Buying a New (to You) Car – Make Your Car Last

I had a moment of sheer bliss today. Something happened that made me so indescribably joyful that I had to stop and take pictures to document the monumental occasion. This probably makes me abnormal and could be used as evidence against me to prove that I’m not quite all there upstairs, but I’ll tell you anyway.

make your car last

My car hit the 200,000 mile mark! Yep. That is what caused me to almost run off the road in merriment.

I’ll tell you why I think this is so fantastic. Driving old cars saves you big money. I paid $3,200 in cash for this car 5 years ago – and this is by far the most expensive car I’ve ever purchased. There is a myth that has brainwashed the mind of many a consumer that I just can’t abide any longer. That fable is that good cars just can’t be had for under $10,000. What a bunch of hooey!

Edmunds.com has a great writeup on finding a cheap and reliable vehicle. Check that out here. They have a lot of great pointers on finding the right car and on how to take care of your vintage ride. I will admit to you that going this route won’t always be easy. There will certainly be times you’ll have to beg for a ride to work from a friend or your significant other. You’ll find yourself scouring message boards for tips on how to solve a problem that has arisen and you will definitely need to find a good mechanic nearby (check out yelp.com and kudzu.com).

I am also here to tell you though that it is all worth it. Not having a car payment gives you so much peace of mind and having to change an O2 sensor or learning how to change your own brakes (which by the way will save you tons) really isn’t that big of a deal, even for the non mechanically inclined.

How can you protect yourself though? How can you make sure that you don’t throw away a few thousand on a lemon?

First, make sure you research the breed. Certain brands are just way more reliable than others. For instance, I wouldn’t buy a Daewoo because of reliability concerns, along with the fact that the company closed their doors in 2004, making parts more difficult to come by. Stick to a brand with a good track record and a plethora of available parts.

Second, vehicles with more features and more complex mechanical systems can make even simple repairs much more costly. The spark plugs in my car can be changed in about two minutes but you almost need a doctorate in machinery to replace them in my wife’s car. While a built in navigation system might look really neat right now, it will be out of date in no time and cost some serious money to repair when it breaks down. Take a look at Consumer Reports reliability ratings to find out which cars will cost you the least in repairs over time. Some of the most expensive vehicles to repair are luxury vehicles, and since they cost you more initially anyway, they should probably be out of the running.

Thirdly, don’t buy without getting your car checked out by a mechanic that you trust. Most mechanics will charge you an hourly rate to give that ride a thorough inspection. Since I have given my mechanic a fair amount of business through the years he gives me a 10-15 minute lookover for free. His inspection has already saved me from purchasing a possible flood car.

You should take ALL costs into consideration when buying a car. With my old school Altima I saved at my initial purchase and I continue to save every month on insurance and every year on my tax bill. Sure my repair bills are higher than the dude with a flashy new ride, but hundreds of dollars stay in MY pocket every month!

64 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    A good start. I’ve had an Astro van for 14 years. Bought it with 33k – now has 327,000+ and still has the original engine and transmission.

    It’s hard to resist the new bells & whistles. The payoff is no car payment on it for 7 years!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Gotta love no car payment for 7 whole years. What a great feeling.

      Reply

  2. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    I have a ’97 Toyota Camry we bought in ’99 with over 209,000 miles. I’ve spent around $700.00 total in repair bills. We traded in a ’86 Honda Civic with over 225,000 miles. I am now looking to trade in my ’97 Toyota for a 2011 Honda CRV or Toyota Rav (depending on which one is the better buy).

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Good luck Steve. Both of those cars get great reviews from Consumer Reports. Check out Truecar.com to see how good of a deal you can get.

      Reply

  3. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    I have 2 vehicles and a motorcycle. The two vehicles are a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria with 160,000 miles, a 1998 Ford F150 with 154,000 miles and the motorcycle is a Kawasaki Vulcan 800 with 48,000 miles. I paid $3,500.00 for the Crown Victoria, $2,100.00 for the F150 and $2,000.00 for the Vulcan. I purchased each of them only after completing an exhaustive search for exactly what I wanted at the price that I wanted. I spent 1 week looking for the Crown Victoria, although admittedly, I could’ve found a better deal, but I was without a car at the time. I spent 8 weeks, yes, 8 weeks, looking for the F150 and almost 2 years, yes, 2 years, looking for the motorcycle.

