By on October 10, 2012

The best deal.

Most consumers use this phrase interchangeably with what they really want. The best car.

The question is whether they can find both at the same place.

Small confession here. I usually could care less if a new generation model is 10% better or 15% better than the old one.

To be frank, I consider the majority of new models to be cheaper products that, over the course of years, will fail to live up to the standards of the older model.

It may drive better at first. It’s new after all. But give it 80k miles of driving and many of those pressed plastic bits are going to be stressed to the point where vibrations and noise will make many of these cars unpleasant to drive. CVT transmissions and cheap plastics still don’t hold up from what I have seen at the auctions, and until they do, I won’t be endorsing any new model that is laden with them.

So what is a good deal these days?

1) The unpopular car that is well engineered.

2) Which is still left at the dealer lot during model changeover time.

3) That is easy to maintain and keep for the long haul.

Here’s two local models in my neck of the woods that caught my eye. Specifically because a friend of mine was recently looking for a new set of wheels. (click!)

If you look at the top two vehicles, you will see two leftover 2012 Honda Accords. Both stickshifts. Both of these have been in their inventory forever. One was priced at $17,600 when I looked at it online this past weekend. The other was priced at $17,800.

This weekend I shared the information with a friend, who may have carried it forward to someone else. So what happens? It goes up of course … perhaps until the consumer calls the dealership and ask them if they are willing to make a deal on a car they have been sitting on for 120+ days.

Click on the stock photos for the white one, and you see it was built April 2012. The gray one? It’s upside down. But if you stand on your head you’ll find that it was built February 2012.

These are two Accords that are similar in their product staleness to what I bought for my late father back in the day. He bought a 1992 Lincoln Mark VII at a time when the Mark VIII had already launched. As a result, Ford was heavily discounting an already unpopular model, that also happened to fit my father’s desires to a T.

Nine years and one unavoidable accident later, we went out and bought the outgoing Lexus ES300 at a time when the new generation had already hit the pavement. Was the older model supposedly better than the new one? No. But that older model had already made hundreds of thousands of consumers happy. The Lexus also received the full benefit of five years worth of quality improvements and manufacturing prowess.

Those attributes are seldom factored in. However in the long run, if you are the type who is a ‘keeper’ who prefers to keep their cars for 150k miles or more, this is where your sweet spot will lie.

An outoging model. High quality. Great reputation. Proven powertrain. Discounted price.

Eleven years later that Lexus is still vault like when you drive it. I am willing to bet that the Accords I mentioned above will be a nice fit as well for somebody out there who doesn’t mind rowing their own gears.

So folks, when it comes time to buying your next new car, weigh everything in. Are you a keeper? Or a trader? Chances are if you look at your next new car as a long-term investment, it may pay to shop for that ‘old’ new instead of the ‘all’ new.

Agree? Disagree? Stories? Please post away. All the best!

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65 Comments on “Hammer Time: ‘Old’ New? < or > ‘All’ New?...”

  • avatar

    I have always abided by the “Never buy the first model year of an all new model” rule myself. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Honda or a Chevrolet or a BMW: a significant number of newly redesigned models will have ‘teething’ problems during their first year.

    The rule applys when buying a used car as well. I paid a bit more and bought a 2001 Chevrolet Silverado instead of a slightly cheaper 1998 model. The ’98s were all new. By 2001 the bugs had been worked out.

    • 0 avatar

      We have a first model year Acura TSX. After 8 years, it developed its first problem, which is a sticky power lock solenoid. Apparently that is a fairly common problem area, but the 2004 TSX is still one of the most reliable cars of all time. We also have one of the first Civic Si sedans shipped. After almost 6 years, it still hasn’t revealed a defect. Finally, we have a 2012 Honda CR-V. The dealer installed the state inspection sticker where it blocked the outward facing light sensor which required a dealer follow up. That’s it. I suppose if we’d waited a year then the dealer might have learned where to put the sticker.

      In contrast, my company’s first model year 2012 Audi A6 has been about as problematic as first model years cars are thought to be, triggering three warning lights while I was driving it to the dealer for its first oil change. Still, it was better than if everything went pear shaped on the way home from the dealer.

      BTW, this faith in Hondas doesn’t extend to the 2013 Accord. All three of our Hondas are K-series powered cars with the most proven and conventional drivetrains this side of Toyota. I’ll give the Earth Dreams/CVT cars a few years to prove themselves.

      • 0 avatar

        K’s are proving to be just as reliable if not moreso than the venerable B series.

        I had a K before, good stuff, and agree with you on the earth dreams statement.

        The only bad Honda thing I really can think of though is the durability of their V6 transmissions.

      • 0 avatar

        TSX is Euro/JDM Accord which came out as 2003 models in their markets, so your 2004 is mostly its second year of production…

      • 0 avatar

        Like you, when I first read that Honda would join the CVT ranks for the four cylinder 2013 Accord, my first thought was,’here we go again’, remembering the sour tranmissions fitted to V6 Accords, TL’s and CL’s from five or so years ago. And, then I reasoned that Honda has probably learned a very expensive lesson, and maybe the CVT has already been tested in other markets before bringing it here.

