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Buying a Second Car

This article was written by in Consumer. 38 comments.

If my husband had a car to drive to work and had taken my son to school, I would have saved three hours of my day. Yes, three hours.

We are a family of six with one car. This is the result of a decision we made a few months ago when our second car needed extensive and expensive repairs. For a while I thought it was great, as I explained in an article on Wise Bread and described my one-car experiment on The Centsible Life.

Long gone is the optimism and the “gee-isn’t-this-great!” feeling. Now I just want my life back.

So we are seriously talking about replacing the second car. We’ve discussed:

  • what we will buy
  • how we will pay for it
  • paying off my car vs. saving for the new car
  • buying a “beater”
  • thinking up crazy alternatives (my son suggested Daddy could FLY to work!).

What we can’t change is that we need a car for my husband. He has a job that occasionally requires him to stay late or come in early. His income is our main source of income.

My car is the family car. We have four kids, so it had to be a minivan or a bulky SUV. We chose a minivan for fuel efficiency and safety.

I would discuss more about pros, cons, makes and models, beaters versus running your car into the ground, but I have to go make the house half decent so I can get up at 6:00 am to get everyone ready and out the door so my husband can be at work early.

What have your car buying experiences been like? Do you buy beaters or brand new and run it into the ground? Are you a fan of used cars, or do you think new cars are a better deal?

Published or updated January 28, 2010.

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About the author

Kelly is a mostly stay-at-home mom to four kids. You can more of her articles about personal finance at The Centsible Life. Also, you can follow Kelly on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

We had to make similar decision ourselves. We were a one car family and it wasn’t a problem as my wife stayed home and I took public transportation to work. Then we moves and switched roles and she works and I stay home with the kids. She needs to have a car for work which stranded me somewhat. We opted for a second car so I can get around during the day. We got a small car for my wife which leaves me the mini-van to take the kids. It’s an expense for sure, but it makes the household better. Now I can take my son to a toddler program and run errands during the day. We bought new with the expectation that we will run the car into the ground, in other words we’ll keep it until we can’t use it anymore.

New vs used is a heated topic. These days though, you can find great deals on a new car where it isn’t much more than used. Interest rates and financing are low and you can find 0% deals for five years.

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avatar 2 Kelly Whalen

That’s our thinking too. It will benefit our kids the most. They won’t have to spend an hour in the car on some days, and I will be able to take them to and from activities we can’t do now due to having only the one car.

I think the only real rule now is to run the numbers. Sometimes used is cheaper, sometimes new. Like you we are of the mindset that we buy cars to run them into the ground.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

Funny, but we have the opposite problem. The minivan was totalled and we thought we needed something big for our family of 5. A family friend had an ’05 Pathfinder for sale w/only 35000 miles, one (older) owner. We bought it, love it, but realized it doesn’t fit our needs…we drive the kids to many (long-distance) extra-curricular activities and needed something with better gas mileage.

So, we went out and bought an ’07 Accord. Love it, too! We already had a 1997 Ford Ranger (small truck), but I can’t drive it (manual transmission). Now we have 3 cars, so we need to sell the large truck.

I really don’t get the idea of a new car being as cheap as a used car…unless you buy a new Kia (which I’ve never driven but have not heard great things about). We went looking at new cars; the one you will want (due to all of the almost necessary options, such as power windows and locks, and roof racks, rear a/c, etc.) will cost a lot more than the base price. We’re talking $34000 for a minivan. And when the 0% financing is offered, it seems the dealers are more apt to want to get the sticker price rather than make a deal.

Great cars from my experience: Hondas, Chrysler T&C minivans, and Ford Rangers (all have great safety ratings, great gas mileage, and are highly dependable).

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avatar 4 Kelly Whalen

Holly, that’s great that you found something that fits everyone and has great fuel economy. There are 6 of us, and 3 of the kids are still in car seats/boosters, so a smaller car for the family car isn’t an option.

We aren’t replacing my van (which is only 3 years old), but buying a car for my husband to drive to and from work, and on outings for the kids extracurricular activities. We are looking for fuel economy, and good value.

As far as new being as cheap as used, it depends on the model of the car, and what you are buying it for. Some makes and models have much of what you listed as extras, and we were careful to consider every option before we bought.

