Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Questions on how we spend our money and our time - consumer goods and services, home and vehicle, leisure and recreational activities
Post Reply
Topic Author
psteinx
Posts: 3073
Joined: Tue Mar 13, 2007 2:24 pm

Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by psteinx » Fri May 10, 2019 12:29 pm

May be in the market for 1-2 additional/replacement vehicles in next 12-18 months.

One likely for college/HS kids (so need not be fancy, but safe). Other for myself (fancier, still safe). Both would likely get driven relatively few miles, at least for first few years (say, 3-8K miles/year).

Used vehicles appealing for cost reduction, esp. considering potentially light projected usage.

But, I'm currently on my oldest vehicle by far (a Saab 9-3 convertible, 2004, ~60K miles). Low miles, but >15 years old now. The drivetrain has been sound, but, especially as it's aged, there have been more failures/issues elsewhere, and in general, it has been developing cosmetic issues that are probably more age than mileage connected (deteriorating leather, plastics, etc.) Some of this may be disproportionately high because it's a convertible (the top mechanism has been particularly problematic in latter years).

So, if one only expects to add, say, 20-40K miles over 5 years or so, is one better off going with a 2-3 year old, higher mileage car (say, something driven heavily by a salesperson), or a lower mileage, older car (say, 5-7 years old, but lightly driven)?

Per the interwebz, there's a lot of "it's the condition!", "it's the service records!" Fair enough. But for a non car expert, aside from obvious signs of wear and things that don't work on a test drive, how can this be efficiently and effectively evaluated? Yeah, maybe I'd take the one I chose to a mechanic to look at, but maybe not. That sounds like a pain in some cases. Not sure if the mechanics I've used would readily accomodate that, and in any case, it's more of a last stage check than a screening check.

Anyways, I'm generally of the opinion that 2-4 (or even up to 6) year old vehicles without crazy amounts of mileage are mostly pretty mechanically sound these days. CPO is one other option, but I wonder about the value of that versus it being just a chance for manufacturers/dealers to jack up the price, especially vs. private parties.

More generally, I feel that, depending on the particulars, buying a used car is often a weak deal - the discount you get is only slightly higher than the percentage "used up" the car is, at least "used up" to the point that I'd be reluctant to keep it in service longer. (I realize that an old beater can be nursed along almost indefinitely, but I'm not too interested in that). BUT, for a vehicle that will be used lightly, the advantages of a used vehicle may be a bit stronger.

Anyways, looking for thoughts from non-gearheads on how to optimize costs versus condition/quality. Note that search time is a soft cost, and probably averages higher for used.

Jack FFR1846
Posts: 9492
Joined: Tue Dec 31, 2013 7:05 am

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Fri May 10, 2019 12:40 pm

For your kid going to college, look into zip car. Colleges often have free sign up and lower rates. If the kid only needs to go off to get groceries once a week, it works well.

Second choice....give the kid your Saab.

The model of the car matters. For Subarus, Impreza, Crosstrek, BRZ, WRX hold their value TOO well. I'm going to be replacing my 13 crosstrek at 100k miles soon and it's going to be a new one. Too many 1 year old ones out there for MORE than new. Legacy is like every boring Camry out there, so only us Grandpa aged people buy them, so they do drop in value quickly. Every model has its characteristics. You can figure it out by looking at new and used prices for the model you want.

Cars that are old with low miles have their own problems. Things rust faster than cars that are always moving. On Fords and Mazdas, that's metal lines like transmission cooler lines, power steering lines and brake lines. Hoses, belts and tires hate just standing around doing nothing. So while low miles can be good, once the car is old enough, it's no longer so good.
Bogle: Smart Beta is stupid

Ed_Sandwich
Posts: 121
Joined: Mon Mar 20, 2017 12:47 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by Ed_Sandwich » Fri May 10, 2019 12:46 pm

I always search <5 years old, <75,000 miles, Honda, with whatever features I want (I always get leather seats). Has served me well so far on my fourth car.
  • 1986 Accord: driven to 300,000 miles, discarded in 1999. Can't remember the cost or mileage when bought.
  • 1995 Civic: driven to 215,000 miles, discarded in 2010. 55k miles at purchase, cost $8,999.
  • 2005 Acura TSX: driven to 190,000 miles, discarded in 2016 due to having kids. 72,000 miles at purchase, cost $14,999.
  • 2011 Odyssey EX-L: current car. 68,000 miles at purchase, cost $15,999
Last edited by Ed_Sandwich on Fri May 10, 2019 12:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

bloom2708
Posts: 6369
Joined: Wed Apr 02, 2014 2:08 pm
Location: Fargo, ND

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by bloom2708 » Fri May 10, 2019 12:48 pm

One other factor to work in is the insurance costs of a brand new car. Even in that 1-3 year old range. All the sensors and tech is really ramping up the insurance costs.

