By on September 18, 2015

Monte Carlo SS

One of my good friends and long-time TTAC commenters asked me this question.

Hey Steve,

If you have a moment, what are the high and low values right now at auction for the following:

2000 Chevy Monte Carlo SS 40K miles gold/tan

2006 Mustang GT premium 27K maroon/tan

2006 G6 GTP folding hardtop 53k black/black

I could only give him one response and it wasn’t, “Go play darts and put some numbers together!”

The answer came in three simple words.

Condition, condition, condition.

Condition is the number one determinant of marketplace value when it comes to a used anything. A 30-year-old Jeep Cherokee? Could be worth $5,000 or $500. A 2013 Kia Forte? Pick any number between $4,000 and $10,000. Everything related to the used car business from old racing memorabilia to a near-new racing suit has condition as the keystone to value, with bullshit factor a close second.

This is why dealers try to make folks “buy with their eyes” by investing an awful lot of money into the cosmetic condition of used cars. Those used cars you see at Carmax and other large used car retailers are reconditioned by a small army of paintless dent repair technicians, detailers, and specialists who can handle virtually everything that is between the bumpers. They spend big money because you spend big money.

Condition is the king, queen, and jack of the car world. But there is a bigger psychological ace that you have to consider when it comes to buying a used car.

Risk tolerance.

Are you willing to buy a car with a salvage history? How about a car that doesn’t run at the moment? Forget about the possibility of knowing the answer to the unique problems for each scenario. The one irreversible roll of the dice every used car shopper and enthusiast must consider is where exactly they fall on the risk spectrum.

With that in mind, let me ask you the question I always have rolling in my head whenever I’m serving my customers, whether they are car dealers, old friends, or a new person in search of a used car.

What is your ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to a used car?

Let’s make this an à la carte process. I’m going to offer five categories: age, miles, cosmetic condition, mechanical condition, and title status. You tell me the riskiest one you would consider for a long-term daily commuter.

For example, my brother could handle a car from the early 2000s in average mechanical and cosmetic condition with a clean title and no more than 100,000 miles. Sajeev Mehta on the other hand would do cartwheels over a Reagan-era car that is no more than 150k, has moderate mechanical and cosmetic issues, and has a minor title issue such as a theft recovery.

Here are your five categories

Age 

Obama Era (2008 or newer)
W Era (2001 – 2007)
Clinton Era (1993 – 2000)
Reagan/Bush Era (1981 – 1992)
Murilee Era (Jesus to 1980)

Mileage

Under 50k
50k to 100k
100k to 150k
150k to 250k
250k to Distance to the Moon

Cosmetic Condition

Extra Clean: Time capsule!
Clean: Garage kept and detailed by a diehard enthusiast.
Average: The usual assortment of small dings and dents; needs a little work.
Rough: Big dents, scuffs, and bumper stickers aplenty.
Extra Rough: Charity car, crusher fodder, or repo from hell.

Mechanical Condition

Amazing: An OCD owner who loves cars more than humans.
Very Good: Maintained by the book; a few late oil changes.
Average: Car needs a major service and minor repairs, but is in decent shape.
Below Average: Treated like a disposable appliance; needs a deeper dive.
Holy Hell: Car owned by a human hurricane; may be worth more dead than alive.

Title Status

Clean: No defects.
Minor Branded Title Issue: Court order, theft recovery, duplicate title.
Moderate Title Issue: True miles unknown, not actual miles.
Major Title Issue: Rebuilt/rebuildable, salvage, total loss.
No Title

Everyone has their own sweet spot where they are willing to go out on a limb to pursue a car worth keeping. What’s yours?

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90 Comments on “What Is Your Used Car Sweet Spot?...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Sweet spot of tolerance for daily commuter – which is different than what one would typically “desire,” a point which I think will be lost quickly here. We’ll be on “Obama 15k CPO BMW” in very short order.

    Clinton
    100-150
    Clean
    Very good
    Minor title
    -Japanese-

    I’m thinking something like a V6 Toyota-Lex or VQ30 from around 98 or so, with 140k in clean condition. No reason I couldn’t drive that erry day in two-tone happiness, for under $5k.

