Every mom should have an option to stay home with her children, regardless of income

Why You Should Drive Your Car Until It Dies

A few years back, I was inspired by a story my friend shared with me. She purchased a brand new car for $16,000, and drove it until it died. It lasted her family 14 years! That’s about $1200/year or $100/month. If you have a loan on something like that, you’re looking at even more. At 6% interest rate for a 5 year loan, it’s $2,560 over the life of the loan in interest alone. But what she did was brilliant, and it inspired me in my own life.

Why You Should Drive Your Car Until It Dies

So, I purchased a used car with very low miles on it at wholesale pricing. I paid $5,500, and it lasted me almost 6 years. This is $1,100/year or $92/month, no loan as I paid cash, so saved me quite a bit of interest. And in that 6 years, I saved up my money each month for the day it would die, because I wanted to pay cash for the next one as well. When it died, I sold it on Craigslist for a few thousand dollars to an auto mechanic shop who was going to fix it and resell it again. This added even more to my purchase, so I was able to purchase an even nicer SUV than previously. I purchased this car with very low miles and expect to get 5 years out of it for around the same price. Maybe this one will last me longer; it’s certainly made better.

One of my jobs in my banking career was auto loan processing. It was the funnest aspect in all the work that I did. But really quickly into it, I saw how each time someone purchased a new or used car, they lost a few thousand dollars. Maybe the person does a trade-in and loses what they could have gotten by selling it private party. And it’s harder to find a car at wholesale, so usually they would overpay on their new-to-them vehicle as well. So, if you’re rotating cars a lot, you could be losing a lot of money on each deal. The less you rotate cars the better. I personally would not recommend rotating more than every 5 years. Drive your car until that thing is dead…or at least needs a new transmission or some other huge amount of repair that is not worth the money you put into it if fixed. Likewise, if you’re selling something like that on Craigslist, advertise in the title: “Mechanics Special” and you’ll get a lot more hits to your ad.

In my banking career, one of the tasks I did was auto loan processing. Really quickly into it, I saw how each time someone purchased a new or used car, they lost a few thousand dollars. Over the years I've studied out the best scenario's, and for that reason, you should drive your car until it dies! Find out why.

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  1. I am still driving a 2000 Dodge Neon that I bought new in February 2001. It has 180,000 miles on it and I commute around 30 miles per day back and forth to work in it. We’re working on saving for another one to pay cash as well. It’s going to be odd for me though, because at 35 years old I have only owned this car and a 1985 Ford XP. I’m kind of attached to this car since I’ve had it so long, and it truly has treated me far better than I have treated it!

  2. I bought a 2009 Jeep compass on my birthday in 2008 – I was 23 years old (it was my second car as my 1991 Camry died on the side of the road that morning). It had 9 miles on it. It also has a lifetime power-train warranty on it. When I asked what that meant they said, “if you can buy it at Walmart, its not covered” – so pretty much my car should never “die” because as long as I own the vehicle then they are to replace anything that doesn’t last the “lifetime”, as long as I do the 5 year check-up which is 100% free. I guess that’s one advantage of buying new!

  3. We bought a new van 3 years ago. With a large down payment of $10,000 the dealer gave us a 0% interest rate “loan”. The main benefit of buying new is that you don’t have much expense in the upkeep of the vehicle.
    My favorite part of saving to pay with cash is that you can make interest on the savings until you are ready to make your purchase. Double Bonus!

  4. My husband still drives the 98 Chevy Cavalier he bought new and having saved up from 2 jobs had bought it with cash. It’s perfect for his 1/2 hour commute and you can’t beat the 31 mpg. We’ve kept putting a little money into it here and there, nothing major, just keeping it running. 16 years later now, he’s at 285,000 miles on that sucker and still going! This car has more than paid for itself.

  5. We do this too! My husband’s work vehicle is a more complicated matter that we have recalculated and deal with constantly. But, the family vehicle is usually a $4000 minivan clunker that we drive and drive and drive. We will make some repairs on it and can often drive it for 4 or 5 years. (Making it around $1000/yr when you add in repair costs.) We always save and pay cash for bargaining power and to avoid interest (even when hubby has to buy brand new for work) and he handles private sale and buy for our vehicles keeping the middle man out of the picture as much as possible. Do I wish I drove a nicer vehicle? Yes. But I get over it quickly when I find out how much debt some are carrying on their vehicles.

