By on May 10, 2009

We now have two hybrids on our lot. It won’t last and, trust me, I know that. But I’ve always tried to buy low and sell high when it comes to cars, and non-Prius hybrids are actually reasonable these days. The car in question was a 2001 Honda Insight that was offered by a domestic dealership that had little experience with the product. The check engine light was on (recall related), the A/C was blaring ($35 of tint solved it), and the retail price was a bit prodigious ($6988 with 145k miles). They had a sealed bid sale and I got it for $4001.

I’ve always believed in the words of Wee Willie Keeler who was fond of saying, “Hit em’ where they ain’t.” There are LOTS of aint’s out there these days. VW dealers trying to sell Ford minivans. Toyota dealers selling Lincoln LS’s. Even impound lots that find themselves with three-car haulers and scooters aplenty. On average, there’s always a greater opportunity to secure a good deal on a product when you know more about it than the fellow across the table and the competitors are few (and friendly). Especially if your choice just happens to be the unpopular choice.

Last year I started changing my own inventory to reflect this. I loaded up on minivans and unpopular Detroit sedans and did very well. They’re easy to finance and simple to repair. Before I started financing vehicles, I bought a lot of “wanna-bes”: Volvos, Subarus, Saabs, Infinitis (pre-2003), and large domestic sedans with conservative leanings made up my inventory.

Over time, though, they got expensive at the dealer auctions. Folks these days are now looking for that social cachet that these second-tier luxury models bring. Rather than fighting that raging river of higher prices and lower margins, I found calmer waters in lower-end financed vehicles. So far, so good. However, if the torrent of consumer demand changes, I may have to explore brand new niches. Like that car hauler.

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27 Comments on “Hammer Time: Gaining New Insight...”


  • avatar
    improvement_needed

    so, how much you gonna sell it for?

    Also: – care to do a ‘review’ with a particular emphasis on how the battery assist performs on an 8 year old car?

    Thanks!

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I love this series. This is what I’d love to do when I retire in 8 months.

    • 0 avatar
      2001 insight mt5

      A 5 speed 1st generation insight is infinitely more fun to drive than any prius. Unlike a prius, an insight is made entirely of aluminum and plastic and weighs almost a thousand pounds less than a prius. It’s fun to throw it around the corners while selecting gears. 2nd gear is good for 60mph btw. You can drive it like you are at the Indy 500 and still get better than 50mpg. If you’re a car nut with some electronics background this car can be modified with manual control assist for less than a grand and can easily top 75mpg’s once you learn how to drive it. A new ima battery is about 2K diy from discount online honda dealers or there is a guy who rebalances and replaces bad cell sticks for between 750 to 1250 depending on how bad the ima battery is. You can wire around the ima battery and drive the car as a standard gas car, but it’s a real dog doing that and not very enjoyable. The extra 13 hp produced by the electric engine is very noticeable on a 1850 lb vehicle. I’m still on the original battery and it has lost some capacity, but still works pretty good. I average upper 60’s. The trick to battery longevity in a hybrid is using the car on a regular basis. If the car is allowed to sit for even a week or more it can damage the battery. NIMH batteries self discharge naturally and if they discharge too much a cell or cells can become polarity reversed or damaged. A long slow trickle charge usually helps and sometimes restores these batteries, but as of today you have to build your own charger. There was a class action suit against Honda. Most generation 1 insights have a 150000 mile/10 year warranty on the IMA battery.

  • avatar
    slateslate

    Curious about the batteries as well…..

    wonder if it the numbers make sense to use the batteries until they need replace and then remove the batteries once dead and run the Insight as a conventional car.

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    @slateslate :

    Curious about the batteries as well…..

    1) The NiMH batteries in the Insight/Prius will probably last as long as the car. Almost all instances of in-field battery replacement so far have been due to manufacturing defects.

    2) Taking the batteries out of an Insight would cripple the car.

    The powertrain computer expects the batteries to be there, and the 12 V electrical system (except for the starter motor) runs off of a DC converter connected to the NiMH batter pack.

    It would probably be cheaper to remove the entire hybrid powertrain and drop in another engine than to do as you propose.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    buzzliteyear: “1) The NiMH batteries in the Insight/Prius will probably last as long as the car. Almost all instances of in-field battery replacement so far have been due to manufacturing defects.”This isn’t true. In an effort to get the unbelievable mileage numbers (the original Insight got 66/60), Honda tuned the vehicle to use/deplete the batteries at a much higher rate than, say, the Prius. While the gas mileage was significantly better than the Prius, so, too, was the battery failure rate. TANSTAAFL applies here.