    Overpriced (a bit) example.
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Lexus-ES-300-/271976046954?forcerrptr=true&hash=item3f5309216a&item=271976046954

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      My sweet spot is pretty simple:

      5 – 10 years old (1/3 – 1/2 MSRP)
      under 60,000 miles
      one owner
      clean condition (garaged)
      all service records
      good PPI
      good carfax
      clean title
      BMW 3 series sedan (NA six cylinder, manual, RWD)
      MB E class sedan (V8, automatic, RWD)

      • 0 avatar
        SirRaoulDuke

        First, a quick question…is the E series that good? I am seriously thinking about one here soon. Anyway…

        I’ll go more miles than you. A lot more miles.

        But complete service records is a must. I won’t touch a used car without that.

        My Mazda looks a little scruffy. Driver’s seat bolster needs reupholstered. Various minor nicks and scratches. But I have every record from the second owner (who bought it a year old) through now. I can hand you receipts for every part I have replaced (shocks, struts, bushings, brakes, belt, battery, you name it), every oil change, everything. Records for its two minor accidents (backed into, and I hit a coyote while I was going 55 mph, that does hell to a front bumper). Can someone sell you one in better cosmetic condition than my minor nicks? Sure. Can they sell you one they can prove every bit of maintenance and replacement parts and work? Probably not.

        And that is what I look for. My car, I can show you it is ready for another 130k miles. Can you show me yours is? If not, I walk.

        For a daily, I will go to 150k miles if the records and history is available. I like one to two owner cars. I like someone that can say, “that part was a bitch to install,” or “such and such is a known issue, I replaced mine at xxx miles.” The more you know, the better.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          The ES is a fully-loaded and better screwed together and insulated Camry V6 XLE. You can’t really go wrong with them as long as they haven’t been abused. The styling has held up a lot better than the Camry of that era. And as someone mentioned, they never have the look of desperation about them, even when old. You drive an ES because you want to, not because it’s your only option. (That’s what the Galant and Magnum are for.)

          One important bit is ownership vs. a standard car like a Camry or etc. An ES is likely to have had an older owner with good credit, who put it in a garage – that’s important.

          • 0 avatar
            tonycd

            Agreed, Corey. I have great respect for Steven, so it’s with a bit of reluctance that I confess I go against one of his major dictums: In all honesty, I’ll put more faith in an older Toyota or Honda than in a newer American make. They simply have a better record of documented reliability and durability as their various components age.

            That said, my sweet spot (if I can afford next time to indulge it) is:
            Obama
            50-75k miles
            Clean visually
            Very good mechanical condition
            Clean title

    • 0 avatar
      matador

      That’s pretty to close to mine. For me, a daily driver would need to be:

      *Clinton-Era (Second Term, starting in 1996)
      *Mileage Under 150k (I’ll drive them longer, but don’t want to buy them at that point)
      *Average Condition- We don’t rust here.
      *Average Mechanical Condition. It’s used- I’ll expect some personality.
      *I’d be fine with a TMU title- Wyoming doesn’t track mileage on Clinton-Era cars, so they’re all exempt.

      I tend to lean American, though, so give me a nice 3800-equipped Buick. Preferably a last generation Riviera.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        My main issue with the final gen Riv is two-fold.

        -Horrible fit and finish, especially trim and paint.
        -An interior befitting an economy car from ten years prior.

        I like the styling, I like the size, I like the 3800SC.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Interesting question you have posed.

    For me it depends on what and who the car is for. If it is for my wife…Obama, ussually less than 50, but currently she has one we bought with 76k, clean to average at purchase (I am pretty good at brining them back to extra clean) average to above for mechanical (same as condition, I can bring it to OCD specs) and clean title. I travel a lot for work, and respect that my wife does not have the time or inclination to deal with any automotive headaches while working full time and shuttling the kids to and fro.
    As for me? I love a project…I like to find cars that are in below average condition in all aspects that are within my skill set to bring up to OCD standards for the age and mileage. I do like a clean title though. Just too hard to resell a salvage title car if you were not the original title holder and have pictures and documentation as to why it was salvaged. Otherwise I assume the car was hit by a freight train and someone took two of them and welded them together to make one. Pass.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Obama
    Under 50K
    Clean
    Very Good
    Clean Title

    But used, I will only buy brands that suffer extreme depreciation. Lincoln is my value buy because of that. Before I purchased used Lincolns, I bought various dead GM brands used.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    It’s definitely evolving. 5-10 years ago, my sweet spot was a 3 year old car with 35-40K miles. Back then, unless it was a Honda or Toyota, you were looking at paying 45-50% of the cost of new, for about 75% of the car. Good value, with lots of inventory of off lease vehicles.

