Jul 10, 2010

New Car Musings

We're on the (initial) hunt for a new(er) car for MrsZ. We keep kicking numbers back and forth, trying to make sense of our needs as compared to our budget and the realities of the market.

Her current car is a 2001 Honda Civic DX coupe - what's known in the business as a "strippy". Manual trans, no power items in the cabin, no air conditioning (!), and probably was AM/FM only when delivered. (It has an aftermarket CD player now.) Just shy of 80,000 miles. It has been a good car, no doubt. However, it's right on the brink of nickle-and-diming us to ... well, not to death, but to significant irritation.

The first owner (who bought it new) was a foreign grad student, and it shows, cosmetically speaking. I *think* every body panel on the thing has some kind of scuff or scrape somewhere. It has somehow not acquired any new damage since we got it, although occasionally I've thought that hitting a deer at 60 would be the best thing that could happen to it.

We've maintained it as appropriate. Regular oil changes, new tires last summer, new front brakes (pads and rotors) around the same time, etc. When we bought it needed (and got) a new sway bar link - not unusual for the roads around here. Mechanically, it's been good. Very good, actually. As I expect from Honda products - my first three cars were Hondas for a good reason.

Where it's gotten frustrating, however, is the little stuff. The cloth on the driver's door keeps flopping down - no big deal, a dab of superglue fixed that. The backlight for the odometer burned out - unfixed thus far, since it involved removing the whole dash to the tune of 1.5 hours of shop time. The cabin blower fan is now working intermittently, which could be the switch (remove dash to replace), the relay (under the hood), or the fan motor (remove the dash). Or it could be a loose connection. One of the front brakes is sticking intermittently, which leads to a smoking brake and a lot of power loss.

Is it worth fixing? For someone, yes, almost certainly. The cabin fan could be a simple and inexpensive fix for someone patient with a wrench, and the brakes the same. I have to draw the line between how valuable my time is and how inexperienced I am with auto repairs. Brakes - I can't do. Electrical - I can, with a lot of patience and some creative cursing.

And this brings me (with a sudden topic change) to the old argument of "new vs. used". To a certain extent five years ago, and much more so ten or more years ago, it was foolish to buy a new car unless you simply had to have new. (And there were plenty of people who had to have new, as evidenced by my sales numbers back then.) It's been a diminishing difference of late.

That train wreck of a "stimulus" - "cash for clunkers" - bottomed out the market on recent-model used vehicles at a fair price, because anything that was traded in as a "clunker" had to be destroyed. What that's left for recent used vehicles is off-lease, off-rental/ex-fleet, and a few trade-ins.

On the whole, lease vehicles tend to be the best bet, since maintenance and condition are part of the lease return and cost the owner money. Rental and fleet cars are an absolute no in my book, since the mentality tends to be, "It ain't mine, drive it like I stole it!" And the trade-ins are few and far between, and often a bit on the high side.

So, here's the dilemma:
My local dealer (who I won't buy from, but whose gas and time I will gleefully burn) has a 2009 Nissan Rogue on the lot, 30k miles, for $15,900. It will have the balance of the factory warranty on it (~6k full coverage, and 30k powertrain) but there's no telling how it was driven the last two years. It may needs tires, brakes, and fluids changed. (I'm *guessing* it's an off-lease car from someone who got a 24-month lease early in the '09 models.)

They also have a 2010 Rogue S, brand new, for $20,000. It's got full warranty, the right options, etc.

The common wisdom has always been that as soon as you drive a new car off the lot, it loses 20% value. That's *roughly* true, and if all other things were equal, it'd make a lot of sense to get a two-year-old car with the initial depreciation done. But.

Right now, my local (preferred) bank is offering 4.9% financing for 60 months on new and used cars back to the '07 model year.

Nissan is offering financing of 0.0% for 36 months or 0.9% for 60 months.

All things equal, I can buy a brand-new model for $40/month more than one that's two years old, with 30,000 miles of wear, and far less warranty.

Over the life of the loan, that's just $2400. For a new car.

It really seems to be a no-brainer to me.


Lokidude said...

The trick of buying new, for the most part, is being able to run out the term of the loan. You'll actually catch up to depreciation earlier than that, but really getting anywhere with it takes full term. The financing numbers look good, obviously, if you can afford it, the three-year note is a far better deal.

As far as doing your own maintenance, go to the local parts house and get a Haynes or Chilton's manual for your car. Most of the work is actually far simpler than it appears, and you can save a fortune.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking of suggesting you find another dealer to buy from, but you seem to have gotten there on your own.

Alan says Royal has treated him really well, but they're the wrong direction for you. (Cortland.) Surely Corning or Elmira or Watkins has a Nissan dealer.

ZerCool said...

@ Loki - I could fine a shop manual, yes ... but I have to balance the desire to save money against my knuckles and blood pressure.

@ MHA - the local idiots didn't do anything overtly wrong when I got the truck, but they did a lot of things very half-assed. When spending that kind of money, I expect attention to detail. Royal, however, Did Wrong. They played the ancient car-sales game of "hide the trade-in keys" with me. Never.

Mike W. said...

The brake issue isalmost certainly a sticking caliper. Not all that unusual.

I had a 2004 VP (basically your DX with a CD player and AC) OK car reliability wise, but the fit & finish sucked. Trim pieces and interior looked like crap after 3 years.

Now is a perfect time to buy a new car, with so many places offering 0% APR for 60 months.