The Truth About Cars » Used Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +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 Cars Crapwagon Outtake: The Island Of Misfit Brands Mon, 23 Jun 2014 14:58:11 +0000 00C0C_bD2Mrxzj3f3_600x450

Daihatsu’s American foray lasted just four short years, from 1988-1992. Roughly ten Daihatsu cars are still for sale – not bad, considering they probably didn’t sell many more than that in total.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration. Daihatsu apparently sold 50,000 cars over a four year span, with 200 retail outlets and a marketing pitch that hinged on “BMW-like quality” at rock bottom prices. Given that Daihatsu exited the US market some time before my 4th birthday, I have no idea whether any of this is true or not. B&B, please fill me in here.

What I do know is that you can buy a Daihatsu Rocky for about $4000. This example has just 106,000 miles on it, and is one of a now-extinct breed of three-door, BOF SUVs that aren’t made by Jeep. But waitthere’s more.

If you’re looking for something a bit more car-like, there are a number of three-cylinder Daihatsu Charades available, in varying states of crapiness. The lone sedan offering is looking a little oxidized, while this black hatch looks nice and clean, although the “salvage title” is a little scary. This white example promises 40 em pee gees, while this one sneaks in under the $500 LeMons threshold.

Thanks to Max (@2fast2finkel) for finding the Daihatsu Rocky

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Hammer Time: Memories of Metros Fri, 30 May 2014 04:01:59 +0000 metro1

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

A brand-new 1992 yellow Geo Metro convertible.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Old Peugeots at the auctions? Ebay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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Hammer Time: PT Cruiser? Mon, 19 May 2014 21:45:06 +0000 pt1


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

Not bad. Not bad at all.

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


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


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

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


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

So what to buy?

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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



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


Hi Steve,

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

Steve writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Hammer Time: Might As Well Go For A Soda Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:56:11 +0000 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 .

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New Or Used? : More Troubles With Old GM Tue, 08 Apr 2014 13:42:10 +0000 rogerhuyseen
A reader writes: 
I have a 2007 Pontiac G6 coupe which, up until last fall, had been a pretty decent car.
Then, in October, I had to replace a clutch and a flywheel ($1,700).  While the clutch was being fixed the driver’s side window stopped working and is now propped shut with wooden blocks.  Within a week the check engine light came on.  Friend who works at a GM dealership checked it (no charge) and determined it needed a air temp sensor.  The OnStar report also indicates that the ABS and Stabilitrack is not working and requires attention.  Then, about a week ago the key fobs and trunk release stopped working.  At first I thought it was ironic that so many things could go wrong at once, but now I wonder if all these problems are interrelated and somehow result from some kind of electrical bug.
Do you have any input on whether this could be the case and how expensive a fix could be?
In addition to these problems, the car also requires a ball joint, a tie rod end, and 4 new tires by spring (I have winters on it now).  This takes me to my second question, which is whether it is worth fixing this car or cutting my losses and buying something new.
I am really not keen on having another car payment, but if I do buy another car I would be looking for something used in the $10,000 to $15,000 range.  Because I live in Canada and have been experiencing the winter from hell, I would be looking for all-wheel-drive and would prefer a manual transmission.  This seems to leave the only options as BMW, Audi, and Subaru.  The only problem with those are the fear of ghastly expensive repair bills, particularly with the Germans, and especially considering these cars, at that price range, will have in the range of 125,000-200,000km on them.
So, the questions are, should I dump the G6 now and move on to something else?  Am I crazy for even considering the above-mentioned cars?  Are there other options available?
Steve Says
Your car is suffering from an acute case of Roger Smith syndrome.
This is a chronic disorder that is attributable to a bacteria known as planned obsolescence. All cars have it to varying degrees. However, certain defunct GM models that only existed to placate a bloated bureaucracy of bean counters are now the poster children of this disorder.
How do you cure your car?  By taking the current issues to an independent mechanic who is well regarded, and pay for those repairs. Window regulators, ball joints, tie-rod ends, ABS Sensors, all of these have shorter lives in a harsh environment. None of this is fatal for your Pontiac unless you are compelled to pay the new car dealer premium for fixing them all.
I would spend the $2000 (my rough estimate) since the car will likely sell for that much less with a propped up window, the ABS issue and the needed suspension work. If you just hate the car and want to go back to that merry-go-round of new car payments, that’s fine as well. But I am a card carrying member of the “fix-it” union, and your car is still worth far more alive than dead.
So fix it. Consider a nice seat or stereo upgrade at a local auto recycling center or Ebay. Give it a good detail, and pretend like it just came off the showroom floor. Because you know what? More than 99% of the good within this once new vehicle is still there.
You just have to bail it out… and remove those few parts that are old GM.
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New Or Used : To Fleet? Or Not To Fleet? Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:10:34 +0000
Hi Steve,

I really enjoy your articles.  Thank you.