    In today’s market, used car values are way higher. That 3 year old seems to now cost close to 70% of new. So you either bite the bullet and buy new, or go further down the food chain. The problem with buying an older vehicle is that you have to smart about both the vehicle type and who you are buying from. Which limits choice, especially if you are looking for something out of the ordinary.

    • 0 avatar
      Conslaw

      I agree with you VoGo. The 3-year-old bargains aren’t there anymore. A year ago, we had to buy a used car with a budget of $10,000 after an accident. In that price range, we were looking at 7-8 year old vehicles that were $30,000 or so originally. We ended up getting a 2007 Honda Odyssey EXL with 130,000 miles at $11,000. Odysseys wear well, and the car likely has a 200,000 mile practical life span, but we were still paying 1/3 the price of a new car for a vehicle with 1/3 the remaining life span. That’s not a bargain, but it was the best deal we found. If this had been our first or second car, we would have bought something smaller new or leased, but this is our third vehicle which won’t be driven nearly as much.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Who are what are you buying it for?

    1) I use my car for business. So it must look the part.
    2) My wife commutes on the highway. And in Ontario winters.
    3) The kids use the spare to tool around the neighborhood. Use one of the others for late night, highway or long distance trips.

    Guess that is why we generally buy new and previously leased.

    So my risk tolerance is so low that I am probably only looking at cars from the extended family, from the proverbial ‘little old lady who drove it only on weekends, garaged it and had it serviced at the dealership’ (and who also Krowned her vehicle annually due to salt usage in Ontario) or a unicorn. And of course it must score near the top with Consumer Reports and Lemonaid (Phil Edmonston).

    So probably a Scion, Toyota or Lexus or an Oshawa built Buick with the 3800.

    1) George W or newer as those have the required passive safety devices. (Although this is negotiable if a really good ‘whale’ Impala were available)
    2) 50,000 to 100,00 (although this is negotiable)
    3) Average, as that can easily be taken care of
    4) Very good
    5) Clean (an absolute necessity)

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Distance of commute is relevant, I agree. Mine is 6.6mi RT, so I can “get away with” a lot older stuff than someone who drives 80 miles one-way like the guy on here the other day.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        At 6.6 miles RT, you are squarely in the, “An EV would be perfect for me because my commute is so short, but F that, gas is cheap and I don’t drive far. I’m buying something with a [email protected] V8” range.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          That’s exactly right. The increased cost of EV and lack of options with a nice interior (short of a Tesla S) just means I can get something else.

          It’s not enough driving to bother with EV!

          Since the price of fuel reg/prem differential here is .40 on average, and considering something like a Land Cruiser (on regular) would get 15mpg versus the 18.5 I get on my car now (prem), it would cost me 93 cents a week additional to drive a Land Cruiser.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            My new commute makes a Focus EV possible. Om paper, it seems like a great idea. But I would never save any money compared to my C-Max. I was basically given $7000 in cash to buy the C-Max (rebate, A-plan, money from work, money from Ford because of lies) plus a free 7 year/125k mile extended warranty because of my complaints to FoMoCo about something else. Therefore, I will drive the C-Max until it has some sort of ridiculous mileage, OR I can get a sweet deal on a Conti with 67 way power seats.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            Plus, if you’re in higher altitudes, you can get away with a lower octane fuel, negating the benefit even farther.

      • 0 avatar
        cpthaddock

        With a 5.8 mile RT commute I really should be cycling, but summer heatstroke dampens the appeal and winter top down makes all my friends green with envy when they’re shoveling snow.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    ‘Condition’ is the number one reason used car dealers can get a car for $4k and close a deal for 7 grand.

