Remember the days of Suzukis and Saabs touring the country? How about when Pontiac dealerships popped up in every single town? Those halcyon days of strange small-brand vehicles tootling around town are well behind us, and that means that there’s a huge buying opportunity for anyone in the used car market.
Meet the orphan cars.
Those poor few automotive brands that have been put out to pasture when their parent companies decided to close up shop. Think brands like Saturn, Pontiac, Suzuki, and Saab. Just because these brands have lost their parents to the toll of time doesn’t mean they aren’t still great buys. In fact many of the old orphan brands are actually rebranded versions of their more well-known—and still kicking—brethren, and parts and maintenance are relatively* easy to come by.
Over at Autoblog, Steven Lang, a professional car buyer and journalist, points out that orphan cars are a great buy mainly because they are no longer getting any kind of marketing money. That makes them SUPER affordable.
He argues that if you’re looking for a sports sedan—why not check out a Suzuki Kizashi? Many out there are still covered by a 7-year, 100,000-mile warranty. Lusting after a new Chevy Sonic or Cruze? Lang suggests you check out a Saturn Astra which gets the same 1.8-liter engine and transmission as “hundreds of thousands” of those cars. Heard all about Corolla’s reliability? You should take a look at a Chevy Prizm, which he says is virtually identical and sold as a Chevy or a Geo. How about a used Hummer H3? It’s built on the same platform as the Chevy Trailblazer.
While you can get a great deal, it’s not all roses for orphan cars. As The Chicago Tribune points out, exterior trim parts can be expensive and some brands weren’t produced long enough to know how reliable they are, long term. There can also be a minor issue of finding replacement parts for, say, something like a Saab 9-4x or the Suzuki Reno. These cars were produced in very limited runs—and sourcing replacement pieces can be a little tricky.
The trick to getting a great orphan car is to do your due diligence–like you would for any used car purchase. Be sure to get a mechanical inspection, get your financing lined up, and then go for it. The other trick, as Mr. Lang points out, is to “find a quality product with good long term reliability.” Check back here, often, for more on how to find that perfect used car.
Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.