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A smaller car? To buy or not to buy?

I’m having a car crisis.  I need your help to push me over the edge to get rid of my 7 passenger SUV!  Financially, it seems to makes sense… but for some reason, I am just having trouble pulling the trigger.

Here’s the details:
Currently Right now, I have a Mazda CX9. Seats 7 passengers, which is great when both my parents are in town at the same time, and we ALL want to go somewhere.  But, I would say that that equates to about 12 days a year max. The other 353 days a year, it is usually just me in the car commuting to work. Originally we bought this car as a weekend hauler for the family – dogs included. Back then, Mr. SSC and I were commuting together in his more fuel efficient car, but, last year he switched jobs, and we can no longer carpool, so I use this behemoth SUV to drive roughly 50 miles a day.

We are thinking of replacing it with a Mazda CX5 – so essentially the same car but smaller and more fuel efficient.  This one fits 5 passengers, and is still a SUV (we still need to fit 2 kids, 2 large dogs).  Yeah, maybe we don’t ‘need’ and SUV, but we like having one for hauling strollers, bikes and dogs around. Plus – the back of an SUV is great for quick roadside changes of dirty diapers! Way cleaner than a store bathroom. My only issue is that it takes a bit of wiggling for me to fit my hips between the two car seats in the back… but then again, this is only something I have to do, say 20 times a year. And it would not be comfortable for more than 30 minutes, unless we un-latch the car seats and strap them in with seatbelts instead of the Latch system.

I’ve done a little snooping around at dealers, and found a great deal.  With my trade-in, we are getting the CX5 for a net cost of $8000, probably closer to $7200 because my current car needs new tires, and those will cost a pretty penny.  With the new car I should get about 10 mpg more. So, since I drive ~1000 miles/month, and at $2/gallon,  I should save $36/month on gas.  Supposedly, car insurance for the new car will be 4% less, or about $34 less per year.  So that all adds up to about $400/year. Not too impressive for downsizing.

I did some more research online to try and factor in maintenance costs, and according to My old car costs $.62/mile to own and operate, and the smaller SUV would cost $0.42.  (this includes other items like maintenance, depreciation, insurance, etc.)  Looking at it this way, the newer car would save us approximately $2400/year. Which means it would pay off in 3 years. Another added benefit is that the newer car would still have a warranty on it and it seems to get significantly higher safety ratings.

What should I do? It seems like downsizing will give us the best deal in the long run. I think part of me is scared of downsizing and regretting it. Also, I hate the idea of shelling out the $7200 for the new car. I know many people out there count cars as an asset with a value, but in my mind a car is a tool with a limited lifespan.

I know many of you have probably done some vehicle downsizing as you immerse yourself in the FI lifestyle – was it difficult for you to make the decision?  Did you ever regret it? Should I buy the smaller, newer SUV?

Stay tuned… I’m either buying the new car on Friday, or sticking with my current car and buying new tires on Friday- what will it be?


*oh and I should add, that if we do want to use the 3rd row seats, it requires that I climb in thru the trunk, which embarrasses Mr SSC because it truly looks like a clown car

*UPDATE: So, I have searched for newish used cars also.  And despite living in one of the biggest cities in the US, the cheapest used car with less miles than my CX9 was a 2014 for only ~$3000 less than a brand spankin’ new 2016.  And we want a 2014 or newer with this model, because it was completely redesigned that year for improved efficiency.  I keep thinking that a  car with a fresh warranty and no previous owners has got to be worth the $3000 price difference.

*UPDATE 2:  We are now leaning to not getting a new car. Gas prices are just so low, it doesn’t seem like it really makes a huge difference and is worth taking on the extra car loan amount.  Downsizing is great, but I guess sometimes it just doesn’t make sense… below is a chart that explains the numbers I just looked up (from Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book) to try and make a quantitative decision.  A $500 difference isn’t worth the hassle! The final numbers

16 thoughts on “A smaller car? To buy or not to buy?

  1. Lee

    I’m all for downsizing vehicles. What about trading in for a used CX5 of the same year as your CX9? What would the price difference be then?

