Debt-free living: What to do about a car

We’re looking into buying a new car.

We’ve been a one car family for the majority of our marriage, & we’ve sort of lucked out, so far, in the car department.

There was a time when we bought a second, “commuter” car for $1600. We had it for a year, then sold it for $1000. That was a pretty good deal.

Then there was that time I met a lady at the park & she gave me a car. (Seriously.) After talking with her for awhile, she got my number, then called me later, & said, “I know this may be weird, but I’d like to give you a car.” It wasn’t new (in fact, the back bumper was bashed in, but it worked), we had to for a year, then sold it for $1250. That was also a good deal.

Our first car, a ’98 Ford contour, was purchased from my parents shortly before we married, for $3,000. We had that car for 6 1/2 years, then traded that car for my parent’s ’04 Chevy Venture mini-van. We still own this car, & it is our only car.

Some people cannot believe we only have one car. It’s no big deal. Some days I take Joseph to work, if I want the car. Most days, though, he takes the car, & yes, I’m left alone without a car for the day.

But really, it’s not bad.

I walk my kids to school, &/or they take the bus. We can walk to the community pool or park (only takes 5 minutes). My kids aren’t taking piano lessons, or doing sports yet, so it’s rather uncomplicated. And in many ways, I actually really like it.

On the days I take Joseph to work, I get extra time with him. Then when we pick him up, the kids listen to a book on CD & there’s excitement about going to get Joseph. On the ride home the kids get to talk about their day, & we all get more time together.

It’s a no-brainer to not have a second car at this point in our lives. The cost of a second car (maintenance, upkeep, insurance, registration, gas) is far more costly than the small sacrifices we make in only having one vehicle.

Our mini-van has 230K miles.

We’ve spent $1600 to get the transmission replaced (4 months ago). $500 for brand new tires (2 months ago). $500 for a new alternator (that happened last week). The engine sporadically overheats. When the car idles, it’s jumpy. We’re getting to the point in the car’s life span where it’s a money pit. Things keep breaking, & there’s no end to the repairs. In short: it’s on it’s last legs. And we’re not sure what to do about it.

We have this plan to get out of debt. We don’t want a car payment. And really, if we do have a car payment, that’s going to put us back a great deal, from our goal of getting out of debt soon.

We have a good chunk of money coming to us (travel stipend/moving reimbursement for military stuff from last year). We planned on putting it all towards our debt. But, it could be enough to buy a used car.

The thing is, I’m not sure we should buy a used car. At least one that is less than $5K, which is our cash limit. It seems like such a gamble.

What if we buy it & the next month we have to replace the engine, brakes, or any number of things?

(I guess I’m feeling this way, in part, because we’ve recently spent nearly $3,000 in repairs in the past 4 months, so forgive me if I’m wary of used cars.)

It’s funny I’m having all of these reservations about a used car, since we’ve only driven used cars since we were married. But now that we have 4 kids & Joseph has to get work (no option of riding a bike or taking the bus), we have to have reliable transportation.

Our interest rate on the debt we have is 6%. It seems logical to pay off that debt with the money we’re getting & then finance a used car at a better interest rate (we can get something around 2%). Also, buying a newer car means potentially more miles that we will get out of it, less $$ spent on repairs, & more reliability (which is crucial, especially when we only have one car).

I guess I’m writing this because I want you to reassure me that we should buy a used car with cash. (I know, there is power in cash.)

Either way, it’s going to set us back in our goal of getting out of debt, but I fear I’m tempted to get a car payment so we can buy a slightly newer (not new, mind you, just newer than what we could afford for $5K), more reliable car, when my better sense says that we shouldn’t finance a car. After all, I know not having a car payment is one of the best ways to trim expenses, save money, build wealth, etc.

Our other option is to just keep driving this car until it dies. Though not really a solution, it does buy us some more time. Still, we cannot forever put off the inevitable.

We’ve come to the point where we don’t want to put another dime into the dying beast, but who knows? Maybe it will last us 3, 6, or 9 months more?

Trouble is, there’s no way of knowing, & if/when it does completely run it’s course, we have no way of selling it & it’s quite costly to salvage a vehicle. Which is why we’re starting to think of getting a car now, before this one dies for good.

What to do, what to do.

Please advise, dear reader.

(& thank you, in advance, ox)


  1. cikyah
    on March 20, 2015 at 5:56 am said:

    hello there..
    im also in the midst of being a financial freedom person..
    we dont have credit cards, so from there you really need to spend cash rather than swipe your credit card till end of the credit limit.
    we also did this, when we want to buy sofa, we’ve dea; with this one shop.we paid monthly after we have settled the payment the only we can get our sofa.
    my 2 cents,if you are not desperate,pleae dont ,make debt.

