This article appeared originally in the April 2007 Levitt Letter.
This is the second in a series of articles designed to foster good stewardship. (The first concerned purchasing a house and appeared on page 13 of the February Levitt Letter, which you can see at www.levitt.com.) Locating this second article online will allow you to click on the useful links below. I devote this installment to Proverbs 4:7: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting, get understanding.”
Even some of the brightest motorists believe that buying a new car is a rite of passage. They often overweigh gas mileage in their purchasing decisions and ignore depreciation. Maybe they succumb to the myth, on a subconscious level, that their car expresses who they are and their degree of good taste. With all the seductive marketing, who can blame them?
Let me tell you about my favorite gurus on the economics of owning cars: Dave Ramsey and a dynamic duo, nicknamed “Click and Clack.”
Dave Ramsey suggests that a household’s cars should not be worth more than half of their annual income. He refers to auto leases as “fleeces,” asserting that leasing cars is the most expensive way to drive. Why get rid of a car right after suffering the worst years of its depreciation? Dave is a big believer in buying used cars instead of new. For his reasons why, visit www.daveramsey.com/etc/cms/why_buy_a_used_car_5153.htmlc. Would you believe that driving $12,000 used cars instead of $26,000 new cars can make or break one’s ability to retire? For an eye-opening presentation on this very point, please visit www.daveramsey.com/etc/lms/drive_free/player.cfm.
Tom and Ray Magliozzi, nicknamed “Click and Clack,” are two MIT grads who revel in the nuts and bolts (forgive me) of automotive maintenance. Their main website is www.cartalk.com. At www.shamelesscommerce.com, you can order their booklet How to Buy a Great Used Car. “Click and Clack” persuaded me that years four through ten are often the best years to own a car. They taught me the virtues of babying my cars by driving them gently, following the manufacturer’s preventive maintenance schedule, and parking them out of the elements. To keep them looking newer for longer, I wax them several times per year (the local car wash charges about $50 for this), tint the windows, and use a windshield visor on sunny days.
The bottom line is to buy gently used, low mileage cars that have documented maintenance histories and good reliability ratings. You can research cars at www.cars.com or www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/index.htm. I prefer to buy from individuals and recommend hiring a mobile inspector, such as www.autopi.com (they charge a hundred dollars or so) to thoroughly inspect the car. To double-check a car’s history, you can enter its vehicle identification number (VIN) into Google and maybe even contact prior owners for firsthand information.
When working with dealerships, consumers should negotiate separately the purchase price, the interest rate (shop around!), and the trade-in allowance. The monthly payment should be the outcome, not the focus, of the negotiations. I personally prefer to cut out the dealer by buying from and selling to individuals. And I don’t believe in paying for service policies or warranties. If you’re on foot and need a ride right away, then renting a car from Avis or whomever for a few days can give you the precious extra time you need to shop thoroughly and bargain a bit. Oh, and instead of taking a major road trip in the family car, you might rent a car with unlimited mileage. You’ll not only keep your car “younger,” but if you have a breakdown on the road, the rental agency can bring you another car.
Zola bought his first house in 1974, the year he turned 36. He used his life savings to begin this ministry’s television broadcasting in 1978. Driving used cars is the reason he gave for having the financial wherewithal to both buy the house and pay this ministry’s initial expenses.
My hope for many Levitt Letter readers is that this article’s small dose of wisdom and understanding will enable them to save more money than they have contributed to this ministry’s outreach—and allow them to contribute more to other ministries.