Buying New vs. Buying Used: the Pros and Cons

A few months ago, the 1995 Lexus ES I’ve had for 15 years finally let me know that she’s pretty much done with this driving thing. Despite her major scratches and significant dents, Lexi (yes, of course that’s her name) has continued to serve me well since the early 2000s. She came at an unbelievably good price with next to no mileage; her previous owner had (literally!) been a little old lady who only drove her to and from the supermarket. As far as used cars go, I hit the jackpot with Lexi. But when a number of things started to break down, my mechanic gently broke it to me that my beloved Lexi might be on her last legs. 

While I’ve started making peace with her impending departure, I haven’t been able to bring myself to start car shopping. The main reason? I don’t know where to start. I’ve never owned a new car — is now the time in my life to get one? Or based on my incredible track record with Lexi, is a used car the best bet? I figured the only surefire way to jumpstart my search is to turn it into an article that will hopefully help others in their car buying quest. So here are the pros and cons to new and used vehicles:

The Pros of Buying New

  • It’s a new car! New feels pretty good. Enough said.
  • That warranty though. One of the major perks of buying new is the fact that if anything malfunctions early on, you’ve got paperwork to cover you for a certain amount of time. 
  • The tech is next-level. My poor Lexi was manufactured so long ago, she managed to live through both the introduction and obsolescence of CD players. Her sophisticated tape deck has been defunct since 2011. By comparison, some new car models can parallel park for you!

The Cons of Buying New

  • Depreciation is real and it’s rough. Vehicles are automatically worth less once they’ve been owned and most cars depreciate by about 40 percent during the first three years of ownership — a huge chunk!
  • Insurance costs may be higher. Generally, a more expensive vehicle will mean more expensive premiums.
  • The newness factor wears off fast. It doesn’t take much for that pristine new vehicle to look less than stellar; the initial thrill may not last long. 

The Pros of Buying Used

  • Here’s your chance to be a super saver. For bargain hunters, used car shopping can be exciting. And depreciation takes far less of a bite out of a used car.
  • You’ll know its reputation. You’ll know which models have a history of reliability.
  • You can still get a great warranty. You may be able to find a ride with a warranty still in effect, or buy from a used dealer that includes one.

The Cons of Buying Used

  • The great unknown. You just can’t know how the previous owner treated the vehicle. There’s always a risk of discovering something unpleasant about your car’s history down the line when you buy used. 
  • You can’t always get what you want. When you buy used, you don’t get 100% control over the bells and whistles.
  • You may spend more in other areas. A used car might need attention from a mechanic sooner than a new one will, and used cars are, on average, less fuel efficient than newer models.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, the decision is yours. There are potential risks and benefits to buying both new and used cars, so take some time to figure out what matters most to you in your purchase. (Maybe you don’t want that car at all and should switch to a scooter!) No matter what you decide, make sure to choose an insurer who has your back.

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Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, UC Berkeley alumna, and Metromile customer.