It’s Not Just Uncle

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Uncle – his mandates and fatwas  have without doubt made new cars (and trucks) more expensive.

But then, so have we.  

By choosing to sign up for more car than we can afford – made to seem affordable via the flim-flam of “low monthly payments” stretched over twice as many years as was formerly typical – we inadvertently inflate the cost of cars generally.

People – not all of us, but a working majority – elect to buy the optional gadgets, the extras and luxuries. This creates demand for them. We are not forced to buy these things, unlike air bags and back-up cameras and all the fatwa’d things – but because a working majority does buy them – finances them – they’ve become de facto fatwas.  

Like a rip tide, this has had the effect of dragging us all along with the current – including those among us who would rather not live beyond our means for the sake of owning an increasingly expensive disposable appliance whose value will be half what we paid for it five or six years later.

It is almost impossible to find a new car – even an “economy” car – that doesn’t come standard loaded. Power windows, door locks, cruise control, intermittent wipers, air conditioning and alloy wheels – things which were rightly considered luxury options as recently as the ’90s, because they’re not necessaries. You can – and people did – get from A to B without such things and you used to be able to save a lot of money that way.

It’s very hard to save money that way today.

Its fair to say that almost everyone is buying a luxury car today – whether they can afford it or not.

The car industry – egged on by an effete car press, which in turn shame-nudges people to eschew the Basic Car – no longer makes many Basic Cars and the handful which they do still make them are abused for sins of perception and status.

Consider as a for-instance the 2018 Mitsubishi Mirage. This little car is one of perhaps two or three Basic Cars (by modern standards; the thing has power windows, locks and AC) which are still available. It stickers for just over $13k, brand new. This car gets 43 MPG on the highway – which is exceptional mileage for a new car, especially a non-hybrid new car and especially because it costs half what a new hybrid costs. It’s not un-roomy (41.7 inches of legroom up front, 34 in back – comparable to many mid-sized “family” sedans that cost too much for most families to comfortably afford – and has nearly 50 cubic feet of cargo capacity).

It makes all kinds of sense, economically as well as practically.

But it’s mocked for its 78 horsepower non-turbocharged engine; for being “slow” – which is puzzling given how slowly most people drive, regardless of how “fast” their car may potentially be.

So instead, most people buy “economy” cars that cost closer to $20k because they want more power, even if they don’t use it. Because they are peer-pressured into paying for it.

Plus the “nicer” interior (marginally, there is nothing new that recreates the cardboard door-paneling and Mattel plastic kid toy interior ambiance of yesterday’s Basic Cars). And for the not-yet-mandated saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety extras – such as pedestrian detection systems and emergency automated braking and more air bags than are necessary to comply with Uncle’s fatwas – all of which the volk has been successfully conditioned, by and large, to regard as catastrophic to do without because the car press moans and wails if a car (like the Mirage) doesn’t come standard with such things.

And so, they buy (finance) all this stuff – which becomes in short order de facto standard equipment because “everyone” wants it and is willing to sign up for a seven-year loan in order to get it.

It is a big part of the reason why most American families haven’t got even $1,000 in cash savings available for an emergency, even though they are working full time. But they have a $35,000 new car parked in the garage.

Financed on an average family income of about $50,000 annually. 

As obnoxious – and expensive – as the fatwas and the mandates are, people have it in their power to counterbalance them.

Imagine if the current dynamic reversed. If people – enough people – recovered the desire to live within their means. Bought cars like the Mirage (and Nissan Versa, which costs even less than the Mirage) instead of cars which cost a lot more. Cars which are certainly nicer but hardly necessary.

Shied away from accepting the bit of a seven-year indenture contract for a depreciating appliance and instead restricted their buying to cars they could afford to pay off within three or four years instead.

The fatwas and mandates are loathsome because forcing things on people is always loathsome. We have no choice, but there is some dignity in this, precisely because we are not free to choose. You can’t really fault someone when there is a bayonet pointed at his backside.

Debt, on the other hand, is a voluntary narcotic – a kind of economic heroin that, once “injected” becomes a habit which is extremely hard to kick.

. . .

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32 COMMENTS

  1. Today’s headline: “37 US children die in hot cars each year, report says”. Standby for the next new “feature”. Standby for hearing “But it’s worth it if we can save even one……”

    (Hard hearted? No. I can sympathize with all those who lost kids, even with the ones who caused the loss through stupidity or just a moment of distraction. But where does it end? According to the more empathetic among us, nowhere. It always reads “…..save even one….”.)

