What Cars Do People Keep?

With the absurd average transaction price of a new car in America at around $34,000, it’s important for you financial warriors to get the most out of a car if you want to get to financial independence.  The good news is that cars are continually lasting longer and have been for some time now.  It’s routine now for a car to make it past 150,000 miles without needing major repairs.

As we all know the best thing to do overall is to not buy a new car.  Instead find a decent used vehicle in the $5000 – $10,000 range with as low mileage as you can, and ride it till it dies.  I did that for the vast majority of my journey to financial independence and it accelerated my net worth tremendously.

Of course better yet you could live close to work, buy a good bike, and design your life so you don’t have to drive much in the first place.  That’s the snub-your-nose to the automotive industrial complex lifestyle hack that gets the most miles to the gallon.



But, back to cars.  In reality most of us have one.  Jalopnick ran this article recently about the cars that people keep for 15 years.

I find it interesting but not too surprising that they’re all foreign cars.  Granted as the article points out some are made in America, but the brands are all Japanese with one Volkswagen that made it.  But Volkswagen could have just deliberately lied about their longevity data to make the list.  Because you know, deception and all….

American car brands have still been trying to overcome the legacy of the incredibly crappy cars they put out for so many years, especially in the 70’s and 80’s.  Data show they’ve been catching up to foreign brands, but still have some work to do.  Consumer reports does a brand reliability scoring and the American brands still don’t fair too well.

I owned three Ford’s that were all bought used with more than 65k miles and for $5,000 or under and all three did me well and lasted well into the 100k mile zone.  Your results of course may vary.

For Focus Wagon

My Awesome Ford Focus Wagon Hauling The Goods
#NoRoofRackNeeded #ThatsNotMeItsMyBuddy #AndHeDeservesTheGoofyEmoji


Here’s the list of the top vehicles kept for 15 years or more if you don’t want to go to the article:

Toyota dominates the list and they rightfully have the reputation of lasting forever.  Of note, there are quite a few gass-guzzlers on this list.  Even though you might get a long life out of a vehicle you have to consider the full cost of ownership including of course fuel economy.

The article goes on to point out that the initial cost of a vehicle isn’t everything.  You might be getting a better deal on a vehicle that costs a little more but has the probability of lasting way longer.  This is pretty good advice and applies to both new and used vehicles – only if of course you keep the vehicle for a long time!


Beware Of Change

But with new vehicles this advice is a bit of a crap shoot.  Most manufacturers change their designs and even engines almost every year and without a reliability track record for that specific year a new car purchase is a bit of a leap of faith.  That’s another reason why buying new is not a good idea.  Next years Camry could be a bad year, you never know….  and who wants to be a guinea pig?

I don’t.

Buying used at least allows you to look up the track record for that specific model and year and have those additional data points to consider when purchasing.  It’s a simple thing, but very powerful.

With the average monthly new car payment approaching $500 and the fact that cars are deceptively expensive to own, it’s no secret that one of the best ways to accelerate your journey to financial independence is to cut your car expenses as much as possible.  The cars listed in this article from Jalopnick are cars that people tend to be keeping, so they might be worth considering if you are looking for a good used car.

Your turn readers – do you have a car that’s at least 15 years old and still chugging along like a trooper?  If so, let others know what car is giving you value by commenting below!

Liking Accidental FIRE? Join the multitudes who get the goodness in their email box!

42 Responses

  1. Team CF says:

    Never owned a car that was 15 years old (got close to 10 though). We also had a focus and we currently have a Prius, that latter is indeed more reliable than the focus we used to have (grated, the focus was older and much more fun to drive, had the SVT model). The plan is now to keep our Prius until it dies, or get’s to expensive (which ever comes first). It’s a 2013 model, so we should have a few years left (bought is used with a 20%” discount” compared to the new price in late 2013, first owner lost literally $1,5 per km in depreciation!)

    • Accidental Fire says:

      From what I understand Prius’s are Toyota’s most reliable cars, depending on the model year. That puppy should keep going for you!

      Thanks for reading as always Cheesy!

      • Team CF says:

        Funny you mention that reliability, we ended up buying the prius for space (tall folks here) and because so many cabbies were using them. Spoke to a bunch of these cabbies and they were very enthusiastic about the reliability. Quote: I’ve driven it now for 160.000km (100.000mi) and the only thing I needed were oil changes and a transmission fluid change. Nothing else! Now that is my kind of car 🙂

  2. Man, I take this pie right in the face monthly haha. Tough being part of the personal finance blogging community when you have car payments haha. That said, my situation is a bit unique in that I can achieve my financial goals while I have a payment. Certainly, we could reach them a little faster without though.

