Today’s New Car is Tomorrow’s Used Car: Look at Models Today

by Kevin on June 16, 2008

king and queen of the junk yard

(Photo by iboy_daniel)

My wife and I got a lot of things done off of our large to-do list this evening. As a reward we took a trip down to Bruster’s Ice Cream. Now before anyone screams “hypocrite!”, I will admit I have talked about buying ice cream and eating it at home being an alternative to paying the premium of going to Bruster’s or Baskin Robbins.

But there are exceptions to rules, and tonight was one of them.

As we left the neighborhood, we started talking as we normally do.

“I’m going to write on something you said earlier today,” I mentioned. She cocked her head to the side.

“Oh really?”

“I’m going to write about our used car conversation. You know, about looking at something today so you can buy it way in advance,” I said. She had pointed out a new blue Toyota Camry in a parking lot and how she liked the color on the car. That opened up a discussion of buying a new used car in the future.

Currently, we are socking away money on a monthly basis so that in 4 years or so — fall of 2012 — we can sell her current car and pay cash for a new used one. She wanted to know how old of a vehicle we would consider.

Of course this all depends on inflation, the cost of a used car in the future, and the quality of vehicle we can afford.

“Probably a 2007 or 2008. That would be 4-5 years old and priced about right for the amount of money we are saving currently,” I told her.

“Well I guess I should get looking!”, she said jokingly. But it made me think. Maybe we really should be looking at today’s new cars for the future.

Go Look Today for Tomorrow

This may seem over the top to some of you. I’ll admit, it is taking things a little far. But if you are planning to buy in 4 years, and you are going to buy a 4 year old car in the future… that means the models you will be considering are new cars today. They are on the dealership lots waiting to be looked at. You can go in and test drive it today and see if you really like the car. You could look at all of the different options to see which ones you really want to include when you start looking four years.


There are some downsides to this, of course:

  • The cars you see today are new. They will drive differently new than they will used.
  • There is no way to tell how cars will depreciate both physically and financially. Honda Accord’s may be great values today (I drive one), but there is no guarantee they will hold up in four years. You could test drive a car today and be disappointed in the future. On the flip side, Accord’s may not depreciate as they have in the past and we may not be able to afford one in the future.
  • There is a slight risk you might get a bit too excited about the new car, or listen to a good sales pitch, and end up buying the car right there on the spot. That may seem crazy, but people make dumb money decisions all of the time.

What do you think? Would you look at cars today to buy them tomorrow?

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Ricky June 16, 2008 at 5:25 pm

I must respectfully disagree with you on this point. I think that choosing a car today with intentions of purchasing a used one several years from now is like trying to hit a moving target. Like you said, there is no way to predict how a car is going to depreciate or hold up mechanically over the years. If you set your sights on a 2008 model ‘X’ you could be disapointed in 2012 when it turns out the ’08 ‘X’ is really a terrible car. I know that a little disapointment is not going to hurt anyone, but you could save yourself from it if you decide what car you want when it is time to buy.

Penelope @ Our Fourpence Worth June 18, 2008 at 4:40 pm

I think it’s a good idea to plan ahead, but I wouldn’t put too much time and effort into shopping now for a car you’re going to buy 4-5 years later. I think it’s good to keep a weather eye open for what you like, and do your serious research and shopping closer to the time when you’re ready to buy. You never know if a great new affordable model comes up in the next couple of years that you’ll be able to buy used at 2 years old and within your budget.

My cousin once advised me when I was shopping for a new car to avoid buying a brand new model for that year, but rather go with a model at least 1 or 2 years older that has proven to be stable and reliable. So the advantage of planning to buy a “new used car” ahead of time is that there will be a lot of readily available information on the reliability of the model you’re looking at.

Kevin June 18, 2008 at 4:43 pm

@Penelope and Ricky: You know, in hindsight, that seems more reasonable. I guess I had just never thought to look around and think “Hmm, I might be driving that some day.”

robj98168 June 18, 2008 at 7:03 pm

I am the king of “Hmm, I might be driving that some day.” But you never know when opputunity will strike! I bought my MGB, I was on vacation in Phoenix, and my cousin and his wife just bought a new Used chrysler lebaron convertible
then they had to decide what to do with the MGB- I had lived rubber bumper MGBs since I was in highschool- always said I will drive one someday. Well Luckily I made them a reasonable offer and bought myself a (then) a new 25 year old car that I had to drive from Phoenix to Seattle. Great fun!

robj98168 June 18, 2008 at 7:04 pm

That should read “I had loved rubber bumper MGB since I was in high school

EmmieR June 19, 2008 at 4:55 am

My hubby and I are going to buy a new car in the nearest future but we have to choose between a new but cheaper car or a used but better car? What do you recommend?

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