’t hit anything other than air molecules for this first 35 miles journey. We arrived early. Just in time for the most important event for movie extras between the waiting and the shooting.

nats320.blogspot

The eating. Lunch for a successful TV program is a true wonder to behold, and since there were only a few extras for this show which we’ll assume is called, “Go And Throw Ice At The Devil!”. Since there were only two of us at the time, we were spared of the usual culinary segregation and got to eat with the cast and crew.

I saw a familiar face as soon as I got out of the Seville. “Steve! I miss that old yellow pickup truck!”

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“It’s down the street from me. The guy is using it for his lawnmower repair business.”

“He’s not restoring it? Damn! I wanted that thing.”

“I’ve been to his house. The family doesn’t believe in anything after 1984. He spent an hour going through the truck and it’s now the ugliest good running truck in town. ”

Brando and I caught up on life, and my wife caught up on crossword puzzles. At least until the opening shoot.

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It was supposed to easy. The main character leaves his driveway in some Grizwold 1970′s woody wagon. My wife’s car goes straight past. The Caddy turns right, a Ford truck turns left, and a Triumph TR6 idles away at a stop sign.

Sounds easy enough? Not when you don’t have enough walky-talkies.

We did the shot 16 times. 16 TIMES! And every time I did the shoot, I got an unwelcome surprise.

The police officer blocking off the road I turned into decided to change his cruiser’s parking position after each shoot. Why? I have no idea. His vehicle wasn’t even in the camera shot. But sure enough, every single time I made that turn, I found myself performing another new and exciting three point turn with a 34 year old Cadillac.

“Ka-thunk! Ka-thunk!” Asthamtic sounding acceleration back to position. Then wait….

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I also discovered something else. Black on black plus even a 70 degree time will equal about 90 degrees inside one of these things. The A/C worked, thanks to the prior owner who converted it into R134. Unfortunately the director wanted the vehicles to idle at all times. So we likely wasted about $30 worth of gas in the shooting process.

None of the cars broke down or even overheated. However the Triumph had more blue smoke than anything I had ever seen that didn’t already have a two stroke engine in it. I’m willing to bet that the thing was dirtier than any old scooter you can find… but it ran. That vehicle was a bit rough around the edges. But this gorgeous Riviera helped smooth out the line-up that day.

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After the shoot, we had dinner and then… a holding cell. No joke. The extras had to stay four abreast in a 2 foot by 10 foot room with no nuttin’ for two hours.

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Conversation, yes. Smartphone? Wonderful! A TV? Surely, you’re joking Mr. Feynman.

Once the clock struck exactly 8:48 P.M. we were out on parole. No overtime this time. Brando signed us out and we quickly made a 37 mile skedaddle towards the north Georgia woodlands we call home.

Will we do it again? Probably. However, Georgia weather is rather nasty and brutish during the summer time. A Malibu with light colored cloth and a snow white exterior may be the perfect match for the next set.

 

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New Or Used : Go Fetch! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/new-or-used-go-fetch/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/new-or-used-go-fetch/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 12:38:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=773737 Yummy Food + Fire Hydrant Red = A Dog's New Best Friend

Yummy Food + Fire Hydrant Red = A Dog’s New Best Friend

We own a pet supply delivery business and use two vehicles. A 1995 Toyota Tacoma with 360,000 miles, and a 2004 Chrysler Pacifica with less than 20,000 miles.

Guess which one has given us more problems?

In fairness, the Pacifica wasn’t intended to be used for our business. However my dad no longer finds the Tacoma to be comfortable for the 150+ mile daily journeys, and the Pacifica has us a bit scared thanks to multiple high cost repairs.

We are wanting to save money on fuel, and have the ability to trade in a vehicle (or both) to save money on insurance, fuel, and downtime. With my dad’s age, he wants something much more comfortable than the truck.

We’ve looked at various models of Prius, Scion xB (1st Gen), Transit Connects, and lately have thrown in an Insight (2nd gen) and Escape Hybrid. He doesn’t like German (due to threat of high repair costs), though I’ve tried to convince him a diesel could be an option. Other than that, he has no brand loyalty.

Total cost should be under $10,000 – and we are able to do driveway fixes. The fewer miles the better. It does not need to be comfortable for passengers. We do haul about 300 to 400 pounds of product in our travels. So we want something that can handle that load without any issues.

Steve Says:

I would start with the seat. No, I am certainly not joking about that.

With all that driving, you will eventually prioritize that throne over all other considerations. Even those you already mentioned. What is different now versus nearly 20 years ago is that the Toyota/Honda quality dominance is no longer an absolute when it comes to cars. Every manufacturer can offer a durable product these days. However seat comfort seems to run the gamut. Some cars are wonderful. Others I can barely stand.

There are also so many vehicles that offer sold fuel economy, that it will be hard for me to say that one vehicle will equal out to more dollars and cents than another over the course of time. All that traveling for a mature person requires a supremely comfortable seat, a well constructed interior (a.k.a. avoiding Tonka level plastics)  and an overall environment that will allow for low stress.

My top pick for a $10,000′ish wagon like vehicle with good fuel economy? A Hyundai Elantra Touring wagon.  Like this one.

These models have plenty of room inside. A nice smooth suspension, plenty of good lumbar support… well, I’m not the review guy. So visit here, here and read the comments left by several owners and renters.

I’m sure there are other folks here who will recommend everything from a Dodge Magnum to a (gulp!) Ford Ranger. But if I were looking for a roomy economical transport vehicle for about $10,000, a late model Elantra Touring would represent the bullseye within a bullseye.

 

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New or Used : Care Free? Or Car-Free? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/new-or-used-care-free-or-car-free/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/new-or-used-care-free-or-car-free/#comments Mon, 17 Mar 2014 17:32:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=773529 1999 Buick Century: Where Automotive Novocaine Meets Ambiguous Androgyny.

1999 Buick Century: Where Automotive Novocaine Meets Ambiguous Androgyny.

Dear Steve,

I just graduated from college this past December and found a wonderful job at my old alma mater.

The good news? I can walk to everywhere I need to go. My work, two nearby parks, the supermarket, and to most of my friend’s apartments and townhouses. I’m living an ideal life at this point.