        When I worked for Honda around 1984, I learned that some models sold in Japan and elsewhere would get fuel injection, but the comparable model sold in the States would all stay with carburetors. I asked a service rep why that was. He said American Honda wanted to see how trouble-free the systems were for a complete model year, before bringing f.i. models to the States. And for the 1985 model year, they imported, IIRC, the CRX Si, Accord SEi, and Prelude Si, confident that the systems were fine.
        I still personally have a funny feeling about CVT for my personal cars, but I’d like to think that Honda has thoroughly tested them.

  • avatar

    The miles are climbing well past the five figures on my Stang and I lust after the Boss (doesn’t every GT owner). Knowing that in a couple of years the new design will come out, I spend too many hours, whilst waiting at stop lights, wondering if I should shoot my stang up to 200k and wait for the boss to be a last gen or swap now.

    You would think that they somewhere around 2014 there will be a last generation unloved and unwanted on the lot, but then its a boss. Thoughts anyone?

    • 0 avatar

      “You would think that they somewhere around 2014 there will be a last generation unloved and unwanted on the lot…”

      That might happen but like you said it is a BOSS and is coveted by many enthusiasts unlike an Accord, Camry or similar vehicle.

      I wonder is the BOSS is being produced in limited numbers. If so, your desire to find one wasting its existence in a dealer’s lot might be vexed but I’d say it’s worth the short wait to find out. I remember when the GT500s came on the scene and how dealers who wouldn’t negotiate on price were forced to after the cars sat on the lot in excess of four months.

      That being said, you can find a pretty good deal on a BMW M Coupe. Just thought I’d throw that in there.

  • avatar

    Yes. Absolutely. If you keep it, say, 10 years, any loss of trade-in value from buying even a year-old model is a distant memory. Our last two new ehicles were end-of-year models, and the next year’s models were in sight. We’re going to keep ours a long time, but a lot of people have a hard time staying rational when it comes to buying a car.

  • avatar

    I’m a trader/keeper. I regularly horse trade my dailys, but treat them as if they could be keepers. It’s because like you said, newer cars aren’t necessarily better, so I might not find another worthy driver for a while. Or I could find one tomorrow, but generally the drivers are just as you described, outgoing models.

    A perfect example of your theory is my pickup which I specifically bought for the reasons you outlined.

    2003 F-150 4×4 with a 5.4L. By the time this truck was sold new the completely redesigned 2004 F-150 was hitting dealer lots with the new 5.4V 3V. While they looked pretty, the 3V version of the 5.4L ended up being a turd with oil pressure, VCT phaser, injector and spark plug issues while by 2003, the 2V was completely sorted out (complete with extra spark plug threads).

    Mine has 130,000 miles and still looks and drives like new, while a good number of ’04-’10 F-150s are on their 2nd or 3rd 3V engine.

  • avatar

    I was instantly reminded of Jack Baruth’s review of the outgoing Impala a few monthes ago whilst reading this post. He basically said the same thing about an outgoing car that has had a decade plus of incremental mfg. improvements to it. I’ve been giving some serious thought to picking one up. My 97 Jetta with 250k+ is slowly circling the drain.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with Baruth’s assessment of the ’12 Impala as well. I too had one as a rental and found it to be a pretty decent and reasonably quick car. The 3.6 DI in the Imp isn’t quite as fast as the Chrysler pentastar, so I recommend checking out the Chrysler 200 as well.

  • avatar

    I’m done buying new cars, probably forever. My money is better spent elsewhere. Last week I sold my 2011 Accord V6/6MT to Carmax (got $1700 above payoff) and then picked up a 2006 6MT Acura TSX for $12k OTD. Cut my payment nearly in half, and minus the 70HP deficiency and lack of navigation, the TSX is a better car, even for being 5 years older.

    Sometimes what the article mentions can backfire though. Case in point: 3 years ago when I picked up one of the last 2009 Mazdaspeed 3’s because I (like many) thought the 2010 Nagare cars were hideous. Well they might have looked like picachu, but the engine problems had been resolved, along with many other interior and exterior cheapness issues. In that case, not getting the leftovers would have been the wiser choice.

    • 0 avatar

      Although you did not mention this, it sounds like you did this for financial reasons, you basically traded in one year old Accord for a six year old Accord?

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, I had a harsh wake up call two weeks ago, and after 15 years of buying new-car smell, I realized it wasn’t worth the extra money, and having a new car in the driveway doesn’t mean jack if there’s an unexpected need for a chunk of money. Someone once joked with me, “buy an old car and a jar of ‘new car’ air freshener.” I get it now. :)

      • 0 avatar

        I think you may want to review the accounting – it’s not nearly the deal you think it is as you need to account for the fact that the TSX is five years closer to the grave and will begin encountering expensive repairs five year sooner.

