I have noticed that the vast majority of young people today buy the most recent year they can afford, even if it limits them to only entry level econoboxes. When I first started driving, myself and almost all other young people I knew bought first cars that were 10-20 years old. By the time I was 20 I owned a 1969 Torino Talledega, and a 1970 GTO 400 4-speed, paid for by a $5.00 an hour part-time job. You could easily find these types of cars dirt cheap when they were 10 years old. We self-taught ourselves how to fix our cars, and after growing tired of borrowing, made purchasing tools a priority.
For the young buyer today, buying a 10-15 year old vehicle would be a risk unless pristine, low mileage with maintenance history and full inspection. Still a risk if the first year of a new model. Otherwise it could be subject to multiple sensor failures, electrical problems, unsafe suspension.
The choice then is either a professional mechanic or do it yourself. After trying to borrow tools from friends and family (who probably only have a monkey wrench and screwdriver), you could buy a set and tackle replacing those worn-out struts on your 2003. Good luck with that one.
I have about every tool under the sun. 2 tool boxes that are the size of a refrigerator in my garage. Doesn't mean much. Even with years of experience, it's hard to work on anything new today. I had to have my one car smoked to finally trace a leak for a sensor that failed inspection recently. Cars are more reliable, but with age I dump them and buy new.
I think what most people seem to miss out on these days, is the pride in knowing how to work on and maintain your own cars/trucks/appliances. Even though my wife's Prius is old and boring, I alone have been the only one to work on it. That said, there is a point on the car where repairing it could be impractical. The transaxle unit has the electric motor inside, and the unit is VERY heavy, and as I don't own a lift, it would be impossible for me to get that unit out of the car. The cost of these units on the first generation is also extremely costly. But as it's approaching the 200k mark within the next year, I am less concerned about that.
I agree that some modern cars are difficult to work on. It's not really terribly different from old cars, as some of those were also difficult. Perfect example: my Tacoma has a very straightforward, 4 cylinder engine. The water pump, starter motor, alternator, pan, clutch, brakes, valve cover, intake plenum, and so on are very easy to get at. I can change the water pump in about 30 minutes or less, and the clutch was a 2 hour job total. On the other hand, I changed the timing belt on my brother's Avalon and it was a nightmare. It took all day to do that one, because so much had to be removed just to get at the belt. It was ridiculous.
As far as used cars go, well I too recall when they used to be cheap. My first car was an '87 Celica that had power everything. We're talking power seats/mirrors/lights/a NICE stereo, and so on. The car had 75k on the clock, and at the time was a 4 year old car. I paid $2,500. It had cost about 17k new. These days in some cases it makes no sense to buy used, as in some instances the price difference is nil. 5-6 years ago though you could easily go out and buy a 2-3 year old domestic car for peanuts. I had a friend who would buy 2-3 year old fully loaded Ford Tauruses for under $5,000. The cars seemed to generally last for about 80-100k before they started having problems. So once they started getting to that mileage, he sold them and bought another. You can't do that any more, as the offerings from domestic automakers have more closely matched the competition, and they also sell less to fleets.
But anyway, times change I suppose.
In my area it's hard to find a decent classic for under 15k today. That puts you just out of the "driver quality" area. Used be able to find a decent classic for 5-10k. Quality classic models have gone up.
Newer cars are now designed for minimum serviceability. Sealed for life transmissions, 100,000+ mile plug intervals, and switching from timing belts to chains are a few examples.
I can see that many would prefer to drive under warranty and take it to the dealer for any problems. For those with higher mileage, out of warranty, I'm sure some would like to be able to do their own repairs... if it was easy. Typically, someone starting out, trying to do their own repairs, would have a more experienced do it yourself'r helping them. But these more experienced persons are becoming increasingly rare. It's like a catch 22 situation.
Your comment about 5-6 year old domestics is very true. I paid $7,000 for my '07 Monte Carlo with 53,000 miles when it was 3 years old. Now have 86,000 miles, no repairs needed, only maintenance.
Indeed. A lot of the newer cars have in some cases what amounts to "Lifetime" fluids even. I am sort of old-school and don't believe it. I still change the oil every 3,000 miles, the coolant every 50k, and the transmission fluid every 50k as well.
That said, it's amazing how good the fluids I change look when they come out. It used to be that when I changed engine coolant, at 50k the stuff looked like rusty water coming out. Now the coolant looks little changed from when it was new. The Toyota coolant is this ugly pink colored stuff, and when I changed the the coolant in the Prius last week, it looked exactly the same as when it was poured in. Because of things like this, engines last longer, because while there are people like us who actually take care of their cars, even in the past there were many who didn't, and seldom changed the fluids, and as a result the engines wore out prematurely. Now engines can withstand more neglect and last longer, because improvements in their construction and materials mean they don't require as much maintenance.
As far as the Taurus SHO, well those were totally different cars from the 'normal' Taurus: It had an engine built by Yamaha and a Mazda transmission, so the entire drivetrain was different from the more 'normal' Taurus, which had an engine that was prone to blowing head gaskets, and transmissions that had issues with different combinations of metals that caused failures. I had a friend of mine who had an SHO, and it was a pretty cool car.