News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: The best car to drive

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Who doesn’t need a car? In the United States, unless you live in a large city with good public transportation, you’ll probably need a car for getting about. And who doesn’t like a new car? But what is the best car to drive?

An article in an online resource for automotive information, edmunds.com, reports something rather shocking. They indicated that in 2005, 26 percent of new car buyers who traded in their existing vehicles owed more money on the vehicle than it was worth.

That negative balance, known as negative equity, averaged more than $3,600. What’s more, most new car buyers then roll that negative equity from their trade-in into a new car loan. Then they end up paying for the car they just bought, and at the same time they’re still paying off — with interest — a car they no longer own.

Not a good idea.

The IRS tells us that refunds for tax year 2005 averaged $2,144. Some suggest that consumers could use tax refunds to pay down their car loans. And that may be a good suggestion if you really need to buy a new car. But consider this: Maybe there’s a better way.

For instance, who said you need a brand-new auto? A good low-mileage pre-owned vehicle that has been well-maintained has some real advantages. Is a new auto really necessary, or is it simply something you want? Once you purchase most makes and models of new automobiles and drive away from the dealer’s property, you’ll leave thousands of dollars behind on the dealer’s lot.

You see, even though you may have paid $35,000 for the car yesterday, today the car will be worth several thousand dollars less because it’s now a used car. You may plead that it has just 110 miles on the odometer, has never been wrecked and is only one day old. Nevertheless, it’s now a used car.

Of course, there is certainly nothing wrong with pre-owned automobiles, but there are some cautions. So let’s shift gears (no pun intended) and talk about used cars.

When you consider buying a pre-owned car, get permission to have it checked out by a mechanic you know and trust. Your mechanic is able to spot problems that you’d miss, and the few dollars it might cost can save a lot of grief later on. If a seller, whether an individual or a car dealer, refuses to allow you to have your mechanic check the auto over, look elsewhere for another car — and another seller.

Be an informed buyer and do some research. You can get all sorts of information about different autos in magazines such as Consumer Reports. You’ll find them at most libraries, and there are many online resources for research as well.

For a relatively small fee, there are online sites that will check the vehicle identification number (VIN) to see if the car you’re interested in has ever been wrecked or in a flood. And if there’s a car model you like, check around with people you may know who are driving the same or a similar model to see how they like it.

Speaking of used cars, be sure you’re getting the most from your present car by maintaining it by the book. Change the oil and check the transmission and other fluids regularly. Have the brakes properly maintained, regularly check the belts and hoses, and be sure to keep correct pressure in the tires. Proper tire pressure is one of the best ways to improve gas mileage.

If you can’t do these things yourself — or simply don’t want to — be certain that you have someone or someplace where these things can be checked routinely. In this day of self-service gas stations, many cars get less than top-notch care.

With gas prices soaring, everyone wants an automobile that gets good gas mileage. I have a friend who regularly checks the miles per gallon (mpg) on his car, which he bought used when it had 13,000 miles on the odometer. It’s a full size 1991 V-6 Dodge Dynasty that he’s been driving for 15 years. You’re right; it’s not the car your teens or grandchildren want to drive, but he gets 22 mpg in around-town driving and 28 mpg on a road trip — who’s complaining?

However, don’t panic and think that you’ll be better off by getting rid of your present SUV giant and buying a smaller car. That may not be a good solution. If you do some careful calculating and consider that negative equity factor mentioned earlier, you may discover that the amount that the trade-in costs will far surpass your fuel costs — for a very long time.

Now, back to the original question: What’s the best car to drive? Well, I hope you won’t be disappointed, but for most of us, it may be (and quite probably is) the one you’re now driving. Keep on giving it some mechanical TLC and see if it won’t give you many more miles and save you a lot of money.
Howard Dayton is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. Dayton and the late Larry Burkett joined forces in 2000 when Crown Ministries, led by Dayton, merged with Christian Financial Concepts, led by Burkett. The new organization became Crown Financial Ministries, on the web at www.crown.org.

    About the Author

  • Howard Dayton