    I learned my lesson about vehicles only after spending about $8,000.00 at the age of 19 to buy my first car, which was a 1999 Dodge Neon. I paid way too much, had an interest rate of way too much and ran the car straight into the ground within a few years. I, like many people at that young age, thought you could only get a great vehicle if you spent thousands of dollars on it.

    Today, at 30 years old, I try my hardest to talk people out of spending thousands of dollars on a vehicle. I see people who are well below my income level spending 7, 8, 9 and 10 thousand dollars on a vehicle. I see people well below my income level paying as much as $450.00 a month for their vehicle.

    I love seeing people, like yourself, making wise vehicle purchasing decisions. The only advice I would want to suggest to you is to get rid of the mechanic. If you think you’re saving hundreds of dollars now, by buying wisely, you’ll be blown away at the money you save when you get rid of the mechanic and his overinflated service and parts prices. On my pick-up, I recently replaced the spark plugs, plug wires, distributer, serpentine belt, idler pulley and the windshield wiper motor (at different times over a few months). Combined, the parts cost me $180.00. To prove a point to my coworker, I called her mechanic and asked for a quote for that work. It would have cost me $1,200.00 (initial unseen estimate) if I had a mechanic do it.

    Buy a Chilton manual for your vehicle and a basic tool set. As time goes on, you’ll buy more specific tools for specific jobs. Even buying the tools, in the long run, you’ll save thousands of dollars.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Thanks for the advice Matthew. I’ve actually been doing more and more work on my car. I’m not very mechanically inclined but I have friends that have helped me learn how to change the spark plugs and brakes. Doing some of those things yourself really can save you thousands of dollars. I hope to learn how to do more and more to keep my car in shape and save dough through the years.

      Reply

    • Avatar
      March 29, 2013

      Where did you find the F150? I am looking to purchase an used old truck that will work for 3-5 years. And I want to pay as less as possible.

      I moved in US at 21 and got carried away with the american dream. Made the mistake to purchase a Mercedes S class for well over $100K and realized after few days that there is no fulfillment in having an expensive car. Sold it and purchased a used Infiniti G35 with 57k miles for $12,000 that currently has 190K miles on and runs very good.

      Reply

      • Avatar
        March 29, 2013

        Flavius, our mistakes can be the greatest lessons. Sounds like you have learned yours. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

        Reply

  4. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    I bought my new(to me) truck ten years ago, and it’s served me well. I passed the 200K milestone a few months ago and too, had to snap a pic for nostalgia. It’s transmission(auto) is starting to slip and I haven’t yet looked into it how much a repair /replace will cost, or if worth it. I’ve done ~95% of the repairs myself and agree with you that it saves you $$$!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Good luck with that transmission Walter. Congrats on passing the 200k mark as well.

      Reply

  5. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    I am driving a 2000 Ford Escort with 210,000 miles. I bought this car new in 2002 it had not sold be cause it has no power anything. It has a basic radio and a cassett player. I have had very few repairs made. This week I had to have the clamps that attach to the battery replaced, a few months ago I had to have a vacum hose replaced. Every minor repair has been under $300. I paid 10,000 for the car brand new. I average 42 mpg on a road trip and 36 around town. I will have to have the clutch replaced sometime in the future according to the service manager at Vernie Jones Ford in Jasper. I take my car to them for service because as a woman other places try to rip me off.

    Reply

  6. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Right on! I have a similar story about my ’91 Honda CRX.. I paid $2300 for it 3 years ago, and it is THE most fun, highest MPG car I’ve ever owned, and LOOKS NICE, too. 50mpg and handles like a Porsche.

    I’m 53, and have never bought a new car. Doubt I ever will.

    Well-written article!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Thanks Kevin. How great to spend that little on a car that gets that much MPG! I want my next car to be better on that front.

      Reply

  7. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    I happen to have 258361 miles on my 1999 mazda b3000 truck. I couldn’t agree more with your article. I had a check engine light come on 3 years ago and was joking with my mechanic about a new engine. As it turned out having my engine rebuilt was just barely $1000 with a 3 year unlimited mile warranty. I figured that was about 3 new car payments after labor to take the engine out and put it back in. I ended up with a new 1999 mazda truck that had all my favorite radio stations and the seat and steering wheel just how I like it.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Thanks for the comment Stephen. Feels great having that old reliable truck on the road still, doesn’t it?

