By on August 16, 2012

  Anonymous writes:

I picked up a Forester for a song and a dance ($500) this past summer, and did brakes and an oxygen sensor. We have less than $750, total, into it. It presently has 256K miles (another reason I don’t really want to use it as a daily driver!) I’ve had my 1999 Saab 9-5 wagon for about two and a half years, from 160K miles to 197K miles.

I bought it for $1,000 and other than rebuilding the brakes (and doing a very thorough detailing when I first got it) haven’t done anything other than routine maintenance.

My wife has a 20-minute highway commute with her 2003 Subaru Baja, about 25 miles round trip, with heavy traffic. I have a 110-mile per day round trip commute, mostly highway cruising, although there is some gridlock in the mornings.

Most of the repairs and maintenance I do myself. But the CEL codes on the Saab have me and my indy mechanic stumped. So – I am thinking about replacing the Saab.

Having an extra car as a daily driver has proven to be very convenient and very cheap thus far. So it’s a hard decision. The $600 or so in insurance (per year) on the Forester has paid for itself in using the thing like a truck, avoiding rentals, etc. But I don’t want to drive it every day.

So do I try to cash in two beaters and buy a nicer vehicle? We’re paying down student loan debt, saving for a house, and generally live pretty simply. I’ll consider all comers. But Panthers are not practical for my commute! Your thoughts?

Steve Says:

A lot of folks get past the emissions issue by registering their vehicle in an area that doesn’t require them.

That’s the first thing I would do if emissions are a long term concern with either of the cars.

Alternatively, since this is a third car, you can add another family member or close friend to the title who may sometimes require an extra car in a pinch. It would provide both of you with a nice hedge in the event of the unexpected. If the CEL on the Saab bothers you, take it to a Swede specialist or start drilling hard at finding the fault at the enthusiast sites.

With specialists you do pay more. But you also save yourself the trauma of a catastrophic financial event which, given your commute, is quite important.

I would keep both cars. Just parlay out some of the issues and realize that every once in a while you will have to pay a ‘price premium’ to keep them in good running order.

If push ever comes to shove, you can always sell both and move onto something else. But I see no sense in getting another ride at this point.

For right now you have two good solutions, one minor annoyance with the Saab CEL, and zero terminal problems. Keep them.


Sajeev says:

Sir, how dare you suggest that a Panther is not suitable for your needs!

You haven’t even given it a chance! But honestly, you need a less charismatic vehicle. Singular. This should be something without the charms of a SAAB or a Subie.  Panther no, but something boring from Japan or the USA.  No complex SAAB electrics, no difficult Subie labor rates…a big concern at that mileage!

So set a budget and stick to it.  Maybe $5000 for a decent Corolla, Civic, Focus, Cobalt, Malibu, Camry, Sentra, Accord, etc. Get something with better-than-subie fuel mileage and bulletproof components.

If you find it boring, drive the wife’s Baja a few times. Save your cash for a home, or maybe another weird third car that might float your boat. Or maybe a little truck with a stick.

But right now, the smart money is on you consolidating and simplifying.

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30 Comments on “New or Used: Two Too Many Beaters?...”

  • avatar

    Complex Saab electrics?? If there is one thing on a Saab 9-5 that is pretty near bulletproof, it is the electrical system.

    For that CEL, get thee to and post the codes and symptoms. You will get a correct answer in very short order.

    I personally despise Subarus and think they should be killed with fire. Sell it and get a second Saab, they are getting cheaper by the day.

    • 0 avatar

      Beat me to it. Get thee to forthwith. My Saabs, including my current 9-5 Aero, have been pleasantly reliable, but if anything pops up, saabnet has a lot of knowledgable contributors who will save you time and money, especially if you are turning your own wrench. Just post the CEL codes and you’ll get what you’re looking for. Oh, and keep the 9-5. At 197K, it’s not even breathing hard yet.

      • 0 avatar

        Spend $30 on a Chinese clone of the OP-COM (OPEL diagnostic tool) off Ebay, it will give you access to all error codes in all systems (which you can later google or ask about on saabnet, saabcentral et al) – and ability to clear them too.

  • avatar

    Hitting the Saab enthusiast sites hard is a good idea, especially if you intend to sell it. If you can clear the CEL for cheap, it should raise the value of the car.

    As for what to buy, although I am probably wedded to Toyota for life, I find the Nissan Versa’s price highly appealing. Commenters here look askance at the CVT (which works sensationally in my daughter’s Sentra) but the cheeeeeaaap version has a 5-speed, so you can avoid the CVT if you want.

    At the moment, used car prices don’t seem like a great value and some brands come with decent incentives.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Buy a beater truck, they’re slightly more high tech than a tractor. Buy your flannel shirts from a big box store, find new places to buy palatable beer cheaply. Gain new friends and embrace the blue collar part of your psyche. Someone will always want to buy your truck when you want to get rid of it.

  • avatar

    A Saab fanboy running down Subaru’s is a bit like the left armpit running down the right. :)

  • avatar

    The Saab 9-5 owes you nothing at $1,000 purchase price. Just google the code and two or three Saab forums will pop up with your answer. Just keep the wheels aligned especially the rear.

