Car buying: New vs Used

My trusty old Renault Scenic is playing up a bit. It has been absolutely fine until recently, but in the last couple of days, it hasn’t been quite right. It made a trip to Cambridge today fine, but on the way back, it developed a judder when accelerating.

I have a feeling it is a timing issue, and hopefully won’t cost much to fix. However, this is the latest of a number of small incidents, and I am beginning to be concerned that I can no longer trust it. I’m also concerned that I am beginning to spend more on the annual maintenance and repair of the thing than the car is actually worth.

So I am considering looking around at what else is out there. Another high-bodied car with an upright driving position, and one of the first things to decide is whether to go new or used.

On the surface of things, it seems like a no-brainer. The biggest amount of depreciation occurs in the first year of a car, and by buying a used car (2-3 years old), you miss this drop in value. On the other hand, buying new means I can order exactly what I want, rather than have to compromise with what’s available. There is also the concern that I know nothing about cars – buying a new car, this is not a problem, but buying a used one, I am not sure I know enough not to be fleeced.

It’s something I haven’t had to think about before. Before my current car, I have only ever had company cars, and this one was a virtual gift – my company car offered to me, after 3 years, at a bargain price. I figured at the time that if I could keep it on the road for 2 years, I’d have made money on the deal. That was 7 years ago.

So what are people’s opinion on the New vs Used issue? Paying for it isn’t really an issue – I’ve been planning for this occassion for the last 7 years, and putting away money every month into my “new car” fund; and even after I paid for my new kitchen out of it , I still have a reasonable balance availlable.

Apologies in advance if this seems like rampant consumerism. It isn’t just Chris wanting a new toy (although there is a little bit of that in it). Because I no longer have a company car, my employer pays me in lieu of it, and it is therefore my personal responsibility to have a vehicle that can get me from one side of the country to the other without problems, should it be required. Up to 6 months ago, I trusted my Scenic 100% in this regard.

Having driven the car for 10 years, I don’t think I have done too bad, really; although I really wanted to go around the clock with it (I’m at about 85K).


  1. August 10, 2011

    My first car was a “used” car. So was my second.

    My first car… I *knew* I was being ripped off. Somehow I knew. But at the same time I didn’t care. When I sat behind the wheel of Auntie Bess, she felt right to me. She was 200 pounds over my intended budget, and I had a hunch there would be hideous probelms I’d have to pay a lot to fix (and I was right)… But I didn’t mind. The moment I sat in her, I was hers, and she was *mine*.

    Fortunately, I was earning enough in those days – and about to earn enough more – for such romantic notions to be affordable. =:o}

    Auntie Bess never forgot. She did, indeed, need some serious work done to her undercarriage; She was, indeed, the means by which a succession of wide-boys fleeced me of subtstantial wads of wonga, before I learned to read between the lines. Nonetheless, she was mine, and I was hers, without dispute on either side.

    …Until that fateful day when a careless driver – a *DRIVING INSTRUCTOR*, no less! – shunted her up the rear, and left her limping and mishapen on the off-road of a roundabout.

    The agony of letting her go was… Well, it was agony. Agony is agony. What’s the point of trying to describe it? (It was coincident with a couple of other agonies, which I hereby plead as excuse from bothering to tease them all apart and itemise them.)

    The next car I took ownership of was the “Little Blue”: A name she never had until this very moment, when I was trying to remeber what I called her back then, and couldn’t. She was who she was. I’m not even certain she was a she, but she never complained about being *called* a she, so that’s what I call her, with a respectful salute for her resolutely “tomboy” status.

    She was another Vauxhall – and thus comfortable and familiar to be around – but this time a Nova. She was small, light, and nippy. I knew she’d been looked after by a very careful owner, because I am my father’s son, and that’s exactly the way *I* would have looked/did look after her. (And that’s the way he looked after me: Not always kindly, not always perceptively, not always even *attentively*, but always *carefully*.) And he had been hers. (Did I get that the right way round?)

    And I loved her to bits, and was gutted when she was wounded, and mortified when she had to leave me, while being comforted at least that she was going to a good family, who collectively cared.

    – For further information, see The Doctor’s Wife.

    • August 10, 2011

      I’ve had one new car, and frankly it wasn’t worth the cost, the depreciation really ate far more than maintenance would have done. Oh, and the Fiesta I had was effectively new — ex-showroom so a year old but with only about 20 miles on the clock — and that was worth it, they really mark ex-demo cars down because they are technically “second hand” and often a slightly older model. My last two cars have been around 3 years old when I bought them, low to normal mileage, and I expect to keep them for around 3 years. I find (and others to whom I’ve talked have said the same) that a car 2-3 years old with normal to low mileage from a dealer costs a lot less over the following 3-5 years than the depreciation on a new car, even assuming that the latter has all non-wear work under warranty.

      Buying from a dealer is more expensive, but any good dealer should give you some warranty on a used-but-not-old car (2-3 years old) and have certificates to show that they’ve inspected and serviced the car. Buying privately I’d insist on an AA inspection.