Not all minivans cost $34K, ours was priced at $26K and I worked them down to $21K. I walked in with my own financing, so they took off the final bit in negotiations when I agreed to use their financing (which was a lower rate than mine!).

I think more and more there is no one size fits all answer for how to buy a car. You have to consider your needs, budget, and who will be riding in the car.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

Generally, buying a used car will give you better value than new. Most of the decline in value occurrs at the beginning of a car’s life. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, and still have a reliable vehicle, buy a gently-used car.

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avatar 6 Kelly Whalen

Justin, in some cases you are correct, but not in all cases. If you are financing interest rates play a big part in whether you choose new or used.

With certain cars, especially ones that are good value, it is difficult to find a newer model used car, and in some cases prices are close to identical.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Beater all the way Kelly! Or just use the simple Samurai guideline of buying a car that costs no more than 1/10th your annual gross income. It’s hard to go wrong that way.

Good luck!

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avatar 8 Anonymous

The 1/10 rule is a good idea if you are some kind of compulsive car shopper… otherwise it’s pretty irrelevant.

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avatar 9 Kelly Whalen

FS, we sold our beater since it needed thousands of dollars in work, I’m not keen on buying something that will need constant repairs.

I will have to write a post responding to your 1/10th rule. It’s absolutely ridiculous. A typical family needs 2 cars. The average salary for families is around $50k. No way you can buy 2 decent cars for $5,000.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

My husband and I have shared one vehicle for 7 years and so far it’s worked for us but we may be the exception to the rule. I work from home, his commute is less than 3 miles and we don’t have kids. With a little planning we make it work. We’ve saved a huge amount of money over those years by avoiding extra gas, maintenance and insurance costs.

Added bonus: I’ve found that I spend a lot less on unnecessary items if I’m stuck at home with a day to talk myself out of what is really a splurge. Shopping in general is more disciplined because I have to use a list to make certain I don’t forget anything and buying from a list means I don’t pick up a lot of random impulse items. I think I’ve developed some great habits that will stick with me even if/when we return to being a two car household.

One car isn’t a good idea for everyone but I think some people would find the experiment valuable.

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avatar 11 Kelly Whalen

That’s one of the reasons I liked having one car! Less time out of the house meant less shopping.

If our kids were all bused to school it wouldn’t be an issue, but they aren’t all at that age yet.

I do think it’s worth trying if you can or have to.

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avatar 12 Anonymous

I don’t buy that 1/10th rule for a minute ;)

As for me, I still drive the first I car I ever bought… which I got about 9 years ago. It’s got a lot of life left in it, given my short work commute.

When my wife’s beater died last spring, we bought her a $4k “gently used” 2001 sedan. She doesn’t “need” a car, but the convenience is worth the price we paid. Actually, slight correction. Since we bought her car, mine has been relegated to “commuter” status, and hers is used for longer trips.

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avatar 13 Kelly Whalen

What kind of car are you driving? It sounds very reliable!

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avatar 14 Anonymous

3 hours/day is a lot of time to lose to transportation. His and Your sanity is absolutely worth the couple grand either in whole (used-beather) or couple grand/yr (new financed).

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avatar 15 Kelly Whalen

It’s not 3 hours every day, but I tallied it up to about 10 hours a week. That’s a huge waste of my time, and our sanity I think!

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avatar 16 Anonymous

My husband and I have one car, and it is frustrating at times because his work schedule dictates everything we both do. I have to arrange my own work around his schedule, affecting others as well. But there is no way we would support two vehicles. It isn’t worth it. The frustration is because of the job, not from being car-deficient.

As far as buying new cars, I did that in 2007 and it was not a fun experience. I don’t like negotiating and actually don’t do it. I named my “out the door” price, but it took three weeks before I found a car salesman who just began the line of work after having worked in the computer industry. It must have been meant to be :) He was a great guy and understood that I wanted to buy a car, not play games. He was exceptionally and noticeably respectful. Last time I went to the dealership, I asked about him. He didn’t stay long, which doesn’t surprise me, but I doubt I will ever purchase a new car again. It’s just too hard to do, because of the way it is done. I love the vehicle and got a good enough price.

