Vehicle Tradeoffs

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and works as a financial adviser. He is married, has three kids and plans to retire at age 35.  Robert and his wife then plan to return to school and become teachers, eventually living and working overseas.

It was a sad day for me when we bought a minivan. We had a third child on the way and, logically, buying a minivan made sense. We sold our compact car that fit only two carseats in the back and bought a used Honda Odyssey that was a couple years old. There were more benefits, too. I once fit a 13′ ladder in it. Another time, I brought home a 3-piece livingroom set in one trip. And it sure is nice having the kids more-or-less separated from each other while we’re driving. The major drawback is that we now spend twice as much on gas. I console myself with the thought that it’s still cheaper than owning two cars.

When we took a 10-day vacation, we rented a sedan. It was a late model Toyota Camry, and I realized how much I missed driving a sedan. I guess I’m just not a minivan guy, and I really wouldn’t mind trading down from a minivan to a full-size sedan. It wouldn’t really be trading down, because we could probably buy a Camry or an Accord for the same amount that we could sell our Odyssey for. It would cost us less in gas each year, a recurring savings. But other than that, there wouldn’t be a lot of benefit.

As I was looking through the classified ads, I realized just what a pain it would be to sell our van and buy a car. First, the time it would take doing research to find the right model for us. I would want to read Consumer Reports to find out which make and model and year is best on gas, with the lowest maintenance cost and is the least likely to require repairs. Then, after narrowing it down to two or three models, I’d have to watch the classifieds to find one that is for sale and decide whether or not it’s a reasonable price. (I found to be helpful.) But after that is the riskiest part, in my mind. I’ve only bought three cars in my life. Could I really tell, by test driving it, whether or not it’s mechanically sound and likely to stay that way?

In the end, I know my van. I know that it’s not much to look at, but it runs well. I have a set of winter tires on rims that I can change myself. I know what maintenance has been done and what is likely to be needed. I have a very good idea how much it will cost me to own each year. I know how much it’s worth to me, but I’m not sure if someone else is willing to pay that price. And so, even though it’s rare that I need the extra space, I decided not to trade my van for a sedan. The potential cost-saving in gas wouldn’t be worth the risks of buying an unknown vehicle. And if we needed to rent a minivan or full-size van for a week for whatever reason, it would cost around $850, almost the entire amount saved over a year.

What money-related decisions do you put this much thought into? Did it pay off?

3 thoughts on “Vehicle Tradeoffs”

  1. “I guess I’m just not a minivan guy . . . ”

    Me neither. We only have 2 kids and were actually shopping for a small to mid-sized 5-door or wagon and got a really great deal on a mini-van instead. From that moment forward I just avoid driving and let the spouse do it. Driving it is such a chore it’s so dull, I’d rather just sit in the passenger seat and watch the guard rails go by counting the posts.

    Until I have something that I like driving I’ll just avoid doing it. Oh Taurus SHO, why can’t you be mine?

  2. Sorry you find your honda ody to be a drag. I got a 2004 and I love it (and I used to own a manual tranny 3 series before the Honda).

    But you should also consider the cost of car insurance, minivans tend to be the cheapest to insure. My insurance dropped quite significantly. So if you need further consolation, just call up your insurance company and find out what a typical sedan would cost to insure and you may be pleasantly surprised that the extra gas cost is somewhat offset.

  3. Most people I know with multiple kids drive minivans and I can see why. Doesn’t mean it is the car of their choice … just means it fits their current life. I’ve seen minivans come and then go as the kids get older and the family returns to the sedan.

    My husband and I are taking about a year to downsize from a large house to a small townhouse. It took lots of discussion, looking at real estate, remodeling the new place (still in process) and listing the old house with an agent … and we haven’t even moved yet.

    So yes, I have put a lot of effort into many decisions, this being the current one. Will it pay off? Time will tell but I think so since we will be saving between $10,000 and $12,000/year in home maintenance, utilities, and property taxes … not to mention time spent on projects around the house.

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