Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Jacob asks: So, I’m a large guy and I’m looking to purchase a used vehicle for around $10,000. I’d like to opt for a medium-size SUV, preferably one that handles well and has good gas mileage. I was looking at vehicles from around 2008 to around 2012 and I noticed that I could get a used luxury SUV for not much more than a used Ford Escape. But my hangup is the reliability and maintenance cost of an older, premium-class vehicle. In particular, I’ve been looking at a 2008 to 2011 BMW X5. I’ve seen a number of these vehicles listed for around $10,000, some as low as $8,000. They generally have around 100,000 miles on them. Now, I understand that BMWs are the most expensive cars to maintain. Would I be insane to consider a 10 year old BMW with 100,000 miles? I’m not wealthy and my career is a bit up in the air at the moment. I can’t guarantee what financial position I’ll be in in six months or more, but I do have over $20,000 saved to allocate towards buying and maintaining a car.My fear is that I’ll purchase the BMW X5, then it’ll be an endless money pit. I don’t mind if it’s a little more expensive to maintain, I just want to see if I can mitigate these costs somehow or accurately estimate what it’ll take to own this vehicle. I’d like to have it for around five years at least. I’d also like to compare the cost of owning and maintaining the X5 to something like a used Lexus RX350 or even a Ford Escape. Then I could judge whether the premium is worth it. Any advice you offer would be really appreciated.
My reply: I don’t think you’ be insane to consider a ten-year-old BMW with 100,000-plus miles . . . I think you’d be insane to consider any ten-year-old luxury-brand vehicle with 100,000 miles. The odds of such a vehicle being a money pit are high. Luxury cars have more complex systems – it’s one of the selling points when they’re new – and these tend to be more vulnerable to wear and tear than less complex systems and often cost much more to fix when they fail. Particularly if the component(s) that needs to be replaced are electronic and proprietary (i.e., you can’t buy a generic aftermarket replacement; you have to buy a “factory” replacement). Even things you might think would be relatively benign to your financial well-being, such as brake work and other routine maintenance, can hit you with sticker shock that would fell a Clydesdale.
One of the reasons a large percentage of luxury-brand vehicles are leased is precisely because of high repair (and maintenance costs). It is also one of the reasons why luxury cars depreciate so steeply and so quickly.
I understand it’s tempting but – for my sake (I need to sleep tonight) – please don’t do this!
I do, however, have a suggestion about what you might consider doing.
You mentioned several mid-sized crossover SUVs. I italicized “crossover” to highlight – for those not hip – that a “crossover” is basically a car that’s been jacked up off the ground a bit and made to look like an SUV. But SUVs – properly speaking – are based on pick-up trucks (for example, the Chevy Tahoe is based on the Chevy Silverado 1500).
Crossovers – being based on cars – ride and handle better than SUVs but are usually less rugged; they usually have a light-duty AWD system without Low range gearing and aren’t really designed to go seriously off-road or pull very heavy loads.
SUVs – being based on cars – are clunkier in the curves but they usually have 4WD and Low range gearing and can go seriously off-road and (usually) pull much more than a crossover of about the same size.
Here’s the thing… because they are based on trucks, SUVs are tougher and last longer. For this reason, I would not hesitate to buy a ten-year-old Chevy Tahoe or similar SUV with 100,000 miles – assuming the price was fair and the vehicle checked out (by which I mean, a mechanic you trust inspected it and gave it the green light).
So, that’s the direction I’d like to steer you in. I think you’ll be much happier with a non-luxury-brand SUV rather than a luxury-brand crossover, given your budget and other criteria.
The Tahoe or Ford Expedition would be my first choices in a medium-large SUV. I’m a big guy, too – and I can tell you from personal experience you’ll appreciate the room inside.
If you still prefer to go the crossover route – and prefer something smaller – here are some suggestions:
VW Tiguan – it’s based on the VW Golf and has excellent leg and headroom. Very peppy and fun to drive, too.
Subaru Forester – These go forever and come standard with more ground clearance than most as well as a superior AWD system.
Honda Pilot – Blue chip; very hard to go wrong.
The Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV-4 are also solid as a bar of Swiss gold, just about.
But whichever direction you end up going, my main advice is to take your time and buy when you don’t feel pressured to buy. Have the vehicle checked out as per above – and (if it’s being sold by a dealer) try to get them to include an extended warranty as part of the deal.
Keep us posted!
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