Buyer’s Guide: 2004-2009 Mazda3

Mazda3 Sport

I’ve been trotting around in a first generation Mazda3 for long enough to know that I needed to make this guide. A review of the very same car can be found here. Just as well, some Canadians outside of Quebec and Ontario don’t even know what this car is – looking at you, Vancouver. If you want an incredibly fun-to-drive, economical, practical, and well-built car for a great price, look no further.

The 2004-2009 Mazda3, much like the current model, came with a choice of two body styles and two engines: a 4-door sedan and a 5-door hatchback and a 2.0L MZR 4-cylinder and the 2.3L variant, respectively. The 2.0L was only available in the sedan until 2008 when it became available on both models. Transmissions included a delightful 5-speed manual and a piggish but smooth 4-speed automatic (a 5-speed auto was later made available on the 2.3L models). Unlike much of its competition at the time, the Mazda3 was offered with such luxuries as xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic climate control, options you should look out for when shopping for this car. They are worth the extra coin. Air conditioning, however, was not standard, so make sure to check that the car is equipped with it if you want it.

If you stick to later models, namely 2007 and up, common issues are few and far in between. Earlier models suffer from notorious rust issues and weak paint. The paint is so thin, that an extended highway drive would leave the car littered with paint chips. If you live in a snowy climate where road salt is used, make sure to go over the body and suspension pieces with a visual fine-toothed comb before committing.

Mazda3 Sedan
Other potential issues include engine mounts that can crack or break prematurely. Make sure the engine is running smoothly at idle and at speed when testing. These engines are extremely smooth at idle, don’t accept any worse. Some owners also have had complaints about excessive rear brake wear on the factory setup, but most used copies will have had their brakes changed to something else by now.

Things that you shouldn’t be too worried about: the interior was almost designed to be scratched. It’s no secret that some of the interior materials are a bit cheap, and with cheapness comes scratching and scuffing. Don’t let what seems to be major interior wear deter you from an otherwise clean copy. If the seats are still in good shape, chances are the rest of the interior is as good as it’s going to get. Also, the 4-speed automatic suffers from the same “lurch into 1st” problem that most econoboxes of yesteryear have. This is simply characteristic of the transmission, and should not usually indicate trouble.

If your prospective 3 has survived the scrutiny of the items on this list, chances are you will be in for a very enjoyable ownership experience, both from a driving standpoint and a value one. The first generation Mazda3 was built in Japan and oozes of build quality no matter how much some of the interior materials might suggest otherwise.

Want to Buy a Motorcycle? How to Choose One that is Right for You

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You may have noticed that this blog has been overrun by machines with four wheels. It’s important to acknowledge an interest in our 2-wheeled brethren every so often, though. What do you need to ride a motorcycle? Which one is right for you?

The first consideration anyone has to take when getting into bikes is taking lessons. In the time of yesteryear, people had motorcycle licenses attached to their regular drivers licenses despite having no instruction on top of a bike. Luckily, someone got smart and made lessons mandatory in most places, and with good reason. You may think of motorcycling to be nothing more than cycling with a big engine and higher speeds, but it is so much more. There are many regulations and safety procedures to learn, and you must before you go out on the road.

Once you have received adequate instruction, it’s time to select your poison. All beginners need to start with a less powerful motorcycle. Generally speaking, you will want to stick to something no more than 600cc and not too heavy. Another consideration you have to make is what kind of riding you want to do. If you just like wind in your hair and scenery going by in relative comfort, pick up a cruising bike. If you like ZZ Top impersonations, grab the nearest high-handlebar Harley-Davidson. If you want to feel “grounded to the ground”, a sportbike is in the cards for you. Just like with cars, there is variety to be had and different flavours within each.

ducati

Buying a used motorbike for your first is always a good choice given that it will probably hit the ground whether it falls over in the garage or worse. The most important thing to look for is if you can place both of your feet on the ground comfortably. If you can’t, the bike is too tall for you. Also, if you will be using the bike for any kind of commuting, consider a more upright, standard bike versus a sportbike for comfort.

Things to look for when buying used include looking for cosmetic damage and rust. Unlike cars, the locations of the damage can indicate what kind of accidents the bike has sustained very well. If the foot pegs are more worn on the bottoms than the tops, the previous owner may have turned too sharply with it on one or more occasions. The condition of the seat can also indicate how harshly the bike was treated.  Aftermarket parts are very common with sportbikes; check to see if stuff like clutch levers and handlebar grips have been modified (it might be because they broke!). Check the transmission and engine seals for oil seepage and leaks. The condition of the drive chain is important; a grimy and loose chain can indicate poor maintenance and a clean and tight chain is a good thing.

After you cover those big areas, you’re ready to spend some money on a good Snell-rated helmet, gloves, boots/shoes, rain suit (flameproof is nice too), and maybe some good eyewear. Once you get suited up and you have your bike of choice, choose a nice day and go for a ride!

