Car Loans and Leasing Are Your Biggest Hidden Expense
Written by: Francis Kier
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. More reference material for this
article is available at
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.
About the author:
Francis Kier has an MBA in finance and shares his two decades of
experince with investing and personal finance. More of his
articles are available at
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