    • “There are reminders to put your seat belt on, turn off the headlights and take the key out of the ignition,” said Janette Fennell, president and founder of KidsAndCars.org. “There should be something that tells you if you’ve left your child behind.”

      1975: “My kid blew a finger off with a firecracker. Ban them all.”

      1980: “My kid drowned. Make everyone wear a life jacket.”

      2018: see above quote

    • Uncle has been using people’s children against them as a means of oppression and control- they figured out, that people will tolerate/justify just about anything if it’s for “child safety”.

      Just how long are these people leaving their kids in the car, for them to die? One case locally, some kids got trapped in an abandoned truck in a field…they were in there for many hours, and croaked. Locals say the father did it on purpose for the insurance money.

      Another case I heard of somewhere, some slut locks her kid in the car while drinks at the bar and picks up johns……

      These are cases that make the statistics, and somehow get translated into “Your kid will vroak if you leave him in the car for 10 minutes while you run into the store”!

      Since cars no longer have crank windows, instead of a “If you leave your kid in the car for any time, no matter how brief, you’re an abusive monster and we’ll arrest you” ‘safety campaign’, if this were really about safety instead of tyranny, they could simply propagate a message like “Roll down the windurs when you leave little Gipple in the car on a hot day, while you’re shopping or turning tricks”.

  2. Man, this makes more glad to have my Ford Ranger. It has the two options I want, AC and Cruise Control, nothing else. Everything else is basic. Manual windows, locks and mirrors. And I recently replaced the factory stereo head unit and all 4 speakers with a nice Pioneer system. And I installed it myself, because I can actually work on my truck, unlike new vehicles! I’m sure the Ranger coming out next year will be encumbered by tons of “features” that will drive the price of it into the $40k price range.

  3. The most irritating thing with “options” is stuff like my Tundra that I bought back in 2016. The SR package(base) that comes with a column shifter and a bench seat cannot be purchased with the 36 gallon fuel tank. For that, you have to “upgrade” to the SR5 package which comes only with center console and console shifter. Basically, they don’t put the large fuel tank on their fleet vehicle. Why? Because they want to soak more money out of people in options than people would otherwise pay for given the option. They get extra money for options that people don’t care much about by tying a very handy option–like a decent sized fuel tank–to higher packages.

    • Ancap,

      Then they take it a step further: They force people to buy the packages to get one lousy option they may really want, and the bean-counters analyze the data, and say “See? This is what is selling! This is what ‘the people’ want! They won’t buy the base model, so make ’em all loaded up package deals!”.

      Then they wonder why people like me never buy new. I am not paying a dime extra for options I don’t want!

      Cars used to be like Burger King Whoppers…. you could have ’em your way! Want A/C, roll-up windurs, and a manual tranny? No such thing as ‘not available”, or “only if you buy this package, but you can’t have that in combination with that package, or this one without the other”.

      Young’uns today would probably find it hard to believe that it was common to go into a stealership and order the exact car you wanted- and they would MAKE that car at the factory the way you wanted it- and just for the cost of the car and the options you chose!

      I was looking at a price sheet a while back, from a dealership in the 70’s. Man! The options were so CHEAP! A/C being one of the more expensive ones, might be $98 or $118…..not freaking $946. Most other options were in the single or double digits…….. Some options were under $10 !!!

      They gone up EXPONENTIALLY in relation to inflation and the price of the car itself.

      • I totally agree with you. I was born in 79, so I don’t know about the stickers from the 70’s but I love my 96 Tacoma. AC, cruise control and 4 wheel drive(manual stick, not a nob or button) are the only options.

        My Tundra has a few options that I had no choice on just for the ultra handy fuel tank. One thing about the Tundra’s that I will credit them with is that they are shorter on fluff than the others, simply because the design is over a decade old now. That’s what I like about them. But, the mid to late 90’s, in many ways, are hard to beat for a good mix of simplicity and technology in my opinion.

        • It must be true, what you say, Ancap- ’cause those older Tundras sure seem to hold their value. You’d think the car companies would take the hint. Many of the Tundras I see, are like yours- not gussied-up optioned-out yuppy-mobiles…but just good old simple trucks. Of all people, I think pick-up owners are the least likely to want all of the bells and whistles. We want function and simplicity; a vehicle that can do real work.

