Auto Pilot

One of our community members, Chris, recently asked about purchasing automobiles.

My philosophy has always been to purchase used cars, not new, that have been owned by only one person who has all books and maintenance records, and has never been in an accident.

I also take a hard, objective look at the owner of the vehicle. Does he (or she) look like the kind of person who takes care of his possessions? Is he suggesting or open to the idea of having a mechanic look over the car before purchasing? Is he pointing out minor things that don’t work or work well on the car, honestly presenting the vehicle as it really is?

I do recommend having a reputable mechanic do a thorough check up of the car prior to purchase. If there are a few minor issues, those can be pointed out to the seller, and negotiated. If there are major issues (like the engine, transmission, or frame), don’t by the car.

When the repair bills for a car are going to equal its Blue Book value, I think it’s time to sell it or give it to charity.

These suggestions are pretty basic, and I’ve lived here in Paris sans la voiture for the past 3 years. So color me Out of the Loop.

I want to open up a discussion about what other strategies and insights the tribe might have when it comes to make a smart decision on purchasing a car. Do you buy used? New? SUV’s? Economy cars? What online resources are available? What are things to always avoid? Any scams worth mentioning?

Feel free to name name’s when it comes to makes and models that you’ve had personal experiences with, whether it’s been positive or less than great.

Remember: this is about value, efficiency, and reliability.

Thanks. Looking forward to the contributions.

  • BGT

34 thoughts on “Auto Pilot

  1. Years ago I found a used Volvo. My mechanic checked it out, and said: Put this car back where you found it. I found a second Volvo. My mechanic checked it out, learned the asking price, and said immediately: Buy this car. I did. It performed beautifully for years, a real Sherman tank. It could turn on a dime. Very old school, with a hand-cranked sunroof. But, it wasn’t good in snow, so winters were a challenge. (It was a ’91; I had it 16 years.) Several years ago, I traded for a used Subaru Forester, and am again delighted. It’s better in snow! I’ve followed the recommendations for car care, and it’s going strong. Used cars are better than they used to be. Subaru holds its value. I miss my old boxy Volvo, but no longer fear (much) winter driving.

    1. My last car was an older Subaru Forester that I purchased used. It was a simple car and I rarely had any problems with it. Sadly, someone in a large pickup truck ran a red light and destroyed that car but I didn’t get hurt. I think that was about the only thing that could have stopped that car from running. I replaced it with a used Subaru Outback and I couldn’t be happier. I think Subaru offers a lot of value for the money spent.

  2. Fantastic advice! Over several decades I have routinely bought lightly used cars, kept them for 10 years plus, and experienced solid reliability and great savings compared to buying a new car. I fully agree with the Volvo and Subaru recommendations for daily drivers. I am also a motoring enthusiast, and approach buying my “fun” cars the same way. I buy them used, but well cared for, and have enjoyed them as much or more than I would a new car.

  3. I have 20+ years experience in accounting/mangagement of a new car dealer. We also sell used and repair. Used car prices are high for us to buy at auction and have been for the last 10 years. New cars come with so many free warranties and perks that it is not bad to buy new. If you want to get used, make sure they are “certified” which means typically a later model used car that has been checked by the dealer for many indicators of quality. Most manufacturers have their own version of these certified/verified used cars. They are on the lot of new car dealers. Many auction cars were rental or fleet cars for the first 10-30000 and are in decent shape. I live in Chicago so this is quite a big business here. Another thing to keep in mind if buying from a dealer is their inventory. Almost no money is made by the dealer on a new car. Everyone has the same product. Money is made on used. Buy the last model year (right now, buy a new 2019) For us, it has been 2020 since October. Fully agree that having a trusted service technician is valuable. Cars are run by computers now, so most things can’t just be fixed in your garage with a wrench. Fancy things like nav systems, heated this and that, everything on the touchscreen, is nice but remember these are the things that cause a lot of issues too.
    Finally, don’t get caught up in foreign/domestic/etc. Most cars are made with parts from all over the world and they share technologies. Don’t buy trendy colors.

