Reader Question: Camry vs. Civic?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

S asks: If I have to choose between a 2013 Honda Civic EX with 41,000 miles for $11,500 or a 2017 Toyota Camry with 49,000 miles for $15,00 which one is the best in terms of price and value? (The Camry will need tires and battery.)

My reply: This is an apples and oranges question because the Civic is a compact-sized sedan and the Camry is a mid-sized sedan. All else being equal, the Camry would be worth more because it’s literally more car. It has a much roomier back seat, for instance – and that will be a factor if you often carry passengers.

The Camry may also have a larger (V6) engine, which is optional in this car. The Civic comes only with a smaller four cylinder engine. A V6-equipped Camry would be worth more than a (base) four cylinder Camry – and more (again) vs. the Civic, too.

The Civic will use less gas, regardless – even vs. the four cylinder Camry. Because the Camry is larger and heavier.

But the V6 Camry is much more powerful. Regardless, it is a larger and more comfortable car with a softer, smoother ride – a big consideration as regards its value to you.

Another consideration is inherent crashworthiness. The larger/heavier Camry is inherently safer in terms of the hit it can take in the event of a wreck.

Both cars are, however, as “blue chip” as cars get in terms of their reputations (deserved) for general reliability/longevity and lower-than-general depreciation. Either is a safe bet in that way.

With an asterisk.

New, these cars are safe bets.

Used, however, another factor comes into play. Two factors, actually. The first being overall condition (e.g., miles, wear and tear, any physical damage and so on) and the second (subtler) how each was maintained (or not) by its prior owner.

The former can be established by inspecting the vehicle and adjusting value accordingly. For example, the Camry’s value (price) should be adjusted to reflect that it will need new tires ($400-$500 – maybe more; price this to find out exactly) and a new battery ($100-$150 or so).

Has it got any dings? Are the seats stained or damaged?

Same goes for the Honda, obviously.

On the other hand, the Camry is several years newer – and that gives it an inherent edge over the Honda. It (the Toyota) may even still have some of its original factory warranty intact and transferable, which adds to the value if so.

The latter – maintenance – can be substantiated by service records. If these are available, it’s a huge plus. If not, it’s a big minus as you have no way of objectively determining whether the car was well-cared-for . . . or not.

Assuming you like both cars equally, I’d have both cars checked out by a competent independent mechanic you trust to identify any undisclosed issues and to ascertain or at least make a reasonable assumption as regards their overall condition. I’d also make sure the car – whichever you pick – will pass state safety and emissions tests as  a condition of sale.  Especially as regards emissions since repairs can be very expensive and in many states, the car cannot be registered/tagged if it hasn’t passed “smog.”

As far as price: Both are priced reasonably. The Camry is priced higher because it’s the larger/more valuable car. It’s not unreasonable to pay more – for more car. But if you don’t need more car, you could pay less for the Civic – all else being equal.

If not equal – if the Camry isn’t in as good condition, or needs more work than the Civic – then you’d be smart to pay less for the Civic.

On the other hand, if the Camry is in better overall shape then it would be smarter to spend more to buy it than the Honda, which (if it’s in poorer condition) may cost you more after you buy it!

Before you get any deeper into this, I strongly advise a test drive of at least 30 minutes in both cars – to get a feel for the difference between a compact sedan and a mid-sized sedan. This will also help you suss out any red flags, such as weird brake/suspension feel, any odd gauge readings (e.g., high water temp, low/erratic oil pressure) and so on.

Take your time – and practice due diligence. Per Mr. Spock – never get emotional when shopping for a car. Especially a used car!

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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