We have 2 teen drivers. My spouses 2017 Ford Fusion Energi with all the bells and whistles is 100/month for full coverage. This is for a 49 year old female driver with 0 accidents. :oops: My 2013 Ford Flex is less, but still quite the hit to the budget every month.

Both teens have "Liability Only" $6-7k cars paid for in cash. I'm sure they impact our insurance, but it is what it is.

I would opt for your "trusted" brand, 2-5 years old with low mileage. When you don't drive much, it can take years to get from 30k miles to 80k miles. You may not even want the car that long. Most cars can get to 80k or 90k with maybe a set of tires and a set of brake pads.

A new car is only new for 3-6 months. Then it is dirty, used, has hit a bunch of pot holes,etc. Being under warranty (new or CPO) can be valuable. We try to keep 1 car under warranty and (mine) is usually older.

The 2020 Ford Escape is being totally redesigned. That should mean that the 2019 Escape have some pretty steep discounts this summer. That might be a scenario (if you wanted an Escape, just an example) where buying new might make sense. Discontinued model or new version coming.

It also may be a factor how close your dealer is for oil changes and service (if under warranty). If the nearest SAAB dealer is 30 miles away, that type of thing might restrict the type of car you are looking at.
"We are not here to agree with you; we are here to provoke thoughtfulness." Unknown Boglehead

Topic Author
psteinx
Posts: 3073
Joined: Tue Mar 13, 2007 2:24 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by psteinx » Fri May 10, 2019 12:53 pm

The Saab is unlikely to become a full-time kids' car. While mileage is low, age is high, it's had some problems, and my wife in particular is concerned about the safety issues of our kids doing highway driving in an old convertible. (I think her fears are somewhat overblown, but...)

Most likely, the Saab gets replaced, perhaps close to the point it's current registration expires (in 2020), but possibly sooner, depending on current/future repair issues.

Topic Author
psteinx
Posts: 3073
Joined: Tue Mar 13, 2007 2:24 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by psteinx » Fri May 10, 2019 1:00 pm

As a more general thought:

Very few people drive around in 1991 Oldsmobiles. While old cars CAN be maintained, and if you have a '91 Olds, you probably COULD keep it on the road, most people don't. The reasons why cars are ultimately retired include:

1) Serious car accident (BUT, in a new car, even major damage is often repaired, whereas in an old one, smaller issues total a car)

2) Mileage - With enough mileage, parts wear out, and the cost of maintaining/replacing/repairing them outweighs the benefit of keeping the car going

3) Age, wear related. Certain elements, both mechanical and cosmetic, degrade more as a function of time, and at a certain point, outweigh the benefits of keeping the car going

4) Age, features. Newer vehicles typically have better features - safety, convenience, etc. While not necessarily a sole reason why a car might get junked, it's likely a major contributing factor for many old cars.

5) Age, style. Yes, there's a collectors' market that prizes the style of certain, quite old vehicles, for more run of the mill cars, many folks don't like to be seen in cars that are too old. A '91 Olds may be in great condition, but despite protestations of some, there are a lot of folks who don't really want to be driving something so old around.

Anyways, choosing an appropriate target for a used car is, to some extent, about hitting the sweet spot on the above factors, and how important they are to YOU and your likely usage case.

ohai
Posts: 807
Joined: Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:10 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by ohai » Fri May 10, 2019 1:15 pm

I am a user of Zip Car, because parking in my building is $700, not because I like the service. On average, yes, you will save money over buying your own car. However, people treat Zip Cars like crap. I have a lot of stupid stories. On the base level, the car tends to be dirty inside. People leave trash and animal fur in it all the time. Sometimes, there are smoking or other smells, or sticky stuff here and there. Sometimes the car is damaged here and there.

However, the worst thing is that Zip Car users don't drive their own cars regularly. So not only do they not care about the car, but they are stupid as hell with cars. One time, I drove a car for 20 miles before realizing something was off. So, I pulled over and realized the hood was not closed. Another time, I detected that the car was very firm, like a sports car. So again, I thought something was off. I went to a gas station and checked the tires. Turns out that the tire pressure sensor was broken. The stupid previous user had inflated the tires to 55 psi. At this point, it is not just annoying but a safety issue.

