201 comments

It’s Never too Late to Ditch your Gas Guzzler

Mr. Money Mustache has been getting quite a few emails these days asking questions like this one:

Dear Mr. Money Mustache,

I’ve only recently discovered your blog, and I have decided to change my ways for the better. But I’m still stuck with the relics of my un-Mustachian past, like my trusty (Full-sized 4×4 Pickup truck with V8 engine, Toyota 4Runner SUV, Land Rover LR2 Fake Executive Luxury Truck, etc). But it’s paid off, and I’m not sure if I should go through the expense and/or hassle of switching vehicles.

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 earlierIn 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!

Happy shopping!

 

  • Joseph September 26, 2012, 1:47 pm

    Mustachian newbie here – this was just what I needed to get off my behind and start making some bigger changes. Sold my 21mpg SUV and bought a 35mpg Scion hatchback, which should save me $1250/year in gas alone. Plus I made $1000 on the sale in the process. I should have done this so long ago!
    Thanks MMM!

    Reply
    • Bobby November 12, 2012, 9:37 am

      Yeah Buddy!!!

      Reply
  • Bill October 4, 2012, 7:52 am

    Just please don’t crush those old classics. Most cars made pre 1972 are much loved and cherished cars by old car enthusiasts who drive carefuly, keep them in tune and don’t drive them too often. Anyone caught crushing a car made pre 1949 (especially) ought be told off sternly.

    Save those classic cars!

    Reply
  • Sam October 4, 2012, 6:13 pm

    I don’t think gas guzzlers are a bad deal, if you use it for what you need it for. Here in Alaska, i could get by with a fwd honda civic and get 30+ mpg, but not only am I, but my wife is always on call, so when it snows or a blizzard happens, guess who has to drive. I was thinking about trading in my 2005 Envoy for a new AWD SUV. After doing the math, for selling and find the newer SUV, it wasn’t worth it even after getting 5 mpg better. And then the safety reason alone. My SUV is 4×4 and the new SUVs are AWD. 4×4 can get out of sand, snow, and ice easier than the AWD can.

    But I will say, that we do walk around the block or a mile down the road for groceries, and we are thinking of buying a bike this spring to start biking to work on nice days. We do plan if we leave Alaska and get to better weather locations (AKA Louisiana or Texas both the wife and I are from the south) we plan to get a newish car that gets 40+ mpg. (newish as 1 to 2 years old.)

    Reply
  • RPH October 7, 2012, 6:02 am

    Hello, I’ve been reading your blog for about a couple weeks now and I must say I’m loving what I’m seeing! Sadly I own a Buick Century (V6 automatic sadly) with 69,500 miles (now 85,000) which I bought for $1500 and use to commute about 40 miles a day.

    I’ve been thinking of switching vehicles but it’s my first car and I’m slightly attached, but I had an offer to straight trade a 2004 Kia Spectra with automatic and 55,000 from an elderly couple.

    I plan on moving closer to the office so i can lower the mileage on either but i was hoping to see your opinion on the subject since everyone else I ask is a mixed and I’m not sure how much the financial difference would honestly be since I’ve started adjusting my driving style somewhat. Thanks btw!

    Reply
  • LJ November 9, 2012, 11:05 am

    Great article and great posts from everyone!

    My wife and I are almost done paying off our cars. One is a Ford Fusion 2007 and the other a Jeep Commander 2006. We plan on buying a house a year from now and are aware of any new purchases BEFORE buying a house can be detrimental. Should we wait to buy more economical vehicles AFTER we close on the home??? I hate knowing we pay $700 in gas alone each friggin’ month!!! Thanks!

    Reply
  • Bobby November 12, 2012, 10:15 am

    First step towards Mustachianism thanks to this article! – Sold my 2011 Toyota Tacoma (bought brand new) and got into a 2008 Subaru Impreza. This got me out of $8000 of debt and will save $1024 in gas per year by my calculations as I’m already averaging 30mpg. I know I could have done better in the mpg department but this best met my needs. This was an extremely liberating experience that everyone commuting in a SUV or Truck should do.

