Buying used car from owner or pre-owned at dealer?

My husband and I have 2 kids. We live in NYC and only drive on weekends for errands and trips. We do not need to rely upon our car to get to work or anything like that. We have a 2000 Outback with 120K miles. On average, we spend about $1500 -$2000/ year on maintenance. We put about 9000 miles on the car each year. We’re considering buying a newer used car - spending up to $10,000 cash. Alternatively, we could buy an even newer pre-owned car, put down the $10,000 and have a car payment. Leasing seems to be a bad idea all around, so we’ve ruled that out. We like the wagon, hatch-back style. Looks like we could sell our Outback for about $2500 (per KBB) now. What would you do? Stick it out until Outback completely dies? Buy something at 10K from owner? Buy a pre-owned from dealer? Certified pre-owned?

If you replace the Outback with another, you might find a 2006 with 90,000 miles for $10,000. Or, you might go for a 2008 with around 70,000 miles for $12,500 after you selll the older one. But given the similarity in mileage to your old one, you might consider other brands and get 2WD rather than AWD.

You might find a low mileage 2007 Mazda6 wagon in your price range with about half the mileage of your Subaru. Another thought: if you have maintenance done at the dealer, I suggest you find a good independent garage that will do only the work suggested in the Subaru maintenance manual.

Thanks for the advice. I’ll look into the Mazda wagon. We really like a lot of things about the Subaru. 70,000 and 90,000 miles seems like a lot less than 120,000 miles, so maybe it’s a good time to sell what we have and upgrade to a 2006 or 2008. Thanks.

If I’m buying a newer used car, I’ll go certified pre-owned. Well worth the extra expense to have something completely checked out with a regular warranty. If I’m buying a beater to get my kid through college, then I’ll buy from an owner and pay the expense to get it checked out by an independent shop. But when you have comparison shopping tools like, you’ll know either way if you’re getting a competitive price.

CPO means a sgnificantly higher purchase cost since only late model vehicles will qualify for factory CPO warranties. This implies a loan, and a big one to boot. @ank said this was a possibility, but it needs to be stated.

120K miles isn’t a big deal. Is there a problem with the 2000 Outback? I think for a little used “weekend” car you are fine with what you have. Why are you looking for a new(er) car?

I’d keep the Outback and have all the routine maintenance done on schedule exactly per the owner’s manual. I think you’d be money ahead compared to trading it in. The Outback is a good reliable vehicle and should last you another 80K of mostly reliable miles if all the suggested maintenance is done, and as you say, the car is infrequently and, I’m assuming, conservatively driven.

You mentioned “maintenance”, but unless a significant part of that is “repairs” than I’d definitely keep the Outback.

One option is to check and see if rental agencies in your area have sales lots where their cars are sold off. At least you’ll know that the cars there aren’t for sale because they have some sort of problem.

Your repairs seem high, but consider you can go another 5 years at current expenditures for the price of the used car at 10k, and the used car WILL have additional expenses.

Barky, the thing I’m wondering about is that he/she used the term “maintenance”. I question how much of that is repairs and how much is maintenance.

Good Grief !
Whether The $1,500/Year (Only 9,000 Miles/Year !) Is Repairs Or Manitenance Or Both,
The Car Seems To Be A Money Pit.

That’s what I would expect to spend in 5 years/90,000+ miles on each of our cars, some older with higher miles (all GM and Chrysler). Some of our cars go over 9,000 miles in less than 4 months for just a $15 oil change.

I’d get out from under it and not look back.


Like the old song says, its cheaper to keep her. As a car gets older, there are years where you have a high maintenance cost, like when the timing belt is due and the battery goes and its time for new tires and brakes, all at once it seems like, but then you are usually good for several years after that with low maintenance costs. If you have just gone through one of those years, then this would be the worse time for you to sell (great time for the buyer though).

If you are spending $1500 to $2000 per year for maintenance, I’m not sure getting a newer car is going to lower your maintenance expenditures. I have to question where all this expense is coming from in the first place.

The first question I have is are you having problems with the vehicle or is your mechanic finding things that are “about to fail” every time you bring it in for an oil change? If that is the case, a newer car will not help, you need a new mechanic.

My second question is are you having a lot of extra preventative maintenance done that is not in the book, like frequent oil changes, transmission flushes and cooling system flushes that are not on the schedule. Are you doing other extra maintenances like “fuel system maintenance” or annual “tune ups”, all of which are unnecessary?

“I’d get out from under it and not look back.”

But it costs so much to maintain because they don’t get under it. I just had my Honda in for a recall (power steering hoses) and had them change the transmission fluid for $96. The fluid for 3 changes costs about $35 (Honda recommends drain and refill 3 times for one complete change). That’s one way it costs a lot more. They also recommended changing the rear brake pads because they had worn down so badly that the rotors were scored. That would have been at least $150, I’m sure. I declined, since I didn’t hear anything rubbing the wrong way. My suspicions were confirmed today when I installed new ceramic rear pads ($33) and discovered that there was still about 1/8" of pad left until the metal scraper started rubbing the rotor.

A history of repairs so we can figure expected repairs would be helpful.

Subarus are highly over rated it appears. I take care of all repairs and maintenance on 4 vehicles and the combined costs per year would never exceed $1,500 if done at a private shop.

They live in new york city, so I’d be willing to guess that a majority of that amount is in labor costs

Cough, Choke, Cough.
Ouch !

I agree…unless you are putting the dealerships son through college, that kind of money for that little use is though to figure. If it’s genuine repairs that are necessary like brake job one year and timing belt another and lot’s of detailing, fine. But if it is milking you in repairs in other ways, take CSA advice and get a newer car.