Thoughts on old car vs new car!
April 26, 2018 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Financially speaking, keeping my current car is possibly the best idea, but I'd like a new car for reasons inside. Would you keep an older, still functional car or upgrade to a newer one? If you've made a similar decision, why did you make the decision you did and are you happy you made that decision? And if you haven't had the make the decision, what would you do in theory?

This is prompted by my question about searching for a hatchback. I drive a 2004 Nissan Sentra with 77k miles. It has overall been a steadfast commuter until just last month. It stopped running in the middle of driving at about 45 mph on a fairly busy road. Of course I was in the far left lane. It was towed, the crank shaft sensor was replaced, and I'm back to driving it. But it has definitely shaken my sense of reliable Point A to Point B driving and my sense of safety. I have been entertaining the thoughts of a new car over the past two years anyway (for the fun/enjoyment of driving a new car, sense of reliability/safety), but the recent breakdown has prompted me to be more active in thinking about it. I'm looking at pre-owned cars in the 2013 and newer range.

My thoughts:

I recognize that keeping an old car is financially more responsible at this time. But part of my reasoning of pursuing a new car now is the idea that my current car still has worth as a trade-in, even if it only a couple thousand. Where, in more time, more mileage, too high cost of a repair, or in a accident, that worth becomes whatever scrap metal is worth. That doesn't really outweight the cost of a new car.

I'd also have increased safety in a newer car in case of an accident, and would have more peace of mind in terms of reliable from getting to Point A to Point B.

On the other hand, my car may not be as unreliable as my anxiety is portraying the situation right now... and may run for years. If it maintains the course, it will have one or two reasonable repairs per year plus maintenance... but I know aging parts, etc. always has potential to throw a surprise.

The cars I have looked at and have done test driving have primarily been pre-owned cars in the 2014 to 2016 range, and I'd probably be spending between 13 to 18k depending on make/model. I've been looking at cars in the < 30k mileage range with exceptions made to that rule for older years. I have a rough plan to have a down payment of 5 to 7.5k, finance the rest, and sell my current car privately. I tend to keep cars for long periods of time and would keep any upgrade for at least a decade.
posted by Thirty7Degrees to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is there some reason you can't fit the car payment into your budget right now? Because I have to tell you, keeping a car, what, around ten years until it has a serious safety wobble and then going into a late-model used is not what most people would deem to be extravagant. Feeling safe on the road is important.
posted by praemunire at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, budget! I should have seriously added that into my original post.

I can comfortably fit a car payment into my budget right now, have an acceptable savings/"emergency fund" even once a down payment is placed, and my future yearly income will stay the same as my current income.
posted by Thirty7Degrees at 10:20 AM on April 26, 2018

I had this issue with my vintage 2000 commuter; it stranded me one day. I got that repaired, and it was fine for several months. When it then needed a couple other largish repairs, I decided it was time to get something else. A single expensive repair isn't close to a car payment, so I'd drive it a while longer and see. Set up a sub account and start saving the estimated payment monthly, for a repair fund. When faced with a big repair, you can then decide if it's for repairs or gets added to the down payment. But meanwhile you might shave another 25% of the loan off. New safety features are great, but I never felt unsafe in the old car. You can potentially factor in slightly better gas mileage, but also possibly higher insurance and registration costs into the equation. FWIW I sold my old one with double the mileage for $1200 and probably could've done better had I been more patient, so private sale vs trade in might net you more. Your mileage is quite low for an older car, and if you have maintenance records, people might pay you more than you think.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 10:23 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was stubbornly shopping for a new car, I had some sense of how I might feel safer and would have a greater sense of being able to rely on it- but I didn't realize just how much so.

I drove a 2005 Pontiac Grand Am from 2012 until late 2017 and it was mostly fine. A few medium to large repairs, but no real safety scares - but also no safety features to speak of besides airbags, I guess.

In September 2017 I bought a brand spankin' new 2018 Camry Sport with every bell and whistle and it's pretty awesome. It has safety features I can rely on, like brake assist to stop accidents and a gorgeous, full-screen backup camera. I drove it all through winter and felt much, MUCH safer than I did in my little old Pontiac. The warranty and service that got tacked on to the new car help, too, so I know I likely won't be on the hook for much in the way of repairs for a few years, and Toyotas are generally low maintenance anyway, for a while.

I should mention that I didn't plan to buy a NEW car. I also was looking at 1-3 model years back, but I got a great interest rate on the new car, so much so that once you did the math for the life of the loan, the total cost difference on a 2015 with 10k miles on it was only about $5,000 less than the brand new car. And the difference in features was huge.

