February 16, 2018

The Best Cars of 2017

The U.S. News Best Car for the Money awards highlight the cars, trucks, SUVs and minivans that give you the best of both worlds: value and an outstanding ownership experience. Each award winner has the best combination of quality and value in each their respective classes – and with the awards covering 20 different automotive categories, it’s easy to find a winning car that works for you. 

How We Measured Quality

To measure quality, we used data from our car rankings, which have set the standard in unbiased, consumer-focused car shopping advice for nearly ten years. Rather than using just our own tests and opinions to rank cars, our team collects and analyzes every published and credible review of a given model, and combines that analysis with hard safety and reliability data.

How We Measured Value

To measure value, we teamed with the pricing experts at TrueCar to find out the average prices people are paying for new cars right now. We know that value doesn’t just matter the day you buy the car, but every day you own it as well.  To get a long-term picture of how much each car costs to own, we worked with our partners at Vincentric to gather total cost of ownership data, which includes things like the cost of gas, insurance and repairs over five years. We combined the pricing and ownership costs data to get a clear picture of each model’s overall value.

You’ve found the perfect used car, and the price is well below what you expected to pay. It looks like a great deal until you see a notation on the car’s title: Salvage.

A salvage title isn’t necessarily the mark of death for a car deal, but it should raise a red flag in your mind, and it will complicate purchasing and owning the vehicle.

What is a Salvage Title?

Though the definition of what specifically constitutes a salvage (or sometimes called “branded”) title varies by state, it most commonly refers to a vehicle that has been damaged to the point that repairs would cost more than the value of the car. For example, if the insurance company takes possession of the car and sells it to someone who rebuilds it anyway, the title is labeled “salvage”.

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“Buying a car is my least favorite experience in the world. But with Alan’s help, it was good... very good!” said long-time member Tom M. of his recent experience working with Auto Buying Consultant Alan Ramsdell and financing his new car at cPort. “You’re always thinking ‘Am I getting a good deal? Am I not getting a good deal?’ I called Alan and I was very, very impressed.”

Tom joined Government Employees Credit Union in 1976, and he considers himself a happy, long term member. He came to cPort for an Auto Loan after his car died unexpectedly, and worked with Augusta Member Service Representative Theresa Bliss. Tom reached out to Alan at Theresa’s recommendation. They worked together to determine what kind of car he wanted based on cost and resale value. “He gave me the courage to go in. He gave me hints and pointers, and I would highly recommend him to anybody. I got a good deal.”

Tom used a dealer right across the street from the Augusta branch. “I called Theresa, and I told her ‘I’m coming over’ and she said, ‘I’ll have your check ready in 5 minutes!’ I drove over in the new car, I got the check, I brought it back to the dealer and it all went very, very smoothly.”

“I have nothing but good things to say,” says Tom. “I don’t want to do it again too soon! But if I had to, I’d use cPort and I’d use Alan. There’s something to be said about using a local financial institution.”


It goes without saying that the more expensive the car, the worse the gas mileage. Although these results display overall value, they do not compare apples to apples. Especially when you consider that most of the cars that get the worst mpg on the road are a very small percent of the vehicle population and are probably not seeing daily use. Not to mention the fact that they possess some big engines. Take a look at what the U.S. Department of Energy display as getting the best and worst gas mileage.


“Honestly, it’s like I got a two-in-one deal. I got a car loan and lesson about credit,” said new member Janet L. of her recent experience financing her new (to her) car at cPort. Showing off her 2008 Pontiac Torrent, Janet explained, “I’m so grateful to cPort for working with me and helping me to build my credit.”

Originally from Jamaica, Janet moved to Maine in 2009. When she found herself ready to buy a car, looking into financing was a challenge to her because she had not yet developed a credit history. “I’ve always saved my money until I’ve had enough to buy something. I pay my bills on time and try to do things the right way, but I’m still getting to know how credit works,” Janet said.

After she heard about a friend’s experience buying a car with cPort, Janet saw cPort’s car loan rate on the Forest Avenue branch message board and decided to stop in and apply for a car loan. She worked with Anne, a Forest Avenue branch Senior Member Service Representative, who talked her through the application process, helped her determine her budget, and worked with her to approve the loan and get her started toward building credit.

Janet had an idea of what kind of car she wanted, and she picked out a few options at local dealerships. Anne referred Janet to work with Alan Ramsdell of Auto Buying Consultants of Maine to help her get the best deal on her car. “IfI had just shopped myself, without Alan, I wouldn’t have ended up with such a great car,” she said. When she shared with Alan the list of cars that she was looking at, Alan ran a Carfax on one, and discovered that it had previously been in accident and might not be the best option.

When Janet found the Torrent listed, Alan accompanied Janet to the dealership and helped her negotiate the sale. She said, “He didn’t leave the dealership until I drove away in the car!”

Though she is still adjusting to driving on the right side of the road, having learned to drive in the left lane in Jamaica, Janet is thrilled with her new car. She is going places in her new Torrent, and she is on the road to building a great credit history.


