I Kicked My Truck to the Curb, and You Should Too

Not too long ago, I owned a truck.

*gasp*

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

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My previous vehicle.

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.

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My wife calls it Black Beauty.

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!

My truck was grossly overpowered for commuting with a 4 liter, 6 cylinder, 236 HP engine (!). It had an estimated fuel economy of 17 mpg, which is down right terrible. My new hatchback gets 31 mpg.

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.

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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.

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Going on a two week road trip with 8 other friends? Rent a van.

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Just want to drive real fast? I wouldn’t be surprised if you could rent this thing.

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Bonus: Cars are not the only vehicle available

bikeAll 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!

20 thoughts on “I Kicked My Truck to the Curb, and You Should Too

  • September 8, 2017 at 6:47 pm
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    Love it! F dem monster trucks!!! Mr. Money Mustache wrote a nice piece on why a small car with snow tires is just as safe (or safer) than an all wheel drive beast. You nailed all the key arguments here. I own a Honda Fit and recently brought home a 5′ tall fridge in that sassy girl.
    Cubert recently posted…How to Survive Your First Year of BloggingMy Profile

    Reply
    • September 11, 2017 at 2:08 am
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      MMM is where I first heard that. It was quite eye opening. Man, that’s something I’d like to see! I bet it wasn’t easy to get it in there.

      Reply
  • September 9, 2017 at 3:03 am
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    I agree trucks or large SUV’s are not always practical but the fact is you can’t pull a boat or a large trailer behind a Suburu. If you live in the rural flyover states like me then recreation is outdoors and often involves fishing boats, all terrain vehicles for hunting or off roading and maybe a camper for hunting camp.

    Look, I’ve endurance run tens of thousands of miles so I’m guessing I’m as fit as you but bringing a bicycle to a car vs truck argument is like…well it is a distraction that’s all. The truth is most people with trucks don’t need them but my early retired and way over funded FI lifestyle absolutely requires one or my and my wife’s bass fishing days are over.and she gets testy when she can’t fish!

    Reply
    • September 11, 2017 at 2:16 am
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      You’re right, you can’t pull a large trailer with a Subaru. My point is that most city-dwellers do not have a frequent enough need for a significant towing capacity to justify keeping a truck around all the time. I am not criticizing people for owning a truck in all situations, just pointing out that it can frequently be a fiscally inefficient vehicle choice.

      I think it is absolutely worth considering biking as an alternative to driving. Again, it doesn’t apply to everyone – it wouldn’t be safe to bike commute down a single lane road in the country. I live in an area where it makes sense and it saves me some money. Thanks for commenting, Steve!

      Reply
  • September 18, 2017 at 2:08 pm
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    Your point on utility is spot-on. Two vehicles ago we purposely bought something that could tow a boat. We didn’t have a boat, but some day we wanted a boat. Well, we never got the boat. At least not while we still had that vehicle. So the main reason for us even buying it never came to fruition – big time wasted money there.
    Brad – MaximizeYourMoney.com recently posted…Tricks for Optimizing Your Eating Out BudgetMy Profile

    Reply
    • September 22, 2017 at 2:31 am
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      Good point! It’s better to wait until you have a reason to own something. There’s no point in buying it with its future use in mind. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  • September 18, 2017 at 2:14 pm
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    We live in the suburbs and work relatively close but still need cars to get around. We own one, small, hatchback car and one, large, SUV.

    However, we buy used, old, good quality, cars. The secret is to look for reliable cars that match your needs. We did not buy the cheapest cars available on the market since, over the long-term, the maintenance, and repairs (and the hassles) are just not worth it. We bought quality vehicles when they were a few years old and they still have plenty of years to go without any major repairs. Both our cars were purchased around the 5 to 6 years mark and both had roughly 50,000 miles on the meter. For that reason, we paid half price for them, our insurance premiums are lower, and we are losing less to depreciation when the time comes to sell.
    Xyz from Our Financial Path recently posted…We are Joining the Million Dollar ClubMy Profile

    Reply
    • September 22, 2017 at 2:34 am
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      Yep, I agree! It is most definitely a better deal to buy used cars since they depreciate so quickly. Let someone else pay full price and buy it from them!

