How to not buy a lemon car

I’m going to share what I learned in buying 3 cars for different people within 2 years.

So you’re looking to buy a car but are not sure which one to go for. Picking a car solely by style, coolness factor, or by color is good in short-term but short-sighted in the long term. You want the total package where reliability comes first and everything else second.

I realize my views won’t jive with everyone. If money is no object, I see nothing wrong with going into a luxury dealership, getting a luxury car right there and then, and paying cash for it. I’m playing it safe here by saying that the main purpose of a vehicle is to get you from point A to point B. I feel that a car should be able to last you years. I’m not going to be trading it out every 3 years. If I were to do that I’d lease the vehicle instead.

How to research before buying

Prior to buying any type of vehicle, new or used, I’m researching the heck out it first on the internet. First thing, I’ll check the long-term quality index. Look at their analysis charts for vehicles that go over 180,000 miles. Right away, you see Lexus (Toyota), Toyota, Acura, and Honda separating themselves from the rest in dependability.

Next, take a look at the J.D. Power vehicle dependability study. Below is the study for 2016.

J.D Power 2016 Dependability Study

What do you see? Those same vehicles are on top for the least number of defects. Vehicles at the bottom of the list have mechanical issues. Congratulations, you now narrowed your decision to a couple of brands that are reliable.

Check forums and reviews

If you’re still debating on what car or make is reliable, checking out a forum like Reddit will help. It also helps to see some posts on what are unreliable cars as well and what makes them unreliable.

Once you know what model appeals to you from a reliable make, then narrow down your research to that model. For example, google “honda civic 2015 review”, and one of the first websites that popup will be edmunds.com. This website has plenty of reviews done by people that bought the car. Actually, edmunds.com was really helpful when I was debating on whether to get a Honda CRV 2015. After seeing that people reported a vibrating issue, I knew that I’m skipping this one over until they fix it in later generations. Had I not done research and gone straight to the dealership, do you think that the dealership would have mentioned this issue to me?

Watch test drives on YouTube

YouTube is gold for seeing hardcore car enthusiasts test drive different vehicles and give their impressions of them. For example, search “Honda Civic 2015 review”, watch the video and take notes.

You’ll also see videos on why some models suck. For example, Scotty Kilmer shows why some international luxury brands are over-engineered and can end up costing you a fortune to fix. Lease those cars so you can trade them in before they start breaking down.

How I see reliable cars

You can probably tell that I’m a fan of Japanese vehicles such as Toyota’s or Honda’s. Both these brands have built cars that have a reputation for easily lasting 100,000 miles with minimal maintenance. If you maintain them well, they’ll go over 200,000 miles. Of course, there are exceptions and there’s a chance you’ll get a car with a factory defect. It can happen with ANY make / model.

The thinking philosophy behind these cars is gradual improvements over time. Both Toyota and Honda have suffered from not having flashy styles, but then again, they win by evolving slowly and not risking breaking features that have worked for many years. They remind me of the AK-47. While it is not the most accurate gun out there because of its loose tolerances, it sure as heck has a reputation for working under bad conditions. As a side note, take a look at this twinkies AK-47 torture test. Please don’t do anything similar to your car. It’s a product with a rough edge, but a solid foundation.

The other great thing about these brands is that the parts are abundantly available. That means you won’t need to import them and they won’t break the wallet.

Just to be fair, Ford, Chevrolet, and other US brands are making a comeback. Since the 2008 financial crisis, their models have stepped up to the plate and have improved in reliability. I’ve only had personal experiences with Japanese brands of cars so I can only talk about those.

What do citizens in 3rd world countries drive?

If you live in the US, you can afford a range of vehicles. Instead, take a look at what people in 3rd world countries drive. Look at what is driven in rough terrains such as deserts, and humid areas. If you look at war documentaries or video footage of conflict zones, you’ll see that Toyota with some other brands such as Nissan corner the markets. Other brands won’t make it through the lack of maintenance and the tough environmental conditions.

Finally, check out this Top Gear episode on Killing a Toyota. They take a Toyota Hilux and try to permanently kill the car by drowning it, setting it on fire, and doing other crazy things to it. They fail.

Top Gear — Killing a Toyota

Resale value — New vs Used

The resale value will say a lot about a car brand. The reliable brands will have high resale value. The brands with less reliability will have their value depreciate quite quickly.

Go on craigslist and search for a used vehicle that you’re looking for to see the resale value and compare that price with what it costs as new.

I no longer believe in the saying that it is foolish to buy a new car because it quickly depreciates once you take it off the lot. Lexus, Toyota’s, Honda’s, Subaru’s do not suffer from this depreciation effect. You might save $4k on the used car with 30k miles on it rather than buying that car new. I’d rather have a new car that I can break in myself, rather than buy an almost new car that was previously broken in by a driver whose driving habits I do not know.

That’s it. You’re now armed with information to buy a vehicle that will last you many years.


Originally published at www.basicdrop.com on April 7, 2016.

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