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!