      Reply

  8. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Our family currently has an 02 Honda minivan with 138000 a 1998 Ranger pickup with 168000. I’m in the trucking business i own a 1999 Freightliner with 1,3000,000. Three years back during the worst part of the gas crunch i bought a 1998 Expedition for $1000.00 it had 230,000 miles on it sold it six months ago for $2500.00. Keep driving that Nissan at 200,000 it isn’t even broke in yet.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Eddie. That is awesome! One of my other favorite things about buying cars that old is that you lose almost nothing to depreciation, and as you have pointed out, you can even make money if you buy the right car at the right price. Well done.

      Reply

  9. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    My Toyota Camry (1998) has almost 230,000 miles on it. I bought it used over 8 years ago. I wouldn’t trade her for anything. I have been blessed with a wonderful mechanic who saves me a ton of money and keeps the ol’ girl running. She won’t win awards for the best looking car on the lot, but she is wonderful to me!! :) Congrats on your 200,000 miles.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Those old Camry’s are amazing. My first car was an 89 Camry and I loved it. I think I would still have it today if it hadn’t been in an accident. Way to go Pam.

      Reply

  10. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    I have 2 vehicles. My 1991 Toyota Camry has 260,000 miles. It is in the Garage getting a timing belt, but will be back on the road soon! My Jeep has 211,000. My previous jeeps went to 250 before I traded them in so I never got to see how far they did go.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      You obviously know what you are doing Gwenn. Great job.

      Reply

  11. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    My 98 Maxima with over 250,000 miles is still going strong. I’ve done the recommended maintenance since buying it new off the dealer lot and have never really had to worry about whether it would start or get me where I need to go. My criteria for replacing it is whether the annual maintenance costs are less than the annual total of car payment. I thought that dashboard design looked familiar.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Not a bad criteria Rich. Thanks for your comment and congrats on your Maxima’s beastly performance.

      Reply

  12. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Find a great mechanic who likes yout ideal and that it will increase his income.
    My vehicles (bought new) and current mileage
    1977 El Camino……………. 170,000
    1999 Lexus GS 400…………273,000 I stilldrive it
    2001 toyota 4-runner…….310,000 I still drive it
    2001 Land Rover………….. 60,000 traded to a f-150 what a joke 2006 $3, 000 sparkplug change so got rid of it back to Toyota)
    2001 Ford F 250 4dr 4×4 diesel…….90,000 (engine started backfiring)
    2006 Ford F-150 4dr 4×4……98,000 ($3,000 V-8 sparkplug change quote)
    2007 Chev Tahoe…………140,000 i still drive it
    2012 GMC Denanli………….4,000

    Reply

  13. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    I own a 1998 Toyota Corolla that I bought as a 3 year old used car. Though I do not have 200,000 on it yet, I am striving for that goal and beyond. It has only 140,000 due to 2 things: I only live 4 miles from work and I try to ride a bicycle to work when I can in good weather to save on gas, parking and to attempt to live a little healthier. This car has only cost me some basic maintenance, a new set of brakes and new struts and wheel bearings in the front end due to an accident — more the driver’s fault than that of the car. Because I live in a cold climate it shows some wear, but I religiously maintain the engine and mechanics.

    Because I don’t have car payments I have been able to do things my contemporaries cannot. Instead of plunking down that monthly check to the bank I have travel the world. It is more important for me to live this precious life than show off to my neighbors — because it really doesn’t matter what they think about my ride.

    When my wife needed a her first car we bought her a 2004 Avalon that I found in great shape and only 55,100 miles — your true little-old-lady car. It was loaded and this luxury car was more than I normally would have spent on a used car ($11,000), but it was right at what Edmunds valued it. This car originally sold for over $34,000. My wife now drives a luxury vehicle and I taught my daughters that “older” and “used” do not mean “worn out” or “buying someone else’s problem”. What they learned is you be patient, follow the advice of Joel the blogger above, and you get a deal that will save you money and give you years of use.

    I know people who MUST get a new car every three or 4 years. Doing so depletes their wallet big time. And don’t get me started on leases (my 1998 was a 3 year lease car). That is fine for those folks. They have the options of buying and trading in or leasing and if they understand the damage it does to their finances then that is their informed choice. And it will give me options for when I either really need a newer car or some tragic accident befalls my beloved Corolla. Until then I drive for only the cost of the gas, oil, insurance and license plates.

