New car - or 'Tell me what cars you have bought lately (that are interesting)'


What’s your budget?

What do you need out of the vehicle? (How many people are likely to be in it most of the time? How much stuff? How important is mileage? How important is reliability?)

Where are you located, roughly? (climate sometimes matters, especially if you get rough winters)

How mechanically handy are you?

How much, if at all, does the wow factor matter, and if it DOES matter, what kind of vehicles typically wow you or the other folks you’re trying to wow?


It’s here:

It costs $5. It will help you decide your buying strategy. If you ask me, your strategy should be to buy a gently-used car that’s 4 or 5 years old. But don’t take my word for it.


Only buy new cars. Anything else is false economy, and people who say otherwise are mechanics.


What’s your miles per year and required range? Since this is a 2nd car, you might seriously look at a Leaf if you just need a commuter car. It’s way, way more than you were looking at spending, but costs to power an electric car are crazy cheap in the long run. Here’s excel cut/paste from something I did thinking about the Tesla Model S. You’d have to change MPG and electricity cost assumptions for your world, but it gives you an idea of the total cost of ownership savings:

Oh, I don’t know what the Leaf’s mileage is per kWh, mine are based on the Model S. The Leaf might be worse.

kWh=$0.0442, MPG=25				
miles    EV Cost     Gas Cost @$4  Gas Cost @$5  Gas Cost @$6   Gas Cost @$7  Gas Cost @$8
0        $0.00       $0.00        $0.00         $0.00        $0.00        $0.00
10000    $125.27     $1,600.00    $2,000.00     $2,400.00    $2,800.00    $3,200.00
20000    $250.54     $3,200.00    $4,000.00     $4,800.00    $5,600.00    $6,400.00
30000    $375.81     $4,800.00    $6,000.00     $7,200.00    $8,400.00    $9,600.00
40000    $501.08     $6,400.00    $8,000.00     $9,600.00    $11,200.00   $12,800.00
50000    $626.35     $8,000.00    $10,000.00    $12,000.00   $14,000.00   $16,000.00
60000    $751.61     $9,600.00    $12,000.00    $14,400.00   $16,800.00   $19,200.00
70000    $876.88     $11,200.00   $14,000.00    $16,800.00   $19,600.00   $22,400.00
80000    $1,002.15   $12,800.00   $16,000.00    $19,200.00   $22,400.00   $25,600.00
90000    $1,127.42   $14,400.00   $18,000.00    $21,600.00   $25,200.00   $28,800.00
100000   $1,252.69   $16,000.00   $20,000.00    $24,000.00   $28,000.00   $32,000.00
110000   $1,377.96   $17,600.00   $22,000.00    $26,400.00   $30,800.00   $35,200.00
120000   $1,503.23   $19,200.00   $24,000.00    $28,800.00   $33,600.00   $38,400.00
130000   $1,628.50   $20,800.00   $26,000.00    $31,200.00   $36,400.00   $41,600.00
140000   $1,753.77   $22,400.00   $28,000.00    $33,600.00   $39,200.00   $44,800.00
150000   $1,879.04   $24,000.00   $30,000.00    $36,000.00   $42,000.00   $48,000.00


Nonsense. Ten year old gently used cars run half the price of new cars and depreciate less. Even factoring in higher repair costs a smart buyer can come out ahead.


This is a joke, right?


I am not a mechanic.

Buy a used car.


All right, questions!

Budget? The last car we bought in 2005-ish was a 2000 Honda Accord with <75,000 miles on it (Meghan is the one that bought it, this was before we were married, and neither one of us remember how many miles it had). I believe it was $11,000. Ish. I’d like to keep it in the 10K-15K range, preferably on the lower end. If that’s feasible, which I hope it is.

What do we need out of the vehicle? It’s not going to live a hard life. It’ll be used primarily for city driving, only the two of us in it, and rarely any further than, say. St. Louis from KC (4 hours highway driving). Meghan’s work is about 4 miles from our house, and she takes the highway. We’re not going to use it for long trips, nor do we live 30 minutes from our work.

We live in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. We get snow, but not a New England-type amount. We have a two-car garage, so the car’s not going to spend all night buried under ice and snow in the winter.

I am not mechanically handy. I can change oil, I can help change a tire (have not done it myself solo, but have assisted friends of mine on multiple occasions), I can top fluids and stuff like that. My father worked in cars for years (that’s good), but he lives in Virginia (that’s bad), but he can offer me a lot of advice over the phone for minor things (that’s good).

I give no damns about wow factor. Neither does Meghan. I keep forgetting this is primarily going to be her car, since she does almost all of the driving.

I spent many a weekend morning sitting with my father listening to Car Talk. I retained none of it, obviously.


I know it runs counter to all the conventional wisdom, but I’m actually totally serious.

The big thing is that most people don’t go out there, carefully evaluate every car on the market, decide which one they want, and then figure out if they want to get it new or used. They set themselves a price range, and then go out there and find out which car they can buy in that price range.

So if you’ve got $20K to spend, you can get yourself (say) either a brand new Fit, a five year old Accord, or a 10 year old BMW. You’re going to be spending that $20K up-front no matter what, but if you bought the used cars, now you’re going to pay more for your loan, since interest rates are higher on used car loans; you’re going to pay more in maintenance, because that old car WILL break more, and it isn’t under warranty; and you’ll probably pay more in gas, since newer cars are more efficient (and the new one is probably going to be smaller than the used one at the same price, so even moreso).