Which brings me to the big question. Do I even need a car?

I have inherited a 1999 Buick Century with about 130k miles that my parents bought brand new.

I HATE this car with a passion. Every time I drive it, I think about quarters shooting out of the tailpipe and onto the oncoming traffic. This year alone my parents spent nearly $2000 trying to keep this money pit on the road.

They want me to keep it, but I don’t want it within 300 square miles of my daily life. What should I do?

Steve Says:

Lao Tzu had a wonderful saying when it came to these types of situations.

“When in doubt, do nothing.”

You don’t know what the future holds. So I wouldn’t get rid of the car just yet. At the same time, you don’t need to add a lot of unneeded expenses in your life.   So I’m going to encourage you to re-allocate some of your funds so that you get the maximum pleasure minimal level of misery from owning this joyless machine.

First, see if you can get an auto policy that will offer a reduced rate for less driving. Preferably one with either a 5,000 mile limit or a 2,500 mile limit. This will save you a nice chunk on your insurance costs, which is a big expense for most folks in their 20′s.

From there you should take some of those savings and invest in a car cover.

The advantage of using a car cover is that…

1) It becomes a bit of a pain to constantly put the cover on and take it off. Therefore when you’re on that fence between either driving or using some alternative motor-free transportation, you’ll opt for the later.

2) A car cover enables you to avoid spending money on giving exterior care to a car you no longer use. It also helps you avoid wear issues such as faded paint, peeling dashboards, and other cosmetic wear items that result from a car that sits in the sun for far too long.

3) This may be a bit anecdotal. In my own travels, I have found that buyers don’t negotiate as much when you use a car cover and keep the car in good running order. A car dealership can’t pull off this trick with their inventory. However enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts are frequently able to offer a halo of extra care and value to their rides when they use a car cover.

I would change the oil once a year, keep an eye out for leaks, and drive it once every two weeks or so. Even if you don’t want to. Just find a good excuse.

Maybe you will use ye olde Buick Century, or maybe not. But at least you’ll be able to keep this unwanted car out of sight and out of mind. At least until your lifestyle changes, which it will. Trust me.

 

 

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Should You Sell Your Car At Carmax? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/should-you-sell-your-car-at-carmax/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/should-you-sell-your-car-at-carmax/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 10:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=766585 carmax

100,000 miles?

200,000 miles?

300,000 miles?

Everyone has a certain point with their daily driver when they would rather see money back in their pocket, instead of seeing more money fall out of their pocket.

Time marches on. That old clunker loses it’s endearing qualities and then, what do you do?

Well, the answer depends a lot on what type of vehicle you’re trying to sell… which is why I’m introducing Carmax’s wholesale operations into this write-up.

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A lot of us are already familiar with Carmax’s retail operation.

No-haggle pricing. No hard sells or bait-and-switch tactics. The foundation for what made Saturn such a successful new car brand back in the 1990′s has been refined, improved and eclipsed by Carmax.

Like em’ or hate em’, Carmax is now the official used car Goliath of the auto industry.

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This article from Automotive News does a great job of highlighting the retail side of their success. Carmax is now twice the size of second-place Autonation, and larger than the third, fourth, and fifth place automotive retailers combined. If Carmax manages to stay on track with a forecasted 500,000 units sold for 2014, and maintains their $2,150 in net profit per unit, they will likely eclipse over a billion dollars in profits… just with their retail operations.

That first billion is the one everyone here is already familiar with. However it’s the other side of their business, the wholesale side, that’s proven to be the more consistent money-maker during good times and bad.

This is how it works.

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You are tired of your car. More times than not, it has some type of problem that is either expensive or elusive. You have probably spent a fair penny trying to solve that issue, and even if you succeeded, you are weary of having to deal with yet another one down the road.

Enter Carmax. Have you ever noticed how much money Carmax spends on radio advertising? That little 30 second spiel about bringing your car in and getting treated right is more than just a hokey way of trying to get you in their door.

It’s arbitrage, with a churn that now numbers close to 7,000 vehicles.

Every… single.. week…

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Carmax inspects your vehicle. Appraises it’s value. Successfully buys it (or at least plants the seed for further business), and then they does something that is unique to automotive retailers.

They have weekly auctions for all of these vehicles. Wholesale auctions frequented by dealers who sometimes travel long distances to buy the very same cars that you are tired of driving.

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On average, a Carmax auction gets more eyeballs per vehicle basis anyone else. An auction with 100 vehicles will often have more than 100 dealers who are ready to bid up and buy all those vehicles.

It’s a free market, and because Carmax eliminates uncertainty by disclosing major defects to this dealer audience, they get a premium return for much of what they sell.

If the engine or transmission has mechanical issues. If there is frame damage or a salvage title, Carmax will disclose that issue in writing to all dealers before the sale.

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Even if it’s a $500 vehicle, you can dispute the vehicle if there was a major defect that wasn’t disclosed. I’ve done it successfully in the past many times and so have thousands of dealers who attend their sales. No system is perfect. But Carmax’s selling policy is designed to eliminate those uncertainties and provide disclosure with both the high end car, and the beater car.

That’s where you, the public, comes into the mix. Because Carmax can get the premium return along with a seller fee of about $165 for each vehicle sold, Carmax can pay more for certain cars than other dealers.

What types? In my experiences, Carmax tends to offer a solid edge to consumers in three distinct areas.

1) The unpopular car with expensive mechanical issues.

2) The Craigslist nightmare car.

3) The “I need money right now!” car.

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You may notice that these are the first two types are cars that few public individuals want to buy in the first place. That five year old Chevy Aveo with a bad automatic transmission, and a 25 year old Honda that looks like it got into a fight and lost, will have one thing in common.

They will both be lowballed by the general public. Once you put that Aveo online for $3000, someone will offer you $1500 over the phone and then not show up.

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That 1990 Honda Accord which has been driven 356,168 miles? Someone’s kid or an aspiring scammer is going to light up your cell phone with a never-ending torrent of stupid pointless questions.

“Is your car a diesel?” says the guy who doesn’t understand that the letters g-a-s do not equate to d-i-e-s-e-l.

