Best Cars to be the Second Owner of

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Sometimes, being second in line is the best place to be.

For example, letting someone else buy you a discount on a great new car. He gets it first – but he also gets to pay full mark-up – as well as absorbs the depreciation in value that occurs during the first few months of a new car’s life.

If you check into it, you’ll discover that some models are particularly exceptional buys the second time around – largely because of the 20-30 percent (or more) difference in their retail value from showroom new to just a year or two old.

For the most part, there is nothing wrong with these cars in terms of function or reliability. Some simply had inflated prices when new due to being “the latest thing” – a case in point being the Chrysler PT Cruiser. When it first appeared, some dealers were getting $25k or more for cars with an MSRP of $17,000 simply because it was “hot” and “new.” In recent years, the PT – now very much passe – sold for less than sticker new and slightly used ones could be had for fire-sale prices.

Or, let’s say a manufacturer launches a car with high expectations – and a high MSRP – but it doesn’t do as well as hoped for one reason or another. An excellent example is the Volkswagen Phaeton – an uber luxury sedan with a base price of $66,950 that could go as high as $100,000 when equipped with every available option. The Phaeton was VW’s first foray into the very high-end luxury segment – but as nice a car as the Phaeton was, people weren’t lining up to pay Mercedes or BMW money for a Volkswagen. VW just doesn’t have the name recognition as a premium brand on par with the established luxury brands. As a result, one could buy a two-year-old Phaeton for half or less the original sticker.

Here are some other cars that are steals the second time around:

Import models

* 2007 -2011 Toyota Yaris –

A new, much-updated version of Toyota’s entry-level subcompact sedan/hatchback just came out this year (2012) which means the previous version – which was a little homely and more obviously an economy car – is now a much better deal.  It’s also a great A to B commuter that is simple, known to be reliable and capable of 40 MPG on the highway. The ’12 Yaris starts at $14,115 but you should be able to nab 2-3 year old Yaris for around $9k or so. The car was the same from  2007 to 2011, so the older the better, as far as price goes. Current retail prices on the 2007s are in the $6-$7k range – half the cost of the base price of the 2012 model.

* 2009-2011 Nissan Versa 1.6 –

For whatever reason, Nissan decided to stop making the “tall roof” version of the Versa 1.6 sedan this year. Now, the low-cost version of the Versa is only sold as a conventional compact sedan. To get the much more roomy (especially back seat) version of the Versa, you’ve got to buy the Versa 1.8 – which starts at $14,480 vs. $10,990 for the Versa 1.6 sedan. But if you go back just a year or two, you can get the “tall roof” bodystyle and the more economical 1.6 liter engine in the same package – for a lot less money. How much less? According to current used car retail value guides, 2010 model Versa 1.6s are selling for around $7,800. That’s barely two years old – and about half the price of a new Versa 1.8 “tall box.”

* 2007-2009 VW Eos convertible –

Like the Phaeton ultra-luxury sedan of the early 2000s, the Eos over-reached a bit.  It is very expensive – new. The 2012 version of this retractable hardtop 2-plus-2 is $34,350 – well into BMW/Audi/Lexus territory. But as nice a car as the Eos is, it’s still a VW. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just means they’re not selling very well – and when they do, they depreciate rapidly. Current used car guides have the first-year ’07s pulling in only about $14k – and barely three-year old 2009s going for about $20k – a $14k discount over the base price of a new (and basically the same) 2012 Eos.

* 2011 Saab 9-3 –

This one’s a little dicey but could be a great deal. Saab is now out of business but just before the curtain fell, it launched an all-new version of the 9-3. It is arguably the best 9-3 Saab ever made, too. Unfortunately for Saab it was too little, too late. But this might be fortunate for you. The 9-3’s turbocharged 2.0 liter engine is a GM-sourced engine (GM owned Saab until just before The End) identical to the 2.0 turbo engine used in a number of current GM cars, such as the Buick Regal GS. So, it should not be difficult finding basic service parts for the engine. But be aware that other parts might be harder to find – especially trim pieces. The key factor here is that the market value of Saabs is plummeting to the ocean floor just like the Titanic did 100 years ago. A new 9-3 that stickered for almost $40k last year can probably be acquired today for $30k or even less.

Domestic models

* 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO:

The reincarnated muscle car legend suffered from anonymous styling – and first-year(2004) models were  really hurt by the hardly-secret news that GM planned to increase the car’s engine size and power substantially for the ’05 model year. Why buy a 350 horsepower GTO with a 5.7 liter V-8 when, a few months later, you could buy a 400 horsepower one with an even bigger 6 liter engine? The value of those first-year GTOs is lowest – retail value guides list them averaging just over $10k. And even the later, more powerful versions are dirt cheap relative to equivalent-performing new stuff. The ’06s, with 400 hp, cost about $14k now – which is around $6k less than the price of a base V-6 2012 Camaro or Mustang and about half the price of a new V-8 Mustang GT or Camaro SS. Remember: The GTO’s running gear – engine/transmission, etc. – is shared with the Camaro and Corvette. So service and maintenance is no problem, even if Pontiac sleeps with the fishes.

