By on November 9, 2010

Like the Chrysler LHS, this one was bought for $1000. A red, automatic 4 door model with power nothing and an aftermarket radio system. Florida, land of a million rentals was flooded with these vehicles ten years ago, and why not? It is an honest and decent piece of transportation that can go well north of 200k with proper maintenance. This particular one was bought at 150k with no paint fade on it. A very surprising plus for a car from Hotlanta. But the rear seat cushion has the usual ‘smile curl’ where the ends peak upwards due to excess sun exposure and let’s face it… this one is a parts bin special.

If I sell this vehicle I will probably get around $1800. Maybe $2000 to $2200 if I save it for tax season which comes in a couple months. A good version of these vehicles is often swarmed on Craigslist and Autotrader with hundreds of others that were abused to varying degrees. Cheap tires, cheap oil, and not so cheap financing arrangements for sub-prime finance customers are ‘the life’ for many of these sleds. This better kept version represents an unwanted rarity for the cash buyer. Many will test drive a couple of dogs and just give up on the idea of buying one. A wealthier or more credit worthy person will typically consider the far nicer competition that has a price premium to match it. But still an $1800 price represents a very healthy profit with little effort.

Renting this vehicle may be the best choice. I had a 1998 Pontiac Sunfire that had been financed a few months back. Although the parent was supposed to be the driver of the car, it was obvious that the 16 year old son became it’s owner with predictable results. An overdose of street racing, Lucas additives and non-certified oils blew the motor. I took the vehicle back and found a wrecked donor car with a good engine and transmission for $350. The Sunfire was fixed and since then it has seen consistent rental duty for the last several months and 7,000 miles. I have plenty of spare parts for the Cavalier should I choose to keep it.

Financing this vehicle would likely yield $500 down and $50 a week for anywhere from 50 weeks to 15 months. Economical vehicles have a red hot demand at the moment and if the cost of gas spikes past $3.50 next summer, you may likely see these vehicles come within a hair lick of a Crown Vic’s profit at the buy-here pay-here lots. The Ford may be far more durable. But the Cavalier is cheap and when a big chunk of a working person’s pay stub goes toward the gas pump, the gas guzzler gets replaced. I get several tons worth of trade-in’s during the July/August period from folks looking to better balance their commuting costs. Cavaliers, Sunfires and Saturns go for very good money during those times.

So should I sell it for the quick and easy profit? Rent it for a long-term return? Finance it for the same reason? Maybe a combination of scenarios would be the best way to go. What says you?

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38 Comments on “Sell, Lease, Rent or Kill: 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier...”

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    The Cavalier is a car best taken in small, infrequent doses. Keep it around as a loaner for when your financed cars dump a transmission or something.

  • avatar

    Depends…How much can you rent this car for?  What’s the typical number of days you can rent a car to your clientele before they total it?  What’s realistic in terms of insurance payouts if it does get wrecked, stolen, etc?

    What’s the payback time for financing this car at $500 down and $50 a week realistically?  Is 10 weeks the typical repo time?  How much does repossession cost?

    $800 profit (cash in your pocket now) seems pretty good especially considering this thing could need major work at anytime.

    Love your columns — always a healthy dose of the real-world, not skidpad figures and “driving dynamics” nonsense.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Why on earth would anyone want this car? It was garbage then, and it’s (decomposing) garbage now.
    Never should have existed in the first place. Kill it.

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    Steven: Love these articles; keep ’em coming!
    I would have to agree with the sell it philosphy – an 80-100% gross return in a short period of time is hard to beat. The daily/weekly rental seems like it would work as well, assuming you can keep it “bustin bugs” and off the lot.
    I’ll go with sell and take the cash today.  PS — what did you decide to do with BMW 750il?  Letting TTAC know what happens to these flotsam and jetsam would be pretty interesting…

  • avatar

    V8 transplant!

  • avatar

    Slightly off-topic, but how does one RACE a Sunfire?

    • 0 avatar

      The same as anything else: stoplight to stoplight. Notice though, that Mr. Lang invoked “racing” rather than “winning.”

    • 0 avatar

      Ah. Plenty of people with a negative brain cell quotient willing to do that. I’d drive a Cavalier because it looks inoffensive, may not be the best car in the world, but there are worse, and my mom has an 05 Sunfire and seems to like it. Also, they’re cars that you can’t kill as has been mentioned before. I almost bought one from my driving school about 7 years ago, but was never contacted when their next car was up for sale.