Zip Car community is full of stupid mofos. If you can afford it, get your own car. Would you like a bunch of generation Z people who barely drive messing around in a vehicle before you drive it? Avoiding this is worth a lot of money.

researcher
Posts: 979
Joined: Thu Mar 12, 2015 7:05 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by researcher » Fri May 10, 2019 1:55 pm

You are putting way too much thought into this.
You only drive 4,000 miles/year.

Virtually any make/model vehicle you buy (new or used) will last for far longer than you intend to keep it, given you don't want to hold onto your current old, low mileage car (safety concerns, non-drivetrain issues, ect).

Buying new makes no sense. The car would be 15+ years old before you even reach 60K miles.
Low mileage used makes no sense. It would take you 15+ years just to approach 100K miles.

The only option that makes sense is an inexpensive used late model, high mileage vehicle.
A car with 100K miles would take you more than a decade just to get to 150K miles, whic is nothing for modern vehicles.

adam1712
Posts: 411
Joined: Fri Jun 01, 2007 5:21 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by adam1712 » Fri May 10, 2019 2:16 pm

I've had very good luck with my last two vehicles being 2-3 years old with high mileage (60,000-90,000 miles). I only drive about 4000 miles per year.
With modern cars, I think it's very hard for somebody to not take care of a car in the first couple years as there's just not that much maintenance to do. And the miles are likely to be highway miles if somebody's going to get that many miles on it.

And both my cars were American that didn't top the list in reliability. My last one I got such a good deal I fully expected to have to replace something. But now after 6 years of ownership, my 2010 Ford Escape is going strong at 110,000 miles with minimal repairs.

michaeljc70
Posts: 5215
Joined: Thu Oct 15, 2015 3:53 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by michaeljc70 » Fri May 10, 2019 2:45 pm

If you go with something 5-7 years old it most likely isn't going to have all the latest safety features. Of course, it is up for debate how much that matters with regard to safety. The only other comment I would make is that buying something newer or CPO and having the warranty would give me a lot of piece of mind. Even if I only had 3 months of warranty left, I feel that I would come across any problem by then and get it fixed for free. Of course, you can buy warranties for a 5 or 7 year old car too but I don't know if it would be worth it (very doubtful). Even after typing this maybe ponying up extra $$$ for a newer car for a warranty isn't worth it if buying a car model known to be reliable.

User avatar
Watty
Posts: 16487
Joined: Wed Oct 10, 2007 3:55 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by Watty » Fri May 10, 2019 3:22 pm

A couple of points on safety;

1) Here is a website that shows the real world safety statistics for the driver death rate in cars. A bit morbid but worth checking out especially if you are looking at buying a much older car. The statistics have generally improved a lot in the last 20 years. There are some details you should read about what the numbers mean and why they have a range in parentheses after the main number.

https://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/driver-death-rates

2) ESC, electronic stability control seems to be a very good safety feature to have. It became standard equipment on all cars(I am not sure about trucks) in 2012 and was on some cars before that. I would have second thoughts about buying a car without that.

3) You have likely heard about the huge mess with the airbag recalls. You need to check to see if any car you look at is under recall and if the airbags have been replace. I would not buy a car that still needs the airbags replaced.

4) Toyota make a lot of advanced safety features standard equipment in 2018(17 ?) so be sure to compare all the details of the car if you are comparing something like a 2016 Corolla to a 2019 Corolla.

On buying a car.

There have been threads about buying rental cars that you can look up. I once bought a Hertz rental car when I needed a replacement car in a hurry and it worked out well for me. Other posters have also had good experiences but some people are convinced that they have all been abused. I think they are likely OK but you would still need to get them checked out by a mechanic like any used car. They typically have a lot of the powertrain warranty left and sometimes even a bit of the full warranty. It varies but typically cars come with a 5 year 60k mile powertrain warranty so if you bought a 2 year old rental car with 40k miles you could still have three years of powertrain warranty since you do not put a lot of miles on your cars.

One nice thing about these is that you can see their inventory on the internet and then buy the in a very short time. You may even be able to drive the car for a few days before deciding to buy it or not.

One other nice thing about a rental car is that you know why they are selling it. With a private seller you always have to wonder why they are selling it, especially if it is not very old.

When shopping for a used cars I think of cars as being in these categories.
1) Very desirable cars like a Honda or Toyota. It usually makes sense to buy a new one of these since the used cars are so expensive especially if they are less than five years old.

