Think in the Long Term (for Models)
Buy the car you want – but only after it is at least two years old, and three would be better. By doing this, you automatically save hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime.
When I was 23, I wanted to buy a nice four-door sedan, and I was drawn to the Cadillac STS. The new model had a base price of more $50,000, and with any kind of little extras the sticker was almost $55,000. I was doing very well at a young age, but I wasn’t doing that well to blow 50 grand on a new car.
I was thumbing through my local paper (yes, this was before the Internet changed everything) and saw an ad for a 2½ year old Cadillac STS for $19,500. The car had less than 40,000 miles on it and came with an extended warranty to 90,000 miles. It was gorgeous, shiny and just serviced.
It was an attractive price since the first owner was eating the depreciation.
According to the average car will lose 11 percent of its value the second you roll it off the lot and an additional 15 percent to 20 percent the first year you own it. The second-year depreciation (loss) is another 15 percent, for a loss of at least 45 percent over the first two years.
Depreciation is usually calculated off of the base price, not the extras. This could be the sport package that raises the price $10,000 but only gives you $2,000 back after the first year or two. So it’s quite possible to find beautiful cars with manufacturer warranties still in place and pay 35 percent to 50 percent less than the first owner did when purchased new.
I drove that car for four years, had very few out-of-pocket repairs, and sold it for $3,500.
So what kind of deal could you get today? When I was young, one of the dream cars was a Ferrari Testarossa, and its price was around $200,000. You can buy one now for around $50,000, and most don’t have that many miles on them because they’re babied by the owners.
Think in the Short Term (for Loans)
If you finance your auto purchase, you can save a lot of money by keeping the term to no more than 36 months. This builds equity in the car faster and saves on interest.
This might be difficult because the monthly payment is higher than if you finance over six years, and it’s higher than a monthly lease. If you finance $25,000 at 5 percent interest for three years, your monthly payment will be $749.27, and your total payout will be $26,974. If you extend that loan out to six years, your monthly payment drops to $402.62, but your total payout rises to $28,989. That’s $2,015 more out of your pocket to own the car.
Assuming you buy the car with a small down payment, by financing it for six years, your loan pay-down is going at a much slower pace than the depreciation on the vehicle, creating an “underwater” situation on the car almost from the get-go. During the three-year program, you’re paying down the car faster than it’s depreciating, giving you options if you have to sell the vehicle.
If you truly can’t afford that three-year payment, take out a five-year option and send a little extra every month toward the principal to pay it off sooner.
Leasing a newer model looks attractive because the monthly payment is less, but you might not want to do that. I’ll explain why next post, when I offer several other ways to save loads of money when purchasing an automobile.