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Driving Me Happy

Howard Rohleder

MY CAR EMAILED ME to say its tire pressure was low. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say it this way: An email from Subaru was triggered by data uploaded from my 2020 Forester, all part of the automatic safety and maintenance technology built into the vehicle. The email confirmed the dashboard light indicating the same problem.

My frugal friends and I have had friendly debates about car buying. Is it better to buy a used car and avoid the instant depreciation when you drive off the dealer’s lot? Or should we pay more to purchase a new car, with a plan to drive it for many years?

This same debate was featured in the book The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. Their research for the 2010 edition found that the millionaires surveyed were split on the issue, just as my friends and I are. The book said 63.4% of millionaires were buying new, versus 36.6% choosing used.

Historically, I’ve bought new vehicles. The Subaru replaced a 2008 Mercury. Our second car is a 2010 Honda. Like the Subaru, we purchased both the Mercury and Honda new. I dislike the car-buying experience, so I want our vehicles to last. I buy new and keep up with routine maintenance to delay the need to replace them.

My push to shop for a new car in 2020 was because of the new safety technology now available. Many studies have shown that 80% to 90% of Americans feel they’re “above average” drivers—a statistical impossibility. Based on my wife’s reactions in the passenger seat, I’ve concluded that I must be average at best. When Consumer Reports began touting the many safety improvements available today, I couldn’t ignore the opportunity to improve our safety.

After buying the Forester, I became an instant fan of adaptive cruise control, which automatically adjusts a car’s speed to keep a safe following distance. There have also been a few occasions when my car’s automatic braking system reacted faster than my reflexes. Lane change assist, blind spot sensors and a backup camera with collision warnings all combine to reduce my accident risk.

My reasons for buying new cars in the past were threefold: to maximize the time between purchases, to reduce the chance of buying a hidden problem and to control the vehicle maintenance from the outset. To these, I now add a fourth—the peace of mind that comes with the latest safety technology.

And, yes, there was a leak in my car’s front left tire valve stem. I’ve now had it repaired.

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MikeinLACA
MikeinLACA
11 months ago

Completely agree about buying new to get the latest features. Our family owns a range of new cars – a 2019 Kia (with ACC, cameras, etc.), a 2013 Fiat 500, and a 2002 Honda Odyssey with 150,000 miles. For tootling around town, the old bangers are fine. For longer rides or when the kids drive at night, the newer car gets the call. Lots of maintenance on the older cars, but fewer big outlays for replacement vehicles. It´s a hybrid solution.

Divengolf
Divengolf
11 months ago

There is a third option. Certified used(CU). I have bought two CU Lexus’ in the past three years. I look to buy a vehicle with less than 20K miles and no more than two years old. That way I get at least 2 years of original warranty plus (for Lexus) an additional two years of warranty. Total of four years, same as if I bought new. The cost of CU is about $2-3K more than the same vehicle without the CU features. And before purchase, I take the car to my trusted independent mechanic for an pre-purchase inspection including getting a readout from the onboard computer to show anything that has gone wrong in the past. About $100.

Like most I’ll run the vehicle for many years getting about 150k miles before looking for a replacement. The down side is that it takes time and patience to find the vehicle, color and options that you want. Took me over six months to find my last purchase, a 2018 Lexus RX 450hL. I wanted hybrid and the extended body for extra cargo space plus limited colors that my wife would accept.

I saved about $20k compared to a new vehicle. Plus I just love the folks who must trade in their vehicle every 2 years. Good source of CU cars.

My last two CU vehicles (2017 & 2018) were bought mostly to get the new safety features that our pre-2005 did not have.

johntlim
johntlim
11 months ago

My car’s automatic braking system has bailed me out on a few occasions. And I also love its adaptive cruise control. Thanks for sharing, Howard.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
11 months ago

Great article. I’m showing my dinosaur here but I dislike how complicated the technology has become on new cars. My wife’s 2019 Camry has an owner’s manual that is 612 pages long, and there are 4 other booklets as well.

If there were a way to retain the important safety features but simplify everything else, I would be happier.

DrLefty
DrLefty
11 months ago

Oh, man. I got a 2020 Audi Q3 and have to keep their YouTube videos bookmarked on my phone so I can be reminded of how to do things. We still haven’t figured out the automatic parking feature.

Add to that that we bought the car during the pandemic, and I haven’t driven it that much at all, so even if I do figure out the features, I forget them by the time I need them next. You really do have to go to school on your new car these days.

parkslope
parkslope
11 months ago

I feel the same way about my 2020 Subaru Outback. After 25 years in NYC without a car, I wanted a new car with great safety features. While I’ve never had an accident, I must admit that my reactions are a little slower than they were when I was younger.

steveark
steveark
11 months ago

All those features on the Forester were available on luxury brands five years ago. I bought a 2017 Infiniti from Vroom and it came with the same safety features as a 2021 Subaru Forester. My wife buys a new car once every 15 years and I buy four year old cars every time I hit 200K on the speedometer. The features on her Bronco Sport are pretty similar to my QX50 but she had to pay nearly twice as much. I think the economics of the way she buys new and I buy used are pretty much equivalent but I come out ahead on safety features because I stick to luxury brands which stay ahead of midrange brands on all the gizmos and gadgets. By the time she is ready for a new ride her 15 year old car is pretty dated safety feature wise.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
11 months ago

Seems to me that the dash light alone was perfectly adequate. (The tire pressure warning light on my fourteen year old car went on twice recently, once for an actual problem and once because the sensor needed to be replaced.) I strongly object to the idea of my car communicating with anyone else. Haven’t you heard of privacy?

Guest
Guest
11 months ago

I drive a ’93 Volvo. Simple mechanics to it and so little trouble/cost over the years. I do not look forward to buying a new or even slightly used vehicle when this one dies. Seems there are far too many complex components and software that can go wrong more frequently and then at a higher expense to repair.

Last edited 11 months ago by Guest
R Quinn
R Quinn
11 months ago

Good article. I agree. Until I retired my car purchases were very basic, usually a Chevy sedan far from top end models. That changed in 2014 when I bought a Mercedes. But now its technology is way out of date, not even Apple car play.

My wife’s 2020 Jaguar has much better technology and I’m addicted to using car play.

I’m starting to get the itch to buy a new car loaded with the ability to send me e-mail … but. this doesn’t seem to be the time.

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