          A 36 gallon tank is HUGE for that vehicle!

  4. As always, so true what you say Eric, even more so here in the UK. Watching car ads is depressing. Reviews of cars are even worse. Its like they are making and marketing cars for people who don’t know a thing about cars and dont even particularly like them, assuming car people will buy cars anyways. For example saw a review of the Grand Cherokee SRT by a prominent publication here, and they guy was more passionate about how soft the sun visor was and kept going on about how pointless the engine was. Constantly see the grand cherokee being put down here for the quality of plastic in it, and how the Range Rover and the X5 are better, NOT bothered by the fact that those cars cost 25%+ more. Ofcourse, as you say as most buyers buy new on lease / finance, nobody even seems to care one bit about the up front price…. and hence the whole thing is irrelevant…..

  5. Not everyone is buying into the Debt for Gingerbread con.

    In several conversations this past weekend with other car nuts (Chasing the Dragon Hill Climb at Joyce Kilmer National Forest) no one wanted a new car with all the cameras, airbags, brake assist, lane assist crap.

    Instead of building cars for people who like them, car companies are building and designing cars for people who don’t like to drive and, in some cases, actually hate cars. It’s suicide they’re committing and, unfortunately, they’re going to take down the entire economy by trying to appeal to those that would enslave them. Sad.

  6. Ah, the Mirage. Mitsubishi paint and a JATCO CVT- I can’t wait to see how these things age in the midwest after a few years’ winters and erratically aggressive city driving.

    That being said, in late 2016/early 2017, the local dealership was selling off the previous model year Mirage stock for $8995 starting- and you could actually get one for roughly that, provided you liked a manual over a CVT. Certainly enticing at that price.

      • “Gotta wonder are you actually better off with a car like that though, modern cars easily go 200k or more miles and generally don’t break.”

        So does the straight six 200 the Maverick came with.

      • I’ve certainly seen many modern cars going through head gaskets, engines, trannies, very expensive electronic parts in way less than 200K miles. Some in less than 100K miles/multiple times before 200K. And they are absurdly expensive to repair.

        Poor old cars…..could only go 99,999 miles….but there’s no telling how many times they did it- unless you believe the sellers of every vintage car out there who claims that their 40 or 50 year-old car only has 38K original miles on it. (They all do- apparently people in the 60’s and 70’s would just buy new cars and never use them- it wasn’t until 6-digit odometers became the norm that people really started driving.)

  7. People are convinced these days that they should take a loan a vehicle and then invest the rest. On other forums this is what every car loan thread turns into. I keep asking what are the safe investments that will return more than the car loan’s interest rate. The only answer I have gotten, and more than once, is “you need to pay me for financial advice”. In other words nobody can answer what that magical investment is.

    Not paying interest is the safest return there is. There’s no taking it away. Whatever the market does not paying interest has its “return”.

    Oh well so be it, most of these people will end up with a loan to pay and a loss principle on their investments. That’s just the way retail “investing” goes these days. What did Goldman call them? Muppets.

    • Hi Brent, Heard this “investing” argument so many times from my friends and colleagues who regularly finance cars – ask them 2 years later – so how much of that saving did you “invest”…. the answer is always nil.

      The funniest however is when after a couple years they go to a dealer, they get offered an “upgrade”. This is if somehow the amount paid (less interest) is more than the value of the car they have. These guys then proudly say that this is “equity” they have built in the car, a form of savings and a wise investment. Just before pissing it away to get a new car just a couple years later as the dealer always has some “special offer”. So the cycle of perpetual debt continues……

    • Exact same thing with buying a house with a huge mortgage. The interest is deductible so you “save on taxes”. So you pay 6% and get maybe 1.5% of it back in tax savings (assume 25% rate, most get even less). Somehow that math doesn’t work for me. But you get a fireplace, a stainless steel kitchen, gold plated faucets, and power seats and windows, lane change……

  8. What kills me, is niot just the rarity of “basic” vehicles- but the fact that what few unfestooned, unadorned basic vehicles still exist, are always little commuter cars! Full-sized vehicles, which are safe and comfortable, and can pack some cargo, are now exclusively “luxury” vehicles.

    Remember the days when our fathers could buy a land yacht, like a full-size Impala, with a 5-foot long trunk, that had a vinyl bench seat and roll-up windows?