* 2007-2010 Lincoln MKZ –

This one has several things going for it – for you. One, it’s a good car. Even though it’s basically a rebadged Ford Fusion, the Fusion is a solid, attractive, well-built and comfortable mid-sized family sedan. And so is the MKZ – only it’s nicer, because Lincoln added lots of luxury features (such as heated leather seats, a better stereo, etc.)  to justify the higher price: $34,755 new. Unfortunately for Lincoln – but fortunately for you – badge-engineered luxury cars aren’t selling well and depreciate rapidly when they do. Two-year-old (barely) MKZs are retailing for around $20k, according to the used car price guides. Go back to ’08 or ’07 and you can pick one up for about $12-$13k, less than you’d pay to buy a new base model compact economy car.  Prices on used MKZs ought to get even better in the near future, because an updated MKZ is on deck for the 2013 model year – which will probably cause the older versions to depreciate even faster.

* 2008-2010 Chrysler Sebring –

This large, four seat (four real seats, including adult-usable back seats) convertible is one of the few pre-Fiat (and pre-bankruptcy-bailout) Chryslers that’s not only worth considering but ought to be considered a great buy – because it is. It’s a very pleasant cruise-mobile in its own right – the only large convertible that isn’t also a $50,000 convertible. But the other thing to know is that while it was technically retired after the 2010 model year, its replacement, the current Chrysler 200 convertible, is basically the same car under the skin (the current model even has the same base 2.4 liter engine under the hood). Yes, it has been updated and improved – and so has the price: $26,775 to start. Meanwhile, you could snap up a slightly used 2010 model for under $15k. That’s a discount sufficient to overlook the mostly minor updates you’d get in a 2012 200.

  Throw it in the Woods?


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  1. It has been 4 years since this post. Any plans on updating this list?
    I already have a CRV for my driving the kids around and looking for a used car that can run reliably [without much repairs], as i drive almost 600 miles a week. Any suggestions are appreciated

  2. I have a 2010 Yaris for my daily commuter car and love it. Get over 43mpg always! Body roll is bitch on the car though. As soon as I’m out of warranty I am tightening up the ends.

    • The new one’s like that too (body roll). It’s the most extreme of any new compact I’ve driven – and I’ve driven every one of them. You don’t even have to be moving very fast, either. I think the intent was to make the ride as compliant and soft as possible. They succeeded – but at a price!

  3. I’ve always had great success with MR2’s. I just bought my 3rd in 20 years (all used); between the 3, my total cost has been $15k. The first two each gave me over 200,000 miles before other people wrecked into them. I expect this one to last about as long….

  4. Most americans buy cars on ‘features’ and style not on technical things like performance. Plus the regulation is designed to force mediocrity. Thank Mr. Nader and lawyers (in the government and not).

    Nader’s attack on the Corvair amounted to that the Corvair was different. Now that’s fine unless there are stupid people. Since there are always stupid people some crashed because the car was different. So we get ‘unsafe at any speed’. Since then difference has not been something that is well accepted by the lawyers and the government. Special steering rack that works different than the typical GM? No way, no how. First idiot to wrap his GTO around a tree because he expected it to handle like a ’96 buick would cost GM a few million dollars.

    Thankfully many cars have thriving aftermarkets in the USA for those of us who know what they are doing. Some makes will gleefully sell us the parts. Aftermarket of course.

    • Brent, I don’t think it was specific to GM. Back in the 1980s when I was looking to buy a eurocar, I checked the rules to see what federalization meant. In order to import a euro vehicle the feds required the cursed 80mph speedo to be installed, the nice halogens to be replaced with sealed beams, fed bumpers to be hung on the car like huge warts, and the steering had to be changed. Back then I thought they were talking about the actual steering column – like make it collapsible. Now I’m wondering if they meant the rack. If so, that would mean the feds are the ones ripping the enjoyment out of our lives, not the manufacturers. It makes a little more sense, because I doubt GM would spend the loot to make a special rack to de-volve only 30,000 cars.

      • It isn’t specific to GM, we were simply discussing the things that were GM’s choice. The steering rack behavior is GM’s choice. There’s no federal regulations on steering ratio to my knowledge.

        The things you are talking about are federal government regulations. Now there are just annoying differences between USDOT and ECE (rest of the world), back in the 80s the differences were considerable. Since the 80s the US government has given up their most insane rules, 85mph speedo, huge 5mph bumpers, and sealed beams. Meanwhile other countries have increased regulation in other areas closing the gaps. When it comes down to it now the differences are in the details and much of that is formalities.

        Beyond emissions and crash testing which there isn’t much and individual can do except deal with whatever barriers there are, vehicle lighting is probably the most difficult thing to deal with for individual importation in either direction for models not sold in the USA and ECE countries.

