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Why You Shouldn't Buy a Brand New Mid-size Sedan.

Updated on June 24, 2012

Overview

Midsized sedans such as the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion are some of the best selling new cars on the market today. High sales numbers would seem to imply that a car such as this is a smart buy. However... for most people it isn't!

One can spend less money on a 1-3 year old model of the same vehicle, or can purchase a "better" (whether this means bigger, faster, more luxurious, etc. is up to the buyer) car on the same budget. Oftentimes, even increased maintenance costs associated with buying an older car can be offset by the savings on the purchase price. Unless having a clean and unused vehicle is a major requirement, you should take a strong look at the used car market before purchasing a new midsize sedan!

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Comparisons between similar models new and used

(All used car prices based on Carsoup listings for the Minneapolis/St. Paul area)

A brand new Toyota Camry is going to cost roughly 22-30k based on options and dealer specials.

A quick look at the used market, and one can find a number of 2-4 year old Camrys including a number of '08 models with 50-90k miles costing 13-14 thousand dollars, a major savings compared to the price of a new model. Toyota motors are going to last long past 100,000 miles, so the mileage shouldn't be a huge concern, although I would recommend a pre-purchase inspection.


A new Ford Focus, for example, is going to cost you about 21-28k, while you can pick between a selection of 2010 models with as few as 30,000-ish miles on them ranging in price from 11-16k asking price.

Audi and BMW sedans
Audi and BMW sedans | Source
Audi RS4 (VERY fast sports sedan based on the A4)
Audi RS4 (VERY fast sports sedan based on the A4) | Source
Mercedes CLK AMG... not what you'll find on the used market for this pricing, but as close as I could find in my photos! the taillights will be about the same...
Mercedes CLK AMG... not what you'll find on the used market for this pricing, but as close as I could find in my photos! the taillights will be about the same... | Source

Options on the Used Car Market for 22-30k

I will try to provide a number of examples of vehicles that I have found (with multiple examples) for the estimated cost of a new mid-size sedan. I am going to assume that the average purchaser-to-be of one of these vehicles is seeking something that'll seat 4-5 people, so I will focus on sedans (with a few exceptions, as I love my 2-seater sports cars!)

1. BMW 3-series: BMW's smallest sedan, the various models within the 3-series pack a punch with BMW's trademark straight-6 engine. You shouldn't have a problem finding a 2008 model with 30-60 thousand miles in the low to mid twenties.

2. Mercedes-Benz C-class. Mercedes' rival to the 3 series, is another option if luxury is your goal with your mid-size sedan money. All Benz sedans are going to be very well equipped for the pricetag with various tech gadgets and features. Whatever you're looking for, whether it be heated leather seats, futuristic automatic gearboxes, or even AWD, you can find it in a 2007-2009 C-class and only pay anywhere from 16-25k.

3. Audi A4/A6. You should be able to find a good number of 2-5 year old Audi sedans for 20-25k with a choice of a 2.0L Turbo 4 in the A4 or a number of V6 engines available in the A6. All Audi's come with the legendary Quattro AWD system, so inclement weather and slippery roads can be handled without difficulty. In addition to the performance and safety, the interiors of these cars are fantastic with leather seats, sat-nav, and a sunroof on certain examples.

4. Lexus ES/LS. Because these are Japanese, you can assume that your used Lexus will be about as reliable as... the 4 seasons coming and going every year. There are tons of slightly used ES models available for the low to mid twenty thousand dollar range, and you may even be able to find a V8 LS example within that same price range if you're lucky. These cars are, like the ones previously mentioned, going to be significantly faster and more luxurious than the mid-sized sedan you could buy for the same money.


