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They're At It Again: Forbes Misses Mark In Naming

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On: Wed, Jun 22, 2011 at 5:40PM | By: Andrew W Davis

They're At It Again: Forbes Misses Mark In Naming

Forbes—a publication you’d think would have better things to do—has come out with another automotive character-assassination list, this time directed at “Used Cars to Avoid.”

Their list—based on information they say they’ve gathered from a variety of sources, including “TrueCar.com” and “J.D. Power & Associates”—basically names 2008-model-year vehicles they say you should stay away from, including: Chevrolet Aveo & Colorado [and sister pickup GMC Canyon]; Dodge Avenger, Charger & Magnum; Jeep Liberty & Wrangler; Land Rover Range Rover Sport; Mitsubishi Eclipse & Lancer; and Suzuki XL7.

Now I’m going to tell you why they got it wrong.

I call it “The Enterprise Effect.”

I know from my years at car-rental agencies that an unpopular car is a good one, while an unpopular-yet-durable one is the best. I’ll give you an example: the Geo Metro.

Nobody WANTS a Geo Metro (or ANY Geo, really) but when you want in on the bottom floor of new-car ownership, it was either that or something equally as pathetic, like the Ford Aspire (which we also had by the trainload).

And when we stuck you in either Happy Meal container-sized (and -quality) econobox because your insurance company/car dealer/spouse wouldn’t cover anything higher on the rental car spectrum, you not only hated every minute you spent in “our” loaner, but loved your own car that much more when you got it back.

If I was (stupid enough) to ask you to rate that rental car’s “quality” and/or “desirability” it would probably rank somewhere between genital herpes and third-degree burns. It had no power, no features, and no chance of serving as a successful “wingman” in your dating escapades.

But we LOVED them. They were cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, and cheap to repair on the few occasions that anything on those anvil-like (and -simple) cars was damaged. That meant maximum on-road time at minimum overall cost.

Same went for every “rung” on the rental ladder. If there was a vehicle that languished on dealers’ lots because they never caught on or were being updated/replaced, that gave us the perfect opportunity to buy a perfectly good fleet of vehicles for far less than MSRP.

And while we—or the customers, more like—beat the hell out of them for months on end, we would find all the less-than-reliable bits and repair them accordingly. And as the maxim of “there are no truly bad cars anymore” applied then as much as now, even the “worst” vehicles in our fleet spent a hundred times more, um, time on the road vs. the repair shop.

[Of all the vehicles Forbes listed, the only one I never saw in the rental fleet was the Range Rover Sport. And this was not because it was “bad” in any way, it was because we could put twice as many Ford Expeditions/Lincoln Navigators on the road for the same price, and they are much “roomier” vehicles.]

Granted, if the one in the repair shop was our ONLY car it would make its failings that much more severe, but all-in-all if you see a fleet vehicle in front of a car-rental establishment you can count on two things: it can withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous renters and can do so well-enough, cheaply-enough, and for long enough to make overall financial sense.

Plus they’ll let you borrow it for a small(-ish) fee for as long as you like, so you can REALLY test-drive the thing to see if you’d like living with it long-term. But take my advice: ALWAYS go for the optional insurance and NEVER buy a formerly-rented car unless it comes with some serious future-performance guarantees.

After all, you have no idea what kind of monster was wringing the neck of your new-to-you ride before you brought it home. Wait. Come to think of it, that applies to ANY used car.

At least with a former rental-lot queen you know she had the full backing of a major corporation keeping her on the road. And as major corporations (usually) don’t make a habit of wasting money, when it comes to TRUE “reliability” figures, perhaps you should trust the results of real-world, pressure-cooker tests conducted in fleet-sized batches more than survey results from individual owners.

Then again, maybe not. But that would lead me to believe you were looking for something other than a cheap-to-buy and -operate car you could beat the snot out of, which means this list doesn’t apply to you anyway.

And why are you fixated on buying a 2008 model when you can get something TRULY good from a few years earlier? For the money, you could have…

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