Author Topic: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?  (Read 6652 times)

dsteele713

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What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« on: November 12, 2015, 10:13:56 PM »
Googling this question returns a bunch of bullshit lists about the cheapest "new" cars to own. I don't care how new it is, or isn't. What are the cheapest cars to own, maintain, insure, and fuel?

As an example, I drive a 1st generation Honda Insight. This could be a contender for cheapest car, but a big problem with them is that the hybrid batteries are starting to crap out (these cars are 10-15 years old now), and replacement batteries are $2k. Amortizing that $2k cost into the total cost to own, and cars like the Toyota Echo and Geo Metro actually start to look cheaper, even though the mileage isn't technically as good. The Insight is aluminum, though, so rust isn't nearly as much of an issue, which should be factored into the cost to own.

For the record, I already replaced my battery and have no plans to replace my car. I'm just trying to generate a discussion.

ketchup

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2015, 10:37:36 PM »
I have a '99 Metro.  I've put a total of 25,000 miles on it so far.

I paid $1000 for it.  I estimate its value currently to be $900.  Depreciation: $0.005/mile.

I have averaged 44MPG.  With gas price fluctuations, that averages out to $0.07/mile.

Registration plus one renewal has cost me $322 (Illinois) total: $0.01/mile

Insurance has been decently cheap (~$50/month): $0.04/mile

Maintenance and repairs have been a bit steep.  $1,458.03 total, $0.06/mile.  $249 of that was new tires, and $664 was various rusty exhaust fixes.  The rest has been pretty normal maintenance.

Brings my total cost of driving to 18.5 cents/mile.  If gas stays cheap and nothing else stupid breaks on it for a while, that will go down (the most recent catch-up maintenance and repairs were substantial and little more should be necessary for a while).

I don't think I'll ever drive a cheaper-to-own vehicle until EVs can be bought dirt cheap on the secondary market in 30 years.

Even my big V8-powered station wagon has been pretty cheap to operate:
1992 Buick Roadmaster wagon, over about 30,000 miles
Bought for $700, now worth about $700. Depreciation: $0
Maintenance/repairs ($550 of it being a fuel tank replacement when something on the road blew a three inch hole in my fuel tank, and $90 being a new headlight and window when we hit a fucking deer at 60mph): $966.69, $0.03/mile
Fuel: (18MPG average) $4,593.02, $0.15/mile
Insurance: $668.87, $0.02/mile
Registration, etc: $322, $0.01/mile
Total: 21 cents/mile.

dsteele713

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2015, 10:59:59 PM »
$650 for exhaust work sounds awful high. Did you pay someone to do it? You probably could have just gotten an entire exhaust at a junkyard for $200 or less and just installed it yourself.

libertarian4321

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2015, 11:16:19 PM »
As the other posters mentioned, a low cost but mechanically sound used compact is probably your best choice.

There are almost no really low cost new cars, though if the Elio ever actually gets built, it will probably be the best new car option out there (high gas mileage, extremely low cost):

https://www.eliomotors.com/

I'd love to buy one of these built in the USA cars, if they ever start producing.

ketchup

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2015, 11:21:51 PM »
$650 for exhaust work sounds awful high. Did you pay someone to do it? You probably could have just gotten an entire exhaust at a junkyard for $200 or less and just installed it yourself.
Yes, that was the one thing I farmed out to a shop.  It was three separate incidents.  First it was the connection from the pipe to the muffler, then it was the pipe right in front of the cat I believe, and then most recently, new muffler and pipe.  All the junkyard exhaust parts around here are just as rusty.  I've done enough of the other work myself (new clutch, brakes, timing belt/water pump, etc.) that I'm OK with less-optimized exhaust work.  It was done at a shop I trust that charges a bit more than a place I'd trust less.

Also, I farmed it out specifically for time sensitive reasons once.  I wasn't about to ask my girlfriend to endure 600 miles round trip at 70mph of the exhaust rattling around with no muffler attached.  I'm not a monster.

Jack

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2015, 08:04:12 AM »
  • Geo Metro
  • 88-91 Honda CRX HF
  • 92-95 Honda Civic VX
  • 1st-gen Honda Insight (if you can replace cells in the battery yourself)
  • 98-2006 VW TDI (if you can DIY all the maintenance -- bonus points if you can DIY the fuel!)
  • A classic/antique car that appreciates (but this is risky speculation)
« Last Edit: November 13, 2015, 01:14:59 PM by Jack »

dsteele713

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2015, 01:12:46 PM »
I love the CRX HF, but those cars are hard to come by nowadays, and most of them have rust issues if you live in that type of area.

zolotiyeruki

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #7 on: November 13, 2015, 09:03:43 PM »
Quote
As the other posters mentioned, a low cost but mechanically sound used compact that you fix yourself is probably your best choice.
Emphasis is my only contribution.  There are three main costs to a car:  depreciation, gas, and repairs/maintenance.  libertarian4321 got two of the three.  Take care of the third, and your TCO is about as low as you can get it.

aceyou

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #8 on: November 14, 2015, 05:55:34 AM »
Quote
As the other posters mentioned, a low cost but mechanically sound used compact that you fix yourself is probably your best choice.
Emphasis is my only contribution.  There are three main costs to a car:  depreciation, gas, and repairs/maintenance.  libertarian4321 got two of the three.  Take care of the third, and your TCO is about as low as you can get it.

Agree with your list, but I include insurance/registration as a 4th.  When people get new cars or finance, they basically need to get full coverage.  When I buy older cars, I can justify the cheapest insurance possible, so in that way insurance is kind of a variable rather than fixed cost, and definitely something to consider. 

Once a car gets old enough, insurance/registration takes over depreciation as a larger expense....which is when a car is most awesome IMO!

JLee

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #9 on: November 14, 2015, 08:40:25 AM »
Learn to fix stuff and repair your Insight!

http://www.insightcentral.net/forums/modifications-technical-issues/25029-common-topics-faq-diys-info-can-found-here-please-read-first.html#post258582

The first gen Insights are really cool cars. I'd love to own one to tinker with.

zolotiyeruki

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #10 on: November 14, 2015, 05:51:41 PM »
Quote
As the other posters mentioned, a low cost but mechanically sound used compact that you fix yourself is probably your best choice.
Emphasis is my only contribution.  There are three main costs to a car:  depreciation, gas, and repairs/maintenance.  libertarian4321 got two of the three.  Take care of the third, and your TCO is about as low as you can get it.

Agree with your list, but I include insurance/registration as a 4th.  When people get new cars or finance, they basically need to get full coverage.  When I buy older cars, I can justify the cheapest insurance possible, so in that way insurance is kind of a variable rather than fixed cost, and definitely something to consider. 

Once a car gets old enough, insurance/registration takes over depreciation as a larger expense....which is when a car is most awesome IMO!
Good point--I had neglected that cost.

daverobev

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2015, 07:44:23 PM »
Fascinating that the TCO of the Roadmaster wasn't much higher than the Metro!

I think you have to understand that most car threads, except 'what car should I buy?', are extremely biased - mostly people who can work on cars are in them.

I 'like' cars but I am not really in need of one. I just paid an eye watering sum (for me) to get the oil changed and winter tires put on, which led to new brakes, which led to new calipers. The feedback I got in some thread or another was 'why would anyone pay to get their brakes done'.

I get it. I 'know' brakes are not that hard to do, and in theory I could've done them myself, but honestly... I'm just not into it. O2 sensors? Sure. Coil packs? OK. Brakes.... nope.

I envy those able to find decent cars for $1k. I don't buy often enough to know what is a great $1k buy and what is junk - knowing that there are a LOT of jobs that can cost that much, and which you have no way of knowing if they will be needed.

Maybe one day I'll get a house with a garage and really learn on a project car. But honestly, what I want is my car to go when I turn the key...

humbleMouse

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2015, 08:25:22 PM »
I have a 99 camry that I bought for $1000 @149k miles.  I have since put 10k miles on it and have only replaced the front brakes, replaced the tires, and flushed all the fluids for around $500. 

$1500 for car
drove it 10k miles

comes out to .15c/mile.  That is without gas and insurance factored in - I get about 30mpg and pay $600/year. 

JLee

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2015, 09:59:24 PM »
Fascinating that the TCO of the Roadmaster wasn't much higher than the Metro!

I think you have to understand that most car threads, except 'what car should I buy?', are extremely biased - mostly people who can work on cars are in them.

I 'like' cars but I am not really in need of one. I just paid an eye watering sum (for me) to get the oil changed and winter tires put on, which led to new brakes, which led to new calipers. The feedback I got in some thread or another was 'why would anyone pay to get their brakes done'.

I get it. I 'know' brakes are not that hard to do, and in theory I could've done them myself, but honestly... I'm just not into it. O2 sensors? Sure. Coil packs? OK. Brakes.... nope.

I envy those able to find decent cars for $1k. I don't buy often enough to know what is a great $1k buy and what is junk - knowing that there are a LOT of jobs that can cost that much, and which you have no way of knowing if they will be needed.

Maybe one day I'll get a house with a garage and really learn on a project car. But honestly, what I want is my car to go when I turn the key...

On a car that has seen salt, it may actually be easier to do brakes than o2 sensors. Working on a rusty exhaust system is miserable.

ketchup

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #14 on: November 15, 2015, 12:27:32 PM »
Fascinating that the TCO of the Roadmaster wasn't much higher than the Metro!
Once you bake depreciation out of the game, bad gas mileage can be compensated for (or good MPG negated!) by reliability and cheap maintenance to the point where the spread really isn't as large is it intuitively seems.  Especially at the moment with cheap gas (~2.15 around here at the moment).

I'm not saying gas mileage isn't important, but depreciation is far more expensive, as are major repairs, especially when farming out the labor.  If you have a $1000 truck that gets 15MPG but is reliable, you are probably doing a lot better overall than Sally McYuppy driving a brand new $26,000 60MPG hybrid down the road.  That's an extreme example, but way too often I feel MPG takes the place of depreciation or reliability in people's minds.

And all this in mind, yes I drive a '99 Metro.  It's the best of both worlds in my mind: ridiculous MPG for its condition and age, barely any depreciation to speak of, and marginally more complex than a lawnmower, with about the feature-set to match.  The downsides are that it has no AC, it looks like shit, it doesn't enjoy going over 70MPH, it has a horrid radio, no cruise control, and no other features to speak of (like power locks or windows).  Luckily, I simply don't give a shit about any of those things.  And it has way better visibility than any 2010+ car I've sat in.

alsoknownasDean

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #15 on: November 16, 2015, 03:46:23 AM »
Usually older small cars that are common and sold in big numbers.

The common bit is important, that'll mean parts are generally cheaper (and more available at wreckers), more mechanics know how to work on them (if you're not going fully DIY), and they're often cheaper to buy too.

A Toyota Corolla is a good start, but there'd be plenty of others around that would also have low ownership costs, be it Japanese, GM/Ford, Korean, etc.

Although often I find that it might be worthwhile going one step up from beater level in terms of age/price/quality. Maybe the $3000 car is a better bet longer-term than the $1500 car.

ketchup

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #16 on: November 16, 2015, 08:30:08 AM »
Although often I find that it might be worthwhile going one step up from beater level in terms of age/price/quality. Maybe the $3000 car is a better bet longer-term than the $1500 car.
I agree with that sentiment, but I'd bump the numbers down a bit (in the US anyway).   A real-beater that can pull itself out of the driveway with its own power and not leave a gallon of fluid behind but has no working heat or windshield wipers can be found any day of the week for $500.  But deals on decent cars can be found in the $700-1500 range.  There's plenty of crap too, to be sure, but that's probably the sweet spot in terms of absolute value if you'll willing to trudge through the weeds.  Bumping up to the $2000-3000 range can get you a "nicer car" and potentially more reliability/longevity as long as you do your homework.

alsoknownasDean

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #17 on: November 16, 2015, 07:07:30 PM »
Although often I find that it might be worthwhile going one step up from beater level in terms of age/price/quality. Maybe the $3000 car is a better bet longer-term than the $1500 car.
I agree with that sentiment, but I'd bump the numbers down a bit (in the US anyway).   A real-beater that can pull itself out of the driveway with its own power and not leave a gallon of fluid behind but has no working heat or windshield wipers can be found any day of the week for $500.  But deals on decent cars can be found in the $700-1500 range.  There's plenty of crap too, to be sure, but that's probably the sweet spot in terms of absolute value if you'll willing to trudge through the weeds.  Bumping up to the $2000-3000 range can get you a "nicer car" and potentially more reliability/longevity as long as you do your homework.
Yeah that depends on the local market and how much maintenance one is able/prepared to do.

I know in my case when I was looking last year,  going from the $2000 or less cars to the $3-4000 range meant getting something a good five years newer. I live in an apartment and hence cannot DIY maintenance at home, so I decided the step up was worthwhile.

At one stage I was looking at a very cheap beater, but was quoted $1500 to get it roadworthy.

Sent from my LG-D855 using Tapatalk
« Last Edit: November 16, 2015, 07:12:01 PM by alsoknownasDean »

DeltaBond

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #18 on: November 17, 2015, 04:46:38 AM »
My husband and I like the old W123 Mercedes from the 80s - diesel - the engines last about a million miles, no joke.  Its hard to claim you don't want to bother with a diesel because its a little bit more when a car lasts that long.  Most people also fail to do the wee bit of research on diesel, but it burns cleaner than regular gasoline.  Lots of people in our area have these cars for this very reason.

Left

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #19 on: November 17, 2015, 04:48:42 AM »
They used to give Yugo's away for free right? :D

if you did your own work...
convert it to run on propane gas for better usage
« Last Edit: November 17, 2015, 04:54:40 AM by eyem »

orangewarner

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #20 on: November 17, 2015, 06:35:00 AM »
Where I live, a natural gas Honda Civic can be had for $3000 and gets over 35 mpg. Cng is only $1.66/gal here. I have had very good luck with Cng vehicles (thanks to t. Boone Pickens' book I read a few years ago called 'the first billion is the hardest')

Jack

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Re: What cars have the cheapest total cost to own?
« Reply #21 on: November 17, 2015, 07:44:23 AM »
My husband and I like the old W123 Mercedes from the 80s - diesel - the engines last about a million miles, no joke.  Its hard to claim you don't want to bother with a diesel because its a little bit more when a car lasts that long.  Most people also fail to do the wee bit of research on diesel, but it burns cleaner than regular gasoline.  Lots of people in our area have these cars for this very reason.

A good choice, as long as you're not driving a ton of miles. Diesels are efficient, but those Mercs are boats so it still only manages what, 20 mpg or so?