New car? Or not? What should I do?

I’m driving a very old car. There’s nothing wrong with it. So should I update?

My car is a 1997 Toyota Starlet. Eighteen years old. Three door hatch, just over 200,000 kms (124,000 miles) on the clock. It has a new cam belt, just fitted earlier this year. No major rust, everything works fine, and it’s incredibly economical and reliable.

My car. Should I update, or be content with what I have? What do you think?
My car. Should I update, or be content with what I have? What do you think?

However, it’s old. I feel like the poor person in town when I drive it. Like, literally, every single car on the road is newer than mine, except for those cars of poor people in town and students. I feel like one of the poor. I feel like I have no status at all when I drive. And I’m not poor or a student.

I drove a better car when I was an unemployed student, twenty-five years ago. My car had a functional stereo then.

Truth is, I’m starting to resent having such an old car. My ex-husband talks about the benefits of social capital, and how having a great education and wealth comes with all sorts of added benefits (he scored a newer car a few months ago – I inherited the old one), and I guess I feel like one of those benefits should be something better than the oldest, cheapest car in town. It’s like, yeah I should have social capital. Except I don’t.

On the other hand, my logic brain tells me to hang on to this car. I can’t justify updating, not when this car is so good and reliable. It does everything I need – except look classy and be comfortable and have a stereo. I should be content with what I have. I shouldn’t compare myself to other people and what they have.

Except I do.

We can afford a new car. We could buy a new car and it would cost less than 1/15th of our family’s yearly income. We’d have it paid off within a few months if we wanted. We’d hardly notice the blip on the expense list. We’re that well off.

Money is not the issue. And it’s not like I’m even looking at a new “new car” – I’d be buying something about 7-8 years old. I don’t think that’s really a huge ask. Or is it?

Am I being selfish and shallow in wanting a new car? Am I being foolish in wanting something better? Am I silly to want to not look like I have no money at all? Am I an idiot for getting sick of being targeted by the cops all the time for warrant-of-fitness and registration checks all the time (four this year so far, and counting)?

In short, am I wrong for beginning to resent looking poor every time I get in and drive? Am I wrong for wanting something that qualifies as unnecessary stuff?

What would you do? I’d really appreciate your comments and thoughts on this one.


  1. Listen to your gut! I adored my old car (99 Grand Am) – but unlike yours, mine had something go wrong literally every other week. Somehow it always still drove even with terrible, terrible things happening (think completely out of oil, tire hub busted and drove a good 15 miles with the tire at a 45 degree angle, speedometer completely inaccurate, etc.). When I finally upgraded after my family begging me to get something safer, I went for something that I thought gave my more “style” and “class”. I got an upgraded Honda Civic, a few years old. It honestly was a great car, but I wasn’t thinking practically. Similar to you, the payment wasn’t an issue but I wasn’t thinking about what I NEEDED in a car – reliability and something that could handle Minnesota winters. I got it because it was sporty and “cool”. A little over a year later I ended up taking a small loss on it since it had lost more value in that time than what it was worth (as do most cars in their first few years), but now I’m with a basic 2011 CR-V that both drives on snow and ice, gets great gas mileage and is bigger for my growing family. It’s also still way nicer than my Grand Am, but it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that the civic had that honestly, I didn’t really need.

    Sorry for the novel – I’d say in short it’s DEFINITELY not wrong to want to upgrade, just make sure you don’t let the exciting features of some of the newer cars pull you away from what you actually need in a car. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. I am one to always try to justify the means. If I am driving a distance each day to get back and forth to work I certainly want something I can rely on to get me there. But where I live near Portland Oregon in the US many people take pride in owning an older car. It is a badge of honor that they wear with pride. The feeling of what you believe others are thinking is one that causes us to make rash decisions. Without a car payment what is that extra money in your budget benefiting you right now? Can that money go towards paying down debt or the mortgage? Do you have a plan for early retirement, or helping the kids out with education? Or is there a dream vacation that you have been hoping for in your future… Or would the joy of driving a new car out weigh the joy of those things?


  3. I felt like you last year. I had a 96 Jeep I loved, but became embarrassed by it when I started school. Everyone had nicer cars than me and they were younger. (And no, they were not driving their parents cars.) I decided at age 45 that it was time for a new car. It is money well spent. I get better gas mileage and it is Eco friendly. I can also make my trips to Kentucky and Ohio without worrying if I will break down. I don’t think you’re shallow or wrong in wanting something nice. Don’t we all deserve something nice?


  4. I think it is okay in you wanting a newer car. My only suggestion is that you save until you can pay for it in full. You will feel so much happier doing that then even having car payments for a few month. But keep the car you have now as back up. I have a 2004 Honda Accord that I was able to pay cash for, thanks to my mom. But I kept my 1994 GMC Sierra as a back up and have been very grateful that I did that. Liability and tags are very low, so worth it to me to have. Has come in handy in a couple of emergency situations. You save in other areas in your life to be able to splurge in other areas. You can’t always deprive yourself. Life would not be fun if you did.


  5. This is super easy. Calculate what a monthly payment on a replacement car would be. 150? 350? Since money is no issue, stash that away in savings each month and keep driving the reliable car you have till it becomes unreliable. At that time your stash of cash will open up the options to you and the choices you have to make at that time will be simple and easy, stress free.

    Drive the wheels off it while you’re saving for another car! This is the most conservative play and technically the most defensive play while remaining open to alterations of the playing field. It is the most strategic thing to do.


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