Saying Goodbye to a Burden

I did it! I sold my truck. It was somewhat of a bittersweet moment; as it drove off I was reminded of all the great times I had hauling my windsurfing rig to the lake in college or taking it off road in the mountains of Tennessee. I didn’t shed a tear though because in the end, it’s just a thing, and (probably more importantly) my pockets were now stuffed with cash.

I didn’t know if I’d actually be able to sell it. The paint was falling off (I put bumper stickers all over it to mitigate this disaster) and it had 211,000 miles on it, and my asking price was pretty high. I would have taken much less than that if someone had tried to negotiate with me, and what ended up happening was a much better offer than I had hoped to get for it.

In the end, I spent about $12,000 on the truck including buying it, maintenance, and upgrading some things. I owned it for six years, and to make the math easier we’ll say I sold it for $3,000. This is $9,000 net cost, or $1,500 per year, or $125 per month.

However, that doesn’t count insurance and registration. Let’s assume I spent about $1000/year in insurance and $150/year in registration. That adds about $95/month which brings the net cost of the truck to $2,650 per year or $220/month.

BUT! That doesn’t count the fact that this truck NEVER got above 17 miles per gallon in fuel economy. This is where the numbers really get gnarly. I put almost 100,000 miles on it in six years and at these dismal rates, assuming $3/gallon, I spent $17,700 in fuel. Almost eighteen thousand dollars. If I had bought a vehicle that got 35 mpg back in 2009 instead of buying the truck, I would only have spent $8,600. That’s a savings of $9,100 dollars that I could have used to pay down a student loan (or put towards a vehicle back in 2009 that didn’t have paint falling off of it).

After accounting for fuel, at $1516 extra per year or $126 extra per month (using the fuel savings as the cost here, since presumably I would have done that driving anyway) brings the Grand Net Total to $28,000. That’s $4,700 per year or $400 per month, which brings me to a life lesson:

OWNING VEHICLES IS EXPENSIVE. 

Try and find the cheapest, most efficient ones you can. I would like to point out that this could be a lot worse if I had chosen to buy a new vehicle and make payments on it. My personal view, which seems to hold up, is that buying used and paying more for maintenance is cheaper than buying new and hoping you won’t have to, so I did save some there. But still…

I also know that maybe I shouldn’t count the registration cost in the grand total since I would have had to pay similar registration costs on an efficient car too, but if you’ve read my previous posts you know that I almost never owned this truck as my only vehicle. I was paying registration costs for other vehicles at the same time, sometimes as many as three at once (although that was in Tennessee and it only cost me $20 per year per vehicle so that’s not so bad, but it doesn’t help prove my point). I still have three other vehicles sitting in my garage (new motorcycle for commuting, my old motorcycle because it was free, and my Beetle). So, I think this cost should be included.

And I did get a lot of utility out of this truck. I used it move all of my other stuff via trailer at least 5 times (normally from a respected trailer rental place but once I borrowed a friend’s horse trailer to move my furniture, not recommended although it was cheaper), and one of those times was from Nashville to West Palm Beach, so it’s not an insignificant savings.

And… I had a lot of great times in the truck. I was sad to see it go but, like I’ve said before, it’s just a thing. Things don’t define us, they help us. They’re tools that improve our lives. Don’t get caught up wasting money on something just because you’ve previously wasted money on something.

Anyway! Let’s not get all misty-eyed over a vehicle. I had somewhere in the neighborhood of $3k burning a hole in my pocket, and wouldn’t you know it? That’s exactly the minimum amount needed to buy an index fund from Vanguard. So that’s exactly what I did. (More on that later!) And I paid off some extra principal on my house. And I took a cute girl out to lunch (and dinner). Because in the end, every guy imagines his truck taking the two of them out to a really nice place, and that’s exactly what mine ended up doing.

Photo: Off road with the truck in the Appalachian Mountains in South Carolina. It was fun to take it out on the trails in the mountains but Florida is pretty much just swamp which is not as exciting. Better surf though!

