- Do used cars make you shudder with fear?

The $25,000 Question

The average new price of a car has risen over $13,000 in ten years! Let's explore what you can get today for what the average new car cost in 2009.

The New Car Conundrum.

If you are the type of automotive enthusiast that fills your day with dreams of Lamborghini's and McLaren's - this article is not for you. If you’re the type of enthusiast who loves this industry deeply or a consumer who’s trying to wade through the noise - this article may be exactly what you’re looking for. Either way, I’m glad you’re here and I hope you read on.


That’s 13,546 hard-earned, stress-filled, nail-biting reasons to take notice. In just ten short years, this staggering number shows just how much more accepting we are as a society of rising prices on a scale never before seen in modern living. Prices that stand in stark contrast to other economic indicators like average family income and household debt. Prices that should be questioned and not accepted.

So, what is this number and why does it matter?

According to data from the BEA, $13,546.00 is the rise in cost of the average new car in America. You read that right - over $13,000 in ten short years! The reasons why this has happened are far too deep and frankly, far too boring to delve into here. What matters is that consumers are continuing to pay higher and higher prices for cars, trucks and SUVs than ever before. I’m here to tell you a simple fact: If you buy a brand new, $36,xxx vehicle - you are being screwed.

Care to know why? Read on:

The Argument

I’m going to make the argument that you can easily find a comparable vehicle that is reliable, has better features, is properly practical and may even be fun to drive for around $25,352, or, the average price of a new car in 2009! This is possible due to the magic of depreciation. Ohh. Ahhhh.

Yes, people, this is possible!

The answer is an often scary series of words for many consumers and enthusiasts alike: used cars. While the idea of a used car may strike fear into your heart, I’m here to explain how to properly vet a used car, the best purchase programs for used cars and what you can actually get for around $25,000.

Used Car Jitters

To many people, a used car is akin to taking on someone else’s old trash. Accepting their thrown away vehicle and trying to turn into something worthwhile for themselves. Many assume a dodgy service history, previous accidents or a hard life as standards for used cars. This is simply not the case! There are a myriad of reasons why someone may ditch their car and a great number of them do not equate to the “death of arrival” scenarios listed above.

It must also be noted that good cars are not designed to be thrown away. They are intricately and meticulously engineered to provide an owner with years of trouble-free service as long as they are maintained. Yes, maintained. In fact, a well-maintained vehicle can often outlive its owner! A well-maintained vehicle, devoid of its initial depreciation, can become an incredible bargain to consumers who are willing to put the work into finding them. Work that is, frankly, not all that hard to accomplish!

Certified Used

A key component of buying a used car is making sure that it’s in the best possible condition and has the best possible long term protection prior to purchasing the vehicle. Luckily, several awesome options exist for consumers.

When consumers buy new, they are most likely concerned about unforeseen repair horror stories that can accompany a used car. The internet is littered with these horror tales! Luckily for consumers, Certified Pre Owned Cars ( or CPO) are great buffers against possible used car horror stories.

Take Toyota’s CPO as a prime example:

Maximum Age/Mileage 7 years/less than 85,000 miles

Basic Warranty Terms 12 months/12, 000 miles

Powertrain Warranty 7 years/100,000 miles

Dealer Certification Required 160- or 174-point inspections

Roadside Assistance Yes

Deductible $50; none if a customer purchases a Toyota certified vehicle service agreement.

Return/Exchange Policy - N/A

Out-of-Town Repair/Service - Yes

Free Service Loan - Rental allowance

Special Finance Terms - Yes

Transferability - Yes

Satellite Radio Subscription - 3 months

Complimentary Service/Maintenance - No

A low mileage car (1 to 2 years old) may have not only the balance of the original bumper to bumper warranty but an additional powertrain warranty as well! This should make you feel more comfortable about taking the plunge on a used car. If this doesn’t, just wait until you see what you can actually get for your hard-earned money.

The RAV4 Question

For the sake of this article, I’ll assume the consumer described here is in the market for a family vehicle. That goes to say: 4 doors and a large trunk area with good mileage. Since Americans are purchasing SUVs in ever increasing droves, I think it’s important to focus on these vehicles as a basis for comparison. Especially since they carry a higher average MSRP and are partially responsible for the speedy rise in average costs.