    We have a toyota sienna and love it. Three kids makes a bigger vehicles mind of necessary. The sienna is dependable, convenient, and great for long road trips. We will be keeping this one for a long long time. And, now that I know better and being beat about the brought, I wont have another car payment after our current cars are paid off.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Well you’re confirming the chart’s accuracy! There’s quite a few of those Sienna’s on my block and my neighbors love them.

      Thanks Doc!

  3. I was proud to drive my 1983 Mercedes 240D for 22 years. No Goofy Emoji here! Where’s Mercedes on that list? I’m driving my 2007 Mercedes replacement car now, that I bought used in 2010. I’ve bought used for every car in my life, other than one purchase that my S-Corp bought new for the tax write-off.

    I see your table says “Original Owners” who keep their cars over 15 years. Losers! They should have bought used.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      I remember your blog post about that car, that think lived an amazing life! Yes, buying used was one of the key things that got me to FI!!

  4. CPA looking to retire says:

    I still drive a 1989 Toyota Camry, that car is almost 30 years old! I also have a 9 year old Highlander and my wife has a 12 year old Sienna. That chart is accurate.

  5. Great article! I have doc friends who change cars every 12-18 months! They all like to check out each other’s cars in the parking lot and compete with each other. Sometimes it feels like a car show. I fell prey to this at one point in my career and realized having a nice car only guarantees that I will have to drive to work until I die! Now I wish I had kept that Odyssey and Pilot I first purchased out of residency 😂.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Some of my best friends are “car guys” and do the same. One of them goes to a Sunday morning car-coffee meet up where he takes his Porsche and guys ogle over each others cars. Not for me, but he’s still my buddy and an awesome dude. Different strokes….

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. HA – My newest car, my normal daily driver BMW 525i, is just now 15 years old, though it’s in my garage awaiting some parts right now. My daily driver for now is a 28 year old Toyota Land Cruiser. Both of these beaters are easy to work on and parts are cheap (even on the BMW) and they normally just like a little attention in the oil department now and then. They’re also cheap to insure. I love my “old” cars because they are paid for and I absolutely love NOT having a car payment anymore.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Wow, a 28 yr old Land Cruiser! That thing probably has some collectors value in the resale market I’d imagine. You’re doing it right man!

  7. I used my sister’s Toyota Camry that she bought in 99, all the way to 2015! The car was hovering close to 200,000 miles, but it was still running pretty well until it finally gave away. If I have any luck, my new Kia (still crying that I bought it brand new…) will last me 3/4 of what the Camry did!

    • Accidental Fire says:

      From what I hear Kia’s have gotten WAY better and are pretty reliable now. You should get a lot of years out of that car so I wouldn’t fret it. Plus it’s a cheap car to own, great on gas and most maintenance should be way cheaper than other cars.

  8. I tend to buy new and then keep forever. The last car we sold was 17 years old. It was a Pontiac Transam and I had to sell for something that fit car seats. Our current cars are not quite there yet at around 11 years old.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      I used to have a Pontiac Grand Am, it was my first car! Unfortunately is was a product of GM in the 80’s and lots of stuff started going wrong, but I did like it.

      Thanks for the comment!

  9. Ms Zi You says:

    I have a Prius I intend to keep forever (or at least until I FIRE in 3 years and go travelling). It’s the best car I ever owned by far.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Prius’s are Toyota’s most reliable car overall from what I hear, that thing should just keep on going.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Steveark says:

    Great article, I noticed there is some selection bias in that list. Logic would say high end cars are probably better made than a Camry but the fact is nobody that can drop $125k for a Porche Cayenne is going to drive the same car that long, even if it might be road worthy for twice as many miles as a Toyota. But assuming modestly priced cars are the sweet spot for value, then ultra luxury cars don’t belong on it anyway. I’m FI plus and I buy used Toyota’s even though I could buy Porches, just having the money doesn’t make offer spending on cars smart.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      True, the list doesn’t correct for # of cars owned, that would be interesting to see. I too can afford a Porsche and my buddy has one. It’s nice, I’m not gonna lie, but cars are just not a priority in my life.

      Thanks for the kudos Steve!

      • steveark says:

        My wealthiest friend, has two Porche’s, identical, one a convertible and one a hard top, anniversary presents from his wife. So he doesn’t have to put the top up on the convertible when it rains. She has a third Porche herself. They have a jet also. Can you imagine?

  11. need2save says:

    Sigh, cars are the kryptonite of my FI life. I’ve always been a ‘car guy’ and have purchased new vehicles since I’ve been out of college. We typically hold them for 8 years or so, although I know they would last longer. One silver lining is that our last three cars were all paid for in cash.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Well, 8 years is longer than a lot of folks out there but yes, you should be able to get a lot more life out of them unless you’re doing huge miles in 8 years. Good job on not financing though!

