This subject is debated endlessly in the automotive community over the years, so naturally I thought I’d take my own swing at the topic. It wasn’t going to be easy, since I’m not one to commonly pick sides. So I decided that I was going to look at this with both logic and context, and try to take everything else out of the process.
So let’s see if we can’t come to a conclusion: What is better overall – Old Cars or New Cars? We’re including classics and even antique cars for this too; they’re not going to get a special category, they’re going to be grouped in with everything 20 years and older for this article for the sake of “fairness”. We’re also excluding electric cars and hybrids, because those vehicles are another topic entirely.
My personal opinion is that older cars are better, but that’s just an opinion backed with emotion and experience, and it doesn’t mean much in what we’re trying to discuss here. So how would you actually figure out what cars are generally better and why? Well, I decided to do some research and see what other people said. For me, an old car is 30 years old or more, but for this article let’s say a new(er) car is under the 20 year mark, and everything older would be considered an “old” car or classic vehicle of sorts. Though some people might think 10 or 15 years is old for a car, I think 20 years is a good middle ground for the large majority of people. So to begin, let’s start going through 10 different arguments from each side, and see how well they really hold up.
1. The “Emissions” Argument – That new cars have lower emissions and pollute less, and it’s less likely that older vehicle included as many recycled materials, or were built as efficiently as the newer car. This is mostly true since these days all cars are designed to be more efficient and pollute as little as possible to comply with the mandatory rising EPA regulations. However, there is one problem with this argument: 20 years ago and older the regulations were different and what was expected of the auto manufactures was also different, so comparing the two cars 20 years apart isn’t entirely fair when it comes to comparing pollution and the time period. But regardless, buying a new car would be better than buying a used car if your goal is to pollute as little carbon as possible, even if the process of building a new car uses both energy and resources, and there are also environmental costs to disposing of the old car.
2. The “Depreciation” Argument – That buying an old car will be cheaper since the value of the car dropped since it was new and buying it used will save you money, this is true most of the time. But if the car has damage that needs to be repaired, you spend however more it may cost to fix the issues. If the country you’re in happens to be in a state of inflation and used car prices skyrocket, you spend more to get a decent used car in general. You only benefit in the circumstances when buying a used car if you don’t overpay, don’t have any immediate problems, and you can keep and use the car as long as you would a new car. Though I suppose this argument is only relevant to you if you can’t afford a new car or don’t care to buy a new car.
3. The “Reliability” Argument – That new cars are more reliable, dependable, and better built than old cars, however this argument doesn’t work for one reason. Of course the new car is more reliable, it’s new, it had better be more reliable compared to the 30 year old car with over 200k miles on it you’ve been driving. If not then it would be classified as a lemon (That’s what the lemon law is for), you can’t compare the two because one is so much older than the other is, and the only real way the new car will prove it’s honest reliability is by making it the same amount of time as the old one did, is it so much to ask that you should get 100k miles and 10 years with no major issues out of a new car before calling it “reliable” in the first place? Because it seems like some cars made now still can’t hit that mark, just like some cars 50 years ago couldn’t hit that mark either.
4. The “Simplicity” Argument – That old cars are more simple and easy to fix than new car, this is true but to an extent. There’s no denying that old cars are more simple, but sometimes they require more manual labor, and “simple” doesn’t always mean “low maintenance”. Because an old car is still old and will still need work to keep it going, some of it possibly being expensive and time consuming, and most new cars are at least a few years away from needing any extensive work. Therefore while old cars maybe more simple, that doesn’t mean they’ll be less troublesome, so if you own and are planning on keeping an old car you better start learning what you can about so you can fix the possible upcoming problems, but it shouldn’t be too hard because they’re more simple, right?
5. The “Safety” Argument – That new cars have better drivers aids and better safety in a crash, this is obviously true. As new cars were meant to abide the pedestrian safety laws and the new crash tests the NHTSA has made, as a car 20 years ago while having some of those things in mind wasn’t fully designed to do what the new cars do. And if you want to go back even further to 30 or 40 years ago, most cars didn’t even have things like airbags, TCS, ABS, etc. And by going back 50 or 60 years ago, you simply have the lap belt and nothing else, as cars were not made with safety in mind back then. But that never stopped people from driving like maniacs back then, and none of the new warning systems in cars do that now either, thought it appears they’re going to start putting speed limiters and kill switches in cars soon so…maybe they will soon.
6. The “Car Payment And Registration Fees” Argument – That old cars are easier to register and insure, and you don’t have to pay car payments. I think this is true in general, auto insurance for older cars may be cheaper than insuring newer vehicles of the same make and model if the used car is cheaper to repair or replace. Most cars depreciate over time, decreasing in value, which lowers the maximum amount an insurance company would have to pay in the event of an accident. Also, as your car gets older and decreases in value, you can make your insurance cheaper by dropping optional coverages like comprehensive and collision. But sometimes the insurance company will just screw you over and make you pay double or even triple what your car is worth, and if your car increases in value you may have to pay more depending on how your insurance company works.
