[an error occurred while processing this directive] ZEPHYR Magazine
                              T H E
                           Z E P H Y R
                  __     M A G A Z I N E
                 Issue #30                11-3-86
            A weekly electronic magazine for users of 
                        THE ZEPHYR II BBS 
                    (Mesa, AZ - 602-894-6526)
                owned and operated by T. H. Smith
                    Editor - Gene B. Williams 
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                            (c) 1986

   You'll make two major category purchases in your life. The 
most major will be a house. Second would be a car. Everything 
else in comparison is relatively minor (although for many of 
us on the board here, the cost of a computer system can also be 
a major purchase).
   My own personal policy is to spend some time on any purchase 
of more than $50. When I bought a camera, I spent several months 
researching brands and models. My computer system cost even more 
than my camera equipment, so and accordingly I spent even more 
time in research before making that purchase.
   When it comes time to buy a car, you're almost certain to be
spending several hundred dollars even for a semi-broken-down used 
mess, and very possibly more than $10,000.
   And yet, a surprising number of people just go out and plunk 
down their money without taking the time to find out if they are 
going to be spending their time on the road - or in the repair 
shop (or the junk yard).

                          BUYING A CAR

  Next to buying a house, the purchase of a car is often one of 
the most important buying decisions you'll ever make. You can 
make it a pleasant experience - or you can turn it into a long-
lived nightmare.
  It's easy to blame any nightmares on the salesperson, on the 
previous owner, on the manufacturer, or on anyone or anything 
else that happens to be available. Occasionally that's all too 
true. At the same time, those who get snookered generally have 
brought it on themselves.
  Take for example the Chevrolet Camaro. It is one of the most 
popular - and one of the most expensive - cars that Chevrolet 
has ever produced. People see them zipping down the street and 
want one. What they end up with is one of the lowest values in 
automotives that there is (according to"Consumer's Guide," 
"Consumer's Digest," and a number of other sources).
  A part of the low value can be attributed to the manufacturer 
for concentrating on the lines and cosmetics while ignoring 
the mechanical soundness of their product. A part can be placed 
on the salesmen for bragging up the vehicle to potential 
purchasers. The largest part belongs with the purchaser. If he 
or she had done their "homework," they wouldn't have been 
fooled in the first place. Then Chevrolet would have no choice 
but to both drop the price and increase the quality.
  The same holds true for the purchase of any vehicle, new or 

NOTE:  If there are satisfied Camaro owners reading this, my 
apologies. This is only an example, and the statistics are not 
my own.


  It is important - critical might be a better description - to 
thoroughly find out something about what you have in mind. If 
you base your purchase decision on prejudice, you're much more 
likely to walk away with an unsatisfactory buy.
  That prejudice comes in two flavors - positive and negative.
  Positive prejudice is such as wanting a particular make or 
model based on how it looks, how it affects your status (internal 
or external), or even how your friends have talked. ("Oh, wow, 
man, that sure is a sharp car.") An excellent example was the 
Dodge Charger and Challenger models of the early 1970s. People 
bought them like crazy due primarily to positive prejudice, only 
to find out that the electrical systems had been so poorly designed 
that owners were quite likely to find themselves stranded. 
  Negative prejudice is such as saying, "Hey, there's a Ford. 
Fix Or Repair Daily. Hahahahaha." (That is NOT an endorsement 
for Ford, by the way. They are presently having severe quality 
control problems. However, their 1985 trucks for example were 
just about the best ever built by anyone - but were passed over 
for the most part due to the stigma and jokes and the long standing 
Ford reputation for building lousy products.)
  Both types can kill you. The first can easily put you behind 
the wheel of a pretty but poorly built vehicle. That's a bad 
buy at any price. The second can prevent you from buying what 
is actually a better vehicle simply because your thoughts have 
prevented you from even considering it.
  It's not unusual for someone to spend roughly 25% of their 
total income on a vehicle. That's a pretty darned important 
purchase! It deserves some open minded thinking and research.
  There are plenty of ways to accurately research a car or truck. 
Publications like "Consumer Reports" is an excellent starting 
place. They accept no advertising and no support from the 
manufacturers. They have nothing to lose or gain in saying that 
a particular make or model is an excellent - or lousy - buy.
  Close would be those automotive magazines that regularly 
review vehicles. You can generally tell when the writers have 
hyped the vehicle, have entered their own prejudices, or have 
reported it honestly. Simply page through a few issues. If 
every car they test gets raves, or gets knocked to shreds, 
something is wrong.
  In any case, NEVER accept just one source. Take some time and 
see what several sources have to say. Compare them. If 3 or 4 
completely different sources say the same basic thing, chances 
are pretty good that it's accurate. If one says that a certain 
make and model is the best thing on the road, while another calls 
it a piece of junk, one of the two - and maybe both - are off 
base. (This is fortunately rare.) Go to more sources.
  One of your best possible sources is a mechanic who services a 
variety of cars. Preferably someone you know well enough, and who 
knows you well enough, to give you a straight and reliable answer. 
What cars does he see most often and why? Which ones does he 
rarely see, and why (in his opinion)?
  Now comes people you know who happen to own - or who have 
owned - what you have in mind. Someone who has owned and driven 
a particular make and model is a pretty good source for 
  Next in line would be friends who know more about automotives 
than you do. The trouble is in determining who actually knows, 
and who just likes to THINK that they know. You also have to wade 
through their own sets of prejudice.

