Buying For 70% Of Your Needs

In my years of helping clients navigate the process of buying a new or used car, I’ve noticed that my shoppers sometimes feel they need a car that meets every need they could ever conceivably have.

But the truth is, your car only needs to meet your daily and weekly needs. Maybe your monthly needs. It definitely doesn’t need to meet a need you think you might have two years from now if all the stars align perfectly and Auntie Marie dies and leaves you her lake cottage!

Nor does whatever car you buy need to do jobs that you can accomplish other ways.

Here’s an example: It’s three years from now. Your eldest son, 22 years old, has come home for Thanksgiving, his new girlfriend in tow, to meet the family. You’re planning on visiting Grandma at the nursing home while he’s home. You’re going to need a vehicle that fits four adults plus the two teenagers still at home so you can all pile in the car and go visit grandma, right?

Nah. You can take two cars to the nursing home. Or, you can rent a minivan for the weekend.

It’s tempting to buy a truck or SUV for the life you wish you had, rather than the one you actually have. If you’ve just bought a pair of horses to start your carriage rides business, you’ll definitely need a big diesel dually right now, along with a comfy trailer. But usually, you can manage with a less than absolutely perfect solution at first!

For most hobbies and various outdoor sports, you can dive in (sometimes literally!) with the car or van you have. See if you like the lifestyle before you lock yourself into a 72-month loan on a truck capable of towing the camper you haven’t bought yet! I know an avid off-road trail cyclist who totes his mountain bike to the trails with a rack on a little Mazda hatchback, for example. I’ve seen kayaks strapped to Volvo station wagon roofs. RV rentals are common and most states have some rental operations that will tow a rented camper to the site of your choosing.

Another situation that prompts an urge for a new car is concern over winter driving. But before you give up your paid-off, well-loved current car because you “need” four-wheel drive for winter, look critically at how often per winter you absolutely must drive on unplowed, unsalted, bad winter roads. It may not be as often as you’d think it is. You may simply need a good set of winter tires ($600) rather than a brand-spanking-new car loan ($30,000). Or, it may be possible to simply work from home or delay activities on the two days a year the roads are legitimately terrible.

When you sit down to consider what kind of car, truck, SUV, or van you think you’d like to own, consider what might meet 70% of your needs. Think about what alternative options you can consider for the 30% remaining use of that car. A little creative thinking could save you from a very expensive mistake!

A New American Station Wagon. Except It’s German.

The last time there was a real honest-to-goodness station wagon available from an American automaker, it looked like this.  Ouch. Practical and roomy, but to most of us, that’s about as beautiful as a trip across Nebraska in July with the A/C broken and your stinky brother sitting next you.

“Daaad he’s touching meeeeee! Make him stop!”

The mid-90s marked the end of the big American station wagons. The Buick Roadmaster and its sister, the Chevy Caprice Classic wagon, faded away, lost to the rising popularity of SUVs and minivans.

But there’s a lot to be said for a car-height family hauler instead of an SUV! If you don’t absolutely need a third row of seating, it can be a really smart family choice. You’ll get better gas mileage due to better aerodynamics and (sometimes) have slightly lower upkeep costs due to car-sized brakes, tires, and suspension parts instead of truck-sized parts. And the normal-car height of a wagon means accessibility for those who aren’t able to heft themselves up into full-size SUV.

There hasn’t been a lot to choose from lately, though, especially in the mid-price range. And if you’d prefer an American automaker, you’ve been out of luck for a long time.  Gone are the days when pretty much every sedan came in a wagon version. There were a few attempts here and there along the way, but only Subaru, Volkswagen, Volvo, Mercedes, BMW, and Audi currently make a sedan-based station wagon. A few of those options are pretty pricey luxury brands. (The Mercedes E-class wagon begins above $60,000. Ooof.)

General Motors has decided to try again, though, in spite of the growing ubiquity of the CUV and dozens of new, high-ground-clearance sort-of-car, sort-of-SUV things which, well, what are they? Tall hatchbacks? Short minivans with no sliding doors? In light of all the confusion, I’m really happy to see a return to a classic form in the new Buick Regal TourX. It has better cargo space than the visually-larger Buick Envision. And it actually looks okay. Maybe even good. The last time there was a Buick (a Buick!?) that I thought looked good, I wasn’t even born yet.

You’re going to have to click over for more photos yourself because I haven’t taken any at my local dealership yet.

This new unBuick-ey Buick comes standard with a roof rack and a 250-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine.  It’s priced to compete with the Subaru Outback, and like the Outback, has four-wheel drive standard on all trim levels. Pricing starts at $29,995, which is competitive with Subaru’s Outback. It’s more expensive than VW’s Golf SportWagen, which starts at $21,685, but that’s a smaller wagon and has significantly less horsepower, which will show up when you’re on the way to Grandma’s house for Christmas, fully loaded. It’s also a VW, with all the usual caveats and stern cautions I give my clients about buying products from Volkswagen Audi Group (about which more some other time) when they want basic, reliable transportation which they can own for 150,000 miles.

Initial reviews indicate the TourX may not be as off-roadable as some of its competitors, but if we’re honest, most of us who buy all-wheel drive want it for the snow performance, not back-country rambling. (If you do need serious off-road performance, come talk to me. I can help!)

What complaints I’ve heard in the press regarding the TourX so far are things mostly car enthusiasts fuss about, things like slightly less than sporty handling and an 8-speed transmission that sometimes causes irritation. Or that the interior isn’t as nice as the Audi Allroad wagon (well… duh. It’s $15,000 cheaper!) I hope to drive one myself, soon. I’ll report back when I do. Until then, I’ll continue trying to convince people to buy a wagon instead of an SUV.

“But wait! Jenny, you said it’s German!” I did. And it is. The first American station wagon in thirty years or so… is being built in Germany, in a plant that used to belong to GM’s European brand, Opel.  If you really neeeeeeed your wagon to be built by Americans, you might choose the Subaru Outback instead, which is built in Indiana.  Isn’t globalism wild?