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

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

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

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

It’s not the car. It’s the driver.

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

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

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

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


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Hammer Time: Portrait Of A Misdemeanor Thu, 27 Mar 2014 04:20:21 +0000 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.



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…


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.


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?”


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! Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:04:26 +0000 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.


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.


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.


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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Toyota Dominates Consumer Reports Used Car Recommendations Tue, 18 Mar 2014 13:07:02 +0000 2014 Toyota Camry

Several Toyota models dominated this year’s Consumer Reports list of used car recommendations, with 11 out of 28 overall belonging to the automaker’s Scion, Lexus and namesake brands.

Automotive News reports the 2011-2012 Camry and 2010-2011 Camry Hybrid among the best sedans between $15,000 and $20,000, while the 2006-2007 Lexus RX shares the same pricing space with the non-turbo 2009-2010 Subaru Forester. The 2004-2007 Prius, 2004-2006 Scion xB and the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix twins all took the $10,000 or less small car category, while the 2008-2009 Highlander Hybrid, 2011 Avalon and 2006 Lexus LS took their respective segment spots for vehicles between $20,000 and $25,000.

Overall, all but three of the 28 recommended used cars were made in Japan or South Korea; the 2011-2012 Lincoln MKZ, 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid and the aforementioned Pontiac Vibe were the only domestics to make the recommendation list.

Consumer Reports also unveiled their “worst of the worst” used car picks, where all but six were made by the Detroit Three, including the Chevrolet Cruze 1.8-liter and Impala, the Chrysler/Dodge trio of minivans, and the orphaned Saturn Outlook and Relay. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and MINI make up the remainder of the 21 picks to avoid.

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Should You Sell Your Car At Carmax? Fri, 07 Mar 2014 10:00:14 +0000 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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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, 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.


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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Boom, Bust, And The New Car Lust Tue, 25 Feb 2014 13:00:31 +0000

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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Hammer Time: Hey Taxi! Tue, 18 Feb 2014 12:00:56 +0000 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? Wed, 12 Feb 2014 20:01:15 +0000 littlebangtheory.wordpress


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

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

Here’s where my doubts creep in.

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

Any experience or stories ?

Steve Says:

Plenty of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crapwagon Outtake: The Wine Dark TSX Fri, 07 Feb 2014 14:00:11 +0000 $_20

The best part about working at TTAC has very little to do with the constant press car access, the barely-disguised graft known as “new car launches” or having various varieties of invective spewed at you by tens of readers each day. No, the real fringe benefit is that you are paid to spend a fair amount of your waking hours reading and researching about cars, and that includes browsing the online classifieds for strange and obscure cars.

I came across this gem during a break in a search for some oddbals to post on our forum’s Used Car section. I really like the TSX. It’s not the fastest, or the sharpest handling car money can buy. It’s certainly not the most prestigious, and it won’t impress the superficial types. But it just feels right, in a way that the ILX 2.4 (a very similar car on paper) does not. The fact that it’s an Acura is also re-assuring. This is the kind of car that you can hang on to for 15 years, safe in the knowledge that if the stereo conks out, your car won’t be immobilized either (see: BMW E46).

There’s a surprising number of manual transmission TSXs available near me, but this one jumped out due to its price and condition (both great, as far as I can tell) and for how awful the color and specification are. Whoever ordered this is a real oddball. It’s painted in a ghastly shade of purple that could charitable be described as “Merlot-from-a-screw-top-bottle), while the cloth interior fabric is as bland as it gets. But it also has a 6-speed manual.

This kind of car is arguably the least desirable TSX, from a retail perspective. I know this because I first saw an ad for the car in September. At the time, I put aside any notions of buying another car, let alone getting rid of my Miata.

The latter option is still unpalatable, but Jack’s accident has made me revisit one of the reasons I sold my first Miata (much to my regret): there’s a good chance that a collision with a modern car, truck or SUV would be very ugly for myself and any passenger I was carrying. Almost as ugly as the TSX’s color.

Of course, I am not the typical retail used car buyer, and for an enthusiast like me, that salesman’s floorplanned folly is a great opportunity for me. Cloth seats and purple paint aside,  big draw is that it’s a relatively affordable and reliable car with a manual transmission that is fairly fun to drive. Of course, if anyone asks, it’s burgundy, thank you very much.

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Hammer Time: Opposites Detract Thu, 30 Jan 2014 13:00:56 +0000 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: Is Reliability Getting Old? Thu, 16 Jan 2014 15:24:41 +0000 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“You can have any car you want. So long as it’s a Toyota or Honda.”

My parents had offered to split the costs of a new car with me back in 1994. That matching policy eventually included an awful lot of disclaimers and exclusions.

“No V8! No V6! No turbo! No stick! No convertible! No small car! No! Nein! Nyet!”