                          Which Vehicle?

  A part of your homework is that of narrowing the field. What 
do you need and why? What do you expect of your car or truck? 
  Chances are good that those won't be easy questions to answer 
simply. You're most likely to end up with a list of things that 
are important. Consequently you have to rank your list in some 
kind of order of importance.
  The primary function of most vehicles is that of transportation. 
You want something to get you from one place to another. For 
most people this will be the main consideration, and should 
consequently mean that your PRIME concern is one of reliability. 
If your choice tends to break down every 10 miles, doesn't start 
in the morning, etc. etc. - it's not much good for transport.
  Closely related would be cost of repairs. You can find parts 
for a Toyota or Ford or Chevy just about anywhere. It's going to 
take a bit more searching to find a part for a BMW. Buy yourself 
a Lambourghini and finding parts is going to be tough. That fancier 
car will also make finding a mechanic more difficult - and generally 
more expensive.
  Back to the use of the vehicle - other than getting you from 
place to place, what is its function? 
  One of the main reasons I bought a new car was because my truck 
was no longer needed as a truck. Sure, it was dramatic. A great 
big monster of a 4-wheel drive, but used almost exclusively to 
drive the long distance into town (I'm WAY out in the boonies) for 
grocery shopping. At a maximum of 10 miles per gallon, that's not 
what you'd call efficient use.
  If we'd been into 4-wheelin' on the desert, or did a lot of 
hauling that required a truck, it would have been just fine. But 
a big truck used to haul nothing more than bags of groceries 
becomes less of an asset. If you're willing to pay the extra for 
the relative "status" of a big truck, fine - but realize that you 
are doing it, and will be for as long as you own the vehicle.
  Do you like having a big truck or a fancified and tricked out 
van? Fine. Just realize that you'll pay for it up front and over 
time (less mpg and generally higher insurance rates - it all adds 
up over time).
  The ideal situation is to pick the right vehicle for the right 
task. If you commute long distances over good roads and haul nothing 
more than school books and maybe a few bags of groceries, you 
certainly don't need an 18-wheeler. If you spend your weekends 
exploring Baja, you probably don't want to do it in a low-slung 
sports car.
  It will probably come down to a trade-off. Sure, you'd love to be 
getting 40 mpg, but it's tough hauling full sheets of plywood or 
hay in a Mazda. You might like the looks and features of a TR-3, 
but the lack of a back seat could spell real trouble and make the 
vehicle all but useless.
  Making the trade-off involves an honest evaluation of your needs. 
If you haul heavy materials just once every few years, you can more 
cheaply rent a vehicle for those times, or can pay a small delivery 
charge. Just because you *might* need to haul some furniture some-
time during the next 3 or 4 years is no reason to buy a truck. If 
you go camping a lot - well, it gets tired in a hurry trying to 
sleep in the back seat, and expensive in a hurry to rent a cabin 
week after week.
  The important thing is honesty. Don't be thinking "I'd *like* to 
go camping every weekend," when you know damn well that you can't.

