Car purchase/usage approach

I have about 8 weeks to get a car for my son and his wife. (This son has been the protagonist of many pleas for help I have posted here: '87 Buick Century; '99 Ford Escort; and, most famously, the Chevy Tahoe he was ferrying to Alaska. “You could look it up.” – C. Stengel) They are moving from car-free NYC to El Paso for a year, with no certain plans for after that.

My first thought was to get a 4- or 5-year old Corolla/Civic/etc., and that was fine with them. (Given the uncertainty of post-El Paso, somebody suggested leasing for one year. That seems like a loser. Better to buy used, and re-sell after a year if you don’t need the car.) I also thought about giving them my '04 Camry (86K miles) and finding a replacement for myself, but I don’t want anything “better” than the Camry.

Now I’ve had another idea, and I’d like to know what you guys think of this approach. I drive less than 8K mi/year. I figure that makes the Camry good, mechanically, for 12 or 14 more years (if I even drive that long!), and I would then have a used-up 22-year-old car. I’m concerned about deterioration in the car even before it gets that old (rubber and plastic pieces; wire insulation; upholstery and headliner).

Son and his wife will probably use their car more than I use mine. So, I could give them my Camry to use up, and – for a lot less money – get for myself a similar-aged similar car (Camry, Accord, whatever) with higher miles, say 120K. Each of us would “use up” our cars in 5-to-7 years, at which point we would probably consider them old enough to replace.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Nothing really. You might be able to find a high mileage late model car. Many sales people put on a lot of miles and trade the cars every 2,3,or 4 years. I drove a company car about 30K miles a year for over 25 years. The cars were traded in with about 55K miles and between 2 and 3 years old. I maintained them properly, the company paid for all maintenance and repairs, I just had to take the car in for the services. I bought a couple of these cars for personal use and some were purchased by family members. All were good cars for many more years with one exception, an '98 Dodge Intreped V6 that needed several expensive repairs within a year of buying it.

Look for a 3-4 year old Camry with about 70K or 80K miles see what kind of price you can get it for. Our company used a major provider of lease vehicles for fleets called PH&H, which stood for Peterson Howe and Heather based in Maryland. Perhaps they have a website to dispose of fleet vehicles.

PHH Arval vehicles:

One problem with buying a high mileage car (120,000 miles) that you don’t know how well it was maintained. I’d get a prepurchase inspection from a mechanic you trust. Even then, you will likely need to spend a fair amount on undone maintenance.


You know your 2004 Camry.

If you buy a 120K used car, you are gambling that it was well taken care of, and that all the maintenance was performed on time . . . if at all!

There are plenty of people out there who don’t see timing belt replacements as maintenance, but as expensive repairs which will not be performed unless the belt breaks. And if the timing belt doesn’t break by the time they sell the car, so much the better!

Anyone with that approach probably also hasn’t replaced the spark plugs, coolant, or serviced the transmission.

No matter how the car looks, start from day one. Assume that nothing was EVER done and bring ALL the maintenance items up to date. Timing belts and valve adjustments are critical.