I eventually settled on a red Toyota Camry Coupe that served me well for 12 years and nearly 240k miles. It’s still on the road, which is funny because my brother, who had an equal bent on the Toyonda reliability supremacy, did something unusual recently.

He bought an Audi. Then he did something even stranger than that… he bought another.

Now the first Audi he bought was a lease. So that doesn’t count for very much. But the second one he bought outright for his college attending daughter. A sharp girl who simply couldn’t give two flips about the brand of car she drives.

It was a used, CPO, three year old Audi A4. Even with a few minor electric bugaboos, the car went out the door real quick. This car buying decision was highly unusual for a guy who kept up with cars and had bought nothing but new Hondas and Toyotas for nearly 30 years.

He knew all too well about the historical reliability issues with VW products. He even enjoyed the two Toyotas and one Honda he bought before going completely cold turkey on them about 10 years ago. When it came to spending that large chunk of cash on a daily driver, he crunched the numbers just like he always does on a spreadsheet, and checked off the usual must-haves.

But those numbers and wants yielded a final decision that was far different than those times of 10, 20 and even 30 years ago.

The 1984 Celica Supra. The 1994 Camry Wagon and the 2003 Honda Pilot have all given way to a 2012 Audi A6 and and a 2013 Audi A4.

I can see three big reasons why this happened.

The first is the length of warranties for used cars Certified Pre-Owned programs. The pushing of long-term warranties into the late model used car market have enabled brands that were once reliability pariahs, to become unusually competitive to today’s once untouchable reliable brands.

The removal of repair risk is a game changer for car buyers like my brother. Just as the Treasury guarantees their notes regardless of the current debt, that CPO warranty is guaranteeing the manufacturers product regardless of it’s potential repair issues. That vehicle may have thick black dots on Consumer Reports. Or even a long list of complaints about a specific mechanical issue that is a mere Google search away. It doesn’t matter, at least for right now. Because all those parts that may go south are covered to a further extent than the boring new car alternative.

The consumer’s perception of a CPO vehicle is that the warranty will make the repair costs for that sporty, fun, prestigious vehicle similar to the most drop dead boring, toaster personality, reliable competitor. Perception is often the only reality that matters in the marketplace, which is why late-model European models in particular have largely adapted a process of catering to the lease crowd first and the CPO seeking customer later.

So why buy a new boring or cheap car when a three old fun-to drive alternative offers more bang for the buck and a better warranty? For those who are used to trading or selling their car once it hits 100,000 miles, the broadened CPO programs have greatly expanded the scope of vehicles that are considered reliable enough to handle that mileage period.

The second reason for the decline of reliability based car buying, is that cars are increasingly  seen as a durable goods in the marketplace. Old diesel benzes, Volvos, Toyotas & Hondas were once the gold standard  for those who were seeking long-term car ownership.

Now, even the worst brands are assumed to have lifetimes well into the double digits. Some may last as long as 15 or 20 years in many parts of this country.

There is a long list of legitimate reasons why this has become the case. The institution of lean production methods. The development of polymers, petrochemicals and other materials that have longer lives and better resistance to age and wear. Even the shuttering of unprofitable brands has enabled certain manufacturers to focus more on the quality of their offerings, instead of what could kindly be called a pointless plentitude of cosmetic primpings.

There are countless honest to goodness reasons why the 10 to 15 year old car of today is seen as capable of lasting 20 years or beyond, and that psychological reality has made reliability seem to be more of a rule and less of an exception.

The final issue I will cover here (I’m sure all of you will chime in with other good ideas) is that the internet has essentially wounded the standard bearers of reliability information in the automotive industry. I can go to and find over 100,000 feedbacks from folks who have actually owned and kept specific vehicles. Edmunds, Yahoo!, MSN, Kelly Blue Book, a long, long list of automotive sites that provide information to a mass audience now offer reliability information and insights for essentially nothing. Want to go deeper? There are hundreds of enthusiast sites that make the car buying experience as detail driven as you want it to become.

You don’t need to subscribe to anything. You don’t need to wonder what the real difference is between a half blackened oval and an almost fully blackened oval with a strange dot in the middle. You can read actual personal feedback from folks who have owned the specific model that interests you and if you want to learn more, just keep reading… and reading…

This access to knowledge has changed not only what people buy, but what they’re willing to spend. A young person may not have a fondness for older cars in the beginning of their search for a daily driver. But if they reads a long list of happy feedback from a brand that is defunct, or a model that is no longer sold, that consumer may just decide that the popular reliable car is not worth what could amount to a near five-figured price premium.

A 15 year old so-called beater car, at least according to the information in front of them, can do the commutes just as well as a five year old car that would put them in debt. So why not? After all, many of those older beater cars still look great, drive well, and last for the long haul.