      • 0 avatar

        jmo, I know where you are coming from, and that’s the risk I have to take right now. 5 years from now I expect to be in a much better situation financially, but right here and now, the extra 200+ dollars a month will make a huge difference in my household. I just need 3 years from the vehicle with no major issues and I’m set.

        The carfax for this car showed an owner who meticulously went above and beyond to handle maintenance, and my own inspection left me confident with the purchase. Yes it’s hit or miss with any used car, but it’s a chance worth taking, and only time will tell.

        This was just the tip of the financial overhaul we have planned for the next 2 years. By the end of 2014 our goal is to have no interest-bearing debt other than the mortgage (and that includes both cars being paid off), and a considerable reduction in bills/expenses (I cannot WAIT for our FIOS contract to be up in June…). It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep, and we have some holes to plug.

    • 0 avatar

      First, kvndoom.
      I worked for Acura up until 2004, and the TSX six-speed was easily my favorite Acura at that time. I drove two different ones, as well as the rare ’03 CL S-Type six-speed manual nav. Hands down, the TSX was the sweetest ride we sold. It’s not an Accord(US version), it’s not simply a four door RSX. It’s its own sweet sports sedan. Kudos to kvndoom.

      When I left Acura, I shopped for a car, looked at a preowned 325CI coupe, tried to see if I could get a deal on a preowned TSX. Couldn’t touch one for less than $10,000 over the cost of the BMW coupe, and went for the coupe. I wasn’t unhappy with the BMW, but all things being equal, I would have gone with the TSX.

      As far as Lang’s advice, spot on. I helped a friend buy a Honda at end-of-modelyear time. He wanted a Civic with a stick, I told him that if we were careful, he could move into a Accord stick. With help from a friend at a Honda dealer, we found three DX coupes with manual transmission. If you remember, the DX was the stripper in ’94, manual windows and locks, no cruise, no RH mirror, no A/C, no sound system,but otherwise like a LX. This was July, one of the dealers cars was made assembled the previous December, so we thought, this car is prime for a ‘blow it out’ sale. We put all of the cards on the salesman’s desk, it’s a strippy DX coupe(10 points against it), it’s no automatic(another 10 points against), you haven’t been able to unload it for at least seven months, while still paying floor plan(interest to a bank), this is what you paid for it, this is how much Honda is going to reimburse you($200) once you report it sold. Now, we’re interested in buying the car tonight.
      We’ll pay $15,000 for the car, we’ll pay an additional $800 labor and parts included for you to install factory A/C, don’t even think about charging any documentation fee(usually around $200), you can run this offer by your sales manager, but don’t send him in here to talk to us. This Is The Deal, or we walk. Two other dealers have this very same car. Capeche? No. the manager came into the office, anyway. My friend repeated to the manager, along the lines of, ‘If it’s a ‘yes’ bring on the paperwork, if it’s a ‘no’, nice talkin’ to you, seeyoubye. It was a ‘yes’

      A word about rebates. Automotive News lists customer rebates, as well as rebates paid just to the dealer, with expiration dates. sometimes lists them when you’re pricing out a specific new car. A word about documentation fees. This is purely a 100 percent profit for the dealer. They’ll tell you it a state law, or this is a corporate dealer and it’s mandatory, or we have to charge it because it’s preprinted on the sales agreement. It’s never a state-mandated charge, don’t care who owns the dealership, and a preprinted amount can be lined out and initialed on the sales agreement.

      Do your research, but when you tell a salesman what your bottomline is, you don’t need to be angry, but you do need to be firm and resolute with the salesperson and any managers.

  • avatar

    Is Steve Lang the best automotive writer working today? His articles are endlessly interesting. But I’d have a hard time dropping close to $20k on a 2012 Accord when I know the 2013 has a six-speed manual and other updates.

    • 0 avatar

      My observations:

      1. My Dad had the first year of the 5th-Gen Accord back in 1994. Only problem I recall was that he may have had to have some A/C components replaced, but so did I on my first new car, a 1994 Civic, which I purchased at the same time my dad leased his Accord; that was the first year of RF-134a refrigerant, and they had problems with all the cars that year!

      2. More importantly, Honda’s recent releases have been bug-free: Acura MDX, Civic, Odyssey, CR-V. (The Civic was just a MATERIALS blunder–I haven’t heard of any mechanical, electrical or technical bugs with it.)

