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Maybe You Shouldn’t Buy A Used Luxury Car For the Price of a Kia

Illustration for article titled Maybe You Shouldn’t Buy A Used Luxury Car For the Price of a Kia

It happens every time I hang out with my car enthusiast friends: We're sitting there, chatting about cars, and eventually the discussion turns to the fact that you can buy a wide range of iconic used performance cars for approximately the same price as laundry detergent.

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"I could have an E34 BMW M5 for eleven grand!" one of them will say. "ELEVEN GRAND!!!" And then we'll sit there musing over the fact that a new car that costs eleven grand would be so crappy that you'd have to pay extra if you wanted, for example, reflective mirrors.

This is one of the reasons why I love Tavarish's recent articles so much. It's an excellent thought exercise: you can get a cool old Ferrari, or a used Porsche 911 Turbo, or a Chevrolet Corvette Z06, all for less money than that Lexus hatchback that looks like a MazdaSpeed3 and accelerates like a moving walkway. It's tremendously enjoyable to think about, and his articles usually prompt me to spend the rest of the afternoon on AutoTrader, thinking to myself: "Just five more minutes. Then I'll get back to work."

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But just to be clear: normal people should never, under any circumstances, actually purchase one of these vehicles.

I say this because I have many acquaintances who own Honda Civics, and Ford Fusions, and Nissan Altimas, and in talking to these people I've come to discover what they look for in a car: Value. Reliability. Ease of operation. A nice pat on the back from Consumer Reports. A comfortable, dependable place where they can spend a few hours each week, mindlessly using Facebook as they sit in traffic.And most used luxury cars offer none of these things.

For proof, I'd like to introduce you to my 2006 Range Rover, which is a used luxury vehicle that I purchased for approximately the same price as a Toyota Camry. On paper, this seems like a great deal: for less than $27,000, I got 4-wheel drive, and leather upholstery, and heated front seats, and heated rear seats, and a navigation system, and tri-zone automatic climate control, and a backup camera, and parking sensors, and a series of high-tech off-road gadgets that come in tremendously handy for driving over the parking curbs at Starbucks.

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So my Range Rover looks pretty good on paper. But before you get all excited and dash out to buy some expensive used luxury car instead of a nice, reliable commuter vehicle, I want to especially stress one term here: on paper. Because for most of the Camry's value-focused, reliability-obsessed buyers, a used luxury car like my Range Rover would be a terrible idea in practice.

To explain what I mean, allow me to recount what happened two weeks ago when I visited Land Rover of Cherry Hill, an excellent automobile dealership in New Jersey that specializes in apologizing to angry rich people.

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Here's what happened: I was due for an oil change. I also needed a few other small items: rear brake pads. New wiper blades. A new battery. A software update for the CD player. And some burnt-out side marker bulb that I would never notice if it weren't for a warning that said "CHECK SIDE MARKER" in huge, serious letters every time I turned on the car, as if a broken side marker could eventually lead to engine trouble, or transmission problems, or prostate cancer. In other words: it was mostly simple stuff. Easy stuff. The kind of stuff you'd normally do in your driveway with a few beers, and a few tools, and a wide range of unacceptable curse words.

So I dropped off my car at the dealer, and I drove away in a 2-door Range Rover Evoque with enormous "LAND ROVER CHERRY HILL" decals on the back, eager to spend the day zipping around in my new loaner car, and checking out its capabilities, and running through bridge tolls without paying. I figured I'd come back the next morning, pay a couple hundred bucks, and move on with my life.

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But that isn't what happened. Do you want to know what it cost to fix all of that easy, simple, no-problem, do-it-in-your-driveway stuff? $1,067.35. Yes, that's right: one thousand. Sixty seven. And thirty-five cents. For some brake pads, some wiper blades, a software update, a new battery, and an oil change.

Now, I know what you're thinking here, and that is: DeMuro, you IDIOT!!! Why did you go to the DEALER!??!? Don't you know the DEALER will GOUGE you?! Don't you know the DEALER will SCREW YOU OVER?!?! Don't you know going to the DEALER is the automotive equivalent of showing up at Macy's and asking if they could remove the sale tag from your item because you want to pay FULL RETAIL?!?!? And my response is: Don't you think you're being a bit dramatic, with all those capital letters?

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No, my response is that you're generally correct. But here's the thing: in my visit to the dealer for these simple items, nearly $700 of my service was parts alone. Seven hundred dollars. Just the battery was $229.11, before tax.

So this all got me thinking: what the hell has this thing actually cost me?

