Category: Bark’s Bites

By on May 1, 2020

Chinese Lincoln Dealership, Image: Lincoln Motor Company

My maternal grandmother lived with my mom, my brother, and me until I was about fifteen years old, when she suddenly passed away from complications resulting from a stroke. She was an amusing woman to be around — her personality was an interesting blend of old world sensibility and shocking racism. Grandmom had a degree from the Philadelphia College of the Bible, and could quote chapter and verse to you, and then curse you out for leaving socks on the floor seconds later. But the one thing that I remember the most about her was that she kept a large tin of buttons in her room.

If you had a jacket or a shirt that was missing a button, Grandmom would slowly shuffle over to her chest of drawers, pull out her tin, and carefully dig until she found an exact match — which she always had. One day, I asked Grandmom Mary Ellen why she had all of these buttons, some of which were clearly decades old.

“When I was younger,” she said, “we saved everything. You never knew if you’d be able to find those things again if another depression hit.

“Cotton from medicine bottles. Newspapers. Scrap metal. Cardboard. And then we’d find ways to reuse it. The economy came back from the Great Depression, but my parents never did. I guess I still have some of their habits.”

Okay, Bark, you’re over 200 words into an editorial, and you haven’t said a thing about cars yet. But hear me out. Everybody thinks that this “blip” in the economy is going to shift the way that people buy cars, that the online shopping model will become the new normal. Perhaps we’ll even see the death of the franchise model, and direct-to-consumer sales will start happening.

Your Uncle Bark knows better. Click the jump to see how my conversations with dealers have led me to believe that the car buying business is going to change — but not for the better. Just like those hoarders who lived through the Great Depression, manufacturers, dealers, and buyers will likely have their behaviors changed for good by this… I can’t use the politically charged language I’d like to here. We’ll call it a crisis.

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By on April 24, 2020

Some of you have been reading this site for a long time, and for that, I’m thankful. You might remember that I used to fly around the country to drive and review readers’ cars. It seems impossible that I wrote this post almost six years agobut it’s true. On that day, I had taken a flight to Baltimore to do a pilot workshop for Autotrader, and was picked up at the airport by a loyal reader and soon-to-become new friend, Gene.

We had a marvelous time hooning around in his brand new Chevrolet SS. I think it was one of the first, if not the first “Reader Ride Reviews” that we did on this site, a feature that I sorely miss. Seeing the pride that readers had in their own cars and watching their eyes light up as they saw what their cars were capable of doing in the hands of a (slightly) trained driver was always a delight.

Well, imagine my delight and surprise when our formerly SS-owning friend Gene emailed me out of the blue last year. He had read my commentary on the C8 Corvette and invited me to try out his new C8 when it arrived sometime in February. I gleefully accepted.

Well, we all know what happened next. First, there was a strike. Then, there was a virus. Gene began to suspect that his C8 would not be built in time for his delivery date — and then, perhaps not at all.

That’s when I had an idea.

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By on December 23, 2019

Perhaps you haven’t heard, but our good friend, Patrick George, has left his post as Editor-in-Chief of the widely read G/O Media blog, Jalopnik. He’s now at The Drivewhich your author finds a bit strange, since I specifically recall Patrick complaining quite a bit about The Drive being trash and stealing all of its ideas from, well, Jalopnik. But the automotive journalism world is a small one, and when most of us talk stuff about competing blogs, it’s mostly because they won’t hire us to write for them anymore. Ahem. Anyway.

With Patrick’s departure, Mike Ballaban has been named the interim EIC, which made me think, great, just what I needed — more white men telling me about cars. But while Mike is generally a good guy who is well-deserving of the job, I can think of somebody who’s even more deserving — me.

That’s right, Jalopnik is looking for a full-time EIC, and I’m just the guy to do it. But I need your support, TTAC readers. Although we may be the Delaware of the Electoral College in comparison to Jalopnik’s New York, our readers are definitely some of the finest people to ever read this blog, and I require your votes in this completely made-up election.

Want reasons why you should cast your ballot for Bark? Read on. Read More >

By on December 13, 2019

Let it be known: I’m not a fan of buying used cars. If you have ever read anything I’ve written, you’ve probably noticed that I nearly always encourage people to go with new over used, especially if the person asking the question lacks the time and capabilities to fix minor issues on his own. However, there are cases where buying used makes a lot of sense, particularly with models that experience extreme depreciation and have a good deal of anticipated longevity.