      My 2nd car ended up being another one that was hard to kill, a 93 Escort LXi. It was said in my family that they were are to kill anyway.

  • avatar

    Rent it until tax season comes or gas prices go up, then sell it.

  • avatar

    Are you in Florida with it now?  My daughter needs a cheap daily driver for college, the red would really catch her eye, and the price is right.

  • avatar

    Send it up to Michigan, I’d take it. They’re tough cars, and something like this would be a great starter car for my 17 year old kid. Cheap to run, cheap to fix.

  • avatar

    Mom always said: “Take the money!”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Anybody who says “kill” doesn’t know how hard those suckers are to kill.  The kid that killed the Sunfire must have been REALLY trying.  As my father would say whenever I pulled stupid stuff: “Have you had your butt kicked lately?”

    • 0 avatar

      There’s a reason why I call them the ‘cockroach of the road’. My older kid did a pretty good number on my old Cavalier, but like the old Timex watches, it took a licking and kept on ticking…

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    A lot of great feedback. Thanks for the laughs and kind words.
    The BMW sold on Ebay for a little over $2500… to a mechanic who thankfully knows how to work on one of those things.
    I will keep silent until tomorrow morning on this one. Like a lot of things in life, it has more than one right answer.

  • avatar

    As has already been mentioned more than once, these are hard to kill. General Motors cars, after all, run bad longer than most other cars run at all.
    Unfortunately, though, most were abused in an effort to prove the above maxim.
    As for what to do with it, I don’t much care, or have any advice. It’s not likely to be a financing or rental hassle, but it might be nice to take the money and run.
    Kill is what I’d like to do with the chassis engineers on this car. Anybody ever tried to raise the front of one of these with a single hydraulic jack?

  • avatar

    ‘It is an honest and decent piece of transportation…………’
    On what planet?

  • avatar

    Ah, the cheap, beater, teenager’s-first-car, Chevy Cavalier. Built just well enough to avoid being considered a throw-away, disposable car.

    It’s kind of sad to think that, nine years from now, the discussion might be entirely different when discussing a used Cruze.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Remove Cavalier and insert Impala.

      cheap to buy, cheap to insure, theft proof (even with keys in ignition), plenitful parts, reliable and decent on gas.

      Personally I would take the residual income from the rental fleet $50 a week for 50 weeks + a nickel down.  3k during the course of one year is better in my book than 1k today.

      Side note, why does everyone hate GM cars?  sure some hideous stuff came from them but not everyone can afford a 4k Honda with 180k on the odo or afford to fix it.  The old gm stuff is fairly easy to work on and usually can be done for cheap, case in point a donor motor and trans for $350 as noted above.  CV joints on a Honda cost about that much.

  • avatar

    Having both driven one of these heaps and used public transportation to get around for an extended period, I’d take the latter option every time.  Kill it with fire.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree. I had to have work done on one of my cars and I decided to ride the bus for a week or so to avoid paying for a rental. I cracked after three days of transfers, taking an hour to get where I could have driven in 20 minutes, and the last straw was when the bus was in a fender bender (for the bus, a total for the idiot girl putting on makup that cut in front of the bus. She had a line of lipstick from her lip to her left ear when she got out of the passenger side after the wreck, as her driver’s door wouldn’t open anymore. She tried to sue the bus company, but several of us remembered her lipstick line and it got dropped pretty quickly.) I had to fill out a police report and something else for the bus company, and an hour trip home turned into a 3 hour nightmare. The next morning, I called Enterprise! At that point, I would have taken a Vega rather than get on the bus again. I feel sorry for anyone who has to ride the bus on a regular basis.