    Now we have just the opposite: The “big” cars no longer even have a real trunk- and certainly can’t be had without every luxury and gizmo known to man; and even the majority of small cars are loaded up with so much crap, that the luxury items and options account for near half the weight of the car!

    Most “luxury” cars today are smaller than a compact of years ago. You drive around in a Faberge egg surrounded by annoyances and things that blink and beep, and as long as there are some swatches of leather, and faux woodgrain and some electronics…it’s supposed to be luxury and status?

    Pay $35K for some little turd with a 6-inch long hood and no trunk, -a gussied-up Hyundai Excel. Or $50K for some AWD crossdresser [crossover] that could never actually go off-road; and the only thing distinguishing it from a car, is that it has a window in the few inches of space over the rear wheels, which reminds one that “This is where the cargo area used to be when we had station wagons and real SUVs”!

    • Yeah, pity what’s happened to the Suburban, which has been completely removed from its CarryAll roots.

      There is no Utility in SUV anymore …

    • My Dad was a Buick Man, and they were all land yachts. I wish he would have kept his black 1957 2 door Roadmaster, I would have restored that one.

      Back in the day we were a family of 6 and would all fit in those Buicks with room for the tent and camping supplies on our yearly vacations. You can’t do that with today’s sedans.

  9. Ya know what’s funny? There was an advertising slogan few people these days even remember. It was selfish and childish and summed up what afflicts the “democracy” of the masses here and most other countries with excessive disposable income, or access to “easy credit”. “I WANT MY MAYPO” That’s right, an ad encouraging children to scream and demand what they want. Money may be the root of evil, but marketing is the “fertilizer”, and right now we are up to our necks in it.

  10. Trouble is some of us live out where a basic little fwd car like that can’t get around about half the year. We need a higher clearance 4wd or awd, but without all the extra crap: just a basic shell with rubber floor mats and seats that fold flat for a huge cargo area, that you don’t mind loading sacks of horse feed and maybe a few bundles of t-posts into.

    • But… No one buys those type of vehicles. The companies are narrowing what they offer to the high selling products. I often wonder if we allowed Amazon to open up the car market and sell any car from anywhere in the world delivered to your door, would anyone buy them?

      For the record I do think that is how it should be and I do think some people would buy them, but not enough to support having them at dealerships.

  11. Don’t forget that nasty trend of packaging options. If you just want AC you can’t just order AC, you have to order the “climate and connivence package” that includes power windows, locks, AC, USB ports and who knows what else. Or you want heated seats, so you need the “winter cold-weather package” that forces the 6 way power seat, heated steering wheel, $500 windshield with wiper heaters, etc.

    I think the packaging is because of dealers and our practice of buying off the lot, but I think it also is easier to build a package vehicle instead of one-off options. That seat heater is in a seat that was built as a subassembly in another factory (probably by a non-union subcontractor), and they’re going to just build seats with all the stuff already loaded in. It gets to the final assembly line all shrink wrapped and might even be mounted on a robot carrier just pick and place in the vehicle. Just bolt it down and connect the harness. The dash that includes the climate control adjustment is one piece, the additional controls for other functions aren’t any more expensive than having someone install blank plates, so why not just add ’em in? They’re all connected via the canbus anyway.

    Tesla’s touchscreen is a terrible idea for a driver interface, but I get why they want to do it. One piece of hardware in all vehicles. Need an option? Just add it like you would on an iPhone from the App store. Make all the hardware the same and you save a bunch of money. Cosmetic differences will become like cases eventually. I’m thinking of the old Pontiac Fiero with the bolt-on plastic panels. Nearly every article written at launch included the shot of the vehicle without any panels installed. Like you could swap ’em out when you got tired of the color or something.

    http://www.fiero.nl/forum/Archives/Archive-000001/HTML/20110502-2-092646.html

    • “climate and connivence package” should read “Climate and convenience”

      connivence
      Also found in: Thesaurus, Legal, Encyclopedia.
      con·niv·ance also con·niv·ence (kə-nī′vəns)
      n.
      1. The act of conniving.
      2. Law Cooperation in the commission of an illegal or wrongful act.

      But my autocorrect typo might actually be more accurate…

    • One of the worst problems with packages is to get the basic AC control or remote start you also get all the uncle tracking and spying garbage mandated in.

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