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Oh Passat, how I will miss thee… (or, “my tale of a new car”)

Our beloved 2007 Passat just came up on lease end, which means that it was time to decide if we wanted to keep it, or if it was time to go car shopping.

We loved the car, but our old Passat (which we traded in for this leased ’07 Passat) ended up costing us a ton of money just for routine maintenance as it got over the 60,000 mile mark. Note that we didn’t have any real problems with it; all the maintenance was either routine (oil/lube/filter, other fluids, belts, etc) or replacement of wear components (brakes, boot on the front suspension, etc.) We hadn’t had to do any of the expensive work on our ’07 Passat – we basically just had to do 4 oil changes in the time we owned it.

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Here’s some of the expensive / annoying repair notes from our previous Passat:

  1. All the parts were significantly more expensive than the equivalent components for cars I’d owned in the past (all domestic.) A lot of them also weren’t stocked by the general auto part delivery places (NAPA and similar), so the repair shop would end up having to order the part from a local VW dealer, which cost more and caused delays.
  2. The car required ‘specialty’ fluids in some cases – for example, the engine coolant was VW-specific. Again, it had to be ordered from a VW dealer.
  3. I found that I couldn’t have the maintenance done at any generic repair shop – for example, I had trouble with quick-oil change places (Valvoline specifically) breaking components while doing oil changes as they didn’t have the VW-specific tool to get the filter out, and also had problems when I had a Goodyear Gemini location replace a front suspension component (I believe it was a control arm) due to a leaky boot (apparently there were two slightly different versions of the control arm for the year and model that I had, depending on the engine type, and they ordered the wrong one. When they dropped the car off the lift, the part snapped. Oops!) After this occured, we decided only to have maintenance done at either a VW/Audi dealership or at a specialty import mechanic.. which means more expensive labor on future repairs.
  4. VW “highly recommended” replacing the rotors with each brake job.. something about high-performance rotors that will only last the life of one set of brake pads. Of course, both parts were more expensive than the domestic equivalents.
  5. VW required synthetic oil for all models. Nothing wrong with this (lets me go longer between oil changes), but still has a bit of sticker shock when changing the oil.

..and the one thing that did apply to both the old Passat and our ’07 Passat — expensive gas (they require premium – although I have heard that you can do ok with regular gas, didn’t want to risk it.)

However, I really did love our Passat, and we had driven way less than the contracted miles on our lease.. which meant that the residual amount on the lease (the price we’d have to pay to purchase it, plus taxes of course) was slightly under the wholesale value of the vehicle, and therefore a reasonable deal. I tried to get some independent confirmation of what my gut was telling me about maintenance cost, and after some searching, I found Edmund’s True Cost to Own tool. Punching in both the 2007 Passat and a 2007 Impala (domestic car kinda/sorta similar to the Passat?), I found what I was hoping not to find – that the Passat was more expensive to maintain.

Passat TCO:

Impala TCO:

The only columns that I’m really paying attention to are the ‘Maintenance’ and ‘Repairs’ – the rest are kind of out of scope, as we plan on driving the car into the ground.. 5-year maintenance+repairs on the Passat ended up at $7005, and the 5-year maintenance+repairs on the Impala ended up at $4985, for a $2000 difference.. kind of a big jump.

So, we decided to go ahead and find another car.. we came up with a list of requirements:

  • Relatively new (2005+) with fairly low miles (under 50,000 or so.)
  • Capable of comfortably seating four adults or two adults with two car seats – this means a fairly large car, as I’m a tall guy, and an adult or a rear-facing car seat won’t really fit behind me in many vehicles.
  • Decent gas mileage – we have a Trailblazer for our second vehicle (which Tiff currently drives most days, and for rather short distances), and since I have a ~25 mile commute, keeping a car with good gas mileage around is a good idea. The Passat averaged 30mpg on my way to work, so we wanted a car that would get similar mileage.
  • Leather seats – child+dogs == mess – it’s amazing how much easier it is to clean up leather than cloth.
  • Inexpensive maintenance that any mechanic can deal with – from my experience, this means either a domestic or a very common import.
  • As inexpensive as possible (ideally, $10k – $15k) – we were trying to come in with a payment on a 60-month loan that saved us a decent chunk of change compared to the Passat lease.

After many gruelling nights spent on Edmunds, Craigslist and Carsoup, I ran across Alliance Car Sales. Their offerings intrigued me, as it seemed that they sold primarily low-mile late-model vehicles, and for prices that were quite good. I shot them a (very, very, very, very long) email with what I was looking for, and got a reply back from Dave in short order with a few suggestions, and asking when Tiff and I could come out to check out some cars. (They buy cars off auction, then use them as a rental fleet until a customer is interested in buying one of the.) We were able to meet Dave a few days later, and tried out a few cars. When we went in, we were considering the following, in no particular order:

  • 07+ Pontiac Grand Prix
  • 07+ Chevrolet Impala
  • Any year Ford Fusion / Mercury Milan
  • 2005-2007 Ford Five Hundred / Mercury Montego
  • 2008+ Ford Taurus / Mercury Sable
  • Recent model Hyundai Sonata
  • Recent model Nissan Altima
  • Recent model Honda Accord
  • Recent model Toyota Camry

Note – the 2008+ Taurus/Sable are actually the Five Hundred/Montego with an upgraded engine.. very different from the Taurus of old. They are larger, get better mileage, have a much more modern design – in fact, they share their platform with the Volvo S60. I personally wouldn’t really consider a previous-generation Taurus or Sable.. heard way too many horror stories.

