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Don’t Fear the Discontinued Car

March 20, 2017
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Whether you’re searching for a one-hit wonder from the past, or, more likely, a recently canceled model from a major carmaker, you may be considering a discontinued car model. But you’ve heard there could be problems getting parts, having it fixed or reselling it. Sure, the lower purchase price is appealing, but is it a smart move in the long run? We’ve done the homework and broken down what you need to know.

Why are cars discontinued?

Each year a few car models are discontinued for various reasons. It could be that sales are down, the automaker wants more room for newer models, buyer habits have changed or fuel costs have risen. Dealers will then begin discounting the remaining vehicles to quickly move them off the lots. The manufacturers will often provide plenty of incentives, like low-interest financing or customer cash back, to clear them out.

Usually, it is a single car model that’s discontinued, such as the Pontiac Vibe, which was axed in 2010, or the Dodge Dart, which didn’t make it to 2017. Other times, entire brands go out of business, as Saab did in 2011.

Resale value

One drawback to buying a canceled model is that the resale value becomes more of a wild card. If the car was discontinued for slow demand to begin with, a lot of those resale values will naturally be fairly depressed, says TrueCar analyst Patrick Min. Still, many discontinued models maintain popularity or even rise in resale value as they become collectible.

“We’ve seen a number of cases like the Toyota FJ Cruiser, which even though the model was discontinued, it became a cult classic with the off-road community,” Min notes. “That shortage of available supply, that still had a strong demand, actually bolstered the resale value.”

Parts and servicing

Generally, automakers are able to continue providing parts and servicing for their discontinued car models for decades. But while the risk is minimal, parts may become difficult to find for very old, uniquely built cars, or if a small, single-make carmaker shuts down entirely.

But there are very few single-make manufacturers, so there’s almost no situation in which you wouldn’t be able to get the parts you need, according to Jim Dykstra, founder of VinAdvisor, a car buying website.

“Unless it was a car being imported from South America or China and they came here for a short while, didn’t sell many, and then just turned everything off,” he says. “If you’re buying from any of the manufacturers we would recognize, I don’t think you would have to worry.”

Extra savings

In most cases, discontinued car models offer nicely discounted prices. The dealer is likely trying to quickly sell the remaining inventory to make room for better-selling or newer models. That leads to falling prices and likely increased buyer incentives in the last few months of a vehicle’s make year. This can make discontinued models especially attractive to bargain hunters.

Uncommon value

Discontinued cars are by nature more unusual since there’s no longer an ongoing supply on the market. This value is usually more sentimental than monetary, but if the model was a performance car or made for a special reason (such as a movie feature), this can lead to an uptick in value later on.

One example is the Honda S2000, a sporty two-seater with a dedicated fan base. The model, originally released in 1998, has become so popular there are rumors of a revival.

Some manufacturers specialize in limited-edition releases, where only a certain number of models is available to the public before a planned discontinuation to create hype around the special product. Jeep in particular is known for these, such as its recently released 2017 Renegade Desert Hawk. If owning an uncommon vehicle appeals to you, limited and discontinued models can be the perfect fit.

Who’s it good for?

Overall, buying a canceled car model isn’t something to overthink, but it’s important to be aware of the potential downsides. Think twice if you’re planning to resell the car within the next couple of years, since resale value is unpredictable and likely won’t rise much (if at all) in a short time. An ideal buyer is someone who appreciates a good bargain and likes the model, or perhaps someone who enjoys collecting rare cars.

Nicole Arata is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: narata@nerdwallet.com.