What to Look for in a New-to-You Car/Truck

Call it what you will – hoarding, junk collecting or a serious automotive addiction. I’ve got it, and I’ve got it bad. Buying a new-to-you car/truck/motorcycle/whatever motorized vehicle you buy is always exciting. The process must release some endorphin in my automotive-craving brain. The downside of this is that I usually don’t have any money to fix the damn cars, but I’m happy (albeit slightly delusional). The bonus is that I can write and take (bad) pictures, and share my experiences with you. Here’s what I’ve learned.

  • Know what you want: If you have an idea of what vehicle you want to buy, educate yourself on it. Find out what options there were, and what reliability concerns there are. For example, if you’re looking at an older 1980s Toyota 4×4 pickup or 4Runner, know the difference between the 22RE and the 3.0L V6, and which one is right for you. 
  • Walk away if there is no title: Unless you’re planning on parting out the vehicle, or turning it into a race vehicle, walk away from it. Even though the seller might have a very entertaining story to explain the lack of a title, it just means an even bigger headache for you. Just be aware that if you decide to part out the vehicle and decide to send the carcass of it to a salvage yard, many won’t accept it without a title. They just have no way of knowing if it’s stolen or not. Some states are kind to you and allow you to jump through the hoops and get the title with only the bill of sale. It takes a whole lot of patience, dealing with bureaucracy, paperwork, and sometimes it doesn’t have a happy ending. Make sure the vehicle has proper VIN plates and check with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or your insurance company to see if it was ever reported stolen. The last thing you want to do is exchange money and then the cops come and take the car and you.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200 if there is no title!
  • Ask if there are spare parts: Most of the time, the seller just wants the vehicle gone, and you can usually get spare parts for a fraction of what they worth new. You might need those parts in the future. Sometimes the seller will just throw the parts in for free. Even if they say no, it never hurts to ask! 
  • Use parts you don’t like as negotiating points: If the vehicle you want to buy has ugly aftermarket wheels, and you have stock wheels at home, ask the seller if they would consider taking some money off the asking price and keeping the wheels and tires that the vehicle has on it. Fancy wheels you don’t like are worthless until you can sell them, and that takes a lot of time. 
  • Get the nicest one possible: This will save you money, a massive headache, and it will just be a better vehicle. It’s worth the extra money. 
  • Buy vehicles as close to stock as you can: This might seem silly if you’re going to be building an off-road rig or a hot rod, but here’s the thing. A car you want might have all the parts you want on it, but how do you know if they were installed correctly?
  • Try to avoid salvage title cars: This is, for the most part, a huge no-no. Vehicles can be salvaged for a number of reasons, some of which may not be bad, but insurance companies aren’t out there to lose money. Be suspicious if they don’t think it’s worth fixing. Some parts might be missing, but it’s always the little things that kill you. A salvage title always has a stigma attached to it, no matter how much work, time and money you may have poured into it, when you go to sell it, you’re going to lose money on it. At the same time, if you’re going to be building it into a race car, a trail rig, or a beater, does it matter if it’s got a few dents, is missing some trim pieces, or won’t sell for a lot of money?

    Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope
  • Buying most old cars means parts availability: Like it or not, if you buy an old Camaro, Mustang, Chevelle, pickup, Jeep, FJ40, or Bronco, there will be an abundance of aftermarket parts. Many of the parts you will need can be bought online, or you might be able to get them from their salvage yard out back. There are specialty restorers all over the country. If they have a few restorable vehicles out back, don’t bother haggling with them. They know how much the vehicle is worth and what they have. But, you do know that they have good parts, and rest assured that they will want to keep you as a customer.
  • Hang out with pros: Make friends, or become friendly with the people who restore or work on the vehicle you just got. They know what common problems are, how to fix them, and what to look at in a new (to you) vehicle that you’re considering buying. People who have worked on those vehicles know where to look, and chances are high that they will pitch in with your project.
  • Look for late-model 4×4 package (if you’re wanting an off-road truck): There are several late-model 4x4s with special off-road packages installed in the factory. You can score big time if you find one on a dealer lot. Look for Z71, FX4, TRD and Pro-4X. These packages give you deeper gearing, a locking or limited-slip differential, bigger, meatier tires, tuned suspension, and sometimes a beefier drivetrain and skidplates. Just be forewarned that stickers can be added to base vehicles without these packages to fool you. There are also 2wd TRD “Prerunner” Tacomas, and 2wd Jeep Wranglers that lack the front drive components, a transfer case, and all the goodies that come with off-road packages. Just keep an eye out and you’ll be fine. Also, some dealers will slap a sticker onto trucks to fool you into buying it. 

