Your car may drive like a dream, but in reality it’s pretty much a guaranteed financial sinkhole.
Sure, right now we have a weird situation where some used cars are selling for more than their purchase price, but that’s due to COVID supply-demand issues that are not expected to persist much longer.
And the main personal-finance law of cars is that every extra dollar you spend on a car is a dollar blown. Yet that can be hard to heed when you’re up against billion-dollar marketing campaigns and smooth-talking salespeople.
Here are some all too common car-buying come-ons, and the messaging that is left out.
What they say: Leasing a car is cheaper than buying.
What they don’t tell you: To be clear, the monthly cost to lease a car will indeed typically be less than the monthly payment to buy the same car with a loan. But a lease is for three years. You either have to buy it or, as most people do, just lease another new car. Keep leasing, and you will be making lease payments in perpetuity, which is why leasing is a four-wheel money pit.
If you buy a car with a five-year loan, you’ll own that car outright at the beginning of year six. No more payments for as long as you keep driving the car. That can mean years of not having to shell out a monthly car payment, which gives you the cash-flow breathing room to use that money for other financial goals.
Given the average car payment is now north of $500 (and more than $400 for a used car) that’s a mighty big opportunity to build up emergency savings, pay down student loans at a faster pace or tuck away money for a down payment on a home. But only if you don’t fall for the lease.
What they say: Between trade-in values, low interest rates and eager lenders, we definitely can get you in that new car.
What they don’t tell you: If you instead opt for used cars throughout your driving days, you could put yourself in an excellent position to retire with a whole lot more saved up. The opportunity cost of buying a new car or buying a new pickup truck that is tricked out with upgrades can be tens of thousands of foregone retirement dollars.
What they say: Low interest rates and easy financing make it a great time to buy a new car.
What they don’t tell you: Buy new, and you are agreeing to be the financial chump who pays for the biggest chunk of the car’s depreciation. Buy a three-year-old used car (or older), and you effectively let the seller take the big depreciation hit for you.
What they say: Our dealership will even arrange financing for you. It couldn’t be easier.
What they don’t tell you: You will pay a steep price for that convenience. Financing arranged at the dealership often has an interest rate mark-up that one academic study estimated cost borrowers in 2018 an extra $1,800 over the life of their car loan. Shop around online. Be sure to check out credit union deals; they often have the lowest available car loan rates, and many are easy to join.
What they say: Concerned about the environment? So are we. Check out our EVs.
What they don’t tell you: Waiting a few years to buy an electric car could be a better deal, as rapidly declining electric battery costs could bring EV prices in line with combustible-engine cars by 2023. That said, if you are eager to jump in now, the best deals are on EVs that still qualify for big ($7,500 max) federal electric vehicle tax credits.