I admit it. I love cars. I especially love high-performance cars, the kind with stiff suspensions, gas-gulping engines, outrageous insurance rates, and crazy maintenance costs that any sensible Fool (like, for instance, my spouse) laughs at. And it's for exactly that reason that the Fool's eminently sensible (there's that word again) advice on car-buying always sticks in my craw. It's so ... practical. And it has absolutely no accommodation for the dark roar of a Chevy V8, the banshee wail of an old Ferrari V12, the magical rasp of an air-cooled Porsche, the silky rip of a BMW straight-six ...
Maybe I'm small-f fooling myself, but I think one can buy a special car Foolishly. Read on and see if you agree.
While the planet would certainly be happier if we stuck to riding bikes, most of us really do need a car of some kind. We commute to work, we haul groceries, we take kids to baseball practice and to their grandmother's house on Sunday afternoons -- and here in the 21st century, those of us who live outside of city centers need a car (or two) to do those things. And while those needs can certainly be met with a small, efficient, reliable used car, some of us want something a little ... more. After all, we ask, what's the point of building wealth if you can't have a little fun with it sometimes?
I say you can -- if you're careful. It's all too easy to end up overspending when you're dealing with a large, emotional purchase like a special car. I've been there and done that, and here's what I've learned:
A car isn't an investment. Period. Ever. No, not even so-called "collector cars." (Trust me, I've lost money on several.) OK, a 1950s Ferrari with a period racing pedigree might be an "investment" in the same speculative nutso more-money-than-brains sense that a Picasso is an "investment," but for the rest of us, forget it. It's true that DaimlerChrysler
(NYSE:DCX)pitches Mercedes as investments and that Toyota (NYSE:TM)and Honda (NYSE:HMC)cars may hold their value better than some other models. But cars are a household expense, plain and simple, and they need to be approached that way.
- Be realistic when you budget, and stick to it. Cars can be very emotional purchases, especially for gasoline-addled fools like me, and double-extra-especially when we're talking about a special car that is more toy than practical tool. Car dealers know this and play all sorts of games to get you to part with more money than you'd intended, even on that grocery-getter, and those games get 10 times worse with hot enthusiast models. Tip: Bringing a spouse or friend who doesn't share your car passions along on the car-shopping trip can help keep you from going overboard.
- "Budgeting" is about more than the purchase price. Depreciation, insurance, and maintenance costs are all part of car ownership -- and are all part of figuring out what you can really, Foolishly afford. It's no fun to have a fancy car you can't drive because you can't afford to insure or maintain it.
- Consider buying used. While there's an undeniable thrill to a new-car purchase, there's also an undeniable cost. That new car will depreciate at the rate of several hundred dollars a month over the first couple of years. If you're buying a "fun" car and thinking of it as an asset that could be sold in a pinch, that new-car depreciation could lead to an unpleasant surprise. Buying used not only saves you money up front, it can lower your loss when it's time to sell.
In the end, buying a car is like any other major purchase. Add up all the costs, take a deep breath, decide whether you can afford it without compromising any of your other financial goals, and if you can and it makes your heart sing, go for it. Whether your pride and joy is an old Ford Mustang, a hot Corvette, or a spiffy new Toyota Camry hybrid, you'll get more of that pride and joy knowing the car of your dreams isn't compromising your financial future.
Want to meet and talk with other Foolish gearheads? Got a question for the experts? Hop on over to our Buying and Maintaining a Car discussion board for your daily dose of petrol fumes. Not a member? No worries -- you can ride free for 30 days.
Fool contributor John Rosevear, whose garage has held gems ranging from an old Aston Martin to a Corvette ZR-1, still loves the BMW he bought in 1998. He does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool's Hemi-powered disclosure policy is fast off the line and smooth through corners, but always stops to let little old ladies from Pasadena cross the street.