    Powerwash the floormats, carpets, wheels and engine bay, Windex the glass and wipe Amor All the dash and door panels. Maybe use cleaner on the steering wheel and shifter if they’re visibly dirty and well would you look at that?

    Never-abused cream puff.

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      its usually not all that difficult to unbolt the front seats, pop the rear seat out, remove the console and take the oem carpet out. remove any loose padding…

      then you put it in your washing machine!

      warm water, detergent, bleach (if its poly based, and it almost always is) on the gentle cycle. let it soak a bit. then let it cycle thru gently.

      remove, inspect, place in sun to dry. brush off any lint, reinstall. itll look and smell a million percent better.

      you can use the time to run accessory power or speaker wires (12v usb ports for the back seats?)or add sound deadening and extra padding (cotton batting from upholstery store)

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Condition makes the block go round.

  • avatar

    The earth to moon distance is 238,900.

    Mandatory new or used: stick shift

    My last car purchase was a then-four year old Civic with 35k, somewhere between average and good cosmetic condition, very good mechanical. I paid 11.6k.

    Car before that: 5.5 y.o. Accord, 65k, clean, very good mechanical, $5,500. (I got an incredible deal.)

  • avatar
    Syke

    I’m fairly unyielding on the following, unless we’re talking a sports car, collectible, or one that’s strictly being bought for a toy:

    Obama (every ‘new’ car I buy has to be at least one model year newer that what’s already in the driveway).
    50-100k (only exception to this rule is something ‘exotic’ in my eyes that a really want).
    Clean and above.
    Very good and above (I’m a good bicycle mechanic, period).
    Clean title, will go with not actual mileage if the vehicle is vintage.

    Motorcycles, I’ll play with a lot more junk than I will with a car. Then again, motorcycles are cheaper and easier to fix, I have more experience in digging in them (vintage British twins I’ll take anything short of a blown engine), and I’ve got an excellent mechanic on call.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    My next used car will most likely be a lease return Gen 1 Chevy Volt so mine would be:

    Obama Era – 2011 is as old as I can go
    under 50K – Closer to 30-35K
    Extra Clean – A 2011 should still look like new
    Maintenance – Not a concern with a Volt that has around 30K on it
    Clean

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      The depreciation on the Volt makes used deals tasty.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I’ve been saying that for some time.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I have completed my BS in Used Vehicle Purchasing at Twenty Eight Cars Later University. My minor was in Theology of The Church of the 3800. I will be applying to graduate programs soon.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            We offer graduate programs in the study of depreciation curves and also those in smooth talking rubes into a sale.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Anyone else find the Volt ugly and outdated looking?

        • 0 avatar
          Zackman

          Nope. Perhaps it’s ugly to someone who really wants one but can’t afford one, and is ticked-off about it due to his/her frustration!

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I never found it good looking, but the used prices make me not worry too much about the styling. The exterior still catches my eye and there are many worse looking cars. The interior was out of date the day the first Volt rolled off the line. SO. MANY. BUTTONS.

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            I think it looks great coming at you. Not too crazy about the profile. Looks good from the rear. When you like a car sometimes the styling just looks better.

            Nothing better than pulling up in my 12 MPG crew cab 4X4 GMC HD PU and shopping Volts. Salesman can’t figure it out!…LOL

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            As an owner of an MkT and C-Max, I obviously do not care too much about styling. The MkTs look as grown on me, especially the profile. The C-Max still looks weird as [email protected]

            The only thing I don’t like about the Volt’s styling is the center stack and the black stuff on the beltline. I like it on the rear, and get why it’s on the beltline, but I just can’t dig it.

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            @bball – I’ve read the black belt line was because they lowered the roof but couldn’t lower the firewall when modifying the already existing Cruze platform the Volt was built on.

            What I think really looks bad, mostly in the lighter colored cars(I want one in metallic white) is how the black along the rockers goes around the doors. It just looks so disjointed. Think I’d have to have someone wrap the door bottoms to give it a more cohesive look. That would improve the profile quite a bit I suspect.

