The Truth About Cars » used car The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:19:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » used car Piston Slap: The Value of The Mid-Life Crisis Mon, 19 May 2014 11:59:50 +0000

TTAC Commentator HEATHROI writes:

A friend–definitely a friend as I would just buy a new mustang and be done with it–is looking at early 00s 911 (probably the 996) as he has entered mid-life crisis mode. He must have the porker. I know there can be some issues with the drive train. I’d like to see if anybody knows a little more about 996 problems what to look out for and how much he might be looking at. Handy, he is not.

Sajeev answers:

We’ve discussed Porsche IMS failure to no end around here. My brother had a rather choice 996 (of the RUF 550 variety) and it spent a fair bit of time in the shop for non-IMS issues, as it was a turbo. The headlight switch, for starters: apparently a common fail point and a good $150 for the part alone. It’s all kinda down hill from there, but this thread does a good job explaining many of the pitfalls to avoid. Or to know in which to price accordingly during negotiation.

Because when its time to sell, his losses will be in the thousands. Perhaps that’s part of the mid-life crisis game…

So I’m not gonna convince anyone to avoid the 996, as depreciation (most haven’t bottomed out yet) the parts replacement cost, insurance, premium fuel, etc is irrelevant.  But buying one without a PPI is pure stupidity of the highest order.  If there ever was a poster child for professional inspection before opening your wallet, the 996 has gotta be it!

Odds are he can find a good 996 with a post IMS-failure engine replacement, binders of repair history and a clean PPI report within his budget.  Of course, if you really want to mess with him, invite him to a local track day to pick on Vettes, a new Mustang GT, a Miata, etc. with that 996.  That’ll make his investment all the more worth it…well, at least for you. And that’s who we are really trying to help here, oh dear reader!

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

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

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New Or Used? : A Young Driver Wants His Milk & Cookies… Right Now! Fri, 10 Jan 2014 13:00:59 +0000 123rf


I just got a job that involves a fair amount of driving and I am looking to spend about 11-13k on a car that is fun to drive but at the same time practical and reliable.

I have a large dog, bicycle, and significant other that I transport on a regular basis (not all at the same time). I’d like to get a manual but the fact of the matter is that I am very likely to get stuck in a traffic jam one way or another so I am still debating on that. My job covers gas and a modest vehicle allowance that will cover wear and tear maintenance with a little pocket change left over. So gas mileage and little things going wrong are not a big deal. However it does need to be reliable in the sense that it will start everyday and get me where I need to go.

Some cars I have been thinking of are Mazda 3, GTI, Focus, E46 3 series(wagon if I can get it), and Mustang(thats a wildcard). I would prefer that any car I get be 2006 or newer so I can finance a modest amount but I do not want to get in the hole of financing a new car thus my budget. Help out a fellow car enthusiast and let me know what you think.

Steve Says:

Your question reminds me of the all too scary fact that my own soon-to-be 11 year old son may someday be in your shoes.

I hope to hear this in, oh, about 15 years from now.

“Hey Dad! Guess what? I just got promoted to hedge fund manager at Milken, Milken & Dacau.”

“Great to hear it son. Remind me to retire soon.”

“I’m sure you’ll die first Dad (thanks son!). Oh, the bosses boss wants me to trade in the Camry and get something really nice. Like a Lamborghini Flatulencia.”

“Jeez! That will be quite a bit of bitcoins!. Are you sure you can afford it?”

“Sure! I’ll just get a loan with….”

… the uncomfortable thought of a loan on a car is enough to stop that happy daydream dead in it’s tracks. It may not be a good idea quite yet to arrange for a long-term divestiture of your wealth. Why?

You just got a job.

You haven’t made any money yet at this particular job.

You are now what we called in my native state of New Jersey, “working class”. Your financial security is exactly equal to your “new job” security. There is good news and bad news with that.

The good news is that you have work. The bad news is that if you’re smart, you are going to be in saving mode for the next several years and eventually buy those things that are worth keeping. Which means that when it comes to cars you may want to hold off on the late model throttle a bit.

I would go a little bit deeper down the model year range and consider an 03 to 05 model that has 100,000 miles or so and has been furiously depreciated. A stickshift on a medium sized coupe or sedan (Infiniti G35, Lexus IS300, Acura CL/TL) would be a worthwhile consideration. You can even go more into the affordable arena and wait for what we call the “rare birds” in the car business. A supposedly plain jane Solara that has a nice V6 and a 5-speed. Or the last of the Q45′s that often gets blurred out of the car shopping process.

If it were me, I would start nagging friends and associates for a well-kept older car and then tweak the suspension and upgrade the tires over time so that it rides the way you like it to. However I can hear my son in the 15 year distance revving up his Flatulencia and wondering how his Dad became so debt averse. The truth is I was raised that way. Debt to me is still a four letter word. So I’ll leave it up to the folks here to offer some more recent 11k to 13k alternatives with financing in tow.


