Three cheers for used cars!

In the process of buying our home, one of the questions which came up was about the garage door openers. The owners said they didn’t have any garage door openers because it was just programmed into their car.

My husband and I were scratching our heads over this. Programmed into their car? Their realtor looked at us like we were possibly from the Dark Ages and said, “Yes, my car has three buttons — one for each garage door — you just program it to each garage door and then push the button to open your garage door.”

Um, seriously? They make cars with onboard garage door openers now?

Apparently, yes. And as is also apparent, we know nothing about newer cars.

As we were chuckling over this while driving around town yesterday in Old Blue Van — our beloved van that has been miraculously hanging on by a thread for over two years! — we got to talking about how much money we’ve saved over the years by buying used vehicles and keeping them running until they’ve lost all life.

You know what the best thing about used and paid-for cars is? They might not be beautiful and luxurious, but they don’t come with a big car payment you have to lug around and pay every month.

How Much We’ve Saved By Not Having a Car Payment

Just for fun, I added up an approximate amount of money we’ve saved over the course of our marriage as a result of driving used cars.

We’ve been married 7.5 years and have never had a car payment. If we had, instead, always had one $400-per-month car payment, we would have spent $36,000 in car payments over the course of the last 7.5 years. And if we had two vehicles with car payments, we would have spent something like $72,000 in car payments.

$72,000! And that’s not even factoring in the interest you could earn if you invested that money.

Of course, these numbers are just a hypothetical and obviously, they would be inflated for many people. However, no matter the case, I would argue that you’re always going to save a fair amount by driving used and paid-for cars.

Not only does driving used vehicles mean you don’t have a car payment, it also means you usually have some funny vehicle stories to share as a result of driving clunkers! Like the time we were on our way home and Old Blue Van started smoking pretty significantly out the hood. We pulled over and my Mama Bear instinct kicked into gear and I got my babies out quicker than I knew was possible because all I could imagine was that it was going to blow up.

It didn’t. And somehow we resurrected it, yet again, and it’s driven for another two years — without another smoking incident.

Another great reason to buy used cars? They hardly depreciate at all! For instance, Old Blue Van has probably only gone down in value a few hundred dollars in the last two years. By contrast, a brand-spankin’-new minivan would likely have gone down in value by thousands of dollars in the last two years.

Yes, there are lots of great reasons to drive used and paid-for cars. Which is why I loved Amy’s post today:

When our 2001 mini-van recently rolled over 130,000 miles, I decided to ask my Facebook Fans if I was the only “weirdo” happy to drive an older, high-mileage, paid for vehicle.  Turns out… I’ve got company! ;) A few commenters {ahem} even insinuated that my van was “practically new.”  Ha!

I’m fully convinced that one easy way to save big money is to purchase used vehicles (with cash) and drive them as long as possible.

Read Amy’s full post here.

And yes, I was one of the commentors who had to rib her about a 2001 van being “new.” Because seriously? Only 130,000 miles? That baby’s got a long life left — at least according to our car standards. :)

photo by GManViz

Please note: I’m not advocating that everyone drive unsafe, gas-guzzling, money pit cars whose doors are falling off. If you can afford it, I’m all for getting good quality used cars — something we’re hoping to save up for in the not-too-distant future. In the mean time, though, my husband’s still driving Old Blue Van.

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Comments

  1. emma says

    we are so close to paying off our honda crv and I tell you i never want a car payment again! It will payed for in december and I am counting down the days. Our secondary car has always been payed for in cash, while it changes occasionally, it is nice to not have to worry about 2 car payments, can’t wait until there are no more payments left!

  2. April says

    I’m a big advocate of buying used cars as well, but a word of caution…be sure the car is/was properly inspected before buying! This sounds obvious, but some dealerships/owners are just out to make a buck, and are willing to sell a used car even if it is DANGEROUS to drive. My husband and I decided it was time to buy a car, in cash, when I was about 4 months pregnant. We made the mistake of only doing research on the cars we wanted, but did NOT do research on the dealership we went to. It ended up being a shady dealership with salesman that sweet talked us into buying a used Mazda 6. Anyway, long story short, after buying the car, I drove the car to work the next day and the car spun and lost control on the highway, and rammed head first onto incoming traffic at 60+ MPH. MIRACULOUSLY, we (baby and I) survived with little harm done, and insurance paid us back in full for the totaled car(s), but that was the most traumatic experience I’ve ever had in my life. We ended up paying in cash for a new car shortly after, not because we don’t like used cars, but after that experience, we were VERY cautious, and it was easier at that time in our lives to go with a brand new car from a trusted dealer.

