By on July 7, 2011

What is luxury?

Back in 1999, that was an easy question to answer in the U S of A. Three Letters: S U V . When I first started in the auction business these mastodons absolutely dominated the marketplace. You could go to the nearest Ford factory auction and quite literally pick out your colors, trim, and options. Want running boards, all wheel drive and a trip computer? Sure. Want it in Black with the all too common grey interior? Absolutely! Want to get it all in a model exactly like the Ford Explorer but call it something different for the hell of it? Well, why not!

The 1999 Mercury Mountaineer rang up at $30k loaded when new. 12 years, $4 gas, and 180k miles later, I bought it at a public sale for $1200. Should I…

Rent: SUV’s tend not to move these days. Everyone who rents a vehicle circa 2011 wants something with 4-cylinders and all the creature comforts. I could offer it for $140 a week and with a sunroof along with leather, it would get a few eyeballs. But it wouldn’t be a top pick and seeing that I now have a fleet of ‘Grands’ at this point (Marquis, Caravan, Voyager), I’m not sure if I should offer yet another sub-20 mpg vehicle.

Lease: Anything with a good leather interior and a sunroof should get at least $700 down. Finance the rest at $60 a week and 24 months, and you have an easy formula for a high return.

Every Explorer and Mountaineer I have ever financed has always ‘made the note’. A good prior history of maintenance always helps. But the 4.0L V6 and 5.0L V8 are pretty much bulletproof and parts at junkyards for the rest of the vehicles are as common as kuzu in the South.

Along with this is the advantage of working with older customers. A lot of older folks in my neck of the woods have shorter commutes and prefer comfort over fuel economy. Some are retired. Many work light retail jobs. But they strongly prefer to have luxury and don’t care too much about gas since their overall mileage is minimal. SUV’s and full-sized RWD cars are absolutely ideal for this market and I cater to this market quite heavily.

Sell: An older loaded up SUV with leather that’s been well kept should get around $2995. The miles on this one do hurt it a bit. But given the lack of good used cars out there it shouldn’t be much of the problem. By the time I recondition it I may have between $1500 and $1700 in it so overall it would be a decent profit if it got sold quick.

Keep: If the Mountaineer had some moderate cosmetic issues I would be tempted. Purchase a trailer with brakes for about $1500 and I can easily haul a vehicle to the lot after every auction. With all the vehicles I get at different sales, this could easily save me about $100 a week in transport costs.

For the general public who have light hauling needs these vehicles can be absolutely perfect. The V8 versions with all-wheel-drive can tow well over 5000 pounds and have plenty of luxury for the rest of the time. Throw in a few small changes to make towing safer (towing mirrors, trailer with brakes, a weight appropriate hitch) and you can move an awful lot of toys without venturing into pickup territory.

This is not an easy decision. What says you?

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27 Comments on “Rent, Lease, Sell or Keep: 1999 Mercury Mountaineer...”

  • avatar

    Whatever you do, don’t forget to check the spare-tire to ensure it has been changed (it was not uncommon for some vehicles under the Firestone tire recall to have missed having the spare changed-out … in at least one case people died because of this…)

  • avatar

    “$700 down… Finance the rest at $60 a week and 24 months”

    I’m guessing that one of these figures is wrong? Maybe $6/wk or $60/month?

    • 0 avatar

      Not that I have seen. I noticed that the finance numbers that SL uses tend to quote by week but add up to a not insignificant monthly payment. $240/ seems common.

      • 0 avatar

        He can lease a $1200 truck for $6,940? You can lease a brand new Camry for less than that.

      • 0 avatar

        “You can lease a brand new Camry for less than that.”
        *If* your credit is in decent enough shape. As Steve has pointed out before, some of his customers have less than immaculate credit histories.

      • 0 avatar

        The local Camry advertised lease special is $199/month (plus tax, tags, title and fees) with $2,198 due at signing plus a $350 disposition fee due at lease end.

        Just adding in the tax/tags/fees will bump the payment well over $240, and reducing the money down to Steve’s $700 figure would put the payment near or above $300/month plus you still have that disposition fee at lease end, and that’s for the base stripper Camry LE.

        Steve’s deal still isn’t great for anyone with a good credit score and provable income, but those aren’t your typical buy-here-pay-here customers.

        I had a customer earlier this week whose income was $800/month. She had no real expenses as she lived with her grandparents, and while she didn’t have bad credit, she didn’t have any credit at all. No bank is going to touch that for a new car loan, and none of the secondary banks we work with were interested either. For someone like that the only real option is to either save up enough to buy cash, or to go the buy-here-pay-here route.

  • avatar
    Twin Cam Turdo

    My personal suggestion is to burn it, but I am afraid that doesn’t help you.

    Best of luck.

  • avatar

    A hard sell over here bro these are nearly free to a good home $10 gas Explorers and Jeeps cant get given away they shoulda had a diesel , some of the Cherokees did and they still have resale value but these nah not much of a vehicle anyway

  • avatar

    Sounds like Steve has niche vehicles in a niche area. Explorer/Mercury rust badly in Ohio as I saw similar price on a two door Explorer at Columbus auction.

    Sounds like a good deal regardless what you do.

  • avatar

    looks like if you lease it, you’re making profit at 4 months and everything beyond that is gravy. That’s clearly the best option.

  • avatar

    If it’s the cammer 4.0 V6, make certain that it’s not making noise. the timing chains on the SOHC 4.0 are notorious for tossing chains after the guides break, and that’s no small undertaking.

    The OHV 4.0 gutless as it is, is darn near as bullet proof as a slant six.

    Both sixes are saddled with a transmission that’s mediocre at best in terms of durability. My ’95 Explorer did go 225,000 miles on the original transmission, so YMMV.