Today’s question deals with exactly such a situation. Or does it? Read on.

Hi Mark,

I love your columns and always look forward to reading them.  My question for you:

I love cars but I am a very deliberative buyer. My wife and I usually drive our cars for at least 10 years if possible, maybe more if the car is holding up. My last car was a 2005 Lexus LS430. I loved that car, but it was finally getting too old and showed signs of impending unreliability. I recently sold it and got a 2018 Avalon. Not my dream car by far, but it is a solid ride until I can give it to my son when he turns 16 in a couple years.

When it comes time to hand down the Avalon, I want to buy a car I really want.  Here’s what I really like in a car: rear wheel drive, V8, large luxury sedan. I also place a high value on reliability. I was settled on getting another big Lexus after my previous one, but I am kind of turned off by the lack of V8. Something about a large barge with a dinky V6 doesn’t sit right with me.

My original dream car of my impoverished youth was an early 90s Mercedes 560 SEL. What I am contemplating doing in a couple years is getting a Mercedes S-Class that is a couple years old (probably an S560 by the time I’m ready to buy).

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By on November 27, 2019

2016 Ford Mustang GT convertible

I’ve been writing at TTAC for nearly eight years now, longer than just about anybody here, save for Sajeev and Murilee. I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go in that time, but one thing is consistent: y’all love Mustangs. My very first post was about my own Mustang, and since then, I’ve come to realize that if I want a guaranteed click winner, I can just put the word “Mustang” in the title. (Another sure winner? Anything about Accords, and not the type that were signed in Sokovia.)

As such, today’s Ask Bark feels a little like throwing a wounded hemophiliac into the Shark Encounter tank at Sea World. Nevertheless, here we go.

Our dear friend Luke writes:

Hi Bark,

I want a Mustang. I’ve had Camaros, I’ve had a Challenger, I’ve had other muscle cars and sports cars. But I’ve never had a Mustang and I want one.
It has to have a V8. I’d like for my wife to drive and enjoy it too, so it probably has to have an automatic transmission. That’s okay.
It will be used for some amount of commuting during the non-snow months, weekend back road drives, and maybe one to three track events per year. Not competition, just open lapping or driving schools.
It will be stored during the winter. This will be a third car.
I have a nice garage, tools, and some level of wrenching skill so I’m comfortable doing maintenance “bolt-on” type mechanical upgrades if necessary. This seems important in the Mustang world.
The budget is $25K for the car itself. A little less would be better but $25k is the top.
I’m reaching out because when I go on the web there are just so, so many used options. So many variations in trim and equipment. The car has changed a lot very quickly and I haven’t really kept up. So I put it to you…for my $25K which Mustang is best Mustang?
I have thoughts.

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By on November 19, 2019

2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 Velocity Blue On Track

I’m so glad that the collective internet reacted calmly and rationally to the launch of the Mustang Mach-E yesterday. I was worried that people would succumb to the “Sucks or Rocks” philosophy that is so completely pervasive in not only automotive journalism but spreading throughout society at large. Thanks be to the God of your understanding, most people opted for a measured response to Ford’s first (relatively) high volume electric effort.

Nah, just kidding. Y’all went apeshit, just like Ford wanted you to.

I admit, as one of the very few automotive journalists who’s ever actually spent his own money on a brand-new Mustang, I overreacted a bit to the initial leaks, as well. You’re calling this coal-powered, ugly-ass, Tesla wannabe a MUSTANG? Go choke on Steve McQueen’s dong (as seen on Jalopnik)!

But the more I think about it, the more I understand that Ford did exactly the right thing by calling this new electrified crossover a Mustang. Read on.

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By on November 15, 2019

You would think that I would know better by now, right? That after literally years of doing this whole “What Car Should I Buy” thing (which sounds a lot like the name of a series on a competing blog that started after “Ask Bark” become the most widely read feature at TTAC), that I would realize people always take immense amounts of my time and virtually never follow my advice. But when I had a close friend ask me for help with buying a car for his wife, I mean, of course I said that I’d help. As I recently saw a fellow automotive writer say, I guess I’m a “gluten for punishment.”