  12. #12 Toyota Camry (hybrid) for me! 2008 with ~85,000 miles on it. I’ve had it for 3 years (bought off original owner) and plan to keep it for AT LEAST another 10.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      That thing should keep on truckin for at least another 10 with regular maintenance. Then you can build a spreadsheet detailing how much money you’re saving buy not upgrading or buying something new!

  13. I own the top car on the list (Toyota Highlander) but will probably only keep it for a couple of years. Now that our daughter has grown out of needing the pram, we can downsize back to something smaller. Looking back at all my cars, I seem to keep them for about 3-4 years. I’m a “Car guy” so I like to swap fairly frequently but I have been sensible paying for my last two cars in 100% cash, no loans.

  14. Arrgo says:

    One option to consider to extend your old cars life is to replace the engine. I did this for 2 different cars years ago and got 100k+ miles out of each one. It worked for me because I had an older family friend who worked on cars and had connections. He got the replacement engines out of insurance wrecks at auctions cheap and put them in at a very reasonable price which made it worthwhile for me. Might not be as worth it if you had to order it through Pep Boys then pay a standard rate to some garage to put it in. But I figured I saved thousands over the years by not having to buy another car as often. A few years ago I did buy my first new car at age 45 and worked a good deal on it. I really like it and plan to keep it for quite a long time.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      If you can get the engine cheap like you’re doing then sounds like a great strategy, assuming the tranny is in good shape.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Since really digging into the FI life about 5 years ago I started clueing into the big picture and that cars and housing have the biggest effect on our lives. As soon as we moved across the country to downsize and sell everything off I immediately realized that my top of the line quad cab 2014 Dodge Ram sport had to go. It was brand new and gorgeous but it not only cost me $900/month in payments, the fuel consumption was crazy and the insurance high. I traded off the truck 4 years ago on a 4 year older 2010 Hyundai SantaFe, that dropped my payments down to $600/month and 1 year less payments. Last year I made my last payment and now coming up on 10 months no car payments on my used SUV that I happily drive. That last payment was the first time in 21 years that I didn’t have a car payment it had to have some sort of a new vehicle. Heck this May will be 4 years with the Hyundai and will be the longest I have owned a vehicle. The only downside is I do so many roadtrips that the mileage is going up fast and I will need to trade it off towards a newer used vehicle. I’m at 133,000 miles right now (215,000 km) and figure I will keep it until that 150,000 mile point at least. I want a used Dodge Caravan so I can stealth camp on my roadtrips with more room and also fit my MTB inside for security when I am hiking/climbing instead of biking. As for the list I figure the Jetta would be on there instead of the Golf but I do believe it.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Yep, the car and the house. That $900 per month must’ve been killing you, that’s steep! My buddy has an older Santa Fe and it’s been really good to him, he probably has over 150k on it. Hyundai has been putting out reliable vehicles for a while now. I guess high miles just comes with your gig as a freelance photographer, that’s a mobile pursuit.

      And I thought about a minivan years ago as an adventure vehicle. If you get one where the seats some out they have tons of space and are versatile.

  16. Aw, Toyota Corollas didn’t make the list? Although to be fair, the ton of older ones I see everywhere seem to be more or less circa the year of my model (2006) so none of us have reached 15 years yet 😉

    • Accidental Fire says:

      I’m sure the Corolla is probably like the first one that didn’t make the list. They’re known for longevity. You’re doing what I did in my 20’s – resist the newer vehicle and you’ll keep banking the money!

  17. 2000 Toyota Camry, baby!!!

    Haha, I am really hoping that bad boy lasts a while more at least. Oh, have you ever checked out the site “Car Problem Zoo”? It’s especially good for scoping out new-to-you used cars. And, just saying, 2000 was a very good year for a Camry. ^_^

  18. Operation Husband Rescue says:

    Ugh, the car thing kills me. In my mind is a constant battle between what my mechanic father taught me about NEVER buying used vehicles due to the higher potential for problems and not wanting to pay a bazillion dollars a month for a vehicle that breaks all the time anyway.

    Couple that with the fact that we are going to need to get an even larger car next time around because kids. Nightmares.

    Until then, we are sticking with our Honda (over 100,000 miles) and Nissan (over 75,000 miles). The Honda has needed a few repairs here and there, but is chugging along quite nicely, in my opinion.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Used can be a little risky but nowadays cars last so much longer it’s much easier than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Sounds like you have two decent cars with a lot of life left on them. See how far they can go 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

Drop Me A Comment - What's On Your Mind?

%d bloggers like this: