New Or Used?: Lease Or Beater? Edition

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used lease or beater edition

Doug writes:

I currently lease a 2008 Ford Fusion SEL 5 speed, loaded with heated leather, sunroof, SYNC. It has under 20,000 miles with 2 payments left. The lease end buyout is $14,100. I am debating whether to buy out my lease for cash, or just by a beater – I was thinking of a 1998 Ford Contour SVT in the $2500 range. I am about to start a 5 year sprint to pay off my mortgage, so I don’t want endless repair bills during this time. Buy the lease, or buy the beater?

Steve Lang: We have an old saying in the horse country of upstate New York. “It’s not the horse, it’s the rider.” When it comes to cars, it’s not really the type of car that’s important, it’s the driver. How a used vehicle is driven and maintained before you get the keys will usually be the biggest factor in your own ownership experience.

Having said that I’m not a personal fan of Ford Contours. However your current ride is a bit overpriced as well and given that you have the desire to pursue a debt free life, I would pursue the beater route. Just find something that is comfortable and mildly entertaining if you must. But to be honest your footwear is going to have a far greater impact on your life than the car that you drive. I would save the money and smile forever.

Sajeev Mehta: I’ve never been a fan of leases for individuals who can’t reap it’s inherent tax benefits. Your buyout is close to the asking price of a used Fusion at retail pricing, which isn’t terribly thrilling to Steve Lang. I’d buy the Fusion to ensure having a solid car with a service history. If you don’t have the time to hassle with buying someone else’s problems, that is.

And the Contour SVT is a stunning little sedan. Smooth engine, sorted suspension, unbelivably wonderful steering, great seats and decent room for European-sized Americans. Too bad you can’t have it: take it from the guy who recommended two of the last Mercury Cougar V6s to my mother and my best friend: their Duratecs grenaded after 75k of use. Oops.Or don’t take my word for it. Ask Michael Karesh of TrueDelta fame: his Contour had the same fatal flaw. The silver lining is Hot Rodder specific: a set of MSDS headers removes the faulty pre-catalytic converter at the exhaust manifold, or gut the cats DIY-style. Too bad that requires working in a cramped, FWD, quad-cammed engine bay. If you need a beater, better look elsewhere.

Like to a 2004-ish Taurus. They are close to indistructable with regular fluid changes so you can live debt free. And fast of foot with the Duratec motor, if you grab some SHO suspension bits for next to nothing. You might not even miss the Contour if you go this route. If I’m wrong, console yourself with the money you’re saving every month. That usually works.

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  • Areaman Areaman on Jan 18, 2010

    One of the factors that took me from driving a $2500 '97 Escort to a leased '07 Cobalt was the increasing frequency of surprise repairs that seemed to come at the worst times (ie, just paid off all credit cards, just paid tuition, etc). When the transmission started to go, so did the car. Trust broken and wallet empty is a bad way to leave a car. The biggest appeal of leasing, and one I think is often overlooked, is complete, total, utter predictability. No surprises. All warrantied while you have it, no worries ever. GMAC takes their $272 a month out of my account and I know that's all I ever have to spend to drive, gas and insurance aside. I'd say it's a huge boon to getting ahead on other debts to be able to call your cost of driving a relatively (and reliably) fixed expense.

  • Sastexan Sastexan on Jan 20, 2010

    I'm a little late to the party, but I need to defend my beloved '98.5 Contour SVT. Bought new with 34 miles on the clock. Now have over 132k. Tracked a few times a year, lots of ugly city driving (those who know DC streets will agree - especially in the post-Barry days), and parked outside the vast majority of its life. Sure, it isn't as reliable as my wife's '01 Camry (same miles, nicknamed by me "the appliance"), but it is a helluva lot more fun. Still relatively easy to work on for a compact FWD sedan. Engine is in top shape (latest oil analysis was clean), tranny shifting nicely (after rebuild at 100k to put in revised shift forks and quaife LSD), and comfortable as the day is long. It's the bits and pieces that get annoying (junky ignition cylinder getting stuck, fiberglass parts held in by plastic rivets falling off, etc.) and start adding up. But for my daily driver the past 12 years, wouldn't trade it for the world.

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