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Finding the Car You Love: Part II

In my first blog post on how to shop for a good used, or nearly new car, I covered basic questions you need to ask yourself in order to get a vehicle you really love. With a recent survey done for Kijiji finding that only about 1/4 of all car owners really love their ride, it is essential to do your homework and find just the right car.

To recap, the main things you need to consider when searching for your perfect vehicle are:
1. Figure out what type of vehicle you need – do you need a car, van, SUV or truck?
2. Narrow down the type of vehicle and features by using a powerful auto site, like Kijiji. With over 350,000 different vehicles online at any given time, this is a great resource for shopping and researching.
3. Look for a vehicle sold by a private seller or a car dealership. Both have merits but you need to decide in advance before you start shopping.

Once you have gone through these and the other processes, outlined in my previous blog, it is time to get really serious and start looking at vehicles first hand.

If you are shopping at a dealership, you need to ask for specific things in order to make sure the vehicle is represented properly. The first is a Used Vehicle Information Package that will include a report on the history of the car, insurance claims, mileage report, repair history and warranty work done on the car. CarProof is a service that most dealerships subscribe to and this report should be free to any shopper. A search done by CarProof will highlight when the vehicle was placed into service, the mileage recorded throughout its lifetime, any major repairs that have been done and government inspections. If the dealership does not offer this service, the potential buyer can get it done but there is a fee, so try and get it included with the car. In provinces where insurance companies provide any claims history, it is great idea to get this provided to you as well. The mileage on the car should be cross-referenced with the CarProof report to make sure there are no inconsistencies. Also ask for the vehicle identification number (VIN) to cross-reference with the CarProof report and this number will also be helpful if you are looking for the vehicles warranty repairs.

Car Key_Ready Set Drive

When you take the car for a test drive, make sure the car is cold. A cold car will typically highlight any problems with the car, like a rough idle, hard shifting transmission or noises. Once the car warms up, pay attention to any leaks that might be visible underneath the car. If you intend to drive the car in the city or on the highway every day, it is vital to experience the test drive in these situations. When driving, test all the systems in the car to make sure they are working properly and notice any noises, vibrations or inconsistencies. Try the brakes under hard stopping and see if the steering wheel pulls to one side, also accelerate quickly to feel if the engine is producing enough power.

If the buyer is really serious about purchasing a vehicle, after the test drive, it is vital to have the car inspected by a third party certified mechanic. The buyer should pay for this report and the report should only be shown to the buyer. This will give you piece of mind and maybe a bit of negotiating room if there are a few small items that need to be fixed.

If you are buying from an individual you will need to collect the CarProof report yourself, get the mileage cross-referenced and search any insurance or warranty work on your own.

Before you meet anyone for a test drive, make sure to bring a friend or family member along and meet the potential seller in public area like a grocery store parking lot – safety is key.

The same process should be followed on the test drive to make sure the car is working properly. If you like the car then it is time to schedule a third party inspection. Once again, the buyer should pay for this report and the report should only be shown to the buyer.

If you have done your homework and searched for the correct type of car with just the right features at Kijiji, the test drive and inspection is all that is needed to make sure you have a vehicle you love. Don’t be like three quarters of the public, driving a car they don’t love, get something that fits your exact needs. Follow these simple steps to ensure it is done properly.

Want more information? Watch my interview on The Rush Vancouver to learn more tips on buying a car online and to see my top 5 picks for the best used cars that offer the most value.

*This post was contributed by our friend Zack Spencer of Motomouth.ca

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Finding the Car You Love: Part I

I recently came across an interesting statistic that roughly three quarters of Canadians don’t love the current vehicle they are driving. The Car-Buying Survey, done for Kijiji by Leger, found that only 27% of those surveyed love their current car. The bigger question is how did almost three out of four Canadian shoppers end up in a vehicle that they don’t really love? As an expert auto reviewer, who hosted an open-line radio show for over six years, I can tell you that most buyers are overwhelmed when shopping for a vehicle and they don’t even know where to start. I would regularly get calls and emails from shoppers who didn’t even know where to begin or who were intimidated by the experience. My advice has been the same and it works for every type of vehicle and price.

The buyer first needs to decide what type of vehicle they really need. I mention “really” because we often get caught up in what we “want” versus what we really need. For example, if a family with three children was looking for a vehicle, the best option would be a minivan or larger SUV, not a sedan. Taking kids and all their stuff to different activities needs room, so don’t think that a smaller sedan will do the trick. It won’t. So, you need to decide on the type and size of vehicle you need. Will it be a car, van, SUV or truck?

Once you have decided on the type of vehicle, you then need to decide on the price. This is another reality check. Often a good way to save money is buying a near-new vehicle. The upside to buying a used vehicle is the original owner has absorbed the initial, rapid depreciation. Buying a vehicle that is a few years old doesn’t need to be scary; in fact it can be a good financial decision.

