The Million Mile Pickup Truck

Earlier this week an article appeared on Yahoo featuring a man and his million mile pickup truck. You read that right; the truck actually rolled over one million miles in its seventeen year life. It struck me for a couple reasons. First, I drive a seventeen year old truck myself, but it has barely a tenth of “the old girl’s” mileage. Second, in this day of 36-month leases very few people buy and hold their cars long enough to drive them into the ground. This is good news for used car dealers, but bad news for consumers. So, if Mr. Oresnik has proven that it’s possible to drive your vehicle a million miles, why does everyone rush out and finance a new car every three or four years?

To impress people at a stop light. Seriously, think about the motivation for your last car purchase. Was safety your top priority? If you have kids it might have been. Chances are you were more impressed with the options package than the safety ratings. Were you concerned with the interest rate on the loan, or the early prepayment penalties? Probably not. Americans have had a love affair with their cars for many years. It is a concept that is perpetuated by auto manufacturers and dealers alike. Our vehicles have become an extension of ourselves, a reflection of our self-worth and an indication of our success. Some of us actually believe our cars make us better looking. I personally gave up on that idea a long time ago – I look just as ugly in a beautiful car as I do a beater!

I need a nice car for my job. Oh really? Says who? Real estate agents, contractors and other service professionals have fallen for this one. Let’s pretend I call two plumbers to come out to my home for a repair. One drives up in a brand new Hummer, the other a used pickup truck. Guess who is getting my business? You got it – give me the old pickup truck any day. Driving around in a flashy car might give your customers the idea you are successful, but it probably leaves them feeling like they are the ones paying for that ride by overpaying for your service.

I need a new car to save on gasoline. This is one of my personal favorites. I hear people all the time say, “I bought a new car because it had better gas mileage than my old gas guzzler.” Now, I can appreciate their concern for the environment. However, “green” concerns aside, there is no way you can justify financing a new automobile because of higher gas prices. How many thousands of miles a month would you have to drive to make up a $400 car payment in gasoline savings?

Bottom line, cars are simply a method of basic transportation…that’s all they are. They are assembled hunks of metal sitting on four tires designed for the purpose of transporting us safely from point A to point B. I doubt Henry Ford ever envisioned the kind of luxuries we see in today’s automobile – voice activated radio controls, heated leather seats, heads up displays, and backup cameras installed in bumpers. If families invested the $400 a month wasted on new cars into a good, growth stock mutual fund for 30 years they could easily retire millionaires. Hope you like the car!

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  1. Great points. Where I grew up this isn’t common at all—you buy a car and use it until it dies (my dad still has his 1981 Toyota Pick-up Truck). There’s no such thing as leasing, so it took me a while to figure out what that was when I moved here.

    To think that people would rather have a monthly car payment for the rest of their lives is beyond me. I always tell people, “Don’t you want to finish paying that off and do something else with that $250/month? Like save up for a vacation or just plain save? Alas, different strokes for different folks, and most folks love themselves a new car every few years.

  2. Great post! I totally agree that nobody needs a new car every three years, unless your car has blown up or something.

    I try to drive my cars until about 150K miles, before major repairs start to add up. I drive about 10k a year, so I can keep a car for a long time.

    My husband on the other hand, puts about 50K a year on his truck, so instead of trading in every 3 years, we make sure to keep up with routine maintenance to avoid major problems and he only drives Diesels because they tend to last much longer.

    I think it is sad that most people think that car payments are just a way of life. And worse yet, people think I am crazy when I say we pay cash for our vehicles. But, if you save that $200-300 a month that most people pay for a lease, after a few years, you can pay cash for a brand new car or very close to it.

    Take Care


  3. Great points. I did purchase a new minivan for my wife but that was because she drives 30,000 miles per year back and forth from our home in another state to “back home.”

    Her old vehicle had 200,000 miles on it and needed more in repairs than the book value.

    We bought quality, Honda, and should have it paid off by this time next year.

