Life is a journey full of sacrifices. To make ends meet, sometimes we must forego our current-day wants to make room for our future needs. Having said that, your automotive choices, while cost-conscious, should never be downright cheap, no matter how tempting. Here are a few good reasons why you should never buy a base model car.
Being cheap isn't a virtue, no matter how many seasons of Extreme Couponing you've binge-watched. What the concept entails is that you're kicking aside dollars to chase nickels. A base model car is just that - a car made to the bare minimum specifications of that manufacturer. It's the least they could legally get away with putting in a car to have it qualify for that model year. The saddest game in the world is the one you play right after buying a base model, called "Holy crap, power windows weren't standard? This car was made a year ago!"
I once had a conversation with an owner of a 2012 Nissan Versa 4-door. The aging gentleman gleefully exclaimed "This is the cheapest car sold today - $9300 out the door!" It was a silver on gray manual sedan, with manual roll-up windows, a manual transmission, and a backseat that had the body-hugging support of a filled-in cinder block. The owner then admitted to me that it was a bit of a pain doing long trips with it because when it gets hot and he doesn't want to run the air conditioning, he has to roll all the windows down manually, and his hip can and does act up due to the constant need of operating the clutch pedal. Also he has to pull over to answer a phone call and there doesn't seem to be a tachometer so he has to "play it by ear".
Where exactly is the value here? At what point do you realize that your money on the used market will get orders of magnitude more in terms of experience than buying the most cardboard and plastic-infused model available in your local dealership? While I usually advocate for the buying of used performance and luxury cars, it's entirely possible to simply buy the same car with some upgraded features to make life more livable at the very least.
To those that are unconvinced and want to save money on their purchase, here's a tip...
Everyone needs a bed. Statistically, you'll spend more time on it in your life than with any other appliance or furniture item in your house. That's why it pays to get one of good quality, paying a little more than what bare-bones, bargain basement prices can get you. No one has ever said "I wish my bed was less comfortable - I could've really used those $200!" The same mode of thinking applies to cars.
If you have a long daily commute and work until the age of retirement, you'll likely spend a few years of your life waiting at stoplights or in traffic - a statistic you can't outrun if your line of work depends on you getting to an office or doing anything other than writing for Jalopnik, which has adopted a mandatory no pants policy ever since Doug DeMuro came on board. Sitting in a seat for years can get tiring, but it doesn't have to be. Get a car with heated seats and a nice stereo that can connect to your phone. Get one that has cruise control and comfortable seat bolsters and lumbar support with memory settings. You'll never miss the money, because every daily drive will benefit from the optional amenities, making the car that much nicer.
As a personal example, I had a Mercedes-Benz S500 that was moderately equipped, but one particular thing bugged me - the fact that there were trim levels with options on top of mine. The niggling fact that I wasn't getting the full S-Class experience was irksome, so I ripped out my old interior and installed a top-trim S600 interior, with heated, ventilated and massaging seats, for the sum of $1000, with me handling all of the work, and that's the car I drive to this day. At no point do I ever think about the money I spent with any sort of regret, because it's hard to be fickle when someone is rubbing your lower back and blowing a gentle breeze up your butt at the same time.
But let's say I just swallowed the feeling of envy that I had for more expensive and better equipped cars and stayed with the base trim, it just so happens that...
If you follow classic car auctions, as I'm privy to do ever once in a while, you'll notice that the cars with the most factory options consistently command the largest prices at sale time. You might struggle to find a buyer for a '65 6-cylinder Mustang, but a '65 GT with factory air conditioning can fetch quite the asking price, with people lining up for miles.
There's a great reason for this: People want the manufacturer's best expression of the car, not a near-beer recreation of what's also possible if they chuck an older, less powerful engine in it and sell it as a lower-spec trim. This sentiment translates perfectly into the used car and new car markets, because overall experience and value trumps initial savings, as it should. A car is essentially a luxury item, it makes sense that the luxury shouldn't be a compromise to your lifestyle. A key component of this ideal is that you don't get a nagging indication of your compromises, as embodied by....
For the uninitiated, a dummy button or switch is a panel that could have housed an interesting electrical or mechanical component, but doesn't because base models never get fancy gadgets. Every time I get into a car with blacked-out blank switch panels, it looks like exactly like a row of playable characters I haven't unlocked because I'm playing a demo. It's a constant visual reminder that I should've worked harder and gotten the SE trim - the real version of what the manufacturer meant this car to be. It's the automotive equivalent of buying expensive sneakers at a slight discount because they don't have spots for shoelaces.
A car should be a generally engaging experience. If it becomes mundane, tiresome, or needlessly hateful because at one point someone wanted to save a few bucks on their down payment by buying the one with steelies instead of alloys, you're headed for disaster. Cars aren't toasters - they're more like beds. Don't be afraid to splurge on things that will make the time you spend using it enjoyable because after all, life's much too short to drive boring cars.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.