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Buy older upscale car or keep new one?

A little complicated, so please bear with me. I’m about to inherit a little money and plan to pay bills, but am considering an auto change. I currently own a 2011 Hyundai Elantra, one year old, four more years of payments at $342/month. I am ill and on a fixed income, but at the time it was a great deal (and it’s a good car), but not the kind of car I would prefer to have. But I had to co-sign with my girlfriend which I am afraid that relationship is about to end, so I may be forced to give it up anyway. After paying bills, I may have about 10K-15K left. I can sell the Elantra and make the payoff and maybe make a thousand or so. I am considering doing that and looking for a 2003-2006 Infiniti G35, Lexus IS250, Acura TSX, or even a 2002 Mazda Millenia. I’m talking about a patient search for a garaged/grandma drove it/well kept/low mileage (40K-60K)/ maintenance records good deal. I’ve looked on AutoTrader and Cars.com and they are out there, but you have to be patient and I’m willing to travel (bought one car before on eBay and flew to pick it up and drove it home). The idea is to get a very reliable car (per Consumer Report) that is loaded and able to keep with not much expense to 150,000 miles or more. I drive about 15K/year. I would be able to drive a car I actually want and lose my car payment. The other option, as a friend suggested, is use that money and pay down the Elantra so I’d only have a year or so to pay it off. The only deal is I’m 52, life is short, and, if things are equal, I’d like a car I really want to drive, and to enjoy. Any thoughts?

Why do you think you can sell your Elantra 1 year into a 5 year loan and come out ahead? That just about never happens. Did you put down a large down payment?

I wouldn’t get ANY of those cars you list. You can get a perfectly good mainline car from Nissan, Toyota, Honda or Mazda (or many other brands, but just naming those that you referred to) that will likely cost a lot less to keep running in the long haul. I’d particularly avoid the Mazda Millenia, as it had an extraordinarily rare Miller-cycle supercharged engine. That supercharger goes (not uncommon), and you’re in for several thousand dollars in repairs.

Personally, I wouldn’t look to trade up in your case, but more of a lateral move - to something that gets you out of the payment or at least reduces it.

Have you considered a Mazda Protege or Protege5? I’m fond of the latter, but the former is a pretty good car, too. Even a 2003 or newer Ford Focus. Those would be very reliable cars, sort of like the Hyundai taken back a (car) generation or so. You’d likely be looking at $5000 or so for one in good condition. You could put $0 down, and at today’s loan rates, you could cut your payment by at least 40% and reduce your term to 24 months. Go out to 48 months, and you could cut your payment by near 70%.

1st, I’m not convinced you will be able to sell the Elantra, pay off the note, and pocket any money. Reason with a $342 montly payment I wonder how much of a down payment you made at the time of purchase? The depreciation hit at one year is pretty steep.

2nd, you are looking at older cars with more miles and higher maintenance/repair costs. Those '02 to '06 cars will need more money to replace tires, brakes, struts, and those are just the normal wear items. Repairs will be more frequent and more expensive on these “upscale” cars.

3rd, buy your current car by paying off the loan. You’ll immediately reduce your costs to own the car by greatly reducing the finance charges. This could be a savings of several thousand dollars! Next, this car won’t need much in the way of tires, brakes, and other repairs are under warranty for several more years. So, other than gas, oil changes, and some fluid changes at 50-60K miles you’ll have minimum out of pocket costs. If you sell the car and buy anything else you’ll pay over $1,000 in sales tax, titling fees, and registration. Insurance on your upscale cars will be more expensive.

Switching cars will cost you about $4,000 or more. Now if the call of that upscale car is too great to resist that’s your choice. Financially, you are not going to gain and the switch will eat up a lot of new nestegg.

My suggestion is to pay down the Elantra if you don’t lose it. Then, when you feel like driving something different, go rent an upscale car for the weekend, and it will be a new one as well. You can sample different makes. Forty years ago, my “dream car” was an Austin Healey Sprite, but I was in no position to purchase one and it didn’t really fit my needs. Fortunately, I had a neighbor who worked for an imported car dealership. He had National Guard duty once a month and he would leave me the keys to an AH Sprite demonstrator. He would wink and tell me that it would be bad for the car to sit for a week-end without being driven. Naturally, Iwas always glad to help out my neighbor.
At any rate, I got the desire to own an AH Sprite out of my system. At any rate, rent your “dream vehicle” for weekend drives and see if your infatuation with a luxury car lasts.