      I’m confident enough in this new Accord that I’ve placed an order for a Touring Sedan–V6 with 6-speed automatic transmission (whose design has been used in Acura and Honda products over the last several years with none of the problems that plagued all the 4-and-5-speeds)! I’ve worked with the same dealer for 18 years, my family for 20, and they have always stood behind any problems; several times, my Dad’s power antennas on his first couple Accords were replaced gratis, even when it was obvious that someone (my Mom) had driven it through a car wash without turning down the radio! (Weirdly, the head gasket went out on my Mom’s 1990 Civic, and they covered it fully after my Dad brought up “if I would have wanted this, I woould have brought…” in a straight, normal tone-of-voice.) Just recently, they comped me 1/3rd the cost my 2006 Accord’s power-steering pump, which presented the same symptoms as a problem on Odyssey p/s pumps of similar vintage for which there is a TSB on the books! They know that I’ll go elsewhere if they don’t take care of me! (I’m sure there were a couple non-TSBed things I’ve had done which I can’t remember–EVERY CAR has a chance to have one or two things which need to be addressed!

      This confidence comes from the fact that aside from the things I mentioned above, in twenty years, out of nine Honda products my family’s purchased, not one has burned a drop of oil or has had a serious mechanical failure which has caused anything more than a minor inconvenience.

  • avatar

    In not choosing not to buy an all-new model I think that people do a disservice to the engineers who worked on developing that vehicle, while also ignoring the advances made in automotive design and build quality.

    Back in the 1960s and ’70s, my father used to get a car every three years and there would inevitably be the running-in phase, which meant that for a month or so anything in excess of 2,000rpm was out of the question until the engine had bedded in. I now get a new car every year or so and do you know how much bedding in I do? None. Owing to modern manufacturing methods, it’s OK to simply drive the car from Day One any way you like. Doing so does the vehicle no harm whatsoever as the various parts have been engineered to such a tolerance that they can mesh without shaving themselves clean of any burrs or other leftover bits.

    In the same way that the engine no longer needs to be molly coddled in its early life, the rest of the car has been improved to the same degree. So much so that considering the safety equipment and build quality (ultra high-strength steels, crash cell structure, etc), I would do my best to buy as new a model as possible in order to take advantage of the these improvements.

    With this in mind, to actively avoid having the first example of a new model is simply ridiculous. In fact, the only valid point put forward is that a model’s engineering will be improved over the lifetime of that vehicle, but that’s the same for every product, so I guess you’re never first in line for the new TVs, microwaves, laptops or other white goods. To simply say ‘I’m not going to be a new adopter’ sounds more like ‘bah humbug’ rather than good sense.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. The new models aren’t designed from scratch without any institutional knowledge. A new engine design may not be proven in the field, but it does benefit from lessons learned on previous designs. The new car won’t be perfect, but most manufacturers don’t look at the first model year as a beta test.

    • 0 avatar

      Most car manuals still tell you not to go over 100mph or do high revs or sudden accels/decels in the first 1000 miles. Since car companies really have no interest in all their customers keeping their cars for 15+ years, I think they might be onto something.

    • 0 avatar

      “With this in mind, to actively avoid having the first example of a new model is simply ridiculous.”

      I GREATLY disagree and I’m guessing anyone that compiles reliability stats would as well.

      Northstar, Oldsmobile Diesel, V8-6-4, Displacement on Demand, Vue CVT, Insight CVT, Direct Injection carbo, HT-4100, Series II 3800, early Modular V8, 4.0L SOHC, SHO V8, Chrysler 2.7L DOHC, early Ultradrive, Nissan VH45DE, 2007 WRX, Porsche IMS, Genesis Coupe, and I’m sure a whole bunch more.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not going to take advice on break-in and maintenance from someone who gets a new car “every year or so.” We’re different *species,* you and I.

        Oops–meant to direct that to Motormouth.

        But on the topic of first-year blues, don’t forget the problems when Ford dropped the 7.3L diesel for the 6.0.

    • 0 avatar

      No matter what, there are GOING to be bugs in the first year of a new model. There is simply no substitute for getting real production cars in the hands of real people in real world conditions. Doing that level of testing is simply not practical. So I too am one who has no desire to spend 10s of thousands of dollars to be a beta tester.

      And at this point, the difference in generations of mainstream cars is pretty minor. Evolutionary, not revolutionary, and in many cases there really ARE steps backwards due to cost-cutting. A 2012 Accord vs. a 1990 Accord is a gigantic leap, but a 2012 vs. 2013? Yawn.

  • avatar

    The last few vehicles we’ve bought have been deals

    My current car, a 2010 Altima, doesn’t quite fit the ” still on the lot when the new version is out” mode here. It had been in the inventory for nearly a year when I leased it in March 2011. It’s not that desirable, a 2.5S that is white with a beige interior and few options(though that still means a lot of equipment.)

    The volume Nissan dealer I leased it from had 20 of them and was offering a local Sign and Drive deal for $200/month versus the 200/month with 2000 down for the 2011 car. So, I had pretty much the same car for no money out of pocket.

    We bought our 2008 Mazda 5 as a leftover in May of 09. We bought it in NYC and drove it home to Pittsburgh. Mazda was offering $3000 off of 08’s and this dealer in the Bronx was the closest dealer that had them,especially since we wanted the GT model. It was worth the plane ticket and the mini-adventure to get it.