  3. says

    I was talking to a friend the other day about how we’ve never had a car that could be unlocked from the key chain. She said that even though she can afford cars with that kind of luxury, she can’t get used to it, and still unlocks her car the old-fashioned way: turn the key in the door.

  4. says

    Our repairs and maintenance (which you have to do on any car) was no more than about $4-600 a year, about $50 a month on a high year. That included expensive repairs. I use synthetic oil in my old Buick, 1993 with almost 200k on it and yes, it costs more for oil changes, but we have had the car for several years and nothing major has gone wrong on it, because of regular maintaining and catching things before hand. i let one thing go on a van i owned because I did not have the money and ruined the whole engine….sometimes when you are trying to save money on cars, it pays to spend a little to save alot, especially with older cars.

  5. Crissy S. says

    I work at an inner city school. At one point, I had financed a Hyundai Santa Fe. When it stopped suddenly at a stop sign without any warning at 5 pm in the evening, I was quite upset. I can’t carry a gun because it is not allowed on school grounds even if it locked in my car and my stun gun just did not feel quite defensive enough. I was frustrated because I always took my vehicle in for its maintenance. Ever since then, my husband has insisted on keeping me in a new reliable vehicle so I have the bare minimum chance of break down. I dream of not having a car payment, but leasing is right for us to keep me in new vehicles. Maybe when I eventually switch schools, we will look into other options.

    On the flip side, we have no choice but to buy his truck because he puts 36,000 miles a year on a vehicle and is in construction where he has to have a truck. We have huge car payments because we were consistently upside down when the gas truck repairs were more expensive that the truck was worth. Finally, we decided to bite the bullet with large payments to purchase a diesel truck. Diesel trucks are not even “broken in” until 100,000 miles so we will actually still have value in this truck when we pay it off. No more upside down and a valuable trade-in means lower payments when we finally need to purchase another truck.

    Our situation is unique though. Few people put that many miles on a vehicle and few work in a low socioeconomic crime-ridden area.

  6. Kristen says

    I loved reading your post about Old Blue Van. My husband and I will not buy a brand new car. We will only buy used. There’s no reason to buy brand new (unless you have limitless funds) since they depreciate the minute they are driven off the lot. We have 2 vehicles that have been paid off for 3 years now. Both cars (Honda and GMC) are over 10 years old and each have well over 160,ooo miles on them. It’s been great not having a car payment. Of course newer cars may get better gas mileage, but it still isn’t worth having a monthly car payment. We both came from the mindset that you drive a car until it falls apart (not literally, of course). We are hoping the cars last another year or so and then we will start looking for something a little bigger that has better gas mileage. Of course, it will be previously owned!

  7. Melissa says

    I didn’t read ALL of the other comments so perhaps someone made this point already and if so I’m sorry to restate, but my husband and I bought our last two vehicles NEW. We bought cheaper gas efficient vehicles paying between $10000- $12000 total each and having payments under $300 a month….we pay them off fast and never took the loans to term. We actually have saved money monthly over the vehicles we owned before and all the repair bills. We enjoy our warranty repairs and just recently bought the very first set of tires for our 2004 cavalier. The only other NON-warranty thing we’ve done to the cav is a break job and one set of wheel bearings….tell me you’ve only spent $400 in repairs in the last 6 years? My 2007 Saturn ION has never had any work done to it, it doesn’t make noises and I’ve never had to yank my baby out from it fearing for his life. We buy new and keep until it’s earned it’s keep….Buying new doesn’t mean trading to stay new, it means less repair bills and knowing everything about your vehicle.

    • Elizabeth says

      @Melissa, I agree! I think cars are like shoes– you buy the best you can! I don’t have a problem with used (we’ve done both new and used cars), but I think it is more important that you buy the safest, most environmentally responsible care you can afford and take care of it. Ultimately, keeping your car as long as you can is more important financially than whether you bought it used or new.

  8. Isel says

    I drive my car until the wheels fall off, then I put new tires on the car. My last car was 13 years old and had 316,000 miles when we gave it to a family member. It ran great, but we were expecting our first child and decided to buy a used SUV, cash. Our SUV is now 9 years old and has 160,000. Oh, and it has the three buttons for the garage door. ;)

  9. jenny says

    I love not haviing car payments! I’ve been driving the ittle car my parents got for me when I turned sixteen for years now, and we paid off the loan on my husband’s truck in February. That extra $400 a month is helping us build a very nice nest egg for the uncertain future as DH trasitions from Active Duty Army to the Reserves. Now we’re saving up for the replacement for my car because frankly… it’s not going to be very practical when we start having kids!