  2. August 10, 2011

    We’ve never been in the situation to choose, but if we were, for no other reason than “100% reliable or it gets replaced”, I’d choose something new, sleek and very efficient.

    It’s not the new car that I’d find appealing so much as the ability to choose exactly what you wanted. And if you’re planning on keeping the car for many years, then surely the depreciation thing is moot?

  3. chris
    August 10, 2011

    Thanks to everyone for their comments so far, they have actually all been helpful.

    Annie has a very good point. I have been swayed by the depreciation thing – both from articles I’ve read, and from friends over the years, but it is from a perspective of someone changing their vehicle every few years, where depreciation does come into it.

    As evidenced by my banger, this isn’t something I intend to do, so really the calculation is cost over expected length of use. So a new car is still part of the consideration.

    At the same time, Chris’ comments made me realise my prejudice against used cars stem mainly from a couple of really upsetting experiences of my brother (albeit when we were both quite young), which were private sales. As the kind of used car I was thinking of was along the lines of Marshalls at Peteborough (massive New/Used dealer of multiple manufacturers) or, this is a different thing altogether, and as Chris says, should be covered by some kind of guarantee that it is what they say it is.

    So I think I will continue to consider both, looking at new, but also keeping an eye open for a new-used bargain.

    Paul, your comment was entertaining. I think you are far more emotionally attached to your vehicles than I am! 🙂

    Actually, one thing mildly in favour of used is that I still remember the first little ding this car had and how annoyed that made me, even though at the time it was still a leased car. After the first couple of dings, I stopped caring, so maybe purchasing a pre-loved car will solve some of that heartache.

    Cheers, and keep the comments coming.

    • August 10, 2011

      I know Marshalls (as a chain, not that specific one) and my impression is that they are one of the best (along with Perrys), and certainly they have a reputation to uphold.

      Re. my car history, I’ve had all types. My first car (600 quid) was used, sold PX to a dealership who couldn’t sell it (10 years old) so they passed it to a yard and it was the best one on the lot. I was lucky to go there just at the right time. Written off by a rear shunt, unfortunately, and I only had 3PF&T insurance (and the guy who hit me had none).

      The second and third were, basically, clunkers. They worked but had problems (the Triumph Herald’s exhaust pipe snapping in half probably the most exciting, followed by the Fiat 17’s fuel tank falling through the rusted chassis!). Oh, and the fourth was an old Morris 2200, free! But I knew that since I paid peanuts I got grey tapes. Then a Vauxhall Cavalier (ex-work) which was fine and well worth the price.

      Then after a break (renting cars, not owning, for several years) the Fiesta, ex-demo, which was great (a few initial things fixed, nothing major). Then the brand new Renault Clio, which wasn’t (spark plugs with built-in coils were, however, replaced free because it was a known fault) and lost 12k in value in a couple of years (OK, I do high mileage, 20kmiles per year).

      And then the Peugeot 206SW, which was my ‘ideal’ compromise — 3 years old low mileage, minor amount above normal servicing (new exhaust, washer problems, nothing unexpected). And now my current 206SW, also bought 3 years old (smaller engine but higher power because newer design, much lower fuel consumption).

      Next time it will probably have to be a Peugeot 207SW (unless the 208 is out by then). But I’ll still be looking at pre-owned, let the first owner get rid of the bugs.

      One thing with a new car, if someone shunts you or otherwise accident not your fault, you can usually get a full repair or a replacement. With a really old car you can write it off and buy another. In the middle, particularly if the ‘worth’ (trade-in) has dropped significantly below half the original price, you can lose a lot of money. You may have been intending to keep it for (say) 10 years but if it’s written off at <4 years that depreciation really hits.

      • chris
        August 10, 2011

        Cheers – good to know about Marshalls, as they are conveniently placed in Peterborough. As they do both new and used, it will be worth me checking them out.

  4. chris
    August 10, 2011

    On another note, the Scenic is going into the garage tomorrow, so I’ll then see if this is going to be expensive or not. The garage is one I found last year, after looking for a while for someone who wouldn’t rip me off on MOT/Servicing. They are really sound, so I will be guided by their opinion whether the car still has any reliable years left in it, economically speaking.

  5. chris
    August 11, 2011

    Took the car out for a run, before taking it into the garage.

    Unfortunately, what we appear to have is an intermittant fault. It is running perfectly at the moment, with all the acceleration you’d want.

    Have taken it in anyway, so they can puzzle over it.

  6. chris
    August 11, 2011

    The garage diagnosed it as a cylinder misfire, due to a failing pencil coil.

    He suggested that if it was only intermittant, to leave it for now, as “when we replace one, we replace all 4, and they are quite expensive.”

    However, having googled pencil coil, it seems his definition of expensive and mine are somewhat different. Furthermore, they might not even be beyond my ability to fit (although I would probably not bother to do it myself – I have enough to do).

    So I will drive it around and see if the problem reoccurs. If so, it’ll be worth getting it fixed, even if I do go car-shopping.

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