Chevrolet Corvette (C5 generation)
Chevrolet Corvette (C5 generation) | Source
BMW M3 (E46) one of my favorite Bimmers of all time
BMW M3 (E46) one of my favorite Bimmers of all time | Source
Honda S2000- the perfect blend of lightness, handling, and manual transmission fun!
Honda S2000- the perfect blend of lightness, handling, and manual transmission fun! | Source
Nissan 350Z
Nissan 350Z | Source
Porsche 911 (996) assuming you can afford the insurance and maintenance... the most fun on this list!
Porsche 911 (996) assuming you can afford the insurance and maintenance... the most fun on this list! | Source

What if you just want to have fun?

If for some reason you are thinking about buying a mid-size sedan just because you need a car... here are a few more interesting options to keep in mind! (years and prices are estimates based on examples for sale at time of publishing). Remember that because these cars are sports cars, they won't be particularly fuel efficient or cheap to repair...

1. 2003 Mercedes-Benz CL600: German coupe with a twin-turbocharged V12 for less than a well-equipped Toyota Camry? Sign me up!

2. 2003 BMW E46 M3: Perhaps the greatest car ever produced by BMW's M division, you can find a good one for roughly $20,000 or less.

3. 2003 Chevrolet Corvette: Probably the best overall American sports car, you can have a Corvette of your own for the mid-twenties or less based on year and mileage.

4. Porsche 911 (996): Thought you couldn't afford Porsche's famous sports car? Think again! The 996 generation was the first 911 with a water-cooled engine, which has decreased the demand from 911 purists and therefore lowered the value. You should be able to pick up a 996 (1997-2005) for 20-25k, but make sure you get the car inspected before purchase. Porsche parts and labor are expensive, so you'll need to make sure the car isn't just coming up ready for major work!

5. Nissan 350Z: You can find a wide variety of Nissan's well-selling sports car for 15-25k. Its got a V6 making roughly 300hp which is more than enough to spin those rear wheels!

6. Honda S2000: A true driver's car, the S2000 was only ever made with a short-throw manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. The 2.0/2.2L 4 cylinder engine (depending on year) makes about 240hp- less than its rivals. Honda has countered this by reducing weight and perfecting weight balance for better handling.

Has this hub affected your future purchasing behavior?

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    • profile image

      Larry Wall 5 years ago

      I agree. The guy who got my 16 month old car with. 12,000 miles probably got a great deal.

    • Pkittock profile image
      Author

      Pkittock 5 years ago from Minnesota

      Thanks for the feedback, Larry. In many cases, a pre-purchase inspection by an independent mechanic can prevent "surprises" such as worn shocks/struts/springs, etc. although you are still taking your chances with used equipment.

      You make very good points on the deals you can get on a new car, I didn't bring them up. I will also say, though, that you can get really great deals on used cars from time to time as well. My dad got his Honda S2000 two years old with about 10,000 miles on it- barely used for a fraction of the cost of a new one. It all depends on what you can find!

      -Phil

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 5 years ago

      You make valid points, but you missed a couple when promoting the used cars. As you noted there is an increased risk of breakdown or required maintenance--this can cost you time and inconvenience and that is often when you discovered the car was not properly maintain. Secondly, there is no guarantee that a used car has not been used by smokers--I cannot stand cigarette smoke and it stays in cars forever with the dealer trying to cover it up with air freshener.

      Secondly, sometimes you just make a deal that is really too good to be true. I am leasing my current car and was leasing my last one. After the Obama Cash for Clunkers took all the used cars off the lots, dealers became desperate.

      It took to trips to the dealer, spread over a few weeks, but I was able to turn in my leased Nissan Altima 20 months early, get a new car, that had a one step upgrade, for only $10 more per month and no additional downpayment.

      Car dealers get incentives from manufacturers. In this case, the manufacturer was offering a $500 bonus per car if the quota of 100 cars sold that month was met. It was about 4 p.m. on the last day of the month. Had I haggled a little more I could had probably gotten even a lower price. By making the sale, the dealer picked up a $50,000 bonus. If he had lost $500 on my car, he would had still been ahead.

      Granted, this was a chance opportunity, but whenever possible, I buy new.