Best way to ride out the NAFTA storm? Buy used or keep your car longer.

Whether tar­iffs come in or not, new car prices are sure to rise in the next year or two


Quick: which is scarier? Be­ing told there is a shark in the wa­ter, or be­ing told there “might” be a shark in the wa­ter?

Doesn’t mat­ter, does it? They’ll both keep you out of the wa­ter. It’s a sim­i­lar is­sue when the White House threat­ens to place huge tar­iffs on Cana­dian ve­hi­cles; no­body has ever seen even the threat of such a thing bring about lower prices. Which means it’s time to con­sider your next car pur­chase in earnest.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers are go­ing to keep their pow­der dry, try­ing to fig­ure out what will hap­pen next. Cliffhang­ers are fun for tele­vi­sion shows, less so for a cor­po­ra­tion try­ing to plan its fu­ture. The rest of us are fi­nally be­ing faced with some­thing we’ve been able to dodge for a long time: what if re­plac­ing my cur­rent car isn’t go­ing to be as sim­ple as it’s al­ways been?

Record sales, year over year, couldn’t con­tinue for­ever and are now lev­el­ling off. But cheap fuel costs, low in­ter­est rates and ex­tended loan pe­ri­ods mean many of us have for­got­ten that treat­ing a ve­hi­cle like a dis­pos­able ra­zor was only ever good for the peo­ple mak­ing and sell­ing them. Con­sumers have been spoiled and lazy and will­ing to have a car pay­ment in their bud­get seem­ingly for­ever.

So, with the pos­si­bil­ity of huge in­creases in prices, and the cer­tainty of dis­rup­tion with the gov­ern­ment that runs our big­gest trad­ing part­ner, what should you do?

If you al­ready know you’re in the mar­ket for a car and push­ing the sale up a month or two won’t mat­ter, fill your boots. If you’re a gam­bling sort, know that if pro­posed tar­iffs hit (and some af­fect­ing the in­dus­try al­ready have, be­cause con­tent per­cent­ages and steel tar­iffs will also im­pact price), the cost of many new ve­hi­cles will jack, but the cost of used ones might re­turn to earth.

How so? Right now, many of our used ve­hi­cles are shipped to the U.S. That has led to fewer used here, so prices have held high. If tar­iffs are slapped on those used ve­hi­cles, most will stay here, driv­ing down prices. Those buy­ing used might be the only win­ners in this sce­nario.

It took years for the leas­ing busi­ness to re­turn to form af­ter the col­lapse in 2008. Peo­ple love leas­ing be­cause too many of us buy a car a month at a time, and leas­ing makes it seem cheaper. Same with 84-month loans (and longer), which are the work of the devil. If used car prices plunge, leas­ing rates will head up to counter that lost value at the end of the lease. And that car with the long-term loan, that you’re to­tally sick of, that is out of war­ranty and you’re still pay­ing on, will be worth less still.

So what do you do? You start think­ing dif­fer­ently when you look at your car. Cars have never been bet­ter built and safer than they are now. If you’re cur­rently in a lease, take a look at your agree­ment and re­think cast­ing if off when the term is up. Start think­ing of it as your car, not a long-term rental you can scratch or put off re­plac­ing tires. Think of it as some­thing you’re go­ing to keep.

When I wrote a story on auto tar­iffs re­cently, it seemed in­sane to think we could see some new car prices go up be­tween $5,000 to $15,000, but in­sane seems to be the flavour of the month. If you own a car and want to wait and see what’s go­ing to hap­pen, here’s how to ride it out.

Get it de­tailed. Seems silly, but get it pro­fes­sion­ally cleaned. You’ll be amazed at the dif­fer­ence, and you’ll have that new-car nostal­gia.

Read your owner’s man­ual. Get out your ser­vice records and make sure you’re up to date for main­te­nance. De­pend­ing on the age/mileage of your car, things like tim­ing belts come into play. If you don’t have a file, start keep­ing one.

Plan on­go­ing main­te­nance. If you have a good re­la­tion­ship with your dealer, that’s great. If you’re less than thrilled, find a good me­chanic. Ask your friends and neigh­bours. Go look at the shop. The in­dus­try has loved hav­ing you buy a new car ev­ery few years, but they know bet­ter than any­one it’s not re­quired. Take care of the one you have.

Start in­vest­ing in an­nual rust pro­tect­ing. I like drip oil.

Pre­pare your­self for larger re­pairs. Most cars are trou­ble- and re­pair cost-free, apart from oil changes, for a few years. Keep­ing a car that’s out of war­ranty needn’t be ter­ri­fy­ing. If a re­pair is quoted at $1,000, and that hap­pens once a year, it’s not out­ra­geous. You can get ex­tended war­ranties on older cars, but don’t use third­party com­pa­nies, and make sure to read what isn’t cov­ered as well as what is.

Don’t skimp on tires. You’ll be amazed at the dif­fer­ence great tires make. Con­sider mak­ing the in­vest­ment.

There’s a joke among my col­leagues when­ever we get track time. Some­body will al­ways yell, “Drive it like you stole it.” In this case, how­ever, be smart, and drive it like you own it.


New Ford Edges sit on a pro­duc­tion line as Ford Mo­tor Com­pany cel­e­brates the global pro­duc­tion start of the 2015 Ford Edge at the Ford Assem­bly Plant in Oakville, Ont., on Thurs­day, Fe­bru­ary 26, 2015. New NAFTA rules could in­crease the cost of a car by hun­dreds or even thou­sands of dol­lars, act as a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tax, and ul­ti­mately hurt sales as con­sumers keep their wal­lets shut, a new study pre­dicts.

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