With all of that being said, go out and find that one car/truck/motorcycle/whatever motorized vehicle it is that you’ve always wanted to buy. Build it into what YOU want, not what others want. When they tell you how to build it, tell them to go build their own. It’s your car, and you’ll be much unhappier with the car they wanted you to build. You don’t want that, do you?

The Best Cars for the End of the Holiday Season!

I think that this is a bit of a tradition for me.  Last year, I wrote a post about the same time as this one.  It was also about the best cars for the end of the holiday season.  I have fond memories of picking through cars that I thought deserved to be on this list.  While my list may not be as prestigious as Car & Driver’s 10Best, I would like to think of it as my personal version.  Except, I will be doing a list like this for every season!  That’s right:  Winter, spring, summer, and fall!  After much thought, I have finally decided what cars deserve to be on my list.  The criteria for the cars:  The cars on the list must all be new or substantially updated, they must be able to be entertaining in a snowy climate, and they must be able to seat at least four people comfortably (that way you can go on a road trip with the kids or friends!).  Enjoy my list!

  1. Bentley Flying Spur:  The Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed was on my list last year.  However, the Flying Spur is no longer burdened with the Continental name.  It does still share a platform with the Continental, though.  It’s a brute of a car, weighing in at 5644 pounds.  It’s definitely as large as an elephant – it is 17.4 feet long, and it it weighs as much as a male elephant bull.  Don’t despair – this car rockets to 60 mph in an equally stunning 4.3 seconds.  This car will keep pace with a sprightly Lotus Evora S all day, without much drama or effort.  This car has 616 horsepower mated to a superb ZF 8-speed automatic transmission.  The powerful W12 engine is more efficient – it gets 12/20 MPG city/highway, according to the EPA.  However, snowy hoonage will likely lower that number…  It has every option one can imagine, including private multimedia screens for the kids.  Bang & Olufsen sound-deadening wireless headphones will keep the people in front sane.
  2. Ford F-150 FX2/FX4 Sport Tremor:  The Ford F-150 SVT Raptor Crew Cab rumbled and burbled its way onto my list last year because of its substantial updates, most notably the 6.2 liter V8.  This year, it’s more efficient, yet just-as-fun sister joins the party.  The Sport Tremor comes in 2WD or 4WD, regular cab only.  It comes with Ford’s powerful, efficient 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6.  Power gets there through a 4.10:1 rear end, so these trucks will be fast.  I know that it doesn’t seat four, but don’t despair – you can always get the Raptor!  The performance figures for the Sport Tremor aren’t out yet, but a 2012 Ford F-150 XLT 4X4 Crew Cab got to 60 in a quite-respectable 6.2 seconds.  Expect the Sport Tremor to get there in about 5.8-5.9 seconds.  While it won’t keep up with the Bentley in a straight line, it CAN haul a whole lot more, and get better gas mileage!
  3. SRT Viper/GTS/TA:  The Viper has a ground-shaking 8.4-liter V10 that pumps out 640 horsepower.  It comes with a 6-speed manual transmission and RWD only.  This will play with the boys.  I know that it doesn’t seat four, but hey, it’s a Viper.  It’s not a Bentley!  The RWD, 640 horse Viper should be a hoot to hoon around in the snow.  Stability control and traction control will help.
  4. Porsche 911 Turbo/Turbo S:  The Porsche 911 Turbo is a great car to own.  Not only will the 991-generation Turbo remain a collectible for a long time, but the 991 911 Turbo/Turbo S has a bunch of new technology designed to help the driver get around a track faster.  It has AWD, 560 horsepower in the Turbo S, and seats for four.  While the rear seats may only be fit for presents, the kids will have to suck it up and squeeze in there for a bit.  But, the drive there will be worth it.  The 911 Turbo/Turbo S is turbocharged, which makes it a cinch to drive fast, especially in wet or low-traction environments.  This car was designed to make the worst of drivers look good, and the best of drivers look legendary.  Have fun with this car.
