What's a better used car

Is it better to by an older, better quality used car,or a newer “cheaper brand” car when they are comparable in price? For example, is a 2008 VW Jetta a better buy than a 2005 Volvo S40 AWD? - Opinions and arguments over exact models and years notwithstand, the question remains - better quality older car, or a lessor qualty newer car at the same price?

I would forget buying either one. You can buy a 2008 Hyundai Sonata for less money and it’s a better car.

I don’t understand your question: “better quality older care vs lesser quality newer car”. I’m assuming you are comparing the Volvo and Jetta to slighty older Accords, Camries and Mazda 6 models. An older car needs good maintenance records, since any car can be abused in 3-4 years of driving.

A used luxury car is likely a better buy than a new econobox of the same price. The used luxo mobile won’t depreciate as fast, since it already took the big hit.

Reliability can be an issue, and favors the new econobox. Less sophisticated systems means less breakdowns, and less costly repairs. Older luxo mobiles can be expensive to maintain and repair. The 2005 Volvo you mention would be a very expensive car to own. Volvo repairs are frequent, and very, very expensive.

Since the '08 Jetta is a couple of years old too, it has taken the big hit on depreciation also. Jetta’s can be expensive to repair, but require less frequent repairs than Volvo and less expensive repairs. Of the cars you cited in your example the '08 Jetta is the way to go.

Now if your luxo mobile of choice was a Solara, Avalon, Infinity, or Lexus perhaps these luxo mobiles would be a better buy. All these cars do much better than any Volvo in frequency of repairs required.

You have to be more specific about the car(s) you are comparing to get a valid answer.

The no brainers of better buys include the regulars. Camrys, Accords, Corollas, Civics and the like. When any of these cost a little more the higher resale value, better performance and better longevity make them better buys.

I wouldn’t consider either of these vehicles a good buy. Neither has a particularly good reputation for reliability, and the maintenance costs on the Volvo will bankrupt you.

If you’re basing your idea of “quality” on brand name or Euro-cache, you’re in for used car trouble and maintenance headaches.

I can think of several cars I’d rather have in this price range. But then, this is all about personal choice, isn’t it?

It’s your money. Buy whatever you like.

I’ll give you my example. In 2009 October, I bought a 22,000 miles stick shift Chevy Cobalt LS Coupe 2007 model year for 5000$.

Someone was offering me a Honda Accord 2002 Stick shift with 100,000 miles for 4000$

A 3 accident Honda Accord coupe 2005 stick shift with 100,000 miles for 6500$.

My friend just bought a Mazda 3 2005 , stick shift with 65,000 miles for 6,000 $.

Consumer reports is an excellent read and I suggest you pay the 5$ a month fee and subscribe to their website.
This was not a very popular graph in Consumer Reports, but I recollect seeing a linear progression of number of problems in a car with time. It was a simple straight line, with equation y = mx+ c for with Number of problems on the y axis and number of years of car on the x axis.
All the brands were plotted on this graph. From Honda to Dodge and Chrysler in quality. The difference in brands was , that the slope of the line was lower for a Honda than for a Dodge. Thus, for eg. a 2003 Honda Civic would give you the same number of problems as a 2004 mazda 3, or a 2005 Chevy cobalt or 2006 Mercedes C or a a 2007 Dodge Neon or a 2009 Jaguar XJ.

My suggestion is to go with newer + domestic. Please look up my earlier , older threads. I have a thread called "the perfect car"which should help you a lot.

What I learnt last year is here:

Kind regards,

Thank you all for the advice - very sound reasoning all - I should have prefaced my original posting in that I have only ever owned either a VW or a Volvo. This starts with a 1964 beetle and ends with a 1999 Volvo S70 AKA: M1/A1 Abrams tank, which I bought to keep my wife safe from the world around her. And I have to admit the Volvo has done its job safety-wise being that my wife has bounced it off a tandem wheeled garbage truck (both she an the car survived), and just yesterday a concrete highway barrier in which she survived without a scratch, but unfortunately the car did not. That having been said, I am no stranger to the second mortgage repair bill. So to be clear, what I need is a used, safe car (not an SUV please) that has a great quality AND safety rating not necessarily dependant on its age and mileage.

Almost any later model car has a better safety rating than your Volvo, which,for its time, was good.

There was post here some time ago of a small French car crashing into one of those “tank” Volvos. The driver of the Renault came out considerably better than the driver of the Volvo. Believe us, any 3 year old, or newer, mid size or compact car will be much better (safer and more reliable)than your Volvo. And you won’t need that second mortgage to keep it running.

If you have only owned VWs and Volvos you will be pleasantly surprised that those cheap Japanese and Korean cars will go 100,000 miles with just normal routine maintenance, and you can affordably drive a Toyota or Honda to well over 300,000 miles without breaking the bank.

I will concede that VWs and Volvos have good SEATS and Volvo bodies have good rust resistance. Everything else about a Volvo today is pure nostalgia.

A new Civic with side airbags is better and safer than your S70 Volvo. Since you keep cars awhile get a new one, and it will last 10+ years. The Civic is surprisingly roomy inside and the trunk is spacious too. I’d go with a Civic over a Jetta any day.