  5. The Pontiac GTO was an “Americanised” Holden Commodore. The Holden was designed, developed and manufactured in Australia. The steering system utilised in that car was the Bishop variable ratio power steering rack and pinion with the Bishop ATS (Andrew Thomas Supervalve) boost valve. The rack is a special piece. The actual ratio (between turns of the steering wheel and displacement of the front wheels) varies by 50% from on-centre to full lock with the ratio change occuring in the first 20 degrees of steering away from on-centre. It is acomplished by variation of the pressure angle of the teeth on the rack. This allows for a fast rack while avoiding over sensitivity (twitchiness) on centre. The late Arthur Bishop and his technical director, John Baxter, developed this technology. Their engineering team (excellent engineers all) developed a propietry systm of warm forging for manufacturing the racks which are of a special “Y” form cross section. It is a shame that US bound cars got none of this- ruined the driving experience for you guys.

    US bound Pontiacs suffered a cheapening of the specification. It seems that US based folk are considered to be deficient in driving skills (hence the reduced specification in the steering, suspension etc) and also in quality expectation (interior trim etc). Note that many cars exported to the US (including some models from the highly esteemed European brands) are decontented in exactly the same way- suspension and steering a dumbed down or numbed down, dynamics are compromised and the quality of many components are reduced (by the way, do you reckon that the interiors of Australian Commodores fall apart in only a few years of exposure to the hot, sun blasted conditions of their place of manufacture- do you reckon Aussies would accept that as normal….?).

    In my experience, going over to the US and driving a car well known to me from other markets is nearly always an unpleasant experience. The US spec versions are generally well inferior, some awful. Something or someone seems to thing Americans know no better and expect less than other drivers. I have no idea why.


    • Si, the US cars definitely got the crap end of the stick. No one on the Holden forums mention suspension problems like we have here. No one has the vibration or road-wandering. I don’t recall checking for the interior problems but I would be surprised if GM changed out the skins between Australia and here. Maybe its the ozone layer over America – someone should call Al Gore and let him know.

      We get watered-down vehicles all the time, and the best things are kept from us. I would really like to get my hands on a Holden Monaro Coupe4, but our wise rulers are protecting us from such vehicles.

  6. Being a “junkyard mechanic” who has never owned a new car or truck my first thought is getting parts cheap. There are not a lot of foreign cars around here so I stick with popular American made cars or trucks that I know I can find at the junkyard. The two hoopties I have now for work cars cost me less than $6,000 for both of them and had less than 50,000 miles total. (neon and escort) I bought them around 10 years ago and I might have $1,000 total in maintanence. If one goes down I drive the other one and work on the first one at my leisure.

    My father used to joke around and say buying used was buying someone else’s problems. What’s funny is that I spend less time working on mine than he does taking his new cars to the shop.

    When I play around it’s always with older models. Again stuff I can find parts for. I’m being tempted right now by a car for sale down the road, 1986 Z28, 305 but it screams (fun test drive, he let me beat on it). $1500. Rock solid body too (T tops). Now I just have to think about what I can bribe my wife with.

    • That ’86 would be a great car to have!

      I think ’86 was the last year for the carbureted 305 V-8, though yours may have the TPI engine. I’d lose the TPI and go with the carb’d intake.

      Compared with a modern car, that ’86 is virtually free of of Big Brother BS. No air bags, no traction control – and you can gut the computer for the engine pretty easily. It’s also old enough now to be plated as an antique in most states!

      Do it, do it now!

      • It’s carb’d and the computer is gone, so is the heating though. In fact it’s been striped of just about everything that isn’t neccessary. I pegged the speedometor and then whipped shitties with it at the intersection, it’s a rocket. I am going to talk to him today and find out exactly what he has done to it.

        My wife has been wanting a bug (60’s style) so that might make the perfect bribe. Then I will have two cars to tinker around with when winter comes back to play.

        • I had an ’86 (RS, V-6) years ago. Really liked it – third gen. F cars rock! Some don’t like the big hatchback glass; I thought it was one of the best features of the car. You can haul a surprising quantity of stuff in an ’80s Camaro!

          Keep us posted…

          • I had an 87 with the 2.8 for years. The only problem I had with the hatchback was how it sinched down. If you weren’t carefull you could over stuff it and when the motor drew it down you could break stuff (like beer bottles). It would also have been nice if the back seats had folded down.

            • Yup!

              One other great thing about those third gen. F-cars is they’re light. Significantly lighter than the ’70-81 cars – and vastly lighter than the current monstrosity, which weighs something like 400 pounds more than my ’76 455 Trans-Am!

              Also, as you’ve discovered, the third gen. cars are (for the moment) really cheap to buy. You can find very nice ones for well under $8,000.

              Meanwhile, a similarly nice second gen. Trans-Am or Z28 can easily go for $20k or even more, if it’s a rare model.

  7. I still feel that a used Honda Civic at a good price beats everything. After my pristine 96 civic was stolen on ’04, I picked up a loaded ’03 Civic EX with1300 miles for 14k. One year old and ~20% less than a new one. I still have it to this day. 179,000 miles and 2 cross country trips later it looks and drives like it was just built yesterday. In 9 years it has seen 4 repairs. Two timing belts, one set of shocks and new front brakes ( the original rear shoes still had 30% wear left on them as of last month).

