Autos: Time to buy a new car?
“Americans love their cars,” said Michelle Singletary in The Washington Post. So much so, we’re willing to go “in and out of debt” for them. Prices for new cars have climbed more than 10 percent in the past five years, hitting an average $35,176 in 2017. Those higher prices suggest that new-car buyers are still willing to pay “top dollar” for vehicles with the latest features and cutting-edge technology. But those same prices are also convincing many consumers to hold on to their older vehicles. The average length of ownership was a record 79.3 months at the end of 2015. So when should you replace your car? Convention suggests you should upgrade if any single repair cost exceeds the car’s current market value. But I think this rule “is shortsighted.” For older cars in particular, you need to look “at more than just the Kelley Blue Book value.” Consider all the replacement costs, “including insurance, taxes on the purchase, and interest if you have to get a loan.”
It was once “an article of faith” among car shoppers that buying used was a “way better deal” than buying new, said Jerry Edgerton in CBSNews.com. “After all, new cars suffer on average a 27 percent depreciation in value their first year.” But today some SUVs and pickups, including trucks from Jeep, Honda, and Toyota, lose less than 15 percent of their purchase value within 12 months, so “buying new makes more sense.” If you do buy, “being flexible on a few fronts can save you money,” said Gina Ragusa in Mic.com. Shop comparable models and styles at both used-car lots and new-car dealerships, and be sure to check your preferred model’s depreciation history. Just opting for a more basic style or even a different color can shave thousands of dollars from your final costs.
Begin your shopping by figuring out exactly how much you can afford— and stick to that figure, said Phil LeBeau in CNBC.com. Auto debt reached record levels last year, as Americans not only paid more for their cars but also took longer than ever to pay them off. The average new-car loan last year was “an all-time high” $31,099 with a $515 monthly payment. For used cars, it was also a record: $19,589 with a $371 monthly payment. Remember: Dealers don’t care “if you can’t afford your car,” said Tom McPharland in Jalopnik.com. Part of their business “depends on desperate people with poor math skills.” So carefully examine dealership reviews online and steer clear of those accused of “predatory” sales practices. Don’t be afraid to ask for time to truly understand the terms of sale. And always be prepared to “walk away if it’s a bad deal.” ■