One of the best ways to live lean, work lean and travel lean is to own a classic car. What?! Okay, about now you’re saying the Frug is nuts, classic cars are exotic, expensive and require lots of work. Well I’m going to debunk that myth and redefine the term “Classic Car.”
A recent Forbes article profiled Mr. Money Mustache, an early retirement guru. When asked about his top recommendations for early retirement, number one on this list was cutting automotive expenses. One eye-popping number in the article was the additional $150,000 he saved towards early retirement by cutting automobile expenses to a minimum. Yes, he still owns a car. (His formula, quoted in the article, says to multiply your weekly auto expenses by 752 to get the cost per decade)
I believe it’s possible to save this kind of money and, at the same time, drive a classic car that you enjoy. It really depends on how you define “classic car.” So, here’s my definition of a truly classic car. And seven steps to get you there.
- It’s paid for. Pick up any personal finance book,( a few of my favorites here), and you’ll undoubtedly come across the great benefits of owning your vehicle and making it last. If you buy your next car like it’s your last, plan on paying it off in three years, that’s when the real benefits begin.
- It’s at least 10 years old. There’s something about a great looking well-maintained older vehicle. These aren’t exotic cars, just your average, Fiat 500, Ford Bronco, Jeep Cherokee, SAAB 900. Look for cars with classic lines, a cult following, and basic features.
- Bottom of the line. When purchasing a new or gently used car that will become a classic, you want to avoid a lot of bells and whistles. For example, GPS systems and satellite radio are largely being replaced by smart phones. Trust me, you don’t need all those extras. Fewer bells and whistles means fewer things that can go wrong later. As an added benefit, the smaller more efficient engines come standard in these vehicles.
- You don’t drive it as much. When you add the time-related cost of commuting to the cost of vehicle-related expenses, the savings for a couple can be closer to $300,000 over a decade. Find a way to work from home more often, or bike to work, and you can make this number a reality much quicker.
- Taxes and insurance are minimal. If you live near city with high insurance rates like I do, or in a state with personal property tax like I do, then you can cut costs further with an older car. Insurance companies use factors like monthly mileage and age of the vehicle. Personal property tax in states like Virginia is also based on vehicle age and value.
- Know your mechanic (he doesn’t work at a dealer.) Auto dealers have very high overhead and a lot of these costs get passed through their service department. Do some research on Angie’s List or ask around and find a good mechanic who works out of an independent bare-bones operation. If you’re turning an old Audi or Saab or other imported vehicle into a classic, look for specialists who work independently on these brands and come highly recommended. You can start on craigslist and nextdoor.com.
- It’s the only car you drive so you keep it in like-new condition and track its recommended service intervals on a mobile app or website like www.driverside.com. Most of those dire warnings about older vehicles becoming money pits are from people who drive too much or treat their cars like garbage dumpsters. TLC will get you that extra 10-15 years you’re looking for so you can look forward to driving a classic!
Next time you see a great-looking classic Datsun 280Z or Jeep Wrangler, take a close look. That could be you behind the wheel in your completely paid for classic car. You’ll also be part of a tribe like the “SAAB 900 Tribe” or the “Ford Bronco Tribe.” People will stop you, ask you about your classic car and admire your great taste. Start now, after 10 years, your like-new car will start to look like a classic, in 20 years it will be a classic. All that money you saved on car payments, insurance, and taxes will be in the bank, working for you.
My 10 year old Audi A4 is rapidly on its way to becoming a classic. It doesn’t look a week over five years old and paid off 7 years ago.
Have you turned an everyday car into a classic? I’d love to hear your story.