Sounds painful.

Not because I actually expected them to take my advice, of course, but because this was going to be a chance to actually negotiate a deal in person. And if there’s one thing Ol’ Bark loves, it’s going toe-to-toe with a car dealer — it’s literally my favorite thing to do. Since I’m not planning to buy a car any time soon, this would be the next best thing.

So here’s the situation: my friend got married a couple of years ago to a young lady from his home country of Colombia, who is relatively new to the States and doesn’t have much credit history. Unfortunately, prior to this, my friend had also gone through a nasty divorce which caused him to declare a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, so they were in a bit of a pickle when it came to financing. They had bought an older Nissan Versa for cash last year, but the transmission was on its last legs, and the cost of fixing the car would have been 2-3 times the actual value. Buying that car had eaten up nearly all of their cash on hand, so they needed to find a cheap, cheerful, and reliable car that would allow her to build up some credit history and also provide solid transportation — all for less than $250 a month.

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By on October 30, 2019
As I look at all of the questions I’ve received via the Ask Bark inbox over the years, I find that a disproportionate number of them are on the topic of leasing. In all honesty, leasing isn’t that hard to understand. You’re paying the cost of depreciation over the time you use the car, plus interest. Of course, there are other factors involved, and one of those is what happens when a leased car is returned to the dealership. Our friend, Brian, a longtime TTAC reader, turned in his Buick Regal recently and was a little compuzzled (that’s a word my son made up, but I think it fits perfectly here) about what happened. Let’s read.
Hi Bark:
I had previously asked this to a certain Jalopnik car sales expert and got a bit of a glib, didn’t really read my question answer so I thought I would take another stab and reach out to an actual expert.
Back in May I turned in a leased 2016 Buick Regal GS (FWD – auto – black) and I got stuck with the $495 disposition fee. I took over the lease from someone else and I got a pretty darn good deal so I really can’t complain too much.
I took the car to several GM/Buick dealers toward the end of the term to see if they wanted to buy it. It was in good shape and it was almost 10k miles under the maximum. The residual was $19k and change plus taxes and fees. I knew I wasn’t going to make money on it, I really just wanted them to take it at residual and relieve me of the disposition fee obligation. The closest offer I got was $18k with most around $16k. One dealer told me they would pay the leasing company the residual themselves in order to keep it on the lot if they wanted to sell it.
Is this true? The dealership I turned it in to wouldn’t buy it from me but they kept it and sold it on their used lot. Did they actually pay the leasing company the residual to keep it and if so, why not buy it from me at the same price?
Can you enlighten me?
Thanks,
Brian
Can I? You bet I can.

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By on October 18, 2019

Image: 2015 BMW M6 Coupe

Most people who write to me asking for car buying advice actually take it. That’s in stark contrast to what happens in the real world, where a friend will ask my opinion about a car in his search for confirmation bias. I’ve written about my frustration with this in the past, but just like politicians talking about social issues, I’ve evolved on this one. I now cheerfully offer roughly 5 percent of my attention to these requests and go about my day.

However, I do have one friend from the dayz of wayback who has asked for and actually taken my advice in a few cases — not so much on what car to buy, although I mildly influenced his Honda Pilot Elite selection a couple of years ago — but on the deals themselves. For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll call him Joe. I always knew Joe was a good guy back when we were in high school together, mostly because he had a part-time gig as a bagger at the same grocery store where my mom was secretly a second shift cashier. He could have used that as an opportunity to make fun of me for being poor, but he never did. So, yeah, good dude.

In additional to the aforementioned Pilot, Joe has a BMW Z4 for a fun, summer-focused whip. He’s enjoyed the little Bimmer, so naturally his eyes bugged out a bit when he saw a 2015 M6 Competition and Executive package with only 34k miles on the clock at a local dealership. For those who haven’t done a lot of M shopping lately, that’s a fairly difficult car to find. He pinged me on Zuck Chat and asked me to take a look.

Of course, none of the regular Bark readers will be surprised to know that everything about this deal reeked from the get-go.