So I added it all up, and it turns out that after two years and 20,000 miles of owning a used luxury car for the price of a Toyota Camry, CarMax and I have spent a total of $8,442.78 on Range Rover-related repairs and maintenance. Eight thousand. Four hundred. Forty-two. Seventy-eight. Just to drive the car twenty thousand miles. For the record, my dad owned two successive Camrys when I was growing up, and I don't think he ever spent eight grand total on them over a 20-year period.

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And there's another aspect of this whole "unreliable used car" thing that would-be Camry buyers will also want to consider: inconvenience. Oh, sure, it's fun to write about the Range Rover and talk about all of its many ridiculous problems, like that time the tail light filled up with water to the point where you could've used it as a salmon hatchery. But it's also a serious waste of time: in the last 22 months of ownership, I've been to the Land Rover dealer eight separate times. In other words: every seven weeks, like clockwork, I'm back in the dealer, fixing one thing or another. If I had a normal job, that would translate to a lot of missed meetings. Missed seminars. Missed brainstorming sessions. So maybe the unreliable used luxury car really is a good idea, after all.

Now, you might be thinking something along the lines of: Of COURSE you've had a lot of problems. It's a RANGE ROVER! But an AMG Mercedes would be WAY better. SOLID GERMAN CONSTRUCTION! AUTOBAHN CAPABILITIES! WHY AM I SCREAMING MY THOUGHTS?

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But in my own experience, most high-performance used cars are actually even more expensive to own than my Range Rover. And the folks over at Edmunds.com seem to agree, having spent a whopping $5,922.41 to drive just 10,000 miles in their long-term 2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG test car.

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So what I'm saying here is this: a used performance car is generally a terrible idea for most of today's car-buying public, even if it costs less than a Kia Optima. You shouldn't recommend a used performance car, you shouldn't consider a used performance car, and you definitely shouldn't buy a used performance car. Now, off to AutoTrader, where I will look up several exciting used performance cars. But just for five minutes. Then I'll get back to work.

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@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.

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DISCUSSION

apidaonline
Freddy "Tavarish" Hernandez

Here's where I agree:

Normal people (the people who don't understand how cars work) shouldn't buy expensive cars that have depreciated. The cost of ownership and sticker shock on some parts can be genuine issues with many people. Purchase price gets you in the door, but it doesn't pay the entire bill.

Where I disagree:

The one thing that can eliminate nearly all of the headaches that you've listed is research. Case in point: My Mercedes S500 is 14 years old and has nearly 100,000 miles on it - which by your measurements, should have killed its owner in a hilariously unfortunate accident when an errant right taillight took out the drivetrain. The entire amount I spent on this car was $5300, including the purchase price, all repairs, and all modifications. Am I a car whisperer that has hands made of magic? Did the Germans overlook my car in their plan for self-assured automotive destruction?

No. I just did research and found the common problems associated with the mark and planned accordingly, diagnosing faults as they came. It's been in the "shop" exactly once, and for about a day (replacing an air shock, $70 labor). Everything else is "do it in your driveway" child's play. It's a huge LEGO set, and such was the case with nearly every BMW M car I've owned (I've had 3 over the last year.) There is no reason that a well-researched car purchase should cost you an arm and a leg on running costs.

As far as Edmunds' long-term test car, the CL65 was the largest and most technologically advanced car Mercedes made at the time, and commanded a near $200k MSRP. They spent a lot of money, but it could've been at least halved if they didn't pay dealer prices for the parts and labor. I'm not saying they do it themselves, but $2200 and 12 days out of commission for a faulty coil pack is pretty ridiculous, and wouldn't take anywhere near that with an indy shop. The going rate for a new or refurb coilpack is $1500, with labor being a few hundred more at best. Again, not to nitpick, but if you take the word of people who choose only to go to the dealer, I'm sure you can illustrate a really grim and somewhat unrealistic picture of the potential prices involved.

Also, about the missed meetings - complicated cars often have complicated procedures for some of their systems, and cars aren't perfect machines that work 100 percent of the time. Yes, a Camry with a conventional everything is going to a bit more reliable on average than a Range Rover that has more moving parts than the Space Shuttle, if only for the complexity in its engineering. If you can't handle having time out to fix something or have it fixed, especially if the car is out of warranty, then don't buy the car. As adults, we do have to occasionally plan for things to fail, and without a contingency in the form of a second car or other mode of transport, one is simply saying to themselves "Fuck it, let it ride!".

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be busy finding a used Aston Martin V8 Vantage and recommending it to everyone and anyone who doesn't see a Check Engine Light and soil themselves on their panicked rush towards the nearest dealer.

Great article! :)