    1. Mrs SSC Post author

      I looked into that – and the best deal I can find on one with still relatively low mileage (since my CX9 has less than 40,000 miles) is only $2000 less. Strange – in the big city I live in, I would’ve thought there would be more on the market…

  2. Fervent Finance

    Honestly it sounds like the math says – don’t do it. Those maintenance costs per mile you quoted don’t seem accurate from my car ownership experience. It seems like you wouldn’t break even for quite some time, even many years. I say keep what you got and drive it until it’s dead!

    1. Mrs SSC Post author

      Well, the government reimbursement rate per mile is 57.5 cents/mile, so the CX 9 at 62 cents, seems in line with that. The CX5s 42 cents/mile does seem low to me… I’ll have to look around and see if other sites have done additional analysis.

  3. Tawcan

    That’s a tough decision, I’m all for downsizing the car to get better fuel economy but the math doesn’t seem to make sense from what you wrote. Would the cost saving be better if you downsize to a small sedan? Like a Mazda 3 or 2?

    1. Mr SSC

      We like having a hatchback to have room for the dogs, so that is why we are thinking of a small SUV. Its hard to fit two kids in car seats and two large dogs all in the backseat :)

    1. Mr SSC

      Yeah, Mrs. SSC’s gut feeling is that we should keep the car, but its hard to pass up a new car for only ~$7200 after the trade-in.

  4. Chef @ Fry The Financial Fish

    Great article SSC!

    If you are going to downsize why not go with a car that is much smaller+ affordable-like a Honda Civic/ Toyota Corolla? You should be able to find a car that can get 40+ MPG.

    How often do you transport Kids+ dogs?

    We have 1 van for local travel and 1 small car for commuting.

    1. Mr SSC

      Well, Mrs. SSC likes the SUV style because she’s not a fan of sitting so low. The kids get transported daily, and kids and dogs, just on vet visits. Since we found a nearby vet, now we just go sans kids, and the other one watches the kids.
      We had that sort of setup when we commuted together, but that’s just not an option anymore with my job. Alas…
      When we had a VW sportwagon diesel, it got about 40 mpg, was ok spacewise for one kid, and two would be doable. However, it was just really tight for me, and then it sits really low, so Mrs. SSC wasn’t a huge fan. Currently, the new car option is off the table.

      1. Chef @ Fry The Financial Fish

        That’s totally understandable- Now that I understand you situation I think it is a good idea to go after an SUV!

        You may also want to look at VW- they are offering pretty hefty discounts (5-7K) to new vehicles due to their brand name taking a hit from the Diesel fiasco. Our local dealer has new jettas priced at $12K so this really got me to thinking about upgrading from our Honda Civic w 200K miles-

        1. Mr SSC

          We’ve looked around at some here, just window shopping, but no deals that nice. If I was in your situation, it could be an easy sell for myself to start haggling anyway, and see what deal you could get. You can always do like we did, and say, “nope, it’s not a good enough deal right now. Thanks.”

  5. Vawt

    I wouldn’t make the move. That is a lot of hassle and costs for a “maybe” savings each year. If you were going from an SUV to a Prius, it might make sense.

    We have a small Mazda 4 door and a Ford Explorer, but my wife doesn’t commute as a stay at home mom. I recently traded her cars, so I take the small sedan to work (only 3 miles each way). She now has more room for the 2 kids in the SUV. We don’t spend that much on gas, so it won’t result in any savings, just higher comfort for her.

    1. Mr SSC

      We’ve decided no downsize. Even though she still commutes in the bigger SUV, the savings just aren’t worth it. That’s even getting the dealer down another $2500 on the car and up $1500 more for the trade-in. Putting the car payment into investments in another 18 months is way better than lowering a payment $120. I envy the 3 mile commute, and miss when I had one like that back in LA.
      For us, even the Prius wouldn’t be super great, because most of Mrs. SSC’s commute is highway driving at the time of day that she can drive posted speeds or higher. For around town errands, we use my car most of the other time and it gets decent mileage, and is really comfy.

  6. Our Next Life

    Glad you’re leaning toward keeping the car you have! It’s definitely cheaper not to shell out for something new, plus you’re not creating the need for the manufacture of a new car, which is worth something. Even if you did recoup your costs in three years, you also might not, and it’s a lot of money to shell out to find out!

    1. Mr SSC

      Its decided – no new car! We’ve already made an appointment to get new tires for Mrs SSC’s current car. Sometimes something shiny and new can be so tempting…

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