    The bottom line is that, unlike the Prius, Insight battery failure with accompanying replacement through normal usage over a period of time is not an uncommon occurance.

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    @rudiger:

    You may be right that Insight battery failures are more common than my sources (who are hybrid advocates) have led me to believe.

    I spent a few minutes checking various Internet sources, and the consensus seems to be that Insights with manual transmissions and/or aggressive drivers suffer more battery problems.

    Apparently, Honda assumed Insight drivers would drive in a ‘battery-friendly’ style, and the IMA software was not sufficiently robust when they did not.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    rudiger is right. There is a far bigger draw on the Insight than the Prius (both generations). The horsepower difference between the two system is also heavily in favor of the Prius. It’s a more robust system overall.

    You also have to draw a line between economics and comfort as well. Once the MPG’s go past 50 mpg your real net savings aren’t that much. A vehicle that gets 60 mpg over 50,000 miles will only consume 167 more gallons during that period of time vs. the 50 mpg alternative. About 55 gallons a year. Yet stickshift Insights typically go far a $800 to $1000 premium in my experience and in my ‘commuting’, a stickshift simply doesn’t make sense. I chose the automatic because it would likely be cheaper and offer far less hassle. Plus the stickshifts have a history of drawing down the battery versus the less battery dependent automatics.

    It also may make sense to use tires that are focused towards comfort rather than maximizing fuel efficiency. Likewise you can also go for a more common tire size to make the vehicle more affordable to drive. The 175/65R14 that are now on this vehicle are common to the Civic and are far more affordable than the 165/65R14’s.

    BTW, it’s amazing how much better the CVT system works in the Civic hybrid vs. the Insight.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Honestly, I don’t know what the failure rate is for Insight batteries. I just know that, unlike the Prius, it occurs over a period of time.

    It’s unfortunate since that’s exactly the sort of thing that naysayers love to point out as a major hybrid failing. Honda simply miscalculated in their effort to balance battery longevity against fuel mileage. Considering the intense focus on a single parameter (mpg) and the scope of automotive engineering ten years ago, I’m willing to cut them a little slack.

    Were gas at or above $5/gal, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been an issue and Insight owners would view battery replacement as a routine cost of hybrid ownership.

    I mean, geez, the original Insight has fender skirts. The only other car within the last twenty years to have those was the 1996 Caprice station wagon.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    SC better buy is a Prius series 7, 71.5k miles, $13k.

  • avatar
    bjcpdx

    As the owner of a 2005 Insight, I’ll weigh in with a few comments.

    I have always preferred manual transmissions, especially in economy cars. It’s the best way to vastly improve the driving experience, and it’s cheaper to boot. However, when I went looking for my Insight, the only one in captivity in the Northwest was an automatic. On the test drive, I thought the CVT performed very well. The mileage isn’t quite as good, but the environmental trade-off is that the CVT is cleaner (SULEV) than the stick (ULEV).

    And yes, not only was a 1969 Cadillac the last car I owned that had fender skirts, it was also the last car I owned that had rear drum brakes like the Insight.

  • avatar
    djn

    Fender skirts come on many Citroens. This proves that fender skirts are an advanced and avant garde design feature.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    A great deal of the Insight’s fuel economy came from the car’s light weight and aerodynamics as much as the powertrain. When I drove one of these back in 2001 I really enjoyed it. It reminded me in many ways of the old CRX and the rare CRX HF model that got outstanding fuel economy in it’s day.

    Too bad the car won’t operate without the batteries because one of these with a small conventional engine would still presumably make a very efficient highway commuter vehicles.

    I recall seeing one of these set up for FWD import drag racing a while back… makes a ton of sense for one of these with a blown engine and/or dead batteries. Given what clean high-mileage CRXs seem to go for an Insight could be a cool “tuner” car platform at these prices.

  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    I recall reading that one of the I4 VTEC Powertrains from the Civic is a drop in with the Insight. Supposedly it’s a screamer…

  • avatar
    Areitu

    paris-dakar :
    May 10th, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    I recall reading that one of the I4 VTEC Powertrains from the Civic is a drop in with the Insight. Supposedly it’s a screamer…

    I think it was an RSX-S motor and it weighed around 1400lbs and got 40mpg.

    The rear fender cover is an aerodynamic feature to reduce drag.

  • avatar
    Aloysius Vampa

    It’s called the Honda K-Sight.

    http://forums.clubrsx.com/showthread.php?t=563856

  • avatar
    meefer

    K swap on an insight is in hondatuning magazine

  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    It’s called the Honda K-Sight.

    That rules. Shame Honda didn’t do something like that from the factory to get more out of their investment in the Insight.

