Not too long ago, I owned a truck.
There aren’t many people in the FIRE community who own trucks, but I know there are quite a few converts. Today, I publicly announce the addition of my name to those gas guzzling, city-dwelling, former truck drivers.
How I got a truck
Story time! The year was 2007. Fifteen year-old me was a sophomore in high school, only concerned about good grades, getting to band practice on time, and the occasional girl. I was nearing the legal driving age, and my parents and I needed to decide which vehicle I would drive. At that early age, I had already decided that I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, and gosh darnit I was determined to attend a specific school in Colorado.
As Texans, we know little about snow. We just don’t get it often in my area of the state – once, maybe twice a year, and only about 1 or 2 inches at a time. But my parents, being the caring people they are, wanted only the best for my safety: a truck!
A truck would address all the safety concerns, such as:
What if you lose traction in the snow?
Get four wheel drive! Then you won’t lose traction.
What if you get in a wreck?
Well, at least you will protected by your vehicle’s enormous mass.
And, one of the major reasons was: I really wanted it. I loved the idea of getting a real out-doorsy vehicle that could handle all the awesome excursions I would be going on while in college. I imagined myself going on remote backpacking trips, and my truck would be the key to getting myself there.
I also had a small lawn mowing business, so it was good for hauling my equipment around. And it certainly made road trips quite convenient – just throw everything in the back, pull the bed cover over it, and you’re good to go!
All that sounds pretty reasonable, right? Of course! We all want a vehicle that was safe, reliable, and practical.
How I decided get rid of my a truck
The issue was that a truck was not the only vehicle that could meet my needs:
- I did not need four wheel drive for snowy conditions in Colorado. A front wheel drive car with snow tires will outperform a four wheel drive car with normal tires. (But if absolutely must have four wheel drive, just get a Subaru.)
- The equipment I hauled around my neighborhood could have easily fit in a trailer and been pulled behind ANY car (or bike!).
- Modern safety standards in every vehicle are more important than the vehicle’s weight. It may help in certain situations, but most of the time, it is just dead weight.
All this, coupled with my relocation to the flat plains of the Midwest, contributed to my decision to trade my truck for a more city-suited vehicle.
But what was my main reason? Cost.
The truck itself was rather valuable. I realized that I could sell it and buy another newer car and STILL have money left over.
While I was going over the paperwork when I traded in my truck, the car salesman told me:
“This is a first. No one has ever traded down. Everyone always wants to go up!”
I sold my truck, bought a super sexy hatchback, and walked away with a fat wallet.
All this got me thinking: If I had the ability to teach my 15 year-old self what I know now, what would I say? (Let’s just focus on the vehicle choice part…there’s plenty else I would say, but that would deserve its own blog!)
1. Cars do not retain value
The second you buy a new car and drive it off the lot, you have already thrown away 11% of your money to depreciation.
Why? Cars wear down over time, so their value drops like a rock. Most cars lose half their original value within 4 years, with the biggest losses occurring directly after purchase. There really isn’t any way to avoid it. But you can reduce the impact of depreciation.
How? By buying cheaper cars. If you choose a car with a purchase that is $10,000 less, you have already saved yourself from losing $1,100 on day 1 in depreciation costs.
It is much more valuable in the long run if you don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. By only buying 3+ year old used cars, you avoid the brunt of the depreciation and keep more of your money. And remember: the money you save will be invested, so you will REALLY come out ahead in the end!
2. Don’t underestimate operating costs
BREAKING NEWS: Trucks are not known for their fuel efficiency. Go figure!
If we assume that I drive about 8,000 miles per year and gas costs $2.50 per gallon, I save $531 per year by driving my economy car! Invest those savings (duh) and that’s up to nearly $8,000 in 10 years.
And then there is maintenance.
- A bigger engine = more money spent on oil.
- Bigger wheels = more expensive tires.
- Four wheel drive = twice as many moving parts in the drive train.
3. Don’t talk yourself into a car based on its “utility”
Trucks can be a necessary tool, but if you live in the city, you probably don’t need a truck or an SUV, yet those two combined make up 50% of all vehicles in the United States.
I can hear the criticism already: “But I need my truck to haul mulch from Home Depot to my house every spring!” Great. But what about the rest of the time?
Most of the time, the only thing that trucks haul around is the 4,000 lbs. of metal that constitute the vehicle’s construction, and vans and SUV’s aren’t much better.
The extra size of these vehicles means wasted space, aerodynamic drag, and unnecessary weight, all of which add up to higher fuel costs (and difficulty with parallel parking).
Buy a car with only your general of needs in mind – Rent for the rest.
Need a vehicle to haul 1,000 lbs. of concrete for deck you’re building? Rent a truck.
Going on a two week road trip with 8 other friends? Rent a van.
Just want to drive real fast? I wouldn’t be surprised if you could rent this thing.
Bonus: Cars are not the only vehicle available
All throughout college and into my working career, I have found that a bike can actually be more convenient than a car in many situations.
Riding a bike gets you outside, which can be a godsend when you are stuck in an office all day. You get some some fresh air and exercise, and it is mildly empowering to rely on your own body for transportation and not some metal machine.
Not to mention the non-existent fuel costs! (Other than food, but most human people have to eat whether they bike commute or not.)
Have your FIRE aspirations influenced your choice of vehicle? Do you have a similar story? Let me know in the comments!