The end of the road: Preparing to buy a new car

Yesterday, Kim and I joined my cousins for an afternoon trip to the Oregon Coast. Our aim was to harvest a bounty of clams. We came home with zero. We managed, however, to harvest a bounty of mussels. Plus, the dog had fun.

Duane, Kim, and Tally at Cannon Beach

My cousin Duane carpooled with us to and from the beach. We rode in Kim's car: a 1997 Honda Accord that's showing signs of its age.

“It's a little warm in here,” Duane said about ten minutes into our drive. “Would you mind turning down the heat?”

“Well, I can't turn down the air,” Kim said. “It's stuck on high. But I can turn down the temperature.” She laughed as she demonstrated that the knob for the air volume has broken off at the post. The vents now permanently blow at full force.

“This car is falling to pieces,” I said. “Literally.” As if to prove my point, a bit of molding fell from a roof handle. I picked it up and wedged it back into place.

“I like my car,” Kim said. “I have an emotional attachment to it. But I've come to the realization that it's time to start searching for something else.”

More and more, it looks like our vehicles have reached the end of the road.

The End of the Road

Kim bought her car 22 years ago at a model-year closeout sale. It's lived with her in Minnesota, Arizona, California, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. In that time, the Accord has logged nearly 250,000 miles and never given her any major problems.

Kim's Honda Accord

For a decade, I've been driving the 2004 Mini Cooper I bought as my first exercise in saving after I paid off my debt. In the ten years I've had it, I've put 90,000 miles on my Mini (bringing its total mileage to 150,000). We even took the Mini with us on our 15-month cross-country RV adventure!

My Mini Cooper in Monument Valley

Until the past couple of years, the Mini was trouble-free. During the RV trip, however, the fuel pump died. Then, when we got home, I funneled about $4000 into several repairs over a twelve-month span.

This winter, the Mini developed another problem: The sunroof began to leak (and in a big way). This isn't good during rainy Oregon winters. In fact, it basically means my little yellow friend is unusable until things dry out.

Meanwhile, the old reliable Accord has developed an oil leak. The leak is dripping onto the fan belt. Our mechanic says Kim's car needs about $1500 in repairs. That's not too bad, but it's more than the car is worth. Plus, we suspect that's just a small taste of what's to come.

Because I could see the writing on the wall — and because we need something to haul Big Stuff at our country cottage — I picked up a 1993 Toyota pickup at the end of 2018. I love it. (Seriously, I do. I just bought Taylor Swift's latest album on cassette so that I can make use of the tape deck, which makes it even more fun.)

My 1993 Toyota Pickup

The tape deck in my Toyota truck

But the truck is a stop-gap measure. Kim and I feel like it's time to pick up a newer, more reliable vehicle. Neither of us relishes this idea, but that's where we are. Last August, I asked you folks which new car I should buy. You offered a lot of great suggestions. But by purchasing a used pickup, I've put my own car dilemma on hold — for a time, at least. Kim's situation, however, seems pressing.

Fuzzy Math
I found it surprisingly difficult to decide whether or not I should buy a 1993 pickup with 211,000 miles on it. The previous owner is a friend and colleague. I trust him. He says the truck runs great. And, so far, it does. But it's 25 years old! I worry.

I paid $1900 for the truck. How many miles and/or how much time do I want to get out of it before I consider I got my money's worth? I'm not sure. I paid $15,000 for the Mini and have driven it for ten years (and 90,000 miles). That's roughly $1500 per year and 17 cents per mile. Using these numbers as guidelines, I guess I hope that the truck will last a year or two, or that it'll get me 10,000 to 12,000 miles.

On the other hand, I just bought brand-new 45,000-mile tires for the truck, so maybe I'm hoping it'll last me for several years!

Kim's Car-Buying Priorities

Before the Accord started showing its age, Kim's plan had been to sell the car to a couple of young women we know. They're in the process of getting their driver licenses and will soon be looking for a cheap car. We thought the Accord was perfect! Now, though, we're not so sure. Is it really fair to sell them a car knowing it needs $1500+ in repairs? (Maybe we should just give them the car and tell them about its issues?)

Regardless what happens with her current car, we both agree that it's time to accelerate her timeline for buying a new vehicle.

“What are your priorities for a new car,” I asked last week.

“Well, I want something that fits our lifestyle,” she said. “Apparently, we take the dog everywhere, although I doubt they make dog-specific cars. I want something that lets us haul the kayaks and the bikes. I want to be able to make long road trips comfortably. Ideally, I'd buy an electric car or a hybrid.”

“Anything else?” I asked.

