Car Loans & Leasing Are Your Biggest Hidden Expense
I get a lot of questions from people about car financing. And it makes me wish that more people were educated on how owning new cars can be the biggest destroyer to their personal net worth. I don’t mind automotive manufacturers earning a lot of profit, and I know of one that earns the majority of their money by financing and leasing cars. It just doesn’t have to be your money, all the time.
There is a spectrum of two extremes that you can follow for car ownership. You can hold brand new cars for only a couple years (buying or leasing) or you can hold each vehicle for well over 5 years (and maybe buy them used in the first place). You can already guess which one is financially healthier, but it will help if you know why.
It is my observation that owning a brand new car for less than 4 years is the biggest destroyer of anyone’s net worth. I have a lesson plan for you if this is your preference of car ownership. Each year, you should be forced to withdraw the cash equivalent of the amount that your car depreciated over the last year. Then you take that wad of cash, and in front of your parents, spouse, kids, and financial planner – you feed it all into an industrial paper shredder that turns it to dust. It is just a little helpful tip from me to illustrate what you are doing to yourself.
When billionaire Warren Buffett was young, he refused to replace his old Volkswagen for many years even when he had the money to buy a new one. Why? Because over his lifetime, he knew that having $20,000 invested over decades would grow into millions of dollars in net worth to him.
Car owners also shouldn’t hold on to them forever, because there is an inflection point where the longer you hold onto a car, the better it would have been to replace it. How can this be? It occurs when the annual repair costs of the car outpace the drop in value of a newer car. Let me explain: let’s say that you are driving your 25-year-old-junker and are paying $4,000 a year in repairs to keep it loping along. Now, if instead you had replaced it with a newer car (maybe still under warranty), and it only dropped $3,000 in value – you’d be $1,000 ahead, happier with a newer car, and relieved at many fewer trips to the dealership over breakdowns.
It is too foolish for me to even begin addressing the financial damage of leasing a car, or getting an auto loan for more than three years and getting upside down (when you owe more on the car than what it is worth). Just avoid leasing and +4 year loan payment plans because these are the money-makers for the companies on the other side of the transaction.
Taking all this information into account, it is my opinion that the following is the financially optimum car ownership model: buy a car that is about two years old with less than 20,000 miles, and keep it for at least 5 years until the repair costs start exceeding $2,500 a year. As a general guide, this will help you avoid the sharp depreciation in the first two years and give you a car under warranty for a while, and then you bail out when the expenses start getting out of control.