Finances & Money

Examine Your Motives Series: Buying a Car

Next up in the Examine Your Motives Series, we’re going to discuss something close to my heart: Buying a car. I’ve told you how we lost $14,500 by stupid mistakes. We didn’t think about why we wanted or needed a car. But that’s why I’m here: to help you examine your motives!

So, let’s get right into it. You want a car. Maybe you just want something simple, or maybe you want something sweet like a Mercedes, BMW or Chevy Aveo. Wait, how did that slip in there?

Some of you have enough cash to pay for a car in-full, while most of you can only dream of walking into a dealership with a wad of greenbacks, slapping it on the salesman’s desk and driving away in a Mini Cooper. But ask yourself this first: “Do I NEED a car, or do I WANT a car?”

The answer is pretty simple for many of you because you may have few transportation options. Let’s look at those options. I’ll just list out as many as I can think of, regardless of urban, suburban or rural location:

  • Mass transit: bus, subway, light rail, trolley, train
  • For hire: taxis, limos, shuttles
  • For rent: Enterprise, Hertz, Budget, Avis, U-haul, Home Depot (yep, they got trucks), Segway
  • Car sharing: Zipcar, Flexcar, other networks
  • One/Two/Three wheels: bicycle, motorcycle, unicycle, tricycle, scooter, moped
  • By sea: ferry, yacht, surfboard, sailboat, kayak, strapping dolphins to your feet
  • By air: plane, helicopter, U.F.O., strapping 500 hummingbirds to your body
  • Other: horse and buggy, skateboard, rollerblades, shopping cart, walking, running

And the list goes on. So why do you NEED to OWN a car or truck when you have all of these other options? Well, duh, cause you want one! No, really, some of you need a vehicle for our jobs, such as farm work, plumber, or pizza delivery, but what about the rest of you? Why do YOU need a car? Can you use one of the options above? I’ll let you answer that for yourself. My purpose is to get you to think.

Now, we know you NEED a car. Let’s ask some questions about what kind of car you should get:

(I’m excluding parents and children with handicaps from these examples)

Do you tow something more than once a month?

Obviously if you’re going to get frequent use out of a towing vehicle (we’ll stick with a truck for now), then it may be more cost effective to own the truck rather than rent one multiple times each month. However, just thinking that you’ll use a truck a lot isn’t reason enough to buy one. I own a truck, and I really don’t need it. I can count the number of times I absolutely needed the truck on just one hand. But it’s hard for a man to sell his truck once he’s got one. And it’s hard for the wife to let the husband sell it too!

Do you have a large family (3 or more kids)?

Having a large family is usually the deal-maker for buying something more than a little hatchback. If you have 17 children, or even 3, you probably need something bigger than a sedan or small wagon, and renting a car just won’t cut it. Why is 3 a magic number? Because the stuff you haul around town for mom, dad and 2 kids can just fit into a standard sedan. If it doesn’t then you have too much junk. There’s little reason for a family of 4 to move up to an SUV or minivan, unless you go on major driving vacations every month.

Is it just you in the car a majority of the time?

If you really only drive yourself around, then you really don’t need something big, right? Unless you fall into the “towing” category, then you should be able to haul yourself around in a Ford Fiesta every day, and rent something for those days in which you need more capacity. How many of you have bought an SUV with a third row for “those times the in-laws come to visit”? I bought my truck because “it was big enough to grow into”. Well, it’s been over a year. I’m not fatter and we don’t have kids, so who else is growing? Stacie sure isn’t!

Seriously folks, think about WHY you need a vehicle first before thinking WHAT KIND. If you automatically think you need a car because it’s the easiest option, then try out some of the options above first. If you just absolutely MUST have a car because of emotional reasons, then you’re beyond help, much like myself.

Photo Courtesy of SqueakyMarmot

About the author

Clever Dude


  • I love the premise of the series. Depending on were you live, not having a car isn’t that practical of an option IMO. Maybe thinking through whether you ‘need’ and second or third car would be extremely important.

    Now thinking through how much, what kind of car you should buy, and how you will pay for it is a really great exercise. There are lots of hidden motivations in ‘what do I drive’ questions.

  • I live in a major metropolitan area with excellent public transportation. Not having a car is definitely a practical option for many people here, but it’s one that most people don’t even consider, even as they struggle with housing, gas, and other expenses. “Do I really need a car in the first place?” is a question that everyone could benefit from asking themselves, even if the answer for some does turn out to be “yes.”

  • an over simplification but underlying premise is nice. family 4 argument is rather absurd. not everyone has too much junk. of course the contention excludes the fact that your kids might have play pals, and you might have friends, and you might car pool kids.

    of course if you are talking strictly from a utilitarian point of view getting a ford fiesta would be ok. i for one wouldn’t drive a ford fiesta, because i don’t like it. moreover, there is nothing wrong with wanting anything. if you need a car, it shouldn’t matter if you want a car that you need if you can afford it.

  • Something needs to be said for diversification too. That is, if you currently have two sedans and you are planning on selling one, then depending on your situation you can more easily justify buying a truck or SUV.
    In other words, it may not make sense to have two similar cars.

  • Rob, that’s actually the reason I got my Ridgeline. We had 3 sedans already. My Acura was pretty high mileage, very close to the end of the extended warranty, and was known to have transmission problems (already had 1 replacement). I got the truck because it’s a good people and stuff hauler, but I know now that I over-bought. It was more than we needed at the time.

  • i am confused why would anyone want to buy a Mini Cooper…i remember someone’s wedding, and i remember someone’s stereo indulged Geo Prism having more power in it then a mini cooper.

    Here is what you forgot to add in, the cost of gas/gas mileage of an auto. Trucks have bad gas mileage, and considering the (insert normal realist comments) gas war, having a truck or suv for typical day to day work driving functions is a complete waste.

    And as for the family of 4 concept, you are forgetting one little thing: friends and sports. once you have kids, kids obtain friends, kids need hauled from place to place. as kids grow older, kids start driving their friends around (remember the time you took my car to drive around…the olds).

    anyway, the point is, if you are going to buy a car, buy something conservative and good on gas. overpaying for creature features that seem good at the time usually are the first to break and bite ya in the butt.

    also…NEVER BUY EXTENDED WARRANTIES…the amount that one costs vs. the normal repair cost is basically a wash, so why pay upfront for something you may never use?

  • I had a Tacoma (small truck made by Toyota for those who don’t know). It was great – 4-cylinder, 25+ MPG, and the utility to move things around. That type of truck is practical for those who want to move things, but not tow heavy items such as boats, trailers, etc.

    I ended up trading it in for a compact car because I was the only person who used it. I get great mileage and my car is fun to drive. I never needed the ultra luxury, high dollar, gas guzzling behemoth to be happy. I think too many people buy a car based on the perceived status it gives them.

  • […] Gather Little By Little on Examine Your Motives Series: Buying a Car […]

Leave a Comment