                           New or Used

  Due to the ever increasing costs, it's tough to buy a new car. 
It's also not necessarily the wisest choice. 
  Earnhardt has an ad on TV that talks about leasing as opposed to 
buying. There's a lot of truth in their statements. Basically, the 
greatest depreciation on a vehicle takes place in the first year, 
followed closely by the second year, and then the third. After that 
it tends to stabilize a little. The value continues to go down, but 
not quite as quickly. 
  Say the vehicle costs $10,000 new. After just one year you'll be 
lucky to get $8000. At the end of the second year it will be worth 
something like $6500, if that much. If you can get $5000 after 3 
years you'll be doing very well. After this, the rate of depreciation 
slows considerably. 
  That vehicle is going to lose about half of the purchase price in 
the first 3 years or so. It will take another 7 to 10 years for it 
to lose the other half (and it will never be totally without value). 
  As a general rule of thumb, if you intend to trade-in the vehicle 
any more often than each 2-3 years, leasing is likely to be a less 
expensive route for you. If you intend to keep that new car for 5 
or 10 years, then buying is the better choice.
  Buying a used vehicle means that someone else has paid the major 
part of the depreciation. It also means that you are buying a car 
with little or no warranty on it. You could be "buying someone 
else's headaches." Of course, there's no guarantee that even a new 
car will run well and reliably - but the chances of trouble increase 
as the age the vehicle increases.
  Look at the mileage. Again, it's only a general rule of thumb but 
the more miles, the more trouble you'll have. It's fairly rare for a
car to last more than 100,000 miles without some serious engine 
problems. It's possible that the engine will have to be rebuilt - at 
a cost of somewhere between $1000 and $1500. Quite often the car 
isn't worth that much. So, if you paid $1500 for that car, and have 
to pay $1500 for the rebuild, the car has cost you $3000.
  Look at the tires. If you have to replace them, you're facing a 
cost of $200 or more. Even more important, though, is to look at 
*how* the tires are wearing. If the tread is wearing unevenly, 
there's a pretty fair chance that the car has some front end 
problems. (And if the car has brand new tires, don't automatically 
assume that the former owner is a nice guy thinking of the buyer. 
He *could* be trying to hide something.)
  Start the engine. It should start quickly and run smooth. Punch 
the gas SLIGHTLY to check for hesitation (which could indicate 
valve problems, carburetor problems or both). Look at the exhaust. 
You shouldn't be able to see it, and it certainly shouldn't be a 
blackish-grey in color. Have someone punch and let go on the 
accelerator and watch the exhaust again. Look at the exhaust one 
more time later after the engine has reached operating temperature.
  Check all features for operation. Does the radio work? The 
windshield wipers and sprayer? How about the headlights, turn 
signals, brake lights and so on? Check everything, and don't be 
afraid to ask questions.
  A look under the hood probably won't tell you much, but do it 
anyway. If nothing else you'll get a general idea of condition, and 
you might be able to spot potential problems. Look particularly 
for fresh oily spots, such as around the spark plugs, and any 
  General condition of the vehicle - body, interior and trunk - can 
often (but not always) tell you if the vehicle has been abused. If 
the cosmetics are a mess, it's a fair bet that the previous owners 
didn't care much about the mechanics, either.
  Whether the vehicle is new or used, a test drive is critical. 
This gives you a chance to test the handling. Pay the most 
attention to safety. Is the steering sloppy? Does the car pull 
to one side either when driving or braking? Does it brake 
smoothly? Does it accelerate smoothly?
  Keep in mind the entire time that you could *literally* be betting 
your life, and the lives of those around you on the road, on this 
vehicle. If it's a junkheap that needs extensive repairs, you'll 
also be betting your bankroll. 
  A "good deal" isn't ALWAYS a good deal. It doesn't do much good 
to pay $300 for a car worth $500, only to have it crash, or to 
find yourself spending $1500 for a new engine a month later.
  Make your choice carefully. Don't let your emotions get in the 
way of an intelligent decision.
  Spend an extra couple of bucks and get one or more of the guides 
on new and/or used car values. (They're even available in grocery 
stores.) Then spend a bit of time paging through the want-ads, and 
publications such as "Auto Trader" to get an idea of what you can 
expect as far as price.

