Financial Advice Blog

Car Buying: Is Cool Worth the Cost?

by Community Manager  |  San Antonio, TX  |  ‎03-17-2014 06:11 AM

Red sportscar rim - shutterstock_4681837.jpg

 

My name is Scott, and I drive a boring four-door family sedan. Can you say “uncool?”

 

Go ahead; It’s OK. I’m used to it by now. My 13-year old son reminds me all the time. And I’m totally fine with it. In fact, I kind of wear it like a badge of honor because when it comes to cars, “cool” and “financial catastrophe” are often interchangeable descriptions.

 

So where do you fall on this issue? Does the “cool factor” weigh heavily on your car-buying decisions? If so, follow me on a journey I’ve begun with my son. I just might convince him (and you) that cool is not worth the cost.

 

Itemizing the cost of cool
For some reason, my son has recently developed a not-so-secret crush on the new models of the old Detroit muscle cars. Maybe it’s my blue-collar upbringing coming out in him? When he sees one, I usually hear, “You should get that for your next car, Dad.” To which I reply something like, “Are you nuts? Do you know how much it costs to drive one of those things?” To which he responds, “Come on, they aren’t that expensive.” And back and forth we go until his 13-year-old attention span launches us into a new debate topic.

 

Following his interest, I decided to get proactive and involve my son in a little exercise. My instructions were simple: Go to the website of one of these car companies and build your dream muscle car. I’ll do the same for a car I might actually buy. Then we’ll research the projected cost to own each of our chosen rides and see just how much it costs to be cool.  

 

As a starting point, my choice had an approximate sticker price of $29,000. My son’s was $46,500. The chart below, which lays out a handful of the estimated financial differences between his dream and my reality, is the result of our research.

 

Estimated Costs Over 5 Years

My “Weak” Reality

His “Muscle” Dream

Loss in value (depreciation)

$18,300

$29,300

Financing costs
(hypothetical 3% for 60 months)

$2,266

$3,633

Maintenance and repairs

$3,300

$7,200

Gas

$8,700

$17,000

 

 

 

Total

$32,566

$57,133

 

 

Difference per month over 5 years:   $409

 

Do you see that bottom number? $409 per month, every month, for five years. You could almost get two of my cars for the price of his one. Now to be fair, my son did pick the most expensive model and then felt it necessary to add a few additional upgrades. After all, everyone needs paddle shifters and high-performance tires, right?

 

Do your homework

What I hope you take from this is that the financial aspect of car buying is something you should take very seriously. The effects of your decision can follow you long after you leave the car lot. Do your research like we did and find a car that really makes sense for your situation rather than one that just appeals to you emotionally.

 

Ready to Buy a Car?

Take a look at our car-buying service at usaa.com.

Finally, it’s worth noting that I really don’t have anything against any particular brand of car. Between you and me, I’d much rather have the car my son wants me to drive. But as the exercise above clearly shows, being cool has a price. And that price is too high for me.

 

Now, if I could just get my son to understand that. 

 

 

 

203325 - 0314

Comments
by sparks35803 ‎04-09-2014 01:19 PM
Don't forget insurance! And just for fun, how about using your current per-car premium for your uncool choice, and a USAA quote on the cool car - for an under-25 male driver. If you have any 13-year old attention span left, you can offer him USAA's good student, driver training and accident-free premium discounts (either to help his case or to incentivize his behavior over the next few years).
by Coolcat ‎04-09-2014 01:56 PM

I do not see why your maintenance and gas is so much more. The new Corvette gets 30mpg and all it ever needs is the oil changed every 10k miles or so. The resale value will be much better than your sedan and with USAA your insurance should be almost the same if you are a good driver. Naturally no teenager should ever drive your cool car so put him on his own with a 1984 Mercedes 300d diesel for $40 a year insurance when he starts driving. How can you put a price on memories also? Your grandkids will talk about your cool car when your dead and gone but no one will even remember the four door sedan. When your old and talking to your friends at the nursing home you can tell them about the good old days when you drove a (fill in the blank with something cool) and how all the silly electric cars have to have a CD playing just to make an engine sound. I say listen to the 13 year old and live a little. I have owned many cool cars and buy them used and never sell them for less than I paid for them so they are essentially free.  Just my 2 cents.

by TGrits10 ‎04-09-2014 02:27 PM

Your point is valid and almost always holds true, but you do damage to the point by artificially inflating the difference in dubious ways.