  • avatar

    Gads the GM hatred is amazing.
    The Sprint was maligned 10 years ago.  Now it is held up as an example of mechanical simplicity, good industrial design, bullet proof reliability, and high fuel economy.
    The 90’s GM fullsize RWD sedans were ripped to pieces when they came out as floaty, bloaty, and oversized fleet queens.  Now the Buick Roadmaster is looked back upon fondly.
    Is the Cavalier a good car?  Nope.  Same generation Civic and Corolla are certainly much, much better.  Is it bad a car?  ECOTEC engine is hard to kill and very modifiable.  Transmissions may be akin to a boat anchor, but with proper standard care equally reliable.  Do they get the best MPG?  Nope.  Do they have the best looks?  Nope.  The best interiors.  Nope.  The best body?  Nope.  Can then run for 150K to 200K miles even with near negligible care while owned by some broke teenage kid who hand cuts the springs and puts on a fart can muffler with a home wired 15″ sub woofer to a Pioneer head unit?  Yes.
    Will the Cavalier be held up as the Sprint, LS1 F-Bodies, Buick Roadmasters, and other models are 15 to 25 years after the fact?  Probably not.  I personally would never own one, but there are far worse examples of turn-of-the-century econobox transportation out there.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget it’s 10 years old and exactly what used car dealers from Mexico are looking to import. U.S. cars are usually better built that their Mexican conterparts and Cavaliers in Mexico are pretty tore up and banged around by now. This one looks clean and garage kept. Plus they pay cash.

  • avatar

    What……You have never seen a Cav/ Sunbird on your planet?
    Why Yes of course, lots, just not an honest and descent one. Nope, 100% of all the
    Sunbirds/Cavs I have seen were unadulterated total and complete sh1t boxes.

    • 0 avatar

      My girlfriend drove one for a decade, it was rock solid, and she only gave up on it when her kid wrecked it to the point it wasn’t worth fixing with 250K on it. It’s replacement, a 2003 or 2004 Camry was a much nicer car that was as unreliable as they come. I had engine, transmission and electrical problems from almost the instant the warranty ran out until she traded it in Sept ’09 on a Chrysler 300C. The Camry was her first new car, and she was very disappointed in “Toyota Quality”, and wished she had the Cav back..

  • avatar

    Sell it.  There are a lot of people who depend on a cheap car to get to work.  They often lose their job when their crappy  car makes them miss work one too many times.  Here’s a chance to help a less fortunate soul support their family AND make a nice profit at the same time.  The story might even make a good homily at Mass…

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Don’t forget it’s 10 years old and exactly what used car dealers from Mexico are looking to import.

    I was astounded when my 13 year old 250k+ mile Nissan truck was bought for $2500 and shipped off to parts south the next week.  Apparently the V6/5-speed combo was in huge demand.

    As hideous and uncompetitive as the Cavalier was during its entire life, by 2000 they were highly reliable, mediocre basic rides.  It will serve someone very well. 

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I guess it’s as good of a time as any for answers.
    I rented it for a good four months. Still renting it. When it comes to tax season or high gas prices, I may either sell it for cash or just continue renting it.
    The bigger issue I have is whether my renter is going to trash it or whether it will truly stand the test of time. The powertrain can stand a bit of abuse… but the interior is a different story. The spares that I have access to make this much less of an issue than it would be for most dealers. But the number of dings and scratches all these vehicles get is simply amazing.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d say you’re doing really well then.  How many days was the car actually rented during those 4 months?  Even if you rented it just 15 days a month for $15/day you would have done as well as just selling it.  What was the opportunity cost of plowing the potential $800 profit from selling the car back into your business?  That’s something to consider.  Still, even with the dings and interior wear how much more below your $1000 purchase price could this thing depreciate if you keep renting it (provided the customer doesn’t wreck it)?  Well done.

    • 0 avatar

      Hello Steven:
      Since this thread can be subtitled “cars to get for your first-time driver”, I am looking at a Nissan Sentra (’05).  They seem to be pretty plentiful here on Long Island, and quite a bit cheaper than a similar Corolla or Civic.  But, when you troll the boards it might be because of all of the head gasket gripes that are posted.  Any experience/insight into that?

  • avatar

    My parents still have my 97 Cavalier that I abused during my undergrad years.  2.2L OHV 4 Banger, 3 Speed Auto (yes a 3 speed auto), plastic bumpers, and one option, power locks since it had four doors.

    That car was impossible to kill then, I’m sure the same can be said now.  Reliable transportation and it costs nearly nothing to run.  Bought it for $1500 then and could sell it for more today.  My Hondas of yesteryear gave me far more trouble than that Chevy ever did.

    Oh yea, sell it!

  • avatar

    That thing is clean, It would make an awesome beater.
    And it was dirt cheap. A Cavalier in that condition here is about US$ 7-8K.
    I’d say, wait until tax season and sell it. Meanwhile, can be rented.

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