What Would Randy Buy…When The Pickings Are Slim?

Between the rise in COVID-19 cases due to unvaccinated folks and the return of mask mandates, they certainly don’t make this annual column any easier…

Why does the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus matter? Think about all of the challenges in the automotive industry since the initial shutdowns worldwide. The results have been a series of supply chain challenges setting the industry up for failure. You had low quantities of microchips and semiconduictors that manage almost every system in a modern automobile, causing production stoppages and low dealer inventories. 

Of course, we should also watch how rubber and glass production shortages will create another whammy for the industry. 

Meanwhile, the economy is rebounding – sort of. That’s a can of worms I will try to not indulge in. 

It just seems so silly to do another “What Would Randy Buy If He Had The Money” article this year. Let’s be honest: What’s available to buy these days? 

It comes down to strategy based on inventory and pricing trends. I reported in a recent article that the average transaction cost of a new vehicle is now over $42,000. Retail used car prices also jumped on average of 20%. It is no longer a buyer’s market. Nor will it be consumer friendly for those looking for a vehicle to replace the one that survived the worst of the pandemic – for now. 

You are also seeing campaigns for dealers desperate for inventory to buy your current vehicle. Moreover, we are also seeing campaigns to buy off leases months before the terms run out. 

In this atmosphere of an industry turned sideways, I have an obligation to you I must fulfill. This article will be written, but, as with every year, the rules must change. 

It would be easy for me to focus on new vehicles. With inventories low and customers putting in orders instead of taking them home that day, I will not prioritize new models. 

Instead, I will look at used car listings…with a twist. 

The idea is to look at available used cars. The twist is to look at certified pre-owned models, where you can get additional factory backing when you buy them. That way, I am assured that this pre-loved vehicle can be serviced under warranty, when necessary. It is a great way to get additional value on your used vehicle, even if you are paying extra for that additional assurance. 

One more caveat: I will be selecting vehicles from dealerships whom I know key personnel at – some of them happen to be friends of mine. 

With that said, here’s my list of “What Would Randy Buy If He Had Money” of Certified Pre-Owned values…

THE PRE-LOVED V&R SUPPORT VEHICLE: I am focusing on two models: 2019-2021 Toyota RAV4s and 2019-2021 Volkswagen Tiguans. Based on my experience, these two vehicles fit what I need and can be had within reason. The RAV4s I found were in the LE trim with an upgraded package including blind spot monitors. The advantage is that they wear cloth interior, which makes more sense year-round. Pricing for a Certified Used 2021 RAV4 LE was under $27,000 with around 6,000 miles on the clock. Tiguans are a rare sight, but I managed to find a 2020 SEL Premium with the R-Line package for under $34,000 with over 17,000 on the clock. The RAV4 LE could be a better buy, and that extra money could go into a V&R wrap from…hmmm…Epic Wraps?

A FAVORITE BRAND, OF COURSE: Did you know that Lexus has one of the best Certified Pre-Owned programs in the business? Of course, I would take advantage of that program…with what vehicle? A scan of a few dealers unearthed some gems. For example, there are two ES 350 F Sport sedans for under $51,000. One is a 2020, while the other is a 2021 – both under 7,500 miles on the clock. The Caviar one looked delicious. Another gem I found was a 2017 RX 350 F Sport with over 37,000 miles on the clock priced at $45,000. Sadly, I could not find a Certified Pre-Owned RC F or GS F. Oh, well…

ROAD TRIP WARRIORS: It is no secret that the current generation of the Toyota Camry has become a trusty road trip warrior. Finding the right combination of what I like that will turn superb fuel economy every time could be a difficult task. With some digging, I found a 2018 XLE with 23,000 miles on the clock at under $25,000. I also unearthed a 2020 Volkswagen Arteon SEL R-Line, which I had great experience driving long distance in. It had almost 12,000 on the clock and was available for under $38,000. 

OK, this Certified Pre-Owned search has yielded a realistic view of the used car market. There is some inventory that matches what I am looking for. Yet, I found that there should more than what I found on the web. 

What if I flipped the script for new inventory. Let’s see what I found…

For a V&R support vehicle, I not only found some inventory of what I’m looking for, but several choices to look at. The Toyota RAV4 popped up in a few searches, most of them priced under $30,000 for what I’m looking for – the LE with an upgraded equipment level. There are a few XLE models for under $33,000. For about the same price, I can get into a 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SE, 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan SE, or 2021 Nissan Rogue SV. 

As for a road trip vehicle, I could get into a new Toyota Camry SE for about $30,000 or below. An upgrade to an XLE model will take me up towards $35,000. Volkswagen Arteons are rarer and more dearer – starting at over $41,000. 

As for a new Lexus, I manage to find an ES 350 Ultra Luxury model and an ES 350 F Sport – both for around $53,000. I also found a few RX 350 F Sports with the Handling Package for around $61,000-63,000. 

Let's talk about trucks for a moment. They are a hot commodity, and, yet, they are the most complicated vehicles to nail down. It is not about trim level and cab/box configuration, but the long list of options they are usually loaded up with. In particular, towing and payload packages. Therefore, they induce the most sticker shock of them all. 

Trying to find the truck I want through a Certified Pre-Owned program is even tougher. The ones I found in the used vehicle inventory have higher miles than average or have been loaded with accessories that I might not want. You can say I’m a picky consumer. 

When looking at Ram 1500s, new ones that would be a better fit for me. At least I can be a bit choosy for trim and options. For the most part, I came up with a couple of Laramie Crew Cabs for around $57,000. I gave up trying to find a Rebel…

This brings me to some sort of resolution on this. I’m certain there are more vehicles out there, as I narrowed down my selections with dealers I have good relationships with. Whether you choose Certified Pre-Owned or new, always check their inventory online before you start driving around and kicking tires. Use the online tools before you make an appointment with a dealership. 

If you know of a specific salesperson that you want to work with, contact them directly and tell them that you’re interested in a specific vehicle. Don’t forget to include the stock number – or, just drop the inventory link when you message them. 

Plus, if you are committed to at least getting a deep dive into your next vehicle – including a test drive – make an appointment with that salesperson. Plan your time together more wisely, if you do. Nobody wants their time wasted in the automotive retail business. 

The other thing to remember is that demand may yield some disappointment for choosy consumers – myself included. Sometimes you will not find the one vehicle you really want. 

There are options out there – one is to get what’s available and personalize it to meet your needs and wants. The second is to be patient. You can place an order for a vehicle that meets your specifications or wait until a time when inventories have returned to normal with an assortment of vehicles you would interested in. 

The point of doing this year’s column was not for my indulgence, but as a way to dispense some consumer advice – especially when we are faced with low inventories, rising prices, and so forth. While demand is high, it is a great opportunity to become a better consumer. To make choices even when they are thin. 

Now, it’s your turn. How will you shop for your next vehicle after 18 months of this pandemic? You might be surprised by what you would find at your local dealership. 

All photos by Randy Stern

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