Ask Bark: Is It Time To Settle, Or Time To Flex?

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

John writes:


We (me M52, F39, M15, F10) really need to step up our fleet (2006 Honda Pilot 240K mi, 2005 Honda Element 170K mi). We need to replace the Pilot as family car, and probably (for now) keep both Hondas rolling for my use and, soon, my son’s use too.

In the fullness of time I’d like to get us a plugin C-Max, especially given the uneventuality of the TTAC Long-Term Test C-Max. But, the rear legroom is less than our Pilot and our 15-yo boy is not getting any smaller. This would not be a good solution for weekend family expeditions of any length.

For now I’d like to start the fleet upgrade with a used Flex, post 2013 for the design refresh, has to be AWD because we have snow and a very steep, twisty drive home, really want the 6-pass version to keep the kids out of each others’ hair (2nd-row bench seat has proven contentious in the Pilot), really want Ecoboost and Limited/Titanium because why buy used if you can’t get it loaded?

I am seeing these from 25ish to just south of 30k around here (Northern Virginia). I saw one exact match for 23,500 but it had 66k miles, which seems like a lot for a car I’m going to get a 5-year note on. With turbochargers.

I wonder if I should back off of my expectations (settle! gasp!) to get a newer car with lower miles, but not as nice as the Flex.

We could get a C-max and repair the shit out of the Pilot and the Element (both getting a bit clunky, but overall reliable), and look forward to a day when a Flex makes more sense for us. Or I could take my chances with Mister 66 K, or his like, also repair the two Hondas, and put as many miles as possible on them while preserving the beautiful Flex for when we actually need that extra capacity or the rare times we will actually need three cars.

We really DO need that third row pretty often, to carry the whole family plus a friend or cousin or two, but not regularly and seldom to go very far.

I can put a few thousand into a down payment and I have good credit, but another five-year note on a used car sounds like it might be a bummer. Payments would be 450-550 probably, and I imagine we could start expecting repair bills around 150k miles. That is how we bought the Pilot (9 years ago, at 60k miles) and (except a four-year note) the Element (five years ago, at 50k). We ordinarily drive the wheels off of our cars but I am getting a little too old and impatient for that.

I just love the look and the utility of the Flex but we can’t always have what we love. Is it time to settle?

The Flex. Sigh. What a glorious vehicle, and yet so vexing on the used market. Dealers can’t give them away new, but they tend to overprice them and hold onto them for dear life on the used market, just because they’re “scarce.” Then, they sit and sit forever on used car lots, but all the dealer pricing and inventory tools tell the dealers that they’re priced right on them, so the dealers won’t budge on pricing. It’s a bizarre little bubble. Plus, you live in Northern Virginia, which might be the worst car buying market in America. Everything is overpriced.

I agree with what you say about a fiver on a turbocharged car. I’m not sure I’d still want to be making a payment on an EcoBoost (or really any car) with 150k miles on it. I’d probably be mad every time that I wrote the check for it, especially if I had to foot a large repair bill on top of the note.

So what would Bark do? Well, you already know that I’m not going to tell you to settle. That goes against the very principles of Ask Bark. If you want a Flex, you should get a Flex. I’ve had nothing but wonderful luck with mine. In the year and a half since I wrote that review, I’ve put another forty thousand miles on it, and had no issues except for a failed washer fluid pump.

But I’m going to give you a few options that, perhaps, you haven’t considered.

First of which is that you might consider getting a lesser model of Flex. I have an SE, which is completely base in every way, and I love it. The 3.5 V6 is a good, strong engine that’s virtually bulletproof. No, it won’t run the quarter in 13, but it’s strong enough that you’ll feel an upgrade from your Pilot and Element. The only option that I wish I had is the one you mentioned — I wish I had the captain’s seats in the second row as opposed to the bench seat. So why not look for an SE or SEL with that option? They’re hard to find, but they’re out there. Or, if you really want the creature comforts of the Limited, just look for one without the EcoBoost motor. Here’s one. Here’s a ’15 certified Limited (with bench seats) for only $31k — you could get CPO financing, plus an incredible warranty.

Alternately, if you really want the Flex of your dreams, why not lease a new one? You could get the pimpiest of all Flexes (EcoBoost Limited with every box checked) for about $575 a month with zero down over 39 months. That’s with 15k miles a year, too! If your buying habits have changed, like you mentioned, and you no longer need to drive the wheels off, then why not enjoy your new Flex just the way that you want it for the next 39 months…and then go get something else that you love? Or, take advantage of the low residual value and buy it out at the end of the lease?

Lastly, you should consider a Lincoln MKT. The sloping roof line minimizes the third row a bit, but you’ll get all the lux and EcoBoost you want from the Flex Limited, and you’ll get it at a surprisingly lower price. If you can find a certified example, the Lincoln certified warranty is a little better than the one offered on Fords, and you can normally get 1.9 percent over 60, too.

