To Trade, or Not to Trade?

Hi Everyone,

I drive a 2003 Chevy Silverado 1500. The specs say it’s a 15-20MPG vehicle, and for work I drive at least thirty miles a day. With the price of gasoline I’m looking at my trade options. My wife’s 2003 Toyota Highlander is a V6 18-22MPG model. Her daily travels are about the same as mine. Both vehicles are paid off, but now we are looking for something more fuel efficient. The discussion lately is to possibly trade in my V8 Silverado to get my wife into a used Volkswagen Jetta 4 cylinder DIESEL. That would allow me to use her slightly more fuel efficient Highlander as my work vehicle (Electrician), and have our primary vehicle be a super fuel efficient diesel car.

Here’s my question: Is it worth it to take on a payment for a diesel car with say 110-120,000 miles that will get 40 mpg highway, even though the fuel is pricier, and oil changes are more expensive, or does it make more sense to keep the two paid-off vehicles and just drive them into the ground? Is there a considerable benefit to going with the newer/higher mileage/ better fuel economy/virtually rust-free VW, or does the whole gasoline vs. diesel discussion even out in the wash?

Thanks in advance from this first-time Car Talk blogger.


I’m a mechanic. I think any savings in fuel costs in your plan would soon be overrun by maintenance costs on the Jetta. Aging Volkswagens tend to take quite a bit more maintenance than when they were new, and the diesel engine you’d likely be getting will need timing belt maintenance, intake service, and a few other things. Do a google search for people unhappy with Jetta window mechanisms, A/C, electrical systems, etc. How much fuel will you need to save to cover the couple thousand that may take?

I would never consider using a Highlander as a work truck. That Highlander is based on a Camry platform. I wouldn’t trust it to hold up to the hauling and loading that an electrician carrying conduit, wiring, etc would put it through. I think it really would accelerate the wear and tear.

I think a used Chevy Astro would make an ideal work truck–enclosed and all–but you’d only gain a few miles per gallon.

+1 to ASE’s reply.
Keep the work truck. The wife can trade the Highlander for any of many options that get much better mileage than she’s getting. Pick up a Consumer Reports New Car Buyers’ Guide at the local bookstore and review the options over lobster and a good white wine. test drive the ones that look good.

Good advice guys. Thanks.

Agree with mountainbike’s idea for trading the Highlander off for a more economical vehicle. Don’t know why I didn’t think of that. Assuming the Chevy is paid off I think I’d keep that as a work truck. They’re durable as heck and an Astro van would only gain you a couple mpg.

Except the lobster and white wine. White wine is for cheese, and lobster, well, it’s not nearly as good as a piece of halibut or some clams.

If it were me I’d trade the Highlander for a Prius, which will get as good mileage as the Jetta diesel but be much less expensive to run and maintain. My cousin has an '08 Prius that he has driven 175k miles with practically zero maintenance.

Gasoline is a small part of the expense of automobile ownership. There is insurance, depreciation, interest on the loan if you borrowed money, as well as maintenance and repairs.
You have two vehicles that the depreciation over the next years will be a lot less than a newer vehicle. For me, either of your two vehicles is a lot more comfortable than a new econobox. If your vehicles are still safe to drive and don’t have a rusted chassis, I would advise staying with what you have.

I believe the Prius will hold its value better than a Jetta diesel

How many miles on the Highlander? See how much you can sell it for and decide how much extra you are willing to spend on a newer car.if you want something small, a Mazda3 is a good option. You should get a bout $5500 for the Highlander depending on options and mileage. If you can add $5000, you can get a lower mileage late model Mazda3.

How much gas can you buy for the cost of a car payment?

How much does that big main battery cost foe the Prius when it dies?

I’d vote for keeping what you have.

Astro vans are OK but even the newest ones are getting old now.

Why would you want to trade or sell a 2003 Highlander?

Those are reliable vehicles, assuming they’re maintained well

Anything newer may be better or worse

Best stick with what you have

Steamers followed by halibut and with a good White Zin would also be wonderful.
Anything that swims, crawls, or just sits and filter in water salt or fresh would be welcome on my plate. Fish, mammals, exoskeletons, bivalves, they’re all great. Even cephalopods, although they can be a bit rubbery.

The key is to agree on some possible choices as a couple, and the best way to do that is over a good meal out with soft music and candlelight.

I would advise trading in the Silverado for a Ford Transit Connect. This should be a great work truck for an electrician, and much better mpg. Keep the Highlander until the new car is paid off, then downsize the Highlander if you feel it necessary.

I don’t think the numbers will compute that well for the Jetta diesel. Yes you get more mpg but you don’t do enough miles for that to be a great savings when you take the higher maintenance costs into account. Also I don’t feel a used Jetta will be trouble free and there could be some expensive repairs down the road.

If you have taken good care of the Highlander, it is a pretty bullet proof vehicle and should hold up well - better than the Silverado and the proposed used Jetta IMO.

Seems to me that soft music and candlelight will lead to things other than car decisions.

Looks like we’re going to hang on to what we’ve got. Both are paid off, and aside from some peeling clear coat the Highlander has been super reliable. We looked at Prius in the past but I’m scared to know what it would cost to replace that battery.

Thanks again everyone.

Ase, that’s the plan… makes people much more agreeable.

Agree with UT; if you need better MPGs for your business, a Ford Transit will be a lower cost option than a new truck. And with the windowless Transit, you won’t have to worry about thieves seeing what you have in the back.

The Prius battery has been exceptionally reliable, and when it does eventually weaken, the process is very gradual. In almost all cases the batteries don’t need complete replacement, but can be tested and only the weak cells repaired. Compared to conventional cars the Prius has other cost advantages, as well. The ‘transmission’ is nothing like those in most cars and they seldom cause problems. The brake parts are also unusually durable because they don’t work nearly as hard in a regenerative system. The NYC cab fleets ran some hybrid cabs starting some years ago. The companies expected costs to be higher, but found them lower because so many parts suffered little wear and could run a lot more miles before needing major repairs.