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Hammer Time: Blessed Art Thou Sausage Makers Thu, 09 Jan 2014 14:00:50 +0000 Phony

In the world of auto journalism, there are a laundry list of used car buyer’s guides that end up molderizing on shelves and stagnating on servers.

These self anointed guides will offer the typical consumer nothing of value except puffed up prose designed solely, and soullessly, to make you feel better about your own car buying biases.

Let me take that back. Did I say nothing of value? My mistake. I meant negative value. As in you’re probably going to get royally screwed if you ever take their advice. Here’s why…

1. The journalists who cover the used car side of the business for these publications typically don’t actually drive the cars they review. A lot of the used car buying guides out there are written by what would kindly be called, “sausage makers.” Journalists who take portions of new car reviews that are already on the web, and repackage them into re-hashed stale prose for the oblivious reader.

2. The other more experienced writers just don’t have any extensive frame of reference when it comes to used cars. They may have kept one to three personal drivers over the last several years, often times classic and custom builds, and that’s about it.  As a result they are stuck in the anecdotal world of, “Well Jack? I know this used car was good for the family member/neighbor/ local taxi company… so I’m sure it will be a good car for you.”

3. Then there are the lucky hundreds in our industry who are forever stuck in that heavenly shangri-la of combed over press fleet cars. They get the pleasure of driving a brand new car, with a full tank of gas, that is usually detailed and tended to by a “Media Fleet Management Company.” These folks will write the types of glossy prose that attract the eyeballs of new car buyers. Some are truly great with the craft and have a well-earned reputation with their audience. Others not so much.

As for the used car buyer? They are tended to by the sausage makers. Folks who will repackage new car reviews for the proverbial buck that comes with mild historic revisionism.

The sausage makers of our business will be dealing with the 2014 models in the years to come once the new car reviews get repackaged, and remarketed, to the used car audience. When it comes to their reviews, you will find the usual chunks of phrasing and rephrasing of information that is already out there. They will have everything the new car review had, and for good reason.

This lack of useful information is not uncommon at all for many industries (and companies) with hundreds to thousands of products available to the everyday consumer. My first job out of school was partially composed of writing glorified descriptions of Korean food for a food import company. I knew absolutely squat about foods like agar-agar or conch. What saved me back in 1995 was the very same thing that saves most used car reviewers of the modern day, an internet search engine.

We all have to start somewhere. Robin Williams has a fond saying when it comes to this type of behavior which he partially borrowed from P.T. Barnum, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, and jerk the rest off!” Automotive publications that attempt to cover the used car market, with a few notable exceptions, are to varying degrees, media driven jerk-off operations.

The reviews are designed to make you fall in love with a given product. Or at least cater to the bias confirmations within all of us. It’s a sound decision on paper given that the used car market tends to be anywhere between two to three times bigger than the new car market. It’s good business, which is why 98+% of most used car reviews range from the mildly positive to the exuberant.

So who can you trust when it comes to used cars?

You can typically only find a small part of the overall truth from two types of sources. Subscription based publications such as Consumer Reports and TrueDelta that actually sample and poll a large captive audience. These are good sources once the number of samples is reflective of a broad audience. You can also go more towards the anecdotal, with owner review sites such as and enthusiast sites that focus on a specific brand or model. The enthusiast sites have small audiences and a hopelessly inflated view of their daily driver, while Consumer Reports has limited data due to many of their respondents trading in their vehicles at a given point and time, instead of keeping them for the long haul.

It’s not an easy answer, and often times you have to piece things together. A lot of the cars that have been endorsed in times past as reliable and recommended during their early years (think older V6 Camrys and Accords, and a slew of VW products) were often times sitting on a firm foundation of data that only eroded with the irreversible wear of cheap materials and defective designs. That transmission which implodes around the 90k to 120k may seem like the proverbial rock of Girbraltar until that second or third car owner is given an unpleasant surprise way down the line of ownership.

Then what happens to their car? Two things. It gets repaired or traded-in. Contrary to popular belief, automakers won’t typically offer a recall, design improvement, or warranty extension unless it serves their long-term financial interests. That $2000 transmission you are about to pay for may offer the automaker more net profit than your entire vehicle did when new.

As for the second or third car owner goes who got their ride on the cheap? They are mere specklings of marketing dust in a cosmos where the real stars buy new (or certified pre-owned) and get the vehicle serviced at the dealership.

This brings me to what I see as the big question for enthusiasts and the everyday consumer. When it comes to researching a used car, where do you go? Who can you trust? Do the Consumer Reports, Carsurveys, and TrueDeltas of this world offer the content you need to make a sound decision? Or is it the enthusiast sites that highlight some of the more extreme issues and opportunities that come with buying a specific used car?

