This past weekend, my wife and I bought a new car. A little online research went into it, but minimal dealership shopping was involved. In fact, I spend more time shopping for a new pair of shoes than I do for a new car. New car salesmen don't understand that when I walk in with my checkbook, I'm ready to write a check.
My 2003 Ford Ranger was nearing the back end of its bathtub curve, so it was time to replace it. I've owned Ford products continuously for over 20 years. There were a couple Mustang GT's, two other Rangers, a Fiesta (no, not Festiva), Escort, Maverick, and a Capri (a P.O.S.). The Mustangs and two of the rangers we bought new. These all treated us fairly well, but we did encounter problems typically not encountered in Japanese cars.
So now marks the first time in over 20 years we haven't owned a Ford product. The Ranger was replaced with a 2008 Scion xD. My dad, a retired UAW worker, will surely disown me now. Replacement contenders were a 2008 Honda Fit (hard to get), and a 2009 Toyota Matrix. I thought about waiting for the 2009 Fit to come out later this summer, but they would still be hard to get and I wanted something soon so I wouldn't have to put any money into the truck. The 2009 Matrix is nice, we drove one, but I really didn't want to own two of same model even though the body style changed. Our other car is a 2005 Toyota Matrix, which I love. I also considered the Scion xB, those really boxy looking things with tons of room inside, but didn't want the hit in fuel economy. The 2008 xB's do look cool though. So it was the xD, rated 33mpg highway under 2008 rating system. All the numbers went down in 2008, so this car would be around 38mpg under 2007 rating system.
We could afford just about any car or SUV. Why buy a compact? Some readers might expect to see some kind of "carbon footprint" answer. The xD will produce about 2 metric tons less CO2 per year than my truck. While I consider this important, it is not a primary criterion. Saving money on gas may be another answer. I expect gas to hit $6/gal in a couple years, but this by itself is not the main reason to go small despite driving to the nether regions of New England to bike and ski. At $4/gal, the xD will save me over $1500/yr in gas costs. Compacts are less expensive to purchase. I could invest the money not spent on a Lexus in the stock market or carbon racing bikes. I have often joked that I buy cheap cars so I can buy expensive bicycles. But that also does not sum up why my wife and I drive inexpensive cars. We buy new, pay cash, but modest vehicles.
Some may question the wisdom in buying a compact when the highways are plagued with SUV tanks. True, if you enter a crash-up derby with an SUV, you will lose. As a cyclist though, this argument has a unique perspective. I ride my bike on the same roads with the same SUVs, probably 3x as many hours as I drive a car. How many crumple zones, airbags and seatbelts does my bike come with? Throw in the fact that a cyclist is so small you don't show up on the radar of half the drivers out there. The other half don't even want you there and would just as soon take out out. Well then, I would have to give up cycling way before I'd give up driving a small car because its too dangerous. That's just not going to happen. Driving a small car increases my total life's risk only slightly.
My wife and I have always lived well below our means. Maybe it stems from my frugal Dutch heritage. Who knows. As the rest of the world recognizes, our country has a serious problem with conspicuous consumption. I have always bucked against this staple of American life since early childhood. We didn't even possess a credit card until after 10 years of marriage and to this date have never carried a balance on one. I'm sure the credit card companies hate us. Living below one's means comes with so many benefits. It is true you will leave a smaller carbon footprint. Your means aren't just the dollars you earn, but also how much of this planet is required to support your minimal existence. You will always be in a better financial position relative to living conspicuously. Our mortgage was paid off before I turned 40. You will probably be healthier too if you apply these principles to diet. You'll have to forfeit the snobby friends, however. I think we are an anomaly in American society. That sum's up why we buy a small, efficient car - living life within our means.