New or Used: Practical Schmactical

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used practical schmactical

Bob writes:

Long time listener, first time caller.

We’re a three vehicle couple living in inner-loop Houston. We just turned half our garage into a gym, and if we keep all three cars then we’ll have to park two of them outside. Therefore, it might be prudent to sell one of our vehicles. The problem is we’re attached to all of them, and need help deciding which to sell.

Here’s the meat:

1. 1992 Volvo 240 wagon 5MT, 201k miles. We purchased the 240 from some hippies who really had no idea what they had. She’s in excellent shape inside and out and doesn’t leak a drop. I’ve spent several thousand dollars over the last couple years replacing many of her wear items and made the R-134 conversion, as we had planned on keeping her long term. That being said, this is Houston, not Ithaca. I’m a young professional, and picking up my boss at the airport or pulling up to a Rice Village valet in a creaky 20-year-old station wagon lacks a certain gravitas.

2. 2010 Volvo C30 6MT, 11k miles. The C30 was purchased last year to replace a troublesome Volvo S60R. While the performance isn’t the same, I installed the factory lowering springs and added a sway bar, and now enjoy the handling despite it being my first front-driver. However, fuel economy and reliability have been disappointing. While selling the C30 would forever free me from wearisome “sparkly vampire” jokes from friends and family, I would feel silly selling a 1-year old car after suffering the drive-off depreciation and walking away from 60k miles of warranty coverage and free maintenance.

3. 2004 Subaru Baja Turbo 5MT, 63k miles. The Baja is my SO’s baby and is therefore “off the table” unless I can convince her otherwise. I believe she might be swayed by a new Wrangler or WRX, but that means selling the Baja an expensive proposition.

While we could afford to keep all three, I realize it’s impractical. Help us TTAC!

Steve Answers:

As the ultra-cynical brainfarts from talk radio would say, “And your problem is?”

You don’t have a problem… at least as it relates to cars. What you do have is a sunk cost. You have spent a lot of money on acquiring three vehicles for two people. If you sell the Volvo wagon, you won’t get your money back. The C30 is a depreciable black hole and the Subaru is apparently spoken for. So these are your options.

1. Sell the 240 for around $1500 to $2000. Do you value the money over the Volvo? That’s what you have to ask yourself. If you decide to keep the 240 buy a car cover. Houston’s hot weather can reap utter hell on a classic Volvo interior.

2. Sell the C30. If you paid in cash you would have enough left over to invest in an asset that can earn you money in the long-term. The 60k miles in maintenance isn’t worth nearly as much as you would think… and you may be able to get a good price on the vehicle given all the modifications you’ve already done. Then again you may not be very handy with cars given the amount you already spent on the 240. If you are, keep the 240. If not and you don’t have the time to learn, keep the C30.

3. Keep both. If you can afford everything and enjoy them, why not? You have already blown some dough Jonesing over a couple of Swedes. So why not take the cars and begin to give yourself an education. Start with the plugs and filters, and proceed onward to the 240’s heater core. Once you become a frequent visitor to the brickboard, you may find that a good car is really the sum of a lot of good parts that can be easily replaced.

Sajeev Answers:

I also fail to see the problem. Houston has ample parking everywhere, even in the most congested parts of downtown. What exactly feels “impractical” in your situation? Who cares if your neighbors don’t like your full driveway: this is Texas, dammit!

The only advice that’ll serve you well is to spend less time in your home gym and more searching the (aforementioned) brickboards to become a Volvo 240 hobbyist. The car scene in this town is wicked awesome, joining us in the fun of owning a cool car is very, very necessary. Matter of fact, I expect to see that 240 at Cars and Coffee next month.

But I’m getting off track: if you must dump a car, I suspect the Baja will be an easy sell once the repair bills add up after 100,000 miles. The same is true of the C30, but that’s gonna happen much, much later. Neither are “keepers” like the 240. Don’t push anything, let it happen organically: when the C30/Baja become more trouble than they are worth, your decision is very easy. This is Houston, even if we are the 4th largest city in the nation, we do things slow and casual for a reason. Go with the flow.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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2 of 56 comments
  • Dave M. Dave M. on Jan 21, 2011
    Although, I’m not sure I understand the need for a Subaru in Houston either. Dude, the first 15 minutes of a rainstorm are brutal as the road oils slick up. AWD is not a bad idea....

  • ExPatBrit ExPatBrit on Jan 22, 2011

    Not to be be picky, but that ad needs work. Get the car out of the garage , remove all the junk (empty water bottle) take some pics in a picturesque spot with no other cars or people in the picture. It's no different to selling a house, the potential buyer needs to imagine "their" crap in the car, not yours. Front and rear 3/4 views and a couple of interior shots.

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