The End of Buying Used?

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by Eric Peters EricPetersAutos.com

Recently by Eric Peters: Why Muscle Cars — the Original Ones — StillRule

Buying a used car has – up to now – usually been a good way to save money. You avoid the new car mark-up … and you take advantage of new car depreciation – which can be as high as 30 percent off MSRP “sticker” after as little as two years. But, the balance might be shifting in favor of new over used for the simple – and depressing – reason that the stuff they are putting into new cars to make the government happy is not likely to live a long and largely trouble-free life. And when the new car warranty runs out, that could mean a lot of trouble for you.

For example, turbochargers – sometimes not just one but two of them, staged in sequence (as for example Ford’s new line of “EcoBoost” engines) are becoming a fairly common feature in run-of-the-mill cars. Family cars – even economy cars. Turbos used to be found almost exclusively in performance and luxury cars. Because turbos – which provide an on-demand increase in power – are expensive. So how come they’re being used more and more in economy-minded and family cars? Because they also provide a fuel economy benefit – the flip-side of on-demand power. They permit the use of a smaller-in-size (and so, more economical) engine, which makes the government happy. The on-demand power (as when you want to accelerate quickly to merge with traffic) makes consumers happy – and more, tolerate an engine that would otherwise be too small/weak.

That’s the upside.

The downside is the expense. The down-the-road (and out-of-warranty) expense. Replacing a crapped-out turbo can easily be a $2,000 job. And if the car has two turbos… .

Turbocharged engines are also hotter-running, higher-stressed engines. This – historically – has also meant shorter-lived engines. Maintenance – such as oil and filter changes – is also a much more critical factor with a turbo’d engine. Reportedly, the latest designs are much-improved in terms of long-haul durability. But the key word to draw a bead on is reportedly. The truth is we won’t really know how well these new-design turbo (and multi-turbo’d) engines hold up until a large enough number of them have been in circulation for a long enough period of time – at least five or six years. Long enough for them to be out of warranty.

Then, we’ll see.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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