“Is there anything wrong with it?” “Is it an automatic?” “What’s the least you’ll take for it?” “Can you drive it to my place?” “Um… Give me your address!”

It’s this moron brigade that helps Carmax make hundreds of millions of dollars. By giving you the opportunity to not deal with them, and giving dealers the opportunity to capitalize on your automotive misery.

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There’s also a more lucrative side for those dealers that visit these auctions. That Aveo I mentioned earlier? It can be bought for $2300. Then it will be fixed with a cheap tranny found through car-part.com, and then financed at $500 down and $260 a month for 36 months.

The sub-prime side of the car market can help a dealer more than double his money over the course of a few years. Not risk-free mind you, but the Carmax auctions provide them with a golden opportunity to buy 20 or 30 low-priced vehicles a week that actually come with mechanical disclosures.

Once you know what you’re buying and have the means to it marketable,  your risk of failure goes down substantially. This, along with the push of immediate competition, motivates dealers to pay more money for your impaired vehicle.

Nobody else does this when it comes to cheap older cars.

The creation of a free market with thousands of used vehicles, and fair disclosures, will likely net Carmax well over $300 million in profits by the end of this fiscal year.

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The average unit garners a little less than $900 in profit. Subtract Carmax’s seller fee of about $200, and you’re looking at only about a $700 spread on average between what Carmax will offer you, and what a large free market will pay for your vehicle.

Is that a better return than you will find on Craigslist, Autotrader, or a nearby car dealer? In some cases, without a doubt. The greater the uncertainty about the value of a product, the less an unknowledgeable person (or greedy person) will offer for it.

Personally, I would test out all of these avenues. If Carmax offers the best price, take it.

That is unless you live in northwest Georgia. In which case the address to my dealership is…

 

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New or Used? : I Loves My Truck http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-i-loves-my-truck/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-i-loves-my-truck/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 13:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=756961 f150

Thanks for your recent article about buying auto parts.

I recently bought a well used ’95 F-150 with the venerable 302 and Mazda five-speed.
 
When I say well used, I mean the engine has about 253,000 on the clock and sounds like it is on its last legs. I’m pretty sure I can hear the jugs rattling in the cylinders when I first fire it up, the idle hunts all over the place and it has about as much power as the Ukrainian president.
 
I’d like to put a new mill in it. The previous owner spent a lot of time and money doing everything but engine work. Where’s a good place to start looking for a used motor, or should I spill the coin to have this tired old unit rebuilt?

Steve Says:

I wouldn’t be sold on replacing the engine just yet.

For some reason, old Fords tend to have more idling issues than any other manufacturer I see at the auctions. They can be a pain to track down, but that that doesn’t necessarily mean that the engine is on it’s last legs.  It just means that you or your mechanic is going to have fun tracking down vacuum hoses and a long, long line of other diagnostic possibilities. If you want to do this yourself I would strongly recommend buying up the Alldata information for your F150.

As for the start-up noise, that can be a variety of things. However if the timing chain and guides haven’t been replaced at this point, that may very well be your noise at start-up. I see a lot of Explorers, Rangers and F150s with this issue, and it can require the removal of the engine in order to properly replace the chain and guides.

Let’s assume for now that you have a truck that now drinks, smokes and hangs out with the bad boys. If your engine is as wore out as an old mop then you definitely need to take a tour through the automotive scenery of the nearby auto recycling centers.

First go to car-part.com. Since the 5.0 Liter V8 was only offered for two years on the F150, you will only have about 1000 of them to choose from. The going price will be around $500. However, I would strongly advise that you buy a new water pump, a chain and guide replacement set, and take the time to replace any hoses that may be in need of attention. Especially in those areas where hoses can be near impossible to reach.

This engine is easy to install but time consuming. Would I rebuild it? Not unless you have the time and some serious achievements when it comes to DIY work. You can get a nice rebuild done that would give you more power. But you are looking at north of $1500 for it to be done right.

I prefer durability upgrades (a.k.a. relying on enthusiast forums for guidance and getting a transmission cooler) and stock engines instead of mods when it comes to older trucks. There also may be an opportunity to get the VIN number for the engine that interests you online and find out if it was regularly serviced at the dealership through a Carfax history. Ones that have been serviced at the dealerships will at least be given a quality oil filter and the recommended oil weight. Although with an older vehicle this information gets to be a bit scanty.

 

 

Good luck!

 

 

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Boom, Bust, And The New Car Lust http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/boom-bust-and-the-new-car-lust/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/boom-bust-and-the-new-car-lust/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=753561

6:30 P.M. and three more cars just pulled up to my place… on a Monday…

Have I just bought a McDonald’s franchise? Not quite. This is the start of what we call “tax season” in the used car business.

A time when tens of millions of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck get a nice four figure lump sum from Uncle Sam and his favorite sub-prime debt dealers.

This money will typically be gone within 72 hours. Cars, electronics, and (cough! cough!) indebted personal obligations will be re-distributed to impersonate economic growth.

None of this matters for me right now because my brand new customers, with tax refunds in hand, are looking at three older cars.

The respective ages of these low money down rides?

17.. a red 1997 Honda Civic EX with 130k miles.

18… a gold 1996 Nissan Sentra with 135k miles.

And 19, a white 1995 Pontiac Bonneville SSE with 160k miles.

Two year notes for three cars that are old enough to have been driven daily when I was young.

Should all this age scare me? No. Not at all. I’ve financed hundreds of teenage and twenty-something cars over the last several years, and with the average age of a vehicle in the United States slowly creeping towards the twelve year mark, I’m not even sweating it anymore.

So long as I find the right owners, these cars don’t break. At least not in a terminal sense.

The ones who should be sweating it are the manufacturers. Why? Because they overproduced at a torrid pace from the early-2000′s to late 08′, and now that many of these defunct brands and models are headed towards their middle-age, they’re getting depreciated to kingdom come.

Yet they still run fine. Even until recent times this longevity had not been the usual case.