  • avatar
    Countryboy

    Window tinting can fix an A/C issue?

    I kind of doubt that applying <32/20% tinting to 2 windows and maybe a 45 to the rear is going to have that appreciable difference, especially in the month of April no less. I would think that little stinker of an A/C problem will come back in the middle of July.

    Actually, not only are non-prius hybrids reasonable now, but real Prius-Prius’s are quite reasonable. MMR ranges in the low to mid teens with a good option 5/7 pkg. Many many thousands less than last July.

    Which is sort of the problem. That 9 year old Insight might fetch 6-7, but it’s far from in high demand these days. People may still be little chastened from last year’s speculative orgy, but they’re just being realistic about MPG and not neccesarily looking to hypermile.

    And the 9 year old Insight simply isn’t in the same universe as the Prius nor the other current hybrids such as Civic, Accord, Altima, Camry, Aura, Escape, et al. IMO, it is much similar to a GEO 3-cyl 1.0L or others that hypermilers and
    their ilk adore,

    Before everyone goes all ranty and ravey, I made a good bit of change on flipping Metros last year, and still have the pick of the old litter,

    But it is what it is. It’s point A-B transportation, and not much more. It’s not only not any fun, but plain embarressing most times. In almost all cases, it becomes a second car. The errand runner or commuter. (Add $40 a month for insurance plus annual taxes / registration fees & maintenance and it diminishes the overall annual MPG – fuel savings )
    I include the Insight in that category.

    And I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m surprised people are in such awe of being able to buy 9 year old cars with 145,000 miles on them.

    Having been to an auction or two, the only trick is to be patient and not stupid and try to pick up at the right price the in-demand stuff that moves and moves fast.

    Last but not least, most people do not realize that there are many many sand traps and pitfalls with auction cars. A good many of the so called fleet rentals show up with perfectly clean Carfax / Autocheck reports, but have had damage histories. There are way too many fleets, owners, etc, that do not file police accident reports, and have the repairs outsourced to non-reporting shops, then sold at auction. Post sale inspection may or may not catch it, and yes there are recourses, but it is not always the clean money maker it appears.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I almost bought an insight in 2005….I thought it was a cool loooking car. The problem is I couldn’t actually find a dealer that hand one anywhere. I was told by several dealers they weren’t popular in Chicago due to being a nightmare to drive in deep/new/unplowed snow.

    Anyone know if this is true or not?

    In any case these days I think I’d rather drive the STi dec-april, and the motorcycle the rest of the time. My priorities will probably change after I have kids, I suppose.

  • avatar
    ghillie

    I also own an Insight – with manual transmission. Much of what has been said above is true. They are an amazing little car. Light, heaps of fun to drive, brilliant around corners and of course very fuel efficient.

    But they are not for everyone. They are an enthusiasts car. A great way to have fun within the speed limit. Sort of like a Porsche 356 for the 21st century.

    And one day the battery will die and will likely cost plenty of money. But not necessarily – there is quite an enthusiast community some of whom have developed methods of restoring a battery pack without replacing it.

    Anyone who is interested in a different take on sports car driving should visit Insightcentral.com – they probably even have an answer to the snow question (I don’t because there ain’t none where I live.)

  • avatar
    Stingray

    Steven, I’m curious about what happened to the unsold 2008 cars. From all brands.

    Is there a business case there?

  • avatar
    97escort

    The new Insight is number one in sales in Japan:

    http://www.leftlanenews.com/honda-insight-tops-japanese-sales-charts.html

  • avatar
    pbr

    uhhh….

    VW dealers trying to sell Ford ChryCo minivans.

    ?

  • avatar
    afuller

    I bought my 2000 Insight out of Chicago about a month ago with 39k miles on it specifically to be my commuter. Since commuting is 90% of my driving this isn’t an extra car so to speak since our family has always had 2 cars.

    Although the engine size is the same I think it’s a bit unfair to include the Insight in the same class as the Metro. The Insight has style and panache where the Metro has none.

    As has been said there are at least a few guys who will renew the battery for less than half what the dealer charges if necessary. The guy even offers a 5 year guaranty. In addition he offers a step-by-step guide on how to do it if you’re feeling brave.

    In our household gasoline is our second largest expense behind food. By trading to the Insight from my Miata I’ve just cut my gas bill in half. If I need excitement I just take the motorcycle out. I filled the tank yesterday; it took 8 gallons for 600 miles traveled. At least for me this car makes sense.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    “Window tinting can fix an A/C issue?

