Cars for the rest of us.

The Eternal Dilemma: New Cars vs. Used Cars

May 13, 13 • by David Esch • eBay Finds, New Cars, Vintage Cars1 CommentRead More »

Chrysler Cirrus

Iris mist. You won’t find it in the paint samples. But the Chrysler folks said I could have it. 164 hp, 2.5 litre V-6. Power heated mirrors and a tach no less. “Cab-forward.” I was married 4 years and biting the bullet. “I’ll take it” I said.

That 1995 Cirrus was the first new car I ever owned. $19,365. I remember having a lump in my throat.

Then it’s 1997. With a baby on the way, it had to be more than a little sedan. I needed space. Volvo wagon. It was surprisingly easy to say goodbye too. That sucker under-steered something awful.

When I traded it, I got ten grand for that car. It cost me ninety-three hundred plus gas, maintenance and insurance. Worked out to $6,500 a year, not counting interest. $6,500 a year? For a Cirrus?

When I see new car ads, I realize that people have to keep buying them. We are talking about the health of the economy, apple pie, an essential industry, and people’s lives. Truth be told, I am good with that. You go ahead and walk into that showroom. They will be very happy to help you.

But if you wonder about it… How much does it matter that someone sat in that seat before? You worried about the leather? Or maybe it’s the road grime no one sees?

New vs. used: Given the fact that most banks and credit unions loan money just as easily on late model used cars as they do new, the world is your oyster.

Scenario 1 – The $50,000 SUV

Three kids and a little boat, and too much grass to cut. You need something that can really deal with it.

Maybe a Tahoe. Yeah, that’ll work. 4 wheel drive, lotsa grunt.… perfect. New, it’s going to cost you $46,000 and the value drops through the floor when you drive it off the lot. Ahem.



What about a certified, pre-owned 2010 Mercedes Benz GL450 sport utility. 38,000 miles. Power fold-flat third row seat and cross-over handling. This is not a truck. Must have had at least two oil changes by now, and should last at least until the kids are out of school. Also 46 large.


Mercedes Benz GL450


Scenario 2 – The $30,000 Family Car

Make mine a 2013 Ford Taurus SEL. Decent family car, reliable, and the styling is surprisingly unobjectionable. It’s not really the car you want to be in, but how do people even pay for a Tahoe? You can just get in and drive and not worry about the damn thing. With the options you want, you’re right at $27,860.


Or perhaps not. Twenty-seven grand buys a whole lot of used car.

eBay shows a 2010, factory certified 2 door coupe. 26,500 miles. 6.2 litre, 376 cubic inches with rear wheel drive. Camaro SS. A real one. $27,000. Yeah, it’s a little cramped in the back. Good thing the kids are short.

Camaro SS

Scenario 3 – I’m on A Low Budget (What did you say?)

Now if you’re looking at mid-80s Malibu wagons, with or without a stick, you are working with limited capital. You need a solid car. Something that’ll get ya back and forth without a lot of hoo ha. Comfortable commuter. And cheap.

Somebody tells you the new Hyundais are actually pretty nice. There it is. ’13 Hyundai Accent GLS. It’s even got a six speed manual. $14,600.


And then you ask yourself. This is the car I really want? The guy is holding the pen out for you. You need to sign today for this deal.

So you smile, and thank him for his time, turn and walk out the door. Driving home, you realize you came very close to getting something that would have been, well, stupid. Very shiny and pleasant smelling though. Keys hit the table, you throw open the laptop and log in.

Buy it now. $14,000.

Cobra R

1995 Ford Mustang Cobra R with 24,000 miles. The one you needed a competition license to buy new.

They don’t come in Iris mist.

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One Response to The Eternal Dilemma: New Cars vs. Used Cars

  1. Steve Strieter says:

    Back when I had to be the first and only guy to drive a car ordered exactly the way I wanted it – OK, depending on “option packages” – I bought new. 3 times. Those cars became monuments: no rain, fussing over undercarriage cleanliness, keeping the miles down so they’d always remain as new as possible. Then I realized that if I wanted to actually use the thing, and not eat a bunch of depreciation, it was better to buy vehicles that had already been farted in, driven in the rain, maybe had a door ding or paint chip. I’ve got 191,000 now on my ’93 Pathfinder, 239,000 on a ’96 Breeze (40 mpg!) and 48,000 on a ’97 Mustang GT (compromised on that one, no rain). I’m probably ahead by $100,000, and any one of them can go cross-country if the urge strikes. As it turns out, they’re all just about the way I’d have ordered them; it only took some shopping around to find the best example I could.