                     Dealer Vs Private Party

  There are advantages and disadvantages to either route. The 
dealer is in business to make money, which means that he is bound 
to charge more for the same vehicle. (Obviously you can't buy a 
brand new car from a private party.) Also, since he is in 
business, you generally (but not always) have some legal recourse 
if the car isn't "as advertised." 
  The dealer can - and usually does - offer a warranty. It might 
be for only 30 days, but that's at least something. It's very rare 
for a private party to offer a warranty. (If he does, GET IT IN 
WRITING! A verbal contract is usually binding, but drops on you 
the need to prove what was said - a difficult thing at best.)
  A private party is almost certain to charge less. You can dicker 
and talk to get a better price. (You can do that with the dealer, 
too, but keep in mind that the dealer isn't there to break even 
and certainly not to lose money.)
  That private party will also know more about the vehicle than 
will the dealer's salesman. Afterall, he or she has been driving 
that vehicle. And they know how well it has been kept up. (All 
this assumes, of course, that the person is honest.) 
  Working out the price is going to be frustrating regardless. The 
dealer *knows* the value of that car. There are listings available 
to him. Emotions don't play a part in it at all. He looks at those 
numbers, figures in what he needs for profit, and that's the 
bottom line. Anything above that is additional profit, and the 
salesman's job is to do his best to drive the price as far above 
the minimum as he can.
  DON'T be fooled by the salesman who becomes your long lost best 
friend, and the typical ploy of, "We're losing money on this deal."
It's pure bullshit (excuse me - but that's how it is). Think about 
it for a moment. If they were constantly just breaking even or 
were losing money, that company would be out of business. The 
salesman, who earns his living entirely on commission (a percentage 
of the sale), would be out of a job REAL fast if he kept losing 
money for the company - and he'd soon starve besides.
  A very typical technique is for the salesman to make the deal, 
then go in to clear it with the manager. Guaranteed - the sales 
manager will HAVE to have more money "just to break even."
  Once again, think about it for a moment. If that salesman was 
constantly making deals that lost money, he'd be fired. That price 
the two of you worked out is not a mistake.
  At this point let me tell you a story. Before we went in to buy 
our new car I did my homework. I knew exactly what my truck was 
worth, and exactly what the Mazda was worth - wholesale and retail, 
with both high book and low book. So, I went in *knowing* the 
deal, including dealership profit. (Hey. You have to be realistic 
about it.)
  Before the salesman started his sales spiel I told him that I 
knew what I wanted, here's my deal, vary it by as much as $5 and 
we're walking out. While he was in with the sales manager I told 
my wife, "Watch now. He'll come back and want "$500 just to break 
even." And that was EXACTLY what happened - quote, unquote.
  Even then it wasn't a bad deal, but we stuck to our statement. 
Without a word to them, we got up and started to leave. They wanted 
to negotiate. We wouldn't. 
  End result - we got the deal we wanted. They made money on it, 
which they should and have to. We got a decent price. 
  There's no mystery to it. Come to an HONEST figure and value, 
and stick to it. Don't put up with any nonsense. (At the same time 
if you start with a nonsense figure on your part - a new Mazda, but 
you only want to pay $5000 - forget it. You have no bargaining room
there. For this to work, you MUST do your homework first, and you 
MUST be willing to accept that the dealer earns a profit.)
  The same basic thing applies to the private party. In this case, 
you're often facing someone who has an inflated idea of the 
vehicle's value. (Look in the paper. You'll find 1971's listed 
with an asking price of $3000 and more, right next to more legit 
and realistic ads for 1980 models selling for even less.)
  If the person starts off with a grossly inflated idea of value, 
forget it. You'll never get them down to a reasonable figure. (That 
$3000 1971 Ford, for example, that's actually worth more like $600 - 
do you think that the owner is going to drop his price by $2400?)
  You might be one of those who likes to dicker and trade. If so, 
fine and good. Enjoy yourself. 
  More people are like me. I *hate* to dicker. In fact, I refuse 
to do so. (Right, Jay?) But this means, once again, that you do 
some realistic homework before starting, and then sticking to 
what you know is fair, even if it means losing that item (or having 
to keep it for a while longer if you are the seller).

                   Some Personal Observations

  My own first car was a 1961 Ford Falcon. The previous owner had 
purchased it new and had barely ever driven it. Trouble was, when 
he did drive it he had the tendency to drive it hard. It had a 
stick shift. This guy liked to rev it up while riding the clutch. 
He would also let it sit for months on end. Even so, it was a very 
good bargain, and a tough car. 
  I then bought a 1968 Triumph GT6 (NOT a 6+). British cars - ALL 
of them, and especially those with Lucas Electric - have problems 
with their wiring and electric circuits. 
  Next came a Dodge Charger. That's when I found out that Dodge has 
a reputation for electric problems that makes the British cars look 
like design dreams. 
  Front wheel drives, such as with an old Toronodo we drove for a 
while, bring on problems all their own. They also tend to be more 
expensive to repair.
  Then came the Fords for that one company. During 1984 and into 
1985 Fords FINALLY became concerned with their growing reputation 
for putting out lousy products, and put out a line of trucks that 
were rated very highly. The main problem was poor seal of the front 
end differential on 4-wheel drives, and continuingly notorious 
reputation at least in the Valley for poor service.
  After some heavy research we traded off our own Ford truck for 
a Mazda. The Toyota Corolla presently has the highest rating of all 
vehicles in America as far as reliability; Mazda comes a very close 
second - at least for the 323 and 626. 
  Also highly rated is the Honda Accord, although getting a decent 
deal on this particular car is somewhat more difficult.
  Surprisingly for a newcomer, the Hyundai has been getting some 
very good reviews. Conversely, the Yugo has the WORST crash rating 
of any car made. (Tests showed the average repair cost for a crash 
of just 5 mph came to $2000.)

Until Next Time

  It might be interesting to get some personal experiences on 
this topic. What luck and UNluck have you had? Maybe you have a 
car that has given you nothing but trouble - or one that has 
never broken down at all. 
  Share that with the rest of us.

  Thanks to Reverend Nuclear, I've found a new BBS. It's called 
Bear Tracks 2. The phone number is 968-0372. What's so special about 
it? It's a BBS set up for writers and would-be writers. (No, I 
have nothing at all to do with it except as a user.)
  So, if you're into writing, go on over and check it out. They 
have a very nice system there, and unique in its function.

Zephyr Magazine is © Gene Williams. All rights reserved.