Car Buying New or Used: Use Data to Compare

Buying & Leasing a Car

Car Buying New or Used: Use Data to See Which Is Better

Edmunds.com and KBB offer useful tools to calculate the real cost of owning a car. But it’s still on you to make the right comparisons.

Courtesy Honda

Tools like Edmunds True Cost to Own® and KBB’s 5-Year Cost to Own will give you powerful insight into the real pocketbook hit from car ownership.

If you’re sure you want to buy your car new, I suggest you run the models you’re considering through both sites. Remember that both rely on data that is national, state or zip code based (it depends — read all the fine print).

But if you’re trying to decide whether to buy new or used, as I was in my column, you’ll want to use Edmunds’ True Cost to own, as it provides data on used cars as well.

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Some points to keep in mind:

Making a good comparison is up to you. While there are hundreds of configurations available in the tools, they won’t you tell whether, for example, a 2020 Ford Explorer is a thorough redesign that probably shouldn’t be put up against one three model years back.

Furthermore, the data isn’t complete — you might not find a specific low-volume model.

With Edmunds True Cost to Own, there’s no comparison function built in to let you put models and years head to head. That’s understandable, as it already provides a lot of data. But comparisons were what I was there to do, and so I copied and pasted the Edmunds data into a spreadsheet and embedded a few quick calculations.

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New vs. Used: Honda Civic

As I explain in my article, it can sometimes make better financial sense to buy a car brand spanking new than a few years used. This is generally the case with vehicles that are less expensive and known for holding their value. A great example of this is the Honda Civic:

2020 Civic Sedan LX 4dr Sedan

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Total Cost to Own vs. 2017
Insurance$841$870$901$932$965$4,509$102
Maintenance$156$664$477$1,148$1,398$3,843-$2,377
Repairs$0$0$137$328$480$945-$1,249
Taxes & Fees$1,558$0$135$0$135$1,828$480
Financing$1,270$1,021$756$473$171$3,691$1,327
Depreciation$2,523$1,688$1,597$1,874$1,774$9,456$2,194
Fuel$1,068$1,100$1,133$1,167$1,202$5,670-$705
Total Cost$7,416$5,343$5,136$5,922$6,125$29,942-$228

Data retrieved in mid-January 2020

New vs. Used: Toyota Tacoma

Another vehicle that Ivan Drury, senior manager of industry analysis for Edmunds, called out as a better deal new than used is the Toyota Tacoma truck. And indeed, the difference is even more dramatic here:

2020 Tacoma Double Cab Limited 4dr Double Cab 4WD

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Total Cost to Own vs. 2017
Insurance$901$933$965$999$1,034$4,832$48
Maintenance$79$584$563$2,150$2,502$5,878-$2,136
Repairs$0$0$133$317$465$915-$1,603
Taxes & Fees$2,791$0$187$0$187$3,165$583
Financing$2,394$1,926$1,425$892$323$6,960$1,609
Depreciation$5,789$1,395$1,316$1,545$1,464$11,509$59
Fuel$1,927$1,985$2,045$2,106$2,169$10,232$0
Total Cost$13,881$6,823$6,634$8,009$8,144$43,491-$1,440

Data retrieved early March 2020

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New vs. Used: Mercedes E-Class Wagon

When it comes to luxury vehicles, Drury (and others) say buying used is the way to go. Here’s a look at my wife’s favorite fantasy-mobile: a Mercedes station wagon. Yes, anticipated repairs for the used 2017 model are almost three times higher than for the new model, and maintenance is higher as well, but there’s no overcoming the huge depreciation hit the new model takes in its first few years. Going used saves a whopping $25,918.

2017 E-Class Wagon E 400 Sport 4MATIC 4dr Wagon

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Total Cost to Own vs. 2020
Insurance$1,116$1,149$1,184$1,219$1,256$5,924-$60
Maintenance$1,447$4,140$2,974$3,038$4,304$15,903$3,622
Repairs$1,203$1,852$1,994$2,144$2,304$9,497$6,213
Taxes & Fees$2,343$0$187$0$187$2,717-$2,456
Financing$1,969$1,584$1,172$733$265$5,723-$6,781
Depreciation$7,659$4,303$3,788$3,356$3,013$22,119-$26,998
Fuel$2,278$2,346$2,416$2,489$2,564$12,093$542
Total Cost$18,015$15,374$13,715$12,979$13,893$73,976-$25,918

Data retrieved in early March 2020