auto

Should you buy a Pontiac or Saturn?

Tara Baukus Mello The offers abound for any car model that's headed to the chopping block like Saturn or Pontiac -- up to $9,000 in some cases. And the options are plentiful.

There's the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Dodge Dakota, both of which are slated to be discontinued within two years, as are the entire Pontiac and Saturn lineups, and possibly Saab models if a buyer for the company isn't found soon. The discounts certainly make for some bargain shopping, but what's the true impact of buying an "orphaned" or discontinued car model?

Pontiac Solstice
The largest concern most shoppers have is with the ability to find parts and qualified mechanics to service and repair the car while they own it. These fears are generally unwarranted, because most parts are generally available for many years after the car model or brand is discontinued, and mechanics with the necessary knowledge are usually pretty easy to locate, either at dealerships or independent shops.

Automakers are required to make parts available for the full warranty period of that particular part, which can often result in parts production -- at least in limited supply -- for five years after the vehicle was made. In addition, parts are often produced for a longer period by the automaker or by an aftermarket supplier who purchases the tooling in order to fill a niche. The two most recently discontinued brands, Plymouth, which stopped production with its 2001 models, and Oldsmobile, which was discontinued with 2004 models, still have parts and service available from their parent companies.

The result is that the maintenance costs for an orphaned car model should not be any higher than if the car remained in production, save for perhaps slightly higher fuel costs if you need to drive farther to your mechanic for service.

Dodge Dakota
For those thinking about buying a car that is on the chopping block, the greater concern should be the initial cost of the car itself, because its resale value is almost always lower than a car that remains in production.

The biggest deals currently are on General Motors' product lineup. The largest discounts -- up to $6,500 -- are on its Saturn and Pontiac models, in an effort to clear out its supply as it phases out the two brands. For its Saab brand, which may also be shuttered if a new buyer isn't found soon, cash-back incentives are as high as $9,000. These are steep discounts, but all are offered on last year's models, so purchasing one of these models also results in a year of depreciation before you drive it off the lot. Still, if you are someone who keeps his cars for the long term, especially if you drive less than the 12,000 miles annually that's considered average, then saving some money by buying an orphaned car can be financially smart.

Just be sure you are going to be happy driving your orphaned car for the long haul by taking a thorough test drive first. And before you buy, do your due diligence to ensure you are taking advantage of all the applicable incentives, including military, student and other promotional discounts. Don't forget to negotiate any incentives offered to the dealer as well as manufacturer rebates. You can find those by reviewing the current offerings at a vehicle information website such as Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds.com.

Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. If you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars.

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Tara Baukus Mello

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