  10. Ashlee says

    My husband and I have never had a car payment. We were both lucky to have our parents purchase decent used cars for us when we were younger. For our wedding my grandma gave us $2,500 in matured savings bonds. We kept them for something special. Once baby came we knew my two door car was just not going to cut it. After selling my car and cashing in those bonds and upping the insurance on the new car we still had $500 left over! I wouldn’t buy a new car pretty much ever. My first car was still under warrenty, only 6 months old and half the price of a new one. It was a repossession, not a thing wrong with it.

  11. dee says

    I have bought new cars and used cars… always with cash. New cars can be had for thousands under sticker price at the end of the model year. I just passed down my 7-yr-old Buick to my kids. (We always keep one older car when we get a new car for our 5 college-age kids to use then they are home.) I bought that Buick new for $10K under the sticker price. I had looked for used, but couldn’t find a better deal than new.

    I put a lot of miles on my car because my family is scattered in a 500-mile radius. For that reason, I want a reliable car and not to break down in the mountains in Vermont in a snow storm. I just bought a 2-yr-old Toyota Rav4 w/ 7K miles for $6K under the sticker. I couldn’t get any Toyota dealers to budge enough from the sticker to buy new.

    Don’t eliminate new if you can get as good a deal or better than used. Love the car though because you will have it for a looooong time.

  12. Tracy says

    Plus you have to factor in when you have a new car with a payment you are required to carry full coverage on it! When you drive a paid for car you can choose how much insurance to carry. Talk about savings!

  13. susie says

    Great post! All the comments were interesting too. We love used cars. My parents gave us 95 Ford Explorer in 2006 that had 275,000 miles on it so we would have a 2nd car. None of us expected it to last much longer. We drove it for 2 1/2 years and sold it for $1000 when the repairs needed were more than we wanted to pay. Love Love Love used cars!!!!

  14. Jessica says

    @Margaret,

    I have to agree with you. When I read $400 for a car payment I kinda giggled…we have had car payments and they are never above 300 a month and most people we know don’t have car payments any higher than 300…now there are exceptions bc I do know of a couple that are paying 500 EACH for 2 seperate car payments which we think is just plain silly!

  15. Mary in Ohio says

    We have NEVER owned a new car and we NEVER will. My hubby is blessed to be able to fix anything and my dad made sure that I knew how to do just about everything on my own vehicle from gassing her up to changing out an engine and tranny (He never had boys so I was his helper and boy did we have fun working on cars and going to the race tracks together!)
    We recently bought hubby a Jeep Grand Cherokee to replace his S10 pickup (which we still have and do still use) for $450.00 it will soon need a new tranny but we can do the work ourselves and now we have two vehicles that are capable of hauling the whole family with what we saved buying the Jeep (We had budgeted $3000.00 for a vehicle) we recently purchased a good used boat that dh has wanted for awhile, we will use it for family fun and for food (we love to fish!)
    Our S10 has 175,000 miles on her, the Jeep has 213, 000 miles on her and My van has 239, 000 miles on her! Yeah we have to some parts into them once in awhile but because we do it ourselves that is actually rather frugally done (we do not have to pay LABOR charges and that is the biggest amount of any repair!) With 3 kids and a BIG dog we have to have big cars and SUVS and vans fit with our lifestyle so we buy them used and save the difference for other things!

  16. says

    I had to laugh at something most people didn’t comment on – the built-in garage remote as a ‘new’ thing. My 2000 Avalon, with 189K+ miles on it, has a built in remote! We never used it though, as it wasn’t compatible with our opener. :(

    We are buy new, pay cash, drive until the wheels fall off people. We are also heavy mileage drivers (NC to AL or FL several times a year adds up) so we spend a LOT of time in our vehicles. (My new van is only 8 months old and has 15,000 miles on it already.)

  17. Katie W. says

    My husband and I always buy used cars, but only a certain amount of years old. We still have my car (ford escort) that I had gotten when I first got my license and about 1 1/2 yrs. ago we bought a used Honda Oddessey that we love! :)

    We love buying used! :)

  18. JRA in CO says

    We recently had hubby’s car die – as in the old faithful machanic called to report on what was wrong and only said “so, what color do you want the new car to be?” We towed that 20+ yr old clunker to the scrap yarn and got $300 for it, and started looking for a “new” one.
    we had some money saved up and high hopes/expectations for what we wanted – newer than 2000, under 100,000 miles, etc., and we were praying and trusting for our needs to be met. We contacted a used dealership and he practicaly laughed in our faces when we told him how much we had to spend. The very next day we found an ’05 with only 45,000 on it for EXACTLY what we had in cash!
    Now, since them, my car (01, with only 85,000 miles) died and we had to use the charge card to replace the engine. (pooh!) but now I have a 2001 with an engine with only 65,000 miles on it! The credit card will be paid off fairly quickly – with the help of blogs like this! (Thanks!!)
    I wouldn’t DREAM of buying new!! I feel like we DO have new cars!

