Friday, June 17, 2016

Coffee Brake: Why I Will (Probably) Never Buy A New Car Again

by DT Editor-in-Chief Vince: I guess at the heart of the matter, I might be cheapskate.  It isn't that I'm hoarding my cash with a plan to retire to Fiji when I'm 40. Not at all, I'd miss my wife and kids.  My reasons for not wanting to buy a new car go beyond a simple desire to not hemorrhage greenbacks.  It is more about the subtlety of value.  Let me give a simple analogy -- it is tempting to head to your local magazine rack and pick up a copy of Road and Driver for $4.95 -- but you can get a dozen shipped to your home for $10 over the course of a year...and that is money in the bank.

It is not my intention to sell short the pluses of having a brand new car -- starting with the glorious smell of out-gassing hydrocarbons from that interior.  Maintenance is going to be free during that (surprisingly short) warranty period and strangers don't silently judge you for loading your family into something that they donated to the cars-for-vets a few decades ago. Safety, emissions, amenities, Bluetooth, blah blah blah... I've even purchased a few new cars in my time, but we all do things when young and stupid.

I recognize that most people will rationalize that the new car will save them money over maintenance (and towing bills) in the long term, but I propose that with a simple set of ordinary tools, an understanding of basic automobile components, and towing coverage on your insurance policy (or AAA membership) you can beat the new car in terms of dollars per mile every single time.  With a budget of around $5-10k and some cash for repairs you can/will beat the average $20k new economy car in 5 years of ownership -- however, there are a few rules.

Rule #1:  Don't drive something horrible.
Yes, I get it, you love Polish built cars -- but you can't expect to buy/drive something that has zero local parts support and a terrible reputation for reliability and beat a new car on the long road.  Instead, stick to cars that have built reputations for reliability -- deserved or not.

Rule #2: Newer is better.
In very general terms, the newer the car, the better it is going be at driving you to from Whole Foods (aha, now we know where all the money is going) without stranding you in front of the nearest 7-11.  However, the more adept you are at solving car related problems, the better you are at tinkering, the older you can go and still get away with it.  Want to drive a 79 Saab Turbo every day...sure, you can as long as you've got a full machine shop in your garage and are a Saab certified mechanic.  However, be wary of the times when rapid technological advancements have added a slew of new items to the car -- these new technologies will probably cause issues when the car gets older.  This is particularly scary on new 2010+ cars with everything interconnected; the GPS receiver goes out and suddenly your blinkers don't work.

Rule #3: Don't take it to the dealer.
This shouldn't be a surprise...but the dealer is the worst place you'd ever want to take any car that is not covered by warranty.  I know they offer free coffee in the waiting room, and the bathrooms are clean...but you pay something like twice as much for the average repair -- and don't expect them to be any better than a good independent shop.  Do find yourself a trustworthy and reliable local shop even if you are a savant when it comes to repairs; sometimes you need help and don't want to be stuck with the first place you find.

Rule #4: Use all 5 senses.
This was common among drivers a few years ago -- but modern cars have become so good and easy that we've gone soft.  Touch the steering wheel, if you feel a wobble at 50-60mph but nothing below or above, it is probably an unbalanced wheel. You should be able to feel all kinds of other weird/questionable things through your hands, legs and butt.  Listen to the car as it drives down the road - if it sounds like your engine is about to blow up, stop and check the oil. You should also be able to hear suspension issues, transmission whines, air in the power steering system...etc.  If you are driving down the street and it suddenly smells like someone shoved the contents of a sorority house shower drain into a waffle iron -- stop, and find out where the smell is coming from.  Use your eyes; you should put your car up on ramps in your driveway (or find a curb somewhere) and crawl underneath to check for ripped CV boots, rusted floorpans and other things to fix in your free time.  Taste...okay, I don't think it is a good idea to swirl a sample of your ATF in your mouth like a fine Cabernet or lick the dashboard to figure out if you need new ArmorAll -- don't use taste.

Rule #5: Use the internet.
You've noticed that there is a repeated clunk during braking from the front calipers on your 2004 Subaru STI and head to the nearest dealer (in clear violation of rule #3...idiot).  The dealer will probably try and charge you $6k for new brake components all the way around, but the internet forums will tell you that this is a very common thing and might be solved by a careful application of grease to the floating caliper guide sleeves, but can also be ignored.  Here is a little secret: every single problem that you will ever have on a car has already been experienced by someone else, and it is on the internet.  Don't just rely on search engines, head into make/model specific forums, search around, and post your questions.