  2. Nightvid Cole
    on January 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm said:

    It’s been almost a year, what did you end up doing?

  3. Katie
    on March 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm said:

    There are a couple of truths that come with getting out of debt. The first is that there will always be something that will set you back. Always. That is just how life is, and it is SO frustrating. Now that we are past that baby step of Dave Ramsey’s, we occasionally dip into our emergency fund.

    As for the car, I think I would buy used with cash. But first, take a really good look around. Really see what is out there and what you can get for your money. Also, see if there is someone in your ward or stake who knows cars and wouldn’t mind checking out a few used cars so you know whether it is in decent shape or not. I am a believer in that when I am trying to be a good steward over my money and follow principles based upon gospel truths with my money, the Lord will always provide. When we bought our last used car for cash, I was just remembering how the church has counseled that going into debt is acceptable for a home or school, but they never mention a car.

    That being said, that doesn’t meant financing a used car isn’t the right solution. I would set a strict limit, and only look at used cars for that amount. Try to get away with only financing 2-3k and quickly pay it off.

    Just be prayerful. The Lord will guide you to the right solution. But don’t be afraid to spread the word around your local Mormon network for a mechanic or a family that doesn’t need their older van anymore. Try every solution you can think of and it will work out!

  4. April
    on March 22, 2013 at 8:30 pm said:

    I’m not sure there is anyway you are going to get a good, reliable used car-really a van b/c you have 4 kids-for 5k. no way. it’s gonna be a piece of junk that will be dead in a year or cost you 10k in repairs . you have to spend more than that. of course you want to pay off your debt but you also have choosen to have a lot of kids (i have 3 btw) and one thing that comes w/ more kids is more money. so while you could get away w/ a 5k car that will die in a year or 2 you can’t do that anymore. the best advice i can give is research the heck out of your brand. make sure it’s the top, if not *the* top brand-and then go for it. suck it up and pay the money. it hurts bad (we just aquired a $550/mo payment of our van) but knowing the car will last 10 or 15 yrs is worth it . (We expect our car to last that long). that means 10 yrs or so w/o a car payment and w/o too many repairs b/c we know we bought a good brand.

  5. Crystal
    on March 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm said:

    I have to add my $.02! Two years ago we spent every penny of our savings and bought our minivan for $5600. It was an ’03, but with only 63000 miles. The next month we had to have the transmission rebuilt, which was $2600. I would say it would be worth it to finance a newer used car. A reliable one. Not a dodge caravan. Pray about it, it will work out. We prayed about our purchase and felt good about it, and even though it was frustrating, things have worked out! Be patient with yourself! Most people don’t graduate from law school and have all their debt gone within a couple years! You’re on the right track! 🙂

  6. lfwfv
    on March 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm said:

    We drive 94 Volvos. My husband knows the car, it is well-made, he knows how to fix and maintain almost everything on them, and they are workhorses. We are on our third one! When our first one was getting ready to die, my husband started looking for a great deal. We waited and bought a great used 94 Volvo for just over 5K just before our first car died. We donated the first car and received a tax deduction for it.

    My husband is very good with fixing cars, and he was able to do a super thorough inspection of the car before we bought it, so he would know what we were getting. I would say, if you (or somebody you know) can find a particular year/model of van that tends to be reliable (look around when you’re driving and see which older vans tend to show up over and over again…good chance they are long-lived), and thoroughly inspect the van before you buy it (even better if the seller kept meticulous logs, which our seller did), i think it is feasible to buy a good used car. I do think it helps to be able to “scope” for it for a little while, and to pray your current one lasts in the meantime.

  7. Brenna
    on March 22, 2013 at 12:54 pm said:

    I would say buy used, but definitely not for as low as $5,000. When we bought our second car we saved a large down payment ($15,000) and financed the other $15,000. It drives me insane that we didnt just get a decent 5 year old car for that $15,000 and owed nothing! I had reasoned with myself that we needed new because we were going to drive it until it broke down, but now we’re thinking about having a third child, which would mean a bigger car! Just be careful if you do buy used, a lot of the prices are inflated because people are all about used these days which has driven prices up. You seem like the type that would do a lot of research before you purchase either way. Good luck!

  8. Bitt
    on March 22, 2013 at 12:33 pm said:

    Wait until this one dies then finance a new car. In the end the repair bills can suck you dry.

