I tend to go for the "buy something 3-4 years old and keep it until it falls to pieces" approach just too avoid having to buy them too often. I shouldn't think that that's the most economical plan, though.
Good strategy! Depreciation is minimised (and usually the biggest cost) - I did this on my last car (Saab 9000), and apart from two big bills (£500-700) it cost very little over 8 years: and that was with main dealer servicing. I bought it for £7500 at 5 years old (list price £31000) and chopped it in for £700. Depreciation at £850 pa.
I personally think that sort of era of car (Saab 9000, and say mid 90s) was about where things had evolved to being, on balance, ideal where a lot of cars were concerned.
Enough technical advancement such that although still very complex, really, there were things that weren't overly imposed on with technology.
Take throttles, for example - around that time, typically, you'd see a normal petrol car, have a traditional cable operated throttle, with a TPS to monitor it's position as input to the electronics; probably some kind of IACV to provide idle control, and mildly assist in engine speed to assist with driveability.
If the throttle body / butterfly gets dirty you can easily clean, without typically having to reboot or relearn anything; if the cable frays or gets stiff, you can easily replace; if the TPS plays up / goes bad, you can test and replace individually; if the IACV plays up / the-rabbit-dun-died you can always either clean, or replace.
Fast forward only a short bit, to ETMs - problems with software, problems with tracks in the circuitry, problems with serviceability if they get dirty. Expensive to replace, more prone to complete failure, and essentially all or nothing / big bang. Are they really a superior solution? I get, there's some benefits - being able to modulate driver input to something sane (perhaps in terms of easy traction settings), easy implementation of things like cruise control and / or speed limiters.
Outside of that, though - which are marginal gains at best - all it seems to bring is more expense and pain, and on normal vehicles, no appreciable gain for the owner / driver.
Same with auto-transmissions - now I get that electronic control and significant improvements in manufacturing and quality control have made huge improvements in the serviceability of both engines and gearboxes - but beyond a certain point, and I think the over-imposition of technology has just resulted in more downside, slightly worse serviceability, for very marginal end-user improvements. I have quite a lot of experience of autos from the 90s, and the early autoboxes with software control (when they evolved from being, largely, hydraulic "computers"), they had sensors for various salient measures, input to / from the engine ECU, simple, yet fairly robust software, and possibly some modes or button switches.
This then evolved to more software and less selection - claimed, but not really true, "fuzzy" logic, and problems becoming evident that were purely about the software actually causing issue with the hardware. Transmission issues that existed purely in the digital domain - yet if left unchecked or without update, could truly cause issues with the hardware.
Dizzy caps, and main coil, versus coilpacks on the wires? Again, more problems that could be caused, rather than more simple, easy to maintain, and not that costly, individual parts.
I think all those sorts of examples are why I still really see some ideals in the mid 90s in how cars tended to be put together. Yes, I'm aware that on the flip-side, where, say, diesels are concerned, technology made them much more performant, and perhaps a bit less agricultural. But also introduced certain weaknesses or reduced robustness for types of engines where, if nothing else, that, along with their simplicity, was what gave them some degree of advantage.
I suspect that there's some that prefer cars a lot older than when I see the sweet-spot in terms of technological involvement. I think what I struggle with, though, is there was a period, at least, where - either due to immaturity or extending the metaphor too far, it truly increased fragility.
Like MTBs, I can't help but think, many cars / engines / transmissions were at their optimum around the early to mid 90s.
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