    I kind of doubt that applying <32/20% tinting to 2 windows and maybe a 45 to the rear is going to have that appreciable difference, especially in the month of April no less. I would think that little stinker of an A/C problem will come back in the middle of July.”

    Doubtful. The A/C is very strong. That wasn’t the issue. The Insight has an enormous greenhouse for it’s size due to it’s shape and hatchback design and the car in question had absolutely no tint. The windows in it were as clear as drinking glasses. By applying tint to the side windows and rear I was able to make the A/C work far more quickly and it’s now whisper quiet after about three to five minutes.

    “Actually, not only are non-prius hybrids reasonable now, but real Prius-Prius’s are quite reasonable. MMR ranges in the low to mid teens with a good option 5/7 pkg. Many many thousands less than last July.”

    True, but one of the canards in this business is that MMR will often have a higher percentage of their sample sizes populated by vehicles with mechanical issues IF the car in question is in very high demand. For example, I have yet to see a VW TDI that didn’t have a major mechanical issue go through the lanes in Atlanta for well over three years now. Insights, Civic Hybrids, Priuses, and their ilk tend to be in the same boat unless they’re late model samples with high mileage. Those tend to have difficulties obtaining financing.

    “Which is sort of the problem. That 9 year old Insight might fetch 6-7, but it’s far from in high demand these days. People may still be little chastened from last year’s speculative orgy, but they’re just being realistic about MPG and not neccesarily looking to hypermile.”

    From this point on to Memorial Day weekend gas prices usually go up substantially. But I’m actually strongly considering keeping the vehicle instead. I’m not a fan of inflationary fiscal policies and this vehicle actually accomodates my transportation needs very well.

    “And the 9 year old Insight simply isn’t in the same universe as the Prius nor the other current hybrids such as Civic, Accord, Altima, Camry, Aura, Escape, et al. IMO, it is much similar to a GEO 3-cyl 1.0L or others that hypermilers and
    their ilk adore,”

    You’re right. In fact I wish I still had the 1.0L 3-cylinder metro from a few months ago because I would have loved to have done a comparo. By the way, do your customers come from far away sometimes? Two fellows from Savannah came all the way up to buy that first Metro. The one I bought before that one was actually sold to a fellow who came six hours awat from western Tennessee. My last TDI? Sold to a fellow in Western Alabama. My experiences may be unique but I’ve found hypermilers to be among the most hardcore enthusiasts out there.

    “But it is what it is. It’s point A-B transportation, and not much more. It’s not only not any fun, but plain embarressing most times. In almost all cases, it becomes a second car. The errand runner or commuter. (Add $40 a month for insurance plus annual taxes / registration fees & maintenance and it diminishes the overall annual MPG – fuel savings )
    I include the Insight in that category.”

    Insights a totally different class of car. They take crash impacts far better than a Metro. The interior is more in the league of a $30,000+ vehicle, and actually I’ve received several compliments from folks who have described it as a ‘sports car’ and ‘spaceship’. Even my wife enjoys it, and she’s one of those types that likes minivans, Volvos… and pickups.

    “And I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m surprised people are in such awe of being able to buy 9 year old cars with 145,000 miles on them.
    Having been to an auction or two, the only trick is to be patient and not stupid and try to pick up at the right price the in-demand stuff that moves and moves fast.”

    If that were the only trick I wouldn’t receive nine strange calls from a drunk on the week of my father’s funeral (As an aside, I am still debating pressing charges since he impersonated a police department employee, and the officers involved have stated I should do so. In part because he was foolish enough to leave voice mail messages throughout the last seven months, and has written to me multiple times at TTAC with an IP address that is traceable.) … and you would obviously be at an auction instead of posting here.

    “Last but not least, most people do not realize that there are many many sand traps and pitfalls with auction cars. A good many of the so called fleet rentals show up with perfectly clean Carfax / Autocheck reports, but have had damage histories. There are way too many fleets, owners, etc, that do not file police accident reports, and have the repairs outsourced to non-reporting shops, then sold at auction. Post sale inspection may or may not catch it, and yes there are recourses, but it is not always the clean money maker it appears.”

    No market driven system is perfect. Ever. However if folks simply took the time to have their soon-to-be vehicle looked at by an experienced independent repair shop, it would eliminate a lot of those sandtraps and pitfalls. That’s one of the many things I recommend in my used car buying series.

  • avatar
    bomber991

    Well I didn’t read all the comments, but I’ve heard the battery failures for the insight happen with the manual transmission and not the cvt. The reason why? I guess some people with the manuals shift too early and lug the engine, so the insight compensates by using the battery power to assist the engine. Normally it’s not a problem but some people just did it too much.

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