Oh boy. I could spend days writing about this one. Probably weeks, actually. I feel quite qualified to go pretty deeply into this topic and for fun will list all of the vehicles I’ve owned, as well as my memory allows. This is going to be fast. Get ready.
Your vehicle is your transportation unit. It does not define you. Your toughness does not increase when you own a truck. You don’t become a nerd if you own an economy car. This is the first step to get past. It was hard for me as a long time auto enthusiast, but I don’t care at all about owning something cool or fast anymore. It’s not as important as other parts of my life and if focusing primarily on MPGs helps get me where I want to be later, then it’s worth it.
There is a pretty nice technique you can apply to purchasing your cars, and really anything, that minimizes how soaked you will end up when it’s time to move on to the next one. The key is to be mindful of it’s depreciation and resale value. If you buy a new car, you lose. There’s no getting around that. Everyone knows driving it off the lot guarantees you a take a monetary bath, yet people buy new cars all the time. I struggle to understand why people want a new car. It can’t be because it comes with a warranty since you can always get one of those. I’m convinced it’s the smell. The new car air freshener just isn’t the same, I get it. We will just say that it’s like buying a $10-15k+ air freshener. That’s $10-15k more than you really need to spend.
If you apply that trick to everything you buy, you’ll be doing ok since a lot of used items fetch pretty close to the same price when they are sold a few years later, outside of some electronics.
Buying a car literally one year old saves you thousands, but I would never even buy something that new myself. The ideal time is shortly after a new model comes out and people think they need it. They don’t know what they would do without it. That’s when you jump in and pick up a deal on that car that was once great and is now considered outdated junk. You want that one. The one with 100k miles that has maintenance records. At least fluid changes. Well, ideally you find something that runs for a couple thousand that you can stand, but I’d focus on spending as far less than $10k as you’re comfortable doing. $5,000 can get you plenty of nice car. Do not be fooled into thinking of this as a “how much can I afford monthly” situation. You will still be paying thousands in the end. The monthly budget is important if you do have to finance but don’t forget that you still owe the total amount you pay in the end and you could choose to spend that money elsewhere if you are wise.
There is a certain point where you really aren’t losing that much money on the purchase. I spent my first 10ish years of driving spending $100 to $800 on cars with cash. They would last a year or two then I’d part them out, resell them, or send them to the junk yard. This means that gas and insurance were about my only loss during this time because I could get most of that small investment back in the end. You can’t do that with new cars. Even the shittiest new cars start in the mid-teens and by the time you drive it into the ground, they’re not worth jack.
You want to find the balance here. I drove some real piles. One truck had no heat and the windows were stuck down a few which required me to scrape the ice off of the inside as well as the outside in the winter. That particular truck also overheated every single time I drove it and I delivered pizzas in it for over two years. In another one I had to always hold the driver’s door shut from the inside, and another I had to crawl through the rear hatch to enter. Those days ended when my wife made me buy something she felt was safer. I’m thinking that was around 2010.
Finding the balance means getting a good deal on something with good resale value. American economy cars are basically considered throw away cars to me. Their resale value is awful. Gas mileage is pretty much my main concern these days. I’ve had cars that got 10mpg on their best days and now I get about 130mpgs. Fact. I was able to find a high mileage 2012 Chevy Volt for $6900 locally and snatched it right up. It’s the best car I’ve ever had by far. Maintenance almost doesn’t exist on it and it runs like new with over 200k miles on it. It costs about a dollar a day to charge and I drive 50 miles round trip five days a week. In the summer I easily get 40 miles of all electric power and the rest is where the small gas tank is needed. Some idiot paid almost $40k for this car new and here I am getting all of the benefits he did for a fraction of the price.
My wife also has a Volt. A loaded up one with about 130k miles that we got for around $9k out of state. The same cars were about $15k locally.
The first real tip here is to not go to a dealership locally. Shop online. Cars.com, CarGurus, Auto trader all show you what’s out there. Search the whole country after you decide what you really want. Find your car and call the place up. Tell them you want the car and you’re out of state. Ask them what they recommend you do to proceed with the sale. Some will ship, others will require you to secure that part of it, and it may be cheaper for you to do so. You’ll likely be mailing them a bank check and dealing with a couple of faxes, but in the end the whole process is cake and you end up with exactly what you want for far less. It shouldn’t cost more than $1000 to ship a car in the worst situation and is more likely going to be less than $500.
You can spend about $100 to have a private party inspection if you want to. I just tell them that if anything is wrong with it I’ll fix it and send them the bill.
I don’t give a rats ass about test drives. You should have already done that with a local car to make sure it’s the model you want. Do you even know what to look for on a test drive anyway? It seems like most people don’t even know when there is something wrong with the car they’ve been driving for years, so I don’t expect them to pick up on issues on a car they aren’t used to. Leave that stuff to the pros.
In the north east, cars like Subarus have good resale because of our winters. One thing to keep in mind with any AWD vehicle is that the tires have to be within a certain height of each other. The tread has to be worn about the same on all four tires or else the car will think one of the wheels is slipping and will wear out expensive parts. This could be an issue if you get an unfixable flat tire since it’s not recommended to just replace one at a time, now you’re really potentially looking at four new tires. Waste. Personally, I’ve never felt the need for four wheel drive. Just don’t drive like an idiot or get snow tires if you think you need to.
In general, Toyotas hold their value pretty well. I’m especially fond of the Prius. While I prefer plug in electric cars for the ultra high mpg potential, you can get a respectable 50-60 mpgs out of a Prius and they hold their value really well.
You can easily pick up one of these for well under $10k and unless you have more than two kids, you don’t need more room. You can accessorize any car to carry much more with roof racks and cargo hitches. Do not buy vehicles based on once a year needs. Like when you go camping twice over the summer and it seems like it would be nice to have that extra space. Come on. Beyond two kids you’ll want to look for whatever has enough seats that gets the best mpgs.
Your mpgs is another way to give yourself a raise. Instantly. You should be able to get 30+ easily in your vehicle and if you can’t, I’d strongly urge you to consider selling it for something that can.
This is an area that can save you literally hundreds a month and thousands a year. It could be much more if you are in an unnessesairly large and expensive vehicle.
Also, skip the warranty, it’s nearly always a scam. Whatever they quoted you to add that, save that amount of money monthly and you’ll have whatever you need for repairs if they come up.
If you work within five miles of where you live, you should definitely consider riding a bike. Why not? The health benefits alone are worth it, not to mention the obvious fact that it would be way cheaper.
Leasing. Don’t do it. Zero equity goes 100% against the idea of beating depreciation and getting out of the car for not much less than you got into it for. If you feel like you need a new car every three years then you should go back to the first post on this site and read them all over again. That is the biggest “pro” of leasing, so being the smart frugal person you are, that tells you that it’s not an option.
Anytime someone asks me my opinion on a car they are interested in, I tell them to just buy it if they like it. I don’t have to drive it so I don’t care. If someone wants my opinion and has no clue or doesn’t really care how to get from a to b, then I’ll recommend they make a list of cars that get good mileage and go out and drive them all. I think the Volt is perfect since the shorter trips are electric but you can still go hundreds of miles using gas if needed.
One big myth we need to get out of the way is that some cars, like German cars, are super expensive to own. Exotic cars might be, but “German engineering” is a hot phrase that means nothing. Having owned and worked on many different makes of cars, I can say that there isn’t a damn thing unique about them that requires a magic want to fix them, and as long as you know where to buy parts (you will), then they’re all the same. All cars are junk and they all have issues. A quick search will show you that Honda’s don’t last forever like everyone thinks. Well, any car will last forever if you want to keep replacing parts, but Honda’s aren’t immune to this problem.
You’ll hear the “horror” stories of how someone had an Audi and it cost them $200 to replace the fog light! Nonsense. Do yourself a favor and never go to the auto dealer for repairs. You’re guaranteed to end up with a story like that yourself with any make of car you own. Their labor rates are usually over $100/hr, so you’re paying a lot no matter what the problem is.
A huge money saver is properly dealing with repairs. An upcoming post Im working on will include information that will certainly save you a ton when the time comes for you to spend money on your ride.
The main takeaway from all of this rambling is to buy a used car that gets good gas mileage and don’t be afraid to shop outside of your immediate area to find a deal. Comment below if you want some help finding something or feel like you’re stuck in what you’ve got. You probably have options and can start saving more money soon.
Three Rangers, two Mustangs, two Tempos, a Caprice, a Blazer, a Neon, a Civic, a Saturn wagon, a Passat, a Jetta, an A6, a 540 wagon, a Toureg, an A3, a Colorado, a Trailblazer, an MX6, two X5s, two Volts, five motorcycles, and a scooter. I’m sure I’m missing a bunch in there, but you get the idea.