Should automotive publications that primarily serve the new car market be used as a frame of reference as well? Or do commerce based sites like Autotrader and offer more accurate information? Speaking of commerce, does resale price reflect the true worth of a used car or are there some hidden gems that simply don’t get picked up on the popularity radar?

As a longtime car dealer and Sabermetrics enthusiast, I am developing my own unique evaluation tools when it comes to measuring the overall satisfaction with used cars. What should be yours?


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Krugerrands For Clunkers Wed, 10 Apr 2013 15:31:01 +0000

This essay on Delicious Tacos, about the life and death of an $800 Mercedes-Benz diesel sedan, drove home one of the unfortunate realities of living in a snowy climate: it’s nearly impossible to find anything for $800 that hasn’t been completely consumed by oxidization.

For those who don’t have to deal with road salt, there are lots of vehicle choices available. Former EIC Niedermeyer told me that his first car was purchased for a few hundred dollars in cash. My friend Jake, who lives in Florida, was able to buy a very nice 1996 F-250 Powerstroke for about $3,000 – the same truck would cost at least 50 percent more up where I live, and would have some kind of rust that needed repairing.

An $800 budget is a tough budget to adhere to, but $1,600, or the price of one gold Krugerrand bought at a precious metals dealer, gives you a bit more breathing room. By comparison, the $5,000 budget set forth by Thomas seems opulent. In my area, Kijiji, not craigslist, is the go-to for buying or selling a car, and a quick search yielded a couple interesting prospects.

The first is an Infiniti G20. I’ve always had a soft spot for these cars, even though plenty of people disliked them. I don’t know where my affinity stems from, but I’ll blame it on too much exposure to early 1990′s Car and Driver, Motorweek and the fact that my neighbor had one with swapped-in Nissan Primera badges, before the “JDM” craze ever even hit. The white example has about 157,000 miles on it and is apparently mechanically sound, but has some cosmetic issues. For $900, I have enough left over to get a cheapo re-spray of the hood.

For those that are feeling brave, we have a true Steve Lang Mileage Champion – a 1995 BMW 525i wagon. With a stick shift. And 267,000 miles on the odometer. Apparently it runs well but needs “exhaust, brakes and body work [sic]” to pass our wonderful emissions and safety inspections. Now that I have access to a shop, the exhaust and brakes could be knocked off in reasonable time, depending on their severity. I’m not sure what kind of bodywork is needed, but I’m not optimistic. Nevertheless, something pathological has compelled me to email the guy and ask about it.

Granted, none of those cars are even worth as much as one krugerrand, which would seem to take away the whole novelty of paying in gold bullion. Luckily, the Royal Canadian Mint has a solution, with their half ounce gold coins. Or I could always pay with 4 Bitcoins.

If you live in a nice climate where the cars are free of salt, let’s see what you can come up with for less than the cost of a gold coin. If you live in a crappy climate and find something cool, post it up anyways.

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New Or Used? : Large Marge Don’t Want No Land Barge Edition Fri, 05 Apr 2013 10:31:53 +0000
Dear Steve and Jeev,

My girlfriend needs a car while in the midst of many other big financial decisions that severely limit her car budget. Here’s the situation.

She has access to a family owned Mercedes 380SL that has what I believe to be transmission issues. It’s dripping dark red fluid from right about where the transmission looks to be and it’s probably also leaking oil.

I’m handy, but I don’t think I’m money pit Benz convertible transmission and rear main seal handy. Then again it might not be so bad and might be a reasonable fix, until the next time it shoots itself in the foot. It currently doesn’t run and last time it was driven apparently exhibited the same problem it has for years, which is that if you don’t take it easy off the line it just dies on you.

So she needs a new car, but she needs something as close to under $4k as possible.

She also has specific tastes, though she’s somewhat flexible. (Oh boy! And here comes her laundry list! -SL)

Click here to view the embedded video.

Completely averse to Panthers (otherwise I wouldn’t have to write this email) and doesn’t want a Taurus ever (her grandmother drives one, it’s been nothing but misery).

Oh also, it can’t be a manual, which means anything remotely – Miata, 2002, Volvo wagon with ls1 swap – fun out of the question. I’ve been looking at Volvo 240s, 740s, 940s, 850s, overpriced Camrys and Accords, Corollas/Prisms and a lot of late 90s early 00s 4th and 5th gen Maximas and i30s. Also G20s and just for good measure the occasional Saab.

Click here to view the embedded video.

I’m very comfortable with the Maxima/i30 as my dad had one for 10 years and it’s what I learned how to work on so I know how to do any repair imaginable and problem areas plus they’re in abundance in this price range. I’m also intrigued by the Volvo option since you could easily sell it for the same you paid for it or more if there’s anything wrong that can be easily fixed.