  19. Chrissy says

    This was just what I needed at just the right time..oddly enough, I just had a “friend” admit to me that she felt sorry for me that my husband and I were driving an “unreliable car”.I won’t even waste my time explaining how ignorant and hurtful this person is! The car is older yes, but has never given us problems. She tore my heart out and I was beginning to question God and my choices in our car, money, etc.,,but then I read this post, and I couldn’t help but laugh! I just knew God would reassure me I was doing the right thing. Thanks again! You are amazing!

  20. Bethany says

    Love these posts and all these crazy-high-mileage stories! DH and I always pay cash for used cars too. Yeah, we pay a little bit here and there for maintenance, but not remotely near as much as we’d pay for a new car.

    DH’s first car was a ’86 Mazda 626 that he got for $800 and sold to a friend for $100 with 205K miles on it when we were able to be a one-car household. DH’s second car was a ’94 Nissan Sentra that we bought for $1,000, he drove it for 2 years, and then sold it for $850 with 165K miles – so basically we drove it for 2 years for $150! Then he treated himself to a 1993 Toyota Celica convertible (purchased by us in 2007) which now has 170K miles on it. The only major work we’ve had to do on it was have the master brake cylinder replaced (not too expensive) and he opted to have the A/C repaired since we live in Florida.

    My first car was a 1998 Toyota Corolla (purchased in 2002) with only 51K miles for $6,000. That will probably be the newest car I ever have. I intended to drive it into the ground, but instead drove it into another car at 118K miles. =o( Insurance gave us $3,200 after our deductible and we found a 1997 Toyota Corolla with 91K miles on that we got for – get this – $3200. My 2nd ‘Rolla now has 128K miles on it, runs great, and has had only routine maintenance work on it.

    Love me some old cars. =o)

  21. sarah n says

    I would have to say that this topic is the one thing I disagree with Dave Ramsey on. My husband and I have been married for 7 years and have bought only really old used cars. We have spent EASILY over $15,000 in fixing up these junkers, thinking that “a paid for car is the best kind”. Well, after our last bout of car repairs we started thinking that isn’t so true. We really regret fixing up our cars after seeing what went wrong next. So, after a lot of thinking we decided to not put any more money into our old van, and the day it died(we are a one car family and we literally had to borrow a car to go look at cars) we did a lot of research and purchased(with a loan) an ’07 Honda Oddysey that is a certified Honda. While they payments are high, we feel good about the fact that we can put money into this vehicle without thinking we are wasting our money on a junk heap. We have a four year loan which I am aggressively working Dave Ramsey style toward paying off in two and we plan on our kids(oldest is 5) driving it. According to my calculations, if we pay it off in even three years, save the $250 in cash we are paying, in 7 years(totaling ten years that we’ll have had it) we’ll have $21,000, plenty of money to pay cash for a nice car. I hope we made the right choice, but we have never had good luck with older cars. Everything else Dave Ramsey, I LOVE!

  22. Andrea says

    I have to chuckle every time I see someone comment about their high miles in the hundred-thousand range. My husband’s Honda is 15 years old and my Dodge mini-van is 10 years old and both are over 222,000 miles each. Still going, although we are going to be looking for a new (used) one for the family vehicle in the next year.

  23. says

    I currently drive a 1996 Maxima with 170,000+ miles on it. I bought it two years ago for $2500 (when it had about 145,000 miles), and have carefully tracked all the money I’ve spent in repairs. Even with some repairs, I’ve saved a LOT of money compared to buying a brand new car (or even compared to buying a much nicer, newer used car). Also it gets pretty good gas mileage (over 25mpg highway) and has never left me stranded or anything like that. Many people think that you really won’t save much money buying an older car because of all the repairs. It is true you will certainly have more repairs, but you would have to get a really, really bad car that needed an absurd number of repairs before you’d make up that savings. I have paid for the repairs with my insurance premium savings alone (no need for comprehensive coverage when the car isn’t worth much anyway). I also think it takes some stress out of owning a car. If it isn’t worth much anyway, you really don’t have to worry much about it.