        • 0 avatar
          agent534

          No, I haven’t driven or sat in a Volt, but the rental Cruze I had was a horrible ergonomic package, huge on the outside, small on the inside, high seats to hide the lack of leg room, and the front windshield that has a weird nausea inducing distortion. Its is scaring me away from anything else on the delta platform.

      • 0 avatar
        jeoff

        C-Max depreciation is worse (or better, if you are a buyer) Plug-in or regular hybrid.

      • 0 avatar

        I wonder how a high mileage one would be–I’m seeing some that have close to 100K miles that are in the $11-14k range.

  • avatar

    For a driver/commuter car, I’ll look at anything from the Clinton Era or newer with modern safety features and OBD II. The sweet spot is anything for around $5,000 with less than 150K miles. I look at Maximas first, because I know the car pretty well and love the VQ engines. But I’ll consider anything that is in above average condition.

    For a project, anything made after about 1949 that is complete, has minimal rust, and an engine that’s not seized.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I just bought my sweet spot. I paid too much now that I look back on it, they got me with the OTD fees but price wasn’t listed up there.

    It’s a W Era, 50k-100k, Rough on the side of Average, Very Good mechanical condition, Clean Title.

    On Saturday I bought a 2002 IS300 Sportcross with 67k miles on it. The Carfax showed lots of dealer service but it lived in Washington DC for 11 years and was clearly street parked. It looks like a bumper car and the interior is beat up and grungy.
    I had been eyeballing it for 3 months and I finally went to look at it over the weekend and wound up offering a low ball offer of $6,500 (they were asking $8,500). The sales guy convinced me to offer $7,000 and the manager took it. Of course, it was almost another $1,000 in fees and I almost balked. But I decided I wanted to save it and not let it get financed by someone who would be its last owner.

    So I have begun the restoration. And although I doubt I will come out ahead if I decide to sell it (I’m offering to my mom once her lease runs out next spring – if she doesn’t want it I have to sell it) but I feel like a car like this needs to be saved. So far, I have been pleasantly surprised by its bones. The engine, trans, and suspension all appear to be in great shape with obvious recent new parts. But upon initial inspection it was clear the dealer got it in trade and put it on the lot.
    I plan to post about it in the forums soon once I get some pictures and some time to do it.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Wow, I had no idea that Lexus ever sold a wagon in the US until about 10 minutes ago when I looked it up. That’s a beautiful car (disclaimer, I like wagons). Good luck with restoring it, it sounds like a car that deserves some care. Would love to see some pictures of it.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    In the late 80’s I worked for a garage that detailed used cars for a Toyota dealership—made me a whole lot less impressed with”Clean used cars”.
    When we were lazy, or if a car was particularly nasty, we would basically flood them, and shop-vac them out–but, since they had begun putting computers under the seats of cars, that got pretty expensive. But we would almost always get the carpet clean (or maybe spray it with dye).
    We would spray paint the wheel-wells with black paint, and douse the engine with cleaner…once a guy got a little sloppy with a beautiful red Supra, and discolored some of the paint with engine cleaner. So our supervisor had the *brilliant* idea of washing the whole car with engine cleaner! Now the beautiful red Supra was covered with orange and pink blotches. Ended up buffing the entire car out. Paint was so thin that if you spit on it, you would see primer. But it looked good in the dealer’s lot!

  • avatar
    daver277

    OBD II
    Clinton
    manual trannny & few options
    rust free
    = simpler, easy to work on and can keep going forever.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    Jesus to 1980. Well said. And I think 250,000 is about the distance to the moon.

    But you’re right. With cars – as with women – it’s not the age, it’s the mileage. Viper Miles or a One Owner Survivor, and all that.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Riskiest I would attempt:
    Murilee Era
    150k-250k
    Rough
    Below Average
    Minor.

    Riskiest I’ve actually done (’92 Bonneville SSEi):
    Reagan Era
    150-250
    Rough
    Holy H*ll
    Clean

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    My general rules of thumb for our house.

    If it is German, 2 to 3 years old and 20-30K miles (off lease special). Preferably CPO – as new condition and clean title. Keep to 100-120K

    If it is Japanese, either buy new or ~4 to 6 years old w/ 40-60K miles. As new condition and Good+ maintenance. Keep until around 175K if it is reliable.