As I said, I feel comfortable armed with a forum and a Haynes manual to do any reasonable repairs short of transmission rebuilds but I want something that’s easy and cheap to work on as possible. I know that the whole no domestics thing and crapshoot prices don’t help but what should she do? Find out how much the SL will cost to repair? Flush the transmission and hope for the best? What other cars should I be looking for that I’m missing. I assume craigslist is pretty much the only reliable source for these and that I’m buying a car for an owner not the car. Also, should she try to wait out tax season until prices come down, I’ve noticed that even on these sub 5k cars the prices seem higher than normal.

Steve Says:

How does she feel about a minivan?

I would suggest telling her that you want to fill one of those up and your problem should go away real quick. (Childish Giggling – SM)

Here’s the rub on this. Your girlfriend needs to stop looking at the popular cars with the unrealistic expectation of low maintenance and a low price. She wants a cheap Camry? Fine. You will find that the cheap ones are cheap for a reason. I have seen unfortunate souls spending dozens of weekends trying to find a popular car at a cheap price.

Most of them wind up anteing up thousands more than their budget allowed, and buying a popular vehicle with very high miles. Some people are OK with this outcome. The truth is that a better solution is there only if she is willing to adjust her expectations.

I would sit down together in front of the computer and go through the unpopular and orphan brands first. Visit carsurvey, Edmunds, here, there and anywhere else that offers reviews from actual owners. My recommendation is a late 90′s Buick Regal with the 3.8 Liter V6 and about 120k to 150k on the miles. Either that or an Explorer if she wants a bigger vehicle.

Get an older SUV if she doesn’t drive a lot. Or get an unpretentious middle-of-the-road sedan, with a keen eye on the powertrain combination, if her driving will be 10,000 miles or more a year.

Sajeev says:

The Benz might be worth a punt, but that’s only if she doesn’t need to drive very often. My guess is that this conditional statement is rather unrealistic. So the SL ain’t happening.

At this price, tough love is better than proper indulgence. She buys the vehicle with the cleanest interior, newest tires/brakes, the biggest wad of service receipts, and a character that isn’t completely offensive to her sensibility. That said:

“[She's] Completely averse to Panthers (otherwise I wouldn’t have to write this email)”

Come on Son, don’t make jokes like that! Has she not seen the best Music Video ever made on the face of the Universe?

I simply refuse to live in the real world believe that women cannot embrace Panther Love. And I know my man Lang agrees, he came up with the title! While my advice is true, there’s a good chance that the best vehicle for the price will also be a super tidy Panther.

But seriously, get the cleanest, best maintained, late-model, non-European machine you find…buy what she wants when she has more cheddar. Because getting what you want now only hurts you in the future.

Unless it’s a Panther.

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

Hello Steve,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Says:

A few things…

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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QOTD: Is This The Best Used Car Deal Today? Thu, 07 Feb 2013 14:00:35 +0000

Miata. E30. Panther. Is it time to add another nameplate to the Used Car Hall of Fame? Because the 2012+ Chevrolet Impala looks like a sure-fire winner to me.

TTAC reader (and sometime contributor) Andrew Bell has been a tireless advocate of the W-Body Impala, to the point where even our own Zackman looks like a halfway-committed dilettante. While discussing the latest Kelly Blue Book Total Cost of Ownership study, Andrew laid out the case for a one-year old Impala as the used car buy.

Not much to break on it really. The design is ancient. The new one with the 3.6 is one of the greatest deals on the market. 300+hp, Bluetooth, decent stereo, 4 wheel discs, <3700lbs, 6spd auto, power everything (windows, locks, auto-start, remote trunk, seats), <$15000 (2012 LT with about 30000km). <9L/100km with 87 octane, unstoppable in the winter, and cheap to insure.

Pricing for one of these cars runs from $13,445 for a base model LS ex-rental with about 34,000 miles, to $24,995 for a loaded LTZ with half the mileage. Since these are Canadian prices, they will undoubtedly vary compared to the United States. As Jack noted earlier this summer, The Impala may not be the most sophisticated or engaging car to drive, but for the price of a stripped out subcompact, you can have a nearly new full-size sedan with plenty of standard equipment, a legitimately well-engineered powertrain and halfway decent fuel economy (18/30/22 city/highway/combined mpg).

The Impala may not satisfy our collective desires when it comes to personal transportation, but as a mode of transportation for a college-bound younger sibling, a grandparent on a fixed income or someone like Andrew, who needs to churn out hundreds of highway miles each week visiting rural job sites, it’s hard to think of a better fit than the ol’ W-Body. According to Andrew, the Panther was a close second, but in the end, the front-drive layout and superior fuel economy were better suited to rural Ontario’s climate exorbitant gas prices.

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Question Of The Day: What Would Be The Best Car For A College Student? Thu, 25 Oct 2012 16:02:02 +0000

Every time you see them, a big smile shines across your face.

Full scholarship. Nice as can be. A good heart. Your wunderkind of a young adult has given you so much over the years and is now on the way to making this world a better place.