    • Yes, love cash for bargaining power. I buy a lot that way too! 🙂 Great attitude and keeping your focus on what’s really important. My car is not the best in the world either. It’s a 2003 Ford Escape, but it’s paid for, and gives me time to buy something that is nicer down the line when it decides to die. lol. I get to say now that I have absolutely not one penny in debt. No credit cards, nothing. That is priceless! 😀

  6. My husband and I don’t drive our cars until they drop. Our rule is we drive ours until the repairs begin to cost more per year than a payment would. We include lost work hours if we have to miss because of a breakdown and towing fees. Aggravation is also a huge factor. Our longest lasting auto is now a 14 year old Honda Civic. It is still rolling along, Knock on Wood!

  7. We do this too but I have the added benefit of a husband who knows how to repair cars. So when we picked up our current vehicle with 214,000 miles on it, I wasn’t flabbergasted like everyone who I tell how many miles are on it. This is our 3rd car that we’ve had with close to or over 200,000 miles on it. They have all ran great and minimal work to be done on them. Funny the one car that was purchased with the lowest miles, 38,000,the newest at the time, less than 2 years old, and paid a loan for had the most problems and the only solution was to put another engine in it when it blew up with less than 100,000 and just over 10 years old. We just sold that crap car.My husband also loves to buy, sell and trade vehicles all the time, so you may be able to do a straight up trade or just have to put a small amount on top.

    • They just don’t make cars like they used to. Quality is a lot poorer, out of country parts now, etc. I completely believe that an older 200k car could have fewer problems than a newer car. I’ve seen it myself as well, not personally, but a friend of mine. That’s really cool your husband knows a lot about cars. I can only imagine how helpful that would be.

  8. I bought my 2004 Nissan Sentra new. She turned 10 years old in April and she still runs like a champ. 165,000 miles on her now. I must admit I’m getting the new car bug, but I’m still not willing to take on a big payment to have one, so I just keep driving her and she never disappoints me. 🙂

    • That’s great Erin! The oldest car I’ve ever driven was a 1973 Mercedes that ran on vegetable oil instead of gas! Saved a fortune on gas, but it always made me hungry. 🙂 They got the veggie oil from a Chinese Food restaurant. My friends said they could smell me coming and going! ROFL.

  9. Great article! I just found your site today, and will add to my bookmarks!

    We always buy used cars. I have a 2001 Windstar for my DJ business, and R has a 2006 Odyssey as a family van.

    I drive a 1997 Ford Escort, with something over 250,000 miles … the odometer broke this past spring with 246k… drat! I was looking forward to seeing it roll over to 250k. 🙂 I bought it second hand with 50k miles. It had been a rental car. I do basic maintenance (oil, rotate tires, bulbs, etc), and have a reputable shop for more extensive stuff. I would love to have something newer, but it at 17 years old and a purchase price of around $10,000, it has cost me about $50/month. I’ve had the car longer than I’ve had my dear wife or children. 🙂 lol

    • That’s awesome your car is still going with 250k on it. We used to have a Chevy Suburban that was right under 250k and it ran better than my newer Chevy Impala! It was owned by a mechanic it’s whole life though, and he took good care of it. It’s all about the maintenance.

      Haha! Saw your post on when to buy new or used. Great list, I agree with absolutely everything on it, especially buying new for #5! lol

  10. This is great in theory but you’re forgetting one major aspect of car ownership- repairs and maintenance! We have gotten burned too many times driving cheaper cars- we added up the expenses for repairs for our last minivan (of which I should add, my husband being mechanically inclined, did much of the work himself) and the cost of the repairs added up to $350 a month over the course of the year! That’s a new car payment! We have learned our lesson and I actually feel GOOD about our car payment of $125 a month now, we’ve had the car for a yr and a half now with no major repairs to date!

    • Yeah, if a car is costing THAT much to repair, seems wisest to sell it and use the money to buy another one, but each family would need to decide what that price point is for them.

