For a Truly Cheap Car, Think Long-Term — Not Just About Upfront Pricing

October 26th, 2016 by


If you’re thinking of finding one of the many cheap cars for sale that are out there, you need to figure out if it’s going to be cost-effective in the long-term. Why? Because, getting a vehicle at a cheap price upfront simply isn’t enough. You need to consider what it might cost you in the long-term, even if it’s cheap enough to buy all at once. Things like the cost of repairs and parts come to mind, as well as how fuel efficient the vehicle is to begin with. The latter of the two is exceptionally important in 2016, since gas prices fluctuate between high and low with little warning which way they’ll sway on any given day.

Therefore, if you really want a cheap vehicle, it’s important to strike a balance between cheap pricing upfront and inexpensive ownership long-term.

Cheap, Upfront Pricing Isn’t Enough

The word cheap is thrown around a lot in the car world, and there might be some ambiguity surrounding the definition of it. I’ve heard cheap mean the vehicle is a rip-off, and often see it correlate directly with used vehicles. While both definitions are right — in a way — the best way to describe a cheap car (one that doesn’t rip you off) is a vehicle that’s priced low. But, a low price isn’t always a good thing, nor is upfront pricing the only thing you should concern yourself with.

For example, buying a new car at a discounted price with a small down payment might be considered cheap. However, a small down payment means that you aren’t taking a big chunk out of the overall discounted price. Therefore, you’ll accrue more interest over the course of your loan because it will take longer to pay off. That cheap down payment on a discounted new vehicle doesn’t sound so appealing now, does it?

Alternatively, you could buy a cheap used car for $1,000, and have to do constant repairs and maintenance on it. In reality, you’d actually end up spending more money in the long-run, even though you got a used car at a cheap price.

Be smart about the initial purchase as well, but don’t forget about long-term costs. Think about things like how much your car will cost to repair and get parts for, and the fuel-efficiency of a vehicle.

Repairs and Parts

Depending on what type of vehicle you decide to buy, you could very well end up buying one that will requiring a lot of repairs, or even costly parts.

As far as repairs go, you’ll want to worry more about that with older used vehicles. I’m talking about vehicles from the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. The best way to avoid expensive repairs? Doing a thorough inspection of a vehicle, and only buying one from a trusted source. Whether that source is a relative, friend, or well-renowned dealership. Don’t automatically turn up your nose at a vehicle that only costs $1,000. Instead, make sure everything is in good shape by inspecting it, test driving it, and getting a mechanic to do an independent and more thorough inspection. You might be surprised by the type of deal you’re able to get.

When it comes to parts, do a little poking around online beforehand. Take a look at how easy it would be to get parts for the vehicle you’re interested in, and check out the average price of each. Don’t worry about things like the transmission or engine (since those will be costly, regardless of the model). Look at things like the alternator, oil filter, brakes, and any of the other common parts that need to be replaced thanks to general wear and tear. This will tell you a lot about how much you will be spending in the long-run, and is a good way to not only help you avoid buying a costly vehicle, but will also help you set the right amount of money aside for a year or two of repairs and parts.

That said, the type of vehicle you’ll want to go after, which provides a great price coupled with cheap parts, is your typical economy sedan. Consider a used Chevy Malibu, Chevy Cruze, Toyota Avalon, and Honda Civic. The parts aren’t only cheap, but they’re also available everywhere since these are such common models. You’ll want to avoid any models from luxury imports like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and VW. While you’ll most likely find plenty of parts, you’ll pay a pretty penny for them.


What else do economy sedans have that make a car truly cheap in the long-run? Astounding fuel-efficiency. Any of you who have gone from a truck to a sedan — or a sedan to a truck — will understand this. For those who haven’t had that experience, imagine the savings you’d experience going from driving a used truck for a year that gets 16 mpg combined, to a vehicle that gets 26 mpg combined. Even when gas drops below that $2.00-a-gallon mark, your bank account is still going to take a heavy hit from behind the wheel of a truck.

While that used truck might be $1,000 less than the cost of a used economy sedan that’s sitting right next to it, make sure to do the math based on each vehicle’s fuel-efficiency ratings, miles driven for your commute, and the current price per gallon of gas. How much extra you would be spending on the truck yearly in fuel costs alone will probably shock you.

It all boils down to shopping smart. You need to consider both the upfront cost and long-term cost of a vehicle. Make sure it’s in good condition, and if you’re looking to save as much cash as possible, then look for a fuel-friendly ride.

Only by doing so will you be able to get a vehicle that’s truly cheap. Because at the end of the day, whatever else you have to spend on the vehicle past the initial cost is still money that’s taken out of your bank account. Best to minimize that, right?

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