My grandmother Big Mama would never have approved of my philosophy about car buying. Although I’ve bought several new cars, I’m also a huge advocate of buying used. Big Mama was not. “You are just buying somebody’s heartache,” she would say.
Yes, there are plenty of lemons out there. But increasingly, people don’t have to argue about new versus used. They are keeping cars for many years. My husband and I had a 1996 Toyota Camry that we bought used and have since passed on to a niece. Today the car, which she still drives, has more than 200,000 miles.
Penny pincher that I am, I was pleased to see a survey showing that the primary vehicle of 60 percent of the respondents has more than 100,000 miles. Two in three survey participants said they plan on driving their cars for more than 150,000 miles or “until it dies.”
And Most said that even if the economy were better, it would not change their propensity to keep their vehicle longer.
“Our data has been showing this trend for the past three years, but what is most compelling is that longer ownership has become an embedded habit,” said Brian Hafer, vice president of marketing for AutoMD.com.
It’s a good thing people are holding on to cars, because they won’t get a big price break on late-model used vehicles. The price gap between new and used vehicles in many segments has narrowed significantly, said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. In a recent commentary, Gutierrez said new vehicles, on average, sell for only 11.5 percent more than a comparable one-year-old car. Used subcompact and compact cars offer an average savings of 5 to 7 percent.
“While traditionally shoppers would save thousands of dollars by purchasing a slightly used vehicle rather than new, this is no longer the case,” Gutierrez wrote.
Here’s the thing. If you’d like to hang on to your car for a decade or more, you’ve got to take care of it. That means a monthly allowance for car maintenance. Notice I didn’t say repairs. I mean put money away to get regular checkups so that a mechanic can identify issues before you’re on the side of the road with a steaming engine.
Set aside money (separate from your emergency fund) so that when recommended checkups come due, you’ll have the cash.
One of the most expensive mistakes is neglecting preventive maintenance and minor repairs, AutoMd.com says. That rattle is telling you something. Squeaky brakes? Get them looked at before you hear a metal-on-metal sound. Preventive maintenance isn’t optional, especially if you drive to work. Do what you can to save up and regularly service your vehicle so you can avoid or at least minimize bills that will make you cry.