Ten years ago the average old jalopy on the road was usually a rolling piece of junk that drank gas, smoked oil, and hung out with the bad boys. I saw these cars all days long at the auctions and sold  tens of thousands of them as a ringman, auctioneer, and remarketing manager for an auto finance company.  The wholesale auctions were full of em’ back then, and I still remember getting headaches from all the carbon monoxide and other deadly substances that permeated the air. When it came to older cars, there were far too few manufacturers of quality vehicles. Older Benzes, Toyotas and Hondas were able to handle the long haul. American trucks and gas guzzling body on frame land yachts were pretty good as well. Those were the sweet spots for those wanting car owners who couldn’t do it themselves. Everything else offered a lot more misses than hits.

Now, the average old car… is the family car. The extra car that rarely gets driven. Or even your own car.

It was more than likely designed at a time when lean manufacturing had already become predominant, OBDII diagnostics had become a universal standard, and fuel injection had become a given. Even the recent defunct brands. The Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, and Mercurys of today are light years ahead of the malaise era inspired, quantity driven metal of yore that rightfully deserved to be recycled into Chinese washing machines.

Your current daily driver, old it may be,  is still going to last you for a while. And when it does decide to spit out a part, chances are you can find a cheap replacement for it online or at an auto recycling center. The labor to replace it may no longer be cheap, and your older ride may not have the same tolerance for neglect and abuse than it did when new. But if you drive like everyone else on the road, chances are it’s going to last you well past 200,000 miles, or even 15+ years if you live in a non-rust climate.

We can go on about defunct brands and models that are now overpopulating the used car market thanks to the corporate accounting games of not too long ago. We can even venture forth to the less political causes of what will likely become a golden era for cheap transportation if you keep your eyes sharp on good product. This is in large part thanks to the research engineering advances of the last 15 years, and the amazing convergence of suppliers, standards and even platforms within our industry.

But there is one factor that seems to trump all the others in today’s used car market. Money.

In my world that is running a car dealership, the new car is now matching the eight year old used car when it comes to the monthly payment.

How? Here’s how.

It’s the difference between a two year note for an $8500 eight year old used car at 14%, and an eight year note on a $30,000 new car at 5.9%. The financial difference between those two cars, pre-tax, tag, and bogus add-on fees, is $408.11 a month for the used car, and $392.78 for the new car. You read that right. The monthly payment is now often less for the average new car than it is for the average used car. A lot of consumers who are already used to having a car payment don’t mind paying for a longer period if it means getting a newer vehicle.

Now that automakers and major banks are delving deeper into sub-prime loans, even deeper than they did back in late 2007, used cars are becoming increasingly unmarketable.

The millions of  orphaned brands and models with little to no marketing cache are going to help this process advance far faster than you may realize. In fact, many of the largest used car retailers will no longer buy any orphaned brands because they sit at the lot for far longer periods of time than ever before. A lot of declining brands such as Volvo, Mitsubishi and Lincoln are also on that same walking plank of consumer obscurity that leads to an ocean’s worth of cheap inventory.

No overproduced, over-leased or unpopular used car can compete on a level playing field with a new car equivalent that has the better brand name on the front of it. That is unless you’re one one of those customers willing to pay cash one time for an older product.

If that cash customer is you, these next few years will offer a far better bang for the buck when it comes to buying used cars.  Once the bad decisions of 2007 and 2009 are removed from the credit histories of consumers who had bad luck back in the day, you will see many of these customers ditch their old rides and buy whatever new car they can find which offers a lower payment, a nicer ride, and better cash flow. At least for right now.

I predict that a lot of these cars will contain technologies that will be far too expensive to fix and repair in the coming years. However, by then I’m sure that the manufacturers will be offering ultra-high mileage, aluminum bodied works of wonder with advanced CVT transmissions and software that will enable electric motors to become a worthy alternative to the internal combustion engine.

Meanwhile, someone out there will still be driving an old Honda Insight. New car smell be damned.

 

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New or Used? : A Road Trip… Geo Metro Style http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-a-road-trip-to-munchkinland/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-a-road-trip-to-munchkinland/#comments Wed, 19 Feb 2014 13:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=743577 Click here to view the embedded video.

We want to go on a road trip this summer.

There are four of us. Myself, my wife, a teen and a tween. The wife and kids are thin and I’m about average sized.

Why do I mention this?

We are looking at getting a normal-sized vehicle that can potentially sleep four.  A minivan, crossover, or even a large SUV would be perfectly fine for us. We think that there will be times when we can’t use a tent, and I would rather get away from the overpriced state parks if it’s at all possible.

Our budget is $10,000. We don’t want anything funky to maintain. For us that means no VW vans. We will consider most anything else.  All domestics and imports are on the radar so long as they allow us reasonable sleeping quarters for our family.

Any ideas?

Steve Says:

Yes, rent a trailer or RV first.

A lot of folks think that they can take a big swig of the great American road trip in one feel swoop. But the truth is that close quarters will turn even the slightest of irritable personalities into a smorgasbord of communal hate and vitriol.

A week’s worth of traveling will help you figure out your own family’s tolerances real fast.

Your kids are young? They will want some space. The adults will want some space. Trust me. Whether you chose to give them real space or imaginary space via video games and movies is your call. But if this were my call, I would take the big bite that is the rental of a trailer (if you have a vehicle that can already haul one), a pop-up,  or an RV, and make the most of your time.

Most normal sized vehicles can’t sleep four unless you are willing to do some serious customization.  There are built-in tents and conversion kits for Azteks that can sleep two. Astros with third seats that can be made into a bed… that sleep two. There are even full-sized vans that supposedly seat four. Although the sleeping space me be a bit claustrophobic for some.

Heck, if you were creative enough, you could probably pull off sleeping space four in a stretch limo. But the truth is the only real games in town for road trips that can house four living souls comfortably are the camper conversions, trailers and RV’s.

What’s the cheapest route? Not going cheap.

In the long run your best decision will likely be trying one of these options out and figuring out what would best suit your family’s needs. Long-term road trip vehicles may be the one area where renting first actually makes sense. So rent something you like. Live it up a bit. Then, when you find the right size, make your investment in mobile living.

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Hammer Time: Hey Taxi! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hammer-time-hey-taxi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hammer-time-hey-taxi/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 12:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=743489 Click here to view the embedded video.

