Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thinking about a New Car

I've been thinking about this for awhile and figured I'm running out of time to figure this out. Our Honda has had a good run and while technically running fine now, it's getting up there in age. Car years are like dog years right?

When I leased it originally, I wasn't all that financially savvy. So I didn't give it much thought. My wife wanted a Honda and I figured we'd get rid of our two old vehicles and buy brand spanking new. I figured it would pay for itself just by saving on all our repair costs. Well...I was wrong. Leasing was the only option for us (or so I thought) because of the high cost.

Almost 8 years later it is paid off and I'm thinking of doing it all over again. Only this time I wanted to give this some more thought before I make this big purchase.

OK, now for the details. I'm not married to any make or model although I was pretty happy overall with my Honda Civic. I don't want or need a luxury vehicle and in fact never plan to own one. Although, I wouldn't mind a few more features this time, like automatic windows, mp3 player, etc. My preference is for a new vehicle, but I'm not opposed to buying used.

Seeing as I'm not devoted to any brand like I know a lot of people are, I have to consider domestic vs import. Those terms are used lightly these days as the parts for either are made and put together around the world. I searched and searched for some good statistics, but all I've found are opinions. From what I've gathered the life span and repair bill are roughly the same no matter which option you choose. I'm talking about cars built in the last 10 years or so. Once the vehicle becomes too costly I plan to move on anyhow and a newer vehicle should have few problems regardless of the make and model.

Just like our retirement calculation we have to make some assumptions. I'm going to assume the average car has a lifespan of 300,000km or about 10 years. When I did some searching I found the average age of a vehicle in the US to be about 13 years old.

For my comparisons I chose Ford Focus for my domestic and Honda Civic for my import. "Why?" you ask. I just wanted to keep the comparison simple for now and the make/model doesn't matter too much. I gave them similar features that I consider musts like A/C, floor mats, power windows/locks and MP3 players. The actual vehicle I decide to purchase might be completely different, but it gives us a general idea about which option will win out. Although if import wins out, Honda is likely to be my next purchase.

If it sounds like I haven't made up my mind yet, it's because I haven't. You'll be reading the results as I figure them out.

So my next question is whether to by new or used and when to trade the vehicle in. This is where the import/domestic comes into play again. The domestics are obviously cheaper and will therefore come out ahead in most scenarios. However, if I plan to buy a new car every 2-5 years, having a vehicle with a higher resale value is important. If I plan to drive the car into the ground like I did this time, then the low depreciation of a Honda/Toyota is irrelevant.

One last thing about depreciation. I've often looked at a 1-2 year old Honda and wondered why anyone in there right mind would buy used over new, when the saving was so small. The mistake I was making was that I was looking at the list price. The real price is going to be quite a bit higher on a new vehicle once you factor in taxes, financing fees, rust protection, etc. These used vehicles have all that included.

So let's run some numbers and find out who wins...

Ford Focus SE Honda Civic SE
New 21,805 25,365
2 Years Old 12,560 18,511
5 Years Old 6,430 13,050

The 2 year old and 5 year prices were calculated using a depreciation calculator not actual prices. Although I did find the actual values to be pretty close to this.

I broke the costs out by the monthly amount in order to make the comparison. For example, a 5 year old ford every 5 years would cost $107.17 ($6430/5yrs/12months). The new Honda every 10 years would cost $211/month.

If you want a new vehicle every 2-5 years, the Honda wins out due to the lowered depreciation levels. In fact if it has to be a Honda you're better off buying a 2 year old vehicle and keeping it for 8 years than you are buying a 5 year old every 5 years. Odd I know! This phenomenon doesn't happen with Ford.

If you're looking for the best deal overall though, the 5 year old Ford wins out. So it's not that surprising then that the wealthiest people in the US generally buy used domestics. I learned that tidbit from The Millionaire Next Door (book review one day maybe?).

Preferences would obviously take a big role in this decision. For me personally I can't justify the extra cost of an extra $100 per month (plus the financing costs) to own a new imported vehicle. I have better uses for that money. However, I have decided that it is worth it to me to get the 2 year domestic over the 5 year old domestic. The cost difference is under $30 more a month, but it's worth the piece of mind to me.

I'll talk about how I plan to finance this next. This topic has already grown way to large.

So, what do you think? Is the extra $$$ worth new or import to you?


  1. Can you buy the car you leased?

  2. @Anon: Actually I did. The car is now 9 years old. I'll continue to drive it until it becomes more expensive than replacing it. When I do go to replace it, I'm going to go domestic and used.