    If it is American we shop on condition and price. Preferably W era 3800 w/ low miles (50K to 80K) owned by a little old lady. Clean title. Fix common trouble spots and keep until someone else needs it, then give it to them.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Obama
    Under 50K
    Clean cosmetic
    Very Good mechanical
    Clean or possibly minor branded title

    I’ve been noticing a lot of Infiniti G37s in this condition for mid/upper 20s and they are really tempting. A lot of car for the money.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    The way I cycle through cars, I usually spend no more than $10k. Of course it used to be that you could get a pretty nice car for that kind of money. Now it’s vehicles nearing 100K miles and with little gremlins starting to pop up, or a suspension that has been abused by Michigan roads.

    Keeping my wife’s 03 Mini Cooper S and my ’04 BMW 325i running hasn’t been _that_ expensive, the S needing only $1200 in repairs (speed sensor and a wheel bearing) over a year of ownership, while the BMW has taken only ~$900ish for two years. (minus tires & oil changes). The Mini came with a huge stack of papers detailing the work that had been done to it. I had no confidence in the car – but it has proven to be rather reliable

    The BMW was my first ever German car, and based on internet horror stories, I expected to be in the shop every month. So far so good *knocks on wood*.

    But for my next car buy, I think I will try leasing a BMW 228i – is it possible to lease a manual though?

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      As long as you pay with legal tender, any BMW ‘center’ would be happy to take your money.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Any time you pay a dealer in full for a new or used vehicle by writing a check or paying in cash, there is a lot of paperwork to fill out that authorizes law enforcement to check into the sources of that payment.

        I have been writing a check for my new-car purchases since 1992 and the additional paperwork didn’t start until my purchase in 2008 (with a personal check.)

        Stupid criminals get caught when they cannot prove where their money came from.

  • avatar
    omer333

    I guess it would be an Obama-era Japanese car with just over 50k miles, because I’m contemplating going crazy and buying a 2011 Subaru WRX with 60k miles.

    I rolled the dice on my Dart thinking it would last me ten years, I might as well see how something that should be unreliable will do. What’s the worst that could happen?

  • avatar
    DearS

    W-era
    Manual
    Great Price
    Low Miles (120k or less)
    Well maintained
    Sporty and practical
    low price ($5,000 or less)

    I bought a 2003 Accord 5-speed with 78,000 for $5200 an hour after I saw it. Put 23,000 on it in 11 months with out any issues. I Change the oil and filters every 10,000 miles! I wish newer bimmers where so reliable! My 1990 525i was for $2,000 with 117,000 for 5 years till I decided to change my own timing belt.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    I look for relatively recent, high-mileage cars that are mechanically sound, preferring good condition.

    To my mind, unless it’s a former taxi, high mileage implies a great deal of highway mileage (how else could you get to high mileage?), which doesn’t bother me at all but tends to depress the price of the car. I drive relatively little, so it’s a normal mileage car after 4 or 5 years with me.

    So far, I haven’t bought a car with title issues but it is something I’ve thought about. I’d want very reliable information about the history, though, before I made the deal.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    My sweet-spot is the best used Lexus GS, LS or IS I can afford. I’d like to stick to 2005 model year. SO, I need to find time-capsule cars.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Why do you want end of late 90’s lookers?

      • 0 avatar
        Lightspeed

        I like the styling of early Lexus better. And, I think the interior materials were better too, thought they were slipping until the gen-4 GS. Also, less gadgetry to deal with.

    • 0 avatar
      Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

      Lexus gets a free pass for styling-that-ages-really-well. With the exception of the original ES250 and RX300, it’s like no time has passed. Nobody questions why you drive a 10 or 20 year old Lexus – it’s because you can. But drive the same year BMW and Mercedes, and people think you’re the 4th and 5th owner and broke.

      That said, I would only buy the models with the Mark Levinson stereo. There’s enough difference in fidelity between the base Pioneer-sourced stereo and the Haman International-sourced one to get one.

      • 0 avatar
        Lightspeed

        Very interesting point! As for stereos, my GS has the Nakamichi, which is pretty darn good when the front speakers aren’t cutting out. I’d like to get a new Nak amp to fix it, hate the idea of some ugly aftermarket unit in the dash.