    You may get a better discount on a GM or VW but neither will come close to the dependability of the Civic over the long haul. Hands down the best value car of all time.

    Good stuff as usual Eric. Thanks

  8. I’ve been driving and buying (used and new) subcompact hatchbacks for 40+ years. In 2007 I bought a brand new Yaris hatchback automatic. It’s my daily commuter (7 miles each way) and has almost 50K on it now. It’s my first ever Toyota, and in five years it has only needed oil and filter changes, 1 new air filter, 3 new wiper blades, and one set of four new tires. Starts everytime year-round. Has little personality but functions well for its purpose, and has gotten as high as 44 mpg highway. With my only expectation of it being basic transportation, it has fulfilled its intended purpose for me.

  9. Eric,

    Have you test driven the latest Yaris? From what I read in the latest consumer reports it got hammered on their road test score.

    I currently drive a 17 year old Corolla (Geo Prism) and in the next couple years I may be looking for a newer car to replace this one. I’m hovering at 183k miles and it still runs good but it’s reaching that age where I have to weigh the cost of any expensive repairs against replacing it with a newer car with a bit better mileage and less road noise.

    Besides the ones on this list are there any other small-mid sedans or hatchbacks you’d recommend at this time?

  10. Pretty cool list. I think another great second car is 1999.5-2004 Jetta TDIs, with a manual (the automatics were horrible). Besides the great economy of diesel, the reliability of the engine is unmatched. I bought mine at 70K, and its now at 190K, with the only major engine component replaced is the starter. At at 45MPG-53MPG, I only fill up every three weeks, despite driving over 700 miles.

    Of course, they are still pretty expensive compared to other models, but still worth it. And even the most recent models of TDIs are nice too!

    • I will look for one with lower miles. So I should go manual? They are still pretty high priced for the pre-emissions TDI’s with lower miles (say 70k). Yes, they are still found on autotrader. I wonder if I oughtta just buy a relateively late model Honda Accord which can be had fairly reasonable (similar to older pre-emissions TDI but very low miles and five years newer) if you look hard enough.
      I understand from sites such as Denningers Market Ticker that the post-emissions tdi’s have problems/issues that could entail more costs to maintain.

  11. Eric, thank you for the information on the Toyota Yaris. Your article caught my eye because at some point in time I will probably have to trade in my beloved 1995 Toyota Limited Edition SRS. I had been mulling over something a bit more economical in terms of gas mileage and didn’t even realize that Toyota made one (I’m not a new car person or someone who trades in their car every few years so I don’t keep on top of the market). I love Toyota because their cars are reliable and their service is excellent bar none, nationwide. My current 4 runner has just over 110,000 miles and it was passed on to me from my brother-in-law when it had just under 100,000 back in 2006. I just spent $1,954.00 in February 2012 to have the brakes, some sort of oil thingy, and the water pump, and drive belt (I think) replaced. The sort of things they recommend at around 60K miles. This was the first major repair I have ever had on this car. I think if people service their cars regularly it goes a long way towards keeping it in tip top shape though undoubtedly, there are just poorly engineered cars out there that would warrant that statement invalid regardless of any regular maintenance observed. Nevertheless, my 4 runner goes in twice a year for a check=up at the dealership.

    I like the look of the Yarra for a smaller vehicle but just don’t know if I could get use to it because like the Corolla (which I love) seems to sit so slow on the ground and I have long legs. Consequently, my kneecaps wind up somewhere around my ears when trying to get out of it. I have also grown accustomed to having the space in my 4 runner for hauling things that got a bit cramped in a smaller car. On the other hand I don’t do that much hauling so all things considered this could well be a good choice next time around. I am hoping I don’t have to make this decision anytime soon though. I was told by the dealership back in February that my 4 runner could easily go to 250K miles before time to seriously consider this but one never knows. Thank you so much for a very informative article. Most useful for women whose knowledge of cars is limited and all the thingys under the hood that make them run. I haven’t a clue what most of these guys are talking about here. Cat? Are you kidding? The only cat I know about is my beloved Annie and she surely isn’t a part of my car! Nice article, good feedback. Best to you all.

  12. After the muscle car good gas days ended and three kids showed up I sold my trusty and made loud to be played loud 67 GTX which I bought used from a private owner; a friend who owned a Plymouth dealership!

    I then bought a used (41,000 miles) 76 Plymouth Volare wagon for $1200 and drove it for ten years. Slant 6 one barrel Holley, 4 speed, got 30 mpg highway. After ten years I sold it to a cowboy who pulled the engine and put it in his truck!

    In 2000 I bought a brand NEW Isuzu Hombre (S-10) for $8900
    Almost twelve years later it runs great, uses no oil and I’m getting ready for my semi-annual drive from Pa. to Texas and back. I recently put in a clutch, catalytic converter (original exhaust still passes inspection) and rear drums.

