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Compare Used Car Values

How can I QUANTITATIVELY compare different used Car Purchase Options?

I will know the Make, Model, Mileage and Price from Cars.Com or the Car Lot. I can assume Equivalent Life, say 200,000 miles, Equivalent Value at 200,000 miles, say $0.00 and Equivalent Aesthetics, say no preference.

I need an estimate of Anticipated Gas Mileage and Anticipated Major Maintenance costs for engine, transmission and A/C over the remaining life.

Where can I get those needs and then, how can I crunch all this information down to one figure, say Total $ divided by remaining miles?

I have “googled” but haven’t found anything - and I haven’t found anything on CarTalk.Com.

If I could calculate that number I could go shopping with a lot more confidence. When I zeroed in on 1 or 2 options I could have a my favorite mechanic give it the once over.


CharlieHam in Luavul, KY

Search around on the Edmunds website. They have some “cost to own” calculators.

YES! That is almost EXACTLY what I want. It would be PERFECT if it went back further than 2005. Do you (or anyone else) know of other “calculators” like that??



I assume you know that two cars, same make model mileage and year can vary greatly depending on luck and most important, the care they received over those prior years.

I don’t think your plan of attack will be successful for several reasons.

If they are honest, any source that tries to predict repair costs will admit that they could be wrong by a factor of two or three in either direction. If they say $500, you should regard that as a random number between $200 and $2,000 depending on whether you get a peach or a lemon. A good Porsche could be cheaper to maintain than a bad Toyota although the odds favor the Toyota.

How the car was driven and maintained by the previous owner(s) is at least as important as its intrinsic reliability. I have never had to replace a clutch or transmission on a car I bought new. But I have had both fail on cars I bought used. One of the latter was only three years old with 30k miles when I bought it. About the only way to avoid this variability is to buy something new enough that the first owner hasn’t had time to ruin it. That limits you to nothing older than two or three years.

A thorough inspection by your mechanic is mandatory for any used car, even one that is only a year old. However, the best he can do is screen out the ones with obvious problems. There can still be hidden defects that have yet to show any detectable symptoms. I once spent $1,800 for a 10 year old Toyota Tercel that my mechanic pronounced to be sound. It ran perfectly for three years until a ball bearing inside the transmission broke. A used transmission and a new clutch cost $1,400.

Unless you are looking for a big truck or SUV that gets 10 mpg in town and 15 on the highway, gas mileage isn’t a big factor. A 20 mpg car that doesn’t break is cheaper than a 30 mpg car that does. You can use the web site,, to calculate annual fuel cost for just about every car made going back to 1984.

Kendahl and Joseph, you both make excellent points but I’ve got to have more information before I buy and I’m the laziest guy on the planet.

I’m basically asking which of the dozens of cars available to me in my price range will give me the lowest operating cost. You are right, part of the answer is you cannot know until I’ve owned the car for 10 years. But I think there is another part that says I’ll be a lot better off if I do my home work (or ask others to do it for me).

I jumped the gun by saying the Edmunds site is exactly what I needed. Not only does it need to go back before 2005, but it needs to extrapolate the information into the future a few years. If there is other information, that is what I’ll try to do.

Anything better than Edmund’s “True Cost to Own” out there??

Thanks for your advice!!!

PS http://www…dacar.htm ( is a great site!!

I think the reason Edmunds doesn’t go back any further is because the numbers get pretty fuzzy and the number of variables goes WAY up.

I’ve learned, having tracked automobile ownership expenses for more than 25 years, that the vehicles that cost me the least to own and drive were the ones which had the lowest purchase prices.

The more you spend to buy a vehicle, the more it will cost to own on a mile-per-mile basis. Maintenance expenses tend to level off after so many years, and the cost from one brand to another doesn’t vary that much.

This assumes we’re talking about normal, run-of-the-mill cars. If you’re buying a premium brand (Mercedes, Jaguar, BMW, etc), all bets are off.

Another good indicator of low ownership costs is over-all brand reliability. Cars that have a reputation for delivering long reliable service should, in theory, cost less to own, although they might cost more to buy.

No matter how much research you do, and how you crunch the numbers, you can’t guaranty anything. Each individual car is different, and when you buy used the maintenance history of the car means more than probably any other factor.

What about Cost/(200000 miles- Actual Mileage)? That assumes that a cars value is near zero at 200000. The lower the cost and the lower the Actual Mileage gives the lowest number - that coupled with dealer maintenance record for a one owner car purchased new is as good as you can do…??? I could make a semi-quantitative comparison that way???

Thanks - you don’t know how much this means to me - the laziest guy on the planet!!

If you were that lazy you wouldn’t be putting this much effort into trying to figure out a cost to own. You’d just go buy something.

No matter what your math tells you now, the cost by the time you sell the car is likely to be different. No one can reliably predict the future. Especially when it comes to car costs.

Edmunds and others like them get their data from fleet owners and rental companies. These folks don’t keep vehicles more than a few years, which is why the numbers get less and less reliable after 4 or 5 years. The data just isn’t there for large numbers of vehicles. Most individual owners don’t keep accurate records.

There’s something else you need to consider. You’ll have to like what you buy well enough to keep it for many, many years. If you buy a car you don’t like, just because you’ve calculated its cost to own, you may not take very good care of it, and that will negate all your calculations.

Do you care about the car you drive, or it just an appliance? If it’s just an appliance, by all means, do your math and buy whatever seems like the least expensive car to own.

If you care, even just a little, about what you drive, then you have to consider things like style, comfort, and convenience. Cost to own then becomes slightly less important.

I never bought a yugo but I did buy 3 chevettes over the years - new and drove them to about 135000 and then gave them to good will so I’m not too particular - cost is it for me. Actually I don’t have a car - my wife has 2 and I drive one of hers - a 95 Camry with 181,000 miles. That is the one I’m preparing to replace when it threatens me with a big repair bill - friends have told me I may get 200,000+ out of it.

Thanks to all of you - you have influenced me GREATLY!!