New Or Used?: I'm With The Band Edition

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used i m with the band edition

craigotron writes:

Sajeev and Steve, I love the idea of your new column. Love it. I made an appearance in Piston Slap with my flash welded PCV valve on my Lexus but actually have been playing with the idea of buying a car for almost a year. I’m a serial test driver (I’ve been on 20+) and have found myself in this scenario which might be a good one for your new feature.

My scenario:

About 3 years the sugar train of free cars finally dried up. Explanation: I am the youngest of three sons and was the former starving artist of the family so my entire motoring life (aside from my current car) has been spent in cast off 150K+ mileage vehicles. My interest in cars actually the mother of necessity; I managed to drive two of the cars well into 250K range. I ended up talking to the drummer of my band at the time who is a certified Lexus tech and had found me an immaculate 1992 LS400 with barely a hundred thousand on it. That’s been my ride ever since. It’s been great! But I’ve since moved out to the mountains and am on my third Wyoming winter. Snow tires have only gotten me so far in a town that has snow/ice pack from October to March. I’m quickly falling out of love with the car during the winter; which is a shame as I live in a great area of the country for pure driving. Though I must say I’m a better driver now that I’ve had a RWD car in hardcore winter conditions. I’m also concerned as I’m on the cars original starter and water pump – two notorious expensive fix time bombs with this year and model – and would rather the car not give up the ghost on I-80’s summit in no man’s land. What should I do?

I have stable employment. I’m a bachelor and have no meaningful expenses outside of rent. No one to haul around besides the occasional friend or *ahem* groupie. I’m in a ‘promising new band’ so having something with a bit of panache is important to me. I’m thinking, after 20 test drives, that my heart firmly belongs to Scooby. I dream of WRXs. I’m open to the idea of other hot hatches. Found a great 2007 Mazdaspeed the other day. My needs are basic: enough room for a guitar amp half stack in the back. Used Mazdaspeed 3? What about an Audi? I want to keep what I finance under $20K but don’t mind splurging on a good down payment and a nice set of snow shoes for my next ride.

So what would you recommend for a rocker who faces a lot of winter driving and needs to haul the occasional half-stack around? Also: I dislike SUVs, abhor the idea of having a van and really would prefer something in the manual flavor. I’m from Michigan so you better bet I have a family full of car company workers and can usually get employee pricing. Thanks!

Steve Lang: For the $20,000+ you’re going to blow on wheels you can spend your money on a lot of better things. Studio time, equipment, perhaps a subsidized road trip that can get your band some regional presence. What I’m trying to say is that just because you’re making good money, you don’t want to flush all that success down the internal combustion toilet. The music world is a fickle bitch. Unlike say the life of an actuary or an accountant. But hey. You have the chicks, and the freebies that go along with the lifestyle. Plus you drive a Lexus. Not a bad return on investment if you ask me.

Which brings me to the big point here. Your car is made of better quality materials and components than most cars that are sold today. How do I know? I own two 1992 Lexii at the moment. The 1st generation SC400 and LS400 have an extensive following online and rarely does a month go buy when I’m not buying or selling one. For me, I’ve always seen them as the Mercedes diesel alternative as it pertains to longevity and DIY maintenance.

The parts for the timing belt and water pump are around $150 to $200 on Ebay. The starter can be taken out and rebuilt for $250. I would target about $500 in labor if you’re having it done at a good independent mechanic. Even less if you pay off a friend or have the chutzpah to follow the above guide yourself. It pays much better to simply keep the money in your bulging wallet and flirt with different new (or near new) cars whenever the itch arises. Then just buy some good wheels, better speakers, tires… or just take out a weekend rental to get the Led out. If you still want ‘the car’ after all that…. guess what… you already got it.

Sajeev Mehta: Speaking as a musician who still enjoys “free” cars with not-so-free repair needs, I get your situation. Then again, I’m a drummer, so I have a thing for a Niedermeyer-approved GEN I Scion xB. Cheap to own, somewhat entertaining to drive and it’ll carry all my crap. Given your budget and apparent long term ownership background, you need something that’s more xB-like and not an asphalt shredding hot hatchback. Especially a German one, but Subies are no walk in the park when it comes to labor rates.

Then again, groupies and whatnot. While non-WRX Subies are cool, are they cool enough for a dude like you? If so, grab an Impreza since you love the brand. Cost of ownership of a MazdaSpeed 3 is gonna be similar, so maybe a regular Mazda 3 is a smarter move. Because it’s quite stylish (far more than a Honda Fit) has the right moves, and leaves you with much more car (i.e. more purchasing power) or a fatter wallet at the end of the day. Hell, you can buy a new Mazda3 and enjoy low financing rates too!

Oh, and you still need headers on your LS400. Don’t think I didn’t forget!

Join the conversation
3 of 46 comments
  • Rmwill Rmwill on Jan 29, 2010

    Has anyone here actually worked on a Subaru? If you had, you would not be putting them forward as being good cars. If GM/Ford/Chrysler had desiged the mechanical components with as little regard for serviceability as Fuji did, they would have been rightfully villified. Maintain the Lexus and it will last forever.

    • Wsn Wsn on Jan 29, 2010

      But Subarus don't break as often. At least according to CR.

  • Wsn Wsn on Jan 29, 2010

    For your situation, nothing beats a new 2010 Subaru Outback. Not even a new LS.

  • ToolGuy Last picture: Labeling the accelerator as "play" and the brake pedal as "pause" might be cute, but it feels wrong. It feels wrong because it is wrong, and it is wrong because Calculus.Sidebar: I have some in-laws who engage the accelerator and brake on a binary on/off all-in basis. So annoying as a passenger.Drive smoothly out there. 🙂
  • Johnny ringo It's an interesting vehicle, I'd like to see VW offer the two row Buzz in the states also.
  • Chuck Norton And guys are having wide spread issues with the 10 speed transmission with the HP numbers out of the factory......
  • Zerofoo "Hyundais just got better and better during the 1990s, though, and memories of those shoddy Excels faded."Never. A friend had an early 90s Hyundai Excel as his college beater. One day he decided that the last tank of gas he bought was worth more than the car. He drove it to empty and then he and his fraternity brothers pushed it into the woods and left it there.
  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.