Ask Dave

Dear Dave,

I was recently in a car accident that totaled my car. My old car was paid for, and the insurance company is writing it off and giving me $15,000. I’m a physical therapist who does home care treatment, so I need a reliable car for work. I’m debt-free, and I’m in the process of finishing up my emergency fund, but I can’t seem to find a car like my old 2014 Toyota Camry with all the accessories. My rental car is paid for by insurance until the end of the month, and I’ve looked at used cars at a few dealerships, but the dealers and salespeople are telling me used cars still cost the same as new ones, and that I should just finance a brand-new car. I’m not sure what to do.


Dear Valerie,

Asking a new car dealer if you need a new car is like asking a dog if it’s hungry. The answer’s always going to be yes.

The smart answer, though, is this: If you’ve got a $15,000 insurance check in your hand, go buy a great, used $15,000 car. You may not be able to find the exact car you had before, right down to all the bells and whistles, but Toyota Camrys aren’t exactly rare, either. That money will get you virtually the same car—one that is very comparable in equipment, reliability, miles and overall quality to the one that was totaled.

I realize this whole thing is a big inconvenience. And you’re probably feeling a little pressure to make a decision. But the line you’re getting about used cars still costing the same as new cars is a load of crap. Used cars do not cost as much as new ones anymore. That was true for about five minutes on the back end of the pandemic, when the Mississippi River ran backwards and used cars went up in value. It was an absolute miracle!

There seems to be something in the human brain that tries to tell us we have to get an upgrade if we total a car. I want you to fight that idea, because you don’t need to wreck your emergency fund over something that’s not an emergency. Go online, and look around there without the pressure that always goes with being on a car lot.

And I’m just going to say this out loud: A $15,000 car today is a much better vehicle than anything I drove for the first 30 years of my life. The quality of used vehicles and the life left in them are so much greater than even a new car back in the day. You know that old saying, “They don’t make ’em like they used to”? Well, thank God for that!

But a $15,000 pre-owned car in today’s world? That’s a nice car!