Rent, Lease, Sell or Keep: 1990 Buick Century

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
rent lease sell or keep 1990 buick century

20 years. Most marriages and capital offenses don’t have that level of commitment. To think of how long that is for any daily driver, consider what was not in most cars back then. Airbags, anti-lock brakes, cd players… heck ‘premium sound’ usually landed you nothing more than a cassette deck and four speakers. Now consider that this one owner 1990 Buick Century has a design dating all the way back to 1982. We’re talking about a period of design where the world’s most popular entertainment consisted of Pac-man & Atari 2600’s. Ancient times. Good times. But bad times for Detroit. Very, very bad times.

I bought this car for $500 at a Carmax auction. Why? Well the interior was immacualte for starters. There was virtually no wear on the seats which is highly unusual for a bench seat from this era. Most of them will have fuzzy fabric that is looser than the skin of an octogenarian in Florida. The electronics will be in rigor mortis mode and the needles on the dash will be as erratic and hesitant as the family dog who takes one too many of Grandpa’s pills. 95+% of the Century’s contemporaries are already in the junkyard? So what made the difference with this one?

Money. Whoever had this paid Mr. Goodwrench to keep it in a time warp mode. Everything worked on the inside. Even the armrest/storage compartment that breaks if you look at it cross-eyed was working fine. No cracks. No rips. No tears anywhere. It was a complete freak of nature. The exterior was dent free, but badly needed a paint job. I spent $210 to put in a new medicine blue paint job with a few gold pinstripes. Throw in a $50 auction fee and about $40 for a tune-up and incidentals, and I have $800 in an AARP inspired unit with 102k miles.

So what would you do?

Rent: Not as crazy as you may think folks. The oldest rental vehicle I ever had this past year was a 1987 Acura Legend. Laugh if you must but that $600 investment has already yielded over $2000 thus far and may end up at $3500 if the current customer pays on the last few months of a 1 year note. The Century does not benefit from Japanese quality… at all. But if it can last 20 years for 1 owner. It should last a little while as a rental. I would rent it for $105 a week and try to keep it with older folks.

Finance: This is a classic.500 50/50. As in $500 down. $50 a week for 50 weeks. A lot of folks with fixed incomes and low savings end up getting these types of vehicles. They may have a bit of nostalgia for the older models. Especially if their recent ride suffered a terminal breakdown. It is an old car. But low mileage and a clean Carfax can sell almost anything.

Sell: This car may hit $2000 during tax season. Maybe. Unfortunately tax season won’t hit until February and before then I may just want to unload it and move on. One of the hardest battles a good dealer will have is when to liquidate old inventory. Everyone who has a lemon to sell will try to wait until the February thru May period where prices are sky high and a lot of ‘stupid money’ is at the auctions. But then again, I saw a 1999 Dodge Dakota with over 100k sell for $5k last Thursday. I can’t even get that retail but apparently some buyer from Texas really had to have one. God bless him.

Keep: No way in hell. I am not putting my family anywhere near a car that would be a deathtrap in a crash. Size doesn’t mean everything… but structural rigidity is You could probably kick a rear door on the flimsier cars of the 1980’s and the passenger would feel it. I shudder to think how well this one would do on a side impact with two kiddies stuck in the back. When you’re in college or starting out a cheap beater has it’s charms. Especially if it has a bench seat. But the only thing I miss from 1990 is my old leather jacket. An old car whose engineers may have voted for Jimmy Carter (or the elder Bush) is not a good keeper if you can avoid it.

So do I rent to people who hopefully dine at Shoney’s? Finance it on the belief that the car will last at least until the legal drinking age? Sell it and be done? Or bag the Insight and put thick tint on the sides and a ‘Hell’s Grannies’ sticker in the back. Screw it. I want the money. So what should I do?

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