By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
One way to turn high gas prices in your favor is to consider buying a gas hog vehicle.
That may sound crazy at first, but the plummeting value of larger, not-so-fuel-efficient pick-ups, SUVs and larger sedans has left buyers holding all the cards. It’s a virtual sure bet that you can drive home such a vehicle at a tremendous discount — very possibly enough to keep you in “free gas” for several years, even at 15 mpg.
Especially if you don’t use it as an everyday vehicle.
GM, Ford and Chrysler, for example, are offering discounts as large as $8,000-$10,000 off on several popular models — and that’s just “up front.” You can count on being able to haggle the price down even more — because the dealers are increasingly desperate to get these vehicles off their lots. Private sellers may be even more motivated — because they literally cannot afford to keep the vehicle any longer and will be sorely tempted by any offer that puts cash in their hands.
Some specific recommendations:
Ford Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis
This is a full-sized, six-passenger rear-wheel-drive sedan with a standard V-8 engine that gets 15 city, 23 highway. It is also (by far) the least expensive large sedan with a V-8 engine you can buy. The slightly nicer/posher Mercury version carries a sticker price (2009 model year) of just $28,170. Two or three year old versions of this big cruiser and its Ford cousin are currently in the $10,000-$15,000 range — or about what you’d pay for a new subcompact and half the price of a new hybrid Prius.
GM Hummer H3
The “small” Hummer (based on the Chevy Canyon/GMC Colorado pick-up) is being offered at fire sale discount — $7,500 off the MSRP sticker price (which begins at $32,345 for V-6 equipped models). That puts the price of this rugged off-roader down to the $24k range — and you can probably haggle it down some more from there. The cost to own the larger, Chevy Suburban-based Hummer H2 is cut back even more — by as much as $8,000 off sticker, just for openers. GM is absolutely desperate to get rid of Hummers and dealers stuck with a parking lot full of unsold inventory are pretty much at your mercy.
Chrysler Pacifica Wagon
This large wagon is thoroughly pleasant, if a bit underpowered and gas thirsty (15 city, 22 highway from the standard 3.8 liter V-6). But with room for six and available all-wheel-drive, it makes a great family car — especially given the bargain basement prices. Chrysler has already announced that 2008 will be the final year of production — which alone would assure a great deal. But Chrysler is hurting badly right now — across the board — so any buyer with cash in hand is sure to walk away with a new Pacifica for a lot less than the $24,635 base price. Slightly older ones are even more agreeably priced. Current retail values for ’05 models, for example, are in the $11k-$16k range.
Toyota Tundra Pick-up
Toyota (and Nissan) chose the worst possible moment to come to market with large, V-8 powered pick-ups to go toe-to-toe with domestic pick-ups such as the Ford F-150 and Chevy 1500 series. Sales of all large trucks are tanking — but Toyota and the other import brand don’t have the loyal following among truck buyers that Detroit’s Big Three still enjoy. So now is a great time to buy a full-size import pick-up like the Tundra (as well as its Nissan equivalent, the Pathfinder Armada). The slow-selling Honda Ridgeline is another good bet — though this car-based pick-up is not a heavy-duty vehicle like the Tundra or Pathfinder and does not offer a V-8 engine. Still, it’s the one Honda you can haggle over price on — and that is no small victory!
The grandaddy of super-sized SUVs has become a super-sized liability for Lincoln dealers — where unsold Navigators are sitting like so much high-priced lawn sculpture. The Mark LT pick-up (basically a dressed up version of Ford’s F-150 pick-up) is an even greater source of red ink. Both are on the endangered species list — and you can expect to be treated like royalty just for thinking about buying one these days. See also: Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon Denali.
It’s open season (for buyers) on pretty much any mid-sized or full-sized SUV (especially those with V-8 engines), large pick-ups and sedans. The domestics are hurting more than import brands — so the best deals are likely to be had at a Ford, GM or Chrysler store. But don’t overlook import brand mid and large SUVs — which are experiencing the same problems as their domestic counterparts — or prestige brands such as BMW, Audi and even Mercedes Benz. It’s not just gas prices but the general economic downturn that is hurting the industry across the board. You may be able to get a much better deal than you thought possible — and it can’t hurt to ask!
For info on some of the currently available incentives/rebates, etc., see:
Ford vehicles: http://www.ford.com/incentives/
Chrysler vehicles: http://www.chrysler.com/en/incentives/