We were able to knock off the Sonata, Accord, and Camry just due to size.. the Altima would probably work, but they were quite expensive, so we dropped that too. The Grand Prix and Impala (I guess they are essentially the same car, like a Taurus vs. Sable, just different body and trim) worked, but they were hard to find (and expensive) in leather. All of the Milans and the Taurus that Alliance had in stock were out for rental, so we met on meeting Dave later on in the week when he’d have them back on the lot. (Side note – if you are in the metro area and interested in a newer used car, I highly recommend Alliance – it was really great to work with a person who was only interested in getting us the right car, and didn’t give us any pressure at all. Dave was even willing to offer me advice after I told him we were purchasing a car elsewhere – who else will do that?)

..and then one of my Craigslist RSS feeds turned up something interesting – a loaded ’09 Sable Premier at a Mercedes dealership for a very reasonable price. The car is newer than we were really looking for, and also more expensive ($16,500.) However, it had everything we wanted (plus more), and would more than meet our goal of lasting at least five years – it’d even have a warranty included for the first couple years. I stopped out at the dealership for a test drive, and only found one issue with the vehicle.. it had been smoked in by the previous owner (who only owned it for a few months.) The smoke wasn’t super-heavy, but both Tiff and I are sensitive to cigarette smoke, so this could be a problem for us. The dealer assured me that they had a solution to fix that, so I went ahead and took the car to my mechanic for a mechanical inspection, which it passed with flying colors. I also got his impressions on how the cars were to work on in general (going back to the Ford Five Hundred / Mercury Montego days, since they are essentially the same car, just with a smaller engine), and he said they were generally quite reliable, and were one of the better cars out there for repair costs, etc. An Edmunds TCO backed this up:

Granted, this is for a new Sable (they don’t have 2009 available for ‘Used TCO’ yet), but the 2008 was there for used, and came out at $4746 for maintenance and repairs – still quite good. Short version – we signed a purchase contract on the vehicle, with a stipulation that we had to be satisfied with the smoke scent after their treatment, and then agreed to purchase it the next day (they used the Auto Vaccine treatment, which worked fairly well – however, it did leave a hint of smoke behind after the scent of Auto Vaccine faded away, especially when the AC was on.. the dealership promised to do the Auto Vaccine again whenever we desire, but I decided to do some cleanup myself in advance of that – will detail what I was able to do in a future post.

We’ve liked the new car quite well so far; it’s big, comfortable, has tons of features, and gets good mileage.. but it’s a sedan, not a sports sedan. Ah, Passat, how I will miss you! Especially the tiptronic transmission..

I hope the next owner of our goold ‘ol Passat will love it as much as we did! :)

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • mlaub April 27, 2010, 8:57 am

    Wow, those true cost to own figures are killers for me. I tried running the numbers on my vehicles, but 2005 is the cutoff. Ofc, I don’t think my ’96 Galant would experience to much depreciation. :-)

    Actually, with gas prices, it might have appreciated.

    Good luck with the new ride Nate!


    • nc April 27, 2010, 9:24 pm

      Yeah.. I think it only probably doesn’t go back very far 1996 because the costs can vary so much on cars beyond a few years old depending how they have been cared for, mileage, etc. What I’d really like to find is a chart that purely averages maintenance and repair cost (I would prefer to have ’em separated, heck, even break it down to specific items if possible) for a make/model/year, and lets you compare it.. I couldn’t find anything, but wonder if consumer reports might have it or somethin’.

      Thanks for the comment! :)

  • Peter April 27, 2010, 1:56 pm

    I’ve got one of those Impalas you talked about above (a 2006), and so far the maintenance costs have been just the regular stuff – tires replaced and regular oil changes. And you don’t need premium gas :).. Good to know from your TCO above that my car comes in lower than some others.

    We bought the car for about 10k in 2008, when it had 29,000 miles on the car. Granted it is a base model with no leather, but it still has some nice amenities like a premium sound system, remote start. As you mentioned – leather seats will definitely boost the price a couple grand at least.

    Enjoy the new car!

    • nc April 27, 2010, 9:41 pm

      Yup! Impalas seem to be a great deal if leather isn’t a hard requirement. I was primarily finding leather on the LTZ/SS models, which also included a bigger engine which killed the mileage, and the cost was way high. ;( I looked at about a million of them online (well, not quite, but you know..) and didn’t have luck finding a combo with leather that matched the rest of our list.

      Remote start is one thing that we didn’t end up getting.. it’d be nice, but Tiff and I were both kind of worried that if we got it on our new car that we’d want to get it on the Trailblazer too, and that’s some cash we don’t want to spend. (I’ve heard too many horror stories about after market kits and security problems with the chipped keys, so if I did it, it’d be with the OEM kit.. and those aren’t cheap!)

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