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Car Corner
Used Cars Possibilities

May 1, 2005
By Scott Lewis

Last month I took a look at possibilities for my next new car. I will be ready to buy a car in the fall of 2007. However, I am still very much interested in getting a classic daily driver. If I get a classic car as a daily driver I surely don't need a brand new car. However, I want a reliable backup car to drive while a classic car is apart for some repair or modification, or the weather is unacceptable for a classic.

This month I want to take a look at the used cars on the market. Before we get to the actual cars, I need to define what I would be looking for. Surely I could buy a used Porsche Boxster S for the money I am willing to spend on a new car (approximately $30,000). But my wife has a 911, so why would I need a Boxster.

If I buy a used car in the fall of 2007 it will be for one of two reasons. 1) So I can get a car that is out of my reach in the new car market... such as the afore mentioned Porsche Boxster S, or 2) To spend as little money as possible for a car with low mileage so I have money left over to buy a classic driver/project car.

Other reasons to justify a used car include depreciation, mileage, warrantee, etc. I mentioned the warrantee issue last month. Even with a 50,000 mile warrantee I would be out of warrantee on a new car in about two years with the mileage I put on a car. Yet those are mild miles. You know the old saying, "they're highway miles." True enough. A car that is a little disappointing in the reliability department could be an expensive thing. This really worries me with the Pontiac G6 Convertible that I heard was delayed because they were have issues with the retractable hard top. Oops!

It might be to my advantage to try and get a deal on a low mileage used car. Heck, the "new" Mustang GT will be out a couple of years by the time I am ready to buy. I could save a lot in depreciation by getting a car two years old. The downside is that I don't get the pleasure of a truly new car.

Two seats are better than four. If you recall from last month I entertained the possibility of a two passenger car since one of my sons will be in middle school and may not need rides in the morning. Hmm.

Below I will list the cars I like, or will like, in the used car marketplace. I will also list the price range I would expect to stay in for the car. Keep in mind I expect a total budget of about $30,000, so if a car is listed below for $25,000 I am hoping to buy one for that and put $5,000 toward a classic project car. Got that?

Let's see the cars

2005-2006 Ford Mustang GT ($20,000 - $24,000)

Yes, this is the car at the top of the list from last month. It is at the top of the list here too. What if I could buy a used 2005 Mustang GT in late 2007 and save 5-10 grand off of a new one. A new GT is about $27-28K. Maybe I could get one in the low twenties, leaving me six to ten thousand for a project car. I don't know if I am in the right ball park for price, but if my depreciation guess is wrong I would simply stick to looking at new Mustangs.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette ($30,000 - $32,000)

Let's get this one out of the way quick. By allowing sports cars into the mix I am basically opening the door to a Corvette. Since there is no way I can afford a new Corvette I will have to settle for a used one. The new C6 Vette will be two years old by late 2007 and that may create the chance to buy a dream car. I know, I am crazy to think I can get a C6 Corvette for only $30,000. The 05 models start at $45,000. This means I would be expecting to save 1/3 off the sticker price by waiting just two and a half years. Possible? Let's see.

Let's do a little research to see if I even have a chance. Log onto AutoTrader.com. Set the criteria as follows: Chevrolet Corvette, 2002-2003, Manual Transmission, Price $0-30,000. I did this and received 3 Corvettes within 300 miles of my house. Surely one of them would be good enough. One of them even had less than 21,000 miles. Check.

If this same kind of search reveals similar results in late 07 for an 05 Vette I could just go for the dream car. Trust me... buying a C6 Corvette will definitely make me forget about a classic car until the Corvette is paid off. Keep this in mind... I have owned my 93 Camaro since new and have no intensions of selling it. If I bought a Corvette I would keep it forever and buy nothing but classic old cars to supplement the Vette until I am too old to shift gears manually.

Note: After writing the above paragraphs I did a bad thing. I actually looked at that 21K miles Corvette. It was black on black (yikes in South Central Texas) and it was perfect. In fact, the seller used that exact word. It was so nice that I would have called about it except I don't really want a C5 Corvette. The interior is a bit dated (Sorry, Rob). In fact, the stereo is the exact same stereo that was in my wife's 1999 Suburban. It will be C6 or nothing, but now I am getting excited.

Infiniti G35 Coupe ($25,000 - $28,000)

I really like the styling of this car. It is virtually the same performance as my Camaro was when it was new. This means it will feel faster with a whole lot less miles than I have on my car. These cars are a bit pricey, which is why I don't think about them anymore for a new car. In the used car market they might be favorable. However, I used to compare this to the BMW 330Ci Coupe so I may be opening up a huge can of worms if I need to start including BMW cars (can you say Z4). I would also be giving up on the classic car with this. On Autotrader I found a beautiful 2003 G35 in blue with less than 14K miles and a manual trans for $29,000. Nice! At this price range I would be giving up on a classic until this was paid off, so basically I would be looking to get a car with a bit more luxury than a new Mustang for the same money.

Acura CL 3.2 Type-S ($20,000 - $23,000)

I really liked this car... for a front wheel drive car. I test drove one at the time my wife and I were buying our MDX. It felt at least as fast as my Camaro. It has 260 horsepower vs. 275 for my Camaro. However, it was newer and it might just FEEL faster. I never did get any decent road test data for this car to know how fast is really was. Regardless, this should make a very reliable and comfortable car that will be sporty enough as I tinker with old American iron. If I did buy one of these I would try my best to spend as little as possible and put the balance of my $30K budget into an old project car. I easily found a 2003 model with 34K miles and a manual transmission for $21,000. Not too bad.