  4. In my experience, sometimes new is the best deal as elle points out. Sometimes used is the way to go. I’ve bought both new and used. Since 2009, I’ve driven a 2002 Lexus LX470 (gussied up Toyota Land Cruiser). I bought it for the price of a new Camry but it’s a far better vehicle for my needs and where I live.

    In general, buying a 3-5 year old vehicle like a Lexus makes more sense to me than buying a new Toyota or Honda. I also won’t buy a vehicle where there’s no dealer locally. I like Volvos but the closest dealer is 130 miles from here so they are off my radar.

    Like most in our audience believe, buy less than you *want* and do something more productive with the money. Other than, maybe one more sports car, I doubt I’ll buy anything other than a used Lexus again. They are solid vehicles, especially the LX, which are dead nuts reliable and built like tanks (with the concomitant MPG…).

  5. Hello Byron,

    If you only buy from a one-owner deal you’ll do well buying from me, except, you’ll need to wait a LONG time.

    I buy new, VW, modest – Polo/Golf in size – and kept my first one for twenty five years. I only service with agents and only fit OEM parts. The Golf I had for 25 years gave me 89K kilomètres out of the back tyres and one was still legal as a spare. When I basically gave it away the gearbox had never been opened.

    I’ll keep you in mind in 2044 when we offload a Polo purchased this year through force majeur – the exhaust-fume issue.

    How’s that for old-money mileage out of a purchase (?)


  6. Almost all of the OMGs I know, and I know a lot of them, buy pretty boring, nondescript mid price range cars, take good care of them and drive them forever. Remember, a car is a depreciating asset. OMGs would rather spend their money on something that will make them money. They spend enough to get something safe, comfortable and reliable, but OMGs know that beyond that you’re just trying to impress people and the only people who will be impressed are people who aren’t worth impressing.

  7. In America, particularly in remote areas, always open the bonnet and ask the dealer: “But where’s the electric engine?”

    The phase-out of fossil fuel cars (and respective taxation) is worth keeping in mind, in Europe.

  8. New for certain reputable brands that maintain their value, like Toyota, is usually worth it. The depreciation on these cars is incredibly low. I’m probably going to be in the market for a new Corolla Hybrid at some point. Can’t beat the fuel efficiency.

  9. Great article. My parents purchased a simple Ford sedan for me after I graduated from college. I only drive it occasionally as I prefer carpool or Uber. However, it’s simple and reliable. I’m not a fan of large SUVs as they tend to be less fuel efficient. Some prefer these luxury type vehicles as status symbols. I fail to see the practical use of these vehicles.

  10. Depending on where you live and weather conditions helps dictate AWD or SUV (we get buckets of snow up here). Other than that buy something that is inexpensive to repair, and make sure you have a great mechanic (much like having a good cobbler!). As someone who works in the investment field, I never understood buying an asset that immediately depreciates and never stops, so I have a personal rule about buying a car a few years old.


  11. The only new car I ever owned was when it was part of my employment package and I picked something from the “no gap” list (it was a sales organisation and you could have anything you wanted, including a Porche if you didn’t mind paying GBP2000 a month extra – back in the 90s). Other than that, I have always bought second hand and aim for something that is reliable. I am not so bothered about the bodywork or how it looks to other people, which is just as well as I work at a university and my car has been hit in the carpark twice this year so far – no note of course. My current car is a 2005 Mitsubishi Magna – not something I would recommend as I live in the hills and it grinds on the driveway constantly. Next time I am going to go for something more compact as I only drive round town and don’t go long distance. My last two cars have run on Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) – not sure if that is a thing in other countries? (I am in Australia). It is half the cost of petrol which is big bonus.

  12. I’ve always paid cash for used vehicles. My current car is a little hybrid. It’s small, and it’s not very handsome, but I only spend $30/month on gas.

    I do have a trusted mechanic. I send him a hand written thank you note after he’s worked on my car. A little politeness goes a long way in building a good working relationship.