    Goes to show if you are a utilitarian with a small hat there are deals to be had on new vehicles also.
    And using synthetics and common sense pays off!

  13. I think the previous post regarding the GTO is not typical. The suspension is the number one problem, with RR bushings and strut bushings being the most common (think 100%) failure. There are no issues with engines or transmissions that are specific to the GTO, although the LS2 does use a bit of oil typically. Parts for the car are more expensive than a typical GM product. Also, the ’04 has true dual exhaust with exit on a single side.

    • It’s not true dual exhaust, because as you say, it merges into a single tail pipe.

      True dual exhaust starts as two pipes, remains two pipes and exits the body work as two pipes. The ’05-’06 cars had true dual exhaust.

      • I’m looking at a 2004 GTO undercar photo right now, and it didn’t merge into a single tail pipe. From what I see it goes from the cats to the first set of catback flanges, to the mufflers, and then out to that driver’s side outlet, but it stays as discrete duals the whole way. There is something just forward of the driveshaft center bearing that looks like its a stabilizing brace, but it could also be a tiny crossover.

        Technically, the ’05-’06 weren’t dual exhaust, since they had that resonator in the catback that had a crossover pipe inside it. Some of the guys went to true dual and the sound was sort of farty.

        • Ellis,

          Yeah, you’re right. I just had another look at my cutaway drawing and sure enough, the pipes do remain separate all the way back to the bumper.

          That crossover is the H-pipe that balances the exhaust pulses to smooth out the exhaust flow.

    • I agree my experience was not typical. As Chris said, one person may have a perfect experience, one may be at the opposite end of the spectrum. He also indicated my car was a lemon, but I think the days of the real lemons, where the auto workers simply didn’t care about what they were doing on certain days of the week, are more behind us than not. I think today’s lemons are composed of cars that had a statistical grouping of all the particular design and component problems for that vehicle. For example: one model owner may report bad brakes, one may report alignment issues, one may report a paint defect, and then one guy may have all three of those problems plus a gasket issue. I think I had the car that fell into that stat grouping.

      Parts are definitely more expensive than typical GM, and I was surprised to find I could get performance brand brake components for a BMW or Audi cheaper than I could get mass-market brands like Raybestos for the GTO.

  14. Three years ago I bought a 2004 Mercedes Benz E55 AMG with 60K miles for $28K. I purchased an extended warranty, financed the services and got tire protection. 450 plus HP, 0-60 in 4.5 seconds with AMG luxury for the price of a Camry. Car retailed new for $90K plus. The only car I ever purchased new was the VW GTI Mach 5. I don’t plan to ever do it, again.

  15. We just bought a 2004 Expedition 4wd, in excellent condition, that cost $43K new, for $6,600

    Friend of mine just sold his PT Cruiser that they got during cash for clunkers, that cost $17K before the cfc, they only got $5000 for it and it only had 29K on the clock.

    buying brand new is a major money waster.

    I do think the VW phaeton is the winner of the largest depreciation though the sold so few of them it hardly counts.

    trucks dont depreciate as much as cars, because they dont change them every year just for the sake of changing them, so your neighbors will know your vehicle is no longer the latest model.

  16. Eric, I have to correct you on this:

    “Remember: The GTO’s running gear – engine/transmission, etc. – is shared with the Camaro and Corvette. So service and maintenance is no problem, even if Pontiac sleeps with the fishes.”

    After just getting out from underneath one of those cars, I must say it was the worst maintenance nightmare I’d had in over 20 years – since my last GM car. After six years of ownership and 95K+ miles, I had already replaced the motor (40k), the suspension (twice), and the computer system (twice). The transmission had problems going into 4th and reverse, it ground going into 2nd, the rear end whined, and the seams were splitting on every piece of leather in the car. The brakes shook like a 8.5 earthquake. The paint looked like hell.

    The front and rear suspensions are truly horrible. Over 90 percent of GTO owners report a vibration at 60-80mph in the front that simply won’t go away no matter what we replaced. The stock struts and strut mounts collapse, and the front radius rod bushings decay at an alarming rate. On the rear, the differential mount decays and the rear control arm and toe bushings come apart, causing extremely odd tire wear and extreme wheel hop. To top it off, the front and rear suspensions are installed as modules at the Australian factory, and very rarely were they installed with proper alignment in relation to the center line. My car handled like a barge no matter what I did to it, and the ride quality was horrible.

    The substrate in one of the cats broke apart, and even though GM is supposed to provide a 7 or 10 year long warranty on emission components, guess what? This is the NEW General Motors. Since bankruptcy, they no longer have to provide warranty service for vehicles sold prior to Obama’s Gift.

    BTW: You specifically mentioned the 2004 GTO as a deal, and while you’ll pay less for the LS1 model, you’ll also lose the dual rear exhaust, the larger PBR brakes, and the raised hood.

