A Tale of Two Cars

By Kathleen Forsyth

In the past week, two friends approached me, separately, with essentially the same request. In fact, almost the same wording: “I need a new car. I’m not sure of the numbers, can you help me?” 

“Of course, I can,” I smilingly replied.  At the end of these conversations, can you guess who was smiling and can you guess why?   

Before you read on, think of the questions you might have asked. To make a level playing field: Let’s agree their cars really are on their last legs, must be replaced, and have no resale/trade-in value. 

Maybe your first question would be: “What kind of car?” Answered by Friend A, “A Porsche!” Now I’m thinking, “Wow!” 

“Well, a used Porsche. I know I can’t afford a new Porsche.” 

Friend B, “A Mercedes Benz!” My mind goes off with another “Wow!”

And her follow-up remark (maybe she saw the look on my face): “Well, maybe I’ll lease, not buy.” 

I really hope your first questions would include:

  • What’s the monthly payment for the car you desire?
  • What’s the annual cost to maintain the car?
  • Gas mileage?

God bless the Internet, everything you ever needed to know about pretty much anything … is all right there for you to find. If you want to, that is.  The real question is: What does it take to own a car? Consider all of the costs: depreciation, financing, fuel, insurance, maintenance and repairs. 

Edmunds.com has an incredible calculator that they’ve put together that does just that. It shows all of the costs to own a car (edmunds.com/tco.html). Not just the monthly lease payment and not just the loan amount on the car. These are just the beginning costs. It all goes up from there. 

I entered the data for a lower end 2008 used Porsche and the least expensive Mercedes Benz. And this is what came up:

  • First year costs on a Porsche base coupe (2008 used): $18,138.
  • First year costs on a Mercedes Benz E-350 coupe (2011, new): $22,245.  

Next question to each friend was, “Do you think you can afford that?” The answer is, “Ouch, ouch, double ouch. No can do.” Tears. 

It’s really, really hard to back off a desire to have anything, and new car fever is a big, big desire. I watched my dad go through it every other year. It’s darn near insatiable. 

Yet a new car still had to be purchased. And what we did was find the elements that the dream car represented. And where we ended up: sexy, bright color, stick shift, sport-y.  Combine that with practical: low maintenance, good gas mileage. And, this is a huge one: within the budget.

So who was smiling at the end of the conversation? All of us. I was smiling because I had helped my dear, dear, dear friends think through a way to have the sexy, sporty, fun and affordable car.