Georgia is now seriously weighing in House Bill 907 which opponents have dubbed the, “Taxi Monopoly Protection Act.”

It would effectively outlaw ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft. While also making cab companies victims of the usurious fees that they are required to pay to remain in business.

My solution to all this would be politically tone deaf and probably DOA in GA. My special interest is simply a personal one. I want to see better ideas work for the general public.

So here’s my deep dive into the rabbit hole that is government balancing one man’s freedom with another man’s fears.

 

The nuts and bolts of using your own personal property to transport other folks shouldn’t take much. If I were king governor of Georgia, this would be the way I would do it.

1) Don’t require taxi cab companies to pay for medallions and other mandated fees that serve no purpose other than inflicting financial harm on these businesses.

2) Do require that anyone who wishes to operate a taxi business (which Lyft and Uber are in practice) pay the insurance required to operate those businesses. If these companies want to pay for it themselves, that’s fine as well. But I believe this should be where the level ground should exist, and your insurance company should automatically be notified if you decide to operate this type of business.

3) Anyone who wants to sign up to be a taxi driver should have their license automatically run through the DDS web site every time their services are used to ensure that they still have a valid license. The way it is structured now, drivers can have their history gone through one time, and are okay thereafter.

This is the type of solution that makes no one 100% happy.But yet, it represents the fact that we need to let the government become an enabler of free enterprise. Instead of a perpetual conduit for special interests. It also represents the fact that there are some minor sticky issues that would need to be ironed out should this remote possibility ever come to pass.

The first has to do with handicapped folks.

It cost a lot more money to convert a new vehicle into a handicap accessible one. Since the costs of serving this population is far higher (to the tune of several thousands of dollars per vehicle), should handicapped customers pay more for these transportation services? Or should there be some sort of assistance, somewhere, to subsidize it?

The second issue has to do with vehicle inspections.

Should they exist? And if so, who should pay for it?

The quality of transport requires more than cheapness and minimal standards. Precious few of you are willing to spend a lot of money being transported in a 22 year old Corolla with no a/c (in Georgia), bald tires, and the smell of body odor permeating your nasal passages. Should owner reviews and corporate follow-up handle these issues? Or should there be some type of government standards that prevent the public from bad service?

Finally, what about the children?

Should there be certain child seats that must be required usage on these vehicles? I am sometimes tempted to go back to a 1970′s styled, “Put the kids in the back of the wagon!”. However the young human body is especially fragile, and I think that either the parent or the company should provide kids with adequate protection. So pick one, pick none,  or pick both.

Adults with needs, cars with needs, and kids with needs. The current bill sponsored by 5 Republicans and 1 Democrat doesn’t even pretend to serve their interests. But let’s say we live in a fictional world where the special interests on both sides are mere midgets compared with the general welfare and collective powers of the electorate. Let’s be kings instead of pawns today and try to solve the world’s problems one used car ride at a time.

How would you solve it?

 

 

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New or Used? : Should I Salvage My Shady Tree? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-should-i-salvage-my-shady-tree/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-should-i-salvage-my-shady-tree/#comments Wed, 12 Feb 2014 20:01:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=740305 littlebangtheory.wordpress

 

When I peruse the websites of some of my local yards, it seems like some of these cars have very little damage but some insurance adjuster has written them off based on whatever metric the company uses.

I’m an experienced shadetree mechanic and it seems like getting a 3-4 year old car for 30% of its original MSRP would be a screaming deal, and since warranty coverage is no longer an issue, it comes down to diminished value on the salvage title. I tend to keep my cars for 8-10 years so who cares.

Here’s where my doubts creep in.

If it was such a great idea, I would have surely read more about it. In the case of this one nearby yard,  they have a huge collision repair facility. So why aren’t they repairing and flipping these cars? Googling doesn’t provide a whole lot on the pros and cons, just on the procedural aspects.

Any experience or stories ?

Steve Says:

Plenty of them.

This past storm through Atlanta recently totaled two of my financed vehicles, and late last year, I had two others that succumbed to the laws of physics.

The best way I can answer your answer is by working backwards by starting with older salvage vehicles first.

If you are looking for the best deal on a salvage vehicle in terms of daily transportation, it’s going to typically be the older, unloved, unpopular vehicle that merely has cosmetic damage.

A 10 year old Saturn with the rear bumper bashed in.

The older SAAB that was well kept, but was hit in that precise point on the front quarter that would require the removal and repainting of the hood, front bumper, and quarter panel if it were brought up to spec.

There are a lot of used cars that are totaled which fit this description. Minivans that don’t have good leather seats or automatic doors. Sitckshifts in non-sporty vehicles. Unloved older SUV’s, orphaned brands, and of course, station wagons.

The exact same types of vehicles that are unpopular and obscure to the non-enthusiast, are those that can provide the best bang for the buck for the shadetree frugalist who wants to explorer the salvage side of the business.

You have to still do all the homework you regularly do when buying a clean title vehicle. It is essential to go and inspect the vehicle in person and figure out the history. Even with doing all that, the buyer fees will negate much of the advantage you supposedly may have.

Plus, there is that one annoying fact with salvage vehicles. They can often have hidden surprises.

If you are serious about doing this, make sure you have easy access to a spare inoperable car that can be used as a reasonably cheap source for parts.

As for the late model vehicle? Don’t even try. The most popular ones are often shipped overseas where the local markets offer a far greater tolerance for substandard repairs, and where the labor rates are a small fraction of those in the United States.

The price of used cars is also far higher in the majority of countries outside the United States. We are known as a “high-content” market which means that many models that appear to have low to mid-level features are considered loaded vehicles in those overseas markets. The exporters can often buy higher than most others, with a few experienced rebuilders who have the resources and know-how to turn over higher end inventory.

My advice to you is to start small. Heck, you can take two unpopular Craigslist vehicles and make them into one with parts to spare. Or just visit a nearby used car dealership or title pawn company and tell them that you would be interested in buying their inop vehicles.

Specialize in a type of car and who knows? You may find yourself profiting from experience. Just don’t expect a $2000 lick every time you sell a salvage car. The market demand will likely be limited to hardcore enthusiasts and frugalists.