  13. Living in Maine we buy only used SUVs with AWD/4WD every 4 to 5 years ranging in price from $2,500 to $4,000 and we pay cash. In Maine most SUVs have high mileage (everyone drives everywhere) so we don’t consider the mileage unless it is above 180K. We buy cars that are 7 to 10 years old that have been well kept, very little rust (calcium chloride can destroy wheel wells and underside), and has all their maintenance records. It must have a current inspection sticker and we work with our mechanic to ensure there are no nasty surprises. No favorites, but we have a few makes we WON’T buy. Jeep and Dodge are on that short list. Our best purchases were a Ford Escape and a Kia Sorento, and we just purchased our first ever Chevy Trailblazer so we’ll see how that works out. And a tip. After many years of traveling, we now use our vehicles for daily drivers only to keep the miles from piling up. We rent vehicles for long trips (with a discount through AAA Premier, of course) and the makes/models we like the most are the ones we will look for when we want to buy.

  14. I’ve always been a used car gal, with a similar philosophy to yours. But when last in need of a vehicle, the excellent offer from our credit union was only for new vehicles. One of the reasons we went this route is because it offered my foreign-born spouse the opportunity to build more credit. We are happy with our purchase, but next time we will opt for a slightly larger vehicle, for visual purposes. Maybe a Subaru!

    1. Maureen,
      You’ll find that Subaru holds its value. Taken care of, they last a long time. You may pay more for it than for a different used car, but it’s worth it!

  15. Long time since this was posted but wanted to give my experience as someone who was raised OMG and married a mechanic.

    My grandfather would buy a new Toyota 4Runner, usually the last year model, and drive it for 20 years. He had one in 1987 and in 2007 bought a new one and gave the 87 to his older brother because the 87 was still in really decent shape and his brother only needed something to get around about a 5 mile radius. My grandfather is still alive and is on his third 4Runner as of 2017. He traded the 07 in.

    I picked up this tip and follow it myself. My husband is also a follower of this and it’s admittedly really great to have a mechanic who knows if a purchase is worth it. We actually prefer to buy used either from an individual or dealership; it just depends on the circumstance. We have not done the new car buy since 2012 because we don’t care for car payments. However my profession requires that I drive a 7 seater vehicle for the time being so I had to upgrade my perfectly serviceable 2007 Subaru Impreza hatchback to a larger car.

    Cars aren’t really my “thing”. I would prefer to bike or walk everywhere but where we live makes that impossible. If a car is reliable, safe, and has the space my life requires, I don’t care about anything else (though I avoid red or maroon cars at all costs, I will make an exception if the car in such an unfortunate color is the best overall option). Still, we knew we wanted a folding third row 4Runner knowing my grandfather’s history with them and my husband’s professional knowledge combined. However, we started looking right as the chip shortage hit and suddenly used cars were prohibitively expensive if you were even lucky enough to find one. I ended up with a 2012 Lexus LX460 which is basically a 4Runner with chrome. We got it from a dealer and it had one previous owner and 104k miles. We got it for under $30k. (4Runners were going for twice that.) We do have a payment on it currently but are paying it off aggressively (I dislike payment plans as I’ve said). The bells and whistles I admit are fabulous and I do enjoy the car immensely. We expect it to last until 2032. By then I hope we will either need a smaller vehicle or even not one at all depending on where we are living (we plan to stay in our home forever more or less, but I wouldn’t say no to moving to the beach I spent childhood summers on and just putting around in an electric golf cart).

    We also have had really great luck with Jeep Cherokees (not grand Cherokee, and pre-2010); Volvo (pre-2000); and Jeep Wranglers (2 door prior to 2000). Subaru is also a really great brand, but their cars have a tendency to burn oil due to a weird mechanical design flaw.

    1. Thank you for all of your detailed comments, Sass. It’s great to hear your perspective, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog and comments. Great insights. Much appreciated. – BGT

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