In summary — don’t settle, but don’t buy stuff you don’t really need, either. Go drive the naturally aspirated Flex, and see if it still doesn’t put a smile on your face. If it doesn’t, consider leasing a new one, or go find yourself an MKT. You’ll be happy with any of the above.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • Vulpine Vulpine on Jun 08, 2016

    I've never had good luck with a Ford product of any kind, new or used. But that's beside the point. If you truly want a Flex, then go ahead and buy one new. Yes, you may lose out a bit on depreciation but based on your Pilot and Element you're not the type to trade every three years (or even five.) In my own case, I specifically avoid used because I have never bought a used car in which I didn't have to spend thousands more to fix my predecessor's problems. Even my like-new '97 Ranger (22K on the clock) cost just shy of $2K to rebuild the AC and hydraulic clutch before I could drive it home on an 800-mile trip. My luck with new (outside of Ford) has been No Problems with most cars and covered by warranty on the rest out to 70K miles and more, effectively saving me the out-of-pocket expenses for repairs when they were needed. Yes, it does cost more in monthly payments, but if you offer a big enough down payment you can control them to some extent.

    • See 4 previous
    • Felix Hoenikker Felix Hoenikker on Jun 09, 2016

      Vulpine, My experience with four used Fords is similar. Two were bought off commercial leases from a relative. These Tauri had approx 50K miles and were 30 months old and had been serviced per the maintenance schedule We put about 30K trouble free miles on each before selling them. So far so good for 80K miles. I bought a 2000 Taurus with 140K miles privately in 2005. It was a maintenance headache from day one over the approximately 100K miles I had it. I ended up scraping it in 2014. I inherited a 97 Crown Vic in superb condition that was fastidiously maintained by my late father. At 70 K miles, I replaced all of the brake lines due to severe corrosion. Fortunately, nothing else under the car has more than surface rust. I just discovered that the plastic manifold is leaking coolant at a hose connection. Plastic used where not appropriate. Also, several coworkers with 2004-2005 Tauruses had complete tranny failures around 80K miles. One owned the car from new and had it dealer serviced which didn't seem to matter. As a comparison, I examined the brake lines on my wife's 99 Honda and my 2004 Saturn Ion. Both were plastic coated and had no rust. Ford used un-coated steel brake lines that probably saved them 5 cents a foot. I can't say if Ford quality has improved since 2005, but based on my experience I would not expect a Ford product to last past 100K miles without premature (IMHO) failures.

  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Jun 08, 2016

    I like the Flex, but my wife does not. " It looks like a refrigerator, yuck". But I don't like the Flex not having sliding doors. Big turnoff for me after being used to minivan ownership. We'll be minivan customers for a long time and possible minivan lessors for a long time. If you've got to drive a minivan, why keep the same one forever? I'm liking the Sienna SE for the next one, but I'm intrigued by the Pacifica and Sedona for a change. And a new Odyssey will be out when our lease ends next year. I like the MB Metris, but it won't fit in our low garage (the Odyssey barely does) so that won't work. I know we all survived being kids in a wagon or minivan crammed with stuff. But why not get more room if you can? It's all about making due with your means and using the best tool for the job. My kids are older now and in booster seats, so we could get away with a wagon or sedan. But having the versatile box of the minivan is nice for family work, especially with grandparents involved. A recent trip to somewhere with the grandparents where parking was at a premium reminded me of how having a large vehicle with a third row and a low step-in height is what I need most of the time. Not a pseudo macho crossover with no real space.

    • Felix Hoenikker Felix Hoenikker on Jun 08, 2016

      gearhead, You hit the nail on the head with your comment. I would only add that the need for separation of children increases after they get out of car seats. We have three kids, and found that they were getting in each other's way in the back seat of a Taurus wagon in the late 90's. I replaced it with a 99 Oddy with second row captain's chairs and the third row bench. Now no one had to sit up against anyone else. All problems with "he's touching me" etc disappeared forever. We still have that minivan even though the kids have launched. I don't use it very much, but it's great for trips to HD. I watch in amusement at the loading area the work people with full sized SUVs go through to put similar items on their roofs. 4x8 sheets of drywall or plywood fit in the floor of the minivan if you remove the second row seats. This takes about 5 minutes. Minivans rule; SUVs drool!

  • Ajla No, with a "classic" I want the entire experience, not just the styling exercise so I'd have zero desire to remove the period engine**. With a normal 3-7 year old used car such a conversion being economical while I'm still above ground seems unlikely. **If the car is already ripped apart then whatever but otherwise I lean heavily to no major alterations.
  • Jalop1991 Whole lotta EV hate here.
  • 28-Cars-Later They were mocked as whales in their time but the last B-bodies really were ideally suited for decades of family use and long distance travel.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Naturally, GM turned to its most tech-forward engineering team to work on the [Cadillac] Northstar: Oldsmobile."The most GM phrase I have seen yet.
  • Carson D The automotive equivalent of necrophilia appeals to people who have no redeeming social value.