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avatar 17 Kelly Whalen

I negotiated our last car purchase (my van), after extensive research. I found the experience liberating. We had our then infant with us, and he was crying from being overtired. I thought it was good, because it got them to move more quickly, and stop trying to play games. ;)

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avatar 18 Anonymous

Kelly, it definitely sounds like you are in need of another car! In terms of new vs used, I would say it depends on how long you plan to keep the car. If you plan on driving the car into the ground, then I think new is a better option, because you will be in control of the maintenance for the entire life of the car. With some used cars, there’s no way to know whether the previous owner followed the maintenance schedule properly. Also as FFB stated above these days the price difference between used and new is marginal.

My girlfriend and I recently were looking to purchase a new car, and I went through the steps, but we eventually decided to stick with our one car and commute together. You can see that post here.

Good luck with your decision either way!

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avatar 19 Kelly Whalen

Thanks for sharing your experience.

We are definitely of the drive it into the ground mindset. My car currently has a huge dent in the side, and I opted not to get it fixed since they have to replace the whole panel. If we do eventually sell it we will have to have it replaced, but as long as it me driving it, the dent, crayon marks, and dirty floormats don’t bug me.

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avatar 20 Anonymous

My car died at the end of the summer and I bought a brand new Honda 09 when the new models were coming in so I could get a much better deal. See if you could wait it out to get the older models. If you plan on using it for a decade, I don’t see why you won’t want to just buy a brand new car if you can afford it.

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avatar 21 Kelly Whalen

Unfortunately we can’t wait until August, but there are other times of the year and month that are also good to buy.

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avatar 22 Anonymous

Is ZipCar an option?

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avatar 23 Kelly Whalen

I wish! Not in our area.

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avatar 24 Anonymous

We’ve always bought new cars, after looking at financing, and what our monthly payments would be, it always ended up being the same monthly payments, but different amounts of time. I think getting a beater car would only frustrate you both, it would probably die alot, and need more repairs… I would consider getting something small, like a Yaris or a Fit. They are relatively inexpensive as cars go, get decent gas mileage, and (according to my brother) the Yaris is really fun to drive :)

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avatar 25 Kelly Whalen

Hubby loved the Yaris he drove all over San Francisco. That was exactly what he said, it’s fun to drive!

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avatar 26 Anonymous

If you just need a car for DH to get to work, I’d buy something cheap but with decent value. $3-$4K cash should get you a pretty nice commuter car. You will have the second car in case something breaks on the commuter car.

I convinced several of my friends to do something like that and none ever regretted it (vs. paying a lot more for a new car.)


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avatar 27 Anonymous

It seems like you would likely benefit from a second vehicle. Have you been saving up for one? If not, I would try to find something in the “cheap but reliable used car” range. Maybe $5-6k or so. The scale has more than the two ends – it’s not just beater or new car. Right now may be a good time to buy a new car (with little or no premium over a recent model used car), however if you have to stretch payments over too many years to “afford” it you can’t really afford it.

Have you considered why you need to drive so much? What I mean is, would you be willing to move closer to your husband’s workplace, or with better access to public transit? It might be worth it if you can avoid the expense(s) of a second vehicle.

My wife and I have been sharing a car for our entire marriage. We recently bought a second vehicle, but only in theory – in practice our older vehicle was worth more to us for sentimental reasons than it was as a trade-in, so we kept it, but we primarily drive our new vehicle together everywhere. In fact it takes a conscious effort to drive the old truck often enough to keep it in decent shape (battery charged etc). We are lucky enough to have jobs that let us carpool. There was one period where I was working someplace in the other direction, and transit options were bad – I did get a lot of reading done. In the end I’m glad I didn’t buy a car for that job, since they laid me off after only 10 months, and I was able to find another job closer to my wife’s workplace.

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avatar 28 Kelly Whalen

We have some money saved up, and will continue to grow that until we feel we absolutely have to do it. I’m not happy with the situation, but I’m not in a huge rush either.

We live in a suburban area, and my husband works in an area that is only 15 minutes away. Moving closer would mean higher housing prices, moving to a school district we don’t want to be in, and higher taxes. We are actually saving by living where we do.

As far as driving as much as we do, I talked about it in the posts I linked to. We live in the Northeast so walking places is not an option when I have to bring along 2 young kids.