I am going to give a little different opinion. Don’t ignore your personal reaction to a car. If there is something about it that you like better than the other car, don’t pretend it is not important (OK for some people it is not important, but for most of us it is important. If you don’t really like the car then you may let that oil change slip or not bother getting the transmission fluid changed etc.

When it comes to used or cars, I see self fulfilling future. You don’t except it to last so why bother doing the maintenance it should get. That and a lot of other issues, tend to make me pay very little attention. To those things.

Good Luck with your final choice. Treat your car well and it is more likely to treat you well.

One thing the Jetta has against it is that awkward 5cyl engine, unless your going for the turbo charged one. For about the same price, you can buy an 09 Hyundai Sonata or Elantra or Chevy Malibu or Ford Fusion

I agree strongly. Find out about reliability and average and expected experiences and costs, but don’t ignore your personal reaction. This car will likely be with you for years and possibly hundreds of thousands of miles. Even if it costs a little more to keep up, it may be worthwhile to have the car you really want.

Again - very sound advice everyone - how about this one - 2006 Mercedes-Benz C280 38,000 miles, $19K or a 2008 Honda Accord EXL 38,000 miles $19K. I can certianly leave my VW years behind (though I do still own a 74 super bug with only 59,000 original miles) and Volvo really has gotton enough of my children’s college money. Living and driving in Minnesota winters (in addition to my wife’s driving history), I have to admit the AWD of the Mercedes does tip the scales for me over the FWD of the Honda. Though, I do not relish giving a Mercedes mechanic my retirement savings!

Since you’re used to a Volvo, the Honda will definitely leave you wondering why you seem to have so much money left over at the end of the month. The Mercedes just might leave you thinking the Volvo was cheap to support.

But $19K? There are brand new highly reliable cars you can buy for $19K, like the Scion. Heck, a new Scion tC is less than that. If you’re prepared to spend that much I’d strongly recommend that you consider buying new. Start with a Consumer Reports New Car Buyers’ Guide from the local bookstore.

The biggest reason I find it hard to buy new is the immediate depreciation once the car is driven off the lot. Whereas I like the idea of owning a Mercedes, and I think it would be a cool status symbol in my garage, the Honda does make a great deal more sense. Then again, I do still really like AWD and a car that can survive my wife’s crash tests. After all she is my wife, and I do have two young children.

IMHO the single biggest advance in automotive safety technoloogy in many years is airbags. You can now get inexpensive cars with side airnags, a huge safety plus.

With a used car, you’re actually paying the depreciation anyway, only you’re paying it at the end of your ownership period rather than the beginning. You simply get fewer years out if the car than if you’d bought the same model new. Unless, of course, you’re one who trades early in life car’s lifecycle.

According it IIHS/HLDI (all the insurers you’ve ever heard of and then some), the safest 4-door cars are the Buick Lucerne and Buick LaCrosse. They have the lowest medical payment outlay of any automobile that is not a luxury car. The lowest of all is the Infiniti M35 4WD. The BMW 3-series and SAAB 9-3 are the safest in the luxury mid-size car category. Read all about it here:


As much as I don’t really care for newer Hondas, I’d take the Accord over the C280 anyday, status symbol or not. Think about it, you’ll have that Mercedes, and you’ll be too afraid to drive it anywhere after a little while, for fear that someone will scratch or ding it, that it’ll just sit around collecting dust in the garage. Insurance should be lower for the Honda as well.

Whereas I have been a longtime Car Talk listener, this is my first discussion thread, and as I have mentioned twice before, you-all have posted some excellent advice and have been a tremendous resource in this time of uncertainty ? my wife asks me more times than I need what I am doing to find her a new car, forgetting already why she has no car. Based on the wisdom passed along by Top 20 Contributors such as Docnick, Uncle Turbo, bscar, the same mountainbike, to name a few, I now know that I will NOT be buying a Volvo or a Volkswagen Jetta? Though the Mercedes C-Class is still calling to me like a siren from some Greek tragedy. In fact this past weekend I did a physical (versus virtual) car search, being that there is no substitute for a test drive, and I found a 2008 Passat and a 2006 Mercedes ? My apologies to the Honda and the Toyota advocates, as well others, but German engineering far more comfortable, and as Joseph_E_Meehan, another CT T20C has stated ?Don’t ignore your personal reaction to a car.? So, now if I could get some advice on my original question, though this time it is specific to a 2008 Passat, $17K, 40K miles or the 2006 Mercedes C-280 $18K, 38K miles. Pretend no other cars exist!

Which one would I take? The VW simply for the fact that maintenance costs will be less than a Benz.

For what it’s worth, I consider VWs to be fine cars. I worked for quite a few years for several large multi-line dealers who also carried the VW line of cars and I will say that VWs were no more problematic than any other car and the Jetta is one of my favorites.
For every VW that entered the shop for a repair not related to wear/tear or maintenance a Honda, Nissan, or Subaru entered at the same time for the same reason. The percentage of breakage is the same.

There’s more to it than crap data from Consumer Reports, J.D. Power, and internet carping.