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Least expensive way to own a car

I’m often asked what is the least expensive way to drive. The answer will depend a lot on the user and your needs. Thee are some options:

  1. Buy a new car and maintain it well and drive it as long as you legally can. The scrap it.’
    '2. Buy a good used car at least 5 years old and with preferably low miles. Drive it legally as long as it lasts
  2. Buy a beater at a police auction for under $1000, do the absolute minimal maintenance and drive it till it quits.

My older sister, an accountant uses option #1. Since 1955! the family has owned a 1955 Ford Customline, a 1960 Ford Falcon, a 1966 Mercury, a 1972 Ford Torino, a 1975 Pontiac venture, a late 70s Chevette, a 1986 Corolla, a 1992 Corolla and a 2001 Camry. The cars overlapped; the older one being the secondary vehicle. Neither she or her late husband were mechanically inclined, so they bought new. She still drives the Camry.

A retired engineer down the street goes to police auctions and buys beaters; he bought his daughter a Acura Integra with some scrapes on the side. That family drives cheaply but their cars are not much to look at.

I invite comments from panelists and guests. Buying and selling cars does not count; it makes you a used car dealer. They usually drive for nothing. Company cars don’t count either.

I’ve always bought new cars with excellent longevity and reliability reputations, maintained them well, and kept them until something happens that makes their reliability or safety questionable. Such as that axle that came out of its housing on my '72, and the frame that rusted through on both sides on my '79.

My personal best is 338,000 miles (it was still running well but got hit and totalled). My current car has 238,000 miles and still looks and runs great. I plan to keep it for the rest of my life.

There isn’t a single answer to that question. Everyone must consider their own situation and decide accordingly. I can drive a beater because I can keep it limping along the few miles that I need to travel. For most that isn’t a workable situation.

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Or you could do what some of my colleagues used to do . . .

steal filters, wiper blades, fluids, etc. from the parts warehouse at work

Install used tires during the lunch hour . . . I wonder if anybody will install that bad tire that was bulging on their own vehicle. It did have good meat, so to speak. And it appears okay, UNTIL it’s inflated :yum:

I usually buy 1-3 yr old cars with few miles. I try to drive them until the repair bills are out of control, but sometimes my needs have changed, or I start not liking the car and have sold them early. If you negotiate well when buying and represent the car well when selling, sometimes selling them earlier gives you good enough money to buy another car with minimal additional funds. That way you don’t have to drive a beater.

I have to modify my earlier answer. Historically I’ve always kept my famiily vehicles until my needs changed. For decades I changed a number of vehicles as my family grew and my needs changed. My own vehicles (not the family vehicles) I’d keep until they were no longer usable, but the family vehicle grew as the family grew. Now I’m retired and living alone, so my personal vehicle is my only vehicle. So, finally, after all these years, I’m back to being able to keep it forever. And very happy about it. :grinning:

The cheapest is buying an old reliable car. Then you only have liability ins. and low tax assessment. Remember insurance and yearly taxes/fees also figure into the total cost of ownership.

Buying a late model with low miles might be the best. But finding one can be difficult. I succeeded with my 05 4Runner, but couldn’t find a used mud-size SUV with low miles in 14 when I bought my Highlander. The lowest miles I found was over 30k. And I looked for months.

We are talking LEGAL ways to minimize overall car ownership costs. I once knew a highway inspector who had to inspect contractor’s work. He owned a Mercedes 4 cylinder diesel which he fuelled up courtesy of the contractor’s diesel tanks. These cars were very durable (he had 350,000 miles on it when I talked to him) and he essentially drove for nothing but this was a fragrant conflict of interest, something Donald Trump has been accusing Hillary Clinton of being guilty of.

When I was a student I bought 10 year old cars in good condition and spent a lot of time in salvage yards finding parts such as windshield wiper motors, hub caps, etc. I bought the cheapest re-refined oil I could find. Appearance was not an issue, nor was reliability since I could always walk to school or take the bus. Between 1958 and 1962 I spent a total of $600 keeping a 1948 Chevy running, excluding gas, insurance and license of course.

and . . much of the answers to that require a lot more research than Joe Customer realizes , or has time for, at the time.

There’s the long term need for servicing that so often completely blind-sides most customers.
That is the biggest reason that there are some brands that, for this small town, you avoid at all costs.
I’ve even had customers wide-eyed surprised at the price of the tires come replacement time. ( they bought it off the lot because it had the nice looking rims only to be flabbergasted at the replacement cost.)
Customers try to bring us a Mercedes or Land Rover only to find the need to tow it 140 miles one way for service.

