Buying Wisely: How to Make a Used Vehicle Work for You


I drive an eighteen-year-old pickup. It runs every day, it isn’t ugly, it stops when I need it to stop, and it starts when I need it to start. I have saved myself a lot of money over the years because I’ve chosen to maintain a quality older vehicle instead of going out and purchasing a new one.

A few weeks ago, you and I looked at the pros and cons of leasing a vehicle, which can save you some money if the alternative is buying something brand new. You can read that article here. Today let’s talk about the ways you can make a used vehicle work for you and your bank account.

Maintain What You Have

Like I said, my truck is old enough to vote. I am willing to put money into my cars, even the old beaters. My thought is, if I take care of it, it will take care of me.

Certain items on the vehicle will need to be replaced over time: the battery, belts, tires, etc. However, if the cost of maintaining the vehicle grows above 20 percent of its value, I will do it once. If the vehicle threatens to have similar trouble again, I will offload the car and go buy something different.

I know I have a wider tolerance than some for what I will pay to keep an old car running. I understand what the car is basically worth and work out the percentage of what I am willing to put into it. But the percentage itself isn’t the point; the point is that I have widened my financial tolerance to take care of that vehicle. I maintain what I have until it is no longer maintainable.

Be Your Own Bank

Any money that isn’t being used to maintain the vehicle I move into a savings account for my next car replacement. My cars are going to wear out eventually, so I set money aside on a regular basis for that future expense. In this way, when the day comes to replace the car, I’m the bank. I have adequate savings and something for a down payment.

Saving money today for the car I will purchase in the future allows me to build “altitude” in my finances. It puts me in a better position for life’s unexpected twists and turns.

Understand Quality and Value

When I decide to go out and buy a car, I choose a vehicle of good quality, something that will last my family several years. I don’t buy new cars—I buy cars that have already gone through the new-car-used-car value fall.

The moment a buyer drives a new car off the lot, it goes through a 20 percent loss in value, which I get to avoid by purchasing a quality used vehicle.

Get Rid of Car Debt Quickly

When our son rolled the truck he was buying from us, we put a substantial down payment on the next vehicle and borrowed the rest from a lender. However, we knew going into it that we were not going to tolerate long-term debt to this lender. So this is what we did: we turned all our financial “cannons” toward that debt and pounded it down. I think we had it for only six or seven months before we managed to pay off the balance.

My wife and I are not anti-debt—we just will not accept it in our lives for long periods of time. We go after our debt like a chicken on a June bug.

I hope this article is helpful as you consider your vehicle situation and your plans for the future. It’s quite possible to make a quality used vehicle work for you and your bank account, and doing so will help you build financial altitude for your household.

Lauren Stinton