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Above: An undisclosed beach somewhere on the east coast where you can still drive on the sand. Air down the tires and make sure to hose it off when you get home. 


Last picture: Back at Lake Jocassee again, during a big drought in 2011 which lowered the lake about 40 feet. 

The Most Minimalist Car?

Not that it’s a competition, but…

I spent last week writing about how much money I’ve lost over the years by buying vehicles I don’t need. (I still haven’t sold my truck yet!) So over the past year and a half I’ve been really looking into what we really need in our vehicles. At a bare minimum: Four wheels, a steering wheel, brakes, an engine big enough to move the car at a reasonable speed, no unnecessary seats or cargo space… and that’s pretty much it.

It’s hard to get that in any new-ish car. Most cars come standard with power windows, air conditioning, a stereo, and a bunch of other features that are secondary to getting you where you need to go. These types of cars are great; don’t get me wrong. But can we do a little better? Can we get a little more minimal?

To me, all of these little features are things that will eventually break and are hard to work on yourself. I like working on cars, so if I’m given the option I’ll drive a car without air conditioning versus paying hundreds of dollars later on to fix something that doesn’t directly contribute to me getting to my destination and that, in some cases, is impossible for me to fix myself.

My solution to this problem hasn’t been to get a new car, or a slightly used car, but a VERY used car. Old enough to not have air conditioning, power steering, or even fuel injectors. It gets about 30 mpg which is reasonable, and it’s very easy to work on. It’s an old Volkswagen Beetle.

I know, I know, this approach probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone wants to cover themselves in grease every weekend with the almost constant tinkering a classic car requires. But bear with me for a minute! Buying a classic car financially makes at least some sense. In most states, registration is a fraction of what a regular car costs. Classic car insurance (in some situations) is less as well. Depreciation on your asset has already happened, so you can generally sell a classic car for at least how much you paid for it, regardless of how long you own it. And “classic” generally only means “old”, so a 80s Toyota is just as much of a classic, legally, as a 69 Camaro. If you only need it to get around town and aren’t taking crazy long road trips, it might be viable!

For me, at least, I’ve found the Beetle to be a great vehicle. It’s easy to work on, it doesn’t have power steering or power windows or locks or air conditioning. It doesn’t have any luxury or frills of any sort. I’ve found that these are all things that can break, and the fewer options a car has, the less likely it’ll be in the shop. The car doesn’t have fuel injection either (it’s easier to work on carburetors) and therefore doesn’t need an ECU (computers are found in 100% of modern cars in the US, and are prone to failure… something that is not user serviceable). This car doesn’t even have a radiator! It’s so simple!

Also, the Beetle turns heads. It’s great fun to drive.

My classic Beetle aside, researching modern “minimalist” cars was actually pretty difficult. There was this great take on how to make your current car minimalist, but in general it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of clamoring for small, simple, and cheap cars. I’d probably point my finger at our consumer culture which demands more features, more buttons, and more space… all at the expense of mileage. An article at autoblog.com had this great quote in it:

 “People say, ‘I only want basic transportation, I want the price to be low, and I want good gas mileage.'” said Brunner, who did market research for the smart car, “But then you ask them what they are going to buy, and it’s not that kind of car.”

Our culture proves my point. Sit in a 90s Honda Civic and you’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder with your passenger. Sit in a brand new Civic and 90s you will think you’re in a Cadillac. Sit in a brand new Cadillac and… well, you get my point.

While the autoblog.com article mentions the Volkswagen as a minimilist vehicle, and another great article called The 10 Greatest Minimalist Cars of All Time features the Volkswagen Thing (mechanically identical to the Beetle) as one of the best, what we truly need now is a return to this style of car. Four wheels, brakes, and a steering wheel. Although today’s emissions and safety probably won’t allow for something quite as spartan as an old Beetle, it’d be great to use it as inspiration.

Photo: One of the 60s ads for the Volkswagen Beetle. Along with the famous “lemon” ad, these changed the automotive and advertising landscape for quite some time.