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Car Corner
Used Cars At The Average New Car Price

August 1, 2009
By Scott Lewis

We have been hitting the used car market pretty hard lately. And why not. The economy is still in the toilet... along with my 401K. With money tight people wait longer to buy a new car or try to save some money buying a pre-owned vehicle.

So what's up for this month. Well, I wanted to do something similar to my previous articles. I am going to focus on the average price of a new automobile, which according to NADA as quoted by the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/autos/aut11.shtm) is $28,400.

That is our target. Used cars for $28,400. This would not be any fun if we just did a simple search for cars in that price range. This is an enthusiast column, so we will look for cars that were too expensive when new and enthusiasts can get passionate about.

I am going to use my own advice here. I tell people looking to buy a used car to make sure it has no more than 60,000 miles and you have it paid off by the time you have 100,000 miles. This assumes no warranty. However, it is still possible we can find some nice cars still under factory warranty.

I am going to look for cars at two levels. 1) $26,500 - $29,000 with a warranty. This nicely brackets the average new car price. I will assume that you can handle negotiating $600 off of a $29K car to hit $28,400. These cars will still be under factory warranty with less 36/50K miles depending on the brand's warranty offering. 2) $24,000 - $26,500 with less 60K miles. These cars will NOT be under warranty. It is assumed that in buying a car that is slightly older and has a few more miles you are willing put the $2,500 into an extended warranty or put it in the bank in case you need to pay for repairs.


2003 BMW M3 Sport Package
Miles: 46,500 mi.
Price: $25,500

Comments: This is one sweet car, and my favorite of all the cars listed here. It has the preferred (for the vintage) manual transmission, not the SMG automated manual which was still teething in these years. This will be one very fast and fun machine. I saw a couple of M3s that dipped below $20K, but each had 59K miles. I thought this would be the best place to put a $500 car payment with a spare $2,500 in the bank for possible repairs or to buy an extended warranty.


2002 BMW M5 Sedan
Miles: 55,000 mi.
Price: $25,500

Comments: I love this body style for the 5 Series. To continue our look at BMWs, I chose this M model. I still think it looks better than the current generation. I was not sure I would find a M5 with less than 60K miles and under $26,500, but here is one. It even has a manual transmission. I could live with this if I needed a four door.


2001 Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe
Miles: 50,160 mi.
Price: $25,450


Comments: This is the car that started this list. I saw this by accident and need an excuse to use it. This was my favorite 911 when I was looking in this price range. I love the color (blue is my favorite). We are in the lower price tier but under 60K miles. So we should be able to keep overall costs reasonable. My wife has a 1999 911 Cabriolet, and it does cost a bit to maintain. Rear tires need to be replaced about every 12,000-15,000 miles, and all maintenance is expensive. But I have been able to replace my wife's alternator and water pump myself saving quite a bit on those repairs. This car was equipped with full power seats with memory. I need that in a Porsche.


2006 Porsche Boxster
Miles: 16,702 mi.
Price: $28,998

Comments: This goes to show that even a Porsche can be affordable. This is a very low mileage car. If I am right then this car has a full year or so left on its warranty. The rest of the pictures made me reach for my checkbook. This car looks sweet! Unfortunately this car has an automatic. For most cars I only count this as a minor problem. However, having driven my wife's 911 with an automatic I can't do it. I would have to pass on this car. Maybe a test drive would change me mind, but I doubt it. I must not be alone. In the ad they mentioned the car was "tastefully optioned." They showed the window sticker and it only had one option... the automatic. Oops! They also called it the "popular tiptronic automatic transmission with paddle shift on the steering wheel." When I spoke to a Porsche dealer they claimed that only about 5% of Boxsters/911s have automatics. Hardly popular. And this does not have paddles, they are rocker buttons. Next!


2006 Porsche Boxster
Miles: 20,446 mi.
Price: $29,900

Comments: In my desperate attempt to find a Porsche Boxster under warranty we went slightly over $29K. I really wanted a low mileage 2005+ Boxster on the list. This is $900 over my price cap. But blue is my favorite color. Also, this car was located in San Antonio so I would not have to travel far to pick it up. That counts for something, doesn't it. Maybe not, so...


2005 Porsche Boxster
Miles: 29,850 mi.
Price: $26,850

Comments: Finally, a car that meats all my criteria. It is still under factory warranty (it will run out sometime this year), it is part of the 2005 redesign, and it is under $29K. I think this car has manual seats, but it was hard to tell from the pictures. My wife's 911 has "partial power" which means just the recline is power. I do not like the manual seats in the 911, so this might be a deal breaker for this car, or any 911/Boxster I might consider. Otherwise this car looks excellent in resale red.


2001 Porsche Boxster
Miles: 57,057 mi.
Price: $13,995

Comments: When I started this exercise I had no idea I would end up with a bargain Boxster. I planned to look at the previous generation Boxster (prior to 2005). I plugged in 2001-2004 with < 60K miles, < $26,000 and manual transmission. This was the first car to show up. And we have already learned... blue is my favorite color. At this price we could sock away plenty of cash for repairs. And you will need it. I have spent a little over $3,000 over the past 20,000 miles and 5 years on my wife's 911 in maintenance. This car should have been in my cool cars under $15K article a few month ago.


2002 Porsche Boxster S
Miles: 23,713 mi.
Price: $23,995

Comments: What about a Boxster S. Boxsters are so reasonably priced, let's step it up a little. This car had the best price and mileage of all the Boxster S models I saw the day of my search. This may have to do with the color. Gray on gray is not the most attractive color combination for a Boxster. This car should be fast enough to get you to forget about a 911 with an automatic.


