Reader Question: Hyperinflation/Teen Car Suggestions?

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

P asks: Could you give us some advice regarding what to buy for future transportation needs given a hyperinflation scenario? Car, motorcycle, bicycle with motor . . . donkey? Nor more than $5,000 and preferably something my husband could fix?

The safety of our teenage girls is the most important thing and saving on gas is number two. Our dirt road is one mile of holes after just one rain and then we need to wait until it is “fixed” again.

My reply: As you probably know, inflation (not yet hyper) has already done a number on used vehicle prices. Many analysts blame this on new car supply problems, which derive from “chip” availability problems. But I think that while that is a factor, I think the primary driving factor is that the price of new cars has risen dramatically while the cost of living has increased dramatically, reducing people’s car-buying power dramatically.

Many people simply cannot afford to buy (or even finance) a new car – because they can barely afford food (and gas) especially after they pay their rent/mortgage.

I did a little surfing online the other day, to get a feel for what it would cost to replace my 2002 Nissan Frontier with another one like it. I bought mine (used) about 11 years ago for $7,000. Today, it would probably cost me at least that much and probably more to buy a similar truck – older now and with higher miles.  In a way, my truck has been a way to beat inflation as its value has risen in proportion to the loss of the dollar’s value.

The good news is you’ll probably still be able to find a used car that fits your needs and budget – but it will take some rooting around the private-seller classifieds and forgetting about dealers, as they have marked up what little inventory they’ve got to such a degree you’d almost be better off buying a new car (if they had any).

I’d begin by letting everyone in your circle know you’re looking. This is a great way to find a car before someone else finds it first. Also, it can be a way to find a deal – as a friend (or even a friend of a friend) may sell you their car for a “friend price.” Plus, you can save money on taxes this way, if the seller is willing to give you a bill of sale with a lower-than-used-car-value-guides sale price. The DMV will try to charge you the latter if you haven’t got the former.

Now, what kind of car to look for – given your parameters?

I’d look for for something stodgy, but solid – and abundant. And I’d look for a car – because cars are less popular these days than crossovers (and SUVs) and for that reason, the price is apt to be more reasonable. One of the safest bets in a car, in my opinion, is the Toyota Corolla. They are are not sexy but their attraction transcends looks. They have a very well-earned reputation for being extremely durable (250,000-miles-plus) and very low maintenance. Same as regards the Camry, if you need a larger (mid-sized) car. Don’t overlook the Camry’s larger relatives, either – the Avalon and the Lexus ES300/350. Older models may be obtainable within your budget.

Also, given your road situation, an older model RAV4 could be ideal. This one is closely related to the Camry, but has more ground clearance and most have AWD. But don’t dismiss FWD versions as ground clearance – and good tires – will usually get you through to where you want to go.

Honda Accords and Civics are good choices, too – but avoid the newer models with turbocharged engines and CVT automatic transmissions. (The CR-V is the Honda equivalent of the Toyota RAV4 and also a very god choice).

Others worth a look include the Mazda3 and its relation, the CX3 as well as the larger Mazda6 and CX5. Older Subarus without the CVT automatic can be a great choice, too – especially given your road.

Wild card possibilities – if they crop up – include various “old people cars”  such as Ford Crown Victorias and Chevy Impalas/Malibus, Buicks and so on.

An even wilder possibility would be to consider buying a truly disconnected old car made before the electronics age. This would mean a car made before – roughly – the early 1980s. The upside here is these cars are much simpler and almost entirely mechanical and so readily owner-repairable. If your girls like adventure they might like to own something like an old air-cooled VW Beetle, which makes for an ideal survival car because it is not much more complex than a lawn mower.

But also not much faster. And much colder!

The most important thing, however, when shopping for a used car – especially one in this price range – is to thoroughly vet it to establish it soundness. Condition is much more important than mileage – or even price – because you’ll end up paying more for a car in poor condition, even if its price seems attractive and the mileage is low.

Hope this helps get you started!

. . . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in! Or email me at [email protected] if the @!** “ask Eric” button doesn’t work!

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  1. I’ll second the “old man car” suggestion. Typically these are large, older (say late 90’s), sedans, with larger displacement engines (V-6’s and 8’s). Good recommendation is the Buick Lesabre with a, and this is important, 3.8L six. If you wanna go way back, then an Old Cutlass Cierra, or Chevy Celebrity, also with the 3.8L six. (Basically, if you get a GM car, get one with a 3.8L six…) If you get a Blazer, S10, or 1500 series pickup get a 4.3L six. Yes, a little thirsty all around, but these are built like tanks.


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