Should You Take That Older Car?


“It just needs a ‘little work’ but it’s yours!” Minor warning or famous last words?

When a beggar needs to be a chooser

A friend, a grandparent, or  a co-worker’s cousin’s best friend heard that you’re hard up for a car and has offered you their old car for next to nothing. People mean well, they really do. After all, they’ve seen you struggle to get around and they’d like to help.

You’ve known that you need a car to get to and from/work, school, and as a means of picking up a side gig. Besides, you’re sick of bumming rides and/or relying on mass transit.  An old car is better than no car, right? Should you go for it?

Five reasons why you should:

  1. The car is in great shape. Your mechanic checked it over and said “Take this thing and run! It just needs some new brake pads and you’re set!”
  2. You have some pocket money. If you can comfortably shoulder the costs of the needed repairs and ongoing maintenance, go for it.
  3. You have the tools and the time. If you’re lucky enough to have the tools, skills, and space to perform your own maintenance and routine repairs, go forth and get the car.
  4. One of your friends in an automotive genius and has offered to help you with major repairs/maintenance.
  5. You can live with ambiguity. Old cars carry a lot of uncertainty, especially if they need repairs, or if there are no reliable maintenance records on file. If the prospect of the unknown doesn’t faze you, the car might be a good risk after all.

And five reasons why you shouldn’t…

    1. You’re tight on cash. You have just enough left over each month to cover food and other essentials. If a tail light goes out on the car or if the battery dies, you’re hosed.
    2. The car isn’t safe. At the very least, the car should have Electronic Stability Control (ESC), operational air bags, Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) and secure child seat latches if you’re hauling a kiddo around. All the safety features need to be fully operational. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ll never have to rely on them at any point in time, because chances are you will someday.
    3. It needs work. Lots of it.  Deferred maintenance and repairs quickly add up, taking the car from a means of transportation to a money pit quickly. Thank the seller or gift-er and move on tactfully.
    4. It would be a nightmare to insure. Some cars, no matter how old they are, can carry a high theft risk (Google 90’s Hondas and you’ll see what I mean). Some older cars may also carry a salvage title. Either scenario means your insurance agent will freak out and hike your rates considerably or drop you altogether.
    5. Parts are scarce or insanely expensive. Search online or call around to see if current or future replacement parts are readily available and affordable. You could be in for a very expensive awakening otherwise.

If you’re offered an older car for nothing or next to nothing, you may be tempted to grab it. Keep a cool head instead and treat it as you would any other used car by asking yourself whether the financial risk and potential repair bills are worth it in the long run.

A car should be a pathway to financial gain, not financial ruin.

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