Are You Buying A Car Over 10 Years Old? (part 1 of 2)

Today you can get a great deal on a car that is six years old, eight years old, ten, twelve, fifteen years old or more. These cars are not just sold by private individuals, or small used-car lots, but in the pre-owned sections of major dealerships.

Warranties on pre-owned vehicles vary by dealer – from 30 day limited warranties, to 60 days and 2,000 miles, to 3 months and 3,000 miles and some even go as far as 6 months and 6,000 miles.

Certified Warranties are backed by the manufacturer, and cover vehicles averaging around five years old and are under a certain maximum mileage. They usually give you “limited” coverage for most components on the car (except wear items of course), for about a year – or 12 months and 12,000 miles. The powertrain (engine, transmission, axles) are covered for a longer period of time, which could be the remainder of the manufacturers warranty, or up to 7 years total or 100,00 miles – from the in-service date when the vehicle was registered to the original owner. These warranties allow you to get your car repaired at any dealership for your car’s brand, anywhere in the country.

Remember of course, when you buy a car from a private party. It may be a few dollars cheaper than buying from a car dealer – but as far as a warranty goes, it’s usually the last 3 words from the seller as you drive away – “enjoy the car!”

If you are buying an older car, around 10 years old, there are some items that have changed that you want to consider before purchasing. Now these items are NOT things to avoid or be wary of, they’re not deal breakers or cautions. They are just items that have changed and are either obsolete or updated in today’s cars. You should just be aware of them. They may not necessarily take away from the value of the car to you.

Plus, they are usually not covered in the standard warranty offered by the dealer, but may be handled by an extended warranty that is offered for sale at the time of purchase.

Here are some of the features of cars from the last decade you may want to be aware of:

6-CD Changers

These became all the rage in the 90’s, starting as trunk stored units and eventually moving it’s way into the dashboard. The convenience of having 6 disks loaded can allow for hours of music playing, either in order or randomly per disk, or randomly throughout all 6 disks. However convenient they were, there was one thing certain about these units – it wasn’t a question of if it will break, but when it will break. When that happens, there is virtually no way to get your CDs out of the changer without having the unit removed and sent off to an audio repair shop that specializes in fixing.


This happened to me in my old 2003 Infiniti. I had the entire radio removed and brought it to a store that specializes in 6 CD Changer repair. At that time, I learned that in my geographic area, for three counties, for hundreds of dealerships representing all kinds of cars, there is only ONE such repair shop that exists. So, I drove around with a huge square hole in the center of my dashboard for 3 weeks singing to myself.

CD players in cars have gone back to the single CDs, but have one major difference. I noticed this when I replaced the Infiniti with a Toyota Camry. As I looked closely at the right side of the CD slot, I noticed these 3 characters: MP3. Being handy with my computer, I created numerous Data disks with folders full of MP3 versions of my favorite artists and albums. This allowed me to drive for long periods of time without changing a CD, like my two days trips to Florida.

Newer cars are either providing a hard drive to store songs from CDs, or eliminating CDS altogether. The trend is moving to digital music connected via a USB port, or a music streaming service.

AM/FM/Cassette Radios (Maybe no XM, USB or AUX)

Some decade old used cars have AM/FM Radios with cassette players. If you still have cassettes, you can still play them in the car, but remember, they can tangle and jam inside the stereo, and repairing those can be mostly and costly just as well. If a standard radio works well for you, then great. For my Infiniti, I asked a dealership what cleaning accessories can I use to clean the cassette and CD units, and the response was “no idea.”


Over the years, newer items have been added to the radios, such as auxiliary cable plug-ins for sound output from a phone or an MP3 player or I-Pod, USB connectivity to both charge and read music from your device, HD radio channels, and XM radio availability.

Navigation / Touch Screens

Navigation software has progressed over the years, and so have the touch screens they display on. Older versions may seem like Atari games from the Star Wars era, and the touch screens may be faded, a sickening hue of putrid pale green, and may need several touches to respond. There may be some controls embedded in the screen, like A/C settings, air flow modes, and fan speeds, so be sure you find them all and are comfortable knowing you’ll have to reach in there to get them.

Become fully familiar with the functionality, look and feel of the screen before you buy the car, and be prepared to run into surprises weeks later when you use a feature for the first time.

For those cars with NO Navigation, you can always refer to one of the many apps available on your smart phone, have your passenger unfold one of those big road maps (remember those?), or, guys, you might even have to (sigh) get out at the next gas station and ask for directions.

Less Steering Wheel Controls

More and more controls have been making their way to the steering wheel. Items like cruise control may previously exist on a turn signal stalk, a dashboard button, or a lever protruding from the back of the steering wheel crossbar. Volume or radio station settings (known as the “redundant controls” because they duplicate what is on the radio), mute controls, voice recognition controls, and settings for newer safety features, have only been recent additions to wheel. I recently delivered an eleven year old vehicle that had nothing on the wheel but the horn and airbag – no buttons. However, the radio controls on the dash were within the same reach as the steering wheel.


Blue-Tooth and Phone Connectivity, Voice Recognition

Speaking of steering wheel controls, Blue-Tooth phone connectivity, which is expected in every new car today, was mostly a feature of luxury vehicles back in those days. It may not be as easy to connect, due to the difference in phones, and not having a display screen to guide you, but it can be done. Cars like Acura have phone connectivity going back into the early 2000s. Voice activation was another perk for the high-end luxury cars. I still remember the commercials for the Infiniti Q45 where the driver used voice commands to control the temperature in his car, change the radio station, change the traffic signals, and stop the rain, and stop all other traffic. Didn’t quite work that way, but an interesting wish.


Backup Cameras

This is an innovative safety device that started arriving on luxury vehicles, worked it’s way down the food change to more affordable cars for the masses, and now they are standard on just about every new car you buy today. While most backup cameras project in a small screen – or the Navigation screen – on the dashboard, some older backup camera systems, as well as aftermarket systems, were projected into part of the rear-view mirror. Even today, new cars like Toyota’s small CUV, the C-HR, has a backup projection in half of the rear-view mirror, while Cadillac’s CT6 had a streaming video projected into the entire length of the rear-view mirror.


When I take customers out for test drives of new cars with the camera, I tell them they still need to check their side-view and rear-view mirrors, because the camera shows you what is directly behind the car, and the side view mirrors show you what is on the side of the car, out of the camera’s range. We have driven cars for so long with out them, that we should not depend solely upon them for safety when reversing the car.

 These are just some of the features to look at when purchasing an older vehicle. Since we don’t want this article to be too long, we’ll discuss the following in the next segment:

  • Pushbutton vs. Key Ignitions, Keyless Entries
  • Non-Folding Side view Mirrors
  • Single Zone Heating/Air Conditioning
  • Leather Seats without heaters
  • Manually Adjusted Driver Seats
  • Remote Starters

The items I mentioned here aren’t really bad, but don’t expect the dealer to fix these items or guarantee they are working perfectly. As I mentioned, a service contract you can purchase may covered these items, but may not.

If you really like the car, and what you get out of it as far as the quality, dependability, practicality, and sheer joy, and the benefits to you will outweigh the possibility of fixing something that would break, then go ahead and purchase the car and enjoy it for as long as you have it. Just purchase it with your eyes open – and that goes for when your driving it, too.

Will Schirmer’s passion and knowledge of cars extends almost 40 years. Will has been a certified sale professional with three car manufacturers, and is now an Insurance Advisor, providing coverage for client’s automobiles, homes, specialty items, as well as financial protection for families.  Contact Will at