Texases, I put down $2500 from my last car, a Mazda3 that I drove for two years and only cost me $2000 since used cars went up in price dramatically. I had previously owned one, but this one was a lemon. Got less MPG than the one I had previously, even though it was five years newer (no one could tell me why), and had three recalls plus some other minor problems in the two years. Advertised it and sold it in four days for what I asked for. Believe it or not, the used car market for small cars is crazy again with gas prices going up. People will pay just about anything for a small car with good MPG, even though they are overpaying and probably not saving much. I’m pretty sure, based on my research, I could come out even with the Elantra. Eraser, I had two Mazda3’s, but you can’t get ANY car worth a crap for $5,000 anymore. I’ve been helping a friend search for her’s daughter’s first car and that was what I told her, $5,000 should get you a decent reliable car. I was wrong. It’s more like $7,000, and that’s a Ford Taurus, 2007, 50K miles. That’s about the BEST I can find her. You can’t even find a Mazda3 (started in 2004) for less than 10K. UncleTurbo, I feel fairly certain (I’ve sold five of my own cars) I can come out even on the Elantra based on used car prices for small cars these days. If I can’t, I won’t sell it. Are you sure about the extra maintenance? The reason I mention those cars is that they are basically a Honda, a Nissan, a Toyota, and the Millenia was the best car Mazda ever made, produced in their Hiroshima plant, not in the States. I have a local mechanic that does great work and is extremely reasonable, and I would just use him. Yes, I expect to pay for parts that are simply worn out over time. But, again, Consumer Reports gives all these cars their highest recommendation and mechanics have told me a Toyota engine will last 200K miles easy. And the insurance may not be as much as you think on these older upscale cars, since they aren’t worth as much, since they are older. I do realize I will save some on financing, but I got 3.12% financing, so it’s not a huge component of the cost. But I realize I will cut my payment schedule a ton. Your final statement could be true. I analyze things to death, and it would have to be the right car at the right price with the right mileage or I wouldn’t do it (unless I am forced to sell the Elantra). But I dream of owning an upscale, near-luxury car , Triedaq. It is an issue of costs, but it’s also an issue of actually owning a car I WANT… But I thank you for all your comments, and I appreciate the validity of having multiple opinions.

You’re putting too much faith in what people are telling you.

Mazda Proteges are VERY good cars… and there are plenty for sale around me for $5000. Same with older Focuses. High mileage? Sure, by older standards, but not new ones.

The Millenia was hardly the best Mazda ever made - far from it. Most luxurious? Sure. But not even close to the most reliable or cost-friendly.

And Toyota engines won’t “last 200k miles easy” any more than most other manufacturers. To get to that mileage, they ALL need proper maintenance more than anything else, and plenty of Toyota engines fail before 200k even with proper maintenance. No more so than other makes, really, but they do certainly fail.

@golfdawg11 - drop by a Carmax and ask them for an offer on your Elantra (they give them for free, it’s non-binding), then see how that compares to your payoff.

Just my 2 cents, but based on the being ill and on a fixed income situation that you’re in I think getting rid of what you have is a huge mistake and you’re letting the salivating over extra money cloud your judgment.
I want a Porsche Carrera and a Bugatti Veyron but it ain’t gonna happen either because I couldn’t afford to drive them much less buy them.
You have a 2011 model car and you’re talking about jumping into a used higher end (higher end also means more expense) car that may or may not be a good reliable vehicle.

Consumer Reports cannot say with one molecule of accuracy if a used car is any good or not; that all depends on who owned it, how it was maintained, etc.
Being owned by an elderly person does not mean the car is a creampuff either. If the car is lightly driven, only sees oil changes every year or so, etc. then it could be in worse shape than a much higher miles car that is on the road every day.
Your mechanic needs to revisit his line of thinking about Toyota engines going 200k miles. Of course they will go 200k miles, but so will everything else on the planet.

Just some food for thought anyway and it’s based on my being very frugal with money and keeping “wants” and “needs” separated. Believe me, the want list is a lot longer than the need side of the ledger. It’s the thought of what the game plan would be if there’s a glitch in the new used car or a change in your lifestyle which would make jumping off on another car a bad idea.

Please excuse the questions, but

  1. how ill are you? Are you ill with something that makes planning for old age futile?
  2. Do you have a disabling illness that makes quality of life difficult?
  3. Do you have othere depending on you?

If you ansered yes to the first two questions and no to the third, than to ne honest I think you should get what you’d like with the money and ignore the “intelligent” decisions.

