Mike Quincy

on Buying a New Car
Auto-content specialist for Consumer Reports

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Exclusive Interview

Mike Quincy on New Car Buying

As an auto-content specialist for Consumer Reports, Mike Quincy works hard to give you the best information on new cars to make your car-buying process fun. The self-described car junkie gets to drive around in new cars all day and argue the merits and downfalls of each vehicle. Consumer Reports compiles all of Quincy’s tests and those of his colleagues into the annual auto issue. Quincy is also the author of Consumer Reports’ first-ever blog focused on all things car-related.
Even during his down time, Quincy (and his colleagues) can be found at car races or car shows with his 1965 Ford Mustang. He took some time to explain the best and worst car picks in the 2008 Consumer Reports auto issue and shared some tips for buying a new car.

For the second year in a row, Consumer Reports rated Honda as the best car manufacturer. Why should consumers consider buying a new Honda car?

We look at a combination of performance, safety, fuel economy and value, and when we put it all together, we do think Honda makes the best cars. Some of the things that stand out about Honda and Acura models are that they’re typically very reliable, with consistently high test scores. Among the high points are the powertrains. The engines and transmissions really work well together, too. They’re smooth, powerful and efficient. Hondas typically handle very well. And, they usually ace all the crash tests done by the government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Fit and finish are usually impeccable. And, fuel economy is really Honda’s ace in the hole. They have a long history of fuel-efficient, four-cylinder models that stretch more miles per gallon than typical-sized cars.

Run through some of the other top picks in this issue and explain why you rated them so highly.

Green car—Toyota Prius: This car has long been a top pick for Consumer Reports. What makes this car so impressive is not only the 44-mpg overall, which we got in our testing, but this is an honest four- or five-passenger vehicle. It’s not a tiny tin can that has no passenger space and no cargo space. It has outstanding reliability and it holds its value really well. It’s available with stability control, which is a critical safety feature. The Prius just does so many things well.

Minivan—Toyota Sienna: This is a terrific minivan. It’s quiet, comfortable, refined and a great road-trip vehicle. And, the Sienna has been a top pick for two years in a row. Priced between $24,000 to $37,000, it has good reliability and great safety ratings. We can’t say enough good things about the Toyota Sienna minivan.

Pickup truck—Chevrolet Silverado with crew cab: This is from GM’s redesigned line of pickup trucks, and we tested it against serious competition from Ford, Dodge and Toyota. We were impressed with the [Silverado’s] real, honest livability. There’s a lot of payload to put in the back, good seating, improved interior quality. Stability control is standard on crew-cab models and reliability is at least average for first-year domestic model. Among the other [pickups] that are out there, the Silverado is terrific.

Fun to drive—Mazda Miata: I could write a sonnet about the Miata. It’s the perfect balance of just the right amount of power, great steering feedback and a terrific manual shifter. They also have a collapsible hard-top convertible. It makes the interior a bit quieter and it makes the structure very firm. It gets good fuel economy and is reliable. When the sun comes out and the temperature goes up, put the top down and you’ll feel like a kid again.

Small sedan—Hyundai Elantra: It’s very impressive. For about $18,000, you get a car with good fuel economy—27 miles per gallon overall—you get a comfortable ride, really top-notch interior fit and finish, and with the SE model, you get standard stability control. I can’t stress enough how much we like stability control. It’s the greatest advancement in auto safety since the seatbelt. Hyundai has done a stunning turnaround. Even 10 years ago, Hyundai was bottom of the barrel in terms of reliability, safety, fuel economy, and interior fit and finish. They have come a long way.

This year’s auto issue argues that a less-expensive car could cost a consumer more in the long run than a more expensive alternative. How can consumers use this information in the first 30 days of buying a car?

The bottom line here is that cheap isn’t always cheap. When you look at competing SUVs such as a Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer, the Highlander does cost more initially, but looking at the vehicle down the road, comparing depreciation, insurance cost, repair and maintenance, the Highlander turns out to be cheaper in long run. The sticker price, when you’re looking at the cost of vehicle ownership, doesn’t tell whole story.

It behooves everyone to look at the cost spread out over fair amount of time. We looked at five years projected cost to own a vehicle. Depreciation is the biggest part of it, but also interest, the insurance, sales tax, fuel, maintenance and repair. It’s not so much that you’re going to buy the car and make the payments. Just keeping it running and putting gas into it might break the bank.

What are your top tips for buying a new car in the first 30 days?

1. Be realistic about how much money you can really spend per month to buy, insure and put gas in your car. Don’t buy a car outside of your budget because you’re going to have to live with this for several years and pay for it for several years.

2. Buy a car that fulfills your transportation needs. If you’re not filling three rows of seats, not towing heavy trailers on a regular basis, you might think twice about buying a huge SUV because you’re paying for utility you’re never going to use.