7. The “Technology” Argument – That new cars have all the newest technology and gadgets that you can use when you buy it, which of course is true. But it can also be a downside, it’s unknown how long that tech is going to last, and when it does stop functioning how much will it cost to repair? And do you really need all those gadgets in the first place? How often are you going to use them? How many of the gadgets are going to prove useful to you or your family? Will they need updating? And there’s a personal preference (For me at least) when it comes to where everything on the dash is centered, is everything at least close to where you would like it to be? You’d better hope so, because now you have it and you’re going to have to use it as long as you have the car.
8. The “Design” Argument – That old cars look nicer compared new cars of the modern age. To me this is true, but that’s a personal preference, and it might differ with other peoples opinion. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I that’s also true, as I’ve heard some people actually say that some modern cars are better looking than some older cars. I think one of the best things about this argument is that you can compare any two cars to each other to see for yourself which one looks better, and so can anyone else. But you do have to take in consideration what type of cars you’re comparing, like how it isn’t fair if you compare a 1970 Mercury Cyclone to a 2003 Honda Fit, because of course one is more attractive than the other.
9. The “Performance” Argument – That new cars are generally much faster than old cars, this is mostly true with some exceptions. But for the most part horsepower is now very easy to obtain either with buying a high horsepower or modding the new car you already have, plus the factor of the horsepower rating before 1972 being exaggerated. Not to say there weren’t some fast cars in the 1950s and onward, but now the horsepower is higher thanks to engine technology such as direct injection and turbo chargers in production cars, however one thing that hasn’t changed in the modern era is speed is still a matter of money, how fast do you want to go?
10. The “Personality” Argument – That old cars have more personality than new cars, I think this is true, but this one is also personal preference. Though I would say generally older cars seem to have more personality than newer cars considering how most new cars seem to just either look aggressive or boring with very little style in between, with many older cars having so many different faces that it makes it rather easy to tell them apart (at least to a certain point), though i suppose when that started to end is when the majority of car companies started doing badge engineering and having world engines for their cars, but I guess that’s for the individual to decide.
11. The “Customization” Argument – That when you buy a new car, you can customize it with whatever factory options you want, and while it’s true and a plus when it comes to buying a new car, with the automobile aftermarket you can do almost anything you want to your car after you buy it, but the difference is with the factory options the car just comes to you like you want it rather than having to add the modifications after you bought it for even more money, and some people just prefer to get their chosen options from the company website and leave it at that, and that’s perfectly fine if that’s all you want to do with your car, sometimes the factory has things that the aftermarket can’t offer you yet anyway…or does it?
12. The “Social Capital” Argument – That old cars (More specifically classic and vintage cars) offer you great opportunities like friendly conversation, car clubs, car shows, and for you to learn more about cars in general. This has become true more and more as time moves forward and cars begin to age, and many people find it fascinating that someone cared to keep an old car on the road and maintained all this time, and from what it seems this will most likely always be the case when it comes to vehicles aging. It’s funny to think that some cars from the 1990s are starting to hit classic status now, and it’s even stranger to think that cars from the abyss we call the 2020s will one day possibly be classics too, that is if they make it that far, and hopefully at least a few will.
13. The “Handling” Argument – That new cars handle better than older cars, this is generally true. But again, thanks to the aftermarket there are ways to solve this, as new or better springs, shocks, and tires will do wonders for almost any car of any year. And there were many cars back in the 90s and before that handled rather well too, though most of them were sports cars or race cars, as some vehicles like big sedans or trucks were never known being well handling vehicles back then, and while both categories handle better now, I still wouldn’t recommend using a stock ford F-250 as a race vehicle.
14. The “Driver Engagement” Argument – That old cars are more engaging to drive and feel connected to the car, this is true…I guess. I mean the less technology the more in tune you have to be with your car depending on how it’s been treated, however I would argue that the auto industry has still made driver engaging cars in the modern era, like the Dodge Viper and the new Toyota GR86, both sports cars with manual transmission, and speaking of transmissions this is the same argument is some use to say that manual transmissions are more driver engaging than automatic transmissions, which is also true because you have to do more just to have the car function, though this could still be said just for older cars in general.
15. The “Rust” Argument – That new cars have better rust-proofing and protection than older cars, this seems to have been proven true over time, but it does still come down to the climate. Some cars from the 60s and 70s would rust away in 10 years, while others would stay solid for over 50 years, because metal will still rust regardless of the protection if it’s sits on the shore long enough. But I’d say for the general climate newer cars do have better rust-proofing, not to say you can’t find an older vehicle with almost no rust, but it’s likely that it lived in a dry climate it’s whole life.
