Hammer Time: PT Cruiser?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

$11,800.

That was the asking price for a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser down at my local Chrysler dealer back in June 2008. Throw in a $1500 rebate or the “Refuel America” $2.99 per gallon guarantee into the equation, and you may have ended-up with a pre-tax, tag, title price right around $10,300.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Then again, was it? There are a lot of long-term factors to consider when approaching any of the less popular new cars that are in their last years of production. Not all will be a good deal. But you may be surprised. Join me now as we journey down the PT-shaped rabbit hole.

If you’re not an enthusiast, and simply wanted a ‘keeper’ car, that $10k Cruiser may have been a great deal in 08′. Even with the abysmal gas mileage and the pointless towel rack in front of the passenger seat.

Folks who don’t drive very much… hmmm… Let’s say that folks who frankly don’t give a damn about cars at all were the target du jour for most Cruisers that went out the door. It was a styling statement in a cheap car world that ranged from plasticized SUV wanna-be (Dodge Caliber) to automotive androgyny (Toyota Yaris).

PT Cruisers of the time typically came in two packages. Blah boring basic and turbo/convertible kinda interesting. This is a nuance that shouldn’t be missed. Sometimes you can find a nugget of used car goodness within an ocean of a model generation’s ennui.

The right engine. The right trim package. The right seats. Pretty soon you are going from a strip model to a street hooner.

So what to buy?

As a long-term dealer and enthusiast let me cut one big choice out of your lineup.

The entry level model. You like driving? Forget it. Don’t even bother. When you see an old PT Cruiser that has a low number in bold, and think to yourself, “Hey, that looks like a good deal!”, pretend like you just ordered a sundae and all you got was the ice cream.

Look at that sad little melting scoop of ice cream. It’s store brand surplus without the real whipped cream, the sweet maraschino cherry, sprinkles, nuts, caramel and whatever other trimmings you long for.

Was it worth what you paid? Think about that. Most Sunday advertisements are selling you nothing more than cheap ice cream at a premium. Back in 2008, the real cost for the PT Cruiser came from getting that new car sweet tooth for a car that simply didn’t compare with a nice used Saturn Aura. Today, that same basic late model PT Cruiser car is a poor substitute for a 10 year old Nissan Altima.

Let’s also think about the old value quotient of hitting em’ where they ain’t. A Camry SE, an Accord coupe with a V6 and stick, and even the Malibu SS all have one thing in common.

They are usually too much money in the real world of buying cars. Most folks try to opt for the champagne popular car at the beer budget unpopular car price. In a perverse twist, many of these cars will handily outsell their less enthusiast oriented brothers and sisters.

You want value? Get the cheap wrapper with the nice stuff inside of it. The ‘old’ new car that was well-designed and given the great powertrain of a few years ago. The used car that you buy for the joy of driving instead of the brand or name that came with it.

If you consider that to be a PT Cruiser, well, all the power to you. They certainly sell cheap.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Jimbob457 Jimbob457 on May 23, 2014

    I actually owned one bought slightly used and drove it 100k miles. I liked the way it looked in red with a grey leather interior. It was very utilitarian and made a nice little trucklet once I removed the rear seats. But it had several problems: 1. the ergonomics of the driver's seat were faulty and caused me a sore back 2. the non-turbo version was a little underpowered 3. the basic Dodge Neon platform was only good for about 120k miles. Point of fact is that Chrysler sold almost twice as many PT Cruisers as Neons. Too bad Chrysler ran into financial problems and was unable to update the thing.

    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on May 23, 2014

      I've seen several Neons north of 180K, they look beat as hell but they still function well enough.

  • Maserchist Maserchist on Jul 11, 2016

    I know of 2 Neons (parked next to each other, home to feral cats for last 2 years) that the OWNER doesn't even think are worth scrapping for the $200 per the Upull would pay. Yes, $400 would put a little dent in the total cost of rebuilding his junk PT. But, why throw good $$$ into a car everybody hates ? Him, a buyer, his mechanic, most importantly, his wife, he'll even have the cats pissed by the time it's done & over with. Better to let the elements reclaim the whole mess. Drives a crappy Elantra now, seems happy...

  • AZFelix 2015 Sonata Limited72k when purchased, 176k miles currentlyI perform all maintenance and repairs except for alignment, tire mounting, tire patching, and glass work (tint and passenger left due to rock hit). Most parts purchased through rockauto.com.Maintenance and repairs during three years of ownership:Front rotors and all brake pads upgraded shortly after purchase.Preparing for 17th oil change (full synthetic plus filter c.$50), one PCV valve.Timing & accessory belts, belt tensioner.Coolant full flush and change.Fibrous plastic material engine under tray replaced by aftermarket solid plastic piece $110.One set of tires (c.$500 +installation) plus two replacements and a number of patches due to nails, etc. Second set coming soon.Hood struts $30.Front struts, rear shocks, plus sway bar links, front ball joints, tie rod ends, right CV axle (large rock on freeway damaged it and I took the opportunity to redo the rest of items on this list).Battery c.$260.Two sets of spark plugs @ $50/set.Three sets of cabin and engine filters.Valve cover gasket (next week).Averages out to c.$1400 per year for the past three years. Minor driver seat bolster wear, front rock chips, and assorted dents & dings but otherwise looks and drives very well.
  • 3-On-The-Tree 2014 Ford F150 Ecoboost 3.5L. By 80,000mi I had to have the rear main oil seal replaced twice. Driver side turbo leaking had to have all hoses replaced. Passenger side turbo had to be completely replaced. Engine timing chain front cover leak had to be replaced. Transmission front pump leak had to be removed and replaced. Ford renewed my faith in Extended warranty’s because luckily I had one and used it to the fullest. Sold that truck on caravan and got me a 2021 Tundra Crewmax 4x4. Not a fan of turbos and I will never own a Ford again much less cars with turbos to include newer Toyotas. And I’m a Toyota guy.
  • Duke Woolworth Weight 4800# as I recall.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X '19 Nissan Frontier @78000 miles has been oil changes ( eng/ diffs/ tranny/ transfer). Still on original brakes and second set of tires.
  • ChristianWimmer I have a 2018 Mercedes A250 with almost 80,000 km on the clock and a vintage ‘89 Mercedes 500SL R129 with almost 300,000 km.The A250 has had zero issues but the yearly servicing costs are typically expensive from this brand - as expected. Basic yearly service costs around 400 Euros whereas a more comprehensive servicing with new brake pads, spark plugs plus TÜV etc. is in the 1000+ Euro region.The 500SL servicing costs were expensive when it was serviced at a Benz dealer, but they won’t touch this classic anymore. I have it serviced by a mechanic from another Benz dealership who also owns an R129 300SL-24 and he’ll do basic maintenance on it for a mere 150 Euros. I only drive the 500SL about 2000 km a year so running costs are low although the fuel costs are insane here. The 500SL has had two previous owners with full service history. It’s been a reliable car according to the records. The roof folding mechanism needs so adjusting and oiling from time to time but that’s normal.
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