You may have bought a lemon at one time or another, but when it comes to a used supercar, the taste can get incredibly sour – even to the point of financial ruin.
When faced with the price of a new luxury or sports car, a used exotic supercar at half the original price might seem quite tempting. Heck, why not go for an older, low-mileage Ferrari instead of a newer Corvette? This is what you always wanted, isn’t it?
Well, owning a used 15-year-old Ferrari shouldn’t be confused with owning a used 15-year-old Toyota Camry, and people are going to wake up rudely if they think it’s the same thing.
Lance Hedrick, owner of Hedrick Motiv Werks near Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, knows this story all too well. With decades of experience in the auto repair business and at least 30 years repairing and maintaining supercars, Hedrick is fully aware of the amount of money it takes to maintain an older exotic vehicle.
Beyond the purchase price, Hedrick said there are unforgiving maintenance and repair costs that many buyers overlook or simply don’t expect. The thing is, although a car may look like a bargain half its original sticker, parts and labor for maintenance and repairs are always full price or even more. After all, hourly rates don’t go down over the years, they go up.
Add the cost of fuel and insurance, and the annual expense of owning a Lamborghini, McLaren or Aston Martin can financially ruin what was supposed to be a bargain. As such, Hedrick said he makes a good living working on everything from the AC Shelby Cobra and Saleen S7 to the 1972 Pantera DeTomaso and 308 Ferrari.
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the average cost to drive one of these supercars can be up to 20 times that of a typical vehicle driven the same distance. Of course, supercars don’t usually travel that far, so the cost per mile is likely higher.
Browsing the Internet reveals many sources that estimate $20,000 (US) or more per year, depending on the vehicle.
“People who want to ride in these cars often don’t know anything about their mechanical features,” Hedrick said. “They don’t have buckets full of money, but everyone wants one of these cars. They’ll see what they believe is a decent price, but they haven’t done their homework.
While many of his wealthy customers arrive on private jets and don’t seem to mind paying $2,000 or more for an oil change for their Ferrari, it’s a nearly vertical learning curve for the first buyer of a used supercar.
These machines are often so finely tuned and fragile that even the slightest mishap during an oil change or lubrication job can result in a four-figure repair that could go unnoticed and unreported. Hedrick said it was common to find underbody damage due to careless lifting of the vehicle, or simply the “laziness” of a former mechanic.
Bent tubes and cracked welds that allow moisture to enter secure areas are two of the most common problems Hedrick encounters when working under one of these vehicles. “You wouldn’t believe what I see. And most are caused by people trying to work on the car who don’t understand the car.
Hedrick also warned would-be supercar buyers against the fallacy that few miles plus a low price equals a lot. Performance vehicles need to stretch their legs, breathe and roar. It’s good for the engine, and for longevity.
“Rubber deteriorates, as do hoses, belts and metal,” Hedrick said. “You never turn the engine temperature up to evacuate the moisture, so it starts to develop corrosion.”
Hedrick said it’s not unusual for owners in his area of the United States to have a supercar “trophy” tucked away in their garage as a status symbol or centerpiece rather than driving.
“I had a client who serviced his car, but he never actually drove it, which is the worst thing you can do,” he said. “Lack of use is definitely something to watch out for if you’re shopping for one of these vehicles.”
Hedrick used the example of a brake rotor building up a thin layer of rust after a wash or rain to explain why regular use helps keep engine parts clean and running smoothly. “Magnify that buildup inside an engine by 10 times and you can talk about significant repair costs even if the car has never even been used,” he said.
“Issues that never really had a chance to surface, that are inherently there in the car, you’re going to end up bearing the brunt of it being the second owner of a low-mileage car.”
If you’re still brave enough to splash the cash on a used supercar, Hedrick said the No. 1 rule, in addition to looking for common issues and maintenance costs, is to make sure all records of maintenance are available, precise and well organized.
“It’s like buying a plane,” he says. “You’re going to need those records because maintaining those vehicles is one of the biggest expenses. If you can’t check the maintenance records, the car itself isn’t really worth much.
what you could pay
• TIRES: If you’re on the edge of the list price of a used Lamborghini, like this Gallardo, then this probably isn’t for you since that’s just the beginning of the cost of ownership. According to Lance Hedrick, oil changes and routine maintenance cost around $1,300 (US) – the price varies by shop and location – while consumables such as brake rotors cost around $800. each plus brake pads and labor. A newer Corvette with warranty might be a better choice.
• OIL CHANGES: The cost of tires for an average supercar might not offend you, but the fact that they wear out quickly might. This set of Bridgestone tires lasted 10,000 kilometers on an Audi R8, which is typical. At just 37,000 miles, the car also needed four shocks at a cost of around $1,400 each plus installation.
• MOTORS: A supercar sold with “low kilometres” is not always a good thing. Hedrick said lack of use can be a killer. He said this idle 1999 Porsche Boxster engine, for example, needed a $12,000 repair due to lack of use.
• SHORTCUTS: Are you buying someone else’s problem? It’s a carpenter’s pencil that holds this Ferrari 348 battery in place. Some owners try to cut maintenance costs, so beware of used supercars that seem like bargains. Hedrick said he once discovered stereo wiring in a Ferrari routed through holes without grommets or proper shielding, which could have caused a costly electrical fire.