Getting from rest stop to rest stop in the wilds of west Texas.
I've usually bought new cars and driven them for a good long while. Most of the them last me up to about 100,000 miles. I do the recommended maintenance and try to keep them from getting too scuffed up. I know there is a school of thought that recommends driving them until they fall apart around you as a way of maximizing your "investment" in a car but since I use my vehicle to get to and from jobs reliability is a big issue for me and I find that 100K mark is where all the sub systems start to go south.
I'm the kind of car owner that changes the battery at 3 years even if it's cranking strong. I just don't want to be the guy out in the parking lot on the first cold night of the year looking around to see if anyone has jumper cables. I also replace tires long before you get to the tread wear indicator. It's better in my mind to leave some money on the table rather than getting stuck out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the little, tiny spare and 100 miles to go...
I've owned all kinds of cars but in the last decade the two that make the most sense for my business and my personal life have been the small SUVs. I don't particularly like the "thrill of driving" the way I did when I was a reckless teenager with a 1965 Buick Wildcat and a taste for speed. The roads are so crowded here in Austin - where I spend 95% of my driving time - that the idea of ultra performance is a joke. There just are no uncluttered roadways with great curves that you can test out the imputed G force capability of your automobile. They no longer exist. Open roads in Austin are at the same level of impending extinction as fax machines.
My current car is a 2019 Subaru Forester. It's got a modest but adequate 182 horsepower, 4 cylinder engine. It's all wheel drive. It's perfect for tossing in light stands, big cases full of lights and lots and lots of camera gear. It's even got a roof rack for those times when you really need to bring along more gear than you should. I bought the car with great expectations but the pandemic came along and limited my driving.....a lot. I've had the car for two years and three months and I'm just now coming up on 16,000 miles on the odometer. Or an average of 8K per year.
When you take your new car in for the free two years of service it seems that the Subaru dealer keeps tabs on the condition and mileage of your vehicle. About six months ago I started getting offers from Subaru's guaranteed trade in program offering me a new, 2021 model for about $4000 plus the trade-in of my car. I ran the numbers and that's actually more generous than the private resale value of the car.
I sat down with my pocket calculator and did some conjecture math. When I hit 20,000 miles with the current car I planned to buy a new set of tires. As I said above, I don't try to squeeze the very last mile out of tires, I replace them when they still have good sidewall flexibility and structural integrity. There's about $1,000. We'll have two routine maintenance visits to the dealer during any given year at about $150 each for $300. We might have to replace other stuff. And there's always the (remote) possibility that something expensive, like the entertainment/control interface electronics could fail. I'd put aside $2,000 over the next two years just to cover the unexpected. We're already close to the difference in cost between keeping the existing car or getting one that's two model years newer.
Then you might consider depreciation. The older car will obviously have a lower resale value given its age relative to a car that's two years newer and two model years newer. That's not a small amount.
Finally, the 2019 marked the introduction of a new chassis design and body changes for the Forester line. Nothing ever goes exactly to plan for a complex machine like a modern car and I'm certain that there have been a number of unannounced changes, modifications and improvements that will all have the effect of increasing net reliability in the newer model. While dealers can't fix as much stuff in cars as camera companies can with firmware updates in cameras the trade off is that each new model year car makers can fix the stuff that was found to be "off" in the previous year or years.
So, here I am with an almost new car in my driveway trying to decide whether or not to go for the trade up. As I understand it the profit for the dealer is more nested in factory to dealer rebates, the ability to order more product to get better discounts, and the fact that recent, low mileage vehicles that are popular are easy to move quickly.
In effect, I'll spend $4,000 or maybe a bit more to get a car that's two years newer, hopefully mechanically and electronically improved, has a start the clock over again new two year warranty and free maintenance for the next two years. And, as I've said a couple of times before, reliability is a big, big issue with me....
I know that some of you are more informed about cars and car stuff than am I and I welcome feedback. Is there a hidden "gotcha" that I haven't been able to figure out yet? Does this seem like a rational thing to do? It's not as if I'll need a loan or have to make payments; it's my intention to write a check for the amount.
I really like my current car. I really like the idea of replacing it with the same model, but two years newer.
If it doesn't work out as projected I really have no problem sticking with the current car. But if it does work then I'll have a big smile on my face for about two more years. Just trying to plan smart.