    Trade-In Advice – Currently in a loan? Your goal is to get out of debt and your car payment!!! A Dealership or AutoBroker can expedite the paperwork to get you out of a loan and into a “new to you” car. This process would have taken 30 days privately and I didn’t want to deal with $25k with someone on Craigslist. You may not get the best deal this way but getting out of debt is worth every penny lost in a trade. Don’t stay in a $20k-$30k loan because you’re afraid of “losing” $2000.
    – DO YOUR RESEARCH!!! – Print the figures for what your car is worth and what the car you’re looking at is worth. Have your FINAL price in mind, stick to it and be willing to walk away. I suggest a combo of Edmunds, Cars.com and Kelly Blue Book. Car salesman are the worst. I suggest a Test Drive of both the car you’re looking for and the car buying experience with full intention to walk away to find out where they will start the bidding war and how far down you can get them. This will help with your research and give you more ammo for your next battle.

    I’m no MMM but this was all necessary for my situation. Good luck in yours.

    Reply
    • Joseph November 12, 2012, 11:58 am

      Yeah Buddy!!!

      Reply
  • Randall November 27, 2012, 2:00 pm

    This was my second bold step into Mustachianism, after switching to the Airvoice Wireless cell phone plan. I sold my Ford Escape and put the proceeds toward a Toyota Prius, paying cash for the difference. First car bought without financing! Also, MPG went from ~17 to ~42, 2.5 times better. Another major spending category slashed, saving about $120/month, or over $20,000 in 10 years with compounding. Thanks MMM!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache November 28, 2012, 1:36 am

      Wow Randall – that is Kickass! thanks for sharing the great news. This blog is probably driving up the price of used Prii all over the country, and making it so I’ll never be able to find one at a good price myself :-)

      Reply
  • stressed December 1, 2012, 5:03 pm

    Ugh… I hate to even post about our anti-Mustachian ways…

    I drive our 04 Nissan Pathfinder to work, 3 days a week 36 miles round trip, 2 days/wk 64 miles round trip. So almost 1000 mi/month. Crazy as this is the first time I’ve actually calculated those numbers.

    My husband drives our 08 Toyota Yaris to work, 2-3 days/wk about 150 miles roundtrip and another 2-4 days/wk 70 miles roundtrip and 1-2 days/wk another 110 miles roundtrip. So an average of ~3000 miles/month. [I think I’m going to be sick.]

    We both know our commutes are crazy. He is self-employed with clients scattered far and wide and we tend to justify if he can go drive and make more money after taxes than the cost of gas, then that’s better than nothing. I’ve wanted to sell the Pathfinder (which, along with the Yaris, we are still paying off) but he wants to keep it for when we visit my parents who live in the mountains, and for when he goes snowboarding.

    Other than the obvious issue of our insane commutes (which we feel stuck in at the moment) how do I approach the subject of the Pathfinder? I know it is a gas guzzler and he says it’s a great car that he hopes we can keep forever.

    Reply
  • Kimberly V January 26, 2013, 11:51 am

    This post totally hit home for me as it touches on a debate I’ve been having with myself for a couple of weeks now.
    I am a single mom and run a home childcare. I have a 1999 Corolla that I bought new and two years ago I paid cash at a stealership for a 2000 Sienna. I have a few regrets on the actual transaction of purchasing the Sienna, but not on getting a mini-van. The mini-van allows me more mobility with the daycare, taking the kiddos on the occasional trip farther away than the local park or library (which we’ve always walked to).
    My debate has been whether it is really worth the $500/yr in insurance and registration to keep the Corolla for my regular driving. I only use the van if I have DC kids or a rare need to haul something that won’t fit in the Corolla. Otherwise when it is just my daughter and I we take the Corolla.
    Most of our trips are fairly close to home and I’m working on the strength and stamina to be able to do them on a bike, but at the moment I’m not there. Really thought that after about 20 years of not riding a bike I was gonna get one and a trailer, hop on and take my kiddo the mile to school. HA! Tried a test run of that mile on my own and about died… asthma/pain/ wobbly legs when I got off at my destination, and admitted that it will take me a little while to work up to this goal.
    Which still leaves me with the question of whether I should keep the Corolla for the trips with few passengers or get rid of it and do all of my driving in the mini-van. Thoughts from MMM and the peanut gallery?

