Sell, Lease, Rent or Kill: 1996 Pontiac Bonneville SE

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

It’s 1992 and Pontiac is the division of driving excitement. A power hungry driver with leather gloves and an intense maniacal stare takes on the ‘call of the road’ in between TV football games. His beautiful black Bonneville, 200+ horsepower, screeches from a stand still and thrusts right to the edge of the posted speed limit… and not a single mph more. No Cadillac zags through double yellow lines. No country clubber saying, “You bet your Ascot!” This is GM in the heart of the Stempel era. Another frigging rental car marketed as sporty.

Fast forward 18 years later and I have the 1996 version of the exact same car. 3800 V6. 102,000 original miles. I bought it for $1500 and threw in a new water pump and tune-up. Overall I have about $1800 in this plasticized, full-sized Pontiac. Not a bad amount given the mileage and the good paint. The question now is what to do?

If I sell it, I would likely get around $2800 to $3300. A lot of older folks, especially black folks in metro-Atlanta, like to have a full-sized vehicle for their commutes. The Bonneville offers a scintilla of sport to an otherwise dull and arduous commuting process in Hotlanta. With tax season coming up it would have no trouble selling at that price range.

The finance route is a bit nicer to consider. $500 to $700 down, $60 a week for 18 months is a strong possibility. A lot of my late 90’s full-sized Detroit metal can go for that price and beyond depending on the condition and features. A pristine leather interior is probably the biggest ingredient in the recipe as far as resale goes. Exterior is a bit less important. Miles are even less important than that… and I would argue that the name is the least important of all. Park Avenue’s, Olds 88’s and 98’s, Bonneville’s, LeSabres… whether they are mid-sized or full-sized luxury American cars means squat. The proof is in the ‘loaded’ interior which always requires leather, a premium sound system (for the 90’s), and a long list of neat little comfort features.

Rental is definitely a consideration here. $100 to $140 a week. This car could have a very long life in the smooth roads of North Georgia. A Bonneville will eventually have more suspension issues than a Crown Vic or Grand Marquis. But these cars are dirt cheap to fix and like the Ford brethren, Detroit made them forever. I could see this cruiser having another 100k worth of driving ahead if I maintain it with the right parts and customers. The users and abusers can drive the Cavaliers.

So should I sell it for the quick buck? Finance it and receive more in due time? Or keep a short leash on it and rent the Bonneville until it’s better days are behind it.

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2 of 32 comments
  • Omnifan Omnifan on Dec 01, 2010

    I got $3700 for my 98 with 110K. Rent this one, but change the upper intake manifold and install a reduced diameter EGR stovepipe. Then it will run forever.

  • Accs Accs on Dec 14, 2010

    Hmmm.. I'd only ever bother with this... If it was the SSEI version.. in the dark green.. and the gold wheels. If ya gonna go.. go BIG. Then again.. I'd only ever bother with this NOW, if I had a gun to my head and someone else waiting to smack me n the head with a 20lb frying pan and a meat tenderizer.

  • Dukeisduke I don't like how they've changed their nameplates and font from the Star Trek-ish LEXUS, to L E X U S, kinda like VW's lettering on the back of the T A O S, or those stick-on letters you can buy at the parts store that people use to their own names on the back of their cars.
  • Dukeisduke So, the screen goes blank for two-tenths of a second, every once in a while - what could go wrong?
  • Dukeisduke "Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?"(Roy in The IT Crowd)
  • Dukeisduke Just Say No To Bugs!
  • Dukeisduke So, avoid calcium? You're going to increase osteoporosis, among other things.