You want to help them by getting them some wheels for their new home away from home.

Will you pay for all of it? Pay for a portion of it? It’s a tough call. Decisions like these are never easy. Safe. Fun. Durable. Where can you find all three without spending too much?

You don’t want to spoil them. That’s for sure. But as an auto enthusiast who knows that a great car can be a reward all in itself, you do want them to experience a feeling of joy and satisfaction for their first solitary set of wheels.

Oh, one more thing. They have driven for several years without so much as an accident or a ticket. The big man upstairs says, “You’re welcome!”

So what would you buy? Better yet, should you buy?

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What Can You Buy That Costs Less Than A Bus Pass? Thu, 12 Apr 2012 16:55:55 +0000

After taking a look at product planning and marketing for new cars, it’s time to take a step back into the supposed domain of Generation Why; used cars. And not just any old CPO Audi or two year old Civic either. We’re talking beaters.

As a pure thought exercise, I wanted to see what kind of car could be had for less than the cost of a monthly transit pass in Toronto. An adult Metropass, purchased monthly, is $126 ($115.50 if you commit to buying one every month via a subscription). Assuming a budget of $1512, I hit the Kijiji, a craigslist-esque site owned by Ebay, but widely used for selling cars in Canada, to see what was out there. Yes, I know, gas prices, maintenance, insurance all matter. Thank you for that bit of wisdom. That’s not the point here.


1989 GMC Jimmy: 342,000 km but supposed “very clean”. $500

1996 Honda Odyssey: Supposedly has 100,000 km and a new engine. Sounds dubious, but I like them because I got shuttled around in one for a lot of my childhood. It’s basically a tall Accord wagon with a third row. $500

1992 Ford Aerostar: That bitch made him take THREE Aerostars! $500

 1990 Suzuki Sidekick Custom Buggy: This is real Canadiana. Probably not road legal. $500


1999 Honda Civic: Manual, fairly low mileage, lots of new parts. Can’t go wrong. $1200

1994 Ford Taurus SHO: Oh yeah, my Grandma had one just like that! $1400

1997 Ford F-150: You may need a truck in your life. $1000

1997 Acura EL. The sub and amp are $150 extra. Remember that.

$1500 – The cream of the crop

1989 Volvo 240DL: The classic “beater” car. $1500

1990 Acura Integra GS: Lots of new parts. Automatic. $1500

1987 Ford Crown Victoria: “Senior couple selling their well pampered Crown Victoria.” It’s Brown. Paging Sajeev.

2000 Nissan Maxima: These apparently have automatic transmission failures. Get it checked by someone more knowledgeable than your friendly neighborhood TTAC writer.

This is just a small sample of what can be bought on the cheap. There are literally thousands of beaters available under $1500. Not all of them are crap. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see a man about an Audi 5000 Quattro Turbo with a 5-speed…

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New or Used: Wagon + Stick = Trouble? Fri, 13 Jan 2012 13:32:43 +0000  

Aaron writes:

Hi! I’ll try to be concise.

I have a 2003 A4 manual sedan with 78K. I wanted a wagon but couldn’t find one and was in a hurry for wheels. Well, now I found one: 2003, manual, 107K. It’s at a dealer lot. Plus it’s got some desirable performance modifications, including exhaust.

The question: what will the dealer think of a trade? If my mechanic likes it i wouldn’t object to a straight trade, maybe even a (very) little cash from me if the timing belt is new. But are wagons with sticks and rumbly exhaust desirable? What’s it worth relative to mine? It seems like the similarity of the cars (same drivetrain, options, etc) should make this comparison location- and current market- independent.

I’m going to take the car for an inspection tomorrow, and offers may be made thereafter.

Steve Answers:

It depends on the condition and the history.

On the surface you would assume that a wagon with a stick would be a less desirable vehicle. But when it comes to a sporty oriented vehicle, there are plenty of buyers willing to row their own gears and go for the ‘unpopular’ body style.

Unfortunately for you Audi wagons aren’t popular. Just expensive.

When it comes to premium brands like Audi, I always look at condition first. Why? Because when it comes to picky buyers the condition is what sells it. I can convince a buyer to move from a station wagon to a sedan if that vehicle comes with something that most others do not.

Dealer records. A clean car with a perfect history. You may chuckle at all these dealer derived cliches, but the ease of sale and extra cash these models bring is very real in the retail marketplace.

Which brings me to the prior owner for this wagon. Do you know him yet? Do you plan on getting to know him? A thorough inspection will always uncover a few things. But the most important question to consider is, “Why did the guy get rid of his vehicle?”

I would strongly suggest that you try to get in touch with the prior owner and weigh it all in. Many dealers will tell you what you want to hear. But the prior owner can tell you what you need to know.

Good luck!