“I want heated seats,” she said. “And a place to put my sunglasses and chapstick.” (If Kim could only take one thing with her to a desert island, it'd be chapstick.)

“Because our cars are so old, any reasonably new vehicle is going to seem like a massive upgrade,” I said. I've spent approximately thirty days in rental cars over the past year. They all seem like they're from the future. (And my friend's $150,000 Mercedes S550 I rode in last spring? Totally the Enterprise 1701-D!)

“What's your budget?” I asked.

“I have $16,000 in a targeted saving account specifically for a new car. If I sell my motorcycle, that would probably give me about $5000 more. So, I guess I'm looking at somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000.”

Preparing to Buy a New Car

Between us, Kim and I own three vehicles. Their average age is 21 years and their average value is maybe $1750 each. Obviously, we're not car people. We place no value in having the latest, greatest vehicle. Neither one of us is looking forward to the car-buying process. It sounds like an ordeal, not something fun.

Fortunately, we know better than to visit dealers until we're absolutely ready to purchase. (And truthfully, Kim is more inclined to buy a used vehicle from a private party.)

Kim had planned to put off buying a new car until sometime this summer. Now we suspect we'll have to make the move sooner rather than later.

To that end, she's started doing research. She asked her Facebook friends for their recommendations. I polled the people who subscribe to the weekly GRS newsletter (and received some terrific response!). Kim has been reading about different cars online. And soon — maybe next week — the annual Consumer Reports car-buying issue will land in our mailbox.

Over the past thirteen years here at Get Rich Slowly, I've shared many articles about the car-buying process. Here are some of the most useful:

It'll be interesting to see which car Kim chooses and how we end up buying it. Deep down, I know she longs for a Tesla Model 3 but at $35,000+, they're far outside her budget. I suspect she'll end up with a Subaru Outback or something similar.

Maybe the next time we take Duane to the coast to dig clams, we'll ride in comfort…and actually catch some clams.

Ironic Footnote
As I was writing this article, Duane phoned me. “Can you pick me up and take me to my oncologist appointment?” he asked. “My car just died.” I spent the next three hours helping him get things sorted.

My post about our dying cars was delayed by Duane's own dying car.

“Maybe I should buy Bob a new car,” Duane said as we waited for the tow truck to arrive. It was a morbid joke. Duane has terminal cancer. Bob is his brother. If Duane were to buy a new car, he wouldn't have it long. It'd soon get passed along to his Bob. This adds wrinkles to his own vehicle dilemma.

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Jeremy
Jeremy

A Prius Prime could definitely fit the bill. Roof racks for Kayaks. Hatchback for easy access for Dog. Plug-In Hybrid. Gets $4,502 Federal Income Tax Credit and a $1,500 Rebate in Oregon. Out in the East, you can get a 2018 Model with a $5,000 Toyota Rebate right now. With the rebates and tax considered, you could probably be out the door for around $20,000 OTD.

Srewolf
Srewolf

Our first step in buying a car is to refer to the most recent April issue of Consumer Reports, which is their annual car issue (the 2019 one should be out soon). Most public libraries carry Consumer Reports, by the way. They usually have a section about which used cars are a good buy. [Every year when I clean out old issues of Consumer Reports, I save just the April issues, so that I can see their review of a particular model when it was new, and then compare to their current assessment of that model as a used car.… Read more »

Bethany D
Bethany D

Duane’s situation might be the rate occasion where leasing a car is a great option.

NC in Colorado
NC in Colorado

We love our Honda Elements (yes, we have 2) as dog-friendly vehicles that clean up very easily and have an incredible amount of interior space. We can transport our mountain bikes inside the car, which with tinted windows makes casual theft much less likely. We added a Craigslist cargo box on top of mine, which has factory bars, and did a 2 week road trip from Colorado to Oregon with 2 35# dogs, 2 mountain bikes and camping and biking gear. With good tires they are surefooted in the snow (we ski) and with AWD they take us up rocky… Read more »

Derek Moreno
Derek Moreno

I’m with you on the Honda Element. Bought my 05 EX 4wd almost one year ago and its been a joy to drive. They are very easy and cheap to maintain, I do 95% of the work myself and never had an issue. They are great for trips. Drove from San Jose, CA down south to Anaheim for a quick Disneyland trip and my wife and I saved on hotel costs by laying down pads and sleeping in the back!
Very versatile vehicles with a great track record(assuming you give it the love it deserves). I second the Honda Element!