    My advice to anyone who is seeking a GTO: run, run far away from them. On top of that $14.5k you’d spend on the car, expect to have about $5k to make repairs and upgrades to have a tolerable (but not quite enjoyable) car. Instead, go find a late 90s or early 2000s BMW or Audi for $5-10k. You could easily be the 4th or 5th owner on one of those and not run into the reliability issues this 1st owner found with his GTO. There are far more suppliers of parts for the BMW and Audi, and tens of thousands more of their cars here in the USA, so the economy of scale favors the euro cars and makes their parts costs cheaper.

    • Hi Ellis,

      I hadn’t heard about this; thanks for passing the info along. Is the manual transmission in the GTO the same as the unit used in same-year/era Corvettes? Do ‘Vettes of that era have similar problems?

      • The transmission is the T56 6-speed, but its a variant called the M12. The shifter mounting area is in a different place, and some of the gears ratios are different. The quality definitely isn’t there compared to the T56 in the Vette.

        Some other things I forgot to mention: when the car was “Federalized” (meaning: “it wasn’t screwed up enough, let the Feds have a whack at it”), they changed the steering rack (to protect us from Australian steering components, no doubt) and moved the gas tank from below the trunk level to the interior of the bloody trunk. Half the room in the trunk was taken up by the gas tank, bracing, and trim to cover it. The remaining room was reduced by a further third by the use of those ancient “biceps and shoulder” hinges that would more appropriate, as one poster on a GTO enthusiast site put it, “in the trunk of a 1970 Buick”, so if you decided to go grocery shopping nothing could go on the sides of the trunk lest the hinges crush it when the lid was closed.

        Oddly, the shell of the car seemed to be very strong, it was the parts bolted to it that really sucked. After my six years of ownership, there were still no structural groans to it. The seats creaked and chirped over bumps, there was a weird noise in the steering column, and of course all the stuff I listed earlier, but none of the nonsense that I had in my last GM. Perhaps thats why these cars were used for Formula Drift racing so successfully.

        Great site btw Eric – I’ve been meaning to post up in here for a while now, I hope my first wasn’t overwhelming or overbearing.

        • The Fedgov offered that crash test bullshit excuse when people started trying to import Skylines.

          I actually have a copy of the crashworthiness evaluations for the R33, and it turns out (like you’d probably expect, as this car is a Nissan) that the only body modifications need to pass the FMVSS were small A-pillar gussets and lowering the door intrusion bars. That’s it.

          The real sticking point was the fact that the RB26 engine needed a complete OBDII calibration to get past the EPA.

          But in a crash, that’s MY problem, not the Fedgov’s and not the guy who hit me. Why is the government even involved in the auto industry?

          Or perhaps a greater question.

          In all seriousness, why did mankind invent government in the first place? I remember reading about how it developed as a way to protect the newly-invented practice of agriculture eight thousand years ago.

          Can anyone fill me in?

          • “In all seriousness, why did mankind invent government in the first place? I remember reading about how it developed as a way to protect the newly-invented practice of agriculture eight thousand years ago.”

            From what I understand, agriculture has been around in some fashion for much longer than that-having plots of land “owned” permanently by goons who then “protected” the people who already lived there-for a ‘small fee’, of course- was the wellspring of ‘government.’

            A bit more complicated than that, to be sure, but it’s always been a scam.

            On the flip side, that scam also facilitates most of modern civilization-good and bad.

          • Thanks for the info, Mike.

            I was referring to the Neolithic Revolution.

            It seems that when we settled down in one spot and our society changed from hunter-gathered survivalists to farmers, we fundamentally crippled our desire to be masters of own own lives.

            It’s part of the reason why there’s so much bullshit in the corporate world, and of course why society is such a pressure-cooker these days:

            Humans don’t function well in large groups. We just don’t.

            All species group together in their optimum numbers. Birds, lions, wolves, elephants, fish, whatever.

            Humans seem to work best in bands of 20-30, not 300,000,000.

    • I work for a GM dealer, we warranty pre bankruptcy vehicles all the time. GM has a goodwill program that allows the dealers to warranty things that normally would not be covered due to age/mileage. If you have been maintaining your car at a GM dealer it is worth looking into. The worst they can say is no.

      Another good choice for a used SUV with real capabilities is a 3rd or 4th Gen Toyota 4Runner. I am currently driving a 1999 with over 341k miles.

    • Replaced the ENGINE at 40,000?! You got a lemon, dude. And as far as “handled like a barge,” by what standard is GOOD handling? It’s not a Miata.

      Remember that for every make, model, year and even color of car that is hailed by one person as the greatest, most reliable vehicle on planet Earth, that never once left them stranded, that was fun to drive, that got great gas mileage, that was built like a tank or that never needed more maintenance than an occasional set of tires, there will be another person that declares that this EXACT SAME make, model, year and color of car was the world’s biggest piece of shit and kept breaking down at random, eventually rusted itself to death, drank fuel, needed endless rounds of repairs, handled like a pig or consumed expensive parts like a fat guy at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

      Or vice versa.

      My point is to ignore opinions, even seemingly learned ones, and drive the car YOU like. Just check the forums for known problems with your new toy. You WILL NOT have the exact same ownership experience as DaddyzGurl101 or DoucheyTheMeatWank.