    The last car before that was a 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback. It sat on the dealers lot for over a year. The dealer was offering it for $5000 off sticker. They never sold well, since the Outlander was essentially the same vehicle but had the more desirable SUV/CUV styling and available AWD.

    I love having different cars, so I used to trade regularly, even though I shouldn’t have. But now, having twin boys in diapers, I plan on keeping the Mazda, letting the Altima go when the lease is up and getting a “mini” van to replace it.

    • 0 avatar

      Hah! I bought a used Sportback in ’08 that had originally sat at the dealers lot for a year. It had 25 thousand miles on it and because it sat for so long Mitsubishi had upgraded the warranty to 5yrs/50K before the first dealer managed to unload it. Fortunately for me, the Buick dealer that was selling it didn’t realize this when they were pricing it and assumed that it was still 3/36.

  • avatar

    I try to stand by the adage of the outgoing model is going to be better than the new one, but have been unfortunate in the sense that my last few cars have not been outgoing models, but instead first year versions of the current model.

    It is funny to see the changes made and how people react to them, especially in cars with an enthusaist community.

    In my last 3 cars I see the following things happen:
    S2000 – I have a MY2000. Everyone knows the AP1/AP2 thing, in a perfect world I’d have AP1 motor and suspension with AP2 cosmetics and interior. I don’t so I have weaker valve retainers, no defroster, and a smaller amount of shoulder room.

    RSX-S – I had a MY04, facelift was in 05. 04s missed out on the main failing of the car, which was weaker valvespringe in the early 02s. other than that, not much changed. The 05+ motor was stronger, but had a new ECU that made it much more expensive to mod.

    B5 A4 – I had a MY96. Only came with the archaic 12 valve 2.8, but was quattro. This was actualy a benifit more than anything, because the 12V V6 was used for years in the 90 and 100 beforehand and was rock solid compared to the new 1.8T and the 30V 2.8 released in 98. I basically only missed out on cosmetic improvements, especially those in the 99.5 facelift.

    We currently have a ’10 Mazda3, which I kind of wish I waited on now that I know about it’s suspension/alignment quirks, though I don’t know if they’ve fixed them yet in the ’12 MY. I don’t like the newer interiors and wheels as much either. I know that silver painted plastics generally get hated on here, but they brighten up the interior compared to the black plastics in the newer ones.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    To paraphrase my son…

    I am never, ever, in a hundred bill quintillion years in line for “new TVs, microwaves, laptops or other white goods.”

    The ones you mention can usually be had for zero to 10% of the original price at a variety of places. Freecycle, friends who move out of state, auctions, garage sales, thrift stores.

    When I watch people waiting in line for the Black Friday drek, it reminds me of a modern day version of “The Hunger Games”. Except in this case it’s reprocessed metal and plastic instead of actual food.

  • avatar

    Outgoing model? Proven drivetrain? Yes and yes. That’s why I chose to buy an eight-month-old new 2012 Impala, according to the builder’s plate.

    We bought a first-year 1981 Plymouth Reliant. Never again. It turned out to be a good car eventually, but it had lots of teething problems with defective metal along the rain gutters and above the rear glass on the driver’s side. No lemon law back then, but our local dealer did bend over backwards in fixing the car and it turned out to be a good car for the next seven years. We had a ball driving that thing, 2.2L 4 speed, no options! Drove like a sports car compared to most other wheels on the road at the time.

    • 0 avatar

      Concur on 1st year new introduction models as ex-wife had a 1994 built 1995 intro year Dodge Neon.

      That car had so many intro problems that were both eaten by the warranty (60k manual transmission replacement, head gasket, software!) and un-warrantied- like minor p-i-t-a issues fixed by later production changes (like window drip rails that failed to catch drips- changed for 1998my. Thank god for the warranty as Chysler lost money on the extended warranty bought for the car.

      Still I got 267,000 out of the POS but that was due to my fixing things that no one would have been able to afford to pay a mechanic to do…

      Many say for new model introductions = stay away and for refreshed models = better. But go for the savings of the leftover models prior to refresh year.

  • avatar

    Reference buying the first of a new model: I had always believed that it was a bad idea but had nothing to back me up. Bought a 2002 Saturn Vue and I will never do that again. It may have been an Opel something in Europe but it was new here. It was the car I loved the most and mostly it loved ______ me. Never again. I’ll leave that to those of you who think it doesn’t matter and I will read your reports on how well it did.

    Steven has excellent advice here.

  • avatar

    2003 Mazda Protege5 bought about a week before the Mazda3 arrived. MSRP was about $19,000. Paid $13,400, which was much less than used ones were going for. A few months earlier the typical transaction price was $17,000.

  • avatar

    Have to agree. Bought the last gen 2008 Mazda6 GT 5 door after the new generation model had come out. That reduced the price of a car that listed for a little over $27,000 to a little over $23,000.

    At that price, purchasing this car was a no-brainer.