There are a long list of reasons why reliability is becoming more of a given and less of a means to differentiate one car over another. So feel free to share your thoughts, and to those of you who offered me a Happy Birthday yesterday, thanks. I am still thankfully young in what may very well be a long, long period of middle-age.


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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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Electric Vehicles Suffer Depreciation Harder Than ICE Counterparts Fri, 27 Dec 2013 16:01:36 +0000 2013-Tesla-Model-S-fire-2

Driving a new car off the lot takes off 20 percent immediately upon leaving the dealership, so it goes, but for EV owners looking for some green for being green, they may wish they’d bought a Toyota Camry instead.

At the request of USA Today, Kelley Blue Book projected the residual values of EVs over a five-year period in comparison (for most cases) with their diesel, gasoline and hybrid brethren. The results? A much lower overall residual value for the pure electric models according to KBB Director of Residual Consulting Eric Ibara. One of the worst offenders mentioned, the 2013 Nissan Leaf (which has no petrol-driven sibling at all) will hold only 13 percent of its $28,000 base price by 2018, while a Sentra SL will keep 36 percent of its $19,500 base in the same period.

The causes? Discounts, incentives and federal tax credits, for one; though owners might not feel the pain as hard when they return their lease to the dealership thanks to heaping helpings of these financial goodies, the overall effect hurts residual values in the same way too much candy hurts your little one’s tummy and teeth. The other is that consumers want to own a new EV more than they want to pick up a Leaf that may need a new battery sooner than later.

Those who opt for plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt or Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid, will fare better come re-signing at the dealership; the latter will keep 37 percent of its value versus 41 percent for the gasoline-only model. Overall, however, the EV market is still in its growing pains, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

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Hammer Time: The ‘Almost’ Car Fri, 27 Dec 2013 13:00:52 +0000

“You know, I always wanted a…”

Those words are about as common as kudzu at my Georgia car lot.

They aren’t usually reserved for the late model vehicles though. When it comes to the primary drivers, customers are always willing to fork out the money for their dream car.

It’s the second older dream car, or third-string beater dream car that slides down the scale from want to nothingness.

You know what the most popular ‘almost’ car is these days?

Big cars.

The shape or form doesn’t really matter. You have everything from full-sized luxurious chrome ridden mastodons, to bare bones rugged rock climbers whose only real weekend exercises will come in the form of jumping curbs and cutting out the Mini Cooper at the Starbucks.

If it’s big and old, a car lover won’t want to drive it every day. But they will certainly love to have the dream of owning.

Folks love to have the space, utility and luxury of a vehicle that can handle all their 1% jobs. Even if the money is not there… for now…

An older Silverado or F150 that could handle the towing of their imaginary boat. The minivan that can help them become collectors and hoarders. Even the once reviled, but now older SUV, is finally at that price point where car shoppers can kick the tires, daydream, shrug, and walk away.

As the years go by, there are fewer and fewer of those ‘good’ older wonders to buy. For example, up to a few years ago, I used to get anywhere from three to six older 240′s a year whether I wanted them or not. Now it seems like this next year may be my one last good chance to own a well-kept Volvo 240 now that the youngest one is a mere whisker away from the drinking age of 21.

For folks in the car business, the rear view mirror of longing for us long-timers is fading into the firmament of long lost glories such as the 1st gen Lexus LS400 and the Mistubishi Eclipse GSX. When we find them in good shape, we often pay a pretty penny just for the privilege of temporarily owning it.


I have been lucky as h-e-double hockey sticks


A drop dead gorgeous 1995 BMW 540i that I recently bought. Another 'almost' car that is still looking for a good owner.

A drop dead gorgeous 1995 BMW 540i that I recently bought. Another ‘almost’ car that is still looking for a good owner.

to have the pleasure of taking out near immaculate 20 year old rides, and giving them a few days worth of personal sentimentality before unleashing them to the next owner. Then again, I haven’t sampled everything quite yet.

For some strange (healthy?) reason, I never had the pleasure of buying an early 90′s Range Rover or, on the opposite side of the ledger, a Lotus Espirit. I am sure that either one would be a complete money loser for yours truly. But that doesn’t mean I won’t blow my financials brains out in the near future by buying one.

If it was on a bedroom poster back when I was a teenager, I want it, and chances are you’re in the same exact boat of old-school contentment.


So what out there represents your ‘almost’ car? We all aspire to the right lottery jackpot and a one of a kind Ferrari. But given your current means and ends, what out there makes you say, “Hmmm… just maybe… someday, that will be mine.”

Just not today.



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Hammer Time: An Old Pair Of Boots Wed, 04 Dec 2013 13:00:29 +0000

Imagine you’re going on a 27 mile hike over the course of three days.

It’s a long journey ahead. Hills nearly as big as mountains. Wet and slippery ground everywhere.

And the sun? It can beat you down to the point where you feel as ragged as a wore out mop. There will be no hiding from the obstacles ahead. None.

