Every year, thousands of college students cross the stage to receive their diplomas. Graduating college (or high school) unlocks a new phase of life for each young adult. No longer are graduates students. They trade textbooks for jobs. They trade tuitions for salaries and student loan repayments. They trade the classroom for the office.
However, to get to a job, a graduate needs a safe and reliable car, unless they plan to use public transportation. That hand-me-down car, the car a person got as a high school graduation gift or their mom and dad’s car may cut it for a few years after college (if the parents approve of it). But let’s face it: New graduates are going to need a new-to-them car at some point.
As a personal example, my older sister purchased her first car at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, it was a fantastic opportunity to buy a car, since prices were down due to lack of demand and the state shutting down. Within a matter of months after buying her car, though, used car prices shot back up to pre-pandemic levels or higher. A quick scan of comparable 2016 Mazda CX-5s for sale in the Twin Cities on cars.com confirms this. Today, the exact same car my sister purchased costs about $2,500 more than what she paid for hers.
In short, the used car market is seeing higher demand and not enough supply. This is inflating the prices for used cars, making them unaffordable for many. Though prices are higher, there is a silver lining: low interest rates on car loans, which help make cars more affordable.
For example, say someone buys a $10,000 car, adds in the sales tax (6.5% in Minnesota), pays a down payment of $2,000 and finances the rest at 3.5% interest for 48 months. That would equate to payments of $194 a month, and a recent graduate could buy a five- to seven-year-old car that is both safe and reliable for that price.
Assuming the same information but with a budget of $8,000, it would equate to payments of $146 a month. It sounds like a lot (and it can be), but my internet and TV bill, combined, is not much less than this. Even with a $2,000 reduction in budget, it is still possible to get a reliable, safe car that is less than 10, or even under six, years old.
I’m a die-hard car guy and am almost daily researching cars. I base my car recommendations on what I read about cars, statistics about safety by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety—or IIHS—and what other people have told me about their car-owning experiences. Yes, one can find a two- to three-year-old car for under $10,000. But most of those types, such as the Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Spark, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta—any of the “subcompact” cars—are cars that I would not recommend due to safety concerns, reliability concerns or both.
If someone is fortunate and/or blessed enough to be allowed/able to drive the vehicle they drove for college a couple more years, then they should do so if they desire. It may allow for demand to decrease and supplies to increase, causing prices to go down. For those who need a new-to-them car shortly after graduating, it helps to know that it is possible to find a newer, safe and reliable car that one can afford without completely breaking the bank. One may just have to look harder to find a car that will last many years and miles without too many issues while also being safe.