    I have 2 daughters, the older one will likely inherit the Corolla with the proviso that she takes care of it and drives it until the wheels fall off. If she must get a newer car because she can’t be seen in an old beater, then she’ll have to pay for all of it out of her own pocket.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Jeff. It looks as though you and I are on the same page. I live very close to work and try to carpool and am also looking at biking to work in the near future. Great exercise and great on the wallet.

      I also love your point on being able to do other things because you aren’t throwing money away on a car payment every month. My goal is to be able to save more and spend money on the things that I love (like travel and art) because I spend so much less on driving expenses.

      And my first car was a 1989 Camry. It was absolutely amazing. What a great first car for her.

      Reply

  14. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Just bought a 1989 Volvo for $1000. It runs fine and I’ve been slowly replacing things on it. In my opinion, this year and type of car have at least 3 benefits:
    1. It has a high safety rating and solid construction
    2. Easy to work on (there are no computer parts on this car)
    3. Even though it’s a Swedish car, parts are not hard to find.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      I love it. Can’t beat a reliable car for $1,000.

      Reply

  15. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    My ’94 Accord has more than 310,000 miles on it!! I bought it used in ’95 [with 18k miles on it], and she’s been very good to me!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Way to go Angela! You should be very proud of that.

      Reply

  16. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Joel,
    First, congratulations!
    B, I’m curious on how you are saving on insurance every month. I have a 1995 Maxima and my insurance is always going up, not down. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s still more, not less, so I’d love to know how to change that.
    Great job, though. I paid more than you did for mine – but it’s served me fairly well, too. I’m somewhere around 260,000 miles. Had a 240sx before the Maxima and it was a great car – no major repairs in 9 years.
    Glad Clark pointed out your blog!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Hey Carol. So what I meant by saving on insurance every month is that I don’t have full coverage anymore. Cutting down to liability coverage only saves me big money on my insurance costs. When my last insurer tried to raise my rates in a big way though, I shopped around and found one that was higher in customer satisfaction according to Consumer Reports and they had a much lower rate. If your insurer is charging too much it might be time for you to check out the competition.

      Reply

  17. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Clark… I have 2003 Ford Taurus with 259,000 miles & still going.

    Reply

  18. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Congrats! I’m with you on this. My 1995 first generation Neon has over 566,666 miles on it. Still going strong in all aspects. Notified the folks at Dodge. They gave a pewter license plate frame which says ” 0ver 400,000 miles club

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Jerry. That is out of this world. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to still be driving my Altima 40-50 years from now to reach that level. Congratulations. That is incredibly impressive.

      Reply

  19. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Congrats! I’m with you on this one. My first generation Neon as over 566,666 miles on it and still going strong.

    Reply

  20. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    My Ford Explorer has 244,000 now! Bought it new in November 2002 (it’s 2003 model). Now, the only money I spend on it is to keep it rolling along. Most of the electronics still work. The only thing I haven’t fixed is the speed control; figure I’d rather use the $300 to change the oil, check the tires, etc. All this and we live in the middle of nowhere, off of bumpy, rutted roads where it’s VERY dusty. Yay for no car payments right now!!!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      I agree Fran. I avoid some of those minor repairs as well to save a few bucks. Good job.

      Reply

  21. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Nissan products live long…my 13-yr-old Infiniti QX4 (nissan pathfinder with leather) has 226,000 with no signs of stopping.

    You and Clark have inspired to keep rolling until the wheels fall off.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Way to go Nancy. Keep driving that pathfinder and saving that dough.

      Reply

  22. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Congratulations Joel! And no, you are not the only one that has taken pictures of your odometer :) When I went over 100,000 miles in my first car I took pics too…still have them somewhere in all the stored pictures. When I went over 200,000 miles in it, it was in the middle of the night in a blinding snowstorm. I couldn’t take pictures but my coworkers driving with me and I whooped and hollared when it went over. That car’s odometer dtopped working at 265k and I know I drove for at least 50k more in it. That was my first Corolla. The Corolla I have now just went over 300k too. At 250k, I took it to my mechanic and told him to go over her with a fine tooth comb and make sure she would get me another 250k. She is running like a top and I have no doubt that I will see that 500k. Keep going with your car! It sounds like it’s just as much a trooper as mine is!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Thanks Sandy. It was fun to be able to celebrate that moment with one of my co-workers. I hope my Altima has it in her to hit 300k too!