  • avatar
    Andrew Bell

    I am a ‘keeper’ and factored in all of the points mentioned in the article with the addition of insurance cost. In Ontario, insurance can cost you an extra $1000-1500/year depending on vehicle. I also drive 50,000+km a year on the highway and spend a lot of time driving through snow storms and other terrible weather.

    In the end, I found a clean 2010 Impala LT ex-rental through a local dealer with 48,000km for $12,000+tax. Dealer auction price at the time was averaging about $11,000. For the extra $1,000 premium, I got a full set of new brakes, new Goodyear tires and a few other extras. They were listed at $15,900 at the time but the dealer had purchased 20 of them and there were 3 left which they had to carry over the winter. By the time I showed up, they had been sitting around for about 6 months without any interest. I offered $11,500 but agreed to $12,000 with the additions mentioned.

    At $1100 a year for insurance (versus $2300 for a new Civic sedan for example), and averaging 8.5L/100km over the first 25,000km it has been an affordable choice for a daily driver. The interior isn’t too exciting but it has Bluetooth/cruise/AC/pwr windows/pwr seat and the dark grey cloth looks half decent. It came with a rigid rear bench which I replaced for a flip and fold version for $100 (from an auto wrecker, one hour to install). I would classify the handling as ‘relaxed’ but the engine (3.5L pushrod V6) gets the job done and is very smooth. It also gets moving in the snow better than some AWD cars I have driven (…Venza in particular). Another fun fact is that it only weighs about 350lbs more than a Cruze so the 215hp V6 feels pretty strong in comparison. An added perk is the 160,000km powertrain warranty.

    Basically, if you are looking at a daily driver for racking up huge mileage, you could do a lot worse than an Impala. The car is the definition of unloved and the prices reflect that sentiment.

    Excellent article. Although I also love high performance cars, the daily driver is whole different animal.

  • avatar

    If you buy a car that is about to be replaced or recently has been, you’ll probably be two generations out of date come sell or trade-in. Much tougher to sell.

    • 0 avatar

      Not tougher to sell. You bought it for less, you sell it for less. Even better, you dump it when it is 4 generations out of date, so the price difference when dumped is largely irrelvent–especially when compared money saved up-front.

  • avatar

    I am definitely into getting a deal on a leftover model, but only if it’s not being replaced with an all new generation with more features (or much better looking). I bought a ’99 Ford Contour in early ’00, but the ’00 was actually decontented from the ’99 so that was a no brainer. However earlier this year I bought a new ’12 Focus which is better in just about every way than the ’11 model it replaced. Would never have considered a ’11 model no matter the price. Still managed to get almost $5k off the ’12 though.

    So in short for me it depends on the model and the extent of improvement of the new model replacing it.

  • avatar

    I remember years ago (around the mid 90’s) trying to get my grandmother to buy a new car. She had a mid-80’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera that was basically falling apart (and fell on my shoulders to fix).

    I thought her response was so funny, she said it would take years to sort out all the problems a new car would have, that we had finally gotten all the bugs out of this one.

    I definitely agree with the premise of buying end of model cars, especially as all of this new technology coming online like direct injection and CVT transmissions. I could see these being expensive nightmares after the warranty, all so consumers can “save” $4 a month in gas.

  • avatar

    I have always heard that first year models are bad for all the reasons everyone already knows.

    HOWEVER, I also heard that a last year model isn’t great either, as the tooling and robots might not have super tight clearances/setttings anymore, resulting in panel gaps and other fitment issues.

  • avatar

    Same issue I’m facing with my wife: ’08 Highlander vs 06/07 4Runner. Highlander has a much nicer interior but is a first year model and the rear spark plugs require removing the intake manifold and wiper cowl. Along with two full stickied posts of maintenance and issues at Toyota Nation, the 4Runner seems like a no brainer. it has 5 years of improvements (03/04s had major engine issues and now their dashes are cracking), and seems to be *almost* as dependable as the 96-02 models.

    Still my wife wants a temp knob instead of a button. what can you do?

  • avatar

    I was able to get a 2012 Fusion SEL with everything that I wanted on it, for the same price as the basic 2013 fusion. Given that the 2012 was rated highly by Edmunds and consumer reports into the end of its run, I think it was a good choice, especially given that Ford’s new car intros can be kind of shaky, and I keep my cars for 10+ years (bye-bye to the Protege–a good car– after 12 years).

    • 0 avatar

      That’s great financially, but you’re going to enjoy a grand total of what, four prior-model cars in your entire life?

      Jeez that’s a bit depressing. Enjoy your new car (I agree they are decent) but consider something on the side.

      • 0 avatar

        When I was younger, used cars seemed to make more sense than they do now, but I would also go through them quicker. I’ve had a 67 mercury cougar, a 73 240Z, (a not quite sporty) 86 celica, a 91 MR2, and a variety of eco-boxes. I am married now with three kids, and my life is as far from depressing, as it has ever been. I travel around the world, have a few nice invetments, a career, and a beautiful wife. Cars are fun, but they are a tiny part of my life.