 

Buying a new car with good credit you'll pay a heck of a lot less than 3%. Maintenance and repairs on a brand new car with a 4-year, 50k mi warranty is an order of magnitude less than your numbers and wouldn't be a whole lot different between a pony car and a midsize sedan. MPG doesn't vary by a factor of 2 between cool and lame.

 

The difference in purchase price, and therefore depreciation, is plenty big enough to make your point without revealing an obvious bias in the rest.

 

On a related note, BUY USED!!! Cool cars, especially high-end brands, depreciate rapidly, making a just-nicely-broken-in sports/luxury sedan surprisingly affordable compared to its younger siblings. Your son needs to do his own research and then show you that blowing $30k on a new Camry is incomprehensible when you consider the level of still-under-warranty cars you could get for that.

by JBird60 ‎04-09-2014 02:35 PM
I bought my first Corvette in 1990. It was an 84 and I paid $11,000. In 2000, I was rear-ended and was given a buyout of $ 8500. I"ve a bought a used 1999 and then a new 2010. You can drive a cool car for a reasonable price
by Community Manager ‎04-09-2014 03:31 PM - edited ‎04-09-2014 03:33 PM

Thanks for the comments so far everyone! They are much appreciated. Just to clarify a quick point, to come up with the 5 year ownership costs I actually went to a couple different cost of ownership calculators on the web and ran the projected cost numbers of the cars that my son and I "built" online.  I didn't make them up. Even so, I too, thought the spread looked a bit wide on some of the numbers but in the end, I do believe they are directionally correct.  The fact is I regularly speak to young service members who have buried themselves with $500 or $600 a month car payments sometimes lasting as long as 6 years just so they can have a cool car. My honest attempt here was just to highlight the danger in doing that.  Again, I'd much rather be driving the car my son wants me to have! Thanks again for chiming in!  -Scott

by SnappyOSU ‎04-09-2014 07:50 PM
Oh Scott, you don't know what you're missing. The automobile is integral to the fabric of America and what you drive is a reflection of who you are. Driving can be a wunderous experience only eclipsed by flying. You sound like someone who's only seen the inside of a 777 shaking their head at the F-22 pilot. I can confirm the numbers are off, and buying used is good advice. My experience: with a five year old Corvette, bought for 1/2 sticker with 8,000 miles, sold 5 years later for $1,500 less than I paid. Insurance was about 10% more than my previous sports sedan and as has been stated gas mileage could hit 30 on the highway. City was closer to 10...what's the point of 400 horses if you don't use them? There is opportunity cost as well - my dad and I are both car nuts and connect at shows and talking about our cars. What price would you put on sharing a bond like that with your son? Besides, the affordable V6 pony cars all make more than 300 horsepower and boast quarter mile times as good as the best of the 60's. Plus, want to know the science behind the "midlife crisis" car? Driving a sports car, just driving normally not like a crazy person, causes an increase in testosterone. Google it, Concordia University's study definitively showed a correlation.
by TheGuardian ‎04-10-2014 04:01 AM
Your son obviously chose to of the line, but you can buy muscle foe less than the price of your four-door-bore. In March 2012, I bought a new Challenger for $22k. I see current ads for Mustangs and Camaros in the 20's as well...
by Edreh ‎04-10-2014 05:51 AM

More than the whole financial debate of "cool" vs "uncool" cars, I like that you are using something that interests your 13-year-old as an opportunity to teach him about money management and financial choices.  Every car involves costs that go beyond the purchase price, and your exercise demonstrated this to your son.  I just bought a 2014 Mustang V6, but I did so knowing that I will pay a premium over the purchase and owenership costs of a similarly priced new, or low-mileage used, "boring" family sedan.  That premium is money that I will not be able to spend elsewhere, but it's money I'm happy to spend for the pure fun and exhillaration of driving and owning the car.  The premium between the V6 and the V8 GT (about $8K at purchase, then about 30%-50% more on gas due to worse MPG and the need for premium in the V8) wasn't worth it to me, so I stuck with the V6.  It's great that you are teaching your kid that decisions about large purchases which involve ongoing financial obligations are best made with the head, not the heart (though it's always nice if you can manage to make the heart happy as well).

by 13Camaro ‎04-10-2014 08:18 AM
It's not all about money, sometimes one must follow their heart. Have wanted a Camaro since I was 16, but never had money then it was not practical. Finally at 59 I followed my heart and got a 2013 Camaro, life is now FUN. But with age comes wisdom and I don't think at younger age I would have respected the power of these machines.
by Edreh ‎04-10-2014 09:47 AM

13Camaro: "But with age comes wisdom and I don't think at younger age I would have respected the power of these machines."

