I was looking for a cheap car and noticed that I can buy a 2006 Toyota Prius with more than 200k miles off from Craigslist for $3500 or the same Prius with a little less than 100k from a dealership for $10000. Most people I talked about the subject said that it is better to buy off a dealership than from Craigslist, although they didn't know the details other than saying that a 200k miles car will certainly give more maintenance than a 100k miles car and that the dealership will give warranty. I drew a table to calculate the possible expenses:

Assuming that the car will be driven for 4 years and 50k miles and both will be insured for state minimum:

200k miles Prius off Craigslist

  • Price of purchase: ($3500)
  • Registration in California: ($367)
  • Expected maintenance: ($6000)
  • Price of resale: $3000
  • TCO: $6867

100k miles Prius off dealership

  • Price of purchase: ($10000)
  • Registration in California: ($890)
  • Expected maintenance: ($3000)
  • Price of resale: $6000
  • TCO: $7890

Thus the cheap Prius seems to be still a good deal. Am I mistaken somewhere on the reasoning?

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    Before buying a car from a private party be sure to have an independent mechanic look at it. Paying $100 for them to check it over is about the best investment you'll ever make. Apr 8, 2016 at 21:00
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    I don't think you're saving that much. Its 1000 bucks but you're dealing with 100k more miles...That's a lot of miles.
    – JonH
    Apr 8, 2016 at 21:46
  • Seeing the number in front of me in the dash does not seems to be very bothering to me. Actually I had a car with lower mileage before and I felt bad every time I drove it to a long trip since it was losing a great value like that. By getting one with a already high mileage probably will make that anxiety go away in long trips. Apr 8, 2016 at 22:13
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    this is two different questions : Craig's List vs. dealer is one question, the other is 100K miles vs. 200K miles. Flipping who is selling the 200K car could change the answer. Apr 9, 2016 at 11:09
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    You are obviously not buying the SAME car from the two places, but two different cars. The fact that they're the same year & model isn't really relevant. (And perhaps you have different standards than I do, but I wouldn't call $10K 'cheap'.) But I don't think there is any cut & dried answer: it depends on the cars, and how much you know about mechanical work. Personally, I would be very reluctant to buy a car from a dealer, as in my experience they a) have a lot of overhead that adds to costs, and b) are no more honest than the average Craigslist seller.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 9, 2016 at 17:11

4 Answers 4


I do not think you are missing much. One thing you have right is low cost cars depreciate almost nothing. One thing you are missing is your satisfaction index. Driving a 200K car for 4 years requires a bit of motivation when your friends are driving new cars. Typically you need a larger goal to keep you focused. That might be saving money, getting out of debt, or obtaining an education.

Buying a car from a private party, Craigslist is only one source, can save both parties money as the "middle man" is cut out.

If you have the ability to do so, one can save a lot of money by doing your own brakes. The info is up on youtube, and I typically "earn" between 100-300/hour doing this work myself.

Most of the time warranties do not pay off. At the core, they are insurance and insurance companies are in the business to make money. If your car is likely to need repairs a policy may be unattainable or very high in price.

  • Most of my friends and coworkers drive Prii, that's why I wanted to get one for me. And I think that it is just overkill to pay $25000 for a car that, even the 2004 model, has a design that still is current and the 2016 looks quite ugly for me. My goal is to keep this one until I can afford paying for a house then a large car once I have kids. I do want to maintain the car for myself, and I hope this will be a motivation for me to do the work on my own. I agree that warranties are a waster of time, it is just too much trouble. I never bothered the warranty on my PCs, always repaired myself. Apr 8, 2016 at 21:03
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    Just a note: Most electric and hybrid vehicles require fewer brake changes because they don't actually wear the brake pads or rotors during soft breaking; instead, they use a system that transfers the energy to the battery. Apr 8, 2016 at 21:17

The 200K vehicle is likely the better deal. Get your own mechanic to check it out. If it doesn't have major issues, it will likely cost you less.

