May 20, 2008
Let's hear it for nerdmobiles!

From the "You never know what may come back into style" department, the high cost of gasoline is making Geos and Hyundais the new hot cars.

Early-1990s econoboxes such as Ford Festiva, Hyundai Excel and Geo Metro -- once the punch line of jokes -- have seen their used car prices climb from giveaway levels as low as $1,100 a few months ago to upward of $6,000 today, Kelley Blue Book says.

"Remember that nerds will rule the world someday," says Phil Skinner, collector car market editor for KBB, the popular used car price-tracking service.

He says prices have risen up to 30% for the low-end 15-year-old jalopies.

As AAA pegged gas prices Wednesday at a record $3.758 a gallon nationwide, some of those old tin cans get gas mileage equal to today's best and pricey hybrids.

A 1993 Geo Metro XFI, a subcompact imported by General Motors, is EPA-rated at a 46 miles per gallon average. That's the same as a 2008 Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid, which starts at $21,500.

Festiva, Excel and the others get mid-30s mpg or better on the highway. Enviable gas mileage was made possible by smaller engines: The Metro had three cylinders.

The cars were also lighter than today's models, sometimes lacking air bags and other safety features that add weight.

Experts advise taking the safety trade-off into consideration.

"What is your life worth for that extra 10 miles per gallon?" asks Jon Linkov, managing editor for autos for Consumer Reports.

OK, the safety issue is a valid concern, but it's not something that should necessarily hang you up about getting a smaller car, perhaps as a second vehicle for running errands and whatnot. One way to look at it is that a reason why smaller cars are more dangerous is the preponderance of bigass gas guzzlers. If they start to go extinct as gas prices climb, the smaller cars will be in less peril from them. The roads may look a lot different in five or ten years' time.

One more thing: Though the story doesn't mention it, the reverse is true for SUVs. Better keep those Expeditions and Suburbans in good running condition, because right now at least you're not going to get your money back when you trade them in.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 20, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Gremlins and Yugos are too pricy for me.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on May 20, 2008 1:28 PM