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New Or Used? : Excuse Me While I Contradict Myself… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-excuse-me-while-i-contradict-myself/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-excuse-me-while-i-contradict-myself/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 16:06:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=738593 car.mitula.us

A reader sent me these parameters for picking his next vehicle
I’m at a crossroads. I’m looking for a cheap – laughably cheap – like less-than-$3,000 cheap – car for my next daily driver. It’s got to be economical (near 30 mpg hwy) and fun to drive, with decent aftermarket support (so I can throw a couple mods at it – I’m a gearhead). Oh, and since I’m 6’1″ and have a 1-year old daughter, it needs a back seat.
We can skip the DSM/Mitsubishi reliability warning.
Much to the chagrin of most of TTAC’s Best and Brightest, I am a Mitsubishi enthusiast. Aside from a brief stint in an 89 Volvo 245 a couple years back, I’ve been driving Mitsubishi exclusively since 1996. Any mechanical problems I’ve had over the years were my own damn fault. Such is the price of learning-as-you-go.
I’ve got a giant “Wake up and drive” banner in my garage, and more left over DSM/GVR4/EVO bits than I really know what to do with. I am comfortable rebuilding pretty much anything from ECUs to engines to turbos to even replacing sections of the unitized chassis. I’m willing to negotiate on the character-vs-dependability piece, as I have two other vehicles to rely upon.
My first instinct – the obvious plan – is to pick up another DSM or GVR4; maybe an old Colt or Mirage. Any of the above could easily be a 200-300whp daily driver in short order, without much effort. But I’m looking to lock down my wheels for another 200,000 miles like I did with my bought-new-in-1996 Eagle Talon. I’m not looking to buy another daily driver for another decade after this, so I want it to be really good.
In the meantime, I’m daily driving what is basically a non-air conditioned riding lawn mower with a windshield 40 miles a day back and forth across Phoenix year ’round. I’m proud to be a charter member of the 100HP Club and I love my Rocinante, but I’m itching to get back into something as fun to drive quickly on tarmac as my Pajero is to drive on gravel.
Any ideas? :)
Steve Says:
Here are the two issues I see.
First, you say that you want to drive the vehicle for another 200,000 miles. Then, you say you aren’t willing to spend $3,000 on your next ride.
The avenues for achieving these seemingly disparate goals do exist. But to make it a success, you have to be willing to acknowledge a few things first.
The primary idea you have right now is that you simply don’t want to spend any long-term money in the pursuit of perpetual wheels. Believe it or not, you could do that since you also happen to be an expert in any area of the business where few others have experience or skills. Mitsubishi mechanics, old and new, are not exactly easy to find. I only know of one independent mechanic in over 15 years of this business.
So what I would do is this…
Get yourself a used car dealer’s license and start looking at buying wheels from the wholesale auctions. Start with one vehicle at a time.
Buy it. Fix it.  Advertise it. Sell it. Rinse and repeat.
I know that some folks try to take the tact of buying vehicles on Craigslist and working from there along with other online advertising site. The only problem with that is the time inefficiencies that come with dealing  an audience that is not exactly forthright in their disclosures. You could look at 12 vehicles at an auction over the course of an afternoon versus maybe two by traveling the Craigslist route.
If I were in your shoes, this is exactly what I would do. Take your skills and make them work for you so that you can make money in the long run. However, if time and monetary means make this a bit challenging, I’m sure the folks at TTAC could recommend plenty of DSM and orphaned models that will be worth your investment on a retail level.
Good luck!

 

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Hammer Time: Fharverg-nuttin! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hammer-time-fharverg-nuttin/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hammer-time-fharverg-nuttin/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 12:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=731802 vwvortex

It would take an immense amount of effort to prove that VW was not telling the truth in their latest Super Bowl commercial.

First you would have to pool registration data from dozens of different countries within the US, EU, Japan, China, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

That’s one tall order. To even make that remotely possible, you would have to get the data from the various states within those countries. Quite a few of them would likely have a hard time even coming up with data that is easily downloadable.

As for verification of mileage? Good luck with that! Even in the U.S. of A., not all states require emission and registration checks that verify the mileage.

So let’s remove probability altogether from VW’s Superbowl proclamation, and deal with the cold hard facts related to the wholesale side of this business.

What we have discovered after studying the long-term reliability of trade-ins throughout the United States, is that VW represents the slimey brown stuff above this engine (courtesy of VWVortex.com) when it comes to long-term reliability.

For starters, major VW brands in the USA (Audi and VW) have garnered the 2nd and 3rd lowest ratios for those vehicles that have made it to the 18 year mark. Click here for the results of 300,000+ vehicles currently logged in this study.

Volkswagen also has the lowest percentage of trade-ins with over 180k out of any major automaker in the study as well.

Who is worse out of 30+ brands? Only Jaguar and Mini are worse overall. Land Rover is roughly equal.

Finally, let me offer you an alternative shortcut if you don’t want to believe the data. Feel free to visit car-part.com and see how much it cost to replace various VW engines and transmissions. Call your neighborhood parts store and see how much more it cost to replace the hoses, alternators, and starters on a VW versus say, a Chevy or Toyota.

Hell, I recently bought a 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 with no issues for only $100 more than a stripper 2005 Ford Taurus with the same mileage that functioned as a rental car special, and had vinyl falling off the front door panels.

How did VW’s get to be so cheap in the wholesale side of the car business?

Because for most of the last 15 years, VW has cheaped out on quality parts like a broke Chinese construction company cheaps out on quality concrete. The mothership may blame Inaki Lopez and his minions for that turn in quality. But the truth? The absolute truth?

VW doesn’t care. They have screwed their consumer base for the sole pursuit of short-term profits here in North America for a very long time and are finally, by the grace of God, paying for those sins. Their cheaped out latest offerings in the United States continue to do them no favors, and I’m willing to bet that the “We’re #1 at over 100k!” remark will not resonate in a marketplace where 200k has already become yesterday’s 100k.

Am I wrong? Maybe. So let me ask you. Would you recommend a VW? If so, what model?

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Hammer Time: $100 Worth Of Charity… And Fun? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-100-worth-of-charity-and-fun/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-100-worth-of-charity-and-fun/#comments Fri, 31 Jan 2014 14:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=726314 exp1

By the time you read this, I will have bought the last $100 car sold at a public auction… that actually runs!

