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.

Five Reasons Why Old Cars Rule

Ok, fine. So new cars have that new car smell, all the latest technology, epic design tweaks (for the most part, anyway), and more standard options than the Space Shuttle. Like everyone else, I was agog at the shiny toys vying for  attention at the L.A. Auto Show.

I’m not immune to the charms of brand-new sheet metal.

Even with that, there is something about an older car that tugs at my heartstrings, if not my wallet (I personally put my Volvo tech’s kid through college, I’m sure of it). Here are five reasons why I think old cars rule:

They have stories to tell: Ask a fresh off the line vehicle “what’s up?” and the most it would muster is “Meep.” Why? Because it hasn’t lived yet. An old car has stories to tell of weddings, babies brought home from the hospital, sick kids (and dogs), road trips, parking lot mishaps, midnight food runs, ER runs, and of hearts won and hearts broken.

Every little ding, dent, and upholstery mark has a story behind it. You just have to be still and listen. Old cars love to tell stories.


Not sure of the story behind this upholstery tear in my old Volvo, but I’m sure it was interesting!

They’re cranky: They’re hard to get going in the morning,  hate weather extremes, and protest each time you fill  them with cheap gas. Nothing says “Get off my lawn!” quite like a grizzled old car, and I love them for it.

Once my car reached the vehicular equivalent of blindness and arthritis, I was much more tender with it than I would have been with a newer car.

The eventual  outcome of my day was determined soley by my car’s “mood” each morning. A great day was had when I managed to stay on my car’s good side.

There was hell (and towing fees) to pay if I failed to let it warm properly on cold mornings or if I asked too much of its cold engine by accelerating quickly.

I’d pat myself on the back for each “good day” and question my sanity on “bad days.”

We live in a throwaway society. An old car  defies that trend and dares us to think otherwise.

They’ve got style: Cruise a classic car show and you’ll see what I mean. ‘Nuff said.


They’re satisfying: There is something inherently satisfying about keeping an older car on the road. I loved doing routine care on my car: oil, fluids, visual inspections, and brakes. I’d go to my buddy Frank’s shop, he’d put the car in the air, and we’d go to work.

I got to see firsthand how my car was doing  based on the condition of the brake pads, and the color of the various fluids. I was able to nurse my old car to over 277,000 on the odometer with a combination of tender loving care and sheer will.

Try tinkering with a 2016 model and you will incur the wrath of the onboard software, and possibly not be able to start the damn thing when you’re through. Feh.

They’re paid for: Have you seen the 60-72 month loan terms for a new car? Have you seen the prices?  Pretty close to what our parents paid for a house back in the day. Let that sink in.

Still, I’d love a newer car as much as the next person. I want Bluetooth connectivity, an engine that will start without elaborate rituals, and the ability to get through a year without exhausting my AAA 4- tow allowance in two months.

At the same time I will never regret the years I spent with an old car. I learned to never take the good days for granted, and to shake off the bad days. I also learned to appreciate a good story. God knows my car had plenty of them.