If you expect to be around for the long haul or have someone else depending on you, than I think you should make the intelligent decision…enjoy your Elantra and set aside or invest the money. Peace of mind fonancially is a part of quality of life.

Texases, CarMax will give you a quote, but it’s only slightly higher than trade-in, and I’ve done that just to get a ballpark. Of the five cars I have sold, they all sold for about 15%-20% more than the CarMax quote, but never as high as the KBB or AutoTrader private sale figure. Except my last Mazda3, which sold nearly at the private sale calculation. Eraser1998, with all things being equal, my experience (and apparently Consumer Reports and J D Powers), has been Japanese cars outperform and outlast American cars, though that gap has narrowed. That’s why Toyota and Honda have constantly topped most reliable lists for years. Yes, it does depend on how the car was maintained, but I wouldn’t buy ANY car like this without full records and a clean CarFax report. There’s two areas, how good the car was in the first place, and how it was maintained afterwards. Chevy Caviliars were some of the worst cars recently made, and I don’t care how well you maintained them, you couldn’t pay ME to buy one with over 75K. But what would you consider the high end of mileage these days on an American car? At what point would you say, that’s not worth buying at any price?ok4450, you are assuming the cost of the cars I have discussed are more expensive to maintain, and they are to some degree. But I’m looking for a higher quality car also. I’m as frugal as they get, and I’m trying to maintain a balance between a high quality used car and the intrinsic value (pleasure) I get from it with the hard numbers cost of making a change. I know you can’t understand my position being disabled, but when you do get in my position, you do try to find pleasure in what you can, but within reason. I’m trying to see if the cost of making a change will balance out financially, or come close, for the next 5-7 years. I’d obviously would love a better car, that’s a given, but I have to feel comfortable that financially it’s feasible. As far as every car going 200K, if a Chevy Cavalier can do that, I’d have to see it to believe it :slight_smile: the same mountainbike, your questions are very relevant (1) I’m ill enough that it is extremely doubtful I’ll every work again, and I will rely on Social Security disability until I’m old enough to receive my company pension in addition. I was fortunate enough to make a high income when I became disabled, so I’m at the upper end of SS disability income. Planning for old age is not futile, but my quality of life is degrading quicker than others at my age. Let’s put it this way, I went to see Mt. Rushmore last summer instead of waiting, because it is possible I may not physically be able to make that type of trip in the future. (2) Quality of life is worse, as I said, and will continue to degrade. (3) I have no one else that depends on me. So your final statement is very relevant. There may come a day when I’m not able to play golf again, which would be a sad day indeed, so I play when I can (with discount coupons and less xpensive courses). I’d like to be able to drive one more really good car before I can’t or am unable to enjoy it. Sure, I can live with the Elantra, but life is short. I’m just trying to balance the emotion with the financial aspects of it, like I do with most things in life.

Thank you for your candor. Honestly, I think you should spend the money on whatever makes you happy and enjoy life while you can. In the bigger scheme of things the only things money can buy that are worth squat are (1) security and (2) quality of life. get the quality of life while you still can. You can catch up later…or not. Worst case, you’ll run out of money and have to sell the car, but by then it won’t matter anymore. You’ll be a pensioner with SS checks and unable to drive anyway.

If I were in your shoes I’d get a brand new car. Your tastes are modest. We’re not talking about a $250,000 Bentley here, we’re talking about an entry level Lexus or Infinity (or whatever). You’re going to be unable to enjoy these things in the foreseeable future. I urge you to enjoy them NOW. You can grow old saying “I’m glad I did” or saying “I wish I had”. Choose the former, not the latter.

Sincere best to you.

I’ll preface this with, I’m A Blunt Guy. Take that as you will.

Let me see if I have this right. You want to get rid of a 1 year old car with a 10 year powertrain warranty in exchange for an older car with little to no warranty, but you’re on a fixed income, money is tight, except for right now because you inherited some money that you now want to blow on a car? Selling a car that’s 1 year old means you just took the maximum hit on depreciation, or in other words, you’re going to lose money on it.

I appreciate that you want to have a nice car to drive around, but would caution that progressive disabilities (which it sounds like you have based on what you said to TSM) are expensive. Damn expensive. Depending on what you have, you might need a new house or to retrofit your current house for handicapped accessibility. You might need a $50,000 handicap-accessible van. You might need a power wheelchair - those can cost 25 grand right there. In other words, it sounds like you are likely to be facing some hefty expenses in the future, and were I you I would sock away what I could now so that you had a little more wiggle room down the road. Having a nice car in the driveway while you eat ketchup sandwiches is no fun.

