New or Used: Not All Orphans Are Created Equal

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used not all orphans are created equal

Mark writes:

Long time reader, first time commenter here…

I am in the market for a car for my daughter and I have noticed that the market is quite a bit different since the last time I bought a used car (2 years ago). When we bought a car for our oldest, I was looking for a 5/5/5 car — 5 years old, less than 50,000 miles and under $5k. Two years later I had to change that to 5/5/7 (for under $7,000). Now, I am seeing plenty of 8-10 year old Corolla/Civic/Elantra/etc with way north of 100k on the odo for $8,000 and more (private sale — dealers are even higher). This is in the NYC/Long Island area. $4 gas and crushed Clunkers have sure changed the market. My metric is out the window. Which brings me to….

I have found a clean 2008 Saturn Astra XR 2-door hatch, automatic with 31k on the odo. I drove it, found it to be a nice car, not too fast (good) and the original owner seems to be a guy like me who takes care of his stuff. We have mostly agreed on $8250. When I drove it, the AC was blowing hot, so he brought it in to a shop that is across the road from my regular mechanic, so he is going to look at it today. The A/C guy has to order a hose for it. And, this brings me to my question.

This car is a Belgian import sold under a defunct brand. It certainly seems unlike any other GM car I have ever looked at — no common switchgear save for the OnStar mirror, weird 24-hr display only clock. Members of Saturn fan sites like the cars, and I have not read of any major common problems, but, still, is this orphan car going to prove problematic a few years down the road when I have to start replacing stuff? To the motor engineer’s credit, the oil filter canister is front and center — a good sign to me.

What advice might you have for a loyal reader like me? (should I lay it on any thicker?)


Steve answers:

Excellent choice.

I was planning on getting the same exact model in four door form not too long ago. My wife likes compacts and the Astra pretty much checked off all her boxes. Unique. A solid safety record. 30+ mpg if you have a light foot. Plus the power train is surprisingly common. It’s the exact same one that is now being used ad nausea in the Chevy Cruze and Chevy Sonic.

You think it’s going to be hard to find parts for the Astra? Nope. Not at all. Trim pieces may be a bit more expensive down the road. But we live in a world where trim pieces for brands that have already been defunct for decades are still easily available. From Plymouth to Packards, the internet has enabled the once fearful buyer of an orphan brand to find what they want with relative ease.

Long story short, I would buy it.

Sajeev answers:

Not all orphans are created equal. This isn’t a nightmare scenario like a Daewoo Lanos, the Astra’s unique bits will be only mildly irritating to procure. I suspect the toughest bits will be collision repair items, but see Steve’s comment about the Internet being an awesome force for people who appreciate obscure metal.

I’m less concerned about availability, more about price. If that display panel in the head unit needs replacement, how much is THAT gonna cost? Probably more than the price difference between the Astra and a Cavalier/Cobalt/Focus/Sentra/etc.

Buy something else, unless you just love GM’s German engineering. As a Ford Sierra owner, I certainly appreciate that sentiment…but I won’t encourage it.

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5 of 57 comments
  • Art  Vandelay Art Vandelay on Sep 28, 2012

    I wouldn't sweat collision repair parts. The bottom of the barrel resale for this car as an orphan brand pretty much ensures this car will be totaled by a collision of any consequence. Of course if we arent talking about carrying full coverage...things could be more dicey, however these cars are plentiful in Europe so it's not like you are trying to find a NOS nose cone for your hemi Daytona. As to the head unit failing, there are fit kits out there for 10 bucks to put a conventional radio in it. If I recall that display is simply a clock and radio station display. Put in a regular head unit and throw a Garmin where that screen sits and call it a day. Nothing particularly exotic about this car.

  • Sketch447 Sketch447 on Sep 28, 2012

    I think you made the right decision. Don't worry about resale. Once your daughter is finished with it and wants to move on to something else, it'll be a disaster anyway.... Parts won't be a huge problem. The driveline is mostly domestic. And it's not a complicated car, it's basic.... It'll perform the services you bought it for, good enough....

    • See 2 previous
    • Wsn Wsn on Sep 28, 2012

      "Don’t worry about resale. Once your daughter is finished with it and wants to move on to something else, it’ll be a disaster anyway…" True for a GM car.

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