So, yeah, a ten-year-old BMW is cheaper than a new BMW, but nobody’s cross-shopping those. People who are looking at a $45K new BMW are maybe looking at 10-year-old Porsches.

Also, when it comes time to buy a new car, buying anything that’s not a Certified Pre-Owned car is a risk – yeah, it probably won’t blow up, and on average it’s cheaper, but if you buy a car whose engine explodes (metaphorically) a week after you buy it, you’re scrod; and that’s a real risk with random used cars. Meanwhile, Certified Pre-Owned cars are hardly even cheaper than new cars – last time I looked, I think you could save 10% or some such absurdly small number on a two year old car vs. new.


Indeed I was thinking of cars that are a couple of months to a couple of years old and come with warranty from a certified dealer, not some random ancient junk heap from Craigslist. Your claim that a 2-year old certified car is only 10% cheaper than a new one amazes me, though. Maybe that’s a difference between Germany and America but the price drop is way bigger here, up to 50% for a 1-year old car with manufacturer warranty, which is why I’d always pick those over new ones.

Just to make sure I just checked the Mercedes-Benz website for the A160 Blue Efficiency model, and it’s new ~22k euro (incl some extras and VAT) while used 2011 cars from official dealers start at ~14k euro. More proletarian brands should lose value less quickly but the price drop should still be fairly substantial.


From your criteria, it sounds like you’re in pretty good shape. i.e. Your criteria aren’t all that tough, but you’ve got a budget of $10K-$15K, so it should be fairly easy to buy something solid.

You’re on the bottom end of the new car range at that budget. Not sure exactly what is available, but I think you’ve got some choices at that range.

A new car for $12K ish or so is likely to be small and not very feature-heavy. If that works for you, and if you’re comfortable spending that much, that’d probably be the direction I’d look.

If you want to get a bit cheaper, or if you want something bigger than you can find a new car for in that range, then yeah, used. My suggestion for used would be to go for an American car and/or an orphan brand that appeals to older folks. Something like a Mercury, Buick, Pontiac, etc. Look for something 4-6 years old, but with relatively low mileage, and good documentation for repairs and so on. The reason for this is that these kind of cars are likely to have depreciated heavily, but probably still have some good life left in them, and probably came pretty well featured originally…


A certified 2010 Honda Accord LX with 30K miles on it is listed for $18.5K. A new 2012 Accord LX is listed for $22K.

That’s a difference of $3,500, which I guess is more like 15%. But 15% depreciation for two years and 30K miles? That’s not worth screwing around with, in my opinion. Especially because you’re not really even PAYING that 15%, you’re just fronting it. Both cars are going to continue to depreciate it over the time you own them, right, and the real price difference between the two isn’t that 15%, it’s the difference in depreciation rate between what they’re going to do over the next n years, and that’s not even going to be that high.

(Plus, that’s probably not a totally apples to apples comparison, because the 2012 one is probably better than the 2010 one in miscellaneous ways, so at least some of the difference is due to it being better, not just newer.)

Upshot: Buy a new car, if you can afford it.


Thanks, Phil! I do think we want to avoid very small – we do get snow, so we don’t want to just skate around on top of it and get stuck. My mother-in-law has a tiny old two-door Tercel (I think that’s how you spell it), and she routinely gets stuck. We don’t want, nor need, anything like an SUV. We’re leaning used, yes. If anyone has any recommendations in that range so I know where to start looking, that’d be awesome!


Mazda 3. Subaru Impreza (although the old ones aren’t nearly as good as the new one). Ford Focus (although the old ones aren’t nearly as good as the new one).

So, Mazda 3.


In my experience, size of a car has less bearing on snow performance than quality of tires. Good snow tires can make a go-kart viable in the snow, more or less. My 4x4 Mazda pickup was horrible in the snow, while my successor vehicle way back then, a relatively small and light Integra was gangbusters–with good snow tires.


I bought a 2011 Hyunai Elantra about nine months ago and absolutely love it. Well built, quite comfortable ride, great millage and looks good. Everyone who has ridden in it comments on how much car you get for ~$17K. They specifically designed the thing for overweight Americans.


Hyundai has been on a tear lately. From a company whose cars you’d not look at twice to one that is producing sector-leading or at least highly competitive vehicles in several market niches.


Interesting. I checked a comparable model on the German Honda website and while all prices are considerably more expensive (Accord S new starts at €26,450 incl 19% VAT) the price drop to a certified 2010 car is comparable, only about 15%. With such a small difference I’d buy a new car, too. Seems like there’s a huge variance between manufacturers in terms of value loss between new and almost-new cars, even when the new price is comparable.


Yeah, in general cars that “hold their value” are the ones you don’t want to get used, because… they held their value. The problem is, the reason they hold their value is that they’re more reliable. Buying a finicky, breakdown-prone used car because it’s more depreciated is another kind of false economy.


A big price delta between new and 6 months old, with full warranty, is hardly because the car is prone to break down. That makes no sense. I’d rather guess that such brands and models are popular with people who like to overpay for the “new car smell” of their status symbol.