Whether you want to face it or not, when you buy a car, count on car depreciation, or a continual loss in value over the life of the car. With older used cars, the rate of depreciation is a lot less to you, because they have already lost most of their value. But with new cars, the sting is extremely heavy, in fact, when you first purchase a new car, you could stand to lose upwards of 20-25% just driving it off the lot. Why? Marketability.

Consider this - if you decided to sell the car immediately after you bought it, what kind of a price do you think you will get? Probably much lower than the dealer sold it to you. Ask yourself if you would pay retail for a car that was just recently bought by someone else, instead of going to the dealer directly. And if you wanted to sell it back to the dealer, well…they aren’t going to give you a price anywhere near what you paid for it. They want to make sure they make their money.

A good rule of thumb on car depreciation is to figure anywhere from 10-20% loss each year on the vehicle. Now, if you buy a car that is ten years old, most of the value has already depreciated, and it is nothing to worry about. If you spend $2,500 for a car, who cares if it is only worth $1,500 in the next 2-3 years. When I write posts like Should I Buy a New Car or a Used Car?, and the Ramifications of Making Payments on a Car, this is what I am referring to.

So here is the bottom line from my opinion. If you are considering buying a new car (many people do to get something that will have low maintenance costs for the first few years and be very reliable), plan on driving it for years. I’m talking 10 years or longer. The absolute worst thing you can do is to buy a new car, and sell it or trade it in during the first 2-3 years. You will almost definitely find yourself “upside down”, or in financial terms, with negative equity in the vehicle. My suggestion is to buy a used car that is 5-10 years old, and driving it into the ground. My last vehicle I purchased was a 1993 Acura Integra; it currently has around 160,000 miles and it still drives good. I plan to have it for another 5 years or more, hopefully. When buying an old car, just make sure you have your mechanic look it over thoroughly, because chances are high that it will need significant repairs when you buy it, and as long as you are prepared for the repairs, you can use the information to negotiate down the price of the vehicle. Two quick pieces of advice, don’t be afraid of repairs and make sure to buy foreign cars like Hondas and Toyotas. They just last a lot longer and have fewer maintenance problems.

One last thing, I found a car depreciation calculator if you are interested in seeing an estimation of what your car might be worth in the future. It isn’t as good as waiting until the time you are ready to sell and checking the blue book value, but it might be useful when you are considering purchasing that next car. Here’s the link:


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