    Reply
  • Jennifer February 23, 2013, 10:54 am

    Thank you so much for your inspiring blog. Today my husband and I traded 2 SUVs + $5k cash for 2 used Priuses (Prii). We will recoup the $5k in gas savings over 1 year. Never would have made this choice if it wasn’t for your post!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 23, 2013, 1:54 pm

      HOLY MOLY! Congratulations on an incredible move, Jennifer! It’s not often that you can make such a gigantic wealth-boosting move in one single day.

      A $5000 savings every year – aka a 100% annual return on investment – is such a big improvement, it will probably change the course of your entire life. Definitely cause to party!

      Reply
  • Margaret June 24, 2013, 7:35 pm

    Speaking of gas guzzlers, was just watching Beakman’s World with my son and they mentioned that an Aircraft Carrier gets 6 INCHES per gallon! Wow!

    Reply
  • LAL November 2, 2013, 11:15 am

    I need help deciding what to drive then. I drive our 2010 subaru outback and my DH has a 2006 Hyundai Sonata V6. We buy our cars and hold them to last. Bought the 2006 last year and will keep another year or two until we get the minivan.

    Now our mileage is Sonata 20/21 city just to work and back. My DH bikes about 2-3 days a week to work and back during summer but only to work during the winter. Due to his condition he is unable to bike at night with his lack of night vision. He has to catch the bus or I usually get him and the bike. He does like biking but I worry even in the morning if it’s too dark I won’t let him bike. He’ll go back to driving the subaru when we sell the sonata for the minivan. Bought used we’d have preferred a 4 cylinder but took a great deal with low mileage and one owner and not too old. I guess we could look for a smaller and cheaper car but my DH wanted something that if we needed to we could easily use as a second car.

    The subaru we get 23 city mileage with the AWD. That is nice with the snow and non plowing of where we live. I used to drive a cute corolla but that I would leave parked and walk home when I couldn’t get up my street. Now with two kids I find that a bit more difficult. That and I often had to shovel to get my car out of spots or even on roads. But more importantly I needed the space because I often have a third kid (watch a friend’s daught 2-3x week) and I do three across. This gives me assurance we can have our third child without moving to a minivan immediately.

    But that being said I need ideas for better mileage car to consider that will fit 3 kids comfortable across and not a minivan. This will be the primary driver. I will have three kids and I thought the outback a better compromise over an SUV or minivan I wasn’t ready for yet. Help with ideas would be great.

    And no I am not going to not have a 3rd kid or stop watching a friend’s kid. I have her enough that I have a seat for her.

    Reply
  • Al May 11, 2014, 5:37 pm

    It’s been awhile since this post was published, but I had to revisit it today as I’m debating ditching my Honda Accord V6 for a used Prius. It’s a bit tougher of a decision when I drive around 10k per year and the price differential between my Accord to a decent Prius will be at least $2-3k. Anyone know how the maintenance expenses would play out for a used Prius vs. Accord?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache May 12, 2014, 8:08 am

      That seems like a good tradeoff with that relatively high level of driving and the big fuel consumption difference between the two cars. I think you should expect similar (very minimal) maintenance expenses: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/03/20/toyota-prius-ass-kicker-or-trouble-maker/

      The Accord has no hybrid battery, but it uses bigger tires, heavier components, more oil, more sparkplugs, etc. Check on the insurance differences as well – it could be much less (or who knows – it may be more) for the Prius. In general, sedate non-sporty and less heavy cars are cheaper to insure.