Honda Accord Coupe (Low $20,000 range)

Since I would be willing to look at this car as a new vehicle there shouldn't be any problem looking at it used. Of course I would restrict my looking to a V-6 model with a manual transmission. I would also try my best to get a leather interior. A quick search of Autotrader showed two nice cars I would call about. One had 20K miles for $20K, the other had 16K miles for $21K. If I really do try to buy two cars this one would be a great reliable car to act as the backup.

Mini Cooper (Under $20,000)

Alright, you read that right, we are going to look at the Mini Cooper. Before I do I want to quote a New York Times article. In talking about the 2005 Corvette they said, "By now, track-day geeks, youthful dreamers and the Corvette's legion of fans have all memorized the winning numbers: 8 cylinders, 6 liters of displacement, 400 horsepower, 400 pounds-feet of torque, zero to 60 miles an hour in 4.1 seconds, 12.6 seconds through the quarter-mile, a top speed of 186 miles an hour."

In an unorthodox approach they mentioned the Camry, because "while the four-cylinder Toyota is anything but a sports car, it is fully capable of cutting off 911's and 'Vettes on the freeway. One can even imagine the Camry ... skidding toward a stop before slamming into the substantial plastic-composite rear end of a 'Vette that had just decelerated from 60 m.p.h. to a dead stop in only 114 feet." How true.

The point the Times article was making is, "in the real world, the Corvette's numbers matter a lot less than they do in the fantasyland of guys who use 'pilgrimage' and 'Bowling Green, Ky.' in the same sentence. All of today's most potent performance machines - Corvette included - offer levels of power and handling so far beyond what is usable on our increasingly congested road system as to be absurd."

I used this logic on myself when I would outrun Mustang GTs with my 1989 Honda CRX Si in the late eighties. Against a lesser driver the CRX was formidable, and more than capable of cutting though traffic in a way that could easily land me in a traffic court nightmare. This is why I am considering a car like the Mini Cooper, even the standard version without the supercharger. I got a lot of miles out of that CRX, and it was a lot of fun to drive. The standard Mini Cooper almost matches the stats of the CRX exactly. Let's see, the Honda had 108 hp vs. the Mini's 115. Each had been road tested with 0-60 times in the mid 8 second range.

Bottom line, I don't need a 300-400 horsepower car... I want one. But if I could swing getting two cars I would not mind the "cute" Mini Cooper being one of them. Remember, I will be keeping my 93 Z28 with its 275 hp V-8... just in case the urge to lay some rubber gets the best of me.

Now for the dilemma of the Mini Cooper. I have seen these cars holding their value pretty well in the used car market. That's because the demand still seems to outweigh the supply. As a used car I don't know what I would do. It is hard to say how many miles I would be willing to accept. Getting a used Mini means I really am looking to minimize the cash outlay for a fun little car while buying a classic old car at the same time. That means I would not spend more than $20,000 for a used Mini.

Let's see what I can get for $20K today. I managed to come across two Cooper S models that are noteworthy. The first had approximately 25K miles and an asking price of $18,990, while the second had 20K miles with an asking price of $19,900. Not too bad. I would probably go for the car with 25K miles because it was charcoal gray, which I like very much.

In the non S department the best I could find that seamed reasonable was a silver Mini with 28K miles for $17,500. I don't know if this is a good deal or not, but it should be worth checking out if it means I can get both a classic car and an "almost new" car.

BMW 330Ci ($28,000 - $32,000)

I love this car. I always find myself giving them an extra glance on the road. Coupe or convertible, I love them both. Affording them is another mater. Even in the used car market they are a bit expensive. I also may have to consider the cost of maintenance. It certainly isn't going to be cheap to do a tune up or replace major components on a BMW.

Since I put the G35 Coupe in here I just had to at least try and include the BMW. After all, the G35 Coupe is (in my mind) a less expensive alternative to the Bimmer.

I did a quick search of Autotrader setting it for $25-33K and received 5 results for manual equipped cars with less than 45K miles and within a 300 miles radius of my zip code. The bargain of the bunch was a 2003 charcoal gray edition with 26K miles and an asking price of $28,988. It was also only 14 miles from my house. Cool.

Conclusion

New vs. used. It is a classic debate. With cars like the Mustang this can be an issue, because cars at lower price points don't always get treated as nicely as more expensive cars. For example, a $45K Corvette will be treated nicer by its original owner, even after 3 years, than most owners of new Mustangs. A 3 year old Corvette will almost always be in nicer condition that a 3 year old Mustang. People that spend a lot for cars tend to take better care of them. This is something to seriously think about when looking at cars that are outside my price range as a new purchase.

There are plenty of used cars out there. Plenty of good ones too. I have tried my best to leave out four door sedans, but that may become more and more important as my kids grow into young adults. How long can I expect my boys to cram themselves into the back of a Camaro, Mustang, or Mini Cooper.

Since I will most likely keep my next new car for over 10 years I should consider that I will need to carry four adult-sized people. You know what? That sounds like another article. Stay tuned. Next month I will look at sedans in the used car marketplace. I wonder what I will find.

See you next month.

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