      Reply

  23. Avatar
    February 02, 2013

    Great going! Here is a good one for you and clark-we have a 21 yr(1992) old dodge caravan that needs replacing, it has served us well for the 13+ yrs we have owned it, and has over 257,000 miles on it. We also have a 18 yr(1995) old toyota corrola with over 200,000 miles on it, also needing replacement now as it has been a great car. Our mechanic likes how we have kept these in great shape, and he was the one who said our van should be replaced because, even though he likes the money, he doesn’t want to see us wasting good money. And he will check out anything we are want to buy.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Sounds like you have a good mechanic Mary. Great job on keeping your cars so long.

      Reply

  24. Avatar
    February 03, 2013

    Love it! I have a ’97 Toyota 4 Runner that I bought nine years ago used with 70,000 miles on it. It is pushing 200,000 miles now. Other than regular scheduled maintenance, I think we replaced the starter and some sensor. Nine years without car payments has been nice!

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Wow. 9 years without car payments is amazing. Congratulations Ann.

      Reply

  25. Avatar
    February 03, 2013

    Congratulations, Joel. Your message warmed my heart. I am driving a 1993 Nissan 240 SX. As my mechanic told me, it is just getting broken in at 120,ooo, and they are still racing them at Road Atlanta. It has been a good reliable car. It was purchased at age 5 for less than $10,000.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      February 04, 2013

      Thanks Cheryl. Keep it up. You can definitely reach the 200k mark in your 240 SX.

      Reply

  26. Avatar
    March 02, 2013

    Great job Joel, I also love not having car payments, and don’t want them ever again if possible, my cars don’t have high mileage but this is because I work from home, and rarely have to drive any distance, Have a 2001 Chevy Suburban(have 3 kids and a camper, also paid cash) only 137,000 and a 2001 Honda Civic, 134,000 I worked in a mechanics shop when I teenager and I have always done all my work myself so I know how much can be saved, as I was the one doing the work and charging when I was a teenager.. Keep going on your Altima..

    Reply

  27. Avatar
    March 02, 2013

    Thanks Jason. I wish I knew how to work on my car to the extent that you do but I’m getting there little by little. And I agree with you that not having car payments ever again would be awesome.

    Reply

  28. Avatar
    May 09, 2013

    We did a little dance when we say my 2006 Saturn roll over to 100,000 miles. Last March made 2 years with no car payment and I am hoping to drive this car until the wheels fall off or my student loans are paid off whichever happens last.

    Reply

  29. Avatar
    May 10, 2013

    Bryan, I’m pretty sure that dancing is the right thing to do in that moment. Most people freak out and start to think about a new car. You dance though – and I give you major props for that sir. And doesn’t no car payments feel SO good!?

    Reply

  30. Avatar
    May 10, 2013

    Joel, would you feel safe driving kids or wife around in a car where you had changed the brakes yourself? That’s kind of where I draw the line – I change my own oil and fluids, but beyond that I leave it to the experts.

    Reply

  31. Avatar
    May 10, 2013

    Hey LG, I certainly would. But only because I’ve been taught by people who know what they are doing. It is actually a pretty basic maneuver. You tube how to videos, message boards, and Hayne’s manuals are all pretty great references for basic car maintenance. But for the first time, do it with someone who knows what they are doing.

    Reply

  32. Avatar
    February 05, 2014

    I always buy new. You can get the latest features. You have a better warranty. It really depends on how you use the vehicle, for instance, I wouldn’t purchase a new truck. I just don’t trust other people, I don’t want their used stuff because a) most people don’t know how to drive b) most people don’t treat their vehicles right or do necessary maintenance as needed. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but I enjoy having peace of mind when it comes to warranties and safety, I’d rather pay more now and have less regret later.

    Reply

  33. Avatar
    August 22, 2014

    I like taking the $200+ I would be paying in car payments and putting it into a separate savings account. This is my new (actually new to me) car account. When my car dies, I have money to buy another car and I can start all over again. The longer the car lasts the better car I can get and I don’t have to worry about payments and I still get nice cars.
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