Sajeev answers:

Steve covered all the dealer angles of this, except for one: modified cars are death for resale and a nightmare on floorplan costs on a normal dealership.  This car is excellent fodder for a specialty tuner/hot rod shop, because they have an appreciation and the patience to wait for the right buyer. I am sure this car is awesome, it sounds like it’d certainly ring my bell. But I will play devil’s advocate for one reason: personal experience.

Even a Hot-Rod Lincoln fanatic like myself was a little put off when a supposedly “mint, granny driven” Lincoln Mark VIII at a local Hyundai lot actually had Flowmaster mufflers upon closer inspection.  Very few grannies want to hear the rumble of “flowbastards” in their ride, no matter how sweet it may sound on a 4-cam Ford V8. It seemed like a proper granny car that was bastardized by a second owner. My gut suggested I didn’t want to be the third owner of such a machine.  Which isn’t totally relevant to your situation, but there’s more.

The mufflers made the other minor flaws (interior trim abuse) a little more worrisome. The Mark VIII I wound up owning was truly stock, had a bona-fide service history (with recent repairs on typical fail points) but had cosmetic issues the flowmaster-Mark did not have…even then, I bought it. I modded it to my tastes and was much happier. And almost 10 years later, I have no regrets. Zero.

So when you combine these things:

  • Station Wagon
  • Old Audi, no warranty (i.e. this isn’t a cash cow like a CamCord, Tacoma, etc)
  • Stick shift
  • Modifications, including a “louder than stock” exhaust

You wind up with a vehicle that’s very hard to shift off a car lot. Odds are you are one of the few people interested in this vehicle.  But, if the car is as cool as you make it sound, the dealer might have you by the short hairs. That is, if you showed any interest in the modifications.

For your sake, I hope you frowned upon those modifications. I also hope the mods don’t imply that the car was abused: many a modified Audi is driven hard, making for a powertrain that’s frightfully expensive proposition to keep running. Clutches, axle shafts, transaxles, you name it! If you haven’t already, be a regular on the forums and get good with tools and service manuals.

My advice? Unless you are totally amazed by how it sits, get a stock one and modify it later.


Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
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Piston Slap: The Hawaiian Shirt finds Park Avenue Love Thu, 06 Oct 2011 17:17:57 +0000

TTAC commentator horseflesh writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Many moons ago you posted a question of mine on Piston Slap. As requested, today I can share the conclusion of the saga!

I actually wrote almost 1300 words on the story of Grandma’s Park Avenue for my own amusement, and to share with my friends. If you wanted to run all or any of the material on TTAC, you are more than welcome. I pasted it in below after the quoted old email. At the least, I hope you enjoy reading it!

Sajeev Answers:

I did enjoy it.  And quite honestly, I’d be a fool to add any extra commentary to a perfect story. So here it is:

horseflesh writes:

In October of 2010, I wrote to TTAC with a simple question: what’s the easiest way for a private party to sell a car for a good price? Today, I can present the delayed but triumphant conclusion to the story of Grandma’s 2005 Park Avenue—white with beige interior, super low miles, and only driven to the cardiologist on Mondays.

I got a lot of great advice from TTAC’s readers, with many votes going to AutoTrader and Craigslist. Still, I let the great white whale languish in my driveway for ten months. As I have always said, “procrastination pays off now.

Plus, I have to admit that I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of poling the Detroit barge down Washington State’s freeways from time to time. The hull also featured a cavernous, 4-body trunk that easily engulfed my model airplanes and other man-toys. Sure, Grandma’s Park Avenue couldn’t have felt any more numb if it was fuel injected with lidocaine, it had brakes like a freight train, it wallowed through turns like a hippo with vertigo, and it delivered an alarming jolt of torque steer when you stepped on the gas… but I was still enjoying it!

From mile 14888 to 17780, me ‘n’ Grandma’s Park Avenue had some good times on the high seas.

For one, I’ll never forget the time that I gave a German particle physicist a ride. My highly educated guest–who was a friend of my regular carpool companion, also a German–was sinking into the back seat’s leatherette upholstery when the Dynaride Suspension kicked in. The wheezing MmmrrrRRRRrRRRrrrrRRRR sound of the ride-leveling technology was no lullaby to his Teutonic senses, and he began to look alarmed. Do BMWs have ride-leveling? If so, it probably sounds like an ocean breeze, not a garbage disposal.

“Don’t worry, mein Herr,” I said. MmmRRRRrrr… “The vehicle is just leveling the passenger cabin.” MmmRRRRrrr… “That sound is perfectly normal.” MmmRRRRrrr… “The Dynaride system is capable of accommodating the fattest Americans,” I proudly added as the mechanism wheezed to a stop.

Silence filled the perfectly leveled cabin. “This isn’t my usual car,” I continued. “I only drive it once in a while. It’s really a car for older folks… people old enough to still be upset about the war.” Thankfully, the other German in my Buick managed to turn the conversation to high-energy physics, salvaging what could have been an awkward moment.

