Reader Question: Fair Price for 2004 Buick LaCrosse?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Jerry asks: How much would you offer for an ’04 Buick LaCrosse with under 40k miles and what negatives are associated with it? If you could respond before Saturday it would be appreciated. I listen to you weekly on the Bill Meyer show in Medford, Oregon.

My reply: Well, the car’s mileage is very low but you haven’t provided much information about the car, itself – such as whether it’s a base trim or Limited, the options it has as well as its overall condition. This can range from excellent – to poor – and the value adjusts accordingly. Have you driven the car? Does the owner have maintenance records?

Why is the mileage so low?

If it has been sitting unused for a long time, I’d be concerned about possible issues arising from that. It is important to adjust maintenance intervals accordingly. How are the tires? Given the mileage, they may be ancient – even if they have plenty of tread left. I’d check the date codes and if it turns out they’re more than ten years old, I would factor replacement cost into the decision – and your offer.

Also check: Transmission fluid (service history), struts/suspension, cooling system – has the coolant ever been changed? – brakes/brake fluid, AC, etc. When was the oil and filter last changed?

That said, this is a solid car – generally speaking. It has Buick’s excellent 3.8 liter V6, a simple OHV design that is known to be very reliable and low maintenance. It has a four speed (not ten speed) automatic, also simple and reliable. The car is almost entirely free of the obnoxious,. over-the-top “tech” that afflicts new cars. It is also very comfortable and pleasant to drive. Buick designed it to be competitive with the Lexus ES sedan.

It may well be worth more – to you –  than the “retail value” for these reasons.

My NADA book says the car (with the under 40k on the clock) is worth about $4,300 retail – meaning, that’s what a dealer would try to sell it for. Probably around $3,500 is a fair price, assuming the car is in excellent condition.

If you get it for that sum – give or take –  and you get even two trouble-free years out of it – you’ll have only spent $150 or so per month and (probably) very little, relative to a new car, to insure it (the same as regards taxes,if applicable in your area). The longer you drive it, the more favorable the math.

Also keep in mind that the cost of this car – say $3,500 or so – is about the cost of replacing a transmission in a new car.

Assuming it was not abused – as by sitting for years, outside – with just 40k or so on the clock, this car should provide reliable service for another 100,000-plus miles and will have paid for itself twice over long before you get there.

It sounds like a good deal; I hope it turns out to be the case!

.  . .

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  1. Head gaskets and intake manifold gaskets.

    Check the coolant for any brown scum around cap neck.
    Check the oil for anything murky on the stick. Anything not clear oil is a bad sign.

    Smell the transmission dipstick. No real noticeable smell? Good. Smells acrid and nasty. Not good.

    • Good point, Anon! Scary thing is though, with most modern vehicles- and ‘specially GM products, they often don’t display such obvious signs of a blown head gasket until they are very far gone- They can be quite far gone, and yet have little indication of it, other than a high temperature/overheating on a long drive.
      One tip: Smell the exhaust while the car is running and up to normal operating temperature….the smell of coolant coming from the exhaust pipe will manifest itself long before it gets to the point where it’s bad enough for there to be any white smoke; and also listen to the exhaust- a hollow-sounding glug-glug-glug is another tell-tale sign.
      OP can give the car the old prostate exam too. Stick finger in exhaust pipe (Careful not to get burned- This csan be done before the car warms up) and if there is a sooty or oily or wettish residue (Just plain water is O-K -just condensation) the car has a bad head gasket or other major engine problem.
      I’d be equally concerned about the transmission too. A vehicle that sits and rarely gets used will at the very least have dried seals which will leak…and that leak will get worse as soon as the car starts to be driven again…to the point of causing tranny failure- Not to mention all other problems inherent with automatic trannies these days- and if the tranny’s bad/goes bad…the car is scrap.

      • And A/C! If you need/want working A/C..make sure it works before ya buy it…’cause it doesn’t “Just need a charge”. A/C can be ridiculously expensive to fix, and sometimes, literally can not be fixed, because like everything else made in the last 20+ years….it’s tied to a computer- and even if it’s just a mechanical part that goes bad….you often have to replace many of the other parts when you replace one, to avoid a recurring problem, ’cause the whole system can get contaminated by one part going bad and quickly wreck a new part.
        With such low mileage….it’s pretty much certain that all the major parts of the vehicle are all original, and thus all 17 years old- A high mileage vehicle will have likely already had any problematic parts go bad and have been replaced already……

  2. To add to Eric’s point about ‘sitting unused’: With an older vehicle of such low mileage, that it was sitting for a long time, or only used for very short hops, is pretty much a given. As a lifelong driver of older vehicles exclusively, I avoid low-mileage vehicles like the plague! I prefer high-mileage vehicles, because if someone has kept an old vehicle going for many miles, and managed to keep it in good shape, it almost guaranteed that they maintained it well, and that it wasn’t owned by some old lady who let it sit in the driveway, and just used it to go a few blocks to the grocery store or doctor’s, never getting it up to operating temperature and keeping the seals and other parts lubricated, and who did little to no maintenance (only repairing things when they break), and letting rust get a hold from parts just not moving.
    I’ve told this story on here many times, but it’s the perfect illustration for this situation: Back in the late 90’s, my best friend’s mother was buying an early 90’s bubble Caprice. Those Caprices were incredibly reliable, durable workhorses, often used for pig-mobiles and taxis because of their durability. The one my friend’s mom was looking at was being sold by an old lady, and had the requisite low mileage.
    I warned her (without ever having seen the car myself) NOT to buy that car (Which she would be paying a premium for because of the low mileage). She didn’t listen, and bought the car. Turned out to be the biggest pile of crap she ever had- and within a year she tired of dealing with all of the problems which developed when she started driving the thing (The car had no problems when she purchased it- but they quickly developed as soon as some mileage started being put on the formerly sedentary car)- and it wasn’t like my friend’s mom did any major driving…just maybe 20 or so miles a day round-trip to work, and errands around town and stuff.
    While she paid a premium for that car- close to twice what a Caprice of that year was worth at the time…she ended up selling it a year later for less than half of what a typical Caprice was worth- like a FIFTH of what she had paid for it.
    Around the same time, I bought a three year-old Econoline van with 240K miles on it for a fraction of what a standard-mileage one would go for…used it to mover from NY to KY…and kept driving it for another 15– and other than a fuel pump and heater core, I never had to do a thing to it…most reliable vehicle I ever owned…and the guy I sold it to hopped in and drove it from here in southern KY to IN. without incident. (It had been a former fleet van used to transport workers by it’s original owner).
    High-milers…if they’re in good shape when ya get ’em, they’ll far out-last a low-miler…and you’ll get ’em ofr a fraction of the cost.


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