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By on September 24, 2019

I can tell by the falling leaves and temperatures in the air surrounding My Old Kentucky Home that the season is here. No, not autumn. Not soccer season or even football season, which are already in full swing. No, it’s the season for the tried-and-true clickfest that is known as the Comparison Test. My friends at Road & Track are doing their Performance Car of the Year test out in California this week. Car & Driver should be doing Lightning Lap any day now at Virginia International Raceway. I’m sure Motor Trend does something similar, but I haven’t read a word of their writing in decades, even before that whole Apple Car nonsense.

The whole idea of the comparison test probably originated right around the time the second car was made — after all, it’s human nature to want to know what the best anything is. For as long as anyone can remember, the Camaro has been telling the Mustang to step outside, the 3 Series and the C Class have been toe to toe, and the 911 and the Corvette have been entering the ring. And if comparing 2 or 3 cars is good, then comparing 10 cars? Well, that’s obviously even better. Hence the mega-comparisons. Not only for performance cars, but for SUVs, too.

When I was younger, I eagerly awaited the results of such tests, treating them as virtual gospel. And over the seven plus years that I’ve been a contributor here, I’ve noticed that many of you do, as well. Any time that I’ve written a review of a car, some commenter will invariably say, “Yeah, well C&D ranked the Maibatsu Monstrosity best in their Midsized SUV Shootout, so your observations are obviously wrong, even though you just spent an entire week in one that wasn’t meticulously prepped by factory techs and accompanied by an on-site mechanic for the duration of the test!”

Well, I’m here to declare an end to all of it. The super comparison test needs to go away. Here’s why.

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By on September 19, 2019

Full disclosure time: For those who are new around here, I worked at Cox Automotive for a little over four years as a sales trainer in the Media Sales division. In that role, I was (very) peripherally aware of some of the company’s strategic decisions, as the Sales Strategy team was also part of my larger department, but I didn’t have any influence or advance knowledge of them. (This is a boilerplate statement for when my old friends at Cox decide I’m in violation of my employment termination agreement by writing this.)

When I first started at Cox (before they even called it “Cox Automotive,” it was just Autotrader.com then), the company was a fat cat, to say the least. I remember when one of our leadership team members declared that we had sold $1.2 billion of revenue in a year, and that over $700 million of it was pure profit. I remember when we drastically overpaid for Dealer.com and Dealertrack at a whopping $4 billion dollar pricetag, just because we had the cash laying around and we were going to get heavily taxed on it if we didn’t spend it on something.

Of course, everything has an expiration date, and the third-party automotive classified business was no exception. Around 2016 or so, consumers started using this new thing called “Google” to search for cars on the internet, dealers stopped writing five-figure checks for classified ads every month without even asking why, and sales reps learned that they aren’t actually worth $250,000 a year for just “checking in” on dealers. Their  strategy of diversification, with the purchases of companies like Kelley Blue Book, vAuto, and VinSolutions turned out to have been a smart move, as some of their competitors like Cars.com were stuck holding the note on a company that literally nobody wants. Ouch.

So when I read that Cox Automotive had invested $350 million into Rivian last week, my initial thoughts were, “Oh, there goes Cox burning some more cash,” and I mostly went about my day. However, a week later, I’m beginning to see that there are more wheels in motion than anybody on the outside realizes — and they will have a significant impact on the automotive marketplace in the years to come.

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By on July 26, 2019

2018 Buick Regal TourX

When it comes to getting a deal on a new car, I’ve definitely been at both ends of the spectrum. I’ve paid MSRP for cars that were selling well above (see: Boss 302, Focus RS), and I’ve negotiated like crazy to save thousands below sticker, too. But my best deal I ever got was on a 2004 Mazda RX-8 that was still on the lot in June 2005. I ultimately paid $23,000 for a car that had an original MSRP of $31,500.

It wasn’t easy.

It took visits to three different dealerships, multiple return visits to the dealership where I actually purchased the car, and some, er, creative paperwork on the part of the dealer to get the deal through financing (I signed up for a LOT of credit cards on Ohio State’s campus when I was a student. Don’t judge me, they were giving away 2-liters of soda). All in all, it took about three weeks to get the Sunlight Silver RX-8 touring to its permanent home in my apartment complex’s garage.

But if you really want to steal a car, buying the previous model year is always a great way to get an initial win, especially if you plan to keep the car past the majority of its depreciation curve. Today’s Ask Bark deal’s with just such a scenario, but will our shopper be able to find the deal he wants? Click the jump to find out.