16. The “Project” Argument – That old cars are more fun projects than newer cars, I personally think this is an opinion rather than an argument, but it can be true sometimes. As old cars can be easier to work on and customize, the potential for a project can be much higher than a newer car if you have more options or a smaller budget. But not everyone is in the same position, so what project in general my be better for some people than it is for others, as it all mostly depends on your budget, circumstances, and personal tastes. And not really if it’s new or old, or even if it’s fast or slow for that matter.
17. The “Nostalgia” Argument – That new cars are always better than the vehicles of previous years, and that we are just nostalgic for the cars we grew up in and because that’s what we learned to work on, and just because we see modern stuff in all states of disrepair doesn’t mean that cars a decade or two back were better. I don’t see this is true, but maybe my view doesn’t count because I drive older cars than I grew up in today, and to me old cars drive and ride just as good as the new cars do, provided they are taken care of. So this argument doesn’t work on me because I didn’t grow up in a 1960s or 1970s car, but I instead bought them when I got older so I could experience them. But maybe some of you agree that it’s all just nostalgia, and have stories of “Never meet your hero’s”.
18, The “Planned Obsolescence” Argument – That old cars weren’t made to break as easily as newer cars are, I don’t think this is true, at least not fully. Because as far back as the 1960s some cars were made cheaply to save money, and if you go into 1970s economy cars like the Ford Pinto and the Chevy Vega both had problems due to cheap materials and poor build quality, cars have almost always used poor materials in certain places to save money, the base and economy models are especially built to a specific budget. And this still continues today, but it’s not as recent as some people think, but I would say that some newer cars are built to start falling apart a little after the warranty is up (Or even before). Even though as a rule, I would hope that cars from any era would be better built and hold up better than cars from previous eras.
And so, with 18 arguments (9 for each side) and after a lot of thinking, I had an answer, but it didn’t come to me until I thought about it in a more “Out of the box” way. I believe the simple truth is this: The best car that you can buy is the car that makes you truly happy or satisfied, regardless of how new or old it is. Now you may be asking how I came to that conclusion and why it’s true, because basically what I’m saying is that the whole “Old Vs New” argument isn’t actually that helpful in the first place.
Remember that time when someone asked you for first car advice or for car advice in general, and they bought the exact thing you told them to get? Yeah, I don’t either, because of all the times someone asked me for car advice I can’t remember one time they actually took it, I just remember the times they ended up not taking my advice but didn’t want me to say “I told you so” when something went wrong, and kept the car no matter how expensive the repair bills got.
It was just the car they wanted, and not the car they needed, and they were looking to me to validate their opinion of what they wanted to buy, rather than what was smart to buy. But if that car really makes them happy, regardless of how expensive and impractical it is, why should I criticize them for driving it?
All cars have different problems and solutions, and all people have different tastes and opinions when it comes to those problem. Cars can be difficult to repair decades later, as some of the craftsmanship that was common back then and used to build those parts ends up being extremely uncommon years later. While the majority of the car maybe just common materials, parts and service that’s period correct maybe extremely difficult to find today.
The idea that the previous generation of a model is superior to the current generation is continuously updating. The models that people now prop up as the gold standard of automotive design were once the new models that people chastised as being uninspired and too technologically advanced.
A good friend of mine has this 1978 Chevy El Camino in the picture above, it has a 350 V8 and a 4 speed manual, and it’s an absolute pile of sh*t (in his words). Something breaks on it on at least a monthly basis, it has front end damage from a fender bender, at idle it always sounds like it’s loudly gargling water, it has mismatched body parts, and the most most recent issue is the headlights completely stopped working. Oh, he does lots of burnouts in it, which is why it’s gone though 4 transmissions and frequently needs new rear tires, so this car is an actual death trap that’s highly unreliable and unsafe due to the lack of seatbelts.
But he loves it, he drives it everywhere and anywhere because it’s his only car, and he will keep repairing it and driving it until it either rots away or gets damaged beyond repair. Is this the best car for him? No way, but is it the right car for him? I think so, I think that him and his car go hand in hand with each other, and that it completes him in ways not many other cars could. And he loves it for what it is and has lots of fun with it, so why should I tell him to do otherwise?
If you have a running and driving car that’s over 40 years old or more, regardless of the amount of work it needed to get there, that’s still impressive considering it was not made to last that long. Because no car or any consumer product for that matter is or ever was made to last that long, do you think any of the Ford Model T’s were made to last 100 years? Do you think any of the 1960s muscle cars were made to last 50 years? No, of course not, but some of them did, because someone cared about it enough to keep it going.
I can only hope that the passion for maintaining a vehicle for an extended period of time continues through the 21st century, even though I have serious doubts that most of the new cars will age well, I still think it’s worth trying to keep them on the road for the 30 years or longer. And I know i’m not the only one who thinks that, but if anyone ever asks me what’s better? old cars or new cars, I’m just going to tell them “Buy whatever makes you happy.”