Now imagine if your partner for this journey came up to you, and the first words he blurted out were, “Those are some nice boots you have! But I got a killer deal on mine.””

Would you think they were, well, a schmuck? To put it lightly?

Now consider this…

Every car buying decision can be summed up in four simple words.





Deals don’t matter. Really. Take it from a guy who does this for a living. Buying a car, and keeping it, just because you got a good deal for it, is almost always the mother of all future regrets.

As a personal example, I once bought a 1993 Subaru Impreza for $25 that surprisingly ran like a top after I replaced the battery and the shiftlock mechanism. It had been in the inop lane of a nearby public auction with nary a glance of interest from anyone else.

I was inspecting over 10,000 vehicles a year for a finance company, and had the fortune of having the right car in front of me at the right moment. Except the Roo’ had one small issue. I hated driving it.

I hated the thin sheetmetal. The sound of the engine. The cheaper than tupperware interior. It just rang all the wrong notes for me whenever I turned the key.

But that wasn’t true for the man who wound up buying it . The guy who bought it from me on Ebay was a long-time Subaru enthusiast, and knew these cars better than I ever will.

He flew all the way from California to Atlanta, and drove it nearly 2500 miles back to Orange County.

Then he drove it for another 50,000 miles. After which, he likely used it as a parts car since he was a Rally Coordinator for Subaru.

He bought a 9 year old Subaru with 168k miles for all of $1576 (plus the auction fee) on Ebay.

Did he get ripped off? Did he get a killer deal? Does it really matter?

No, nein, and nyet! He bought what he liked, and let the laws of commerce take their course. That’s it. Game over, and everyone involved left with a nice smile on their face.

That’s how car buying decisions should work in the real world… and this story also serves a greater purpose as it relates to the tired old  buy new vs. buy old arguments.

Value, is usually not something you can mathematically calculate when it comes to your passions. If you find yourself bragging about the dollar bills you saved by buying x vechicle over y vehicle, that’s fine.

But you’re not acting like an enthusiast. You’re a frugalist, and very likely a delusional one. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s call things a spade instead of bullshitting about how frugal it is to buy a new or old sports car.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have enjoyed my share of victories serving those who are tried and true enthusiasts. As for my losses, one I can’t forget was a stomach-churning $1500 loss on a SAAB 9000 CSE  that also, thankfully, wound up with the right owner.

No matter what I did to that SOB of a car, it just wouldn’t run right. I began to think that SAABs came out of the factories with blinking check engine lights.

Then it finally found the right caretaker and nearly 12 years later, it’s still running like a top.

God I hate those things!

A lot of folks want advice on buying a car. Heck, I’ve republished a series about it for six years now.

So instead of posting yet another testament to personal victories (and notable incompetence), let me spare you all the false bravado and simply offer ten classic sayings for this holiday season, finely wrapped in a long forgotten Hammer Time of yore.

Hopefully that will help you or your friends buy that next best car.

1. Buy what you like. Life is too short for cheap boots.

2. Be honest with yourself. Are you a trader? Or a keeper?

3. Traders either specialize, like I did starting out. Or they try to ride the wave of new car fashions.

4. As for the keepers? They usually pay less in the long run.

5. Depreciation kills,  monthly payments stink, and everyone from the tax man to the insurance companies favor the economics of a well kept used car.

6. Want cheap? Buy a Corolla.  A car that is made cheap won’t stay cheap.

7. Before you consider any car, new or used, get feedback from actual owners of that vehicle. The media will only tell you so much.

8. Enthusiast forums in particular can better help you navigate the path of ownership.

9. As for lowering long-term cost? The best recipe is investing in quality parts. Because there is nothing wrong with a quality product

10. That can’t be made right with quality product. 

Now having said that, I now need to get rid of a thrice repoed, 12 year old Dodge Intrepid. Any takers?


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Hammer Time: Stereotypes Tue, 03 Dec 2013 15:56:42 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Video contains offensive language — JB

“Sweetie, please don’t tell them I’m a car dealer.”

“They already know Steve. Oh, before I forget, Jeff will be asking you where to find a cheap transmission for his Dodge Caliber.”

“Hmmm… you know what? I think maybe I should change my name to Siri. I could have the guys pull my finger and the women…”

“No you won’t! And don’t go on about fixing Johnson Valves and torquing your nuts. And please, don’t brag about your John Holmes drill either.”


The truth is I never say any of these things. At least when I’m sober. I’m way too nice of a guy in real life.

However, I’m also not much for conversation at party gatherings when it comes to cars.

Movies? I love em’.

Sports? I don’t mind, but love there has come and gone.

Politics? Religion? Well, throw in sex and I may just swim through that morass of moralism.

Cars I deal with all day. I drive em’, buy em’, fix em, fix them again, detail them, and then I get the pleasure of having them sit and molderize before sending them down the road.