DEAL MAKER FOR HIRE (from the Portland Press Herald) 
By Edward D. Murphy,
Staff Writer for the Portland Press herald 

Alan L. Ramsdell approaches buying a car with a slightly different mind set than most people.

"I try to make it fun. As long as we're going down the right road, we can make it pleasant," he said.

In his case, Ramsdell can mix his business with that "pleasure": He runs Auto Buying Consultants of  [paper article]
Alan Ramsdell, left, talks with Kathy and Terry Garnsey as they try to decide between two cars at Quirk Chevrolet in Portland. Ramsdell owns Auto Buying Consultants of Maine, a business that helps car buyers research cars and negotiate prices with dealers.Maine, a car-buying service for consumers.

Ramsdell charges $99 to help consumers find and seal the deal on a new or used car, assuming the prospective buyers have a rough idea of what they want to be driving. If the buyer is unsure of what's the best fit, Ramsdell charges $199 to help find the right models to focus on, with additional research on safety, reliability and other factors.

Ramsdell has no illusions about what's involved in buying, or selling, a car. He's owned two dealerships, managed another and was a consultant for dealerships before starting his service.

"I know the quirks very well," he said. "I've seen both sides of the fence."

Ramsdell said demand for his service is growing, and he has partnered with six credit unions that recommend him to members.

There's nothing magical about his approach, Ramsdell said, but it helps to know how the business runs in order to determine whether a price is fair.

Ramsdell, second from right, looks over figures with the Garnseys and salesman Dave Miles at Quirk Chevrolet. He said he starts by talking about the kind of car a consumer wants. For those who need the most help, he asks how the car will generally be used or how many people will typically ride in the vehicle to determine what type is best, then does the additional research to narrow down the options to a few models.

Most people, he said, will come in with a sense of the type of car they want and often the specific makes and models they're interested in. From there, Ramsdell calls around and gets dealers to provide him their best price. Knowing that he will be shopping around encourages the dealers to come up with a fair price, Ramsdell said. He usually negotiates a trade-in separately so dealers don't offer a rock-bottom price on the new car and make up for it on the trade.

Then he and the customer will do test drives at the dealers with the best offers, Ramsdell said, and he'll nail down the final price, oversee the paperwork and help check out the car when it's picked up by the customer.

"Most people like that I'm there from beginning to end," he said.

Ramsdell said there are a few people who would rather negotiate their own deals, but he said he almost always saves his clients more than the fee -- usually at least a few hundred and sometimes thousands of dollars.

For many of the credit union customers, it's a no-risk deal. For instance, at Port Credit Union, members who finance their new vehicles through the credit union are reimbursed the $99 fee if they hire Ramsdell.
Gene Ardito, president of the credit union, said he went with his sister to look at cars when she hired Ramsdell, so he knows firsthand what Ramsdell does.

"She, I'm sure, would go into a dealership and not get a good deal," Ardito said of his sister. With Ramsdell, "she didn't have to deal with anybody (at the dealerships), and we think she got a heck of a lot more on a trade than she would have gotten."

Ardito said his family was so convinced of the value that a cousin came up from Rhode Island and bought a car in Maine with Ramsdell's help.

There are a lot more resources available to car buyers than there were 10 or 20 years ago, including Web sites devoted to helping a buyer develop a reasonable idea of what they should offer for a car, but Ardito said his credit union reimburses the fee because a lot of that strategy can go out the window when a customer is dealing with a savvy salesperson.

Besides, people often don't have the time to spend hours doing research and gathering offers, and few have experience in buying hundreds of cars.

"If you have the time to do the research and go to different dealers and have those meetings and you're comfortable with that, you can do this yourself," Ardito said. "Most people today don't have the time and the energy to go through that process."

There are other options, however. For instance, AAA of Northern New England provides its members a negotiated price with several dealers in the region, free.

Andy Jensen, the non-profit's auto buying specialist, said AAA has prices negotiated with dealers that meet its standards. Members can enter a make and model at the AAA Web site and get a list of contacts at the dealerships. Once they settle on a specific car, the dealership charges its per-arranged price related to the invoice -- perhaps $100 more or less than the invoice price.

Jensen said the dealers agree to allow AAA to mediate if there's any problem, but the association has never had to do that.

Wally Camp, owner of Rowe dealerships, said he has no problem dealing with a customer's buying representative.

"It will probably educate the customer so they're realistic, and I think that's a positive," he said.

"You can go on the Internet and get a tremendous amount of information about what cars cost and what a trade-in might be worth," he said. "Is there a need for a buying service? Some people seem more comfortable that way."

Ramsdell said he's had few problems with dealers.

"Some of the people used to work for me in the dealerships (he owned Mercedes and Subaru dealerships in Falmouth), and they know that I'm there to save my clients money," he said.

"I don't have anything bad to say about them (the dealerships) -- I was one of them," Ramsdell said, adding with a laugh, "No dealership is going to leave me (anything) in their will."

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at emurphy@pressherald.com