  • avatar

    I think the japanese car makers are the best at ‘ironing out the bugs’ with each model year. I have a ’97 Ford Aerostar- which was the last model year of a 12 year model run. Yet it still has the same troublesome side door. Same troublesome vacuum-controlled HVAC, same flimsy door panel, and same defective rear brake light switch as before. Ford learns absolutely nothing even during a 12 year model run of a front engined, rear wheel drive conventional car. Actually they did make one important change- they started using a 5 speed auto trans in the last 2 years, which was far less reliable than the previous 4 speed.

  • avatar

    I’m more interested in getting exactly what I want over what’s “in” or at the same point the best deal. I was also once a trader, but cars are getting too expensive and I hate the thought of paying off a car, while keeping it clean and serviced, and then selling it and letting the next owner get the deal that it is.

    My wife’s SUV is now seven years old with only 64k miles, it has a great four-wheel drive and has nothing wrong with it. Why take the hit to sell it and as well take on the hefty new car payments? I’ll give it another three to five years, and then I might even take it over as my daily driver over my currently Civic.

  • avatar
    Seminole 95

    In the past 4 months I have bought 2 stick Accord LX sedans (I bought 2 because we have many drivers in the family). What a sweet car. The car is very underrated, it has decent power and Honda probably has the slickest powertrain at that price, which was $17.6K and $17.8K OTD for me. I thought about buying a 2013 Accord stick, but they are only making automatics at this point in the production cycle, to my knowledge. Plus they aren’t discounting the 2013s and it worked out to be an extra year of car payments over the 2012s.

  • avatar

    “it’s no automatic(another 10 points against), you haven’t been able to unload it for at least seven months,… This Is The Deal, or we walk…”

    And then enthusiasts complain when the manual sedans are dropped.

    And according to most, the ‘all new’ model is only good when it is discontinued?

    • 0 avatar

      You know, in our case, it could be that the DX was shunned, because in general it didn’t have as much goodies standard as the LX manual trans model, and they weren’t told that things like a sound system, A/C, and RH mirror could be added to the DX (though not power windows, locks, and cruise).

      Sometimes, the manufacture does listen, equips later models with manual trans options, and for some reason the buying public doesn’t follow through to buy them in sufficient numbers. I think I read that the overall percentage of new cars and trucks purchased with manual tranmissions is six percent.

      As an aside, I read that Honda will offer a six speed manual as an option in the 2013 Accord V6 coupe.

  • avatar

    Good post and good advice. There is an awful lot to be said about this. However what about decontenting that happens over the life of a product with many manufacturers?

    How do you take that into account with your end of life-cycle argument?

    • 0 avatar

      Good example–on the last two years of the previous Accord, 2011 and 2012 (after the mid-cycle model change), they made some improvements to the general interior quality, but removed the glovebox light, liners for some of the storage cubbies, and a little LED light over the console that came on with the headlights (but they left the *** dimple *** in the plastic where the thing used to be)!

      Unfortunately, it seems as though you do have to step up to an Acura to get a light in the glovebox, as the new Accords don’t have one present, and no way to retrofit it. (This is my biggest, and one of my only beefs, with the 2013 Accord so far.) The cubbies are a little smaller, but decent, and the little ambient console light is back!

  • avatar

    It’s because of situations like this, with a model transition, that I’m actually very tempted to stress my finances and see if I can find a 987 Boxster as the new generation of boxters start hitting the Porsche dealership lots.

  • avatar

    My current daily driver is one of the last batch of first gen focus hatches that Ford made. It’s an 07 ZX3 with a stick shift, nothing special. The first year of ownership was hell – between less than thorough QC measures at the factory and the dealer, plus sitting six months on the dealer lot before I came along – the car had tons of annoying little problems that it took a year to sort out. Granted, I put 36k miles on it in that first year. Once broken in, it’s been remarkably solid. I have no intentions of trading it in. It’s almost at 93k miles now and runs great. For me, I’m glad that I have the newest example of the first gen focus hatch. The car suffered horribly at the hands of accountants through a gang rape session of decontenting for the 2005 refresh. The 05-07 models had a lot of the standard features of the 00-04 models removed or made into optional extras. Fortunately, aside from the engine, dashboard, and front fascia – the car remained unchanged between 00 and 07. The nice thing is that through trips to the pick and pull – I’ve been able to recontent the car very cheaply. I would buy a final model year of a car without question again. I just wouldn’t buy one that languished on the lot for a long time… On the upside – mine was the only one they had that closely resembled what I wanted – sunroof, cd changer, and manual transmission.

  • avatar
    Rick S

    My father owns a 2004 Pontiac Aztek (purchased in June ’05) that he bought brand new for $11,500. It has 140k miles and he has had absolutely ZERO trouble with it. So fugly but it is shockingly versatile.

