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This week we're test driving some cars we're interested in. We're looking at cars from private sellers and we're considering cars from dealerships.

I didn't realize it until we were car shopping, but it's hard to get an idea on how much a car is being sold on the TV ads. I naively thought, I can see what deals are being offered, but 90% of what I saw was basically about the low car payments (when you take in the down payment required in the fine print) or the great leasing rate.

We're concerned about it because looking at buying a reliable used car, not financing it with a car loan. We're looking at the price upfront and the total cost of ownership of different models.

Comparing the Total Costs of Owning Family Sedans

Starting off the search, we used the data from Consumer Reports, Edmunds, and your feedback on what models to look at. We knew we needed a car bigger than what we currently have. We also knew that we wanted a reliable car that got better gas mileage as well.

Our list started off with:

  • Ford Fusion
  • Honda Civic (new models are bigger)
  • Honda Accord
  • Hyundai Sonata
  • Scion XD
  • Subaru Impreza
  • Toyota Camry

We then looked at the numbers closer to get a better idea of what would be a good fit for us.

True Cost to Own According to Edmunds

A handy tool for us was Edmunds' own true cost to own calculator. It calculates total cost of ownership, considering depreciation, fuel costs, maintenance, repairs, and insurance premiums. For those interested in financing, the calculator also includes interest on loans with their report.

Besides entering the year, model, and trim you want, it also requests your zip code so you can get idea of what to expect in your area.

I'll share the numbers for 2008 models in our zip code, all the costs included. These are 5 years costs. Just for comparison (and for those curious), I'll include the total cost of ownership for the 2012 models in parentheses.

  • Ford Fusion: $32,234 ($42,449)
  • Honda Civic: $28,524 ($30,126)
  • Honda Accord: $34,065 ($36,811)
  • Hyundai Sonata: $30,806 ($35,661)
  • Scion XD: $29,722 ($30,836*)
  • Subaru Impreza: $33,096 ($34,654)
  • Toyota Camry: $31,892 ($35,919)

*I only found 2011 information for the xD.

It's not a complete picture, but it's a very useful tool when you're looking at different models and trying to find a good buy. Some of the numbers can be tweaked; for instance we shop around to get the best value with car insurance.

The Final 3 Models

Of course we looked at more than just the Edmunds' data. It's a very handy ballpark calculator. If you're a concious driver/owner you can lower those costs a bit.

After looking at several models, we've narrowed down our search. Basically we're looking for either:

  • Toyota Camry
  • Honda Accord
  • Hyundai Sonata

So far we've found that we can get a newer Sonata (less miles), so we may go that route.

Thoughts on Buying a Car

How many of you are looking for a car? What are your main factors for what to buy?

About Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..

7 comments add your comment

  1. Great breakdown of your selection process, as I just went through the same thing recently. Mazda is also a great quality vehicle that people tend to look over. You have narrowed it down to a great selection that I am sure your family will be pleased with whatever you choose.

    Personally, I have been extremely pleased with Hyundai and Kia. While Toyota and Honda have a great reputation, Hyundai and Kia are closing the distance and a much better value for the money. Any of your top three choices will last 10+ years easy if you just keep up on the maintenance. I have a lot of experience working in the vehicle service industry and these are the three that last the longest. It was nothing to see a 92 Camry pull in with over 600,000 miles and running strong. I had a 2000 Sonata that had 200,000+ miles on it when I got rid of it and it was still working well (maybe I should have kept it lol).

    Maintaining your vehicle is most important if you want the vehicle to last. Regardless of the car you choose (or have), It is vital that you stay on top of the manufacturer’s maintanance recommendations (this does not mean go to a dealer to get the work done… they’re OUTRAGEOUS!). You can read more on how to save on vehicle expenses on my blog if you are interested.

    Jeremiah Brown

    • Thanks Jeremiah for sharing your thoughts on cars. You’re right about Mazda – Consumer Reports ranked them the #2 car maker this year in their auto issue.

  2. Fuel economy is very important these days. I was reading an economist today that pointed out how our gasoline usage is down overall because we are driving more fuel efficient cars. Definitely a cost factor to be considering these days.

    • I don’t see the price of gas returning to $3/gallon or less so getting more miles from every tank fill up is becoming more important.

  3. I always make sure to factor in the re-sale value. Certain cars hold their value longer and it’s worth it to consider the depreciation. Good luck finding the right car.