  11. Yes! This is so true, also don’t forget how much you save on car insurance. You can pay MUCH less when you own your car outright, otherwise the title owning finance company sets your minimum coverage limits. In the 8 years I’ve had my Scion XB, even when I had to pay a mechanic nearly $500 to fix something (which has only happened twice so far), I just told myself that it’s still less than a car payment every month would be. I paid 10k cash for it, in 2006, it was only a year old but already had 60k miles on it. Now it has 190,500 miles and my mechanic still says everything is running fine and we can expect many more miles out of it, which is great because we are a one car family. By the time it does die, we will have money saved up to get another newer car.

    • Yes, exactly! I have already started saving up for my next car as well, for when mine dies so that I can pay cash for the next one too! Hate loans. lol. That is true about the coverage limits for insurance. I still have full coverage, but because my car is not worth as much as a newer car and not on loan, it’s less than $50/month! I also save money on insurance because I work from home, so my mileage is not near as high as others who commute. 🙂 The cut off is usually 10k miles a year to keep it cheap and I don’t drive that much.

  12. I have to disagree. We recently drove a car until it died. So dead that we had no option but to sell it for scrap metal. A measly $500 was all we got. Not to mention the thousands of dollars spent on repairs until it died. The timing belt, tie end rods, and on and on it went. I think we would have been better off saving the money on all those repairs and having sold it while it was still worth something and used that money to go upwards the purchase of a new car. I, like your friend, prefer to buy new cars and drive them forever. I buy in cash, take good care of them, keep the miles low, then sell them before the reach 100k miles (for me that’s about 13 years). I have not had such luck with used cars. They seem to only last 5-6 years. I think, generally, when someone has a car for only 3 years and sells it with 30-50k, they don’t bother to take good care of it and they don’t last as long.

  13. I’m still rolling out in my 1994 Toyota Camry. It has 297,000 miles and the catalytic converter is on it’s last leg. It costs $1300 to fix and I’m weighing my options.

  14. My dad gave me his 1997 Buick Park Avenue 5 years ago so close to 18 years old with over 245,000 miles on it. It has needed alot of repairs since I have had it and there are many things that need fixing but I am living with those problems as long as the car runs. I have no a/c, driver’s side window does not roll down, vents do not blow on front window so no defrosting foggy and icy windows, top half of steering wheel is down to the bare metal, leather seat cover on driver’s seat is gone, passenger seat belt broke, oil leak, transmission leak, power steering leak and currently in shop because the steering went out. Anyway, I plan to keep fixing what absolutley HAS to be fixed to keep it running until it dies because I dread the thought of another car payment. I bought my son a new truck in 2005 with a 60 month loan payment of $357.00 that almost killed me paying off. I never want to do that again so I am trying to save money to be ready to buy myself a USED car when the time comes.

  15. I agree and disagree. Being without a car payment is always better for saving money, unless as some have already mentioned it’s more costly to repair it than what the car is actually worth. Also, we take a lot of road trips as vacations. I prefer a new(er) car for this unless it’s a local short road trip. We have a 1993 Toyota 4-Runner that my husband bought new and we save it for the local trips up into the mountains or off roading/beach trips where we take our dog. We have his 2007 Volkswagen Jetta that is paid off that he uses for work. I have a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI that I still owe on, but I commute further to work. I have huge fuel savings by having a TDI because I get over 50 mpg. I also love having a really good warranty and AAA Plus doesn’t hurt having either. So, I would say you should research the type of car you want to own and compare it to other models/prices, how long and what the manufacturer warranty covers, fuel savings, etc. Knowing when to buy a car and what cars hold value more than others also helps. And, skimping on frivolous car options like navigation (buy a portable one instead), Sirius radio (I admit I love mine), fog lights, etc. also helps keep the price of a new car down. I downgraded from a Lexus RX350 to a VW Jetta TDI. I do miss the “L”, but I like saving money even more that the Jetta has allowed me to do.

    • Great thoughts Meg. Thank you for sharing…right now I am saving up to pay cash for a NEW car. We’ll see how that goes. LOL. If it lasts me 15 years and there’s no interest, it may be the cheaper route. Each family will need to figure out what is best for their situation. It sounds like you’ve done that. 🙂

  16. This is honestly such a great tip that I feel like people dont follow by. Everyone always wants the newest car no matter how much it costs or puts them into debt. If more people drove their cars until they couldnt anymore they could save a TON of money over the years. It is painful sometimes to hear how much money people pay each month on their car payments.

