According to recent reports, new-car sales in this country are slowly climbing out of the toilet. We love you, Driving America, so we have some advice: Stop it.
We know what you're thinking: The American economy is barely alive. Detroit is busily attempting to reverse decades of bad choices. Speed has never been cheaper, interest rates are still in the gutter, and everyone and their brother — hello, Black Friday — wants you to buy, buy, buy. It looks like an easy call.
We're here to tell you to hold off. If you can stomach it, we suggest you do something radical: If it has wheels, don't buy it new. Period. Sound like sacrilege? Maybe, but there's more to it than you might think.
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Argument One: Cost
As obvious as it seems, the money bit can't be overlooked. Sure, you lose a hefty chunk of change the moment you drive your new snazzmobile off the lot, but that old saw rarely stops people. And yeah, interest rates are low, and the guy in the nice tweed suit is going to talk to his boss and almost lose his job so you can save a few bucks. It's tempting. But it's also a game for suckers.
Look at it this way: Yes, there's never been a better time to buy a new car. But by the same token, there's also never been a better time to save your money and buy something older and a heck of a lot cheaper. The same economy that made that brand-new Porsche 911 seem affordable also trashcanned the values of every used car on the planet. Never has so much fun been available for so little, and the tradeoffs are relatively benign. (In the case of the 911, a good used 996 Carrera will be almost as fast, half as expensive, and just as much fun to fling into a fencepost ass-first.) And if you're worried about repair costs, don't — unless you buy in the rain, at night, and while drunk, a year's worth of fix-it bills will rarely outweigh the heft of twelve car payments.
Take the cash you saved and go on vacation. Invest it. Hell, for that matter, just use it to — wait for it — buy a second car. (What can we say? Jalopnik wants you to roll.) The possibilities are endless.
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Argument Two: The Environment
It doesn't matter what you buy, how old it is, or how much it says "hybrid" on the trunk — if you're buying a new car, you're consuming resources. Great strides have been made in the field of automotive recycling, and for the most part, large-scale manufacturing is cleaner than it's ever been. But you can't negate the laws of physics: If it already exists, then you don't have to make it. Creating things takes work, and work, by definition, makes something happen by using up something else.
A few years ago, a company called CNW Market Research created a "dust to dust" study that examined the net environmental impact of a host of new cars. The study received a lot of press, largely because it claimed that a Jeep Wrangler used less energy from cradle to grave than a Toyota Prius. The firm's methods have since been the subject of a great deal of controversy, but the argument they make is valid: Things aren't always what they seem, and planetary harm has a lot more to do with sustainable design than with tailpipe emissions.
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Argument Three: Safety
This is the bit that comes with a caveat: No matter what you drive, the newer it is, the less likely it is to kill you in an accident. Vehicle safety standards are like the laundry — they never rest, and the only thing you can do is try to keep up. That said, thanks to Ralph Nader (I can't believe I just typed that), the curve isn't linear.
By and large, things are much better than they were fifty years ago. Your dad's '61 Cadillac may have killed him if he so much as looked at it funny, but anything built since the first Bush administration is going to be safe enough that you shouldn't feel terrorized by traffic. When in doubt, err on the side of newer, more airbags, and more crush space. Just because it's older doesn't mean that it wants you dead.
Argument Four: Fun
If you regularly read car magazines, the following may come as a shock: New cars aren't always more fun. Here at Los Jalops Con Carne, we've driven everything on the market, and most of what's out there simply isn't that special. Thanks to ever-increasing safety, emissions, and comfort standards, the average new car is a lumpy pile of bloated meh. There are exceptions — a lot of them, thankfully — but they aren't available for beer money, and most of them are either wildly impractical or more expensive than a small house. Buy older, and you get access to the once-costly fun stuff at cut-rate prices; you also get lighter curb weights, better steering feel, and more seat-of-the-pants Kickass.
The Caveat: Sometimes…
OK, we give — none of this is set in stone. There are obviously exceptions to each and every one of these arguments, and sometimes a new car is simply the best answer. We feel your pain. But if you remember nothing else, remember this:
Save the old cars. Please. Don't let your children grow up thinking that 4000-pound sport sedans with foot-thick doors are the way of the future. Help us, before it's too late. This is Jalopnik, signing off from the future. You have been warned.