I’ve always known that there are 2 options when it comes to having a car buying and leasing. Buying means a higher monthly payment and being stuck with the same car for a long to time, but eventually not having a car payment. Leasing lower monthly payments but I have to trade my car in every 2 years. To be completely honest I never knew if it was cheaper/better me for me to lease a car or buy a car. I tend to put a lot of miles on my car and I hate the idea of paying for “extra” miles of a car.

@cdaquila - Has Aricka18 posted spam ? Your call Carolyn.

The “cost” will also include YOUR time. How much time do you have to put in to make the beater run. What is your hourly income. If you got an extra shift or a second job, then scavenging the junkyards might not be cost effective. The answer to this question would be very different for every person even at different stages of their life.

The cheapest cars I’ve ever owned tend to be 2-3 year old used cars that have come off lease. The biggest depreciation comes in years 1-3 so the sale price of the car is roughly 50-60% of new with 80 % of life left. Two cars in my driveway right now, leased new at a “give-away” interest rate and bought at the lease end. One is 15 years old and the other 12.

By far the cheapest was a Honda S2000 I bought at 6 years old with low miles and sold at 16 years old. Sold it for $3K less than I paid for 50,000 miles of use. But the car is an appreciating collector car now since the last rolled off the assembly line in 2009.

@volvo_v70, I don’t see any spam in the post you reference. @aricka18 seems to prefer buying because he puts so many miles on it. Was there part of the post that was removed in the last 2 hours?

My preference is to buy new and take care of it. In the last 18 years and 5 cars, only one major problem occurred. We had to replace a transmission. It was under warranty so I don’t consider it a big deal. We still have the car and it has almost 160,000 miles on it, but the transmission only has about 100,000 miles. We still have 4 of the 5 vehicles.

@jtsanders - Aricka18 had a link to a web site. I suspected spam but had Carolyn make the call and she must have removed it. I guess we don’t have a spam flag.

Here I go again. What do you mean by lowest cost? Lowest cost per mile or lowest out of pocket?? Buy a new car and put 500,000 miles on it will be lowest cost per mile (maybe). Buy a new car and put 30,000 miles on it over ten years and it will have a high cost per mile. Buy a used car and it’ll have a lower cost per mile over the same usage.

At any rate I go for option 1 and 1a. I would buy used and put a lot of miles on it when I was commuting but would buy new for our main car and not put many miles on it. Whether new or used though, cars will have a similar maintenance and repair cost per mile, so all you need to worry about is the initial cost of the car and how many miles that fixed cost will be spread over. We are now buying new and trading in 4 years at about 60K. That has resulted in about 40 cents per mile for the car itself, but then no repair costs since it is all under warranty.

I’m not sure any of this makes sense but used cars can be priced at a premium now with an unknown maintenance history so new can make more sense.

In the long run, buying new is probably the best way to go. I got a 2005 Nissan Xterra (brand new) and kept it for 9 years. It was a sad day when I Totaled that car, but I definitely got my money’s worth. Hardly spend any money on car maintenance and they kept the same body style - which was great for me.

@Bing Good reply! Yes, it depends what you use the car for. When I sold industrial engines, my boss said I had to have a car no older than 2 model years. That dictates a new car and makes leasing an attractive option, I leased a 1962 Pontiac Catalina 2 door hardtop.

Now assuming that non one tells you what to drive or how old, and your car does not determine if you hold on to your job, then you can exercise any of the 3 options.

Consumer Reports tends to steer readers to good used cars about 3-4 years old. The maintenance and repair routines don’t differ much from those of anew car, and you have about 8-10 years of good driving ahead of you with today’s cars.

Agree that an unreliable beater costs you in time lost and often late for work. Smart people don’t drive beaters on a daily basis.

I have trouble understanding your first sentence. Lowest cost means lowest unit cost per mile for your situation, all inclusive. All this money will come out of your POCKET one way or another. The capital cost of a new car gets amortised over its life. If you trade you get some money back and then get on to another set of cash outflows.

The lowest annual cost is of course buying a beater AND NOT DRIVING AT ALL. When I worked overseas our annual cost was low, just insurance and plates, and a little bit of gas when my son drove the cars.