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By on July 19, 2019

Shopping cart full of cash money bills, Image: urfingus/Bigstock

When I was in high school, many moons ago, I had to recreate an historical debate in front of the class as part of a project for my American History class. I was assigned to take a “pro” position on the Three-Fifths Compromise (I don’t imagine that these sorts of things happen much in high school today). My opponent in the debate was a young lady who was, shall we say, a little different. She didn’t have many friends, she was socially awkward, and I’m not entirely sure that I’d ever actually heard her speak before.

We picked numbers out of a hat to see which one of us would go first, and she won. Right from the beginning, it was evident that things weren’t going to go well. She starting mumbling, inaudibly repeating the same thing over and over. Our teacher, a kind, and gentle man, asked her to speak just a little bit louder.

“Three fourths of a person, that’s all they were. Three fourths of a person!” And then she broke into hysterics and ran out of the room. The teacher sprinted out the door after her, returning after a few moments.

“Now, everybody,” he began, “Mary (not her real name) is our friend. When she comes back in the room, I ask each of you to treat her as our friend.” Let’s be honest. She wasn’t our friend. But in that moment, thanks to a kind word from our teacher, we did our best to treat her as one.

Here at Ask Bark, we get a lot of emails. As the curator of said emails, I do my best to answer all of them personally, even if I can’t dedicate precious ones and zeroes to them in this space. Some of them just aren’t interesting enough for me to dedicate an entire column to answering — it’s often as simple as “Don’t go to that dealer if they’re pulling that garbage on you,” or, “No, it’s never a good idea to spend all of your money on a used German car that’s out of warranty.” Stuff like that.

But every so often, I get an email that both excites and terrifies me, because I know that there is sufficient content within for a good column, but will also likely expose the writer of the correspondence to the combined vitriol of TTAC’s Best & Brightest. Today is such a day. So, everybody, Tom is our friend. After you’ve read his email, I ask each of you to treat him as our friend.

Here we go.

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By on June 28, 2019

2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Camo

When it comes to buying new cars, I don’t have much patience. When I bought my Focus RS in 2016, I spent less than an hour doing the whole deal, including actually deciding what car I wanted to buy. Got a blank check approval from my bank, spitballed some ideas with my older brother and my good friend Bozi, and then put down a deposit on a car at a dealership about a thousand miles away. But there was one time when I tried to have patience, and was sorely disappointed.

Eleven years ago, I put down a $5,000 deposit and placed an order for a BMW 135i with my local BMW dealer. It was the launch year for the ill-fated 1 Series in the states, and I wanted to have one of the very first Ones to hit our shores. I ordered a very stripped down version — black, stick shift, cloth seats, no roof. After about 12 weeks, the dealer called to let me know that my car had arrived. Well, a car had arrived… but certainly not mine.

This example was an automatic. But that wasn’t the only thing they got wrong. They added somewhere in the neighborhood of $5k to the sticker, including nearly every option, even a red leather interior. Imagine my disappointment and frustration with the dealer, who had recycled sales people a couple of times since my order and couldn’t seem to track down anything about it, not even the original order sheet.

I asked for my money back, which they reluctantly gave me, and I ended up buying a Pontiac G8 GT instead — not a bad trade. But not everybody who goes through the ordering process is so fortunate. Click the jump for a question from our friend Andy about his experience in ordering his own custom German whip.

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By on June 21, 2019

If there’s one thing I loved about spending time in the offices of General Managers and dealership principals, it was hearing about the harebrained schemes they had to bring customers into the dealership. GMs see an average of 80 or more vendors every single month — there’s always a new piece of software, a new way to buy inventory, even a new way to wash the windows. Invariably, due to some combination of pressure to meet unrealistic sales goals and the attractiveness of the sales rep, managers would fall for something that would make me shake my rather large head in disbelief.

The tough part was always maintaining a straight face when they told me about their plans. One of my fondest memories was listening to a GM explain that he had canceled all of his third party advertisers and ordered two Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tubemen. I wasn’t entirely surprised to see that the store was out of business 90 days later.

But one of my all-time, tried and true favorites is the “gypsy sale.” Click the jump to see our friend Greg’s question about these direct mail pieces and whether or not they actually work. Read More >

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