Use or Used: Astro-nomical Expectations Within a Price Point?

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
use or used astro nomical expectations within a price point

John writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

Thanks for your work on TTAC. The site entertains and irritates, so it’s a great place to read and learn, right?

Here is my problem. I have a couple of jobs, one of them is being self-employed and what I do requires carrying lots of equipment and driving lots of miles. I have used a Chevy Astro Van for a long time; The first one lost it’s second tranny at 246,000, and the one I use now has 193,000 miles. The 4.3 litre engine wears like a rock, but the gas mileage is a killer.

I need to find either a car or SUV at a low price that I can keep for a long time and use in spite of the possible gas price spike. I’ve been trying to keep the target price at $7,000, maybe up to $9,000 if the perfect ride comes by. I actually took a serious look at the Aztek, prices for used ones are very low these days, even with low mileage models. I even ran across a 2003 SAAB 9-3 convertible with 61K for $7,000, which is very tempting in spite of it’s “sludgey” reputation. But then you add an extended warranty, I’m back to 10K for it.

If I am looking at these things seriously then obviously I’m not seeing what I need to see. But geez louise, these days dealers are asking 10K for cars and SUV’s with over 100K on the odometer and that seems insane to me. Anything with less miles seems to be some kind of stripped 4 banger or Chevy Aveo/Cobalt I wouldn’t put my worst enemy even if has 40.000 miles on it. Even a couple of repo auctions I have been at didn’t have anything that match my needs.

What am I missing? Are my expectations too high for the price point I am looking for?

Thanks for your help!

Sajeev answers:

TTAC does indeed entertain and irritate, and we could eliminate the “entertainment” portion for this answer. I mean how irrating is it that you need a vehicle to carry “lots of equipment” but you mentioned the SAAB 9-3 convertible? Self employed dudes such as yourself shouldn’t waste everyone’s time (including yourself) with such overindulgence. As Helen Lovejoy always says, “won’t somebody please think of the children?”

So let’s be real, you’re pushing your luck with suitable replacements (Escape, RAV4, etc) in this price range, and you can smooth out all seasonal fuel price discrepancies with a $7000 cushion in your wallet. And while the Astro is a righteous tin-can of a deathtrap (per IIHS crash testing) compared more modern metal, it’s the only sane choice here. Don’t change horses in the middle of a stream. This van is the perfect vehicle for you: durable, cheap and simple to repair.

Yes, your expectations far too high for your price point. Stick with the Astro until you can afford to spend way more than 10-large on an all-purpose vehicle. In the meantime, put $250 worth of Wal-Mart grade stereo and speakers in it. Cheap and cheerful always wins in these situations.

Steve answers:

I can’t think of two cars any more different than a Chevy Astro cargo van and a Saab convertible. Which brings me to a few important questions. How much do you schlep? How much does all that schlepage weigh? Since you are looking at a Saab convertible I have to ask yet another question. Do you have to secure this stuff? I can almost imagine a utility trailer being dragged around by a wine sipping guy in a hardhat listening to NPR’s Second Cup series. Who knows. That guy may be you.

My advice would be to stick with what you have until it dies. You have something that ‘works’. If you think it’s too noisy, put in a nice stereo system. Bad gas mileage? Buy a Scanguage and learn some hypermiling techniques. Need spare parts? They can be had at the junkyards virtually for the taking.

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. In a rush? Don’t be shy about asking to cut in line.

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2 of 48 comments
  • Nova73 Nova73 on Apr 29, 2011

    Friend bought an extended body Ford Econoline with 4.2L V-6. He reports about 17MPG around town and 20 on the highway.

  • Bimmer Bimmer on Apr 29, 2011

    Try converting it to propane. In Canada 6-cylinder vehicle conversion is $3,600. Propane cost 50% of gas on fill up. It takes on average 40 fill ups to pay for conversion, but in your area there might be rebates for conversion. The more you drive the faster conversion will pay for itself.

  • Dawn Maple They haven't even fixed the airbag issues and recalls completely, so why waste more time and money on another "safety feature" that removes choices from the driver? We would be safer getting in a car driven by Helen Keller. Oh wait with driver assist, all she has to do is find her car and turn it on.
  • Lorenzo I'm out. I'd never find it in the dark.
  • VoGhost Minivans don't sell well, and the market has been declining. And while the entire 'range anxiety' myth is mostly a big oil propaganda designed to scare the weak minded, minivans are often how families travel to grandma's house, so that will be a concern, unless VW can gain access to the Supercharger network. I could see 50K units at peak, declining to 25K/year after a couple of years, unless VW can price competitively with Tesla.
  • VoGhost Glad you're healthy, Tim
  • VoGhost 20 years ago, Sportage was the bottom of the barrel, a joke. Kia's come a long way.