Yes, folks, it's already Friday! And that means it's time for everyone's favorite Friday feature, Letters to Doug, wherein you write me a series of complicated, challenging letters that cover a wide range of pertinent automotive topics, and I cherry pick the one that's easiest to respond to!
Just remember: if you'd like to write a letter to Doug, e-mail me at email@example.com, or just send me a Twitter query at @DougDeMuro. As always, names will be changed to protect the letter writer, in case he is wanted for armed robbery.
Before we get to this week's letter, however, I want to share with you a response I got to last week's query, which was something along the lines of: I'm bored with my Tesla; what should I do? Well, one reader – he signed the note "Steve," even though I suspect his real name is more like "Elon" – wrote in angrily after I told the reader to sell it and buy something cool. Steve said:
The real reason to drive tesla is not excitement but to help reduce pollution. Your reasons to switch out is Stupid! Not to mention the motor is good for 3 million miles And it the safest car made.
I would just like to point out that Steve is exactly correct, and I retract my entire point of view in the face of his excellent argument, which – in case you need a refresher – was: "your reasons to switch out is Stupid".
In fact, Steve's letter has changed my life; so much so that I'm going to make some serious revisions to my existence going forward. There should be no excitement in life, but rather our entire goal should be to reduce pollution. And that is why I am going to move out of my home and into a Tesla Model S, which I plan to drive to the moon and back roughly ten times, or approximately 2.4 million miles – ya know, just enough to barely break in the motor.
Admittedly, I have some fear that I will burn up during all my trips across the ozone layer. However: I am comforted by the fact that the Tesla Model S is the safest car made, which means I will survive the journey with only a few bruises and possibly a skinned knee. So thank you, Steve, and I have just one question: what should I get for my vanity plate? I tried "OMGTSLA", but they said it's already taken by you.
Anyway, on to this week's letter, which comes to us from a reader named Eugene. Eugene didn't list his town, so I will have to assume he is writing in from New York City, since it is the largest city in America and therefore the most statistically probable choice. Anyway, Eugene writes:
I read your columns on Jalopnik and thought I'd ask you a question, mainly because I assume you have tons of spare time to give out free advice while you wait for your new (old) car to swim across the ocean.
Is it a bad idea to buy a car that was a manufacturer buyback / lemon law return? I'm looking at X5's, and all the lemon sellers say "BMW generously agreed to buy this car back because <insert minor issue with car here>, but the car is totally fine now, and you can get it for $10,000 less".
Can these cars be a good deal, or are they forever cursed?
For those of you who aren't familiar with manufacturer buybacks, allow me to educate you. Manufacturer buybacks occur in one of two ways. Either a) the car has a serious defect, and the automaker buys it back from the customer as a result, or b) the customer gets the car home, realizes he can't afford payments, and decides the only way to get out of this without losing big money is to claim it's a lemon. Then he spends the next four weeks screaming at everyone he meets that his car is defective.
"Don't you hear that noise?" he says to the service manager, in a long moment of pronounced silence as they sit inside the vehicle. "Well I hear it. And I want this car BOUGHT BACK or I'll call the LOCAL NEWS!"
So anyway: regardless of the situation, every manufacturer ends up buying back a small percentage of its vehicles. Then the manufacturer is then required to give these vehicles "branded" titles that denote they are "manufacturer buybacks." The intent of this is to disclose to potential buyers that there could be some unresolved issue with the car, including the fact that it may be defective, or possibly the previous owner was defective, so you should purchase it at your own risk.
Now, getting back to Eugene's question: should you consider purchasing one of these vehicles?
My response is: yes! But only after a thorough test drive and a strict mechanical inspection. I say this because some of these cars don't really have a problem. Some of these cars have already had their problems fixed. But some of these cars have an unidentified ticking noise that will drive you insane; a noise that will cause you to swallow a tape dispenser and stab your children with a potato peeler.
In addition to the thorough test drive and the mechanical inspection, there's another thing you should consider: how long you plan to own the car. If you're going to keep it for years, a manufacturer buyback is absolutely a brilliant choice for most car shoppers, since you can take advantage of even more depreciation than usual. But if you're going to sell the thing in six months, get ready to explain why you have a branded title that says your car is a lemon and you're selling it after only a few months of ownership. Trust me when I say that the only explanation he will believe is: The ticking noise told me to stab my children with a potato peeler, and now I need to raise money for bail.
So there's your answer, Eugene: you're free to buy a manufacturer buyback, as long as you take it on a comprehensive test drive, get a good inspection from a trusted mechanic, and hide your potato peelers.
@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.