A few years ago when the Prius first came out, I had a discussion with Macon about whether it would be worth paying the extra money for such a car in view of the gas savings one would achieve with the Prius. (We didn't know it then, but gas was cheap!) We concluded it would take a lot of driving the new car in order to make up for the cost of acquiring the Prius when we compared the cost to either keeping the old one or buying a more conventional new car.
With Mary coming home this summer (Yea!!), we may be looking at buying a "new" car (by "new" we mean "new to us"). I have been driving her Nissan Pathfinder, which I love and which has about 84,000 miles on it. So we need a third car among Carol, Mary and me. One question is whether she takes that one back and I get the "new" car or I keep the Pathfinder and she gets the "new" one. But we know we need a third car. So we are coming around again to the question of whether we should pay extra for a car with really good mileage or pay less for a car that is not as thrifty at the gas pump.
Something like this question is addressed at a blog called Frugaldad here. In that post, the question is whether one should buy a truly new car with very good gas mileage or keep the old car that is paid off, working well enough, but is costlier at the gas pump. Frugaldad crunches the numbers, sort of, and concludes that it will be a long time before the gas savings compensates for the extra cost of the new car.
In this calculus, I would also like to introduce the safety element. If the price of gas economy is getting a smaller car, one assumes a certain degree of extra risk . Thus, such risk increases the economic cost of acquiring such a car; the true cost is more than the out of pocket dollars one pays for the car. One could get a larger car that is a "hybrid", but just last week the WSJ auto guy said that such autos sold by GM and Ford were "overpriced", although he gave no details on how he arrived at that conclusion. (Maybe if you discount the price by the risk that one avoids with a larger car, the GM and Ford SUVS to which he refers are not so overpriced.)
This is all very complicated, isn't it? But I think the question is worth some time spent with a spread sheet. But I'm not so interested in an analysis that assumes a car one already owns. For our situation, I would like to compare the cost of a low mileage, safely sized semi-gas guzzler from CarMax with an equally safe but fuel efficient new car, say the Camry hybrid. How many miles will you have to drive the Camry to compensate for its extra cost over the CarMax car? That shouldn't be too hard to figure.
But even with that analysis, there are additional variables that could affect the ultimate cost outcome:
1. If one buys the CarMax, would he be more careful of the miles he puts on it, as compared to the situation if the Camry were purchased? By that I mean, would a Camry owner be less careful about his use of the car and, therefore, put more miles per year on it than would the CarMax driver?
2. Gas prices might go down (probably not, though).
3. Innovation could continue, so that if one had bought the CarMax, several years later he could buy an even more efficient car than the Camry and leapfrog the Camry owner in terms of overall savings. (This reminds me of the question of when one should buy a new computer.)
Any ideas out there? Anyone have a good, safe used car for sale?