NEW CARS ARE ROBBING AMERICANS OF INVESTMENT RICHES,
SAY FINANCIAL PLANNERS; THEIR ADVICE: BUY USED
By Dolores Kong
The Boston Globe
When financial planner Jonathan Pond uses a shovel to
scrape the snow off his used 1986 Toyota, his
neighbors watch in horror. His 12- year-old daughter
eventually adjusted, but for a while was mortified
when he drove her to a friend's house or to school in
his old Cadillac. She asked to be dropped off a block
"People laugh at my cars. Who cares?" said Pond, a
Boston-based, nationally known public television and
radio commentator and author of the new book "Your
Money Matters." He credits his used-car buying habit
with helping to build his family's net worth to more
than a million dollars.
Dan Bradley, a retirement planning specialist and a
member of Vista Financial Group in Westborough, bought
a used 1995 Plymouth Neon a year ago with $7,000 in
cash rather than use it as a down payment on a new
$22,000 Buick Regal, after he did the math and found
he could have an extra $37,000 in five years by
investing the difference.
He, too, says his used-car habits have helped put him
ahead financially, allowing his family to own a
four-bedroom home with a three-car garage and his
children to go to private universities such as
Villanova and Georgetown. "I'm turning 50 this year. I
realize it's not the car you drive," but other things,
such as the ability to afford a nicer house, pay for
your children's college education, and save for
Pond and Bradley aren't the only financially savvy
people who say there are better ways to use your money
than buying a new expensive car or sport utility
vehicle every few years, or leasing something you
can't afford to own.
To name a few:
Andrew Tobias, author of "The Only Investment Guide
You'll Ever Need," says he just bought a 1996 Saturn.
His feeling: "That new car smell is the most expensive
fragrance in the world."
Paul Kangas, co-anchor of public television's "Nightly
Business Report," says he buys cars new and keeps them
as long as they run, including the 1983 Caprice with
150,000 miles that he drives to work. "It may not look
all that great. It's held up." He also owns a 1986
Lincoln with about 110,000 miles and just bought a new
Cadillac Deville for long trips.
Amy Domini, president of the Domini Social Equity
fund, bought a new Subaru wagon a few years ago _ the
most expensive car she has ever owned _ because of its
fuel efficiency and good safety and maintenance record
and because "I wanted something that I was pretty sure
would last forever."
Lawrence Coolidge, senior trustee of Loring, Wolcott
and Coolidge, a Boston investment firm for which
Domini also manages money, just bought a new Volvo
that he plans to keep at least 10 years. He had been
driving a nine-year-old Taurus wagon and a 15-year-old
Oldsmobile before that. "Old cars produce cheap
transportation," he said. "I'd rather give the money
away to Jobs for Youth than buy a $50,000 Land Rover,"
referring to a Boston nonprofit organization.
Even car savvy brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi of
public radio's "Car Talk," and John Paul, the "car
doctor" for the American Automobile Association
Southern New England, own old or used cars.
But despite what these folks say --- which is echoed
in such books as "The Millionaire Next Door" and
"Getting Rich in America" --- there are plenty of
people who love that new-car smell and are willing to
pay for it.
"You know, it's one thing to save money, but the
purchase of a car is still an emotionally charged
decision for most people," said Daniel Quirk, owner of
Quirk auto dealerships in Quincy, Weymouth, and
Braintree, which sells and leases new Nissans,
Volkswagens, Fords, Chevrolets, Mazdas, and
Mitsubishis. "People view their car as an extension of
their personality," he added. "Part of being an
American is to have a little bit of gasoline in your
The roaring economy is sending a lot of gasoline
coursing through those veins these days. Sales of new
passenger vehicles, particularly sport utility
vehicles, minivans, and pickup trucks, are breaking
Members of the National Automobile Dealers
Association, which represents more than 19,500 new car
and truck franchises, are optimistic that 2000 will be
a big year, too.
According to the dealers association, Massachusetts
has a big appetite: It outpaced the region and the
country in new-vehicle registrations of so-called
light trucks --- which include SUVs and minivans.
Between 1998 and 1999, new registrations of light
trucks increased by 10 percent nationally, 12.6
percent in New England, and 15.1 percent in
Nationally, loans to pay for the new cars and trucks
also have reached record levels, with $451 billion
outstanding as of the end of 1998, representing about
one-third of all short- and medium-term consumer
installment credit, according to the latest data
And Presidents' Day next weekend, traditionally a
new-car buying time, will probably rev up those sales
and loan figures even more.
Making the case for new cars, auto dealers point to
safety features, such as side airbags. "What price are
you going to put on safety?" said George Albrecht,
president of several auto dealerships, including
Woburn Foreign Motors, which sells and leases Jaguars,
Toyotas, and Mitsubishis, and who is on the board of
the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers
"I would want my wife or my daughter or my sisters to
be in a newer car than in an older car," he said,
emphasizing that in the former they are less likely to
have to worry about the battery when it's zero
degrees, or the tires when it's snowing.
And, for those concerned about finances, Thomas Keery,
president of Frost Motors Inc., which sells and leases
new Cadillacs, Nissans, and Kias in Newton and
Waltham, points to a less expensive way of enjoying
the new-car feel, through manufacturer-subsidized
lease programs that result in lower monthly payments
than if a person borrowed to buy the new car.
Compared with financing the purchase of a new car,
leasing "is actually going to be your `lowest cost to
drive,' " said Keery, using a term that describes a
monthly figure based on maintenance and finance costs
over three or four years. "That's what we've found to
be the lowest amount when we put pencil to paper."
But the numbers don't add up for Bradley or Pond.
While people making money in the good times "have a
right to put it anywhere they want," whether it be
buying a new SUV or leasing a Cadillac, Bradley said,
those who are frugal now will weather the next
recession better, and may be able to retire earlier or
buy a bigger house
"I hate cars," said Pond, the man with 180,000 miles
on his Toyota and 120,000 on his Cadillac. "I hate
them because of what they do to people. They're
dragging a lot of people down. People are not making
the kind of progress they should be making in their
To emphasize his point, Pond did a study a few years
ago, using statistics from the American Automobile
Association, a 7.5 percent annual return on
investment, and a 3.5 percent inflation rate. Over a
40-year working career, a person who buys a new car
and keeps it for 10 years can come out financially
ahead of someone who trades in for a new car every
According to the study, if that person takes the
savings in new-car payments and insurance and invests
it, allowing the money to compound over the decades,
the total would be about $385,000 _ enough to help
fund an early retirement.
"It's a shame that some people have to think that a
car somehow bestows a certain kind of prestige," Pond
says. "I take the opposite approach."
That's for sure, expecially when Pond points out an
advantage that rings true to any Boston driver: He can
go around rotaries full speed, without the feeling of
"don't hit me, I've got 49 more payments on my car."
SIDEBAR: If you're shopping for wheels . . .
Whether you choose to buy used, or to buy or lease
new, here are some tips for getting the best deal:
- Shop for the best price, by using such resources as
www.edmunds.com, www.kbb.com, or
www.consumerreports.org. Or buy the Edmunds or Kelley
Blue Book price guides.
- Shop for the best interest rate if you're going to
finance a new or a used vehicle by going to
www.bankrate.com or calling lending institutions.
- Do the math to calculate the true cost of leasing -
and don't just rely on the monthly payment. Worksheets
and calculators are available at
www.consumerreports.org or www.edmunds.com.