      Reply
      • Al May 12, 2014, 8:53 am

        Wow! Thanks for taking the time to respond! (Feeling a little star-struck. :-) The wife and I also foresee a potential significant decrease in the number of miles we will be driving in the next few years (have we been reading this blog or what?!) so that throws another variable into the mix. I will ruminate on your Prius article carefully.

        Reply
  • Rachel June 14, 2014, 7:09 pm

    Super interesting article and comments. I was hoping for some suggestions on efficiency in vehicles, when never transporting less than five children for a minimum of 35 miles. Four kids still required to be in carseats. Any ideas for me?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache June 14, 2014, 11:33 pm

      The Mazda5 is great for that – it is a 6-passenger car/minivan mixture.

      Reply
  • tct July 17, 2014, 5:08 pm

    “Adding my own hauler minivan to the fleet increased my insurance costs by only $7 per month”

    I read every comment to see if this had already been asked. Where do you find car insurance for $7 per month? I’m a 38 year old driver, never had a ticket or accident. Shopped around, and lowest insurance I can find is $27 month. This is for liability only with min. coverage required for Arizona.

    Reply
  • Jacob K December 1, 2014, 12:39 pm

    DO THE CALCULATION FOR YOURSELF!!!

    I think this article is oversimplifying the problem. If you factor in the cost of making the vehicle purchase it can be WAY harder to reap the benefits. The calculation is also very sensitive to how much you actually drive every day.

    If you are driving a big truck that gets 18mpg and can trade it straight-up for a civic, it’s probably a good deal.

    If you (like me) are driving a 2000 Buick Beater that gets 20mpg and only drive 13k miles per year, it will take you a very long time to even break even on the vehicle switch.

    Make sure you run the numbers for your specific situation. It isn’t as simple as miles and mpg. You need to factor in costs and retained value.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 1, 2014, 5:27 pm

      For you I’d recommend a 1993 Civic Hatchback – cost is still approximately zero dollars, but handling and reliability are much better than the Buick, and you’re up to about 45 MPG.

      Reply
      • Jacob K December 2, 2014, 12:21 pm

        Thanks for the response! This was my first time commenting and I wasn’t expecting one. :)

        Wow.. That ’93 Civic Hatchback is a gem! None of the other Civics do that well. Sadly, the only one on Craigslist within 100 miles of me is selling for $3500. I would break even at about 4 years. I’ll check back occasionally for a cheaper one.

        I think I’m going to take a different route towards gas savings. Telecommuting! I’m planning to pursue a telecommuting deal with my company next year. Hopefully I can eliminate the majority of the miles I drive and it won’t matter what my Buick gets.

        Anyway, I stand by my comment that people need to perform the calculation for themselves and look at their situation. A few percentage points, a couple thousand miles a year, a couple thousand dollars of cost… these things make the difference between a good decision and a bad decision.

        For instance, I thought about getting a Honda Grom for commuting. $3400. 120mpg. The numbers looked good. Then I got a quote from my insurance agent and it was a deal breaker. Always run your own numbers! If my climate was better or my commute longer, it may have still been a win.

        Reply
  • David January 26, 2016, 5:30 pm

    As a painting and remodeling contractor I haul tools, equipment and materials every day. On the days I move ladders and scaffold a full size pickup with a rack is the best vehicle for the job. Most other days a minivan works well. Several years ago I did the math. Based on price per mile and my normal annual driving habits if gas is over $3.25 a gallon I can save enough to recover the cost of buying, insuring and registering a minivan as a second vehicle. There are not enough days that I carry nothing to justify a third high MPG car.