    The V8 is the most durable, and most reliable of the 3 engine choices.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      It is the V8 AWD Version. As for younger vs older, I’ve found that folks in their 20’s and 30’s prefer cars or pickups in my neck of the woods.

      SUV’s tend to be popular with the same people who ogled over them back in the 1990’s. Older women in particular tend to prefer the higher seating position and perceived safety of a big tough box.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m 35 and have owned my ’95 example for 10 years and 180,000 miles. I love it’s ability to go just about anywhere I want to go, including some off-roading despite its lack of powered front axle. I also love that it’s a decent people hauler, and can carry a decent load. It’s the perfect vehicle for what I use it for.

        It’s a great tow rig, so I’d keep the one you’ve got.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    If your going to make that much money, sell it. I know what you mean about “older folks.” My grandmother has a loaded Aztex cause of the comfort factor and the ride hight making it easier for her to get in and out of the vehicle.

  • avatar

    Let’s see, take a narrow / short wheelbase pickup truck and significantly raise the center of gravity. Put on tall light passenger tires then do not redesign the suspension from its humble pickup truck origins and sell it to very poorly skilled drivers. Ignore engineer notes saying they were too tippy and tell your dealers to maintain them by setting tire pressures to 26psi thereby increase blowout potential (this was before TPMS). Now that’s a recipe for profit and potential for disaster. These flawed SUVs from the 90’s are dangerous to drive at highway speeds regardless of the tires.

    • 0 avatar

      the firestones were crap tires, simple as that. with decent rubber and sensible driving, these are reasonably safe.

    • 0 avatar

      Despite your sensationalist claims, the 4-door 4WD/AWD Explorer is ranked in the best 40% for fewest fatalities per million registered vehicles during the 1994-2004 era. Ahead of the Honda Accord and Camry and most SUVs of the era. With the 2002 redesign, the four door explorer moved into the best 25% for fewest fatalities. The Explorer is mostly a victim of sensationalism regarding its safety (the fact that it had poor fuel economy and was the number one selling SUV also made it the easiest target).

      The most dangerous Explorer (worst 10%) was the two door, two-wheel drive variant which was also the least common variant sold. Right next to it is the Tacoma which never got the death trap rap but has essentially identical safety ranking (513 vs 515)

      Source is IIHS:

  • avatar

    Sell that thing. Seems to me that someone doing a buy-here, pay-here deal like Steven is talking about isn’t going to deal well with the gas bills from this beast.

  • avatar

    Leasing seems to be your best option, especially with the kind of money you could make off of a luxury vehicle like that.

  • avatar

    If you can get that much for it, I say lease it.

    Every time I view comments on a 90s SUV thread, I’m consistently amazed that I emerged the 90s with all of my limbs in good working order despite traveling many a mile in those (sweet at the time) apparent death traps. I also survived the 80s in my family’s full size Chevrolet truck without ever experiencing a fiery death from the saddlebag fuel tanks; and my dad informed me that we escaped the 70s without our Vega rusting to powder around us. I need to buy a lottery ticket – I must have a charmed life.

    • 0 avatar

      Excellent logic from a sample group of one.

      Lead paint never hurt me none!
      We didn’t have baby seats for our kids, and they didn’t die in a fiery crash!
      I smoke 2 packs a day and it hasn’t hurt me none!

      One must consider that the safety of a vehicle is calculated using a large sample of vehicles driven a large number of miles. If I can drive to the store and back with my trunk full of dynamite doesn’t mean that it’s proven to be safe now.

      • 0 avatar

        One (me) did consider how vehicle safety is calculated.

        The point I should have made is that out of all the people that bought and drove 90s SUV death traps, the overwhelming majority of those folks managed to make it to their next respective life milestone intact despite lots of reported news that made it seem like you were going to die within minutes of putting key to ignition in a 90s era Explorer or Cherokee.

        Maybe there’s a middle ground between that sort of hyperbole and my hyperbole.

  • avatar

    An old-school V8 Mountaineer?

    I’d keep it, but I don’t have the vehicular access you enjoy either.

  • avatar

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your ‘keep’ idea of using it as a tow vehicle. You’ll have made your money back in a few months, and car trailers don’t tend to depreciate at all, so even if you do decide to lease it out in 3 or 4 months, you’d have made your money back and some.

  • avatar

    If you can get your money out of it plus a profit by either renting or leasing it, do it. When it’s done, take to your friendly neighborhood crusher and it’s China’s problem.

  • avatar

    Leasing it seems to be where the smart money is.

    I remember driving one of these things when I was a carless college student just starting an internship with Ford. I had lusted after one of these midsize SUVs throughout the 90s and loved the Mountainteer that we had in the car pool. One of the engineers hinted that Ford had understated the specs on the SOHC 4.0L V6 so as not to encroach on the V8.

    As much as I loved the Mounty (which was probably equal parts new car euphoria and SUV lust), I ended up picking the Nissan Pathfinder over a Ford Explorer when my parents decided to give me an early and unexpected graduation present at the end of the summer. Even with an employee discount (plan x?), I couldn’t get over the fact that Ford let employees smoke on one of the assembly lines that I regularly visited – one woman was literally ashing all over the guts of an F250 rear diff as she was assembling it. You would never see that in Japan and who knows what other unseen horrors lurked beneath the sheetmetal. 12 years and 138k miles later, the Pathy has been bulletproof and feels tighter than a lot of new cars. A similar vintage Explorer – not so much.

  • avatar

    Poor SL,

    People always seem to forget that you obviously provide a set of wheels for those whoe would have no other avenue except to save for it. I love the comparison to a new Camry lease lol.

    We have a portfolio of 250 cars on the road in our BHPH program, sure it cost the customer money but 90% of them are more than happy and 50% repeat in the same program.

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