Thursday, May 7, 2020

BOV Shopping

As many of us know, everything has a useful lifespan and everything will eventually need to be replaced. My faithful pickup truck finally hit the point of being more of a problem than an asset, so I needed to find some new (to me) transportation. Since this is my daily driver, it also serves as my Get Home Vehicle and/or my Bug Out Vehicle (BOV). I need it to be reliable, affordable, and able to carry the gear I want. I'll be trimming the gear down some since I won't have the box of the pickup any more, but that's a topic for another article.

I'm one of those odd people who minimizes debt, so a new car with a monthly payment is not what I was looking for. I tend to save money and pay cash for my vehicles; it takes some discipline and time, but the security of actually owning my vehicles and the lower insurance payments is well worth the hassle. Having a money sitting in the bank isn't what it used to be because savings accounts don't pay much interest any more, and some banks actually have negative interest on savings, meaning that they charge you to leave your money with them. The temptation to spend that set-aside money is very real -- I could buy a lot of ammunition for what a good used car costs -- but part of being an adult is learning to plan ahead and stick to the plan.

I hate shopping. Being a typical male, I go to a store with my goal (target) in mind, get it, then get out. Car shopping is even worse when you add in the sales-people and some of their tactics; they only get paid when they make a sale, so most of them will do and say anything to get you to sign the papers on a car. (There are good reasons for all of the used-car salesman jokes out there, and the industry does not have a good track record.) I did a lot of research on used cars over a three-week period because I've been out of the market for several years. My truck has been my daily driver for 10 years and it was 10 years old when I bought it, so technology has changed a lot about the vehicles on the market. Here's a quick list of what I was looking for, some of the things I found, and what I ended up with:

Car, Truck, or SUV?
I don't haul much cargo any more and have access to a pickup any time I need one, so I wasn't looking for another pickup. Cars are too small for my uses and I don't have kids at home, so I don't need a mini-van. I wanted a small or medium SUV, preferably with 4WD to deal with the snow we have to deal with most years.

I ended up with a All Wheel Drive (AWD), which is a permanent 4WD, SUV with a 2-speed transfer case (low for off-road, high for on-road). The off-road capabilities were a nice bonus, and were much better than my 2WD pickup could ever hope to do.

I'm getting out of a 20-year-old truck, so I know that anything that old will be a money-pit, and anything less than 5 years old is going to be out of my price range unless it has major problems or is already worn out. My target range was 8-10 years old with reasonable miles on it; I ended up with a 12-year-old vehicle that had been well maintained and had fairly low miles on it. Sometimes you have to look outside your preferences to find something that will work.

This one is very personal. Some of us have better jobs than others, and I'd wager that some of us don't have a job at all. I have a decent job and am able to set aside some money after the bills are paid, so I had about $10k for a vehicle. Your situation will be different; some will be able to afford more and some will not be able to scrape up that much, so do the best you can with what you have. I ended up spending most of my savings on the SUV, with a buffer for the inevitable repairs that any used car will need.

This is actually one of the least important aspects to me. Some folks are brand-snobs and won't drive anything other than their preferred brand, but I'm not going to start a Ford/Chevy, US/Foreign, or Union/Non-union discussion. That is a personal preference akin to 9mm vs 45ACP and I don't want to start a fight amongst the readers.

My final choice was a foreign-made SUV with a good reputation and a history of dependability. I've driven mostly Ford products for most of my life and have gotten used to working on them, but I can still learn new things and I'm not fixated on any one brand.

Trying to find a standard (stick) transmission is almost impossible any more, as everything has an automatic transmission these days. I prefer the simplicity of a clutch and stick-shift, they last a lot longer and are more efficient at transferring power to the wheels, but the mandated gas mileage rules have made them obsolete.

During my research, I found that most to the Constantly Variable Transmissions (CVT) on the market today are crap. They're nice because they don't have actual gears that shift, creating a smooth ride and better gas mileage, but they wear out at about the time most new car buyers are trading them in. 100k miles seems to be where problems start, with a few brands failing well before that. Since most of the CVTs out there are sealed units, they get replaced rather than repaired, at a cost of roughly $4000. That chopped a huge chunk of the used cars off of my lists. The SUV I bought has a conventional 6-speed automatic, which gives me a good mix of low- and high-speed settings.

Engines are another thing to seriously research. Using Ford as an example, because I know that brand but could find the same type of thing for many other brands, some of the engines out there have known issues like:
  • Turbochargers that fail often and early
  • Spark plugs that are a dealer-only replacement
  • Excessive oil leaking or consumption
  • Control module problems
  • Very short life-spans
I ended up getting a small V-8 that has a good record of reliability. It has more power than I really need, but it is nice to have a vehicle that can run at highway speeds without straining. The gas mileage is better than my old pickup, but not by much.

I'm getting old, so I enjoy some of the newer features and creature comforts available in newer cars. The SUV I ended up buying has more accessories than I need, but none of them are crucial, nor will they stop the vehicle from running if they fail. Being comfortable isn't a sin, and having toys that make driving safer is a good thing. Don't base your purchase decision on the lack of comfort unless you have a good reason, but don't turn your nose up at a car with extra bells and whistles either.

No, I don't really need a heated windshield and side mirrors, but it's going to be pleasant not scraping ice for a few months of every year. The built-in cell phone connectivity will replace the hands-free headset I've used for years (I have a commercial driver's license and drive large trucks, and the DOT gets nasty if they catch you holding a cell phone while driving). The on-board computer tracks a lot of different information for me, and having that information displayed as I drive removes some doubt and worry. Tire pressure monitoring, built-in GPS, and a few other gizmos are new to me, but I think they'll make it easier to drive. I am going to have to look into having a remote start module installed, I was surprised that the SUV didn't have one from the factory.

If you're looking at used cars, do your research. Kelly Blue Book ( has been an industry standard for car pricing for decades and can give you a range of prices for similar vehicles in your area. Edmunds ( is another price comparison site with reviews and known issues listed for each model. If you are looking for known problems, I have found good information at Car Complaints ( where they list owners' and government reports of issues. Many larger dealers offer the Carfax or other reporting sites' data on used cars -- things like title transfers, accidents, recalls, and dealer maintenance -- or you can pay to get your own report from most of these sites.

Now it's time for me to take the new toy to the dealership and get a good base-line check done. I want to know if there are any problems that I didn't catch while doing my research and test drive.

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