Public transit is available in the area, but not convenient for where we need to go.

I think it’s great that you can both commute together. It must be a nice way to start and end your day.

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avatar 29 Anonymous

Have you considered a scooter or motorcycle?

We’re a car+scooter family. It may or may not work depending on your location, typical weather, etc. When it’s raining or snowing here I take the car to work, leaving my wife and kids stranded. That still leaves her with the car most of the time though.

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avatar 30 Anonymous

How often does your husband have to go in early or work late? Other than that can he take the bus or other public transport? Is there a possibility of him car pooling?

Obviously you know your situation much better than I do. My wife and I have been married 21 years and have 3 children. We have been a one car family the entire time. I have never run the numbers but with the initial purchase of the car, maintanance, gas, taxes etc each additional car is a large expense.

I can say that we have really benefited from the money we socked away avoiding a second vehicle. As the kids get older, the expenses shoot up. Between braces, camps, grocery bills(especially with boys!) special classes etc it is nice to have some wiggle room in the budget.

I am not saying you are making a “wrong” decision (as if there was one). I would just say from my perspective as a middle aged parent (sole income provider) it may be worth it to try to come up with other solutions before purchasing the second vehicle.

Anyway sorry for the long post. Good luck

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avatar 31 Anonymous

With a large family, you never know when something could pull you all in opposite diections due to an emergency, schedule conflicts like dr.’s appointments, a car accident, and dozens of other reasons.

Although my husband and I were able to survive car for about 5 years while the kids were small, as they became more independent, we needed to accommodate them. I say to buy a reliable gently-used commuter car (maybe w/some warranty intact)…it will be worth it.

The only bad thing about buying new and expecting to drive it into the ground is that sometimes $hi+ happens (like totalling your vehicle through no fault of your own!).

Good luck, Kelly. I enjoyed your post!

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avatar 32 Anonymous

We did no car (used the bus), then one car, and now that we’re in a larger more spread out area, we’ve gone to two. We have two Saturn SL2 sedans (one 1998, one 2000 manual) that were purchased for $3k in cash with ~100k on them when purchased. Used cars mean more repairs, but for us that is monetarily far less than what car payments on even a used car would be.

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avatar 33 Anonymous

What happened to the nested comments?

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avatar 34 Anonymous

How does driving 15 minutes/7 miles take 3 hours a day? I guess it could with the bundling up of children and whatnot :P

I was going to suggest bicycling, but I see from your linked post(s) that you’ve already considered that or at least are aware of it. I only bike in the summer, personally :)

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avatar 35 Anonymous

I was just wondering that

@CL —
I bought new at the end of the year — the best time can you do it. Had you decided to do this a month ago, you probably could have gotten a new car for less than the 1-2 year old models. For example, I walked into Ford and after negotiating (which consisted of sending a grand total of about 15 emails to 6 different dealers) and rebates I got my car for $15,500. It MSRP’d at $21,000. That 26% discount pretty much offsets the 1st and 2nd year depreciation.

I’m not sure what kind of deals are floating around now that it is a new year… hopefully they still have some! :)

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avatar 36 Anonymous

My 2 cents :
if you are buying a new car from a dealer, buy at the end of the month or close of the quarter. The dealers are trying hard to increase their sales so that it goes into the current quarter or month books. They will bend over to give you the best deals.

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avatar 37 Kelly Whalen

Don’t know what happened to the nested comments, I’m sure it will be fixed soon.

Steve, it’s 7 miles, but 20-25 minutes each way (with traffic). That’s 80 minutes, and then I had to drop off and pick up my son from his school which took another 90 minutes. Add picking up my daughter from Kindergarten and the errands we did and we surpassed 3 hours easily.

That only happens twice a week, but the other days it’s about 90 minutes total if I don’t go anywhere but pick up from school and work.

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avatar 38 Anonymous

Buy a 3 yr old car. You can get a CPO warranteed to 100k if it makes you feel better, but you get a car for $0.50 on the dollar. I’m a car NUT (high performance driving insstructor), but can’t get myself to DREAM of a new car. I also would never finance. find something you can buy for cash. I have a 12 year old car that i bought when it was 5 years old, and I see owning it for another 5 yrs (it has 97k on it and I drive 10k/yr).

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