I've never had a car payment before (only purchased privately, for cash) so it was a big change- and I didn't want anything longer than a 60 month term, but it's really nice to have a cool new car that rides well, drives well, is safe, and reliable.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:33 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Spring for a professional detailing. As a psychological hack, feeling that you're driving a new car might combat your anxiety and extend your use of your Sentra. If it doesn't work, detailing raises the car's value in a private sale. (Supposedly detailing is a service best performed outside of a dealership; near me, this guy gets great reviews.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:37 AM on April 26, 2018

The best car-purchase decision I ever made was to just buy a new car. I bought a brand new 2014 corolla, put 5k down and financed the rest for something like 1%. I have like a few payments left? I set it on auto-bill and I never think about it. The money or the car. I just drive it. I don't wash it. I don't check the oil. It's got 75k on it now, zero problems, still the original windshield wipers, original tires, original battery, original brakes. I take it to the dealer once every 10k miles, for I don't know - $80? - and they change/top up the fluids.

It was designed to be ignored by Stupid Lazy Americans like me and still go forever. And it just takes it and likes it.

I never think about it. I just drive it.

It's fucking glorious.

I'm a frugal mustache type person (I mean, who wants a corolla? I'd rather have a GTI and I would absolutely check the oil in one of those religiously, but resposibiiltys and stuff).

I used to drive beaters. That was stupid. All the mental over-head - it's a real cost that doesn't go into anyone's calculations appropriately.

I say get a new car. New-new. Set it and forget it.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 10:43 AM on April 26, 2018 [12 favorites]

It sounds like you really really want a new car, and you're trying to find a way to justify it to yourself.

But, given that you've done a thorough financial analysis, I'd say the fact that you want it is justification enough.

Get the car you want! Enjoy giving yourself this small indulgence.
posted by jasper411 at 10:48 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I used to drive a 1996 Mazda Protege with over 200k miles until 2016, until I bought a 2014 Corolla. The Protege was a POS from the time I bought it (long story there), so I knew it was going to be temporary. Around 2012, as it was being its happy, Japanese self and steadfastly not being temporary, I came up with a plan. Knowing that it would probably require expensive maintenance in the near future, I decided to start saving as much as I could toward a down payment for a new(er) car. Then I would drive the old car until it required maintenance that cost more than a plugs-and-filters checkup. I ended up having to abandon the plan because my wife's car was totaled while she was pregnant, and we wouldn't be able to rely on my Protege to either transport a kid or be reliable enough to only have one car. I ended up doing exactly what you plan: bought a 2014 for $13k with <30k miles with a down payment of about $7k.

All that said, I don't know what to tell you. I'm still not sure how I feel about what I did. On the one hand, I really love my new car. I enjoy driving a lot more than I ever did. It's really nice to be able to, say, listen to Spotify in the car, or to have a trunk big enough to fit a suitcase in. I do wish I'd bought a new car sooner. On the other hand, I'm proud of myself for being responsible with the old car. There's something to be said for keeping an old car running, and for saving money. For part of that time, I was in a pretty precarious financial position, and so being responsible was a pretty big help in getting myself on firmer footing. How to answer your question ultimately depends on which mood I'm in.

One thing I will note about your situation is that your current car doesn't sound awful. Yeah, it's old, but 77k is pretty low-mileage, and so you should be able to keep it in pretty good shape for a while still. On the other hand, with such low mileage for such an old car, you could probably sell it for a pretty high (relative) price.

Either way, it's probably a win-win.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:14 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I went from a 10 year old car that had dramatically broken on me 2 years in a row to an almost new car this year. I cannot describe how happy I am. I am much calmer driving it and I don't worry about expensive repairs. It's like someone else said above: it just drives. You don't have to think about anything else. I never knew how much worries about car repairs were in the back of my mind until, suddenly, they weren't anymore. Every time I drive it I'm happy.

Get the new car.
posted by Amy93 at 11:14 AM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

It’s OK to want to use your money to make you happy. Cars are not an investment, but your own happiness is.

Personally I am in a similar car (2003 Mazda 6) and am planning to ride it until 2019 or possibly 2020. However, I don’t really personally value bells & whistles or want anything nicer. I do spend my money on other non-practical things that I value, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t do the same.
posted by samthemander at 11:14 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

We just did this yesterday! Husband was driving a 2002 Camry. It was completely servicable, but things were slowly heading downhill. He does some long distance driving for work.

Yesterday, he got a brand new Accord Hybrid. The base model has so many advanced safety features that it blows both of our minds. (Lane assist, braking, etc.) Airbags everywhere.

It's like a spaceship of safety and coolness.
posted by heathrowga at 11:24 AM on April 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Would you keep an older, still functional car or upgrade to a newer one?

Still happily driving the 1995 Daihatsu Mira I bought in 2005. Would still be driving the 1991 Mira I owned before buying this one, had young master flabdablet not rolled and totalled it; might still be driving the 1977 Leyland Mini Clubman GT I owned before that Mira, had a bus not come down the wrong side of the road and smashed the front off it.

