You might have bought a lemon at one time or another, but when it comes to a used supercar, the taste can turn incredibly sour – even to the point of being financially ruining.
When confronted with the price of a new luxury or sports car, a used exotic supercar for half the original price might seem pretty tempting. Heck, why not spring for an older, low-kilometre Ferrari instead of newer Corvette? It’s what you’ve always wanted, right?
Well, owning a used 15-year-old Ferrari is not to be confused with owning a used 15-year-old Toyota Camry, and people are in for a rude awakening if they think it is the same.
Lance Hedrick, owner of Hedrick Motiv Werks near the 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 fixing and maintaining supercars, Hedrick is fully aware of what kind 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 either overlook, or simply don’t expect. The fact is that although a car might seem like a deal at half its original sticker, parts and labour for maintenance and repairs are still at full price or even greater. 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 good deal. As such, Hedrick said he earns 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 reach 20 times that of a typical vehicle driven the same distance. Of course, supercars generally don’t travel as far, so the cost per kilometre is likely skewed higher.
Surfing the Internet reveals numerous sources that estimate $20,000 (U.S.) or more per year, depending on the vehicle.
“People wanting to get into these cars a lot of times don’t know anything about the mechanical attributes of them,” Hedrick said. “They don’t have buckets full of money, but everybody 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 clients fly in on private jets and don’t seem to care much about paying $2,000 or more for an oil change for their Ferrari, it’s a near-vertical learning curve for the first-time buyer of a used supercar.
These machines are often so finely tuned and fragile, even the slightest mishap during an oil change or lube job can result in a four-figure repair that might go undetected and unreported. Hedrick said it was commonplace to find damage on the underbody from careless jacking of the vehicle, or just “laziness” from a previous mechanic.
Bent tubing and cracked welds that allow moisture into secure areas are two of the most common issues Hedrick said he encounters when working underneath one of these vehicles. “You wouldn’t believe what I see. And most of it is caused by people trying to work on the car that don’t understand the car.”
Hedrick also warned potential supercar buyers against the fallacy that low kilometres plus low price equals a great deal. High-performance vehicles need to stretch their legs, breathe and roar. It’s good for the engine, and for longevity.
“Rubber deteriorates, so do the hoses, belts, and the metal,” Hedrick said. “You’re not ever bringing the engine up the temperature to percolate the moisture out, so it starts to develop corrosion.”
Hedrick said it is not unusual for homeowners in his area of the U.S. to have a supercar “trophy” stashed in their garage as more of a status symbol or showpiece than to drive.
“I had one customer who maintained his car, but he never really drove it, which is the worst thing you can do,” he said. “Lack of use is definitely something to look out for if you are shopping for one of these vehicles.”
Hedrick used the example of a brake rotor accumulating a fine layer of rust after a wash or rain as to why regular use helps to keep the engine parts clean and operations smooth. “Amplify that buildup by 10 times inside of a motor and you can be talking about big time repair costs even though the car was never even used,” he said.
“The problems that never really had a chance to come to the surface, that are inherently there in the car, you’re going to end up bearing the whole brunt of it being the second owner of a low-mileage car.”
If you’re still brave enough to spend your money on a used supercar, Hedrick said the No. 1 rule, aside from researching common problems and maintenance costs, is to make sure all maintenance records are available, accurate and well organized.
“It’s just like buying an airplane,” he said. “You’re going to need those records because the maintenance of these vehicles is some of the biggest expense. If you can’t verify the maintenance records, the car itself doesn’t really have that much value.”