  17. Always buy five year old cars at 100,000 km. so sad when my 1999 Honda Civic died in Chicago (one cylinder shot and a second cylinder was almost done) after I drove there from Toronto. It was literally sputtering when I parked it for the last time. But it didn’t owe me anything at 613,000 km!!!

  18. I bought a second hand car back in 1990 (had to get a loan, but had it paid off fairly quickly) for $6000 and had 105000 kilometres on the clock (I’m in Australia and that’s a good car), I had it for 17yrs, it died just shy of 400,000 kilometres on the clock, was very sorry to see the car go to the wrecking yard, but repairs would have cost more than the car was worth.

  19. You must have an “old car” guardian angel. I never had luck with old cars, always cost me more in repairs, not to mention the hassle of an undependable car.

  20. Something that people sometimes don’t consider is the opportunity cost of paying cash for a car. Depending on your attitude to risk etc, it may be better to get a cheap loan for a car and put the money into an investment that (Hopefully) pays better than the loan rate. Sometimes this will also allow you to get a better deal on the new car too. Just worth thinking about for big financial decisions like car / property purchases…

    • That is a great thought. Definitely agree it would just depend on the interest rate. Sometimes interest rates can be as low as 1.5% and if a person has bad credit, the car loan could be 30%, so the person buying would definitely have to do their research, but I love your thought process. 🙂

      • Where I’m from, just outside New Orleans, la, one car salesman at a dealership told me that there is a cap for the interest rate on a vehicle purchase. He said 21% (-ish; I can’t remember exactly, maybe 21.1% or so…) was the highest interest rate that you would get for worst case scenario credit, income, etc. I haven’t verified that information, but I do know that many pre-approved credit thingies that come in the mail state interest rates up to 28.8% or 29.9%, for example. yikes!

        • Yeah, interest rates can get really high. About 10 years ago, when I had a loan and D credit, I believe it was close to 30% interest. They were the only company that would loan to me at the time. I needed a car and had no choice. Since then, I paid it off and have not had a loan since.

  21. I can totally see the value of this advice!! I drive a 2013 Dodge Journey that I purchased in 2014 – I am so far upside down in this car right now that I am not sure I will ever be able to get out from under it but I do know that next time I need a car it will be a very inexpensive older car and I will hold onto it until I can afford to purchase the next one with cash!!

  22. Thanks for this useful post, Sarah! I’m right with you on driving a car until it dies (not to mention using appliances until they die….but that’s another story). We have always driven older cars, at least one of our two (but now they are both old).

    It can be humbling at times, but I try to take pride in the fact that I’m not “wasting” money trying to look successful or find my security in what I drive. I think it’s sad that many are probably working more hours and adding more stress to their lives in order to drive that certain new car.

    I’m not criticizing those who have the money and make the decision to drive a newer car, but as I understand it, buying a brand new car is not the best value in a car purchase, but rather a year or two old (if I remember correctly). Of course, having a car that runs well and is safe is also important, but it doesn’t need to be the current year’s model.

    Thanks for reminding us of better, intentional decisions that can be made to help us to better steward our money.

    • It’s true…once you drive the car off the dealers lot, you literally lose thousands of dollars. 1-2 year old cars are best, you’re absolutely right. I worked in banking for many years as a loan processor. I floored cars to dealers, helped people get loans, etc. I would say that it’s all up to each individual and their circumstances and I love how you said you’re not criticizing. For me, I have the cash and did recently purchase a brand new SUV with cash with 3 miles on it from the dealer. My old car had died and I traded it in…got a fair amount for it (a perk of being a blogger 🙂 ) and I’ve been very happy with my purchase. I wouldn’t personally have considered a new car though, unless I had the cash and was in the financial spot I’m in now. I’ve worked super hard to get here and I’m proud of that. Is it right for everyone? No. Each family should do what is best for their family. I’ve bought used cars and driven them until they’ve died my whole life, so this is a nice little present to me. 🙂 But no, I’m not gonna pull the car’s worth right now on it. ROFL. I don’t wanna know! 🙂 But I can say that I didn’t buy it for any other reason than I just wanted a stable car (as a single mom) for years and years to come. I think it all comes down to the heart. 🙂