Many people trying to get out of debt take a step back when I show them that getting rid of their financed vehicle gets rid of a big chunk of their debt. They usually tell me that they can’t get rid of it and buy a used one because they need a reliable vehicle. They must have a reliable vehicle because they have kids. People up north must have a reliable vehicle because they live where it snows. Single people or people on the road all the time must have a reliable vehicle.
I haven’t met anyone who wants an unreliable vehicle, but what’s considered reliable? Is it one that never breaks down? Is it one that never needs to go to the shop? Or is that code for, “I WANT a new vehicle!”
My wife and I own a 2004 Ford Expedition. We bought it used from a neighbor in our area and have had it for four years. Besides replacing tires and fixing flat tires because of the construction in the area, which will happen on a used or new vehicle, we have been inconvenienced by only one repair in the last 4 years—the battery needed to be replaced.
I’m going to compare this with a 2018 Ford F-150 that’s owned by someone I know. She was driving through Atlanta on the interstate during rush hour, and her vehicle wouldn’t start up again. It ended up being that her battery needed to be replaced. Things happen to new vehicles and old vehicles alike.
I will agree that her vehicle will have fewer repairs than mine over the next few years. However, on average, I won’t have my vehicle in the shop that often. Excluding tire repairs and oil changes, I have had my 15-year-old vehicle in a shop once a year over the past four years—new tires, brake pads, transfer case leak, and an AC repair. I’ve come in a little more than the average repair cost per year, but my vehicle is 15 years old, and it’s still not bad.
The Cost of a Reliable Vehicle
The cost of running a vehicle is less than half of the total cost of owning a vehicle. The major cost of owning a vehicle is depreciation.
Depreciation is the value that an asset loses as it ages. Sometimes other assets like homes depreciate, but mostly assets like houses and stocks appreciate. Vehicles almost always depreciate over time. They wear out and lose value. New vehicles lose 60% of their value in the first five years!
The depreciation of a $50,000 vehicle over the first five years is $30,000. Your vehicle is worth $20,000 after five years. Even if a used, $10,000 vehicle is worth nothing after five years (which it won’t be), the difference in the amount of depreciation is $20,000. You can make a lot of repairs over five years for that amount of money. Your $50,000 vehicle will most likely need some repairs over those five years as well.
Reliable Vehicles Come in Different Price Ranges
The people I talk to justify their new vehicle because they want a reliable vehicle. It is your money, so you get to decide what to do with it. You don’t need to justify your new vehicle payments if you want to stay in debt.
The cost of a vehicle does not make it reliable. The age of a vehicle and miles driven are factors to judge its reliability. The shininess or the coolness of a vehicle has no determination of its reliability.
Go ahead and buy a reliable vehicle. It can even be cool and shiny! But save up and pay cash for it. Stop financing items, especially ones that lose over half of their value in five years. This is not how you build wealth.