Why? Because you've wisely included $6000 in expected maintenance. Yet it has the possibility of not needing more than $500 of maintenance during the 4 years you plan on owning it. It's a gamble, but you have the chance to save $5500 of that estimated cost with that vehicle.

Note that you will also need to factor in tires for either vehicle, unless that is included in your maintenance estimate.

  • I put in the maintenance bracket anything that the car needs to be operated besides gas, insurance and taxes. That included oil, parts, tires, brake pads, and so on. I just ask myself if this is a right estimate. Apr 8, 2016 at 21:11
  • Glad to hear you included tires... many people forget to include those when estimating vehicle costs. Apr 8, 2016 at 21:13
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    Pretty much everything in the Prius is serviceable, the inverter, motor-generators, most boards. They are just electronics and a good electronics technician can fix them without replacing, differently from mechanic parts that have to be replaced even after a minimal dent. The worst part to service is the catalytic converter which can cost about $2000, mainly because the law does not allow owners to get an aftermarket, so Toyota set the price they want. Ouch! Apr 9, 2016 at 0:54

I agree with the previous comments one thing that got brought up a while back when I was looking into purchasing a Prius was the battery replacement, someone once told me it was very expensive in the event it failed and needed to be changed, I'm not talking about the 12 volt but the big nickel metal hydride one. Another thing to factor is the gas that you will save, normally the Prius get double the gas milage of that of civic or a corolla but unless you drive a bunch of miles per day you really don't see the pay off. Also if you can pull a CarFax on the car, the 20 dollar investment is worth it because you can find out if it was in an accident or if it's a lemon! I once bought a bmw and didn't do a CarFax and later ended up finding out that the car had more owners than a taxi had customers. Also just like said above 200k car vs 100k doest always mean the 100k is better off, especially if the previous owner never services it well. Get the car checkout before you make the deal to buy.

  • A Prius cost roughly the same as a Corolla or a Civic at same year, so this does not count a lot. The batteries don't really have to be replaced, which will cost around $3000 in the dealership, you can just recondition them at around $800, but I have the feeling that a Prius with past 200k miles would have a new set already (or reconditioned). Apr 8, 2016 at 23:05
  • Cool good to know for my future ref, I might get a Prius in the near future
    – Mr Hons
    Apr 9, 2016 at 0:46

You seem to be on the right track. I feel, though, that it's worth addressing your maintenance budget. Even if both cars described in your question are from the same model year, one has been in service 2x more; one car has been on the road, in weather, twice as much as the other. I'm not sure what's being represented in the $6k of maintenance, but a whole host of systems can require maintenance or replacement at 200k+ miles. A/C compressor, all sorts of rubber parts (seals, hoses, belts, bushings), computer systems, stereo, window regulators, the list goes on. I don't know at what point the battery on a hybrid needs to be replaced, or what that replacement entails, but likely the battery or the hybrid recharge system will require something after 200k miles of service. I would learn more about what actual maintenance a high mileage prius can experience.

To answer your question though, at this level of "used" I don't think the dealership adds anything to the equation. When you're buying certified pre-owned, the dealership/manufacturer relationship and warranty can be meaningful. When you're buying a 100k+ miles car from a random small used car lot it might as well be a stranger on craigslist...

  • I've heard of taxi drivers with over a million miles on their Prius batteries. Apr 8, 2016 at 21:08
  • From what I got in forums and with a coworker, the battery pack of the Prius needs to be replaced around 150k to 200k miles for $3000, brand new from the dealer, or $800 for a reconditioned one. Apr 8, 2016 at 21:10
  • @gabrieldiego, with that in mind I would restrict the scope of your shopping to 200k+ miles priuses that have had the battery replaced already.
    – quid
    Apr 8, 2016 at 21:16
  • @RockPaperLizard and they might just be filling it up with more gas...
    – quid
    Apr 8, 2016 at 21:17
  • @quid Lol, that's not how electric motor / combustion engine hybrid vehicles work. Apr 8, 2016 at 21:18

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