Should You Buy an Orphan Auto Brand?

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Dave Breggin has owned a Hummer for 18 years and doesn't expect to ever drive another brand -- even though General Motors ( GM) killed off the line in 2010.

"Owning my Hummer has been one of the greatest positive aspects of myadult life," says Breggin, who runs a Hummer parts business and heads a Hummer fan club. "I enjoy driving it, I enjoy working on it, I enjoy customizing it and I really enjoy the other owners. We are an extremely eclectic group."

U.S. and foreign automakers have discontinued nearly a dozen brands in recent years, but drivers looking for something unique -- or bargain-priced -- can still find many such "orphan" vehicles for sale.

General Motors' 2009 bankruptcy and its after-effects eliminated the Saab, Saturn, Hummer and Pontiac brands, while the Big Three U.S. automakers killed off only the Plymouth, Oldsmobile and Mercury lines in the past decade or so.

Other brands that have disappeared from the U.S. market in recent years include Isuzu and Suzuki, while DeLorean, Yugo and other brands either quit North America or went under altogether in the 1980s or later.

"People who seek these cars out are often people who want to be a little different, who want to say: 'I like this car -- and there's nothing else like it in my neighborhood,'" says Brian Moody of car-buying site, which has ads for some 60,000 orphan vehicles.

AutoTrader, which accepts listings for cars going back to 1981, has offers for everything from 24,000 Pontiacs to a single 1986 Yugo that's billed as "one of the nicest Yugos on the planet" (not really much of an achievement).

Moody says people willing to take a chance on discontinued lines can find great deals.

For instance, Kelley Blue Book estimates a 2009 Saturn Aura in excellent condition retails for $13,758 -- $3,190 less than a comparable 2009 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ even though the only real difference is that GM still makes Malibus.

Moody says that there's "no rule of thumb" on discounts, though, and some orphan cars actually cost more than their non-orphan cousins.

Consider the Mercury Sable, part of a brand Ford ( F) discontinued in 2011.

KBB says a 2009 Mercury Sable Sedan Premium in excellent condition should sell at a dealership for about $16,368, or $2,636 more than the essentially identical 2009 Ford Taurus SEL Sedan.

But you shouldn't assume an orphan car will someday become a collector's item, Moody says.

"I could see a Mercury Marauder being worth something to collectors at some point because of its low volume, but I can't see a Mercury Grand Marquis ever being worth much," he says.

So, the expert recommends sticking with orphan cars that offer good discounts over "non-orphan" models -- and suggests focusing on vehicles that are no more than five years old.

"Once five years go by, any discount you'll get will really shrink," Moody says. "The price difference between two similar 10-year-old cars is usually pretty small."

He adds that buying an older orphan model increases the risk that you'll fail to find replacement parts, skilled mechanics or someone who'll fulfill any factory warranty that remains on your vehicle.

Many orphan brands' one-time dealers still offer parts, repairs and used cars to the public years after their new-vehicle supplies have run out, though.

Jason Powell of Canada's Springman's Saab says most dealers who sold the quirky Swedish line before its 2011 demise have "have stuck with Saab even if they've also moved on to selling other brands."

He adds that the automaker's former parts subsidiary remains in business and supplies a worldwide network of official servicers, while an investor has bought Saab's assets out of bankruptcy and hopes to restart operations soon.

Plans call for producing an electric version of the well-regarded Saab 9-3, with possible gas-powered cars to follow.

"Saab is coming back," Powell says. "It's just taking some time to get there."

AM General, which made the Hummer before selling the brand to GM (and which still makes the "Humvee" military vehicle the Hummer was based on), is also planning to soon roll out Hummer kit cars.

That makes Hummer lover Breggin very happy.

"There's something addictive about the Hummer and its combination of technology and innovation," he says. "It's unlike anything else."

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