170k Miles and 4 Years of Used Car Ownership

In 2006, I bought my first car. While my parents, at the time, had a new car-only buying policy, my financial situation led me straight to the used car salesman. The purchase would be the largest buy I had made in my life, and every second of the process I was nervous and unsure of myself. All I knew was that I wanted to buy a used car, that I wanted to buy a “good” used car, and that I didn’t want to spend more than… $8,000 on my car. Though less would be better.

I spent a lot of time at used car dealerships. I almost bought a lot of cars that I’m glad I didn’t end up with. Certified used vehicles are the biggest waste of my money in my (current) opinion, but maybe that opinion will change after I buy a dud one day. My trip to the Chevrolet store had me sitting in a certified car that I thought I wanted. It was way more than $8k, but it was only one year old… a rental that was ready to be sold. It was shiny and new-ish. It was a red Chevy Aveo. I didn’t really love driving it, but at 22 and getting ready to buy my first car, I figured I’d grow into it. I was literally sitting down at the bargaining table when I started to negotiate terms, and I realized this car was just going to cost me more than I was comfortable spending. I wanted to pay for my car outright, and that wouldn’t be possible with this car (unfortunately I can’t remember its price tag, but I think it was around $13k). I’m very glad I walked out of the dealership that day.

Later in my search, I drove a used Saab that I fell in love with, despite the whole hatchback style not being me at all. I really fell in love with the idea of owning a “luxury” car when the pricetag was comparable to the crappy Aveo I almost bought. In fact, I think the Saab I was looking at was around $9k. But then I read up on Saabs and discovered that despite their top-notch performance in crashes, the cost to repair the beast would be ridiculous. I moved on to the Toyota dealership, when I knew I was closer to what I’d ultimately buy.

At Toyota the certified cars were expensive. I test drove one that was sporty and too low to the ground. Apparently I need a car that’s slightly higher up to feel safe. I test drove a Camry and really liked it but due to the price tag it was a no go. I started to consider if I should buy a more expensive car and just pay per month like most people do. That’s when I turned to Craigslist.

More nervous then ever, I scoured the Craigslist postings for a Honda or Toyota in my price range. I’m not sure when I first saw the older Toyota Solara model, but I fell in love with its sleek design minus the huge pricetag. I never thought I’d buy a two-door car, but I realized that I didn’t know anyone in the area, and chances were I’d basically be schlepping myself around with maybe one other passenger. Four doors just weren’t necessary.

The Solara I found for sale was around $7k. It was a 1999, which seemed old but not necessarily too old… (it was 2005 at the time, so it was 6 years old). The almost dealbreaker was the mileage on the car… 130k miles. Now, maybe it was a mistake to buy the car with that many miles, but I haven’t had any issues yet. The most important thing to me was figuring out WHY the seller was trying to get rid of the car. He had a reasonable story — he had a baby, he loved the car (which was always owned by his family) but needed a four door and planned to buy the four door Camry version of the model.

He agreed to get the car inspected so I brought the car to a guy who was supposedly a Toyota specialist and paid $100 or something to get the car checked out. The guy ran through a few small problems with the car but told me it was in really good operating order for so many miles and the year it was sold. And I was sold. I needed a car and I was tired of looking. I paid $7,000 via check and watched the money wipe from my bank account. But it wasn’t that scary, I still had some savings left, and I really was excited to buy my first car.

Since then, my car has been running fine. Knock on wood. 2006 – 2010 makes my car at least a four year purchase, or about $2,000 per year plus gas and insurance. I’ve had to replace the breaks and tires, but otherwise it’s doing ok.

I’m glad I didn’t spend money on a new or newer car… being as this is my first car, I’ve dinged it up a bit, mostly driving into inanimate objects. I wish I hadn’t, but I’m a better driver now and know how to avoid most scratches (at least ones I cause) if I get a nicer car down the road. I love my car for its sunroof, it’s design, it’s cost (even though I could have gone cheaper.) I love my car for keeping me safe during one accident and somehow not even getting too much damage from it (I didn’t hit anything, I just had a really bad day and was exhausted and spun off the road into a ditch by accident.)

My car now has over 170k miles on it, so I’ve put on about 10k miles per year. I’m not sure if that’s considered a lot. I don’t drive much but I generally take one or two longer road trips per year (longer being like 5-6 hour drives) so that’s adding up and undoubtedly wearing on my car. Since my boyfriend drives a really old clunker which can’t accelerate well, we always take my car. I wish he had a better car so we could trade off car-driving duties, but at least when I use my car I can drive… I doubt he’d let me drive his car if he had one he liked!

Now I’m wondering how long my car will really last me. I’d like it to last to 200k miles, which would be 3 more years, I guess. I don’t know how I could sell the beast, it’s too dinged up to be worth much now, unfortunately. So I plan to run it into the ground, figuratively speaking. I’d love my next car to be a Prius but those things are damned expensive, even used. Heck, I may buy another Solara (though a newer model) because I’ve been happy with Toyota quality and my car. It’s not fancy, it’s not a show car, it’s just a car that’s a little nice to get me where I need to go.

How much did you spend on your current car? How long do you expect it to last you?

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8 comments

  1. Christina says:

    Your decision to figuratively run your car into the ground is one that people often make without outright contemplation. It’s nice that you’ve come to peace with the idea that it will not produce a sale which is to your liking.

  2. Anonymous says:

    As long as you get regular oil changes and inspections, you can get up to 500k miles on it. A Toyota probably won't go that long, as would a Honda, but you probably have a lot more miles on this car.

  3. SavingDiva says:

    I bought my 2000 Imapala with 24k miles on it in 2004 for $10k. It's now 6 years later, my car has 95k miles on it and it's starting to go 🙁

  4. SeeJaneGetRich.com says:

    @Anonymous Wow,I hope my car runs 288k miles!I bought my 1997 Honda Civic for 5k (or was it 6k?) when it had 95k miles. Now, it has 152k miles and its still going strong. I will drive it until it breaks down.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I just recently had to get a new car. My college car was a $2,000 – 92 Honda Accord, which lasted me for 7 years and was recently retired at 288k miles. 🙁 I am not nearly so attached to my recently purchased 2008 Nissan Sentra, but I'm hoping it lasts for a while.

  6. Life as a Purse says:

    About a year ago, I bought a used 2006 Mini Cooper S convertible with a stick shift. It was my dream car, and I spent $16,500 on it. This was a great price for what I got, but a lot of money in absolute terms. As you can see from my blog, I still have $6,500 to pay on it, and I sometimes really wish I had gone for something cheaper. (My first car at 16 was a 2000 Dodge Neon that cost $6,000, and my brother is still driving that thing!) However, for me, my car is definitely a huge part of my entertainment – driving with the top down in the summer is so fun that I do not have to be going anywhere fancy to feel like a million bucks. Maybe that is a justification, but I am stuck with this guy for now, so I am trying to find the positive in the bad financial situation. 🙂 Thanks for the cool post!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I bought my 2002 ford explorer sport in 2003 with 14k miles for 16K. I've had to put about 300, minus brakes and tires. I expect to drive it until it dies or I have a baby first. After that, my fiance may just use it for his car. The two doors would be killer with a car seat.

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