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Car Buying: Is Cool Worth the Cost?

Toyota sports car

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

My name is Scott, and I drive a boring four-door family sedan. Can you say "uncool?"

Go ahead; it's OK. I'm used to it by now. My 13-year-old son reminds me all the time. And I'm totally fine with it. In fact, I kind of wear it like a badge of honor because when it comes to cars, "cool" and "financial catastrophe" are often interchangeable descriptions.

So where do you fall on this issue? Does the "cool factor" weigh heavily in your car-buying decisions? If so, follow me on a journey I've begun with my son. I just might convince him (and you) that cool is not worth the cost.

Itemizing the Cost of Cool

For some reason, my son has recently developed a not-so-secret crush on the new models of the old Detroit muscle cars. Maybe it's my blue-collar upbringing coming out in him? When he sees one, I usually hear, "You should get that for your next car, Dad." To which I reply something like, "Are you nuts? Do you know how much it costs to drive one of those things?" To which he responds, "Come on, they aren't that expensive." And back and forth we go until his 13-year-old attention span launches us into a new debate topic.

Following his interest, I decided to get proactive and involve my son in a little exercise. My instructions were simple: Go to the website of one of these car companies and build your dream muscle car. I'll do the same for a car I might actually buy. Then we'll research the projected cost to own each of our chosen rides and see just how much it costs to be cool.

As a starting point, my choice had an approximate sticker price of $29,000. My son's was $46,500. The chart below, which lays out a handful of the estimated financial differences between his dream and my reality, is the result of our research.

Estimated Costs Over 5 Years

My "Weak" Reality

His "Muscle" Dream

Loss in value (depreciation)

$18,300

$29,300

Financing costs 
(hypothetical 3% for 60 months)

$2,266

$3,633

Maintenance and repairs

$3,300

$7,200

Gas

$8,700

$17,000

     

Total

$32,566

$57,133

   

Difference per month over 5 years: $409

 Do you see that bottom number? $409 per month, every month, for five years. You could almost get two of my cars for the price of his one. Now to be fair, my son did pick the most expensive model and then felt it necessary to add a few additional upgrades. After all, everyone needs paddle shifters and high-performance tires, right?

 Do Your Homework

What I hope you take from this is that the financial aspect of car buying is something you should take very seriously. The effects of your decision can follow you long after you leave the car lot. Do your research like we did and find a car that really makes sense for your situation rather than one that just appeals to you emotionally.

Finally, it's worth noting that I really don't have anything against any particular brand of car. Between you and me, I'd much rather have the car my son wants me to drive. But as the exercise above clearly shows, being cool has a price. And that price is too high for me.

Now, if I could just get my son to understand that. 

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