Dear Mr. Money Mustache,
What should I do – suck it up and live with my past choices, or fix it?
It is always nice to hear people asking this question, because it means one of the biggest financial mistakes in the lives of most people – a ridiculous vehicle choice – is up for reconsideration. But far too often the error never gets fixed, because people don’t do the math for themselves.
I hear things like “well, it’s paid off, so I should keep it forever now, right?”. That’s an old argument left over from the days when people “financed” cars, and then eventually donated them back to the dealer for a tiny credit towards another financed car in a tragic move called the “trade in”. Of course YOU don’t have a car loan, and you buy and sell your cars in the private market, miles away from the stealerships right? If you DO have a loan, go ahead and work on that debt emergency. But the finance status has nothing to do with whether or not you’re driving the right car. So let’s not call it a “paid off” car, let’s just call it a “car”.
The next issue is the definition of reasonable fuel economy. When I hear people describing their beloved trucks and SUVs, I often hear comedic phrases like, “it’s not that bad, actually. I get 17MPG in the city”, or, “on the highway, I can get 22-23 MPG consistently”.
Those are good figures for a dump truck or a school bus, but when you’re talking about a vehicle that is regularly used to transport fewer than 10 people, they shouldn’t even enter your realm of consideration. Reasonable fuel economy starts at 35MPG (US, highway), and much higher is possible. The Honda Insight 2-seater from the early 2000s, for example, regularly returns over 70MPG in combined use, yet you can buy a nice 2001 one on the used market for about $5000. If you commute alone or have no children, this may still be the ultimate car. Take that, Prius!
So let’s see how much people really are wasting on fueling their Antimustachemobiles.
In one of the most recent emails, a guy told me he was driving about 40 miles per day in a pickup truck.
At 40 miles/day x 200 workdays per year, he’s commuting 8,000 miles per year just for work. We can add in another 7,000 for errands and vacations, and end up with 15,000 miles, right around the average US annual driving level.
Assuming this truck burns at 18MPG, this person is wasting 833 gallons of fuel per year, or $3100 every year even at our among-the-cheapest-in-the-world price of $3.75/gallon.
Switching to a more reasonable car at 35MPG would cut the bill by $1600/year!
Switching to an actual commuter car like the Insight at 70MPG would shrink the gas consumption to 214 gallons, and reduce the bill by $2300 per year.
If you don’t get excited by numbers like $1600 and $2300 per year, I need you to take a break from reading, print out a picture of me, and use it to punch yourself in the face while looking into the mirror so you can watch the grave disciplinary scene unfold. Every ten years, compounded at 7%, those savings add up to $22,000.00 and $31,700 respectively.
Let’s put it another way: Switching from an SUV to a car, will save you enough to buy a new luxury car every ten years, or an excellent used car every four years. But since that would be a foolish use of the savings, let’s consider another option: For an average earner with an average savings rate, switching from an SUV to a car will allow you to retire at least ten years earlier. In fuel savings alone! If you add in the cheaper tires, oil changes, and other parts used by efficient cars, the savings are even bigger.
This is a point that cannot be stressed too strongly. There is almost no possible case for driving around in a sub-35MPG car. And yet the roads are full of them. Virtually all of the drivers are broke, and they can’t afford even the fuel bills for their cars. And yet they continue to buy more gas guzzlers for themselves. It’s the biggest source of mass insanity in the modern world, and yet people still buy these ridiculous cars for themselves every day.
If you have a side business or a very large family that requires major cargo capacity occasionally, it is usually much more cost effective to own an efficient car for most of your driving, and a second behemoth vehicle (an early-2000s minivan for example) for the rare hauling events. Adding my own hauler minivan to the fleet increased my insurance costs by only $7 per month. Even after adding registration and depreciation costs, owning the extra machine is much cheaper than doing all the driving at the higher rate of fuel consumption.
For more occasional hauling, simply towing a trailer (open or enclosed), or turning your little car into a big one may even save you from the hassle of owning a hauler vehicle.
So hopefully this answers the question once and for all. Yes, you should sell your truck to get an efficient car, if you’re driving anywhere close to the national average. Yes, it will save you a shitload of money. No, you won’t be comparing your truck’s used value to the sticker price of a new car, because you won’t be buying a new car. Ever. Yes, your life will go on and be just as happy even as you adapt to the new way of getting around. Just stop fooling yourself, and sell that effing gas guzzler before this article catches on and causes the resale value to drop to zero. You’ve been warned!