When you were searching to buy a vehicle, did you ever come across low-mileage vehicles with one or two owners that were extremely cheap?
Aging cars no matter if it’s reliable or not, it’ll need routine maintenance work. More reliable cars typically don’t have defective design flaws due to over-engineering. However, due to age and wear & tear – gaskets, oil seals, belts, pumps, and fluids need to be checked up on religiously to avoid them randomly breaking down while you’re driving.
Even if a car is low-mileage (less than 75,000) and has only had one or two owners; unless the previous owners have receipts for all the work that was required over the years or proof of it being done, I’d avoid it. However, if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do some engine work yourself, it’s a different story.
Wear & Tear
As a frugal head, I’m always tempted towards finding the best deal when it comes to purchases. Depending on the car itself and who owned it, makes the difference between saving money in your pocket vs. constantly shelling out money to get things fixed all the time because one thing or the next is always breaking down.
No matter how perfect the car might look on the outside and interior-wise, what really ends up costing you money is the engine or battery of the vehicle. Inspecting for leaky fluids or whether there is a low amount of it.
Rubber and silicone gasket seals disintegrate over time and need attention to make sure there are no vacuum, oil, or other fluid leaks. Depending on the age of the vehicle re-sealing the engine after it running for years on end is quite costly.
Let’s pretend for a moment that everything on the vehicle you like checks out. Low miles, routine maintenance records, and overall a good-looking car. What most don’t know is that the dealership or car repair shops can oftentimes fail to mention to the customer that transmission fluids, timing belts, and axle fluids all need to be replaced as well.
If for example the transmission fluid was never changed (should be done every 30-50,000 miles) and the timing belt was never replaced, then that burden of cost will pass on to you. You might not even be aware that it needs to be done, which is even more dangerous.
If that timing belt snaps off while you’re driving….it’s bye-bye for the engine. If the transmission starts slipping…guess what? You’re going to have to rebuild the transmission or replace it altogether. A manual transmission is less problematic which is why I drive one but most people don’t drive one anymore.
Since automatic transmissions have so much more moving parts inside than their manual counterparts, the fluid has to be replaced more often. I bet if you ask the five closest people you know, they’ll say, ‘I never even heard of such a thing.’
If the transmission fluid was never replaced and it’s over 80,000. There’s a risk that if you do a transmission flush on an older car it might start slipping due to the transmission being used to that viscosity. So either replace transmission fluids every 30-50,000 miles or if it’s already high mileage, it may be best to leave it alone.
Inspecting Older Cars
Let’s be honest, of course, having an older car on the surface seems simpler. Fewer gadgets and parts to break. Cheaper insurance and sales tax to pay (dependent on the state you live in.) However, don’t forget to keep in mind the cost of buying an older car. Sometimes it’s more worth it to buy an older car, sometimes it’s not.
I myself drive a 1996 Toyota Corolla 5-speed manual. One owner with 84,000 miles. Do I regret my purchase? No, it’s one of the most reliable cars on the planet with so much fewer sensors and modules to go wrong. I don’t even have power windows!
However, I did have to do a complete engine re-seal because oil started pouring out of the crusty gaskets, and replaced all the shocks and struts because they were all shot from old age. Other than that, it’s quite a reliable car but I already factored in the repair cost after my initial purchase.
If you decide to purchase a vehicle over five years old:
- Inspect the car’s exterior, interior, and engine.
- Check for rust, non-working buttons, gauges, or sensors not working
- Check oil, engine, power steering, transmission, and brake fluids
- If there is a low amount of fluid or it’s black, you can count on having that serviced soon
- Check for leaks, corrosion, and overall how the engine idles and shifts.
- Ask for maintenance records and check if they changed the timing belt.
- The timing belt needs to be replaced every 80,000 miles
- Transmission fluid should be changed every 30-50,000 miles.
- Ask for a Carfax report to find out more about the vehicle
- Check the tire tread, if all lights work, and if there are any issues, you could always use that in negotiations when purchasing a vehicle.
Why Newer Cars are Ideal
Now we finally get to why a newer car is ideal. First of all, most of us have smartphones and are spoiled by all the seamless integrations. Manufacturers are very aware of the trends and put in more devices and gadgets to make sure we the customers are satisfied. It’s a good time to be alive.
Engines with low mileage whether it be gasoline, hybrid or electric normally work at their most efficient levels when new. It’s not a Stradivarius violin or aged wine. Newer is better even if you don’t like the design or would prefer to go without all the new gadgets.
Oil seals, gaskets, rubber hoses, sensors, and modules are all new which means they should work at the very least a few years trouble-free before you have to start doing maintenance that isn’t an oil change.
If you’re buying from a dealership it may still have its warranty so that’ll cover the cost of a few defective components or kinks if there are any. Some of those repairs can be quite costly.
Now I’m not saying to go and buy a brand new car because the depreciation on that is horrendous. Rather buy a good used car that’s five years old or newer and relatively cheap for your budget and gets you to your destination. Unless of course, you prefer the higher-end cars with their infinite amount of computers and high maintenance costs.
Old vs New
I would be remiss if I didn’t do a few direct comparisons of older vs newer cars. As you can probably already tell, I’m a fan of older cars but that’s just me. For most people that simply need to get somewhere, I would almost always recommend buying a newer car preferably five years old or newer.
Why Newer Cars are Better:
- Newer cars work relatively seamlessly with a smartphone nowadays
- Newer tires, shocks, struts, rubber bushings, etc…means a better ride
- Fewer premature engine failures as it’s still relatively new
- Convenient features like a backup camera and alert sensor for parking
- Better safety features and improved collision ratings
- less broken plastic components and rubber/gasket issues
- Less engine wear & tear due to typically lower mileage
Some pros for older cars:
- Fewer sensors to go wrong
- Better visibility on some models due to fewer safety restrictions
- Can be purchased for considerably less money
- Depending on the year make model – is more DIY maintenance friendly
Now it’s true that sometimes an older well-maintained car will last and serve you better than a newer one that’s been abused with no maintenance records and QT plastic cups all over the floor. It all comes down to inspecting the vehicle thoroughly and feeling confident you’re making a good purchase.
That’s all I have for now on why you should stick to buying a newer car rather than something older. I bought my old Corolla because it was more of an emotional purchase but still within my budget. If you’re going to buy a newer car, be sure to use the same checklist I provided above. That goes for any vehicle you decide to purchase.