Regular readers of this column know that I’ve been advising you for over a year not to buy a new or used car until these sky-high prices come down further. You might also want to admonish me for predicting prices would be lower now than they are. I stand guilty as charged; I was wrong! Although prices have come down from their peaks in the last quarter of 2021, their still higher than I, or anyone, expected. New car prices are slowly coming down and used may be beginning to follow. Supply chain issues, Covid variants, political/bureaucratic ineptitude, and car dealers’ insatiable greed are difficult to forecast.
You’re probably driving a car less than 10 years old, and that means that you’ve got most of the major safety features that have made car much safer than ever before in history. Your current car requires very little maintenance compared to cars 20 years ago. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take good care of your car, but the cost of doing this is less than it’s ever been in previous cars you’ve owned.
You should drive your car to your chosen service department about every 6 months or 5,000 miles whichever comes first. I can easily understand why many people don’t understand why you should bring your vehicle in for service when you put very little miles on it. The main reason is a “checkup”, just like you should do with your doctor. The older you are, the more frequently it’s recommended you come in for an examination, even though you “feel fine”. You need to find a service department you can trust, just like a doctor you can trust. A good service department will check all the important parts of your car, especially safety related like your tires. These inspections are usually free, but you should have confidence that your service person is telling you the truth about repairs you’ll be charged for. If something is recommended that raises your eyebrow, get a second opinion just like you’d do with your doctor if he recommended surgery.
Familiarize yourself with your cars owner’s manual and the manufacturer’s recommended service. Don’t pay for any service that is recommended by the dealer, but not by the manufacturer. Most service departments have their own recommended services which are more numerous and expensive than what the manufacturer recommends. This has become more prevalent since the quality of cars has increased and the maintenance requirement have decreased. The service department of most dealerships is their most profitable department, but the surge in quality and lower maintenance requirements have seriously cut into that profitability.
If your car does require a major, expensive repair, you have a difficult decision to make. First, be sure your car does have major problem by getting at least one other opinion and preferably two. If it does, your difficult decision is whether to fix it or sell it. There are lots of variables. If you pay a lot of money to fix it, will the savings on your replacement car in 6 months or a year offset the cost of your repair? How much will the value of your car drop by that time. Used car prices are at historic highs. You can try to “have your cake and eat it too” by trading in your used car on the new or used of your choice today. The higher price of your trade-in will somewhat offset the inflated price of the car you buy. Or, you can simply sell your used car and try to make do without a car until prices come down…Uber, renting a car (very expensive), public transportation, carpooling, or borrowing a car from a friend.
We keep hearing commentary from the media about the “new” normal, but everyone is guessing and nobody knows what that might be. One aspect of the “new normal” might be car buyers keeping their cars much longer. I have customers and quite a few of my dealership’s technicians that drive their cars and trucks for 20+ years and hundreds of thousands of miles. If you saw or drove one of their vehicles, you’d swear it was almost new. These folks have been doing what I’m, suggesting to you, take good care of your car. Car manufacturers and dealers have been admonishing the public to buy a new car every 3 or 4 year for the last 100 years. Does that really make since when today’s cars last many, many years longer and cost far less to maintain?