The Dynaride’s anemic groaning accompanied every engine start, but Grandma’s Park Avenue had another feature that was less reliable. I refer to the automatic headlight system, ambitiously named the “Twilight Sentinel.” Unfortunately, my Twilight Sentinel was apparently drunk most of the time, putting a more sinister figure on duty… the Twilight Assassin.

The Twilight Assassin was a cunning and ruthless foe, with the patience of the grave. He waited for night to fall… switched on the headlights, as if all was well… and then, when you least expected it, he turned them off. In the event of an attack, standard procedure was for all passengers to put their hands up and scream “TWILIGHT ASSASSIN!” until I yanked the manual headlight knob to banish the night once again. Good times!

I could have gone on dueling with the Twilight Assassin for many more months, but selling Grandma’s Park Avenue was the smart thing to do, and I resolved to get it done while the car was still in excellent condition. And in the end, I didn’t have to deal with AutoTrader or Craigslist at all, because I found the absolute best way to sell a car:

1. Buy a new BBQ
2. Invite a friend over for BBQ. Also, make sure he is an experienced used car lot sales manager.

It was one of this year’s three nice Seattle summer days when our friend Ron came over to the house to eat meat cooked over fire. Ron saw the Buick and we got to talking about my plans for it. “Let me see what I can do for you,” Ron said. “You’ll have a hell of a time selling a car like that yourself, because only Grandma wants that car and she isn’t online. So, what are the adds?” he asks.


“Add-ons. Options,” he says. I tell him the car is actually pretty light on adds, but describe the fun and excitement of the Twilight Assassin.

Ron checked out the car and quickly got in touch with a few used car dealers. “First, we’ll call Bob,” said Ron. “Let’s see what the light money is… Yeah, hi Bob, this is Ron from so-and-so of Seattle. Hey, I’m standing in front of this 2005 Park Av… White with beige guts, in the wrapper… The owners are friends of mine, an active young couple. Grandma left it to them, but they just don’t need a car like this and I wanted to help them out with an easy deal, and get them all the money in the world for this thing… Clear title, yeah. OK, I’ll text you the VIN.”

Bob’s offer was indeed the light money, but after five minutes and a few similar phone calls Ron has me another offer for $10,500, and a backup offer of $10,000. All I have to do is wash Grandma’s Park Avenue and drive it to a dealership where Keith, the used car manager will be waiting for it.

I’m happy with the price, but also curious about the business. “How much will Keith resell the car for?” I asked Ron.

“He’ll probably sell it for $14,000-16,000,” Ron answered. “If he has the right buyer, someone who really wants the car, it’s win-win-win!”

A few days later, I drove Grandma’s Park Avenue to the dealer to meet Keith. By chance, I parked next to a salesman with an older couple who were eyeballing some other bland sedan. Before I even stepped out of Grandma’s Park Avenue, the 60-something gentleman shopper in a Hawaiian shirt excitedly said, “is that car for sale?”

“Yes,” I said as I exited, “but I’m actually here to sell it to the dealer.”

“Wow, honey, look,” says Hawaiian Shirt, motioning to his wife. “It’s not even an Ultra, so it’ll run on regular gas!”

A moment later, my contact Keith was standing by my side. We introduced ourselves, and Keith gestured towards Hawaiian Shirt and said, “Can they take a look at it?”

“Sure,” I said, and gave the other salesman the key as I went inside with Keith to do paperwork. Fifteen minutes later, my business with the dealer was done. I had a big check and no more Buick.

While I was waiting for my ride, I watched Grandma’s Park Avenue pull in from a test drive. Hawaiian Shirt, his wife, and their salesman spent a long time walking around the car and talking. I took that as a good sign. I hope the dealership got $14,000-$16,000, and I hope Hawaiian Shirt and his wife got a car they love. Despite all my jokes about boats and occasional attacks from the Twilight Assassin, Grandma’s Park Avenue was a pretty good car.

That afternoon I called my grandma to tell her that I had sold her Park Avenue, and to thank her again for giving it to me when she stopped driving. I made sure to tell her that I thought the new owners were really going to love it. Grandma was happy to hear that. But I’ve never told her that I gave a couple of Germans a ride in her Park Avenue… After all, she might still be upset about the war.

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Piston Slap: The Grapes of Wrath, Revisited Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:44:59 +0000 A New Age?

A New Age?

Jeremy writes:

I would like to thank you for your website it is one of my primary sources for automotive information, I read new articles basically every day. And with that covered, this is for the most part a piston slap:

I currently own a 93 Ranger STX approx 108k on the 4.0L V6. I bought it used in about 2000. It has been a good truck and has served me well other than feeling quite sluggish and there being some slack in the transfer case (nothing abnormal from what I am told) It is in good shape and serves me well for driving around town and taking some miles off my 05 Focus ST.