  5. Porsche 918 Spyder:  If you own this car, I want to go for a spin in it!  Porsche has had the 918 Spyder in testing for years – prototypes were running around Germany as far back as 2007.  The 918 Spyder has a hybrid-electric system that distributes the gobs of 874 horsepower and an astounding 944 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels.  The 918 Spyder Weissach Package loses 88 pounds by using ceramic wheel bearings and film wrap instead of conventional aluminum and paint.  It won’t seat any more than two, but that’s okay.  This car will blow your mind at the speeds it reaches without effort, as well as the confidence it gives the driver at any speed.
  6. Subaru WRX:  Subie is legendary in the rally world for building fast, reliable cars that don’t look like much.  The 2015 WRX lives up to these statements.  It loses the massive rear wing found on the previous generation of WRXs, but it has power and fun.  It is bigger, but it makes 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.  It’s suspension has been firmed up 39% in the front, and 62% in the rear.  This car will play all day with a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, and be as flat as a Porsche Cayman S while cornering.  The torque vectoring system uses the rear differential instead of the brakes to vector the torque.  It doesn’t look pretty, but then again, no Subie in recent memory has looked mesmerizing.  Subaru invests money in engineering, not in styling.  That’s fine with me.
  7. Jeep Cherokee:  For those of you who remember the Jeep Cherokees of yore, close this tab, shut off your computer, grab your wallet, and go get a Jeep Wrangler.  This Cherokee is NOTHING like the harsh-riding Cherokees of the 1980s and 1990s.  This Cherokee comes standard with FWD, but 4WD is optional.  The Cherokee Trailhawk will keep pace with a stock Wrangler or SVT Raptor all day long without breaking a sweat.  The Cherokee is packed with lots of useful, cool tech.  I won’t bore you all of that technology, but I will say that for those in need of something affordable with 4WD, the Cherokee deserves a second look.
  8. Chevrolet SS:  The Chevy SS is the thunder from down under.  It’s based off of the Holden Commodore, and it’s got a high-performance 6.2-liter V8 with 415 horsepower.  The SS is the first RWD Chevy sedan since 1996 for civilian use – the Caprice PPV is available for lucky cops, and it’s truly spectacular.  It is capable of making those who owned a muscle car as a teenager feel young again, while allowing Mom and the kids to experience the fun.  It’s not all about burnouts – the SS can hold its own in the twisties.  The 415-horse V8 and six-speed automatic mated to RWD will make it entertaining for anybody to drive, any season, at any time.  I want one, if you haven’t noticed!
  9. 2014 Chevrolet Silverado:  Chevy is good at this game!  Two cars on my list is kinda hard.  Yet, Chevy introduced two cars capable of being on this list, which both of them are.  The 2014 Silverado truly gives the buyer everything that is needed or wanted, and then some.  There are literally 50 different cab/bed combinations, let alone the plethora of engine/transmission/2WD/4WD combinations.  The 2014 Silverado was designed to be one of the best in the game, and it doesn’t disappoint.  It’s got clever tech for all of the engines to make the engines more competitive in an ever-evolving segment.  The Silverado doesn’t come with the option of an extended cab anymore – safety regulations and loss of demand killed it for Chevy, but it comes with a “Quad Cab” option that offers more space than an extended cab, as well as the look of a crew cab.  It starts off as a perfectly nice base model, before climbing the ladder of expensive and unneeded options to become a pure luxury truck.
  10. Ram 1500:  The Ram 1500 has long been one of my favorite 1/2 ton trucks.  Ever since it’s massive – and popular redesign in 1993, the Ram 1500 has always had a brutish Hemi V8 underhood.  Recently, Ram introduced an EcoDiesel V6 shared with the Jeep Grand Cherokee.  It’s the first diesel in a 1/2 ton pickup since the 1980s.  I know the deal about diesels.  My dad owns a 2003 GMC 2500 4X4 with the Duramax diesel.  But, the Ram 1500 offers the same noise levels as the Ram equipped with the Hemi V8.  If you don’t want a diesel, you can always opt for the refreshed Hemi V8, which has more cool tech to aid in towing and hauling.

Have a fun, happiness-filled end of the holiday season!  In these final days of 2013, I urge you to take a walk in the park with friends, your kids, and/or the family dog (if you have one), and do whatever fills your heart with enjoyment.  Have a wonderful Winter Break!

Enjoy the pictures of the cars (and trucks!) on my list: