If you’re a repeat visitor here at Canadian Gearhead, you already have an idea why I love older vehicles. You know mine are well cared for, they perform great and I have a strong bond with each of them. What you might not realize though, is that the newest one is already 11 years old.
That’s not a coincidence either. Maybe I’m cheap. Or maybe I’m just hard-headed. But I actually prefer to own older vehicles. For me, there are a lot of benefits in choosing them. Anyone can go out and sign on the dotted line for a brand new car. But for us gearheads, it’s more than just a car – it’s a project, a passion, and even something we’re known by.
I’m sure there are a number of people in the car community that know me solely as “Tim With The Red MR2”. I’m ok with that. Yes, there’s a lot more to me than the vehicles I own. But for car guys, that’s just the way that we identify each other. For example:
“Hey, you know Steve, right?
“Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“He was at the party last weekend, you talked to him for 3 hours.”
“I don’t remember that at all.”
“You guys grew up together. He said he’s known you since 2nd grade.”
“He must have me confused with someone else. I’ve never heard of the guy.”
“He drives a 1993 Mazda RX7.“
Brand new vehicles are too common to stand out the way old ones do. On that note, I’m going to dive into the reasons why older vehicles are totally worth buying, starting with number 1:
1. Older vehicles are unique
In today’s credit-driven society, brand new cars are all over the place. And thanks to pedestrian crash test regulations, they pretty much all look the same. Older vehicles tend to stand out from the crowd.
I’m ashamed to admit, as a car guy, that I can’t even identify some of the newer cars on the road. They all have big fish-mouth grilles and angry-eye headlights. Perhaps I need to pick up a Car and Driver magazine from time to time. The truth is, brand new cars just don’t really interest me.
2. You don’t need the latest and greatest
Let’s face it. Trying to keep up with the latest model is a losing battle. The current market moves so quickly that the enjoyment of having the “new” model will last no more than a year or two. If you’re financing it, there’s a good chance you’ll still be in debt up to your ears for yesterday’s vehicle that nobody even notices anymore.
Take the pickup market for example. Not long ago, manufacturers would redesign a truck every 10+ years. Now, we see complete redesigns every 4-5 years, with a few facelifts in between. As our vehicles become more and more high-tech, they’re also taking after the tech industry by needing to be updated often in order to stay relevant.
One exception to this would be Toyota’s truck lineup. They’ve been criticized in the past for offering outdated tech and features, but at least that means your 10 year old Tundra will seem somewhat current!
The reality is that replacing your vehicle every other year to keep up with the Jones’ is a great way to go broke. At least for the average Joe, it is. If you’re in a financial position that allows you to change cars like underwear, go for it!
3. It takes time for known issues to develop
We all know the age-old rule that says to avoid purchasing the first model year of a vehicle. While I believe this is good advice in some cases, I like to take it a step further. I want to have an idea of what my ownership experience is going to be like. Giving other owners time to rack up a hundred thousand miles is like having a magical glimpse into the future.
Right now, owners and journalists are raving over Harley Davidson’s new Milwaukee 8 engines. On paper, they seem great. Their design makes sense and they’re performing very well. They’re still brand new though.
As much as I love Harley Davidson, they aren’t exactly known for getting new things right the first time (remember their previous attempt at water cooling with the 110ci “Wethead”? 6 month old top of the line models shouldn’t be needing their water pumps replaced already!).
Harley’s outgoing family of engines, the Twin Cam, date all the way back to 1999 with the 88. They later added fuel injection, then updated to a 96, then the 103 and finally the 110. Many years later, we know that aside from 1 or 2 potential issues, a well cared for 88 or 96 will last for a very, very long time.
When it comes to the new Milwaukee 8, we have no idea what we’re in for. And I’m not spending $30,000 to be a guinea pig!
4. The Financial Advantage
It’s no secret that new vehicles depreciate, and they do it FAST. We used to joke that new vehicles lose their value the moment you drive them off the lot, but that really is the case now. Once you’ve driven it, it’s no longer new. It’s used.
It’s common for new vehicles to take their biggest hit in depreciation within the first 2-3 years. This can be dangerous – depending on how far you’ve leveraged yourself while lusting after that new car smell, it won’t take much for you to owe more than the car is worth.
The financial advantage is about more than just depreciation, though. The money you spend goes so much further on a used vehicle vs a new one. You can buy a fully loaded model that’s a couple years old for the same price (or less) than a brand new base model.
Sure, those crappy cloth seats will have the coveted new car smell, but the other vehicle has leather seats, navigation, a premium sound system and fancier wheels. It might have some miles on it, but it’ll likely still be under the factory warranty too.
Fully loaded vehicles tend to command a higher resale price and are easier to sell on the used market than others. Combine that with the heavy hit the first owner took on depreciation before selling to you and you’re really sitting pretty! You’ll be less likely to get bored with a vehicle that has all the bells and whistles, meaning you might just keep it for longer than you intended. That’ll give your finances another boost.
Despite what the bank may tell you, your vehicle is not an asset. They depreciate over time and cost money to own. Fuel, insurance, and repairs all add up over time. To me, an asset is something that holds my money or makes me money. Most vehicles will not be worth what they are currently, in 5 years. I’m not a fan of purchasing new vehicles for that reason alone.
5. Older vehicles have character
This one kind of piggy-backs off the first reason. Anyone can with a bit of cash and decent credit can buy a new one. It takes knowledge, skill, and dedication to preserve an older one. Heck, sometimes it takes those traits just to find one worth buying in the first place!
It took me nearly 2 years of searching to find the right 4th generation 4runner to buy. I also traveled all the way from Ontario to Sedalia, Missouri to buy my Harley Davidson. It takes time, but it also creates stories and memories.
The vehicle you drive says a lot about who you are as a person. People tend to respect the president of a huge company that shows up to work every day in a clean, 15 year old Chevy Silverado. It shows that you’re humble. That you’re not trying to be something you’re not. It also shows that you’re willing to stick with something and put effort into making it work.
This stuff all applies directly to life in general. You might not want to admit it, but I’m willing to bet you don’t have the same level of respect for the 19 year old who’s already leasing a Lamborghini 4 months after starting his drop shipping company!
Older vehicles have a story to tell. Brand new ones have less character and feel more generic. Plus, the vehicles of the last 15 years are better made than you might think. Competition among manufacturers has been stiff and that forced them all to improve their build quality.
In 2009, Chrysler hired an all-new team to redesign the interior of their Ram trucks. The result was leaps and bounds over the previous generation and carried more of a European influence.
Shortly after that, the rest of the big 3 were forced to step their interior games up to compete, and now they all look like luxury cars inside. This is just an example of how competition has improved design, build quality and reliability across the industry.
To be honest, there aren’t many vehicles currently available that are perfect for me in stock form. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of great cars, trucks, and bikes out there. But there’s very few that I wouldn’t want to make some changes to in order for them to feel like they’re mine.
That’s the great thing about older vehicles. You’ll save so much money by buying a used one that you can feel free to budget a little extra for some modifications.
You can increase the performance and MPG with things like an intake, exhaust, and tuning. You can improve your interior experience with a better audio system or tinted windows. Off-road capability can double with just a simple lift and tires. Or you can improve your ride when towing with a set of airbags. The possibilities are endless and they all help to make your vehicle one of a kind.
Tuning can be a big issue with brand new platforms for the simple reason that aftermarket companies aren’t able to crack the factory computer. Modern fuel injection systems and engine controls have become so complex that it’s no longer a matter of plugging in a module and being able to adjust anything you want.
The new L5P Duramax diesel is a great example of this. The EPA will be happy because right now, these owners are being forced to keep the emissions systems intact on their trucks.
Modifying vehicles is something you either get or you don’t. For those gearheads that get it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It takes me some time to warm up to any new vehicle. Usually, when a new model is released – I hate it. Until I see it modified.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a car or truck. I want to see a car lowered, with aggressive wheels. I want to see a truck lifted with bigger tires. Then I’ll form my opinion.
When the Scion FRS first came out, I was a bit disappointed with how much the styling was diluted from the original concept. But now that they’ve been modified many times, I know that with just some wheels and suspension, they look great!
I’m just not a fan of stock vehicles. I tend to warm up to new designs once the aftermarket companies have had their hands on them. The thing is, modifying a brand new vehicle can be very expensive if the platform hasn’t been around for long.
7. The connection between Man and Machine
This one could be tough to explain if you don’t already feel the same way as I do. For most “normal” people, a car is just a car. If it gets them from point A to point B without breaking down, they’re happy.
That’s not how car guys think. For us, it’s about passion, hard work, and dedication. Our vehicles aren’t just chunks of metal, rubber, glass, and plastic. They’re friends and companions. They’ve created memories both good and bad. They’ve caused our knuckles to bleed, and our patience to run thin more times than we can count. And yet, we love them like a family member.
I don’t like giving up on things. Jesse James once said that after you’ve owned and used a machine for a certain amount of time, it develops a soul. Now I’m not crazy enough to talk to my vehicles or even give them names but I do agree that a bond grows after a few years of ownership.
I’m not quite there with the 4runner yet. I’ve only owned it for around 2 years and although I’ve had some good times with it, I’m still not at the point where I couldn’t fathom selling it. I had a tough time letting go of the Jeep Grand Cherokee it replaced after 10 years though.
The MR2 and bike are different. The only way the MR2 is leaving me is if it’s smashed beyond repair or burnt to the ground. As for the Harley, I’ve just recently gotten to that point of no return. I know it’s nothing special. When I check out the newer, better bikes at bike nights and rallies, I really like them.
I just don’t have the desire to trade up to a better bike. My old $5,000 Harley looks great, rides great and it just works. Why would I throw it away when it’s been so good to me?
I can’t imagine that feeling this way is possible with a brand new vehicle. People seem to want to take extra care of their investment at first while the sting of paying the bill is still fresh. But that dies off. After that, it becomes like any other appliance.
That way of thinking is made easier because new vehicles are watered down. It’s all about emissions and crash test standards. Manufacturers are doing more and more to remove us from the driving experience (sometimes entirely!). Now we have vehicles with so many nannies and monitors that we no longer have to put any effort into keeping ourselves safe.
They’re doing everything they can to take us away from our surroundings. Thick window glass, extra sound deadening, and super comfy seats are all things that distract us from the task at hand – driving. I believe this is a big cause of people not paying attention while driving, falling asleep, and texting. They’re bored.
Allow me to clarify by saying that vehicles have never been as good as they are now. As a matter of fact, it’s downright scary. The average minivan can keep up with the sports cars of yesterday in performance. We have electric cars that can drive for hours without a charge and not make a sound. Sports cars are now dipping below the 3 second 0-60 mark. It’s insane!
New vehicles are light years ahead of the older generations. In fact, they’re TOO good. They do everything so well and so smoothly that there’s no longer any excitement. I can truthfully say that I get excited when the time comes to drive one of my vehicles. That’s because it’s an experience every time.
The way the MR2 darts in any direction I point it. The loud exhaust on the Harley. The buzz of the beefy tires on the 4runner as it rolls down the highway. I can’t imagine living any other way.
Are older vehicles unreliable? My experience:
You don’t need to be afraid of owning an older vehicle. Many of them have been built to last a very long time without major issues. Once you get into the 20+ year old range, problems might arise. Of course, this all depends on what model you choose. Then again, certain models have problems the day they leave the dealership. There are no guarantees.
1991 Toyota MR2:
My MR2 is sort of a special case because it’s so highly modified. Nearly everything has been replaced at one point but it was for the purpose of increasing performance. So it’s not a very good example.
I can say that since the majority of the build happened 10 years ago, it hasn’t needed any major attention. I’ve had to replace the alternator, rear tires, and a few light bulbs. This car is 27 years old.
Want to buy your own SW20 MR2? I laid out everything you need to know in this post.
2007 Toyota 4runner:
I’ve only had the 4runner for about 2 years now. When I purchased it, it had a cracked exhaust manifold and a leak in the rear air suspension. They were fixed (upgraded) right off the bat. From that point to now, I’ve had to replace a stuck front brake caliper and that’s it. I can’t say I’m shocked with its reliability – that trait is one of the biggest things that drew me to the 4runner platform in the first place. My 4runner is 11 years old.
I could have spent a few thousand more and purchased a newer 5th gen 4runner but I didn’t for 2 reasons:
1. While the current generation 4runner is nice, it’s built on the same platform as the 4th gen. The suspension and drivetrain are largely the same. It does have a much nicer, more modern interior, but I’m not 100% sold on the exterior styling.
2. The other reason is huge. The 4th gen 4runner is the only one that was available with a V8 engine. Not only does that add character and make it better for towing, but I think it will help them to retain their resale value. Don’t believe me? Try to find a clean one for sale. Hint: we’re not letting them go!
If you’re interested in purchasing your own 4th gen 4runner, make sure to check out my Buyers Guide.
2002 Harley Davidson Night Train
I’ve owned this bike for around 4 years now. My dad has had a 2000 Wide Glide for over a decade and since both bikes share the same Twin Cam 88 engine, I had a good idea of what I was getting into in terms of dependability. When I first purchased it, I had to replace the front tire and rear brake rotor to pass the safety inspection. I also bought a new battery for it at that time.
Since then, I’ve done nothing more than replace the front brake pads. It fires up after the first crank every time and runs like a top. I’m never concerned about heading for longer trips out of town because I know it’ll bring me back. My Harley is 16 years old.
You can read more about how I saved thousands of dollars by importing this bike into Canada from the USA in this post.
Future value of older vehicles:
I’m in a good position financially with all 3 of these vehicles. Mainly because they’re all paid for in full, but also because I believe the market for each of them has bottomed out.
I was able to get into each one while the prices were low (maybe not so much with the MR2, although it’s appraised for much more than I paid for it.) The direction the classic Japanese sports car market is heading in is very promising.
The main hero cars like the Supra, NSX, RX7, and Skyline are all climbing steadily already. We’re starting to see the next tier of cars begin to climb as well, like the MR2, 3000GT, 300ZX and S2000. I don’t think any of these are a bad purchase right now as long as they’re in good shape.
The market for Japanese sports cars is going to continue to gain strength over the next 10 years, making these potentially good investments.
Judging by what the 3rd gen 4runners are listing for these days, I think the 4th gens have come pretty close to bottoming out. A late model, V8 equipped 4th gen like mine has potential to climb in value as time goes on.
The platform is known for incredible longevity and combining that with the fact that it’s the only gen you could buy with the 4.7L V8 (which is a hugely popular engine) could potentially push it into collector territory in the long term.
As for the Harley, according to my insurance company, they hold their replacement value better than nearly any other bike. As much as I like to argue with them and would rather not pay the rates that I do, I have to agree.
Harley Davidsons seem to do the majority of their depreciating within the first few years, and then hold strong from that point on. If you check the used market, you’ll find bikes from the 90s listing within a few thousand of others that are 10 years newer.
Older vehicles to stay away from:
My financial strategy for owning older used vehicles doesn’t work for all of them. It’s largely dependant on the model you choose. Remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
There’s a reason why that 10 year old AMG that sold for $150,000 brand new is now $25,000. Once the cost of repairs and maintenance is well known, it’ll impact the vehicle’s value on the used market in a big way. I wouldn’t feel comfortable owning a car like this unless I had a strong, bumper to bumper warranty with it.
Another type of vehicle you’ll want to stay clear of is the disposable economy car. I’m talking about the Cobalts, the Neons, the entry-level Korean cars etc. These weren’t designed with longevity in mind. If they sold for $10k brand new, they probably won’t last forever.
Something else to keep in mind is that the early 2000’s was not a great era for the big 3 American manufacturers. They were cutting corners to save money while still trying to come out with interesting new features. They weren’t all bad, but if you’ve worked on one you know what I’m talking about. Some of the strangest engineering ideas, that’s for sure.
One vehicle to rule them all
Sorry, but there’s no such thing. There are some very well rounded ones out there, but none of them can be the best at everything. A truck with the off-road capability of my 4runner is never going to be able to be as nimble, stylish, fast and fuel efficient as the MR2.
But I don’t need it to be. That’s why I have both. There isn’t a sports car in the land that will rival the open road feeling of a motorcycle. That’s why I have both.
The money I saved by choosing not to buy 1 brand new vehicle has allowed me to buy 3 awesome used ones.