  24. Anitra says

    My husband and I have always bought used cars (sometimes with a small loan, sometimes outright). I see our young friends buying new cars and making payments for 3-4 years or more – by the time they have the loan paid off, they are sick of the car, which is no longer “new”.

    After having our first child, we realized that car seats didn’t fit very well in our small sedan and smaller truck. We upgraded to a 4-year old crossover (wagon/minivan)… and then decided to keep both of our other paid-for vehicles, too! It feels luxurious to us to own 3 cars… never mind that the 11-year-old truck and the 9-year-old sedan each have 150,000 miles on them (and the “new” crossover has almost 90,000 now). The insurance on the truck is dirt-cheap, and it gives us an added measure of security that when something does break down, we don’t have to live the one-car lifestyle until we can fix it – which also allows us to do a lot of the repairs ourselves.

  25. Alison says

    I decided to buy a new car when my old car was totaled in 2008. It has paid off for me, however it was a prudent purchase. I have a 2007 Toyota Corolla, which I was able to purchase at an amazing price by researching the best deals online via local dealer’s websites. I ended up driving 90 miles to get the deal, but for such a huge purchase it was worth it (plus we visited friends).

    I just like the security of having a car that has years before I have some major problems. I drive a lot, unfortunately, so I think this was the best choice for me. However, I will probably drive this one until it dies!

  26. says

    I love reading these comments…. everyone has different situations and it is so interesting to read about….

    A few years ago we bought a brand-new Subaru Outback and it was actually cheaper to buy the 2007 than to get the 2006 model (still on the lot) or a used 2004-2005 model (which is what we were looking at)…. it was an odd year I guess…. something about the value of the yen. It was a huge luxury and I’d been saving my pennies for a few years to get the $2000 upgrade to leather seats and a sunroof etc. AND I LOVE IT. I think what I spent for the sunroof I’ve easily gotten out of it in joy. But that’s me. I also felt the splurge for the 2007 gave me side-curtain airbags all the way back and I do like that safety feature because this will be my son’s first car when he turns 15 (he’s 6 now) so I wanted safe but with some cool features but not so cool he thinks he’s a hotrod…. how’s that for thinking ahead?

    Then we got a newish Toyota Sienna last year and we were able to get the fancy one with all the new safety features because it was used…. love heated seats and 4wd in this climate.

    We travel a lot (we farm 3 hours from where we live) so it is worth it to have newer vehicles for safety and convenience and with so many hours in the car I like the additional “fun” factor. I also have AAA and I like it… I’m wondering what anyone else thinks of it value-wise?

    One thing we’ve done in the past is buy used vehicles from state auctions…. they have excellent maintenance records and are usually pretty cheap…. so that’s something to consider.

    The other thing to consider (besides insurance, license and registration etc) is the cost of TIRES. My van has 17″ tires and those things are EXPENSIVE. Just another thought…… I miss the days of driving my little pickup with 15″ tires that cost less than $60 each.

    We’ve always paid cash for cars but I have an automatic withdraw from my checking to a money market each month that I consider my “car payment” for the next car…. hopefully about 10 years from now…..

  27. emily e says

    My husband and I actually found that in our case, getting a new car was a better deal than a used car was for the car we wanted. We bought at the right time to get a killer deal. Used ones were about 5k more than a brand new one. Plus we paid it off in less than 6 months and have no car payment. I’m all for buying a used car but for us, a new car was a better deal. And trust me- we looked at plenty of used cars trying to find what we needed.

  28. Kim says

    I am 37 years old and I am on my 6th new car since I was 18 years old. In 2001 my husband and I both were laid off from the same company and lost our $150,000 incomes. We had car payments that totalled over $1000 per month, $600 excise bills, and $3200 auto insurance bills. I came home that day and cancelled our cable and traded in my car for a $300 car payment. Since that day my husband has kept his long paid off 1998 GMC truck with only 66,000 miles (I can not imagine that we would have replaced it twice in the old days already) and I did purchase another auto with a $12,000 loan(no car=no job) for a 2005 Kia minivan in 2006 with 22,000 miles. I am now driving that van with 104,000 miles (I do sales and rack up the miles but get a $800 expense check monthly) and it is the first car I have ever paid off and not bought a new one. It is absolutely liberating to have no car payments, very low excise, and lower insurance! I am taking that $800 expense check and saving it to replace my mini van when it dies. (I do need a reliable car for my sales job) Cross your fingers for me that my Kia lasts long enough to pay cash for a replacement! Love your blog.