Debt Finances & Money

Buying into an Auto Illusion

Yes, we have 3 cars. But two are paid-off: A 2005 MINI Cooper and a 130,000 mile 1997 Pontiac Grand Am. And yes, there’s only 2 of us. And finally, yes, I ride the metro to work so I drive MUCH less than I did when I drove to work (not since 2006 really).

Back in March, 2006, I traded in my 96,000 mile 2002 Acura TL-S for a brand new, 2006 Honda Ridgeline truck. Also back then, we had a 2005 Chevy Malibu instead of a MINI Cooper. I made the trade for a truck with the following reasoning:

  • We’re now homeowners, so we’ll need the hauling capability
  • We’re going to start a family, so we’ll need the size and safety of a bigger vehicle
  • We still weren’t certain about the Pontiac’s reliability, so that’s why we went with a new vehicle
  • We already had 2 sedans, so why get another “car”?

But looking back almost 2.5 years over our decision, I can relegate every one of those reasons as pure illusions.

Haul What?

Shortly after buying the truck, I started making the joke “I have the truck, but no money to buy anything to haul“. That was when I made about $15,000 less per year than I make now (not counting the income from and Building Nutrition), so now we have some money for renovations (we’ve spent thousands this summer!).

But seriously, it took about 2 years before I really started hauling stuff that I couldn’t move in a car, wagon or even an SUV (like 1200lbs of bricks or gravel). That was 2 years of $450 payments that I could have avoided.

Whahuh? Kids? Where?

So unless we were sleeping for 9 months during the last 2.5 years, I don’t think we’ve had kids yet. And we aren’t planning any soon, what with uncertainty about whether we want to stay in the D.C. area, and our general lack of energy to do much more than work and sleep.

Our Trusty Steed

Back in 2004, we had some problems with both Jiffy Lube and then a mechanic who messed up our Pontiac to the point where we just drove it to PA to our “family mechanic” (not related) to fix. He got it up-and-running in no time and it’s worked fine with about $600 in repairs or upgrades each year as maintenance. That’s less than 2 months of truck payments each year.

Honestly, I just used the “uncertainty” with the Pontiac as excuse to get a new vehicle. And I also used it as an excuse to not buy used, even though I feel the car could run to 200,000 miles with proper maintenance.

Three of a Kind?

Not much to say about the “not another sedan” deal, other than it was icing on the “Excuse Cake”. I used all of the other arguments to get a new truck; to justify why I couldn’t just 1) keep the Acura or 2) sell it and just drive the Pontiac

So Now What?

I’m closer to selling the truck than I have been since getting it, but it’s a hard sell to myself and to Stacie. Stacie will stand behind my decision either way, but that doesn’t mean she’s not asking questions first. Also, both of our sets of parents think I should keep the truck, but they both live in rural/semi-rural Pennsylvania “Truck Country”. They see the value in having a truck, but they’re not thinking of the rental options.

So as much as people ridicule us for having 3 cars for 2 people, the important people in our lives don’t want us to sell. And selling the Pontiac isn’t an option because it’s almost worthless to buyers (not to us though) based on KBB values. Also, it’s either get rid of $18,000 in debt (I could probably sell for $19k) or make $1,400.

Lastly, though, we’re not in dire need of money, and that’s what I think gets most people in trouble. We’re paying the bills just fine, but I realized that we could get ahead much faster if we had $450 more per month. I won’t say how much I make per hour, but that’s less than 2 days of work per month, and that’s why it’s hard for me to just give up the truck.

It’s convenient and we can “afford” it. But can we really afford it?

What about you? Are you, or have you been, in this situation? What did you do, or not do?

About the author

Clever Dude


  • We bought a new Galant GTZ in October of 1999. We thought it was a great idea because my truck was getting old. After buying the car it was involved in an accident that required $8000 in repairs. The new price was right at $25,000. The value of it now is about $4000. Needless to say, I am still driving that car.

    Now, I have learned that I will never buy a new car, and try to pay cash for them (which we have done for two). We will pay off my wife’s Trailblazer next Friday (not that I’m anxious). We will have paid off a 2 year loan in 7 months. With that in mind, let me say, “I HATE CAR PAYMENTS!” If I were in your shoes, I would sell it in a heartbeat. $450 a month will go a long way in reducing your other debts.

    You mentioned the “important” people in your life feel you should keep the truck. Honestly the only “important” people in your personal financial situation are you and your wife. Just my $.02.

  • I have often contemplated doing the exact same thing, buying a truck, and doing it for the reasons you list. I have thus far resisted the urge and I’m glad I have.

    My personal belief is that you shouldn’t have things you don’t need, even if you can afford it. I can afford to have lots of things, but having things isn’t nearly as important to me as not wanting things and being able to get ahead that much faster.

    So my advice, sell the truck. But ask yourself this. If you didn’t own the truck now, would you want to go buy one. If the answer is no, you should definitely sell. Same thing goes with stocks, and people have the same behavior. They hate letting go of losers even if they wouldn’t start a new position in the stock at that price .

  • I love the way that you start off quite defensive about your car driving 🙂 .

    Anyway, I think this is an example of the sunk cost fallacy. If you didn’t have the truck, you wouldn’t buy it now, right? You pretty much won’t make or lose any money by selling it as you basically owe what it’s worth. It sounds like the biggest reason you have for hanging on to it, is that you’ve already got it rather than any need.

    This doesn’t happen to me with cars, but it does happen with other things. It’s really hard to get to the mindset that what you have now isn’t set in stone. Changing your mind is not a bad thing, and maybe the reasons you had for buying in the first place weren’t that great, but if you’d realised that, you probably would have done things differently.