The Cost of Repairs
Whether an older vehicle is going to nickel and dime you with maintenance and repairs over the years is a big deciding factor when you choose to buy new vs. used. I understand that gambling with the unknown can be scary. But there are some ways to hedge your bet.
Buy a certified pre-owned vehicle (CPO).
These have been gone over by the dealership’s mechanics to make sure they’re up to their standards. It might also make you feel more comfortable buying a used car from the same place you’d get a new one from.
Get an extended warranty.
In many cases, you can extend a vehicle’s factory warranty up to at least 8 years or 100,000 miles. If that doesn’t work for you, there are a number of aftermarket warranty companies that used car dealerships work with. They’ll have packages offering different levels of protection for you depending on your budget.
Don’t take it to a dealer for service or repairs.
Dealerships generally charge higher labor rates than private garages. Buying parts through a dealership is also usually much more expensive. Put those 2 together, and its no wonder repair costs are astronomical for some people. But that shouldn’t scare you away from buying a used car.
I deal with a family-owned franchised garage here in town. They handle everything from cheaper repairs like tire changes and exhaust fixes to engine-out services on exotic supercars. It’s not uncommon to see them doing an oil change on a 15 year old Ford Focus one day, and installing a fancy exhaust on a Ferrari the next.
Don’t underestimate what your average mechanic can do. A knowledgeable garage can not only fix your car, but they’ll also know some clever repairs that can avoid you having to buy expensive new parts. Dealerships don’t work like that. If a part is broken, they unbolt it and replace it. It’s worth the effort to source a good garage and build a relationship with them.
The Final Word
I’m not a rich guy. Far from it. But I’m able to afford these three vehicles because none of them are new. That’s how I was able to customize this fleet perfectly for me. Every modification was a decision I made at some point in time that I felt would improve them.
It has all lead up to this mini collection that I’m incredibly happy with. I’m confident that here in Canada, you could find a clean, low mileage Toyota MR2 for $20,000. Similar V8 Toyota 4runners are selling in the high teens, but let’s round that to another $20,000 to make it simple. Last but not least, $10,000 will get you a great used motorcycle.
Add that up and you’re at $50,000. It might seem like a lot, but think about it this way: That’s a mid-level Ford F150, brand new. That’s a brand new CVO Harley Davidson Ultra. It’s also the same price as a new Tesla Model 3.
You can keep your fancy brand new vehicles. I’ll stick with my old ones.
JimmyJanuary 15, 2020 at 10:20 am
Hi, Tim, I can agree 100% with you on our love for old cars. It’s just plain boring watching generic appliances on the road everywhere, yet is to be tested on the long term on their reliability due to the gimmicks and electronic stuff modern cars are full with. I also own a 4th generation 4runner, a 2003 SR5, the entry level model 2WD. I love my truck and I’m still working on it to make it look an occasional trail beast instead of a pavement princess. My other baby is a 92 Mustang GT fox body. It’s on the high mileage side and I love it for it’s looks and reliability. Also own a 09 GT CS special edition IMo the best modern looking years. I know these days Korean cars had come to be super reliable in my own experience, something that can’t be said to many european “luxury” cars. Also out the big three, Ford has come to make great cars specially the last 10 plus years, and before that they still have some nice carfs and trucks that can be collectible as well, so, I know if you own a Ford Mustang or Ford truck, they likely would be true classics in the future as your MR2 and our 4Runners are, and some really dam nice early 90’s and older Toyota cars and trucks. I’d never own a generic, melted soap bar car just because it’s new or newer model, I’d stick with classic looking cars and older ones too. BTW really nice blog and rides you got!
Canadian GearheadJanuary 16, 2020 at 8:13 am
Thanks Jimmy, I’ve always had a thing for those Foxbody Stangs.
Deiby ArveloFebruary 16, 2019 at 8:03 am
I enjoyed reading your post. I currently own a 12 year old mustang, and I just love the simplicity of it. My 2011 malibu was such a headache… the thing would start shaking and preventing me from accelerating past 20mph and I didnt know when it would happen. However, my mustang is sitting in the garage and is always a blast to drive. I dont need any more than a motor, a trans and maybe a radio. That’s just me.
Canadian GearheadFebruary 16, 2019 at 12:48 pm
I feel the same way, especially for a weekend car!