Have you noticed gas prices recently? If not, that means you either live in a major city where you don’t own or need to own a car…or you live under a rock. Gas prices are HIGH! Seriously people, when you have to drive a lot, filling up your tank hits the budget hard! In light of that lovely fact, I thought I’d write a post about buying a car so you can get better gas mileage. This idea is not new, and it comes up every time gas gets expensive. But what are the costs people don’t consider? Is it really worth trading in your existing car for one that sips the gasoline rather than asking for regular refills? Let’s find out together.
Since this is MY post, I’ll use MY vehicle as our example. I’m proud to drive a paid-for 1997 Ford Ranger 3.0L V6 pick-up truck. It’s got 116,000 miles on it and runs great. Last year it was hail damaged pretty badly when we had the mother of all storms come through our area so there are dents all over it. But since the insurance company paid me $1,800 to total it out and keep driving it, I’m okay with those little dents – they look like dollar signs. Other than that, it is in excellent mechanical condition and has no rust or other issues like that. I have no need to get rid of it anytime soon for any reason other than the gas mileage gain I could get from a different vehicle. My little truck gets 20-22 miles per gallon (MPG). To be completely fair in valuing it, I went to the Kelley Blue Book website and discovered my little truck is worth about $2,500 if I were to sell it myself and $1,700 or so if I trade it in at a dealer. So, we have a $2,500 vehicle that gets 22 MPG.
Based on our current family needs, if I were to go car shopping right now (even for something nice and used), I’d be looking for something like a 2010 Ford Fusion (mid-size car, a couple of years old so the depreciation wouldn’t eat me alive). Again using Kelley Blue Book as my comparison, that car would run me about $15,000, assuming I paid cash (who am I kidding, of COURSE I’d pay cash or I wouldn’t be buying!). That car gets 24-27 MPG if I’m lucky. So far, the math does NOT make sense (do I even need to do a side-by-side comparison?
Let’s keep going. Let’s say I go out and buy the most popular hybrid out there, the Toyota Prius. Again we’ll look at a 2010. With the additional required purchases of granola, tie-dye clothing, a PETA membership and three pairs of Birkenstocks, (my apologies to all Prius owners; I just couldn’t help but crack the small joke) I’d be looking at spending about $28,000. But this time I’m gonna get a rockin’ 50 MPG for my efforts. Is it worth it?
Well, to me…NO. With my current pick-up truck and driving habits, and gas prices as they are today, I will spend $2,544 in gas this year (15,000 miles ÷ 22 MPG = 682 gallons needed; $3.73 per gallon x 682 gallons = $2,544). If I buy that Fusion, I’ll spend $2,072 (15,000 miles ÷ 27 MPG = 556 gallons needed; $3.73 per gallon x 556 gallons = $2,074), saving me $470 per year ($2,544 – $2,074). If I buy that Prius, I’ll spend $1,119 (15,000 miles ÷ 50 MPG = 300 gallons needed; $3.73 per gallon x 300 gallons = $1,119), saving me $1,425 per year over my truck. Hmmm…does anyone else see the problem here?
As long as you have a car that is paid for, or getting anywhere close to being paid for, buying a vehicle just for the sake of saving on gas makes no sense. Okay, for those of you driving a Hummer H1 that have a 150-mile daily work commute, go ahead and tell me I’m wrong. Otherwise, if your current car runs well and you don’t need to replace it, don’t (unless you’re stepping way down in price point). The same argument goes for buying a motorcycle. I’d love to have another motorcycle, but to shell out $5,000 on a nice bike that gets 60 MPG doesn’t make mathematical sense. Especially when you add in insurance and tax costs, you’re not saving any money. It is a toy that if I can afford, is perfectly okay to buy. But don’t go around telling people you bought your $15,000 Harley so you could save money.
When I’m ready to buy my next vehicle, I will definitely consider fuel economy into my decision. I’ll also factor in my available budget! While I’m sure there are going to be some situations where my examples above won’t apply to you, my encouragement is this: if you’re going car shopping, look at your family needs and your budget before you consider fuel mileage. Consider it, but don’t buy something just because of it. I bet the Duggars cringe every time they go to the pump. I’d also bet they have no plans to buy a sub-compact car, no matter how economical it is on fuel. It just doesn’t fit their needs. While you may struggle to pay so much for gas, when you really break it all down I think you’ll find that you really can’t beat the car you’re currently driving for overall economy…and shouldn’t try until that car is ready (needs) to be replaced.