This 1994 Ford Explorer XL has just under 94,000 miles and has been sitting at a local water department for a couple of years now. The exterior is nothing special, but the interior is surprisingly intact and well kept.

Which begs the question, what the hell should I do with this thing?

exp2

There are a couple of ideas I have that may be worth the effort, or maybe not.

The first is to donate the Explorer to a local food bank called Helping Hands.  A local non-profit here in rural Georgia that feeds a lot more people in my county than you would imagine. It would be a nice noble gesture, and what helps out even more,  is that I also have a second Explorer.

explorer5

A 1993 model, that happens to run perfectly fine as well. Although it has a few (cough! cough!) cosmetic issues that I covered up with the finest duct tape, thumbtacks, and staple guns that are in my storage shed.

explorer7

So hypothetically, I could give both to the charity so that food runs could be made on a weekly basis. Or I could just retail both, donate the proceeds, and let volunteers continue to use their own vehicles.

It all sounds like a good and easy thought for a rare snowy north Georgia afternoon. But then, I had this strange thought in my head that just wouldn’t quit.

“How far could I make a $100 car work if I kept on retailing the proceeds, and wrote about it?”

explorer6

What if I reconditioned both vehicles a bit, re-sold them during tax season, buy another vehicle or two, rinsed, repeated, and kept trying to pay it forward until the end of the year?

Maybe the $515 I have invested at the moment in these two (along with the duct tape) can turn into $5000? Or more?

Maybe I may just end up with two cars that are junkyard fodder? Financially these two running vehicles would yield more from the local recycling center than what I already paid for them. So the risk here isn’t that much.

exp3

There have been mumblings about getting a fun car for a while now here at TTAC. At the moment, I have a 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood stretch limo that was apparently used by a strip joint in Miami way back in the Clinton Era, and I have, well, these two Explorers. I have about $3200 in the Cadillac, and until my kids have degrees and that rare good job, I need to keep that money working for me. But these two Explorers I can definitely spare, and invest a bit of my time and resources.

So what should I do? Buy? Sell? Hold? Donate? Offer Firestone a golden opportunity to associate themselves with Explorers in a good way? I’m always open to suggestions, and volunteers.

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Hammer Time: Opposites Detract http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-opposites-detract/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-opposites-detract/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=725978 Ford_vs._Chevy_cover

There are some things that I am too damn old and open-minded to understand.

Like hating a car brand. Especially in those common cases where folks haven’t been exposed to any level of vehicle derived hardships.

Toyotas are boring. BMW’s are Yuppie-mobiles. Mercedes-Benzes are for snobs. On an on, through the lexicon of cliche and generalizations comes the silliest of stereotypes. As much as I hate to see it, hear it, and read it, I’m resigned to the fact that there is always going to be some version of this nuttiness in our world.

But what if there was an easier means to defeat it? In fact, as many of you know, there already is. A force of human good that can outdo any scam artist or snake oil salesman.

The enthusiast forum.

Every time I buy a vehicle that I haven’t bought before at the auctions, I try to find out if there is an online enthusiast group that specializes in that particular model.

Some of the sites have surprised the heck out of me for their model based loyalty and goodwill.  Chevettes, Tauruses, Fieros, Old Supras. As for ye olde Volvos and Benzes, there seem to be at least six or so sites that have offered their good word to thousands of devout followers. Even if I have little love for the car, there are hundreds of enthusiasts out there that can make me fall in love with the literary works that come from owning one.

One of the reasons why I love visiting these enthusiast forums is that the main contributors are almost always genuinely interesting people. From concrete layers who are into eastern philosophies, to tried and true professional race car drivers with New Jerseyite vocabularies. There always seems to be a beautiful egalitarian streak of wanting to help other fellow car owners regardless of who they are, what they believe, and even how they behave.

In a business bent on the glorification and financing of everyday transportation, I find that desire to extend the ownership period, and keep people debt free, truly valuable. It functions as a vital counterweight to our society’s commercialized push towards all things new.

Enthusiast forums also contain a unique balance between the driving enthusiast and the car keeping frugalist. The active members of the community want fun, high quality and reasonable costs. More importantly, nearly all these sites espouse a hardcore philosophy that every vehicle should have the opportunity to be used to the fullest of it’s capabilities. Even the lousy lower end versions with trashy engines and interiors that make you feel like you’re stuck in some remote corner of a Tupperware party. That jalopy of a car may indeed drink, smoke and hang out with the bad boys. It may even be worth more dead than alive. But it still has a fighting chance for rehabilitation when it finds the right crowd of auto enthusiasts.

Within all these enthusiast forums though comes a unique problem.

Access to the information. Referencing these places, easily so that consumers can easily jump from reading about the car from an old review, which is where most car searches begin for the non-enthusiast, to truly knowing about that car in one fell swoop. There are thousands of enthusiast sites and yet, it’s hard for them to get the word out about specific issues and recommendations that can better help the mainstream used car buyer before he makes a fatal mistake.

Many of us have the common sense needed to do a thorough due diligence of the car we plan on buying and keeping because, we love cars. But for those who don’t love cars, it’s an inconvenience. Information begats more information and sadly enough, a lot of these used car buyers will be overexposed to the sausage makers of our business who have absolutely no handle on the long-term issues of these vehicles, and no incentive to report them. In fact, a lot of the reviews out there are just rehashed versions of new car reviews that were only written to move the metal.

So I’m debating about whether to expand the long-term reliability study so that it can incorporate links that will allow used car buyers to go directly from the objective data, to the subjective opinions and insights of long time owners and enthusiasts.

Two articles I have recently written at Yahoo!, here and here, have received a lot of emails from used car shoppers who are happy with the data, but want more help with their search. It’s one thing to say that a car is generally reliable, or unreliable, and quite another to show a car’s specific weaknesses so that small problems don’t become terminal in the long run.

The good news is that we should have enough information to break all this out by a model year and even a powertrain basis in the near future. A long lasting Beetle with a TDI engine and a 5-speed should be treated differently than a Beetle with a defect prone automatic transmission and a 1.8 Liter. So in time, as the number of data samples crosses the half-million to million mark, that specific data will be broken out as well.