      I also live in the suburbs. I don’t think that is necessarily a reason to need a car, though. We live within biking distance of everything we would need (we are literally a blog from Costco and Whole Foods).

      Reply
  • September 19, 2017 at 2:00 am
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    Ahhhhhh!!! Take it back! Haha. I love my truck… but… there is so much truth in this post. To give a little background info on my truck, its a 2005 and I bought it used, cheap, and paid cash… so I feel a little bit better knowing that there is no loan on it but your stats on operation cost and investment is going to make me thing… 🙂

    Reply
    • September 22, 2017 at 2:37 am
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      Haha! I loved my truck, too. Honestly, it was a hard decision (emotionally). In the end, I was more attached to its convenience and the fact that it was my first car. I know I made the right choice though. It is just a “thing” after all, and I am now accustomed to my hatchback. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  • September 19, 2017 at 8:52 pm
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    I did the same thing ! I lived in the cold Canadian Prairies and sold my big Dodge 4×4 for a beauty of a 4 door mid sized sedan and put winter studded tires on. Zero problems and I loved the cheap fuel, cheap oil changes and of course cut my car payments in half. I downsized just like you 🙂 they thought I was crazy in a truck town. Then with all the savings I quickly paid my loan off and have stayed car debt free since. On the next step of our early retirement path shortly after this we moved across the country and then sold the wife’s truck as well. This time we traded down to an SUV that was 4 years older, again way cheaper to operate own and now car debt free for her too.

    Reply
    • September 22, 2017 at 2:40 am
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      Awesome! Way to fight the system when everyone else around you thinks it’s weird! And congrats on getting rid of the car payments.

      Reply
  • September 19, 2017 at 10:08 pm
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    I have always liked and wanted a truck, but never owned one. The main reason for not owning one is the poor mpg. We have a small SUV that gets almost 30 mpg on average. It is good enough for getting our kayaks to the lake. You will save a ton of money by getting rid of the truck.

    Reply
    • September 22, 2017 at 2:42 am
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      The poor fuel economy was what bothered me the most about my truck, so I understand where you’re coming from.

      Reply
  • September 24, 2017 at 1:32 pm
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    We own a truck… to plow our 1/4 mile long driveway! Haha- we started with hiring a neighbor to plow for us, but they had equipment trouble that left us high and dry during a few huge snowstorms, so we realized we would use the truck on a nearly daily basis in the winter. It was a great purchase, but if we didn’t have the driveway to deal with, I’d agree with you 😉
    AdventureRich recently posted…Five Awesome Perks of Working RemoteMy Profile

    Reply
    • September 24, 2017 at 1:59 pm
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      I would own a truck if I were in your situation too. A quarter mile driveway would be terrible to shovel by hand!

      Reply
  • September 24, 2017 at 4:33 pm
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    Interesting write-up. I can’t see myself giving up my truck. It is too handy and utilitarian. True, it is overkill to run to the grocery store and back, but it is super handy for DIY projects that I keep seeming to have to perform!

    Reply
    • September 26, 2017 at 11:39 am
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      Yeah, I liked having mine for that kind of stuff too. My decision was more based on the value of the truck (~$18,000). I just didn’t need a vehicle that expensive.

      Reply
  • October 23, 2017 at 6:53 am
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    This post is near and dear to my heart (and painful). My biggest financial mistake was taking the gains from my first home sale plus mileage money saved from work so I paid cash for a new Honda Ridgeline in 2007 for my 25th birthday. Paying cash for a new car was always one of those “financial moments” I wanted to achieve so badly.

    Gas immediately crept up to $3.50 and I had signed up for a clown car commute. It hurts me to this day to think about the amount of money I burned for seven years with that truck. Ironically at about the time I was going to say “uncle”, I got a geographic move with my job and have been within 3 miles of my house and haven’t been able to give up the vehicle.

    I agree with your analysis complete, if you’re not FI and driving a truck or SUV, someone should come over and conduct an intervention. (Now that I’m at FI, its just an annoyance to fill it up at Costco)

    Reply
  • October 23, 2017 at 2:09 pm
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    Oh man! I wouldn’t want to have a truck with gas that expensive! Sometimes you just have to make a mistake to learn a lesson. Trucks are considered so normal that many people don’t even question it. Thanks for commenting!

    Reply

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