Kiryn Silverwing
Kiryn Silverwing

My husband and I got a great deal on a 3-year Chevy Bolt lease a year and a half ago, and really loved switching to electric (it’s so freeing to never have to stop for gas ever again!) so we’re already starting to do our research on what EV we’re changing to once the lease is out. We’re actually strongly considering buying a used Fiat 500e. Its range is awful, but it’d cost us less than $7k to buy a 3-year-old model outright. We only very rarely drive far enough to use up that much range in a day, and… Read more »

Ron C.
Ron C.

Kiryn, drive that Fiat before you fall in love with it. I drove a newish low mileage model a few years ago and was shocked by how crappy it felt. Cheap? Yes. And yes.

Emily Martin
Emily Martin

I hear very good things about the Skoda Superb estate/wagon 🙂

whiskey
whiskey

Toyota FJ w/relatively low mileage. Not great on gas (300 miles on a tank thatll run you about 35-40 a fillup) but it will run a long time and they hold their value. You can carry lots of stuff, dog, toys, trip stuff etc easily. (Get a 4×4 if you plan to take trips) … or … Run the little car til it drops dead, mindful to drive it local… You can then part it out (takes time, can be a pain dealing with oddball people etc but you can make some $$), take it across the scales for salvage… Read more »

Ron C.
Ron C.

J.D., if you haven’t already check out Edmunds.com “Trust Cost To Own” (TCO) feature. It breaks down how much a car will cost over five years, including depreciation, gas, maintenance, etc. I found it helpful to see how old of a car I wanted to buy – it’s not always “older is cheaper”. I ended up with a 2018 GTI with a factory included bumper to bumper 6 year 72K mile warranty because it barely cost more than an older one factoring in the TCO. Here in VT Subarus are plentiful (and they ARE dog vehicles!) and I’ve owned a… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

I terms of money alone, what does it matter if the repairs cost more than the car’s worth? That still might be the best cost per use. And you save by buying liability-only insurance. More relevant for springing for a new car are things like reliability, and better safety features in newer models. E.g. https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterlyon/2018/05/31/the-top-7-car-safety-features-you-cannot-do-without/#490d632e5fc0 I like the rearview camera but that can always be installed aftermarket. Still, worth checking which new safety features might be worth it to you. As for hybrids, I’d personally like one, and they’re reliable and all, but in case of repair needed you’re stuck… Read more »

Sid
Sid

Check out the Hyundai KONA EV or Kia NIRO EV. Both are fully electric with 250 moles of range, good cargo space, room for a roof rack, and near your budget after tax credits. Both are expected to be available on the West Coast in the next few months.

Sheila
Sheila

We have an EV and love it. I do wonder if the range you mention is only for daylight, dry and warm. I notice in our EV a significant decrease if you need to use the wipers, defroster and lights and drive at freeway speeds. Ours is a 2013 Leaf so perhaps newer models and different makes don’t have that issue. Ours is a great around town car.

S.G.
S.G.

Is it use of the wipes, etc., or the conditions? Those batteries are temperature dependent. And I’ve noticed lower economy when driving through weather conditions. I think it just takes a bit more energy to drive through weather.

katherine
katherine

If Kim has had such great luck with Honda Accord I am not sure why she would switch… maybe just the model. I guess I am brand loyal when it comes to something that has worked so well for so long.

Rachel M.
Rachel M.

We have a 2015 outback. That year they added a lot of interior space and clearance compared to previous models. My husband is 6’3 and so he was comfortable in it. They even make a kind of grate for the back so you can put your dog in and they won’t jump to the front. I cannot say enough good things about it. We drove across country with our young kids this past summer and it was great. We tow our skiff and have used it in bad weather and off road. It’s consistently held its value and been worth… Read more »

Roxanne E
Roxanne E

I agree that an Outback would be a great choice. An Outback is bigger than what we needed so back in 2007 we bought a Forester. When we got to the point where we needed a second car, my husband took the Forester and I bought a Legacy. We love our Subarus. I feel like both times we got a lot of car for the money. The Forester is now 12 years old and we’ve never had a problem with it beyond routine maintenance. One thing we did find when we bought the Forester is Subarus tend to hold their… Read more »

Anne
Anne

I don’t have any particular recommendations but I will agree with you that ANY car you buy will catapult you into the future. My husband’s Ranger from 1999 still had roll down windows and my 2003 PT had push down door locks.

In the past three years we replaced both cars and we still feel like incredibly rich country mice that got moved to the big city. Rear cameras, heated seats, key fob locks. We’re absolute celebrities. What won’t they think of next?

Sheila
Sheila

Totally with Kim about heated seats. So great in cold damp weather. I love my heated bathroom tiles, too.