3. Don’t fall in love. Don’t walk into a car dealership, see a car and immediately glaze over and you’re say, ”oh my gosh, I have to have this car!” Step back and take a breath. If a sales person knows you’re smitten with this car, he or she is going to find a way for you to get in that car. Instead, detach yourself a little bit and have available alternatives. If you love the Honda Accord, but you can’t get a decent price on it, cross shop it to the Toyota Camry, the Nissan Altima, the Chevy Malibu or the Ford Fusion. There are lots of choices out there. Don’t feel pressured into buying one brand or one car.

What are some of your insider tricks to getting a good deal on a new car?

A lot of people walk in and they negotiate down from the sticker. That’s the exact opposite of what you should be doing. You should be negotiating up from the true cost of the car. Find out the true cost of the car. That will help you zero in on getting the best price. The Consumer Reports new car price service will tell you how much the dealer paid for the car.

When I talk to sales people, they say, “when we see a person walk in with a printout from Consumer Reports new-car price service, we know that they’re serious, because you have to pay to get the price service.” When they can see you’re serious, it’s possible they will be serious with their negotiations as well.

For parents who are thinking about buying a car for a teenager, what should they look out for?

A lot of times in the past, when a teenage driver starts driving the parents say, “we’re going to get a new car and give the old car to our child.” The upside of that is it’s cheaper. The downside is that older cars typically don’t have as many safety features as the new cars. A car that is five years old probably won’t have stability control and won’t have head curtain airbags. We think those are really important features for young and inexperienced drivers. If you’re fortunate enough to buy an extra car for your household, we say give the new car with the new safety features to your teenager. The experienced driver—the parents—should drive the older car.


What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?

I embrace change. For us to grow as human beings, we need to step outside our comfort zone. True evolution as a person means you have to step outside that zone. To me, change can be very exciting, especially when it’s voluntary.

The best thing about change is…

…the unknown. It can open up a whole new world for you.

What is the best change you have ever made?

Embracing the idea of getting married and having children. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, divorce was the hottest ticket in town and I spent a lot of my adulthood years trying to figure out if marriage made sense at all. I wasn’t looking to get married; it just kind of found me. My family is now a critical component in my life and my sanity and what drives me every day.

For more information on Mike Quincy and Consumer Reports new car ratings, visit www.consumerreports.org

Advice on Change

With gas prices going up, a lot of people are downsizing their vehicle. That is, trading in a larger car for a smaller, more fuel-efficient car. In general, Consumer Reports strongly encourages this. A more fuel-efficient car is the most effective way to cut your gas usage.

But you need to look at the big picture—not just the fuel-economy numbers—and that the timing needs to be right for downsizing to make good financial sense.

Here are five things to consider before you get rid of your old car for a more fuel-efficient one.

1. It often doesn’t pay to downsize if you’ve only owned your vehicle for three years or less and haven’t paid off the loan, even if the new car’s fuel economy is much better.

Most people keep a vehicle for about five years before trading it in for a new one. If you trade it in at three years, you have two things conspiring against you: You likely won’t have your loan paid off, so you won’t have that much equity in the car. And your car is going through the steepest depreciation. Depreciation, or how much value a car loses over time, is by far the largest total owner cost (48%) in the first five years. By contrast, fuel usage is only 21%. And you take the biggest depreciation hit in the first three years. The rate of depreciation levels out after that and your average annual costs are less.

2. If you trade in after three years, you will be going from the most expensive period of ownership for your current car into the most expensive period of ownership for the next one. If you hold on for a fourth or fifth year, you amortize the initial depreciation over a longer time, which is better in the long run for your bank account.

3. You want to trade the car in at the point where you have the maximum equity in it: after you’ve paid off your loan and before it depreciates any more.

4. After about five years, the cost of fuel usage becomes a higher percentage of overall owner costs, so at that time it makes more sense to move into a car with better fuel economy.

5. These hidden costs may be the factors you are least likely to focus on when downsizing. After all, depreciation and interest are less tangible costs than the high price for a gallon of gas that slaps drivers in the face with each fill up.

So, to summarize, downsizing too soon can cost more in other owner costs than they’ll save at the pump. What you’ll save in depreciation costs by holding onto the vehicle for another year or two will net you more money in the long run than you’d save in gasoline with the new car. The fourth and fifth years cost you less in total costs than the first three years. So, if you hold onto the vehicle for another year or two, you’ll save more in depreciation costs than you’d save in fuel costs by trading in for another car, even one with much better fuel economy. Consumers should typically hold on to their cars at least four or five years to minimize the financial impact of depreciation and finance charges.

For more info, check out Consumer Reports Cars Blog.

About Mike Quincy

As an auto-content specialist for Consumer Reports, Mike Quincy works hard to give you the best information on new cars to make your car-buying process fun. The self-described car junkie gets to drive around in new cars all day and argue the merits and downfalls of each vehicle. Consumer Reports compiles all of Quincy’s tests and those of his colleagues into the annual auto issue. Quincy is also the author of Consumer Reports’ first-ever blog focused on all things car-related.

Even during his down time, Quincy (and his colleagues) can be found at car races or car shows with his 1965 Ford Mustang.