  • avatar

    The versatility of the Aztek was never in question, especially with some of the accessories offered. Why they made it so ugly is the question, especially when the similar Rendezvous was much better looking.

  • avatar

    The much maligned Impala is a classic case in point. My 2008 2LT 3900 now has rolled up 98K miles on the clock, is still solid and rattle free and has only needed a new battery, brakes, tires and the typical GM intermediate shaft which cost me a total of $54.00 courtesy of Ebay. That’s it. Not one single electrical issue. No window regulators or wheel bearings. The interior uses simple dials and knobs and I know the car inside and out and have owned W-body cars for years with equally good results. That is why I’m strongly considering a 2012 or 13 to replace the 08 when the time comes and not the all new far more complex 2014 Epsilon version which will probably suffer the same issues as the Lacrosse- overweight, less MPG, slower, higher belt line and poor visibility, smaller trunk, to many electronic toys to go wrong etc and a massive price increase over the bargain priced lightly used 12/13 examples. The best part is that I’ll actually be gaining equipment over my 08 such as Bluetooth, a leather shift knob, 302 HP instead of 233, a 6 speed automatic vs a 4 speed, firmer suspension and steering, better sounding radio, Onstar, 2 better highway MPG and the absolute best part: the price will be about the same as I paid 4 years ago for the 2008!

    • 0 avatar

      W-body Chevy Impala is the value buy in the used market at the moment IMO.

      This may sound shocking, but I think the value buy in the new car market is the Chrysler 200. You can price a V6 200 on their website for around 20K, I think the base 4-cyl is 17 or 18. A mid trim Dart was around the 17 or 18 IIRC, and had similar if not identical options to the base 4-cyl 200.

      • 0 avatar

        The Impala is no doubt a very good “buy”, but I don’t find it to be a particularly enjoyable car even with the 300hp engine. Its just so blah. I guess if all you care about is getting from place to place it’s fine. They are just born to be rental cars. But I suppose if you simply MUST have a blah car you might as well pick the cheap, fast option.

        Ditto the Chrysler 200. Despite being much improved over its Sebring predecessor it is still a desperately flawed vehicle, and IMHO pretty terrible to drive. The Dart is at least attractive – the 200 still has the awkwardness of the Sebring baked in. I admit I have not driven a Dart yet, I am sure I will get one as a rental eventually.

        Ultimately I don’t buy cars by the pound, so I would tend to prefer the smaller, nicer option even if it is the same price. I have never quite gotten why smaller=cheaper to most people. Smaller usually means more sophisticated, and thus should be more expensive. Any idiot can build a big, dumb car, it takes talent to create a small, smart one. I guess a small, dumb car should be cheaper, and that is what Detroit historically pumped out.

  • avatar

    I, too, haven’t yet driven a Dart, and I’m hoping to. It looks good on paper and in the showroom, now I wonder what it’s like on the road, and trying one for week as a rental might be ideal.

    The very time that the current Impala came out, a friend visited me from L.A., and he was driving one for local rental. I asked, ‘whata U think?’, and he said, ‘it’s just your basic rental, that’s all’.

    Each time I see someone in a current Impala, I ask myself what made them do that? Was it the thousands of dollars in trunk money/rebates or that’s what their company issued them, was it that their wide bum wouldn’t be comfortable in anything more sensible, like a Malibu?.
    I’ve had Chargers and Chrysler 200’s for rentals, didn’t want them at first, but found that for just a week or less I got used to them.

    The latest rental wrinkle I’ve found is that I’ll reserve a Focus or Altima or Mazda6, and the person at the rental counter(usually Hertz)will say, ‘I’m sorry Mr. Snakebit, we don’t have any of those now, but I’m authorized to upgrade you to a Crown Victoria.’And I usually have said, ‘ I’m sorry, too, but in my world, it’s unlawful to use ‘upgrade’ and ‘Crown Victoria’ in the same sentence. Let’s try again, shall we?’ And Hertz usually finds something magically much closer to what I find acceptable. What’s a bit maddening about Hertz at LAX is that they probably have the largest and most diverse selection of cars in the States. But I find that they’re not all offered to the general public, even to a regular customer.

    As for why Amercans usually associate bigger with fancier, or compact with bare bones content, I’m at a loss. If they looked at cars like the VW GTI or Focus ST five-door, they might wise up.

  • avatar

    I want to thank Mr. Lang for this article. It spurred me to look for end of model year deals which led me to vehicle incentives link. There I saw 2012 Pathfinders with $5K in rebates. Since the 2013 was coming soon Nissan is practically giving away the 2012s. So after a little dealer haggling I settled with Ft. Worth Nissan on a 2012 SV rwd model for $24K plus TTL. The total out the door price was $25,809! MSRP was $33,665 (not including ttl). I wasn’t planning on buying an SUV until the spring, and even then I was planning on going used, but lightly used car prices are crazy right now.

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