      • Chris, your advice to check forums is sound.

        If one were to go to the two major GTO forums one would find the suspension problems mentioned in giant, scaly, six-legged detail. Most of the GTO owners on the forums have replaced – at the very least – the front radius rod bushings, the front strut mounts, the rear coils and shocks, and the rear diff mount. My front struts failed within my first week of ownership. One of the most coveted mods on the forums is the Australian “fast rack” to replace the awful steering rack we were stuck with.
        There are several mentions of LS2 engine failures, with two of them at least showing the identical #6 cylinder bearing failure to the motor in my ride. )Thats most likely a bearing material defect from some GM subcontractor.)
        The interior stitching is coming apart on every single GTO, btw. The thread they used couldn’t stand up to UV and heat, and the leather used is a very poor grade that shrunk unmercifully in the sun, which broke the threads. The skins in my car felt like armadillo hide, and even though some folks had luck softening the leather with chemical treatments, I didn’t.

        As far as the handling goes, I didn’t expect a Miata. I was expecting a tight ride with sharp steering. One owner I met early on when the ’04s came out told me it was “like an M3 with a Corvette motor”. I can tell you with great conviction that my experience was nothing like that. It felt decent on the test drive but after it was broken in, not so much. My car felt like it had to think about what I asked it to do, and eventually made a choice that I usually wasn’t in agreement with.

        I agree with you that different people will have different subjective opinions on their vehicle experiences, but personality and opinion are still valuable as long as you find opinions from a personality who is looking for the same things you are. In my case, I wanted a car that was fast, comfortable, with some of that reknowned LS motor longevity and mod-friendliness I had heard about from the F-body guys. I was also blinded by my desire for a car with a lower payment than the one I had at the time I was shopping for the GTO.

        Lesson learned. Save up the money until I can buy a car cash, and then get something thats affordable and easy to fix. No more car payments for this guy.

        • Thanks Ellis.

          I did that before I bought my 850, so I knew to expect to have to replace the rear main seal and PCV system, which the turbo cars clog and blow out with regularity for some reason.

          And to ONLY use Volvo or Bosch parts. I’ve done that, and it runs like a sewing machine. Best car I’ve ever owned.

          My brother’s ’04 six-speed GTO has about 52,000 miles and is in perfect condition. If the problems you described with yours are common, he must’ve found a good one.

          Of course, he went out of his way to find a good, clean one and paid above market for it.

          The only problem he’s had with it is a rattle at the catpipe-midpipe joint mount.

  17. If you’re into SUVs or decent off road vehicles, a three year or older Land Rover or Range Rover is usually a good buy, especially if you buy the previous model (e.g. LR3 versus LR4). People who buy them new are generally folks who do not buy used cars, and often only drive them for a few years. A decent ’08 LR3 had a mid-$40’s MSRP goes for mid-$20s, and sometimes still under warranty. And a nice Discovery (originally in the mid-$40’s again), made through ’04, can be had for well under $10. And these are very capable off-road vehicles.

  18. I suggest looking them up on the Consumer Reports survey done every year in April copy of the report. This is not a Consumer Reports reporter thing. It is the actual records of repairs on the entire industry going back about 5 years as reported by a survey done by readers.
    Most times if I have owned the same model, the report is fairly accurate as to what I had to repair to keep the car running.
    Personally, I like trucks. Trucks cannot be engineered to die as easily as cars. It does happen but not as often.
    In the end we are all dealing with a bunch of horse traders with terrible reputations for dishonest dealings. That said, i have a tendency to go for the ones with the best report cards when I do buy. But then I keep them for twenty years if I can get away with it.
    I like some toys on my vehicles which helps in a used vehicle. Let someone else buy them first. I like power windows, steering, brakes. I like a sunroof. AC is necessary in this area. Automatic transmissions and cruise are well worth it. The rest are expenses I’d rather skip if possible. If big brother wants them on my cars, let them pay for it not me.

    • Trucks can be as good (or bad) as cars! Example: The Dodge Dakota is a notorious money pit. Meanwhile, the pre-2005 Nissan Frontier 4 cylinder is known to be almost unkillable.

      Due diligence is always crucial!

      • Spot-on about the Nissan Frontier. My ’04 Frontier XE 4-cylinder, which I bought used in ’07 for under 10K, has been the best vehicle I’ve ever owned.

        • Yup!

          I have two: a ’98 and an ’02. Best vehicles I’ve ever owned. Not only reliable but also designed to be easy to work on when you need to. I can’t say enough about them – and I’ve noticed prices for good ones have gone up rather than down, even though the newest of these is now eight years old.

  19. I like the concept. Agree with your choices of the Yaris and the Versa. Re the domestic models, I’ll have to pass on the ones you mentioned, “especially” the Sebring. Chris’ suggestion about the Crown Vic is good. But make mine a 2008 Dodge Magnum R/T, or SRT. 🙂

  20. 90 through 97 Jag XJ6s. Cars were way over 50K new, and really good, maintained low milage cars rarely top 5K now, sometimes much less. A lot of car for used Hyundai money.