  9. Angela S
    on March 22, 2013 at 11:04 am said:

    The Lord has made it work for you in the past. Do. Not. Buy. New. Go used, but not ultra old or necessarily under 5k. I would do under 10k though. I would fast and pray. I would communicate with the Lord of your desire to stay out of debt but concerns about transportation and ask Him to connect the dots and make it all work. First I would pray for your current vehicle to last as long as possible. Ask for specific blessings. Especially right now, ask that you can got 6-12 months before the next repair so that you have additional time to save. Second, maybe you slow down the debt snowball and put money aside so that you can pay more cash for a new vehicle. Third, yes a car interest rate is lower than you debt interest rate but the pride of paying cash and sticking to your convictions is more important. I’m 99% sure from what you’ve been saying that you’re paying more than the minimums on the debt. Sock it away until you have say, 10k. Then search and watch for that great, low milage, deal for what you need. The Lord will provide. He did this for us last year and it was awesome. We ended up spending about 7k plus new tires etc we got a new to us van that is reliable for 8k. So. Worth. the. wait. Good luck!

  10. Tiffany Nay
    on March 22, 2013 at 10:22 am said:

    Totally agree with Devon, and you know she’s right because you guys have looked to Dave Ramsey and his program! Have faith, and keep doing all that you guys are doing to get out of debt. Come on, if a random woman GAVE you a car once, it would be less of a miracle for you guys to find a (new to you) used car that would work out 🙂 you can do it without financing a car! I believe in you!!

  11. dani
    on March 22, 2013 at 10:08 am said:

    So in other words, just keep driving this car until it actually really truly dies, and try not to worry about your next car until that time comes. Because, really, you CAN buy a car in a day. It’s hard not to worry about the future though, I know!

  12. dani
    on March 22, 2013 at 10:06 am said:

    I would just try to have faith that with all the repairs you’ve just put into it, that it will last another year. It just might surprise you. We’ve got a car that has 315K miles on it we are hoping lasts at least to 350K!

  13. Kat Kirkpatrick
    on March 22, 2013 at 9:47 am said:

    My dad was a car dealer and car dealer wisdom says that it’s worth it to buy a new car if you’ll keep it 10 years or more. Check out the car buying section on (my favorite consumer advocate). All kinds of good info there. Good luck! Hope all is well with you and your family!

  14. Alisa Taber
    on March 22, 2013 at 9:47 am said:

    if the money you are waiting for will pay off your other debt. I would say do that and then have a car payment. The church says debt is okay for college, house and a car. Also if this is a concern for you it is a concern for you Heavenly Father, I would make it a matter of prayer and possible even fasting. My husband and I both have cars that are completely paid off. we need both of them because my husband’s car is a stick shift and surprise i do not know how to drive a stick. However my car is 1997 and we have replaced almost everything on it at least once. that last major repair was about 6 months ago. I have with basic maintenance on the car now and having a mechanic that you can trust. He lets me know of things that are not quite ready to be repaired, but will give me the cost of fixing it or his best estimate. and give us a time frame and will sometimes I can save enough to pay for the repair. I right now, it sounds that you are close to having a new car in a old frame which could last for longer than a year.

  15. Devon
    on March 22, 2013 at 9:47 am said:

    Check out Financial Peace or The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. We’ve got out of debt and not having a car payment was key. I would strongly, no absolutely, say don’t finance anything! We were in your shoes and just saved our money til we could buy a car with cash

    • Janae Wise
      on March 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm said:

      I have read & own The Total Money Makeover. We aren’t following the Dave Ramsey plan, per se, but we are doing the debt snowball. My question for you is, I know paying cash is important, but, we have to have reliable transportation that we’re not constantly throwing money at for repairs, & do we delay paying off our debt snowball in order to save up the amount of money needed to buy a reliable car? Because if so, I’m not sure we have time to do that. We may, but it all depends on how long this car lasts. It may die tomorrow, it may last until the end of the year. It’s the uncertainty that is stressful in addition to the fact that should it die tomorrow, we don’t have enough $$ to buy the kind of car we need (a reliable minivan) & it would take at least 6 months or more to save up enough money to buy one in cash. If we did finance, we would still buy used. Would love to know what you think.

      • Elise
        on March 22, 2013 at 8:51 pm said:

        Sock a car payment away as long as you can. If it only would take you six months (wow!) to pay with cash, then just keep saving until your current car truly dies (as others have said, you may be surprised). If it dies before six months, finance the rest and pay it off fast. If it last longer than six months, keep saving for a nicer car! We have a pretty small payment on our used car, and while I’d love not to have a payment, we didn’t have cash when we needed a car, unfortunately. We were in a similar situation (walking around here is not an option, brad’s work is 20 miles away, and the kids go to a school withou bus transportation that is five miles away). I think prayer is always a good idea. 🙂