  • avatar
    madman2k

    For a truck (spends most of the time in the driveway or in front of the house):
    age: Clinton or Reagan/Bush era
    mileage: 150k to 250k
    cosmetic: Rough
    mechanical: Average to Below Average
    title: minor branded to moderate issue

    For a daily driver:
    age: Obama or W era
    mileage: 100k to 150k if Japanese, 50k to 100k if American
    cosmetic: Average
    mechanical: Very good
    title: clean

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    TTAC: My login occasionally gets dropped at random and when I submit posts I lose them (goes to a blank screen). Using Chrome on Win7, this is kinda a problem.

  • avatar
    GST

    For lowest total cost of operation, most any car drive from 30,000 to 60,000 according to my favorite independent mechanic.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I’ll tell you those which can’t do this with a low TCO:

      Land Rover / Range Rover
      Later Saabs
      AWD Volvo
      Volvo V8 models
      New Corvettes
      Fiat
      FCA vans

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I have spent very little to drive my Range Rover the past two years. Maybe $1000 for 15k. 147k, 2001 HSE. More broke on the similar milage 2002 JGC that it replaced, but the Jeep was cheaper to fix when it broke. The Rover is infinitely nicer to drive.

        I buy new or old and fully depreciated at this stage of my life. Previously I drove many 100kish European cars for a long time very inexpensively. I DIY 95% regardless.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    My next project is getting a 6MT Nissan Cube (2009-10) at a decent price. There are a few within driving distance (3 hours or less) hovering around $7000 but I haven’t been able to talk any of them down to 6 grand yet. I’m in no rush so I’ll wait them out.

    As far as my minimum tolerances:

    Clean title (more hassle than it’s worth unless the car is rare)
    Very Good mechanical (who wants to buy a car that won’t run?)
    Average cosmetics (I’m not that shallow with used cars… 15 months in and I still haven’t washed my Altima)
    50-100k mileage (100,000 miles is no longer anything to fear on most modern cars)
    Obama era (I think age is more detrimental than mileage in a lot of cases)

  • avatar
    Maymar

    At the time I bought my last car, I was frequently driving 200km per day for work, and figured buying a brand new (cheap and small) car was worth it.

    Otherwise, I’d likely be looking at something for about $5k, probably about 10 years old and with 150k kms on it. I’m not bothered by older, just that it’s uncommon to find something rust-free past that point, and I’d really prefer to avoid that. Scratch and dent bumpers don’t bother me as much though.

    On the other hand, a friend of mine is driving a Clinton-era Legacy wagon, just an absolute stripper with over 200k on it, a bit of rust (because 90’s Japanese car), and it’s rough (previous owner was elderly and clearly didn’t have the greatest vision), but if he ever sells, I’d be tempted, if I had space.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    For the family i always buy CPO Volkswagen’s and run them for approx 5-7 years. For my toy cars i always buy 20-25 year old Volkswagen’s that have low mileage and a few mechanics did poor repairs. As i know these cars inside and out it is very easy to get them back in shape. I usually keep these for a few years or until someone offers me a good price and i sell it and get another one. The biggest problem with Volkswagen is who works on the car. The best mechanics are the indie’s who know these cars and know how to fix them. The same holds true for BMW & Merc.

  • avatar
    j3studio

    The only time I ever bought a used car it was:

    Reagan
    Under 50k
    Average
    Average
    Clean

    I’m not really convincible on title issues and I’m wary of cars with major cosmetic or mechanical problems, though my definition of “major” has changed a bit. Mileage is an “it depends”.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    I can adjust on almost any criteria exempt title status. I’ve done the battle with a bad title before. No price/condition is worth the hassle of having a daily driver that sits unusable because of paperwork.