Rule #6: Don't expect to always reach your destination.
I remember road trips as a kid being filled with boiling coolant systems, questionable safety, and flat tires -- but I don't think my kids have ever seen me change a tire...especially not on the side of the road.  However, if you are willing to admit that sometimes your Porsche 928 will just go completely dead while driving in the fast lane (sorry about that honey...) you can drive something interesting while all of the other sheeple cruise around in hideously styled (and expensive) un-fun appliances.  Live a bit.  Be prepared to call your boss and say you will be late because of car trouble.  He knows you drive a Lancia and will be happy to ask you about it when your Uber gets you safely into work.

Rule #7: Sell it before it blows up
This is the last part of the lesson today, and one of the most important. Don't get an old Subaru with 200k miles, drive it till 225k when everything blows up, and come back and tell me I'm an idiot (besides, I already know that).  Be smart when you purchase a car, but be brilliant when you sell it.  If you stick to cars in the 15-20 year old range, you can drive them for a year or two and sell without losing a dime of depreciation.

Here are some examples of late model cars that you could drive every day without losing your shorts...but you probably want to wear clean underwear, just in case.

Loyale Companion: 1988 Subaru Loyale TURBO 4WD Wag...
Brot und Butter: 1997 Mercedes-Benz E420 Sport W21...
5-Series 5-Speed: 2001 BMW 525i 
Fast 'n' Cheap: 1995 BMW M3 E36
Retroriffic: 1990 Nissan Pao
5-Speed Rarity: 2004 Mazda6 Sport Wagon
Soon To Be Classic: 1989 Acura Legend LS V6
Poor Man's Elise: 2001 Toyota MR2 Spyder 2ZZ Swap
Rare Fun Stick: 2003 Jaguar S-Type
Young At Heart: 1990 Mazda Miata MX5

What'd I miss? Comments below.


  1. They may not have the best reputation but I have put 50k kilometers on my Nissan Pathfinder (wd21) in the last 3 years. I HAVE spend a lot of money on it but that was my choice, not because it was necessary. The only thing that I _needed_ to fix was the starter and a few inexpensive tidbits. Other than that we are talking about as reliable as a drop forged hammer. OBD1 and easy access to every nut and bolt!

  2. Hey, who wrote this?

    Great, great, great.

    You certainly nailed me as your demographic. I could wax rhapsodic about this for hours (and have, to several unsuspecting friends over the years). Wonder why they never want to hang out anymore...

    -Stan (the *other* Stan...)

    1. Stan,
      Sorry, I forgot to put an author note on this one, but it was ME! (Vince "not the other Vince").

      If you see "Posted by DailyTurismo" that means it was likely written by me unless otherwise specified.


    2. Cool beans.

      Thought it might be you Jefe, but wasn't sure.

      Great piece.


  3. C.J. in CentennialJune 17, 2016 at 2:09 PM

    Could not agree more!

    I have not purchased a truly "new" car in nearly 20 years. (Although, I did breakdown and bought a nearly new, 6-month-old S4 from a dealership some years back. Yes, it was a moment of weakness, but it was a 6 spd in Imola Yellow!) This has allowed me to drive all kinds of great cars that I probably wouldn't have been able to otherwise and save a lot of $$$. It also allows me to get less than practical cars, as exemplified by the BMW convertible E46 that I'm now driving as summer hits full stride.

    I even was able to impart this philosophy onto my wife who last year got a used BMW X3 that she LOVES (with a 6 spd manual, she's a keeper!), and basically saved something like $20k as compared to buying a new mini-SUV from Toyota, Honda, etc. In addition to the saved money, instead of being in one of those boring boxes, she's in a Bimmer!

    Ya, it helps if you like to get grease under your fingernails, which I do, but even if you don't, follow the above rules and you'll still save money AND drive much cooler cars.

    Rah DT!

    1. CJ,
      Living the dream, it is like Tiny Houses but for cars! Except not actually tiny, more like tiny budget.

  4. Simple rules for your maintenance: A) OBD 2 is better than Higher Tech OBDs; B) OBD 1 is better than OBD 2; C) Best of all is NO OBD---NO CPU, Electronic Sensors, Throttle Position Sensor, Bluetooth or Wireless Connectivity. Most Pro mechanics know--complicated electronics will make you go crazy before you get rich---true for the average guy too. Think "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest". Ask any mid-80s or 90s Saab, Audi, VW, Cadillac etc. new car buyers.

    1. Pro,
      Yup, the less complicated/regulated the better for sure. However...I really hate carburetors...just sayin...