  • avatar

    with a 110 mile ride each day I would keep the Saab just for the seats alone, keep both it is not the sexy thing but it makes sense for you, the new car smell wears off why before the loan does.

  • avatar

    I don’t know how you’ll find anything decent for $5,000 that doesn’t have 200,000 miles on it, especially in this used car market. If you expand your budget to $10,000 you can find an Extended Episilon platform vehicle (Malibu, G6 and Aura) that has under 70k miles, a decent interior and so far proven reliability in a vehicle that looks modern.

    Then again if you drive a $500 car you probably don’t car literally at all about what I just said, in which case nevermind. ;)

  • avatar

    I speak from personal experience that crashworthiness is another good reason for keeping the Saab. Last November my wife and I were in our 2004 9-5 wagon doing 60 mph when another car, passing in a no-passing zone, hit us head-on as we came over the crest of a hill. We both survived with no more than broken bones. Don’t think that would be the case in a Subaru or a small truck.

    • 0 avatar

      Subarus and small trucks don’t belong in the same sentence when you’re talking safety. Subaru is consistently at the top of the IIHS and NHTSA crash tests along with Saab. Small trucks are death traps in a serious accident.

      • 0 avatar

        +1 Incognito. My wife’s 2000 Outback was hit on two occasions several years ago, each time by other drivers traveling at high rates of speed. Both my wife and (now 12 year old) son survived splendidly and the Outback soldiers on. (And I don’t think Subie really got safety religion until the next generation). Getting ready to take it on a long cross state trip tomorrow. While Subies have their quirks, they tend to get some undue hate on this site. For me, they represent a near perfect nexus of practicality, reliability, durability and fun to drive. Not perfect on any of those scores … But the best compromise I’ve found. Now Saabs – after suffering through a few of those – I personally despise (and BMWs too – sorry KRhodes :>)!). While fun to drive, the long term reliability, value and durability is just not there in my and many others’ experience. I personally could no longer abide my teenage daughter having to deal with a 91 Saab 9000 continuing to die on her (despite 1000s of $ dumped on the thing with so-called Saab specialists) so I gave her my 94 SVX and traded in the 9000 on an 05 Legacy GT. 6 years later: happy dad; happy daughter. So, IMHO, stay goodbye to the Saab and go domestic or Japanese. YMMV.

  • avatar
    Carl in NH

    Muuustanng !!!! C’mon, you know you want to… Early 2000’s have some decent price points.

  • avatar
    Carl in NH

    In a practical sense, for the commute mpg, sure. I was thinking the same thing, until I looked at the hp numbers versus my current 04 Outback, and saw that a V6 Mustang would not be a big step forward toward what I call “fun” (Outback 165 bhp / 3430 lbs vs Mustang 193 bhp / 3290 lbs). So now I am strategizing how to justify a used GT as a 3rd car, as I have pretty much the same quandary as the Original Poster, except switch “Subaru Outback” for his “Saab”, including the CEL headache that is currently nickel and diming me.

  • avatar

    For a daily driver to go to and from work a reliable, dependable vehicle is necessary. It is nice to have something that doesn’t require constant tinkering. I would buy a new car and finace it, if I were you.

  • avatar

    You can never have too many beaters. I don’t care what the county ordinances say…

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I had a car with a CEL problem. I fixed it. I put a piece of black tape over the light and it did not bother me anymore.

  • avatar

    Get a Saab 9-2x!! Subaru WRX with a Griffin badge, best of both!

  • avatar

    Keep em both I consolidated a few years ago and miss having the third vehicle in the driveway. Steve has the answer all the way. By the way back in the day there used to be companies out there that would register your car in other states to avoid taxes and emissions (Maine used to be one of these states but there regs have tightened recently.

    • 0 avatar

      Given the low price point on both of his vehicles, nothing’s saying he can’t keep one as an “around town” or whatever car. $500 in trade toward a different car isn’t going to make a big difference either way, to be honest.

  • avatar

    I’m inclined to agree here, get the codes to the SAAB by having the OBD II scanned, armed with the codes, hit the SAAB forums mentioned and it’ll probably 3-4 items, most inexpensive to fix, I’m waging something like an oxygen sensor or the like is the culprit.

    Fix the problem, clear the code and if all’s well, get it tested when the time comes and just keep driving it. I’m guessing no more than a couple hundred or so to fix. I’d bet you can get another couple of years before you have to do anything with the car, maybe by then, you can replace it with something much newer, with lower mileage.

    I was forced to dump my truck as it had numerous issues, along with massive oil leakage, a leaking radiator, a leaking timing chain cover, along with a bad idle air controller back in January, the car I bought is almost a decade old, in very nice shape, has 115+ miles on it and I don’t refer to it as a beater, yet. It’s too nice for that currently.

    Even the leather seats are in nicer shape than my buddy’s ’01 Ford F150 Lariat 4×4 crew cab (both seats have wrinkling of the leather in the left side seat bolster, but his has much more than mine, and we have similar mileage, though no rips in the seams in his as yet).

    So as long as you like the car, are fine with its mileage and other than the CEL, it’s in great running order, fix it and keep driving it.

  • avatar

    Spend less time trying to squeeze the last nickle out of your cars and more time putting yourself in a position to get a job closer to home.

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