  • avatar
    tophatt

    For me this has evolved greatly, used to be Obama, less than 30k. I have now learned to look carefully and find an “OCD”. My current DD (had to give back my brand new Jeep GC company car when I started my own business) is an 01 Silverado with 220,000 miles. Typically this would make me cringe to drive around, but maintained by an OCD original owner with all service records and all the right stuff replaced. It took a while amongst the sea of used trucks to find it but it’s been the best over 50K miles used car I’ve owned thus far. I have also been enlightened by Demuro’s CarMax stories and so I hope to own a previously untouchable 3-4 year old 50k mile Range Rover Sport next year with their MaxCare attached. When looking for that I’ll be most concerned with the accident history and exterior condition as they’ll be paying for any mechanical gotchas for the foreseeable future.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    My requirements are RWD or RWD biased, somewhat fun to drive, and as cheap as reasonably possible to still have a “nice” used car, which is currently around 10,000.

    2005-2008 used v6 mustangs with under 80k are the sweet spot for me.

  • avatar
    mchan1

    1. Clear title
    2. Roomy
    3. Clean
    4. Trouble-free engine/transmission/exhaust system (mostly, but should run well enough)
    5. Ave. of 10k-12k miles/year on odometer
    6. 5-7 yr old car
    7. Not damaged (i.e. accident or flood or salvaged)
    8. Cosmetically… Not a smoker’s car, expect a few scratches, prefer no dents of any size, NO cracks or missing parts obviously
    9. Hopefully, no other mechanical issues like needing all new brakes or a suspension system

    Most cars should be fine though some are better than others (i.e Japanese vs German vs American branded vehicles)

    Don’t mind high mileage cars as long as it’s more current (i.e. saw some 1 year old cars with ~50k-60k miles… former owners generally use their cars for work, many in sale so that’s expected)

    Be wary of cars from rental car companies. Some may have high mileage but are relatively ~1 yr old but you never know if renters abuse the rentals when rented or if the rentals were involved in accidents. Many rental companies pay with cash to fix the cars so those repairs/accidents do NOT show up on reports like CarFax :(

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Nothing older than CPO coverage is “sweet” because cars rot, especially in the Salt Belt.

    And CPO cars are so minimally less expensive than new that gambling on even their level of degeneration (plus options I would never have ordered) makes no sense.

  • avatar
    mchan1

    Almost forgot…

    Prefer a car from warmer regions.
    Growing up and living in the New England area meant that cars had RUST and lots of it despite what owners say that their cars are ‘well treated’.
    Rock salt or whatever salt/brine solution is used during the winter months WILL eventually Eat away the underside of ANY vehicle, multiplied that by a few years.

    I’ve met and talked to many people over the years who ADMIT that they ONLY get a car wash after a snow storm but do NOT get the Underside wash treatment.

    The salt WILL eat away the underside of the vehicle Sooner than later.

    It’s the owner’s stupidity and cheapskate attitude that caused it!

    If you buy a used ‘northern’ vehicle, Check the Underside!

  • avatar

    I’m running Bush (the 2nd)
    80-120k
    Good physical condition
    Good to very good mechanical
    Clean title.

    Works so far. I would go older for certain cars as well but I really don’t like going much above 120k for mileage unless it’s a real beater.

  • avatar

    The market sweet spot is probably $350 x 36, or about 12k. Payment is reasonable for most folks, and the note isn’t too long. This, of course is NOT what the OE want you to do.

    What the market would like is a mid 90’s Accord, but NEW, 4 cyl, autobox with the usual power accessories and bluetooth.

    The OE give us that car for 24k or so, with the usual dealer nonsense, so it works out to a lease for that price, or a buy on a much longer note.

    The under 20k cars out there new give us a penalty box, designed for no other reason but to make the other cars look reasonable. (See:$2500 handbag at the department store)

    I buy new, fortunately, and run until it is a heap of rust in the driveway. The taxes on most new cars alone in my area would be $2,000, and as that is “flushed away” money in the transaction, I always balance the repair against the wasted money for the taxes. Suddenly new shocks don’t look expensive.

    Since the car *the market wants* isn’t for sale, and what we get is marketing driven as “how much can they be forced to pay with very creative financing”, we end up with used car roulette at the sane price point….

    If interest rates ever rise, this one is game over….

    If forced into the used market, I’d get a Panther (really, gas is cheap now, and we want to get to work, not impress passersby), or another e46 from a no salt state, as I can fix most of the car myself.

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