My current Mira got a total engine rebuild at 200,000km that cost almost as much as its purchase price. Money well spent. It's got 340,000km on it now. The way I drive and maintain it should mean that it won't need another rebuild until well past 500,000.

I have spent much less on owning and operating simple, reliable, fuel-efficient cars than anybody else I know. My plan is to run the Mira until it rusts out from under me (which it is currently showing zero inclination to do) by which time it ought to be possible to replace it with a cheap used all-electric.
posted by flabdablet at 11:47 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I always keep the old car. We've only just called it on our '02 Civic, which hasn't had a working gas gauge in ~6 years, and only because my mom got a new car and passed her old one (an '04, but a Lexus -- fancy!) on to us. I'm driving an '06 Camry, and about once a year for the past few years it's needed repairs at around $800, and I just keep making the repairs even though every year I ask myself if it's time to just get a new car.

But: I don't want a new car. Getting a new car seems like a huge hassle and then you have a new car that will have some weird stuff that you just don't know about yet, and I know the weird stuff on the Camry already, so it just feels easier to maintain the status quo. None of this is rational. Similarly: you do want a new car, and you can afford it. So do it!
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:39 PM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Since you can afford it, there’s no right answer. It’s totally reasonable to want a nicer car to drive every day; it’s also totally reasonable to choose to drive an older car and save the money or spend it on something else.

When my wife and I last bought a car, I wanted to get something older and less expensive than she did. We ended up with the car she wanted (a Subaru Forester - so not a luxury car, but not cheap either) for a variety of reasons and I LOVE it. It ended up being so, so worth it to me - I was just telling her the other day how it makes my life easier on a daily basis. Our car seat fits in it easily unlike our last car, I can fit giant things in the back even with the car seat installed, the remote trunk open/close seemed ridiculous when we first got it but is really convenient when my hands are full with a toddler and groceries several times a week, etc. I’m not saying that you should get a Subaru Forester or anything - it’s probably not a very good commuting car - just that I was pleasantly surprised by how much of a positive impact it made to have a nice version of the right car for me. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a car around this price again in the future, assuming it fit comfortably into our budget.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:45 PM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hey, I am in the same boat. My 2003 Honda Civic has 111,000 miles but has stalled out on me in situations of varying danger 4 times in the past 1.5 years. For a couple winters the heat and AC worked only at highway speeds, and while the heater got fixed for most of the last winter, it is up to it’s old tricks again. I’ve tried various mechanics and no one really has any idea what to do (except the dealer, of course, which “diagnosed” it as a blown head gasket - the other mechanics said definitely not).

Mostly due to inertia and a complete lack of desire to shop for a new car, plus the fact that I only drive it 3 days per week, I’m going to keep it at least through the summer. I will get the brakes done for the first time when I get my oil changed next month, but any larger repairs will likely end in me saying goodbye and buying a hatchback.
posted by Maarika at 2:15 PM on April 26, 2018

I have driven that Sentra, quite a lot. I even loved driving that Sentra. Then a loved one got rear-ended in it and it was a disaster. I later looked up IIHS ratings and they weren't good on that model even when it came out, so as soon as you can afford it I hope you upgrade to a safer model.
posted by mahorn at 6:41 PM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I drove an old car in my 20s and 30s. I kept it until it became unreliable. It started to break down more and more often but I decided that I'd keep it going in order to avoid the expense of a new car. I forgot what feeling confident driving felt like and when you spend hours every week in a car, that is a lot of your week feeling stressed.

I got a new car and NEVER again will I drive a banger, I was transformed, I no longer felt sick with worry whenever I got behind the wheel. How did I not notice how awful it made me feel? I put myself through that every day for years! The quality of my life is so much improved by having a reliable and safe car, it is absolutely worth my money.

Also, having experienced (elective) surgery in recent years I can safely say that being able to walk away from a car accident is something I consider of great value.
posted by Ness at 8:01 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I bought my first ever brand new car back in 2012. I'm also a frugal person, thinking that I would just drive beaters forever.

A combination of a car accident that left my old car almost dead, a good down payment on hand and some thorough internet research led me to Froot Loop Jr. and I just paid it off a couple months ago. Now I have a relatively-new car (less than 28K miles) and I know its maintenance history and every accident it's been in and when a weird noise is a new development.

I know some of the pleasure of driving a beater is that it's OK for now and that the price is less. With a new car you usually start with a five-year warranty. Mine included free roadside assistance. Repairs and maintenance are really low relatively speaking. Safety features are completely off the hook!

Of course a car isn't a good investment but a car loan has one of the lowest interest rates out there. With a good down payment and your choice of loan length a car doesn't have to be a huge monthly outlay.
posted by bendy at 11:32 PM on April 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

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