One interesting by-product of the variety of my work over the years, is that I can be introduced in different ways at parties. My brother Paul, who can read social signals better than anyone I have ever met, is particularly good at figuring out who can add what value to a conversation at a party. He’s what we refer to in my business as a ‘connector’. Always bringing people together, and managing it all like it’s a natural by-product of socializing.

The way he introduces yours truly at these parties is almost always a signal.

For example….


“That’s my brother Steve. He sells cars.” – My brother Paul, bless his ever so cunning Long Island heart, has a wonderful way of helping me avoid unwanted conversations.

Just let em’ know that I’m a used car salesman.

Used car salesmen are extreme social lepers in social gatherings where status has any level of importance. It’s like saying you’re a telemarketer or an IRS agent. Just watch your audience recoil and let Mother time handle the rest.


“That’s my brother Steve. He’s into cars.” – Now I get to be in problem solving mode. Chances are the person needs to buy a car or has a mechanical issue with their vehicle. If I’m familiar with it, great. If not, I just refer them to enthusiast sites for the given brand and model.

Nearly every time I buy a used vehicle that hasn’t been in my inventory for a while, I will revisit these forums and type in “most miles”. Weird hobby, but I just enjoy hearing stories about cars that are kept for the long haul.


“That’s my brother Steve. He used to own an auction.” – Until 2010 I had a 50% share of the profits of an auto auction in South Atlanta. I wound up picking the wrong partner (long story there), but the by-product of this is that Paul is trying to draw me into a conversation that will likely either involve buying or selling.

It’s a good opportunity to tell stories about $21 Dodge Daytonas or a $20,000 Vladimir Kagan tables, depending on your audience.


“That’s my brother Steve. He’s the auctioneer.” – I used to work in the auction staff of five to seven different auctions. All of which were weekly deals except for a powersport sale (think motorcycles and ATV’s) which was once a month. I started out a ringman, worked my way into becoming an auctioneer at public and impound auctions, and eventually became a remarketing manager for  a few years at Capital One Auto Finance.

If I’m introduced this way, the hidden signal I’m given is to entertain. Someone will likely ask how I do an auction chant, or how to get a great deal. Harmless questions, with plenty of good stories to share.


“This is Steve. He’s a writer.” – My wife is pretty good at letting me leave the orbit of the car business. Her friends are writers, artists, intellectuals… and moms.


A lot of us have worn the hats of different professions and personal interests. Accountants, zoologists, botanists, the world we dwell in is as varied and unique as pizzas with pineapples and anchovies. So let me share a thought with you folks. What work have you done? And if you can vaguely recall, what was the reaction of your audience when you shared it with them? Feel free to throw in former girlfriends, loved ones and those ever so judgmental parents into the usual party mix.


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Capsule Review: Porsche 911 GT3 (996 Vintage) Sun, 24 Nov 2013 14:00:04 +0000 IMG_1167

Over an uncharacteristically lazy Labor Day weekend, I found myself chatting with Derek Kreindler about subjects near and dear to the apex of TTAC’s masthead:  semiotics, the musical oeuvre of John Mayer, and – briefly – automobiles. Given my mild disappointment with Porsche’s newest mid-engined cars, he suggested a Porsche 911 GT3 from the 996 generation, pronouncing it “certified badass.”  I protested that they were quite rare, and I’d never had the opportunity to drive one, but I’d check local listings to pacify him.  Lo and behold, there was a Speed Yellow example on a used car lot less than 10 miles away from me.  I called and confirmed that the car was still available; I could test drive it provided I arrived at the dealer within 30 minutes.  I was out the door before the receiver went dead.

When I arrived at the dealer at the tail end of a slow Saturday afternoon, one of the few remaining employees offered “you probably know more about these cars than I do.”  I was assured that this was the case when he pulled the car around and encouraged me to go for an open-ended test drive alone, a 24 year old given the keys to a searingly Speed Yellow, barely domesticated $60,000 race car with a weighty clutch and 380bhp unbridled by any electronic nannies to save me from tears and expensive bodywork.  I had also watched  this marketing clip just a few hours before; alas, I was unable to make it to Road Atlanta that day, but it was quite easy to imagine doing so in the future:

Click here to view the embedded video.

The 996 model years are roundly criticized by detractors for a variety of reasons:  the abandonment of air-cooling, the arrival of thoroughly modern chassis and interior designs that killed the charming anachronisms unique to the 911 genus, and those unfortunate headlights.  Fortunately, the GT3 version of the car is the most handsome of its contemporaries, with a subtle yet purposeful aerodynamic bodykit and a stance that is unmistakably motorsport-derived.