2007 Ford Mustang Shelby GT Coupe
Miles: 9,942 mi.
Price: $28,950 (Reduced to $27,950)

Comments: I really wanted to show a Shelby GT in here. This car is a future classic because of its heritage. All Shelby's will be worth something when they are over 30 years old. But this is not the monster GT500 with more horsepower than sense. Not that having massive amounts of horsepower is a bad thing. They should have named this car the Shelby GT350. Think of it like a small block Shelby. I really like them. I have seen varying numbers, but this car is supposed to have right around 319 hp. That is enough to have fun with, yet be calm enough to be a daily driver. With less than 10K mile this is definitely still under factory warranty. I have noticed the price drop on this car. This is probably due to the economy as much as anything... or maybe potential buyers are looking to the redesigned 2010 Mustang.


2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK280 Convertible
Miles: 22,767 mi.
Price: $27,998

Comments: I really wanted to find a SLK under warranty. Unfortunately, this is the slower 280 model, not the 350. But blue is my favorite color. The 280 sacrifices 50 or so horsepower, but it looks the same. We definitely have some room left on the 4/50 warranty on this car.


2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 Convertible
Miles: 19,000 mi.
Price: $27,900

Comments: I could not find any 2006+ SLK350s in my criteria. This car's factory warranty runs out this year, even though the mileage is low. With the SLK you may have to step down to the 280 to keep a factory warranty. This car was a 2nd owner car that was a certified pre-owned car with the Mercedes backed extended warranty. So we made it, but you may have to keep a close look out for these. Also, you have to wonder why it has already gone through two owners in less than 20K miles.


2005 Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG
Miles: 47,295 mi.
Price: $23,900

Comments: Let's kick up the Mercedes horsepower with an AMG. I really wanted a E55 AMG on the list, but could not find one that met the criteria in my two price/mileage tiers. This car may already be out of warranty, maybe not. If you can't afford a used E55 then why not get its baby brother C55. This is just a hair under the $24K we established for a car slightly out of warranty. You could use the extra money to buy an extended warranty or bank it to help with possible repairs.


2004 Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG Coupe
Miles: 55,248 mi.
Price: $19,950

Comments: Since I could not find a E55 AMG in the price bracket I stepped down to the CLK55. This car falls under our 60K mileage limit, even though it is older than most cars here. I was surprised to find it... and under $20,000. You could park this in your driveway for about $400 a month. There is plenty of money left over from our average new car price to cover plenty of maintenance and repairs. In reality this is probably my second favorite car on this list because of the price and AMG gusto.


2003 Mercedes-Benz SL500 Convertible
Miles: 55,725 mi.
Price: $26,900

Comments: This is soooo close. For cars out of warranty we were supposed to stay below $26,500. We missed by just $400. I love the change in look for the SL in 2003. This car looks awesome in this color. Black would also be very cool. This would make a great second car, and given our criteria it just might make a great primary car. Go ahead, negotiate $400 off the price.


2006 Chevrolet Corvette
Miles: 32,406 mi.
Price: $28,991

Comments: It was not easy finding a 06+ Vette still under warranty and under our price cap, but I did it. The only flaw with this car, if you can call it that, was the automatic transmission. If you are the type that believes real sports cars have manual transmissions you will need to keep looking. The Corvette's very torquey V-8 will make an automatic very livable. Personally I would not get an "arrest me yellow" car. The warranty runs out this year, and the mileage is close too, so check it carefully.


2002 Chevrolet Corvette Targa
Miles: 24,500 mi.
Price: $22,999

Comments: To save a few dollars we can go back one generation on the Corvette. This car is low mileage and below our $24,000 starting price. Not bad. The interiors of this generation Corvette is definitely parts bin material. The stereo is right out of the 99 Suburban I used to own. Other than that it is a Corvette.


2005 Cadillac CTS V-Series
Miles: 32,000 mi.
Price: $24,950

Comments: I love these cars. I might be torn between buying one of these and waiting for the redesigned CTS-V that has 556 horsepower. But it will be a long time before that becomes affordable. As it is, this is a really nice luxury sedan with 400 hp that will give fits to many BMWs.


2008 Nissan 350Z Coupe
Miles: 10,178 mi.
Price: $23,941

Comments: That was too easy. I set the criteria for 350Z, < 45K miles, < $29K, 2007+ with a manual transmission and I got three hits instantly. All were under $25K. This one looked the best. My guess is that none of them have leather. When I switched my search to automatics I got three convertibles. Interesting. I expanded the distance from 100 miles to 200, and I added in 06 models. With automatics and manuals together I got 56 cars to look at. Many of these cars were in the low $20K range, with some even dipping into the teens. Clearly the 350Z makes a compelling argument to a new vehicle. I can't wait until the new 370Z is in this price range.

Conclusion

Why buy a new car when you can get a really cool, slightly older car for the same money. Above we have a 2006 Porsche Boxster (automatic), 2005 Porsche Boxster, 2007 Ford Mustang Shelby GT, 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK280, 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK350, 2005 Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG, 2008 Nissan 350Z and a 2006 Chevrolet Corvette all under $29,000 and still under factory warranty. We also have a plethora of other performance cars for a little less money if you are willing to live without a factory warranty.

I was mainly sticking with performance oriented cars. I could do a similar search for near luxury cars as well. Try it yourself. A quick search for a Lexus ES330 with less than 30K miles and less than $29K showed 31 cars. How about Audi, BMW or Mercedes. Stop buying new cars and save yourself a lot of money on depreciation.

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