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While looking for a practical family sedan that also had some entertainment value, I decided upon a Mazda 6 GT - which is more exciting than mayonnaise, but not quite in the hot sauce category. Still, I had a hankering for something more – a little something special to drive through my world of responsibility and sensible parenting. However, as a husband who would like to keep sharing a bed with his wife, I kept telling myself to "be satisfied with sensible". That's how I ended up with an old banged-up Volkswagen with sticky cheerios under the seats and mysterious brown stains on the roof liner.
Fortunately, I learned that you can also be quite sensible when buying a premium car if you are able to identify the sweet spot of maximum value relative to its depreciation curve. Typically, this occurs about 2 to 3 years after the car has been purchased (or leased) when its depreciation curve begins to level off after its steepest initial drop. The trick is to find the car you want, equipped as you want, in the best possible condition, with the lowest possible mileage that was also manufactured as late as possible in the model year.
You can find this out by checking the Carfax for the date of manufacture. This is often overlooked but very important when calculating value. I bought a 2013 that was built in September while similar models on the market were built in December of the previous year. For me it made the difference between a 2-year-old car and a 3-year-old car even though they were both 2013s. Thanks to the large amount of cars that are being leased instead of purchased these days, it's not difficult to find the car you want, as long as you are willing to do your research and travel a bit if necessary.
A Google search will take you to online depreciation calculators that estimate a car's value at different points in time. High-end options tend to add little to a car's value over time, so a loaded car won't cost much more than a sparsely-equipped model. Once you identify a car's relative sweet spot, spend some time on different used car sites researching the market value of the car you want. Check local dealer inventory and take a look at private sales that could save you even more money. If you are disciplined and don't rush, you could end up with your dream car at the price you can afford.
In the end, this dad managed to have his sensible cake while eating it too. I purchased a $60,000 midsized sports sedan (when new) with 27,000 miles on it and almost two years remaining on the factory warranty for the same money that I would have spent on a sensible new family sedan. Since it was just coming off of a low-mileage, one-owner lease, my car was well-cared for and had all of its maintenance records. It's been a few months now and I genuinely look forward to my daily commute and am excited to drive my kids anywhere for any reason (no cheerios or brown fluids permitted - ever!).
So how about you? New or used?