WantNot
WantNot

We don’t get cars often either and we were very happy to go down to 1 car for the 2 of us, a few years back. We gave away our much beloved Toyota Corolla to a friend, traded in our used Subaru Impreza which had been sturdy, and bought a Subaru Forrester (with, yah Kim, heated seats, Ahhhh). We live in a snowy clime, so the AWD is essential, and the Forrester is one sure-footed car. It’s probably bigger than what you want (we are doing a lot of road-tripping and hauling these years), so an Outback will probably work… Read more »

Ash B
Ash B

Dealers these days negotiate, but they don’t negotiate like they used to. When you’ve found something you like, request an online quote. Usually that will be their “best” price, and sometimes you can negotiate a bit from there. You can also trade in Kim’s vehicle…check KBB for trade-in value. That number is definitely negotiable. When recently trading in my old Outback, which had multiple electrical problems, I negotiated the trade value well over what I could have sold the car for on my own. The dealership could have cared less about the work the trade-in needed. By combining these tactics… Read more »

Jone
Jone

I traded from a Honda Insight (version 2) to an Outback for much the same reasons – dog, toys, age, and hauling stuff – about two years ago. I absolutely LOVE my new (to me) 2015 Outback. It can haul like as much, possibly more, than your truck if you include the very usable luggage rack up top. It’s also FAR more comfortable than my old mid-90’s Toyota truck. I also fitted my Outback with a 2″ trailer hitch so hauling light trailers (i.e., moving furniture) can be accomplished with ease. My mid-size dog can jump in the back with… Read more »

Joe
Joe

I suspect Kim will get a Prius or a Subaru Outback/Forester too. A small station wagon would fit the bill.
Personally, I’m hoping for the self-driving cars to be available before our car breaks down. We could use self-driving cars and public transportation instead of owning a car.

Brian
Brian

When I read “dog specific,” I immediately thought of the Honda Element. It’s discontinued, but I know a lot of people love them. The 2011 has a dog friendly package. It doesn’t get the best MPG, though. The Honda Fit is a great little car, too. The back is pretty customizable and you can fit a bike rack on the back. Good luck!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

I see a lot of positive comments on the Subaru and yes they’re great cars, very popular in the Mountain states, but there’s one downside on the financial aspect of ownership.

Should you get a damaged tire that needs to be replaced (e.g. sidewall damage), you must change all 4 tires at once, not just the damaged one or the axle pair.

This is due to their all-wheel-drive system. Otherwise you’ll damage the transmission and incur further costs.

This might or might not matter to you, but it’s something to keep in mind so there are no surprises.

More, FYI: https://www.cars.com/articles/do-i-need-to-replace-more-than-one-tire-at-a-time-1420684865769/

RandomJane
RandomJane

This is timely for me. I’ve been considering replacing my 2007 Honda Accord coupe. It only has 112K miles on it but I’ve had to replace the radio, air con, two sensors (had to be replaced to pass inspection), and a hose that had a hole in it. All in the last two years. I feel like there is something I’m leaving out of that list. The hose repair recently left me stranded in another city. A bunch of things had to be removed to get to the hose that had to be replaced, and I guess the mechanic didn’t… Read more »

John
John

I’ve been a “drive it till it dies” type. However, we finally broke down and bought a new 2019 model Honda CRV. I’ve been amazed by all the safety features. Chances are, had our last 2 vehicles had these features, we would have avoided three accidents. That would have saved us not only money, but physical injury, pain, higher insurance costs, and three years of fear for the outcome of a lawsuit. Having broke down the mechanical costs, repairs, maintenance, etc of the 10 year old car we bought when it was 5, it cost us more per month than… Read more »

Jon
Jon

One of the best posts I’ve read about car buying might be helpful for those making this decision: https://captainretirement.blogspot.com/2016/11/careful-with-vehicle-expenses.html

Phil
Phil

I agree with the other posters who said Prius. They are a station wagon, they are extremely reliable, and they get excellent gas mileage. They are definitely boring, but from a pure cost/mile perspective I’m not sure there is anything better.

Megan
Megan

Agree on the Prius. Great gas mileage, hauls more stuff than most small SUVs, Toyota reliability. I’ve shocked people with what I can transport-chest freezers, largevdressers, 8×10 foot rugs. I bought my Prius used so that it would literally pay for itself compared to the Jeep it replaced. I didn’t expect to love it, but’s I do.

JS
JS

We are car people. We spend more on cars than average, and take more modest vacations and such than some people. But that’s our thing. My first Mustang GT was a 2000 model that I bought used with just under 10,000 miles on it in mid-2001, saving about 20% off of 2001 sticker. I drove that car to nearly 180,000 miles and it was very low-maintenance. So when time came to trade in, I bought the same car – just thirteen years newer! That time, deciding I had lucked out with a used one the first time, given that these… Read more »

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