After taking in the car’s sheetmetal and brilliant paintwork, it was time to drive away lest the dealer representative change his mind.  A previous owner had chosen to retrofit the seats that many GT3s abroad enjoyed from birth; affectionately called “Dumbo seats,” they cost well over $5,000 including shipping, provided you can find a pair.  They are veritable hip-huggers and quite form-fitting for a Southerner who’s fond of fried chicken.  Nevermind, once ensconced within – you sit “in” them rather than “on” – they offered tremendous lateral support and transmitted every scintilla of feedback to my posterior.  Unfortunately the rest of the interior was a letdown, all amorphous plasticky curves, bereft of the never-obsolete quality that oozes from the earlier air-cooled cars.

Screen shot 2013-09-02 at 4.45.32 AM

GT3s of all generations eschew the vestigial 911 rear seats in favor of a natty placard reminding you what type of car you’re driving, as well as an expanse of carpeting into which the finest of used car dealers will vacuum an attractive stripe pattern if you ask nicely.


Left foot firmly on the non-floor-mounted clutch pedal, I inserted the key – still on the left – and cranked the engine.  After a whirr from the starter, the engine barked before settling into a clattering, lumpy idle, in the fashion of the air-cooled engine introduced in the 964, from which the Mezger engine inherits much of its base architecture.  Among the 996 attributes I cataloged above, an additional criticism leveled against the car relates to the fragility of the all-new engines fitted to the standard, “cooking” Carreras, which were somewhat prone to unexpected, catastrophic failure.  Fortunately, the Mezger engine is the descendant of decades of motorsport glory, so it avoids those issues, although it has some minor issues of its own (chiefly, the weeping rear main seal that plagues garage queen cars).  Gingerly testing the clutch pedal, I pulled into traffic.  The GT3, with its low ride height, heavy clutch, and recalcitrant shifter was not exactly at home in the bump-and-grind traffic found in the land of strip malls, fly-by-night buy-here-pay-here used car lots, and Compramos Oro enterprises, so I made way for a nice office park nearby.

The first chance to test the car’s abilities came on a downhill cloverleaf ramp.  Predictable 911 traits surfaced as the front end washed wide before the rear end hooked up, giving the first opportunity to test the powertrain as I merged into traffic.  The flat-six’s lungs engulfed oxygen as the revs soared, the gruff induction noise giving way to the mechanical rattle and hum of symphony in the key of P-flat as redline neared, before I slotted third gear, then fourth… at which juncture I confirmed the stopping power of the binders; sufficient to leave welts where the seatbelt met flesh.  As thrilling as the powerplant was, it was let down a bit by the gearbox; Porsche chose to fit the “base” GT3 with a dual mass flywheel, reserving the racier single mass, lightweight flywheel for the GT3 RS, a car not offered on our shores in 996 guise.  After fitting the more aggressive clutch and flywheel assembly to my car, I’d argue that the minor refinement compromises – audible gear lash at idle and low revs – would suit the nature and character of the high-revving GT3.  Furthermore, the 996 GT3′s shifter features somewhat long throws and imprecise engagement, demerits rectified in the later 997 generation of the GT3.

Once at speed on a section of I-75 that I know quite well, the compromises of the GT3′s chassis revealed themselves.  Although the longer wheelbase of the 996 reduced the tendency of the 911 to porpoise over bumps, and the superior dampers provided body and wheel control that embarrassed my 993, the ride was extraordinarily firm, inducing a wince at every surface imperfection and expansion joint.  Fortunately I only had to travel a few miles before I reached the office park I had in mind – a loop of nearly a mile that rises and falls as it winds around a leafy complex full of anonymous office buildings along the Chattahoochee river.

After a cautious exploratory lap of the deserted office park, I pushed a bit harder on subsequent circuits.  Once apace, the characteristics that were vices on the highway became virtues; the chassis provided supreme mechanical grip at reasonable public road speeds, the steering was sublimely tactile, weighting up and – crucially – unweighting with remarkable clarity and fluidity, the helm positively shouting its feedback where my 993 whispers and modern Porsches are absolutely mute.

The GT3 was a physical, intense drive, snaffling over bumps and cambers with the rear end poised to step wide at the slightest provocation, perhaps attributable to its Pirelli tires of unknown age or provenance.  Once used as intended, the entire car resonated with unmistakable, pur sang race car heritage.  After a few more loops I returned the GT3, reflecting on Porsche Motorsport’s ministrations on the 996 as I re-traced the earlier route in my familiar 993.  A lengthier sojourn would have provided more opportunity to assess the car’s range of abilities in situations both mundane and special, but I was able to form a sufficient opinion of the car in a brief period of time.  Although the car shone brightly in a spirited environment, its optimization for that narrow usage rendered it torturous as a daily driver candidate, my intended use for any car I might purchase.

Screen shot 2013-11-23 at 11.45.30 PM

David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University. Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta.  A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.


