We’re going to tell you from the top: we don’t have a definitive answer. We will be laying out the details so you can make your own decision, but the fact of the matter is no car-shopping ventures are the same.
You want a new car – or, rather, a different car. It can be new, it can be used, but it can’t be your current one since either something is chronically wrong with that car or there’s a fair chance something will be very soon.
A new car would be completely unbroken, but more expensive; a used car would be cheaper, but even one with a clean record could quickly start to show its age.
Plenty of people find themselves in this situation every day, and many feel like they can’t win. Can they? Maybe the best way to set this up is to break it down issue-by-issue.
New cars obviously cost more than one that’s been well-maintained, but that’s not all. Insurance rates are (usually) higher, and new cars depreciate instantly when you buy them. If you ever plan on selling the thing, you’ll be lucky to get a fraction of your money back.
Yet there’s a fair argument to the theory of buying new will save you in the long run by virtue of not needing repairs as frequently nor as severely. This is not black and white (see “Reliability” below), but if you plan to buy a new car and keep it for as long as it’ll run, it could very much pay for itself in due time.
Furthermore, used cars can have costs tacked on beyond just repair work. If you’re buying from a dealer, they could jack up the price far beyond its Blue Book value. Plus, some riskier makes and models can prompt higher insurance quotes than a new car from a quality brand.
Many point out when buying used, you can buy into a higher class of car for the same money as a lower-tier new car. But this begs the question of whether you were ever looking to save money at all. Besides, why tease yourself buying an older high-end car if it doesn’t even have all the state-of-the-art bells and whistles?
New-car advocates insist it’s a foolish decision to buy a used car since it will soon need repairs. Meanwhile, used-car devotees insist cars are built better than ever, so the used cars can keep chugging along for much longer than we think.
Once again, it’s not black and white. With every new model year, problems may arise on the assembly line. Manufacturer recalls will likely never be a thing of the past. You can (and should) research a car before you buy it, but there’s never any guarantee any particular specimen won’t be a dud.
That doesn’t mean a used car will always be a proven, tried-and-true trooper that’s guaranteed not to fail on you just because it hadn’t failed on its previous owner.
Every day presents a new opportunity for something to go wrong and stay wrong. Not to mention, you’ll never have to ask yourself if you should buy a new car from a sketchy private seller.
If you Google, “Should I ever buy a new car?” this will be one point you don’t see addressed.
The argument so far seems to favor searching for a decent used car – one that’s a few years old, has no issues, and was only traded in because the previous owner just felt like trading up. This would certainly be a good move, except for one thing:
Where are these mythical perfect used cars?
People would probably be more willing to take the risk of buying used if the odds weren’t so poor. If a car is being resold, that means somebody had it and consciously decided they didn’t want it anymore, so why would you want it?
When looking for such a nice used car, there’s a bit of a, shall we say, socio-economic-geographical-cultural bend to it.
Your area might not have any nice used cars if people in your neck of the woods simply aren’t the kind to trade in a car for the heck of it. It’s entirely possible there aren’t enough vain people around for you to benefit from their wasteful hubris.
It might not even be the people’s fault if the only used cars you can find in your area are trash. Do you live in a climate that’s very hot, very cold, or just has very extreme weather in general? Come to think of it, are there a lot of bad roads and potholes in your area?
If so, surely you’ve seen what the weather does to the cars on the road; Cadillacs get caught in hailstorms, too. If you live on the placid West Coast or maybe the Mid-Atlantic, you may have an easier chance of finding a delicately-used pre-owned car than those of us who have to regularly deal with heatstroke or frostbite (or both).
So… are you sure you need another car? Are you sure?
The big argument in favor of buying used is cars can make it to 200,000 miles and beyond much more often than in the past. With that in mind, is your car really unsalvageable? If it doesn’t have any specific chronic problems with its engine or transmission, hope may not be lost for it yet.
Take it to a mechanic you trust and get their opinion on whether any issues are worth repairing and how much longer they think the car can last. Then, if applicable, take your car to a body shop you trust and ask the same questions. If they both say the car can be restored and run for a few more years if you just pony up, then it’s your call whether it’s worth it to do so.
It might not be. For all you know, it could be “functionally totaled,” with the cost of repairs exceeding the worth of the car. But you also could find you’ve been gearing up to make a rash decision and you’re quite literally selling your current car short.
When you’re deciding between buying new or used, you need to take a lot into account. If nothing else, we hope we made it clear what those topics of contemplation ought to be. Hey, we warned you this would be inconclusive.
We will say it seems like buying used has the edge, but neither avenue is without its risks. Maybe it’s best that it’s vague because if nobody bought new cars, then there wouldn’t be any used cars to buy (and also, an entire sector of the economy would probably be destroyed).
The only thing about car-buying that everyone seems to agree on is you should be boring and buy a reliable Toyota or Honda like everyone else on the road seems to have. Failing that, move to a place where you can rely upon public transit and never drive again.
(We’re serious, though.)