In a perfect world, I would like to display specific threads at the enthusiast forums that will provide the personal experiences behind these distinctions.  Partially to support the findings as they evolve, and more importantly, to offer an easy way to introduce casual car owners to the value of certain well-run enthusiast forums.

Is it a good idea? Are there certain enthusiast forums that should be the holy books of knowledge for specific models? Any that should be avoided at all costs?

Feel free to mention them below. Oh, and this information in the long-term reliability study will be provided for free, forever. I am not going to pretend that this study will have all the answers or all the resources that can be harnessed on a wholesale level of this business. In fact, I plan on highlighting a lot of the limitations later this week at TTAC so that somebody, somewhere, may have the opportunity to make it better.

No system or study is perfect, which is one of the reasons why I asked for volunteers early on. We, even those who are experts, do not have all the answers. However there should always be free and public resources within the greater community that serve the common good, and this may serve as another good opportunity to pay it forward.

So as this study expands and more refined, I’m going to ask for help from those who have a genuine interest in building this. Statisticians, car nuts, concrete layers, all are welcome. With enough help from the enthusiast community, I think we can fill in the gap between those first owners that are featured by Consumer Reports, who typically keep a car for only about six years, and those later owners who will experience their own unique issues and levels of reliability as the vehicles age. Who knows? Maybe the study may save your progeny from an under-engineered CVT or an electric car that mysteriously loses it’s juice at the 100k mark.

All the best! And thanks for all you do. Feel free to leave your enthusiast forum recommendations below along with your thoughts and ideas.

 

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Hammer Time: The Automotive Extremist http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-the-automotive-extremist/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-the-automotive-extremist/#comments Wed, 29 Jan 2014 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=726490 amazon

Life is sometimes about extremes, and with the extreme life of buying and selling cars comes two cars, recently purchased by me, which easily represent the polar opposites of all things automotive.


Last week, as many of you know, I bought an 03 VW Passat with about 157k and the completely unloved W8 engine.

w81

This Passat was easily the dowdiest looking of all the German V8 cars from that era according to our august founder Robert Farago. Plain jane 10 year old VW exterior. The same cheap interior panels as a $25k Passat. It consumes gas like a 15 year old minivan and yet… the damn thing has a beautiful ride.

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Strong, stable, commanding, all the things that you find with the top dollar German luxury machinery back then with a pretty wicked four-wheel drive. But it would also be one nasty bastard to maintain if you kept it.

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This Monday I bought this Passat’s alter ego.

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A 2007 Corolla CE with the 5-speed, roll-up windows, power mirrors and locks, 145k miles, and a CD player. How Toyota came up with the idea of offering power everything but windows I can’t say, but this car is pretty much the most easy to drive car I have ever owned. Well, the other 30 or so Corollas I’ve bought are pretty much from the same ilk.

corolla3

 

I’m sure it would return 35 miles per gallon and then some if you did plenty of highway and country driving. The only problem with it is the interior is like dwelling in some remote corner of a Tupperware party.

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You have to keep one car for the next five years, and suicide is not an option. Which one would you chose?

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New Or Used? : A Twofer… And One For “The Bossth!” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/new-or-used-a-twofer-and-one-for-the-bossth/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/new-or-used-a-twofer-and-one-for-the-bossth/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 17:07:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=707578 Click here to view the embedded video.

I have three choices for a “New or Used?” column today.

#1 Is a real estate agent from San Francisco who is looking at spending $13,000 on her next ride. She needs something ‘nice’ to shepherd around her clients.

#2 Is the owner of an Acura RSX Type-S that has 108,000 miles. He is looking at whether to spend about $1500 in new tires and suspensions components. Or whether to blow the budget and spend $40,000 on something new.

#3 Is Baba Booey


Hi there. I’m a guy who lives right outside of New York City and the winters here can be brutal. For a guy like me that leaves work at 4:30 in the morning, temperatures can sometimes be in the low single digits.

That’s why I’ve always had a remote starter on the car. I need my next car to be one that can heat quickly, has good handling on icey roads, and strange as it sounds, a small glasshouse area. Every car I have ever owned tends to fog up whenever I drive it in the middle of the night; regardless of how strong the defrost is. This is why the contours of the windshield and surrounding windows are a big pet peeve of mine.

I would strongly prefer  a car with flat windows and good visibility all the way around.  Just about every two months, I also need to put some Windex on the windshield to clean it up, and a large one with hard to get to corners results in a cloudy, foggy build-up over time that I just don’t like.

My budget is about $30,000 and I’m buying new. What out there represents the best combination of great heat, solid handling on slippery roads, and easy to service windows?

Steve Says

#1 Should get the second to last generation Infiniti Q45. They are unique in the marketplace, incredibly luxurious, and a well-kept one will only cost about $7000. The right color combination can exude all the luxury and prestige you would ever want in an older car, and I can easily see a silver one with a dark tan to black interior exuding all the upward mobility you need for your customers who are trying to get that little edge in the real estate market.

#2 should visit the RSX forums and see what they have to say about tires and suspension upgrades. There would really be no point in spending $40,000 or even half that amount on another car. For less than $2000 you can have a car that can ride like new and continue to give you all the fun you ever wanted back. The RSX also has a solid long-term reliability record. So I would just keep what you have and look at the upgrades as a healthy investment.

#3 just described every new Scion that is currently selling for less than $20,000.

Beth Ostrosky Celebrates FHM Coverwakpaper

A Scion iQ would have the advantage of finding parking spaces in the traffic congested areas of New York City. All the windows are easy to access and the front-wheel drive should be a nice plus on the open road. Plus you can buy two of them in different colors and mess with the minds of your co-workers.

Then there is the Scion xD which is a Yaris on stilts, and the xB which is a Corolla on stilts. With both these models you would get better crash protection than the iQ. However I would say that the best deal on the road for what describing is a late model Ford Flex. I know… don’t want to buy used. Would you consider a Kia Soul?

I’m sure the folks here will have plenty of good recommendations. Any thoughts?

 

 

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