    Moving forward, I’m planning on saving the payment amount in a high yield account until we have to buy another one, hopefully, at 200,000 miles again! I would absolutely LOVE to go buy a nice almost new car with cash!

  4. I completely agree with running a car into the ground! We did get rid of my car (Mitsubishi Eclipse) at 130,000 because there was no heat, it wouldn’t go into 5th gear (and sometimes it was temperamental about reverse), and it was leaking a lot of oil (at the end, I was putting oil in the car every week). When we found out I was pregnant, we figured it might be a good thing if the baby didn’t freeze…

    My husband’s truck just went over 180,000 and the “new” 1997 Subaru is still a baby at 88,000. We’re starting to look into options for a vehicle to replace the truck, just in case something happens – I hope it keeps on truckin’ for another 180,000!

  5. I think I might leave this post conveniently up and open for my husband today 🙂 We seem to think differently about cars and the importance of upgrading…

  6. Amy: Us guys seem to be more affected by “car fever” than most women, although there are exceptions in both cases.

    moneyloveandchange: You guys definitely have the right idea!

    Ron: Notice I didn’t mention “Mama’s” car! Having safe, reliable transportation for the wife and kids is important. It’s us guys I’m worried about. Too much money is wasted on guys driving a flashy car or truck 5 miles to the office and letting it sit in the company parking lot for 9 hours.

    LJ: Great points! I didn’t emphasize the importance of regular maintenance enough in the article. The guy featured on Yahoo mentions that his vehicle had over 300 oil changes under his ownership.

    Writer’s Coin: Remember Sam Walton drove an old pickup truck until the day he died (and at that time he was one of the richest men in the world). Your dad has the right idea.

  7. Great topic! I have never understand buying extravegant cars or LEASING anything! What a crock and what a waste of money. First of all, that is where the auto dealers make their money, by leasing. There is very minimal mark-up on new cars. Secondly, you never own the thing if you lease. Third, why oh why would you continuously want to have that payment…foreverrrrr? Ack! I just don’t get it.

    My stepmother has leased. She has always had to have a new car. My dad on the other hand, bought himself a $500 “beater” to get back and forth to work on because it was so much better on gas and, uh, NO PAYMENTS! And he’s a car salesman. LOL

    I have a friend who just can’t seem to make ends meet yet she leases a brand new grand prix. This is the third one since I’ve known her (about three years). Um, hello. Buy a car you can afford and stop wasting your money? I don’t know!

    I bought a new car and I was reluctant to do that. I wanted a used car, but I bought the new one because it was only $1000 more than the used one I looked at and there were some things broken on the used one. Still, I bought a Ford Focus for $13,000. I can’t fathom spending even $20,000 on a car. 13K was plenty! That’s just me though.

    Great topic!

  8. Both of our cars are about 10 years old, and each of them has 150K-200K miles on them. They’re near that line of needing to be replaced, but we enjoy not having car payments so much! I’m thinking we can get another couple of years out of them, and that’s without really taking care of them. I can’t imagine how long they’d have lasted if we actually cared for them properly.

  9. I’ve read so many articles of the sort but never one that puts it so plain and simple. Since 2003 we have replaced our cars at least 5 times, what a waste of money. However at the end of 2008 i told the wife to choose a car to keep for a very long long time. She said that NEW will be the only way to go, to avoid arguing i went along for the ride. She chose the VW Jetta diesel. Why a diesel; well diesels are known to last for ever. We agreed that the car will have to stay with us for at least 300K, at 15K miles per year translates into 20 years of ownership; Keep in mind the life spam of a car is not based on years but miles driven. As for me i drive a 1987 BMW e28 with only 250K on the clock, the car runs so good, i see myself driving that car for another 20 years of my life. My BMW feels so solid and reliable. I do my own detail on my cars, wax at least once a year, interior maintenance: leather, vinyl, carpet conditioning at least twice a year, keeps the cars looking like new for it’s entire life. Personally i don’t mind driving a very old car but condition wise must look and drive sharp.