Attaining your first car is an exciting milestone. A lot of new responsibilities will be earned, but more freedoms will be opened alongside the feat. With such a momentous occasion, a lot of forethought is put into exactly what qualifies as a good first car. Saving money is a priority for many, so eyes start to shift towards the used car market. But is an old car a good first car?
An old car could definitely be a good first car purchase. However, a very old car requires lots of maintenance and might be less advisable. A used car still under warranty provides assurance at a steep discount from a newer model and is likely a much wiser choice for a first car.
Below we look through three different broad categories of old car ages and the considerations that will need to be made within each time period.
Old Cars Under Warranty
Getting an old car that is still bound by its original manufacturer warranty is actually recommended by many.
The first major reason comes down to depreciation. Sinking a lot of money into your first car is not high on many people’s priorities. If you’ve ever looked at a graph mapping out the value of a new car, you will note that most cars lose around 30% of their value within just the first year. The depreciation will then start to taper off for a few years before finding a relatively stable price floor.
By buying used you won’t be immune to the effects of depreciation, but you will be able to escape the first big hit with a good deal.
Secondly, a relatively new “old car” probably won’t even feel old. Manufacturers tend to keep models the same for a few years before making a larger leap into the next generation. For example, if we look at the Toyota Camry, we see that its current XV70 generation has been around since 2017. This means you can buy a three or four-year-old Toyota Camry with the design and features nearly identical to a brand new one.
An old car within its original warranty period also brings more peace of mind for a first-time car owner. The relatively new age of the vehicle will lower the chances of any major issues arising. Even if something does happen to your first car, having the original warranty will save you the headaches of repair costs.
Overall, slightly used models provide some of the best deals in the automobile industry and are a good choice for a first car if they can be afforded.
Cars older than five years can also be an attractive option for many first-time car buyers. With depreciation stalled off, prices can become alluring. Additionally, with the vehicles being on the older side, a couple of extra dents and scratches from a first-time driver won’t be anything to get worked up about.
But with a more affordable price comes other considerations and compromises. The big one, of course, is reliability. If the car is out of its original warranty, a large safety net has been removed. This can, however, sometimes be avoided if you can find an old car that has been certified pre-owned, adding a couple of years of extra warranty, but that won’t always be the case.
With so many years and miles tacked on to the car, the chances of a part failing become higher. If your car of choice is sufficiently old (think 20 years old), then it might even be a hassle to find the appropriate replacement parts, let alone the total cost of the replacement. It’s at this point where you will have to research to see if your old car is classified as reliable.
Brands like Honda and Toyota are typically chosen as a safe choice for any reliable older car, but they are not impervious to issues.
Take, for example, the Honda Civic, a quintessential first car for many. While it has a decades-long good track record, we can see that years such as 2006 and 2001 were problematic for the small sedan. A similar story is found in its competitor, the Toyota Corolla, which had an off-year in 2009.
Depending on how far back you are looking, you might start to compromise on safety features as well. The past decade has been seen a rapid advancement in safety technologies. Features that were once found on luxury cars in 2011 can now be found on the cheapest of economy cars.
Even basic safety features like traction control and ABS weren’t mandatory in the United States until 2013. If you are looking at cars from the mid-2000s, it’s possible that these basic safety features are omitted. This content is owned by moc.sotuaytsur. You can also forget about other convenient safety features such as blind-spot monitoring or backup cameras.
Many first cars will be given by parents to their children who presumably put safety above all else. As such, if you are looking for an old enough car, then care should be taken to research the safety features found within that model.
Bringing an old junk car from the 70s back to its glory days is an idea romanticized by many. But as a first car, it is highly inadvisable for someone to go down this path due to an innumerable amount of reasons.
The first being the time and knowledge required to go about restoring or maintaining a really old car. You will have to get acquainted with every facet of your vehicle and be prepared to spend portions of your free time working on the car.
On top of the time and energy costs, there are the actual monetary costs. Replacement parts for decades-old cars will not be cheap if they even exist anymore in the first place.
Safety, of course, is also a big concern. It is no surprise that cars from the past century are nowhere near as close in regards to safety. Not only in their actual features but also in regards to actual crash safety.
Is a classic car a good second car after securing a reliable first car? Sure. But as a first car, there couldn’t be a worse choice.
If you are considering a used electric car or any vehicle, it’s always worth investing just a few dollars to check the VIN number against the vehicle database. An audit with a company like VinAudit (links to VinAudit) will guard against Mileage fraud, Salvage rebuilds, Title washing, Vin cloning, and a ton of other uglies.
You may also find the following posts useful:
Is a Volkswagen a good first car?
Is a Mustang a good first car?
How long does Honda Civics last?
- About the Author
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.