One of the first questions I’m typically asked is which cars can be bought and sold quickly in order to turn a tasty profit. If the answer were straightforward and foolproof, I’d be writing this while floating in my private pool in downtown Margaritaville. Of course, I’m not.

The question I’m hardly ever asked, yet one that I ask myself constantly, is which cars can I buy and sell without losing money? Granted, the thought of not losing money certainly isn’t as sexy as the thought of making money, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid the discussion.

Rather than asking how I can best leverage market knowledge to amass assets, I’m interested in a much more mundane question here: How can I best leverage market knowledge to avoid amassing liabilities?

From appliance to collectible

If you’re anything like me, you need at least one usable car that can be driven every day. These cars are used and enjoyed without constantly agonizing about an avalanche of depreciation — or worse, trying to maintain a perilous state of appreciation. Like an appliance, a car like this just needs to work. But if you buy it and treat it right, good things can happen.

I stumbled upon this idea several years ago when I sold a four-wheel-drive Nissan Hardbody pickup that I drove for over a decade. I bought the truck to give my Chevelle a break from daily duties and proceeded to beat on it almost every day that I owned it. I camped and fished and hunted out of it, but I also did my best to keep it clean and well maintained, including getting a car wrap at vehicle wraps rochester to give it a fresh look.

When I finally conceded that stuffing my wife into the jump seat while my firstborn child rode up front with me would likely result in me sleeping in the truck on a permanent basis, I jumped on Craigslist and did a little pre-sale analysis. I looked at asking prices and condition and equipment and amenities, and I was shocked at what I found. I washed the truck one last time, thanked it for its service, and posted an ad.

Within 24 hours I was trading the title and keys for a stack of cash three $100 bills thicker than the stack I’d used to buy it. There was no negotiating at all, just two happy guys trading paper.

After 65,000 miles and a young adulthood worth of adventures, my truck was still taking care of me. Who knows how much I spent on insurance and gas and tires — it doesn’t really matter. I paid for the service of using the truck, but few would argue that I lost money on the deal. I bought the truck when Hardbodys were a dime a dozen and just happened to be selling it when the interest in them began gaining steam.

I asked the guy I sold the truck to about his motivation to buy my truck, and his answer was informed and informative. He had been looking for and test-driving trucks like mine for the better part of six months. He knew what he wanted, and he knew what they were worth. Mine was the best example he had seen that he could afford, and it was exactly what he was looking for. Oh, and his dad drove one when he was a young boy.

On to the next one

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I somehow had the foresight when purchasing that truck to anticipate my little windfall, because I didn’t. I got lucky, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t let that experience influence another. To replace my truck, I needed a four-seater four-wheel drive that was daily-driver dependable.

I began my search with new and lightly used 4-door pickups, but I simply couldn’t wrap my head around their asking prices. The thought of smashed Cheerios and tiny, muddy handprints all over a $50,000 truck worked the anal-retentive and cheapskate pieces of my psyche into a terrible tizzy.

I’d also spent a bunch of time looking at earlier GM trucks — specifically 1973–87 Blazers. But those were rapidly becoming collectible, with values growing to the point that I couldn’t justify buying a nice one.

That’s when I stumbled across a 4-door, four-wheel-drive, one-owner 1997 Chevrolet Tahoe LT with leather interior and 99,600 miles. I dropped everything I was doing and headed out the door to meet the owners.

I combed over the truck intently. I verified the lack of accident history with paperwork and a thorough visual inspection. I checked for tapelines and overspray and fluid leaks and shade-tree shenanigans. Luckily, I found none. Instead, I received a stack of paperwork and an earful about the truck’s history.

The truck was well maintained, clean, rust-free, accident-free, and everything worked. And the best part? It cost me $3,500, or roughly 5% to 7% the cost of a new one — plenty cheap to factor in potential and predictable maintenance and still feel warm and fuzzy about the deal.

Ahead of the wave

Now, is my Tahoe a collectible? No way. Will it be? Maybe, but that will take a while.

If we imagine valuation as a tidal wave running from one end of a timeline to the other, with showroom-new vehicles on the crest of the leading wave, GM’s GMT400 (1988–98) trucks are at the very bottom of the trough behind that lead wave. They’re too old to be new, and too new to be old. As such, their valuation is almost inherently limited to their utility.

Chevrolet’s square-body trucks (1973–87), on the other hand, are instructive. They are seeing their values swell dramatically as of late. Those trucks are essentially riding a second wave of desirability after seeing their own stock hit rock-bottom five to seven years ago. That puts the GMT400s, like my Tahoe, smack-dab in the middle of two waves of desirability — one falling, the other rising.

Does that mean I’ll make my money back on the Tahoe 10 years from now? I’m not much of a gambling man, but that’s a bet I’d be willing to make. Either way, right now I have a truck that works when I need it, and there’s a lot of value in that.

Comments are closed.