2) Good second tier cars. It varies by model but some Fords and Hyunadies have a good reliability history but these depreciate faster so the best deals on used cars are often here.

3) Cars to probably avoid. It can vary by the model but many brands have a poor reliability rating so if even if you get a good price on a Fiat or Dodge car you are more likely to regret it.

https://www.jdpower.com/business/press- ... y-studyvds

Depending on your budget don't automatically rule out buying a new car until you have looked at the details. Last year I bought a new 2018 Corolla with a lot of the advanced safety features for just over $17,000 including my local sales tax and registration. I plan on keeping it at least ten years and unless I get unlucky I don't expect to have many major repairs since they tend to be reliable. A ten year old Corolla will also sell for a good price if it is in good condition. When you look the yearly cost of depreciation and nonroutine maintenance over ten years(120 months) you are looking at maybe $125 a month in addition to the operating costs that you will have with any car. If you buy a $10,000 used car it will still be depreciating and you could expect higher non-routine maintenance so the monthly cost might not be all that much less then buying a new car.

Here is a post I did about my car buying process.
viewtopic.php?f=11&t=239526&p=3746230

mtmingus
Posts: 168
Joined: Sun Jan 07, 2018 4:15 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by mtmingus » Fri May 10, 2019 3:22 pm

getaround if in a major metro area.

shawndoggy
Posts: 142
Joined: Tue Sep 05, 2017 3:01 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by shawndoggy » Fri May 10, 2019 4:25 pm

I’m personally a fan of kids driving a mechanically sound junker. They will thrash it if it’s nice or if it’s a hooptie. If it’s a hooptie at least you won’t be upset about the curb rash on the wheels or the ding on the door.

User avatar
RootSki
Posts: 198
Joined: Mon Feb 20, 2017 11:52 am

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by RootSki » Fri May 10, 2019 4:31 pm

As a Saab owner, Volvo will give you a loyalty discount for both new and CPO on top of any other promotions, rebates and incentives they are running.

furnace
Posts: 319
Joined: Tue Oct 20, 2015 3:38 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by furnace » Fri May 10, 2019 4:37 pm

You only drive 4,000 miles a year? Get a golf cart!

The most important safety feature of a car is that it runs. A big, bulky, modern car that stalls on the road or fails to accelerate because of a fancy emission control feature, will be less safe than one that brings you home even if it's older and smaller. So if you buy used, do your research and stick to models you know and trust. Drive the car yourself for a while before giving to your kids.

carolinaman
Posts: 3693
Joined: Wed Dec 28, 2011 9:56 am
Location: North Carolina

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by carolinaman » Sat May 11, 2019 7:21 am

Cars in good condition with low mileage and 3 years old are usually a good choice. Many models have depreciated a lot yet they are still in good mechanical condition and will serve you well for years. Many Toyota, Honda and Subarus hold their value. IMO, you pay a premium to get those as late model used. Other models depreciate more than those I mentioned, yet they may be a better value. However, I would not get that new a car or spend that much on a car for the kids. I would get an older car that is reliable and safe. Generally speaking, kids are hard on cars and they will depreciate whatever they drive quickly, so why spend a lot on a car they will drive?

mmmodem
Posts: 1630
Joined: Thu May 20, 2010 1:22 pm

Re: Used cars: Age, mileage, condition

Post by mmmodem » Sat May 11, 2019 8:05 am

As you have noticed on your Saab, I generally think that age is harder on a vehicle than mileage for vehicles under 100k miles. Any car made today will last 100k miles easily. I also appreciate newer technology and safety equipment. I'm hesitant to buy a car without Bluetooth or a backup camera. Therefore, I would get the newer higher mileage vehicle especially if you're going to be a lower mileage driver as you'll just be returning the car to regular mileage when you sell.

I avoid popular vehicles. No Toyotas or Hondas. They cost a premium and I believe it is worth it but i want to minimize my costs. And although most people disagree, I like to buy previous rentals. I trust companies to properly maintain their vehicles more than I do an individual. Also because most people avoid previous rentals thinking the vehicles are abused, I get a discount.

I bought a previous rental 1 year old Mitsubishi Outlander SUV with 26k miles for about $15000, much less than a comparable Toyota Rav4 or Honda CRV. I still have the balance of a 5 year warranty remaining. If I got a lemon or an unreliable vehicle, I feel safe knowing I saved some $4000 over the popular brands and this can go towards repairs.

Post Reply