Cars Lined Up

The best place to shop is online, were the buyer can compare similar vehicles to get a good idea of price, features and availability. For example, Kijiji is Canada’s largest automotive site and it has unmatched access to vehicle inventory. By visiting a huge marketplace like Kijiji, potential buyers can narrow down search criteria to find the kind of vehicle they are looking for and searching across different areas in their geographical area. For rare, or harder to find vehicles, looking farther afield is easy when it is done online.

The great thing about buying a nearly new vehicle online is that shoppers will see cars for sale by individuals and dealerships. Both have merits but buying a car from a dealership can often be a good idea, as a used vehicle often will qualify for a Certified Pre-Owned Warranty, or CPO. What this does is extend the vehicles initial warranty for a period of up to six years. So, if you are looking at four-year-old cars, the CPO car will still have two years of warranty included. Typically, cars that qualify for a manufacturer’s CPO program have been inspected and refurbished to a certain standard; they are usually only a few years old and look almost new. Even though a car looks new and has been certified by the dealership you MUST ALWAYS get a third party inspection done on any vehicle you are seriously interested in buying to make sure that everything is working with the car. If a dealership has a used vehicle for sale that is not CPO it never hurts to ask if they will include it.

Buying from individuals also has an advantage. As buyers will often pay a slight premium for a dealership CPO car, an individual will need to be more aggressive on the price to compete. When shopping for the car, the buyer will also get a chance to meet the seller and judge the worthiness of the individual and the vehicle. The same rule applies here; the buyer must always get a third party inspection done on any used vehicle to make sure it is mechanically sound.

Kijiji has a huge inventory of vehicles from individuals and dealerships. So ask yourself are you looking for the best deal or more coverage? The choice is yours.

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The last thing you need to decide is the price you are willing to spend on a vehicle. When you see a car listed online for certain price, how do you know if the asking price is realistic? Once again, doing more online research will help the buyer to spot a good deal or gauge if the vehicle’s asking price is too high.

As I mentioned, searching on Kijiji allows the shopper to look in different geographical areas. If the buyer lives in one city, with just a few search refinements they can compare vehicles and prices in other areas. By broadening your search area you will start to see a pattern of prices and get an idea of what a realistic price is. Be aware that if a vehicles price is too good to be true, it probably is. The market decides the price of used vehicles and by searching a wider area, the market value of a certain car will become evident.

It is a good financial decision to buy a used vehicle, and it can be a lot of fun searching for just the right car.

The more research a buyer does online the better informed they are. Don’t be like the 3 out of 4 Canadians that don’t love their car, search for just the right vehicle to ensure many years of happy driving.

*This post was contributed by our friend Zack Spencer of Motomouth.ca

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Used Reviews: 2008 Audi Q7 3.6

2011-audi-q7Leonardo da Vinci changed the perspectives of many people with his inventions and observations. The Audi Q7 had much the same effect on me. I went in thinking it was a tarted up unreliable goat in a sea of German manufacturers who were starting to get into the SUV business. I left thinking the complete opposite.

The Audi Q7 was their very first attempt at the SUV market, and they got off to a great start. This 7-passenger goliath is comfortable, capable, and built by the hands of a higher power. But, let’s get rid of the elephant in the room. The Q7 is huge at 508 cm long. Without sensor parking aids, parking this thing is difficult at very best. The seating position combined with the general mass of the SUV makes you feel like you are commandeering a tank through an ever so distant field of pavement. However, that extra space lends itself well once you step inside. No one will ever feel cramped sitting in the Q7; there is gobs of space to be had everywhere, including the third row. Going to the racetrack with some buddies and a track car in tow for the weekend? Everyone will feel like kings the whole way there.

Despite it’s tank-like driving impressions, Audi managed to make the Q7 drive very closely to one of its bigger sedans. Steering is light yet communicative, ditto the brakes. The chassis has trouble keeping all of those 2275 kg in check, yet it manages to keep the car stable with a touch of understeer for good measure, not that you would notice in a car of this size. All this accompanied with the much lauded Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Audi, thus, seems to have accomplished a big feat: making a tank that can handle, and I applaud them.

audi q7 interior drivers side

The biggest drawback comes when you put your foot down. The 280 hp 3.6L VR6 unit in this car is great in a TT (stay tuned for that review), but simply isn’t enough for something the mass of nearly two TTs. The engine is smooth and all, but 0-100 comes in at 8.5 seconds. You will have trouble beating Camrys off the line. What’s more, the engine always needs to be churned out to get the thing moving. Fuel economy comes in at 15 L/100km city and 10.3 highway, bad for even something in this class. The bad news ends there, thankfully. The transmission is fantastic and visibility is great, in all directions.

Our tester came equipped with a mind-blowing panoramic moonroof and good looking 20” wheels. There is also enough gadgetry aboard to keep any teenager happy. Audi’s MMI entertainment interface was one of the best at the time, and it is still a good system today. The standard Bose stereo system is pretty good for a stock unit. Heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, blind-spot alert system, the Q7 comes very well equipped.

You may be better off looking for V8 models or diesel models, but the Q7 is a great buy if you are looking at new SUVs such as the Nissan Pathfinder or the Toyota Highlander.

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