Downgrade 03 Element to 88 Wagovan?


OK, I have a lot of debt to get out of, and to commence digging myself out, I am thinking of selling my 03 Element (44k miles) (bought at 18K and am financing at 7.75%) and downgrading to a 88 Wagovan (120k miles) (asking price is $1000 but I would try to lower, maybe $650-$750). I am an artist, and frequently move various sized things, and am attracted to the space the Wagovan seems to have. I need the largest, cheapest, best mileage car out there! The Element has been great, but I worry constantly about paying it off + all the interest (my ex bought this car…with my money, but that’s another story), and want better highway mileage. I don’t go to visit friends out if state because I feel too guilty driving the Element long distances, and not using the space for cargo. So, come in the 88 Wagovan. One owner, no accidents, passed inspection 2 weeks ago, supposedly no mechanical problems, some rust near the wheels. I understand the mileage is very good, and the cargo space seems pretty good, compared to the Element. What do I need to consider re: reliability, expected repair costs, safety. I live and park here in Boston, drive a lot of city miles, but plan to drive more highway miles.

Am I crazy? Please, be blunt! Should I look at other models? I’d like to stay with Honda or Toyota for quality, but am open to suggestions. A Fit looks great, but can’t afford that. And thank you in advance!


How many years do you have remaining on your loan? Can you sell it for the remaining balance? If not, you will have to come up with the difference between loan balance and total sales receipt to pay off the loan. You might try changing your insurance to a higher deductible if you haven’t done that already.


Are you talking about a VW Vanagon?


You definitely need to sit down and calculate your total cost of ownership. If your Element is near payoff, there’s no sense in selling it off for a 20 year old vehicle. Any money you’ve already put into the Element is a sunk cost and cannot be recovered; don’t think about it. I would suspect your total cost of ownership on the Element will be lower in the long run due to less maintenance, etc. Chances are the VW will need maintenance simply due to its age; a 2003 Element should not have any problems for quite a while.

Too many people think they are getting a better deal because their monthly payment or monthly expenses are lower. That’s not always the case when you look at the long term. Ask yourself if you are trying to save a monthly payment amount or money overall (they are not always the same). I can almost guarantee that you will be better off keeping and paying off the Element. Just my two cents.


I predict whatever payments you are making now will be EXCEEDED by trying to keep a VW van running. The Element is one of the best van available. Renegotiate your loan if you can, and concetrate your talents on being an artist without the distraction of one of the most faillure-prone vans on the market. If you really want to trade down, consider a North American van such as Chevrolet or Dodge; even the old ones have a lot of life left in them.


I think you’ll do far better financially on the Honda Wagonvan(Civic). You likely are paying out at least$3000-$4000 per year in maintenance/payments for the element. The wagovan likely you can expect up to $1000/year in repairs/maintenance likely significantly less. You will also seriously save on auto insurance on a wagonvan as it only requires liability nothing else given its limited book value. In the Boston/MA insurance scam that can be up to $1000 /year savings.

Pay a mechanic to check it over. Those cars are really good ones if your speaking about the Honda Civic Wagon.


To clarify, this is the 4wd Honda Station wagon that’s based on (and badged as) a Civic. It’s confusing partly because they don’t say “Wagovan” anywhere on the car! They are great little cars, though obviously a 20-year old example won’t be as reliable as your new car. It really is the kind of car you should be driving as a starving artist. Provided you can sell the Element for more than you owe on it, this would actually be a very good financial decision.

Just in case you did make a series of typoes, and really did mean a VW Vanagon, that would be a very bad idea as they are pretty unreliable.




No, this is a 1988 Honda Civic Wagovan.


Hi Docnick, the car I am looking at is not a VW, it is a 1988 Honda Civic Wagovan. The Element is not paid off at all. Please see reply to jtsanders, above. I have put minimal $ into the Element for repairs, some brake work, oil changes and some tire expenses. Right now, I pay loan interest at 7.75%, and I thought if I sell the Element, I can pay off a lot of the principal loan, while putting about $1000-1500/yr into the 88 Wagovan. Certainly, the Element is hassle-free, but compared to the cost difference, it doesn’t seem to make sense. If you have other thoughts, I welcome them! Thanks.


I think this is a good effort at trying to save money. It may work, or the 88 could die tomorrow and put you in a slightly bigger hole. However, I would highly doubt you could sell your Element at basically 5 years old (the '08s are out) for almost 70% of what you bought it for. Since selling it is fundamental to the deal, you need to have a realistic amount that will enable it to sell quickly. I think that amount is closer to $10,000 and that might change your mind. You either have $18,000 investment in an 03 Element or a $9000 investment in an '88 Wagovan. Tough choice.





Unfortunately, I don’t expect I can sell the Element for more that I bought it for. Bought it in Nov 2004 for $17,900 with a fancy service plan. Now it’s worth about $12,500. But, at least I can pay a chunk of the loan off. In 3 years, the Element has depreciated about $5,500. In 3 years, the Element has cost me $6,475 ($3,250 interest [variable rate], $2,700 insurance, $525 repairs/maintenance) plus, the $5,500 depreciation. In 3 years of repairs for a Honda Civic Wagovan (NOT a VW Vanagon, no way), I expect the cost would be less than $11,975 ($6,475 + $5,500 depreciation).

Basically, I want to cut my losses with the 03 Element. Been a great car, but too expensive for me. Thanks for your posting, and if you have any follow up thoughts, I’d love to hear/read them.


Hi andrew_j, I calculated that I pay out $2500/yr for insurance ($895), loan interest ($1,350,not even the principal!) and maintenance. For a Wagovan, it would be about $1750 for insurance, repairs/maintenance (allocating almost $1300 for this). So, you’re right, minus the hassle and worry of Wagovan repairs, I could save a fair amount.

Do you have any idea what kind of repairs I should expect on a 1988 Civic Wagovan? Since it is an old car, I hope I might be able to do some of the repairs myself. I have the tools and am mechanically oriented. Thanks for your posting!


Hi Ref, thanks for your input. OK, I did more calculations. revised sale price for Element is about $11,000, maybe less. My cost of Element/yr is $2,166. Approximate depreciation, is $2300/yr. My cost of Wagovan/yr, includine approximate repairs, is $1,690.

Even with the loss I’d take on selling the Element, I don’t know whether it is smart or stupid to go with the 20 year old wagovan. Any more thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


When was the last year a Tarus/Sable station wagon was made? How about a crown victoria/grand marquis/towncar? Those cars I mentioned will be really cheap to maintain, though they might cost a bit more than $1000 up front, fairly reliable, and have tons of cargo space in them.


I also thought you were talking about a VW van (which would be an upgrade). (-;

Seriously, my biggest concern with buying a 20 year old asian car is their lack of parts support. I agree with your goal to stop paying car loans, always a bad plan. Make sure you have whatever you are going to buy checked out by a good shop.


I’ll check. Last thing I knew, those cars didn’t last well, but I will check them out. Thanks for the suggestion.


I’ll check out the parts availability. Thanks for the heads up!


Any time you get a car there is a bit of risk. However, I would expect the risk with one of those cars as being significantly less. You could get one a good 10 years younger! In addition, American car parts tend to be cheaper and more mechanics are familiar with them. Not as good gas mileage. However, a few smaller repair bills should cover for that. In addition, the safety features would be much better in a newer car.