It can be tempting when you’re shopping for a used car to just keep going back further and further in time to older models. Usually, as you do this, you can watch the price drop, and that can be pretty attractive. However, a newer car is going to have more modern amenities, be more reliable, and safer than an old car.

Having said that, buying an older used car isn’t the worst idea you can have. You get a vehicle that can at least get you where you need to go for a very reasonable price. Still, you need to really think about your situation and how owning an older used car will impact it.

Think About Vehicle Generations

Nissan frontier

Going back a few years when looking for a vehicle can be a great way to find something with a lower cost. But you have to be careful. Try to stick within the same vehicle generation. This will ensure you get a similar design to what you’re really looking for. For example, the current Nissan Frontier’s design is more than a decade old. That means you could buy a 2007 Frontier and it wouldn’t look or feel all that different than a new model.

We did a search on a variety of classified sites (including our own used car listings) and saw a number of Frontiers ranging from the 2005 model year to 2010 model year for a range of about $5,000 all the way up to around $15,000. That’s a lot of variation in price for essentially the same model. Granted, these vehicles varied in trim level and amenities, but it’s clear that going a few years older could save you some serious coin.

Cars Don’t Age Like Fine Wine

ford escort

It would be nice if cars got better with age, but they don’t. As vehicle’s age, their parts and components wear down and fail. This means the older a car is, the more likely it is to have issues, generally. Of course, a well-maintained, older used car will continue to run for years, but therein lies the trick to buying an older used car. It has to be well-maintained and cared for. Otherwise, you’ll be the person doing all the maintenance and care that was missed over the years.

The average age of vehicles out on the road is supposed to be about 11 and a half years old, according to IHS Markit data, which was cited by Automotive News. That means that there are plenty of cars out there in good working order that are a decade old or more. That being said, you have to be especially careful when buying this kind of vehicle.  

Have It Checked By a Mechanic

Car mechanic

Despite the fact that there are a lot of vehicles out there a decade or more old, we’d hesitate to advise anyone to buy something with that many years on it. When you start looking at older vehicles, you really need to pay attention to things like maintenance records and the number of miles put on the car. For most people figuring out just how well a car has been maintained over the years is a difficult task, one that is better handled by a professional.

With the seller’s permission, we’d advise you to have a certified mechanic of your choosing look over the vehicle to determine what kind of condition it’s really in. While this inspection by a mechanic can’t find everything, it will give you an idea as to how well the owner took care of the vehicle.

Think About What You’re Comfortable With

person driving

Another thing you need to think about is what exactly you’re comfortable with. If you don’t want to deal with a lot of maintenance, you’re better off purchasing a newer, low-mileage car. Old cars need a lot of care. While an older car may run for several more years, it won’t do so if it’s neglected. Meticulous maintenance is required.

This really comes down to your personal comfort level. Are you comfortable driving an older vehicle that was cheap to purchase, but could potentially be expensive to maintain? If not, go with a three-to-five-year-old car and all you likely have to worry about is regularly scheduled maintenance.