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Hammer Time: The TI-QI Top Ten Sat, 23 Nov 2013 03:17:34 +0000 impala2

At what point are you willing to accept a low-ball offer for your old beater?

Is it when the tranny blows out? Or does it eventually come through the scourge of rust, and the constant breaking of electric doo-dads that no longer work all through your doo-dah-day?

Some folks simply get bored of their ride. While others just try to drive their cars until their bodies become the rolling representation of swiss cheese.

Everyone has a reason to curb a car. Thanks to the efforts of Nick Lariviere (<— Click the link!), and the cooperation of an automotive conglomerate with more money than some state governments, I now have 257,020 purely anecdotal examples of this type of personal decision making.

I now need to figure out one simple thing.

What does all this data tell me?


Well, for one thing, I’ve figured out that a lot of this information reaffirms my past prejudices about what tends to be worth buying at the whoelsale auctions, and what vehicles should be avoided at all costs.

So what to buy used then? OK. Here are the top ten most reliable used vehicles according to the TI-QI Index.


1. Lexus LX Series

Lexus LX

Quality Index Rating:  8.09

Sample Size: 230


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

See how that little yellow hump peaks at right around 200,000 miles?

These vehicles are the automotive version of granite. They are heavy as hell, don’t age, and will most assuredly squash off whatever vehicular bugs and cockroaches are on the road should the Zombie Apocalypse ever take place.


2. Toyota Land Cruiser

Quality Index Rating:  7.42

Sample Size: 183


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues


The Land Cruiser would be the Toyota of Lexuses if  Lexus had a Toyota that wasn’t already a Lexus. See what I mean? Not really? Neither do I.

Just look at that nice big yellow wave of space after the two intersection points and forget I ever wrote that.


3. Ford E250

Quality Index Rating:  6.37

Sample Size: 109


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

The van of choice for locksmiths, utility workers, parts haulers and a highway beacon for young ambulance chasers who can’t afford their daytime TV commercials just yet.

I have a theory that when Comcast and AT&T are forced into the bankruptcies they rightly deserve, these vehicles will follow them into extinction.

Every one of them drinks gas like an old Lincoln, and there is already a massive glut of these vans in the used car marketplace.

You can’t kill em’. But like minivans, the buyer base is shrinking.


4. Lexus LS

Quality Index Rating:  5.99

Sample Size: 561


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

Okay, the orange hump represents all the vehicles traded in before the Lexus on average.

The yellow bulge after the intersection point represents all the LS models that are kept for the longer haul. Note the substantial difference in the 250k to 300k zone.

Green means great. Yellow means good. Red means Suzuki.


5. Dodge Sprinter

Quality Index Rating:  5.94

Sample Size: 43


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

Okay, 43 vehicles don’t exactly offer a big slice full of data. What matters here is the name. Dodge.

Dodge, as in thankfully nowhere near a typical Dodge. It’s a Mercedes that was once sold as a Freightliner and is now just a turbodiesel Benz in drag.


6. Toyota 4Runner

Quality Index Rating:  5.8

Sample Size: 1626














Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

Another Toyota SUV that consumes gas with aplomb. These things are less economical than a Town Car, and almost as good looking, but that doesn’t matter in the end.

If the LX and Land Cruiser are the king of SUV’s on an international scale, then the 4Runner is Gollum equipped with a jedi sword, an UZI and a chainsaw.


7. Toyota Avalon

Quality Index Rating:  5.15

Sample Size: 1125

Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues


You see a trend here? That’s right! The first five vehicles are all built on truck and SUV platforms, and the other two can cause numbness of the extremities.

What helps the Avalon is that the first two generations were insanely over-engineered, and most mature folks like to drive their ride with a tap instead of a stomp.


8. Lexus GX

Quality Index Rating:  4.93

Sample Size: 251


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues


What the hell is a GX? Lexus needs to stop using acronyms and start using names such as, “Endurante” and “Hedgehog”.

On second thought, maybe GX is perfectly fine.


9. Ford Excursion

Quality Index Rating:  4.9

Sample Size: 279

Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues


The Ford Canyonero really isn’t an SUV. It’s the future of family housing after the US government decides that free enterprise is too expensive.


10. Saturn LS1

Quality Index Rating:  4.88

Sample Size: 57


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

Who? What? Huh?

Well, I have this theory… GM designed these Saturns to run on meth.

At least it seems to attract that type of customer base in my neck of the woods. I have one of these that’s now on it’s third run through with the local meth clientele.

The first customer had a wife and kid on meth. The second was a user of meth, and the third is a distributor of meth.

When I first got it, my wife liked the color and wanted to keep it. But it never ran quite right for her. It needed meth.

As soon as I fixed the fuel pump and retailed it, no problems. It has gone through three addicts so far and has taken more abuse than the local public defender. Still runs fine.

Why? It must be the meth. I can think of no other reason why it’s in the top ten.

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