Today, we're going to kick off a new Friday segment called Letters to Doug. Here's how it works: first, you send me a letter with some sort of automotive query, such as: "Dear Doug: Should I buy a used Saab 9-5 or just eat off my own face?" And then, every Friday, I will choose one letter and reply with a long-winded diatribe that only partially answers your question.
If this sounds like something you want to be a part of, please feel free to send me a letter at email@example.com, or Tweet me at @DougDeMuro. Please note that I will only be answering one letter per week, so try and make yours stand out without resorting to capital letters. Also: your secret's safe with me. All names will be changed to protect the identity of the letter writer.
Our inaugural letter comes to us from a reader in Miami, Florida, who writes:
Love your columns on Jalopnik—always a great read. I used to own a Lotus Elise (in Miami) so I really identified with your AC issue when you drove it cross country.
I would like some advice regarding a used X5. Are these cars good? I see some examples with relatively low mileage on eBay for ~$25k. Are these good deals, or are they problematic? Also, Land Rover LR3 & LR4 seem like they take a beating with depreciation. Do they grenade, or is the engineering sound?
Thanks in advance and keep up the great columns!
Stephen has raised an interesting point here, namely: a lot of European luxury SUVs lose value at a tremendous rate; a rate equaled only by mattresses, which you buy at the mattress store for like two grand and then you can't sell a year later on Craigslist because everyone thinks you have lice.
So should you take advantage of this immense depreciation? Or are these vehicles simply too unreliable and expensive to buy used? It's a good question, and I believe the answer separates car shoppers into two schools of thought, largely depending on their level of mechanical ability.
The first school of thought, which I refer to as the "Tavarish," is: Go ahead and buy it! It'll be FUN! The reason for this, of course, is that Tavarish – and people like Tavarish – have no fear. These are the kind of people who look at a car on Craigslist that needs a new engine, a car whose dashboard was chewed up by a roving pack of hyenas, a car with bullet holes in the seats, and they think: "Oh look! An OPPORTUNITY!" And then they work some magic, and they fix a few things, and they sell the car three weeks later for a $4,000 profit. Whereas you and I, to earn a $4,000 profit, would have to work several weeks at our normal job, or at least rob a couple of convenience stores.
The second school of automotive thought, which I refer to as the "Doug," is: OH MY GOD WHAT WAS THAT NOISE? WAS THAT THE ENGINE? OR DID I JUST RUN OVER A STICK? OH MY GOD WHAT IF IT WAS A BIG STICK AND IT PUNCTURED MY RADIATOR? OH MY GOD I HAVE TO GO TO THE DEALER RIGHT NOW. OH MY GOD I HOPE THEY HAVE FREE MUFFINS.
Now, I don't mean to generalize here, Stephen, but if you're searching for a luxury SUV, I suspect you probably fall closer to the Doug camp than the Tavarish one. And even if you have some mechanical abilities, maybe you don't want to spend your weekends working on your car, sitting in your driveway, especially in Miami, where you will probably be shot, or at least offered cocaine.
Fortunately, there's a solution to your problem: CarMax. I've been hyping up CarMax for years now, ever since they sold me a 6-year, bumper-to-bumper warranty on a 6-year-old Range Rover, and then proceeded to pay out more than $4,300 in claims over the next 18 months. The simple reality is: CarMax allows you to take advantage of mattress-style European SUV depreciation without worrying about reliability. Of course, you will still have to go to the dealer when something breaks, but isn't this better than driving an Acura?
Of course, the answer is yes, because when you tell your friends you have a BMW, they're impressed, but when you tell them you have an Acura, they ask which dead relative you inherited it from.
And so, my conclusion here is that you should absolutely buy a used LR4, or LR3, or X5, but only from CarMax, so you can use the warranty to shield yourself from any troubling reliability issues. And if you fall into the "Tavarish" camp, then yes, you should buy it anyway and do the work yourself, because it's far better than an alternative reliable SUV. And if you're considering a used 9-5, then yes, you should eat off your own face.
@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.