    I find that when it’s not a really *bad* decision to keep paying out it’s easy to do. It’s like forgetting to cancel subscriptions that you don’t really need but can afford. Objectively we’re saying to ditch it because that makes the most sense, but people (especially me) aren’t strictly rational all the time.

  • We have three cars, so not a lot of room to talk. But our excuse is that cars are our hobby and we own them all outright anyway. 🙂

    We’ve made similar decisions recently though. Last August, my husband’s 1994 Corolla clutch went up ($600-$800 fix), but we decided to buy a new car anyway – which is obviously much more expensive than fixing the old one. We’d already been researching our next vehicle, but didn’t plan on getting it for another year. Our main thought was that my husband was driving to Northern VA for work every day, so we wanted him to be driving something more reliable. Plus the ’94 didn’t owe us anything, he got it free from his parents and lasted a good long while and $220,000 miles. Plus it got us $900 donating it, so not too bad.

    We realize it wasn’t the smartest money decision by any means, but it was the best decision for us at that time. So yea, if you can afford it, there are some things that are worth the treat. I know I’d love to have a little pickup truck for house projects, and we probably will get one someday once I can get over the cringe-worthy thought of insuring and registering 4 vehicles.
    At least MD doesn’t require annual inspections as well! That would be additional expense for those of us with too many cars. 🙂

  • Well, I was one of the few people defending the truck last time this was brought up and it looks like I will be again.
    I was in the same kind of situation a few years ago, only my mind was made up for me. Let me start with some background details: At the time I was living alone (no wife yet) and had both my car (98 Mustang) and a small truck. The truck was totaled via a rear ending at a traffic light. As a result, I was left with one car and I was in no rush to replace the truck since it was just me and I can only drive one car at a time anyway. It became clear in about 3-4 months that I missed having the truck. I now own the Mustang, an 04 Dakota, and an 08 CRV (for the wife). I could probably get away without the truck, and the fact that I’m not making payments makes my situation different than yours. However, it did not take long for me to realize that the truck was not quite a want but also not a need. Besides, I live in “somewhat rural PA” so I probably am more like the parents in seeing the value of a truck.

  • I understand the justification. We just did the same thing to get a newer, better on the gas car. After having it one month, I’m somewhat regretting it.

    As for the truck, again, I get it. I say the same thing about my Dodge Dakota sitting in the driveway. I’ll probably need to haul something someday so I keep it.

    I wish you the best if you decide to sell the truck. Prices in my area for trucks have plummeted. It’s almost apocalyptic looking at some of the prices trucks are going for right now.

  • For what it’s worth, we had a truck until about 3 years ago. We thought we needed it just like you. Honestly, I can only think of 2 occasions since we sold it when we really NEEDED a truck. Fortunately, we have friends with trucks so we work out a deal with them to borrow, usually paying them with some good food and a full tank of gas.

    But like you said, the truck debt isn’t killing you so keep it if you really like it.

  • We have three vehicles as well (two cars and truck). However, instead of financing a newer truck, we bought a beater pickup from a friend for $600. It’s not much money out of our pockets and we’re able to haul stuff from Home Depot as needed. It has really come in handy this summer (for landscaping projects) but because it cost so little, we don’t care if it’s not driven regularly.

    Incidentally, until recently, my husband has used the truck as his daily driver instead of ‘his’ car because it gets better gas mileage.

  • If you ever feel like running the numbers, it might be interesting to compare how much it’d cost to rent something like the truck for those few instances you need it vs. how much it costs to actually have one. Renting may well be cheaper in the long run.

  • @Mrs Micah: No need to run the numbers as my readers already did it for me (in a prior post). Without a doubt, it’s much more economical for me to rent a truck rather than keep paying on this one. It’s purely an emotional decision now, unfortunately.

    And Stacie said I have no emotions. Hah! In your face honey!

  • I have a Honda CR-V and a 5 x 8 slat-sided trailer (the trailer cost about $800 new). A combo of that sort covers pretty much every possibly need, and gives you solid gas mileage when you’re not hauling stuff. I can fit three of our kids in the back seat, it has good cargo space (esp with the seats flipped down) and the trailer gives us the ability to haul all kinds of crap (e.g., with the high sides, I can haul up to 42 bales of pine straw without having to tie them down). True, I’m limited to towing ca. 1500 pounds, but how often do I need to do more than that in one load?

  • I’ve contemplated a lot trading in one of our cars for another. And better yet sell both and buy a better one car for our family. But it’s hard to let go of having my “own” car.

  • So, it’s economics versus emotion, eh?

    What are the emotional benefits you’re getting from the truck? Are there any cheaper ways to get these benefits? For example, if you like having a nice, shiny vehicle, then maybe a new paint job or wax on your other car could help you get the same feeling. Yes, you don’t need a new paint job, but neither do you need a truck, and one of them is a lot cheaper!

    Would it help you to let go of the truck if you did it in a way that addressed your emotions? For example, you could take it on a farewell road trip or hold a wake for it or get your pictures taken in it and frame that.

  • Boy, it’s hard to give someone $450/month for something that barely gets used. And that would be a great bump in you monthy debt payments. I think if it were me, I’d sell it and rent one like you’ve contemplated. If you don’t like life without the truck after a while, you can always go back and get another (maybe even cheaper or with cash).

  • We have one car for two people (we carpool). We take home about 80k, but our car is only worth 4k. Cars are a poor “investment”. I can’t imagine taking a loan on a depreciating asset.

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