  5. I've got a fairly interesting MO when it comes to cars. I agree with your logic that buying used is the way to go, but I disagree with some of your logic. You can save a lot of money by doing your own work. For most repairs, shy of a brand new factory engine or transmission, labor is going to be the biggest charge on any repair bill. Don't know how to work on a car? Neither did I, till I had to. Now I'm comfortable changing transmissions and rebuilding engines. If a repair seems daunting, just remember, there's a mechanic somewhere who passed that job off to some inexperienced apprentice who has also never done it before.

    If you want to be as cheap as possible, what you do is buy a series of $300 beaters and chuck them whenever they needs more than $100 to fix. They will all be crap to drive, so a car enthusiast isn't going to want this. Works great for a co-worker of mine who does most of his shopping at thrift stores, though.

    Personally, I gravitate towards 80's BMWs. Parts availability is damn near as good as a current production car. Not every manufacturer is this way, but Mercedes and BMW will be happy to liberate money from your wallet in exchange for a new clutch fork or LSD clutches. You can get about any part for an old Ford, but be ready to go to a reproduction warehouse like Dearborn classics. Since the invention of the internet, damn near anything is available.

    Replace bushings and ball joints. Your suspension is held together with rubber parts, they wear out. A lot of the time people only replace them after they fail outright, and that sucks. Worn bushings can have an effect on a car that is frequently described as "it drives like shit". Count on replacing pretty much every suspension bushing in a car when you buy it, and then maybe again in 10 years. This alone makes a huge difference in the way it drives.

    Upgrade stuff. This is what can make your 20/30/40+ year old car real fun. Get Bilstein/Koni dampers and decent springs. Put a stainless exhaust on. Bigger/better brakes. These are all things that wear out and don't have to be replaced with stock units, make your cars better, make your car yours. As long as you don't ruin the character of the car, or get your upgrades from Autozone, it's almost impossible to make a car worse. I see it pretty frequently, though. Don't buy cheap coilovers or badly setup airbags, they ride like a drunk camel. Spend some coin for the good stuff. Never cheap out on tires, either. You can get a great deal on decent ones, Hankook makes some great rubber for not a ton of money, but I've never liked any tire from China.

    Accept that cars break down. I've been stranded in cars younger and older than I am, but I'll tell you that the old ones are easier to fix by the side of the road. Last year I broke down 150 miles from home in a 2007 BMW because one of the runflat (never trust runflats, get a spare, then ditch the runflats for real tires) tires blew out a sidewall on a pot hole. That was late on a Saturday night, no shops open for many miles on a Sunday. Similar thing happened 200 miles away in my '85 528e, but I managed to fix it in a parking lot and be on my way that same evening. All sorts of things break, but keep in mind it's a lot more convenient to replace a starter (depending on the car) than one of those fancy modern "Ignition switch modules" that runs over canbus and can't be touched without resetting the factory alarm 12 times.

    Money isn't really an object for me, since cars are my hobby, so I'm happy to spend what it takes to improve an old one. It goes a lot further when you turn your own wrenches, too. I've got a lot more thoughts, but I'm sure this is enough a novel in the comments already, so I'll shut up and go back to drinking.

    1. Hunter,
      When I first read ""Ignition switch modules" that runs over canbus", I thought it said "that runs over cannabis"...which I assumed was some kind of Colorado dealer option. Stay away from both IMHO.

      And $300 is awesome if you've got the known-how and a keen eye for rust...but I wouldn't recommend that budget for a newbie to the cheap car life. $1k minimum in the LA area for something you'd want to drive...but that could be a regional thing.

      Great advice!

    2. $300 cars work well in states where you can register a new car for cheap or transfer registration for a nominal fee. If you have to deal with smog or inspections (you don't in Ohio), it's probably not worth the incremental cost.

      Cannabis in a car is a recipe for trouble.

  6. To me, it's all about cost per mile. Here's my advice:

    If someone actually has $25k-$30k cash to spend on a new car (meaning they're not going to finance it), they might be better off spending that on an older car that is already appreciating. With that money, you could buy things like the following:

    Older BMW M5
    Mercedes 500E or 2.3-16
    Porsche 944 (a very nice one!)
    Jeep TJ or LJ Rubicon
    GMC Typhoon

    These are countless other daily-driveable cars are in the budget, even setting aside money for repairs. Drive for a few years and you'll recoup much of that in appreciated value. It's not like you're going to get rich on these cars (you have to start in the the six figures for that), but you can at least reduce the overall cost of ownership to almost zero.

    Here's my exact situation:

    1986 Mercedes 190E 2.3-16
    Current value $14000-$17000???
    Price paid: $8000
    Total maint/repairs over 6 years (doing mostly my own labor): $4000
    Total insurance over 6 years: $2000
    Total fuel over 6 years, 20,000 miles: $3500 est

    Let's say I sold the car for $15k, that would give me a net cost of $.125 per mile. Hard to beat that, though I probably could have put on another 10k miles with negligible effect on value and repair costs.