 

Could not agree with you more!  At 305 horsepower, even my V6 Mustang produces way too much power for a novice driver to handle safely.  Had I had a car like this when I was first driving, I would have racked up speeding tickets like crazy, and, worse yet, might well have had a very nasty wreck.  Getting my first sports/muscle car after I've had more than two decades driving experience, and after I had the opportunity to make novice mistakes in cars that were less powerful and more forgiving, means that I can enjoy it safely, and that I know how to adjust my driving to account for the extra power.

by Nathalie ‎04-10-2014 07:39 PM
Your next blog should be "Is buying a new car worth the cost"
by RushFan ‎04-12-2014 09:49 AM
Not all decisions in life have to be or need to be financially rational. I happen to love cool cars and own two Porsches, a 2008 911S and a 1979 Turbo that I'm having fully restored. I bought the 2008 new, but in 2009 as the market tanked and picked it up for $20k less than MSRP. I can't begin to describe the joy I've received from owning that car and even 5 years later with only 15k miles on the odometer, it still puts a smile on my face every time I turn the key. So, the bottom line is this: everyone has those things in life they like to spend their disposable income on. You just have to set priorities and ensure whatever financial decisions you make don't break those priorities, such as saving for retirement, your kid's college fund, etc. Living life is all about balance. If you cannot afford a cool car, then by all means, you shouldn't buy or own one especially if it's not going to bring the joy commensurate with the expense.
by The Ryder ‎04-16-2014 09:17 AM

Scott, not trying to be a spoilsport, but I kind of feel sorry for you. I too used to drive sedans... then I went to a Ford Mustang. Mind you, its  not a GT or anything, but it still packs a punch and its SO much more fun to drive. Also meets all my needs, with plenty of trunk space and comfort. Guess what? Insurance and maintenance are minimal at best. I love this car. Like other posters said, it's not always about money. As long as you're smart about it, you should get a car that speaks to you and is within your budget, instead of being boring for the sake of saving a few pennies. Have you ever driven anything besides boring cars?

by Community Manager ‎04-16-2014 10:08 AM

Scott's Thoughts

Thanks for the continued comments everyone! Even those of you who think I'm nothing more than a buzz-killing stick in the mud!  :)

 

To answer your questions about my driving past - yes, I have driven and owned sports cars in the past and have even spent some time on a sports bike. So I completely get the fun and outright joy they can bring. And though it may not seem like it in this blog post, I'm not at all against sports cars if you can truly afford one.  

 

What I find troubling though is how often some owners of these cars (note...I didn't say all owners) let their emotions get the best of them and end up purchasing something that makes no sense for them financially. I can't tell you the number of people I've met over the last 20 years who drove gorgeous cars but were completely broke.

 

It’s also important to know that I'm really not against people having fun with their money.  Though my wife and I don't choose to spend extra money on cars, we do spend extra money on other things that, without full knowledge of our financial picture, would undoubtedly seem wasteful to some. The point is, we all just need to make choices that are prudent to our overall financial wellbeing.  If you can drive a sweet sports car and still be in good shape financially, I see nothing wrong with that.  But I also know from experience that a lot of people who drive these cars probably wouldn’t fit that description. Fortunately, we're all free to do whatever we want with our money. For those who are open to it, I was just hoping to get them think about it a bit more before taking such a big leap.

 

Thanks again for taking the time to comment and happy motoring – regardless of what you’re driving!

by Tman9940 ‎05-30-2014 09:31 PM
I love this! I drive a little Corolla..( I'm single with no kids)....I fill the tank twice a month and might spend $70 on gas per month. I love being " uncool"