    • I bought a Jaguar S-type with 52k miles about 3 years ago for $10k. Today, the car is worth roughly $6-7k. I enjoy it okay, although maintenance is killing me. I have spend a total of $6200 so far to keep it running. In 2011, it needed upper and lower radiator hoses, a fuel pump, transmission service, a battery. This year, I am doing a shitload of suspension work on it. I did the upper control arms and the rear struts. The next item to tackle is the front struts and stabilizer links.

      I hope that she decides to give me a break. Jaguars are not good daily drivers and are really meant to gobble interstate highway miles at high speeds.

      Maybe the XJ6 is different, since they have a straight 6 engine that is supposedly easy to work on. I like the lines of the XJ6, although I’m partial to my S-type.

      Almost traded it on a late model baby Lexus. What turned me off is the idea of making a car payment.

      • “Almost traded (the S-type) on a late model baby Lexus. What turned me off is the idea of making a car payment”.


  21. My brother has a 2004 GTO and on those occasions when he lets me drive it, I tend to overdo it. Accidentally, of course.

    My foot’s used to having to throttle up the engine in my 850, so the LS1’s off-idle torque spike always gets a little chirp.

    I really have to watch it with that car. Stuff I can get away with in a white Volvo will get me a big ticket if I do ’em it a red Pontiac.

    • That car is best in silver or white… it just disappears into the crowd. That was one of the reasons it never sold well, of course. But it’s also one of the reasons why it’s a performance car you can actually use.

      • Quite right! And I’ve discovered that Volvo owners fall into two categories: Yuppies and lunatic hot-rodders who love the cars’ indestructible nature.

        I love mine. The stealth factor, and believe it or not the boxy shape, is the reason I bought it.

        I was looking at a Mk.III Supra with a JDM 1JZ-five speed swap, which is one of my preferred drivetrains. But I knew that car would get me big tickets. AT LEAST.

        I’m surprised you didn’t list the Crown Vic here. I had a ’96 P71 cop car years ago and that thing was an absolute tank.

        A fun tank, what with the TR-3650 five-speed I put in it. I’ll tell you what, people got the hell out of my way!

        • I just got finished spending around $900 to put new ball joints on one of those tanks with only 75K miles on it, and it still has some creaks and squeaks in the front end sometime. The guy who did the work told me that because the Crown Vic was designed to ride really smoothly, it has lots of stuff in the front end with bushings and etc that wear out – apparently more so than in a regular car’s front end.

          Then there’s the problem with the manifold. It’s made of some kind of plastic that tends to crack after a while and need replacement. That’s another 1K.

          The thing’s a tank alright, but I’d rather have a humvee at this point.

          • Wow labor rates must be high to spend $900 on ball joints. 1K for the manifold must be with the highly priced no longer made ford service manifold. Use a dorman and do it yourself if it comes to that. It’s not difficult.

            Early 1999 and prior Ford 4.6L SOHC V8s had manifolds with plastic coolant cross over passages. These would age and crack. The replacements use an aluminum cross over.

            If the engine has PI heads (’99 and up) just order the PI manifold from a ford racing parts dealer. If has NPI heads (’98 and down) then get a dorman. The ’99 up dorman will cost power. If you want to be creative and get more power the PI manifold can be used on an NPI engine but there is a coolant passage shape change to deal with. Most good solutions are expensive.

            Crown vics are loved by taxi companies in part because they can fix them cheaply. But of course they usually aren’t paying dealer rates.

          • The only real potential problem were the FOUR catastrophic converters, which thankfully I didn’t need to replace.

            But $1,000 for a new intake? Jesus.

            That’s why I NEVER take my cars to mechanics. I used to be one, which is why I don’t trust them.

          • Get a Valentine One and a Laser Interceptor. Total cost–about a grand.

            Total savings for me over three years–probably two grand worth of tickets.

            The look on a thug-pig’s face when his laser gun can’t get a reading on you?


          • I thought the V1 was immune to radar detector detectors? I was just reading their website like two weeks ago and they were still making that claim.

            The thing about the laser jammer is it’s expense and the vehicle modifications. I’d have to do that to at least three of my cars and I don’t want to. There’s got to be a better way.

            • I don’t know about immune to detection by machine, but if the cop sees the unit (in Va., were they’re still illegal)…

              My surmise is this (based on using the V1 for about four years now): Most cops (especially local) do not have detector detectors. Reason? They are expensive – and because detectors are illegal in Va. and most Sheep obey “the law” the cops – generally – don’t use them. Now, it my be different where Dom is in Northern Va (which is like NYC is to NY state; that is, a totally different place even if it’s all in the same state). And maybe the state cops have detector detectors. But so far, so good. And also for Dom. Even though he got caught, that unit saved him so many times it’s already more than paid for itself…

        • *bursts out laughing*

          I thought I was the only one to go Dukes of Hazard on construction sites with old volvos. I didn’t realize there was a distinct group of people who did that.

          They really are indestructible cars.


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