    1. Have MB 190E 2.3-16 appreciated that much in the past few years? Yowza!!

      I'd say that even without an appreciating car, you will still beat a new car 9 out of 10 times.

  7. Even if you're not chasing a DT style car and/or you can afford a brand new whatever you want, I always opt for the lowest mileage 1-2 yr old CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) car I can find because, a) you buy at a wonderfully low depreciated price and b) the CPO's frequently have better warranties than when they were new and can save you an old Buick's worth of money on maintenance/repairs. Anytime I can take something into a DEALER and walk out paying $0.00 I'll do it. Otherwise, they will never see me in there. Those poor service writers and mechanics are under more pressure to perform than a...(its DT, I don't even have to come up with anything as everyone reading this has their favorite for that blank!)

  8. I feel particularly strongly about your point #6. It's not just about your own personal understanding of the risks but also ensuring that your passengers know that there's a 99% chance that we'll get where we're going and a 76% chance we'll do it breakdown-free. Everyone on the same page? Ok good, hop in, shut the door (but not too hard so the window falls down), buckle up (except the left rear belt is under the seat again) and hold on (to the headliner).

  9. Feedback invited:

    CrownVic Interceptor P71 ex-Police. Yard parts galore & cheap per RockAuto. Local heat may think your 'family' and ignore you. Kid-proof vinyl rear seat, std. I.E.-Sub $7k for a 60k 2010. Big forum-following. People bet on coming home alive working in these things too. N'est–ce pas? Even rock crawling at Moab:

    1. Best ad for a P71 I've ever seen! They should have that text as the header for the video!!

    2. I've driven many miles in a friends ex-Police P71 and it has been a great car. Found for sale with black-and-white paint job still intact for around $1500 with 100k miles. A few cans of lacquer later it is all black and hauls all kinds of junk around town.

  10. New, schmew...

    1999 Gen 3 4runner
    1979 Volvo 242gt
    1974 mgb gt
    1973 Volvo 1800es
    2000 Porsche 996

    And the German Camry I had to lease when I turned in a 991 targa 4s. I doubt I will ever buy new again.

  11. I'm like John Melcon.
    I always need 2 family cars that just have to run, get good MPG, and are safe . When the kids were young , they needed the same.
    I always have 1 or 2 hobby cars, and usually for a long time, so they do appreciate. They are why I own my cars for free.
    These Hobby cars have been: old Volvos, Corvette, BMWs, Jaguar, and assorted German and Italian iron.
    My rule is $1k a year or $1k per 10k miles for the family cars. Buy the used just off lease with copo warranty or extra dealer coverage with certification and you can drive drive it to 80k plus miles with no Problems and sell it before it depreciates to the magic number of 4999.00...usually around 8k .
    These cars have been 3 under 30k miles Mazda 5s for the kids Which they are still driving since 2010 for 10,500 each. 2 Volvo wagons, 2 BMWs , 2 Lexus and a Mitsubishi .

  12. I've lived your observations since my first car lo those many centuries ago. Well there was one exception. The significant other insisted on a new E36 318ic in 1995. 36 miles to the gallon, drop top and five speed. I cringe when I look at the window sheet even today. Worse, I traded a 1987 E30 IS in! I'm still kickin myself! And I'm still driving the E36 closing in on 300,000 miles. I figure I have to hit 350,000 to justify the inestimable stupidity of paying all that money for it in 1995!

  13. Having enjoyed 'older ' cars for over 40 years I suggest including a 'brain over heart evaluation' category of the car's intended use/purpose be included. If the car's intended use is to deliver you on-time to sales calls or a pregnant wife to the delivery event, error on the side of more reliability.
    The other parameters often overlooked at the time of the emotional purchase is the failure to consider in your purchase decision reduced acceleration rates, increased braking distances, higher rpm & engine noise at cruising speeds, lack of AC, lack of decent rearview mirrors and visibility of lights (signals for day time and running lights + headlamps for night driving) Deficiencies in these area while surmountable and are fun to deal with are not on everyone's menu for entertainment. Prolonging the longevity of old cars bringing their sights, sounds & smell delivers great joy to the both driver and the observers - saving money is a bonus.

  14. Vince channels our collective brains. Well put.

    Anyone seen mrkwong lately?

    1. Thanks Zach, and Mrkwong has been around, but not the last few days, probably on vacation or is spending his time in the garage finally rebuilding his Getrag 280. He'll pop back up for air soon.



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