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My daughter is looking to purchase her first car, and is looking at 16-18 year-old vehicles costing $2k - $3k. This does not surprise me; she's always been fiscally responsible and cautious with her money, trying to budget shop where possible. However, it does present a problem in that I find myself inexperienced in this area and unable to guide her.

I had worked from my early teens, and my first car was a 5 year old Z28 with 30k miles. Most of my life I've aimed to purchase 3 year old vehicles to avoid the initial depreciation while still getting the advantage of high reliability and new technology. The oldest car I ever owned was an 8 year old Grand Prix GTP with 80k miles, which did face increased maintenance costs. My experience with cars is that they just plain work almost all the time, with maybe 1 trip a year to the mechanic for a minor annoyance (plus regular maintenance for oil, brakes, tires, etc, of course).

My concerns are that while $2k for a car is financially attractive, it brings with it an incredible amount of increased maintenance. In addition to the financial hit from missing work, educational hit from missing school, and comfort hit from taking it in for repairs, I would like to be able to quantify the maintenance costs for comparison to a newer car. If a $2k car requires $2500 annual maintenance, then after 5 years of ownership it hasn't saved much over a $12k 5-year-old car. If it did, I'm not sure why the owner would be selling it for just $2k. This is information we'll need to help her make a decision, and just as importantly to budget for the coming years.

So what additional maintenance items are required, and additional costs incurred, on a 17 year old car vs a newish (3-5 year old car)? For the purposes of this question, assume none of us have enough skill or experience to attempt auto maintenance ourselves and must pay a mechanic or body shop.

  • What country and area? As this will help understand the conditions and uses of used cars. Also, some example models would help as well. My current car has 140,000 miles and 9 years old and is absolutely reliable but had a good life! – RemarkLima Oct 14 '18 at 21:00
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    Safety is another important consideration, especially with a teenage driver. Modern cars tend to be more crashworthy. – pericynthion Oct 22 '18 at 2:33
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IMO a 17 year old car is something that you would buy because you like old cars, and working on them to keep them running is your hobby. You don't buy one if you just want reliable and comfortable transportation.

It's not just the maintenance cost of lower reliability. When things go wrong, you risk the hassle of trying to get replacement parts that are no longer available "off the shelf," or the expense of modifications to use modern parts instead.

Plus you will probably get worse fuel consumption and performance than a more modern car.

If you look at prices, there is probably a point where "older" does not mean "cheaper to buy" - and eventually "older" means "more expensive to buy" because the only cars of that age that haven't been scrapped become "collectables" for old car enthusiasts. I would guess you could find newer and more practical used cars in your daughter's price range, if you go looking for them.

Personally I would draw the line between "a personal transportation device" and "a hobbyist's or collector's item" at about 10 years old - but that may depend on your country, as well as your personal interests and abilities.

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It very much depends on the car in question. I've always run older cars, the newest being 7 years old, most around 10-12. However I've learned quite a bit of mechanical skills over the last 16 years, so I'm generally able to look after them myself.

One thing I've particularly learned is to be careful what you buy. I've had some cars that have had loads of problems, and others that have been totally reliable. Do your research - look at which cars are reliable, and which aren't. If you're in an area with damp winters and salt, look at which cars rust, as that can be a major problem.

We've got three cars at the moment, ages 13, 20 and 45. The 20 year old (a Nissan Micra) needed £50 of parts over the last year - and would have been maybe £100 of labour if I'd not done it myself.

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In the current wording there is no definitive answer possible:

It totally depends onto the type of car, the usage and maintenance. A make with bad reputation and neglected oil changes that got abused on salted pothole streets will be more troublesome than a reliable type of car with perfect maintenance and an sensible driver. There are cars around with a million kilometres and there are cars with total economic loss one month after the warranty ended.

My best recommendation would to ask a reputable mechanic to check the car for you. Then you should have a good idea on the state of the body and suspension, he should also be able to detect acute problems with the engine and transmission. To remove remaining doubts over the engine and transmission one could invest in an oil analysis to reveal eventual problems.

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