Published May 30, 2018|4 min read
Updated April 4, 2019: Say goodbye to the Ford Taurus. Ford announced last month it would end production of the auto, along with most of its other cars, to double down on trucks and SUVs.
Car companies shut down car models every year. Sometimes entire brands disappear — remember Saab and Pontiac? But those cars don't just fade from the road like Spider-Man at the end of "Infinity War" (It came out a month ago, spoiler warnings are OVER). What happens if you own a car that gets discontinued?
The auto industry has gone through a tumultuous period since the bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors in 2009. (Learn how to make the most of going-out-of-business sales.) Brands like Saab, Pontiac, Saturn, Plymouth and Mercury went away, leaving owners without a reliable place to go for repairs. General Motors many repair cars from its orphaned brands at Buick or Chevrolet service centers, but the number of spare parts for discontinued cars is limited, said Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book, an automotive research company.
"It could be quite a challenge to own a vehicle like that," DeLorenzo said.
It's easier for owners if the brand of a model that's ending still exists. For example, the Ford Taurus shares parts with models Ford will continue to produce, so owners will be able to hold on their cars longer than if the entire brand went away, DeLorenzo said. But the longer a car is out of production, the harder it will be to find mechanics with the expertise to make repairs and parts, especially body parts.
While the decision to stop making a car is often driven by sales, some discontinued cars had maintenance issues to begin with. This was the case with Saab even when the company was alive. The chances of problems are only greater now that it's out of production, said Joni Gray, editor-in-chief of Autobytel.com.
The last new Saabs were sold nearly 10 years ago, so any repairs today are likely major. GM might still have some parts lying around, but Saab owners in need of repairs may have to search for an independent mechanic who still services Saabs, which could be challenging, Gray said.
A discontinued car may depreciate faster, in part because of the issues of repairing it, Gray said. Car insurance rates shouldn't change too much since they're based more on driver history and the cost to replace the vehicle rather than its brand, she added. (Learn how much car insurance costs in each state.)
Resale value is typically worse for a discontinued model, but not always. Some "unicorn" models actually become more popular, like the Honda Element and Toyota FJ Cruiser, Gray said. Some car models have long lives after death.
"Who would have guessed that the Pontiac Aztek and the AMC Gremlin would become collector's items?" Gray said. "The storied history and past popularity of the Ford Taurus may well be one of those emotional purchases that a certain buyer would find priceless."
Resale value could be an issue for people who like to trade in a car every few years, but for those who plan to drive their car into the ground, it's less of a big deal, DeLorenzo said. If you have an orphaned car, you might as well hang on to it if it still runs well, since selling can be difficult, he added.
If you're considering buying a discontinued car, make sure to check whether any recall repairs have been addressed, DeLorenzo said. If not, it could be dangerous to drive, especially if the recall was for an airbag. Potential buyers should also check reviews from Consumer Reports and other publications to get an idea of the model's reliability.
Consider the model too.
"The more mainstream a vehicle, the more likelihood that there will be repair parts out there," DeLorenzo said. And the more specialized, the more expensive it will be to repair.
Buyers can use the fact that a car is discontinued as a bargaining chip, Gray said.
"Most dealerships are willing to provide major discounts on these vehicles, and, if you plan to drive it for the long term and not sell it," Gray said, "it could be a win-win."
Looking to lower your total car expenses? Find five easy ways to lower your car insurance bills in five minutes or less here.
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