Buying new vs buying used

Buying a car is an experience that most people look forward to irrespective of whether they consider themselves ‘enthusiasts’ or otherwise. Everyone remembers their first car and most people remember the cars their parents took them to school in. I distinctly remember my mother’s Hillman Hunter and my father’s Fiat 131 Mirafiori. When I started driving, I started off in a broken down white Metro and eventually I graduated to a Peugeot 505 which I held onto till I drove it to the ground and went on to own several cars but till this very day, I have never bought a new car. And I often think: what is it that makes people buy new cars? If everyone had my mentality there would be no cars on the road because no one would buy them new in the first place.

I run a Car Forum on Facebook, and I ran a poll as to whether people would buy a car new or used ‘irrespective of budget’. The ambiguity of the last qualification led to some interesting arguments being developed. Most people seemed to assume that ‘irrespective of budget’ meant that the budget is unlimited. What I meant to say was – ‘leaving budget out of the equation’. And the argument which recurred was that if the budget was a high or unlimited budget then one would ‘obviously’ buy a new car. Some people went as far as to imply that the only reason why people do not buy new cars is because they cannot afford them. And I think that this assumption doesn’t hold for everyone. If this were the case there wouldn’t be such a demand for very expensive second hand luxury, classic and super cars. On the contrary, my belief is that most people don’t buy new cars because they cannot bring themselves to accept the instant depreciation hit once a car has left the showroom.

At the end of the day, people put their money on what satisfies their definition of ‘value’. And this is exactly where most car related arguments kick off. Most of these arguments stem from the fact that many people fail to distinguish between market value and personal value. The basic difference between what a car would fetch on the market and what a car is worth to me as an individual.

The perfect example occurred today. A close friend of mine is very interested in buying a new Porsche Cayman. Knowing that I am quite into cars he called me and asked me whether I would join him to see the car at the local Porsche dealership. If it were any other friend of mine I would have assumed that the visit to the local dealership is simply to see the car and then import a used Cayman from the UK for a lower price. But I know this friend of mine wants to buy the car new because he wants to spec the car as he wishes, he wants to eagerly await the call saying the car has arrived, he wants to see the car with zero miles, he wants the new car smell and he wants to know that he is the first owner of the car. Before we left the dealership he asked for a spec sheet, and I am sure that he will be discussing the colour, the specs and the various options with his family before taking a decision. This is where he sees ‘value’. And while to you none of the above ‘reasons’ might justify paying more on a new car and taking a massive depreciation hit – who are we to say that this friend of mine is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’?

Then there are those who will only part with their cash for a car from previous decades – for a car that has the soul, feeling and connection with the driver that only thoroughbred classics can offer. These people will probably never ever buy a new car. Together with a friend of mine we had started off the MX5 club in Malta and this friend of mine still organizes MX5 runs every first Sunday of the month. The MX5 proved to be the perfect example of a car that is bought by drivers who love the car so much that they often would not even consider buying a modern car to replace it and wouldn’t have dreamt of buying a new car instead of it. The same can be said of so many classics with a massive following such as Minis, Triumphs, Beetles, Land Rovers, Alfas, Fiat 500s and the list goes on. These owners love their cars irrespective of market value and irrespective of perception by other owners. And most importantly irrespective of whatever the new car market offers. The value in these cars lies in the smiles per mile that they offer.

My father always taught me that what’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander. “Horses for courses”. Some people want to deflower a car, they want to be the first ones to be seen driving the particular model – and they’re prepared to part with their cash just to satisfy this thirst. Others want a slightly used car for a discount. And others want to spend the least possible, and are prepared to go for a high mile, no service history vehicle. Others spend all their money on a track-only race-car and couldn’t care less what they use as a run about. And others will spend ten fold what the car cost on after market modifications. This is the beauty of diversity. This is the beauty of car ownership. In the real life everyone has a budget. And ultimately what will tip the balance are three very simple factors: where you perceive most ‘value’, what you need most at this point in your life, and what your irrational, impulsive alter ego will ultimately sign the cheque for.

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