Question: Me and my girlfriend have been together long enough that the cars we brought into the relationship have finally crapped out.
She wants us to buy two new compact cars from one dealer and save some cash. I want to buy two luxury used cars from a discount lot — because for the same money, we can get more car, even if they’re a few years old.
Of course, we could each buy what we want, but we wouldn’t save us as much by going to one place. So we’re asking experts like you and have agreed to abide by the first one that gets back to us.
— Chris in Wisconsin
Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…
I don’t know if I’m the first to reply, but I hope I am — because this is a topic I feel strongly about.
As I wrote right before President Trump’s inauguration, another recession is coming, and it’s literally being driven by cars. Specifically, Trump will face an “auto bubble” not of his making.
While your instincts are correct and you’ll save money by buying from one place, I urge you to choose an entirely different option, Chris.
First, let’s review what you and your girlfriend are considering…
Why new isn’t always nice
Buying two new cars at the same time makes me nervous. The “auto bubble” I mentioned has saddled too many Americans with long-term loans they might not be able to pay off.
As car prices have crept up, so have the length of the loans to pay for them. Before the Great Recession, five years was the longest term you’d likely be offered. To entice buyers, lenders stretched that to six years, then seven. Last year, I saw reports of eight-year loans.
Now ask your girlfriend, Chris: Will both new cars last at least six years? If not, you run the risk of owing an old loan (or two) while you shop for a new car (or two).
Why used can be scary
As for buying used cars from a used-car dealer, I’m leery. Instead, I’d suggest buying “pre-owned” cars from an established dealer.
I’m often asked what’s the difference between used and pre-owned. Frankly, the latter is just a marketing term created by new-car dealers who were selling off-lease or trade-in vehicles. Now it’s emerged as a profitable chunk of new-car dealers.
The term really refers to dealers who are offering warranties and guarantees that smaller, independent used-car dealers can’t and don’t. I’ve heard too many horror stories over the years about used-car lots that went out of business or changed ownership, and whatever promises were made have suddenly perished.
If you really want to save money, you’ll need to separate your emotions from your finances. That’s difficult to do with many purchases, but cars are among the hardest. So I’d recommend shopping for one inexpensive pre-owned car and one slightly nicer car at the same dealer.
I’d look for one car that could safely handle a vacation drive, combined with one suitable for local commutes. I’d also study what you and your girlfriend earn each month and only spend as much as you can comfortably afford to pay off in three years.
If you want more specific advice on car shopping, I’d recommend this post from Debt.com partner Stacy Johnson called 7 Steps to Buying a Reliable Used Car. What makes his advice better than most: Johnson is nearly 60 years old and quite successful, yet he’s never bought a new car in his life. He considers it a waste of money.
Something to think about.
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Email your question to email@example.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.