I hope my bluntness does not offend you, but having personal experience with a family member who had a progressive disability, I can report that he was very lucky - his insurance was top notch, and what it didn’t pay for, MDA helped to cover. And yet still he had to buy the van himself - and he was fortunate enough to have a job that allowed him to continue working despite his disability, but there wasn’t a whole lot of room for ultra-luxuries.

Only you know what your disability is, and what it will do to you in the future, so you need to really think about what you might need down the road, and whether buying this car now is worth having to sweat the finances later.

You asked for opinions and I just expressed mine, which is based on a purely financial standpoint. Given a choice I would always take money in the bank over (fill in the blank).
I’m just having a hard time understanding giving up on a near new car with a 10/10 warranty and venturing into the unknown on something like a generic car that may have little or no warranty.

As to Cavaliers going 200k miles, many of them do that and more. My mother in law used to have a Cavalier and it had 185k miles on it when she got rid of it. That’s not quite 200 grand but it still looked good and ran great so there’s no reason to think that it wouldn’t go much more than 200k miles.

Let me add this. As a mechanic I’ve done more car inspections for dealers and individuals than I can begin to remember. Even with the most expensive and time consuming of inspections there is no guarantee of your getting a problem free car no matter how thorough an inspection is. It increases the odds in your favor is the best that can be said.
Best of luck on whatever you choose to do.

I’d keep the Elantra and pay it off. It’s been said that money can’t buy happiness, and that’s half right. If you use money to buy objects, like cars, you won’t buy happiness in the long run. You’ll be happy for a short while, but not for long. If you use the money to buy experiences with your friends and loved ones, money will buy happiness. It’s the mutual experience that makes us happy. I can go out to dinner and enjoy a good meal, but I’ll enjoy it much more if I do it with friends or my family. Even if it costs me 5 times as much as dining alone.

A great deal of discretion here, gentlemen. It seems there can be some semblance of graciousness even among the crustiest of gear heads. There is a great deal of wisdom in the advice. Let me add that it might be best to take the windfall and settle all debts and pay off the Elantra, then move ahead working with a clean slate. It is much easier to deal with selling a car with a clear title… I wish you the best.

@golfdawg11,

The upper end of mileage for American cars? The same as for Japanese. Really. Look at some dealer listings. The nearest Toyota dealer to me has more GMs or Fords with over 200k on their odometer than they have Toyotas. A few years ago, Honda wanted to celebrate an anniversary in the US market, and put out a call for stories on Hondas with over 1 million miles. They got no responses. They then reduced the limit to 250k. Even after several years, they’ve only found 2 Hondas with over 1 million miles, and 5 more with over 700k. In under a month in a similar search, Ford found more E-series vans alone with more than 700k on the odometer than Honda found in years of searching.

The Consumer Reports most reliable list won’t tell you anything other than that those are reliable cars. It doesn’t mean for a second that they’re any more reliable than dozens (possibly even 100+) other models that didn’t make the list. Don’t believe me? A few years ago, the Mercury Mariner made that list. The Ford Escape did not, and Consumer Reports said that the Ford Focus was the most reliable Ford model on the market, but it, too, did not make the list. Since the Mariner and Escape were mechanically identical, it is actually impossible for them to be different in reliability. Therefore, either all three of those vehicles should have been on the list or all three off… and if all three would have been off, then clearly there was very little difference between them and those on the list.

Ironically, two of the makes you point to are listed as less reliable in CR than Ford, but you use CR as evidence?

eraser1998, I read CR regularly, and, having just researched the Infiniti, Lexus, and Acura for the years I listed, they all have the highest rating CR gives, not for just one year, but for multiple years. I firmly believe Ford is the best American brand going, and the Focus is a pretty good car, there’s just not one I would consider. They’re dull as dirt. Using one example of two vehicles that Ford make being differently does not invalidate CR’s opinions. You want to advocate American cars, that’s your right. Me, I spent 20 years driving horrible American cars and getting stuck on the side of the road many times before I quit. And so did much of America, based on sales results. Thanks for your input however.

Rod Knox, thanks for your input. I’m leaning towards just paying off what I can on the Elantra after all other debts. No sense in paying off the Elantra first since I have a 3.12% rate, but if I can pay off what I can I will.

jtsanders, I have few friends left and little family. A disability will do that to you. And I do value experiences over monetary objects (i.e., Mt. Rushmore beats any new car). Just trying to see if I can grab a little of both worlds.