In 2018, Toyota moved over 427,168 RAV-4 SUVs, an easy best seller for the brand and a good place to focus our attention.

While the base LE RAV4 goes for a relatively reasonable $25,850, several trim levels exist that can easily crest the RAV4 over $40,000. Yes, I said $40,000 for what used to be an economy SUV! Research also shows that consumers are continually buying higher trim versions of vehicles that include additional safety and luxury appointments. Turning attention back to the base RAV4, a brief rundown of its features shows a lack of infotainment, luxury and safety enhancements for the not unsubstantial $25,850.00 price.

The CPO Option

Since Toyota has a rather comprehensive lineup and fervent brand loyalty, I’m going to keep the discussion on used vehicles within the Toyota family and only show examples of Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles.

I believe that the best tool out there for researching and finding used cars is Autotrader. They have an incredibly powerful and easy to use layout that makes it easy to narrow down choices based on price, body style and even transmission type (for you ‘Save The Manual’ types)!

Larger and More Powerful

Toyota Highlander is a perfect example. It comes with a more powerful 6 cylinder (vs. the 4 cylinder motor in the RAV4) an abundance of room and even the option of 7 passenger seating when needed! While this is a ‘base’ trim for the Highlander, it is still comprehensively equipped and equivalent to the base models of the current generation RAV4.

Price: $24,984

Equivalent Model but Higher Trim:

This RAV4 Limited is a great example of a higher trim vehicle available in the previous years’ models. Mileage is a reasonable 35,601 and this Limited (top of RAV4 line for 2016) has a two-toned interior, upgraded sound system, lane keeping assistance, radar cruise control… etc.

Price: $23,495

Luxury For Less:

Think you can’t afford a luxury SUV? Think again! This Lexus NX 200t is both stylish and luxurious while still offering the flexibility of a compact SUV. This model also comes with a brisk turbocharged engine that also offers solid gas mileage. Lexus products also come with a commendable, solid, reputation for reliability.

Price: $24,988


As you can see from the above examples, which only represent a fraction of what is available in the market, there is an incredibly strong value proposition with a Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle. You get a lightly used, well taken care of vehicle that comes with an additional, extended warranty to cover any unforeseen repairs! You also can avoid the pitfalls of new car depreciation and get a larger, more well equipped vehicle for your hard earned dollar.

This exact same mentality can be applied to ANY BRAND! Seriously, what the hell are you doing buying brand new cars people?

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Comments (10)

  • Yes, CPO vehicles are a great option. Be advised, not all CPO programs are created equal. My Audi came with the remainder of the factory warranty plus a 6 year/100K CPO warranty as well. To get the same for our “CPO” X3 cost us additional $$$. Plus, we ended up having to replace the tires just a few months later (something that some CPO programs will do ahead of time). Do your homework before you shop, folks. Cheers!

      1 year ago
  • “Save the manuals” The big issue I have with Autotrader’s search engine is there is no way to insure a listing is accurate. Too many lunkheads list shiftable automatics as a manual making it necessary to weed through the results to find the true manual cars. If it doesn’t have three pedals, it’s NOT a manual!

      1 year ago
    • I can not tell you the number of times that a car would be listed as a manual and I would show up to the dealer ....only to find an automatic sitting there. I guess that's the issue with car dealers and that is another whole article in and of itself.

        1 year ago
    • Agree! Cheers!

        1 year ago
  • Inflation causes part of the problem. The rich have boosted their banks dramatically in that time frame. The poor have gone further into debt. We need to pay off our debts in order to raise the value of the dollar, this will lower the prices on all vehicles.

      1 year ago
  • I don't know if you have them in America but in the UK we have these huge used car centres. Most of the used cars sold there are either ex business fleet cars, hire cars or cars traded off from manufacturers that can't afford to have loads of used cars sitting on their lots. Half of the cars they sell aren't very old either some are 2-4 years old.

      1 year ago
    • We have them here too. The company here is “Carmax”. There’s also loads and loads of dealers with used cars too, all selling them for relatively cheap compared to new.

        1 year ago