    Reply
  • Mr.Changing to a Mustache February 18, 2016, 3:57 am

    A few weeks ago i first read your article about “what your truck says about you”, it was life changing. I bought a 04 dodge ram 1500 with a lift and huge tires about a year ago. Even worse i did it on a loan (i feel so dumb now), even worse than that, i could have just paid cash! I now have multiple Suckas coming to look at it this week to take this Stache’ shaver off my hands. Between that, using my 35 mpg 98 saturn 2 door, and paying off my wifes car early (her bad mistake before our marriage but thats another story), we will now be debt free besides our mortgage. The house will be paid off in 2020 due to all our extra money from no payments! Thanks Mustache, you have truly changed our lives and set us on the course for early retirement!

    Reply
  • Rachel May 15, 2016, 12:07 pm

    We bought a minivan a few years ago. Long story short, we’re normally posted overseas. I had to return back to the States sooner than expected with my kids and was stuck without a vehicle under my husband could finish up his assignment and return back with us. We fully expected to have a more children and decided to plan for a vehicle that could safely fit more than 3 kids rather than buy small and have to upgrade to a bigger vehicle later. Well, due to another overseas move, I’m regretting buying a minivan.

    First, European roads are not made for bigger American vehicles. Even the European version of the same minivan is considerably more compact. We have an incredibly hard time parking it, and I don’t like taking it into town because it’s just so big. We still plan to have another child, but unless it’s twins, we only need a car that can safely fit 3 car seats, which will have to be a mid-sized car.

    Depending on our next posting, we might end up selling the car. The kids love the roomy feel of the minivan, their own specialized seats, and we love the cargo capability, but don’t use it enough to justify it.

    Reply
  • Ray May 17, 2016, 4:31 am

    Even from a gap of four years, and several thousand miles across the sea in the UK, I read this now and think Yeah, spot on. I’m damned to live in a part of the country with crap public transport and a stupid commute (5 miles to station and 1 hr on the train). But at least I’m not burning 800 gallons a year in 95RON.

    Reply
  • FMaz January 26, 2017, 6:06 pm

    This article assume the vehicle will be driven a lot. I drive very little. (This year I estimate I’ll drive less than a 100 miles.)

    So the fuel economy factor is minimal. Now I’m left with this choice:
    A) keep a reliable vehicle
    B) sell a reliable vehicle, get a vehicle of an unknown reliability, but gain 10K in capital.

    So I guess it simply boil down to: how much do I value reliability ? Does it worth 10K ?

    I drive a 2012 Rav4 V6. I don’t need the V6, but find the AWD (or 4WD, I don’t even really understand the difference TBH) to be worth it as the road here in Nunavut are often very icy, badly maintained and I live on top of a hill.

    Anyhow, I will most likely sell it in a few years when I’ll be moving back to civilization (figure of speach, its great here) and will have to use a vehicle for visiting the family.

    Reply
    • FMaz January 26, 2017, 6:11 pm

      Oh, about reliability:
      Mechanics here charge $160/h and cost of pieces are 3 to 4 fold what you pay down in the US.
      (Ie: a bare outlet plug, like when you forget to unplug your car and leave ripping out the bloc heather/battery blanket/oil pan heather/battery tender plug: $15… For the bare plug, no wire)

      Reply
  • Troy May 12, 2018, 6:02 pm

    Hey MMM, you said you enjoy when users post when they have made changes for the better so here goes. Thankfully since I was a kid I always knew higher MPG was better and made choices accordingly…driving around in a car that got low MPG felt like burning money so I just didn’t do it!

    But on to how my behavior has changed for better, I am ashamed to admit that ever since college I gave up biking (where I would bike everyday to class). I live about 1-2 miles from the library/grocery/movies, and I was driving all the time to these locations!! Well no more, the bike has been pumped up, and over the past few months I have not used my car for any of the trips.

    It is enjoyable to be sweating slightly while arriving to the destination, saving on gas, getting fitter, and overall enjoying life more while doing this. Biking is great as a kid, and can be great at any other point of your life as well.

    Reply

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