I like this guest post from MoneyCrush for the following reasons. First, it is a big step outside convention. When I grew up I was told that cars should be replaced every two years (it doesn’t really make much sense to me now) and so keeping a car running for that long is impressive; particularly so because modern cars are clearly not built to last that long. Second, it’s a big step … oh did I already mention that? … because getting the idea not to pick the default option is unusual and so it usually works to an advantage. Third, our RV also happens to be that old (it’s a ’91 model) although it only has fifty thousand miles on it.

I’ve had the same (used) car for 19 years now.

Back in 1990, the first Mazda Miatas were all the rage. The base models were selling for premiums of up to $8000 over their sticker price of about $13,900. There was no way I could afford one, although I wanted to buy one so badly I could taste it. A year later though, the frenzy had worn off a little. I bought a used lease-return Miata from an Acura dealer for about $12,000. (Which was $3000-$5000 less than most of them were selling for in the area.)

Buying a used car at all felt risky to me. Most people I knew bought a brand new car whenever they finished paying off their old one. Despite that, I went into the deal planning to drive the car into the ground, which I assumed would be around 100,000 miles.

By 1999, it had more than 100,000 miles on it. People kept asking me when I was going to get a new car. When I’d visit people I hadn’t seen in a while, they’d start out conversations with “Oh you still have that car?”. At the time I’d never known anyone who had a car with more than 100,000 miles on it. (Now I know plenty of people who have cars like that.)

I started to get worried, and began to think that maybe they were right: I should buy a new car.

Ok, let’s face it.

The real truth was that I’d just gotten a new job making $40,000 a year — almost double what I’d ever made before in my life, and the idea of a new car was attractive. But what I told myself was that the car was getting really old and would probably start falling apart soon, so I should get a new car. I checked out the 6cylinder BMW Z3, which seemed to be what I was looking for. You know, a sporty looking convertible.

But then I got to thinking. What if something happened and I lost my job? Did I really want to pay a higher insurance premium to have essentially the same type of car I already had? The only visible differences between the Z3 and my current car were the price (about $40,000) and the fancy name plate on the back. Did I really want to go into even more debt? Also I loved my current car. It’d be stupid to buy a new one.

A year later, my husband and I started divorce proceedings. And I blew out the engine on my car because of a dumb mistake.

Once again, I considered buying a replacement car. After all, who replaces their engine? That’s a pretty critical part.

My situation was too risky to buy a new car, and the used cars I could afford were about the same price as a new engine. But they weren’t cars that I loved, so I bought the engine instead.

Then there was the dot com bust, and I lost my job. (Did I mention that I worked for an dot com?)

That’s when I decided that hanging on to my old car was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Still, for years and years afterward, people I knew urged me to buy a new car every time they saw me.

I have yet to figure out why. Maybe it was the dent in the door that I didn’t bother fixing. Or the faded paint. Or the shredded top that I finally replaced when too much duct tape limited my visibility (having the roof slashed by a vandal may have contributed to the decision to replace that.)

My car turned 20 this year, and I celebrated its birthday by making a wish that I’ll get at least another 10 years out of it. It has about 215,000 miles on it. The only other major part I’ve replaced has been the drive train. Otherwise, there’s been nothing but the occasional new radiator, power steering pump, and timing belt. I do need to go put a little duct tape on the seat, because I’ve worn a hole in it. Mazda has stopped making some of its parts, so if I can’t get non-manufacturer parts for it when it needs repairs, I’ll have to start hitting up junkyards soon, but that’s ok. I’ve always wanted to take a car apart…

I haven’t added this figure up in a couple of years, but the last time I calculated it I’d spent about $28,000 total on my car over the 17 years I had owned it to that point. That figure includes the $12,000 purchase price, but does not include gas or insurance. Since then I’ve probably spent another $2000 on it.

I found data (from 2006) on the FTC site that says, “According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average price of a new car sold in the United States is $28,400.” Finance that whole amount over 72 months and you get a monthly payment of $499.57.

If I’d bought a new car every time my car needed a $1000, $2000, or $3500 repair or batch of maintenance, I’d have bought about 7 new cars by now. Even if I’d only bought a new car every 7 years, I’d have bought two additional new cars by now. A total of 3 “average” new cars is a whole lot more than $30,000.

Plus, none of them would have been as much fun. Saying “no” to a new car has definitely been worthwhile.

This post participated in Carnival of Money Stories #53. Check it out for more interesting tales of money. Do you have a similar story? Want to share it?

Originally posted 2010-05-05 14:36:23.