I have been looking for and thinking about purchasing a used full size 1/2 ton pickup, so that I would have a truck more comfortable for road trips (I live 50 miles from the nearest 1000+ population town) and I would like to be able to lay 8’ panels flat. My current requirements are V8 (I need some pulling power for a boat, etc) anything other than a regular cab with an 8 foot box. Its tough to find such a machine being they end up so long and unwieldy. It would be in the garage more often than not and would be used more for the big jobs than anything.

Most trucks that I find people selling are asking 15k+ for a 4-5 yr/old truck approaching 100k miles. In the past 100k miles is the milestone where alot of vehicles like to nickle and dime ya to death so I have some concerns.

I have also been wondering if it would just be better to keep my ranger in good condition/spend some money restoring it.(transfer case rebuild, transmission when needed engine rebuild etc.) there is no noticable rust on this machine which makes that even more appetizing. Or should I just drive the ranger until the wheels fall off then weld em back on and do it again.

What are your thoughts?

Sajeev answers:

Jeremy, your experience isn’t surprising. Vehicles considered throwaways in 2008 are now in high demand: probably to the same people now struggling to stay in our shrinking middle class. Which punishes the people who demand a cheap car, taking me back to a phrase in my favorite chapter in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath:

“Get ‘em in a car. Start ‘em at two hundred and work down. They look good for one and a quarter. Get ‘em rolling. Get ‘em out in a jalopy. Sock it to ‘em! They took our time.”

Frankly, if you are seeing “15k+ for a 4-5 yr/old truck approaching 100k miles” in your market, the smart money is on buying a NEW full size truck for eight to ten grand more. This is sheer lunacy!

But if you can’t justify the monthly payment of a new truck, keep the Ranger. Aside from the towing prowess (no 5000lb boats), the 4.0L Ranger has everything you need. The mileage is low, which is good. Rubber parts (hoses, O-rings, etc) in places you may not consider will be a constant source of problems due to vehicle age. But this is a problem I can stomach far easier than the insane asking prices for used vehicles these days.

I wouldn’t stop looking for a full size truck, but I would go grassroots: avoid dealerships, sticking with private sellers who you might know, trust and could get a great deal without involving the brutal markup of the car trade in this current economy. Good luck with that, enjoy the Ranger in the meantime.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Piston Slap: The Fallacy of the Low Mile Original Mon, 16 May 2011 15:54:04 +0000

Lewis writes:

So I have been debating my next car purchase and am wondering your thoughts.
Does it make more sense to purchase an older low mileage used vehicle or a newer vehicle with high miles. An example would be let’s say a 1997 Jeep Wrangler with under 30K miles or a 2007 Jeep Wrangler with 95K miles.

Sajeev answers:

Please believe it’s a bad idea to buy a “low mileage used vehicle” if it’s over 10 years old. Maybe even over 7-ish years. Because, much like a living creature, the ravages of time are no joke. Factor in the money lost if you put a dollar figure on vehicle reconditioning downtime, and such creatures are better left to speculators looking for a future classic or a weekend cruiser.

You may never see this truth on a more mainstream car forum, but if you moderated for the past 11 years, old cars that are “like new” show up on a somewhat-regular basis. Pristine used Lincolns, babied all their lives by older folks, are bought by younger folks foaming at the mouth for an essentially brand new luxury car for pennies on the dollar. Then the problems creep up: dry rotted tires blow up on the highway, fossilized gaskets/hoses leak, neglected fuel systems, overlooked and LONG forgotten recalls haunt the new owner. Not to mention vehicle specific problems: long discontinued electromechanical bits and rotted air suspensions get awful pricey to put right with OEM-quality parts.

None of which are present on a car with a long service history and high mileage. When I (much to my parents’ dismay) resisted new car in favor of an 8-year-old Lincoln Mark VIII as my college commuter, they were even more upset when I wouldn’t seek ones with less then 100k on the odometer. But I know better: receipts for newish tires, shock mounts, control arms, and a well exercised powertrain were key. I bought mine in such condition with 117,000 miles: 8 years and 60,000 miles later, I’m still comfortable with my decision. To put it mildly.

Of course, a 1997 minimalist Jeep Wrangler isn’t an air-sprung Lincoln with buttery leather seats. But some of the basics still apply.

Let’s bring it home: the only reasons to buy an older car with low miles are because:

1. You’re foolish enough to start a collection of masterpieces from a lost era in motoring history.
2. Newer, far more advanced, vehicles don’t exactly shake your Etch-A-Sketch. So to speak.
3. You cannot find one with higher miles with a clean interior: that’s expensive to put right.
4. You have the drive/skills to replace parts not expected on newer vehicles: the wear items mentioned above and (maybe) big ticket bits like plastic-infused radiators.
5. You know an affordable, honest mechanic and maybe have a parts car or two stashed around your property.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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