Which is more economical in the long run: buying new or used?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1988 Honda Civic 4WD wagon, which I bought a year ago for $1,500. It's
been wonderful and absolutely nothing has gone wrong with it. My boyfriend has
a 1994 Mustang which he's trying to sell (now that he has me, he no longer
needs a studmobile, so he wants a big, hulking SUV testosteronemobile like a
Ford Expedition). Now, my family has always bought used cars and has always had
good luck with them. My boyfriend's family has always bought big, fancy new
cars (and gone into great debt and financed them for years and years and
years). He refuses to even consider a used car because he says you end up
paying way more for a used car because of all the repair costs. Who's right? --

RAY: Well, we've actually sat down and done the math, Anna, and there's no
question about it. You're absolutely right.

TOM: We wrote a whole big pamphlet on the subject; How to Buy a Great Used Car
(for a copy, send $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No.10 envelope
to Used Car, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420). And while there's too much
information in it to fit here in our newspaper column, we can give you the gist
of what we discovered.

RAY: We added up all the costs involved in owning a car; buying it (the
purchase price), maintaining it (gas, oil, oil changes), fixing it (repairing
things when they break), and insuring it. And then we figured out how much it
costs per year, on average, to own a new car, a 3-year-old car and a complete
heap -- factoring in all of the variables. And guess which one was cheapest?

TOM: The heap, of course. Even after paying for the expected repairs, the heap
cost an average of only $3,767 a year for everything.

RAY: The 3-year-old used car was the next-most-expensive, all things
considered, at a little over $5,000 a year, including repair costs.

TOM: And a new car, even though there are virtually no repair costs, costs over
$10,000 a year to own, on average. A huge chunk of that, of course, is the loan

RAY: Most people are scared of used cars because they're afraid of huge repair
bills. But if you buy a new car, you're guaranteed to be making huge payments
to the bank every month. With a used car, some months you'll have repair bills
and some months you won't. And unless you make a terrible choice in used cars,
the repair bills will never add up to as much as your new-car payments.

TOM: And how do you make sure you don't get stuck with a terrible used car? You
absolutely MUST get any used car checked out by an independent mechanic before
you buy it. It has to be examined top-to-bottom by someone you trust. We
include a comprehensive checklist in our pamphlet which tells your mechanic
what to look for. And if he follows those guidelines, you should end up with a
good, reliable used car that'll save you a lot of money over buying new.

RAY: So I'd try to steer your boyfriend toward a nice, '94 Explorer or
something. Tell him with the 10 grand or so he saves, he can go to the
drugstore and buy all the testosterone supplements he wants.

* * *

Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper,
or e-mail them by visiting http://cartalk.com on the World Wide Web.
c 1997 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman

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