Buying a car - comparing prices

I’m in the process of buying a car and I’d like to do so within the next week or so. The two cars we’re looking at are the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna. I’m trying to find a simple way to compare the cost of cars with different mileage and price.

The way I’m thinking about it is very simple. I’m assuming that gas and maintenance will be the same each year, which isn’t exactly true but I think if anything this assumption favors the more used car. I’m also assuming insurance will be the same, which after talking to my insurance company the difference should be pretty negligible. So then I’m assuming that whatever car I get will last to 200,000 miles and that I’ll drive about 12,000 miles per year (actual mileage doesn’t matter all that much the way I’m doing it).

So my simple calculation looks like this:

(total price including taxes and fees) / ((200,000 - current mileage) / 12,000)

This gets me a cost per year of use that I can then compare. Is this reasonable or am I missing something?

When I do it this way and compare the different offers I’ve seen, for these cars it comes out to pretty much the same thing whether I buy new or used. New is about $40 more per year.

Want to save money? Don’t buy an Odyssey! They have bad transmissions that fail at an alarming rate.

Run away from the Odyssey and do not look back. It might be chasing you…

How can it chase someone if it has a bad transmission?

Also, are you buying this car new or used? If used, the way the previous owner took care of it is generally more important than most anything else

In addition to a history of transmission problems, older Odysseys also have major problems with motor mounts and transmission mounts. (Translation…BIG bucks for repairs on used Odysseys)

Other than the above-noted issues, the way that a vehicle was maintained by its previous owners is the most important factor in terms of the reliability/durability of a used vehicle. Hence, anyone who buys a used vehicle that does not come with full maintenance records is just asking for problems, IMHO.


If buying used, you SHOULD assume that the previous owner was a total cheapskate and didn’t do much more than tires, oil changes and brakes

You should assume that valve lash was never checked and adjusted
You should assume that the spark plugs are overdue
You should DEFINITELY assume that the timing belt is overdue

There are many great looking used cars out there that are SCREAMING for overdue maintenance . . .

“There are many great looking used cars out there that are SCREAMING for overdue maintenance”

…and those ticking time bombs are waiting to explode in the wallet of somebody who is naïve enough to buy a car that doesn’t come with full maintenance records that you can compare (at your leisure) to the mfr’s maintenance schedule.


At the very least, have a mechanic inspect the car

Have him look for evidence of accidents

I'm assuming that gas and maintenance will be the same each year, which isn't exactly true but I think if anything this assumption favors the more used car.

The formula works I guess on average, but there’s a lot of random fluctuation you can’t totally control, car to car. One car may have a better ride, but 5 years down the line, blow a head gasket. Another car’s engine and transmission are flawless, but the computer goes on the fritz and causes you grief. A little luck is always involved with a car purchase.

Plan on yearly maintenance costing more for a used car, the older and more miles, the more expense. Likewise, a used car will be less reliable. Your formula doesn’t account for loss of use of the car while it is being repaired or costs of having it break down on the road and you missing an important business appointment. But if you plan to keep the car to 200K, for most of its life it will be well-used in any event. Like you say, it’s probably a wash cost-wise by your formula. If the formula shows essentially the same cost for different cars now available, choose the vehicle which best meets your needs.

Edmunds did the work for you. They have a True Cost to Own feature. Check it out ad for both vans and see what they calculate.

The last time I traded a vehicle, when I proudly showed the dealer all of the maintenence and repair receipts (so he could show prospective buyers), he said that they always throw them away and never show them to buyers. Something about protecting my personal information, which was on the receipts. I don’t know how widespread this practice is.

Protecting personal info is probably part of the reason why used car dealers wouldn’t pass on maintenance paperwork from the prior owner, but I suspect their lawyers tell them even more important is that anything given to the used car purchaser in writing, and later proven to be inaccurate, could cause the dealership legal grief. The used car purchaser could say “hey, the dealership gave me paperwork saying the timing belt had just be changed, but it broke 6 months after I purchased the car, damaged the valves and pistons, an my mechanic says it is the original timing belt, never changed, so since the dealership paperwork was wrong, the dealership should install a new engine.” It’s just common business sense a reputable dealership would only provide paperwork that the office knows is correct.