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The nice thing about buffets is you get to pick what you want and how much of it. Buying a car was once a lot like that.

The car, itself, was just the starting point. Kind of like the empty plate you walk up to the buffet line with and then proceed to fill up, as you please. A little of this – some more of that. And – key thing – none of that. You could pass on the dishes that you didn’t want – and weren’t forced to put some of that on your plate in order to get what you did want.

New car buying is a lot like being made to eat whatever someone else slops onto your plate – and pay for it, too.

Many dealers stock only loaded examples of a given model and won’t order the car you want a la carte. And even if they are willing, it doesn’t really matter as there are fewer options to not buy because most of what was formerly optional is now standard. The obvious examples here being air conditioning (usually climate controlled air conditioning), power windows and locks and automatic transmissions. These once-optional features have become de facto standard equipment, even in “base” versions of the lowest-cost cars. Which accounts for the fact that even the latter have become astoundingly expensive cars.

Try finding a new car with a base price less than $20,000. Even a car like the Toyota Corolla – a great little car but (historically) an “economy” – car stickers for just shy of $22,000 to start.

How much less might an “economy” car like the Corolla cost if you could skip the AC, power windows and locks and automatic transmission it now comes standard with? In the Before Time, economy cars always came standard with manual transmissions, because they were more . . . economical. A manual-equipped car was (still is) usually less expensive than a car with the (formerly optional) automatic, which typically added $800 or so to the car’s price.

For the most part, people no longer have the option to not pay for that.

Same goes for once-optional extras such as power windows and locks.

Other things have been made standard, too – such as LCD touchscreens and peripherals (i.e., the sensors and cameras) made mandatory by government mandates. The federal government mandated that all new cars have back-up camera systems, to Band Aid the problem of poor rearward visibility – also caused by government mandates pertaining to rear-impact standards; the latter are why the asses of all new cars are so fat (and tall). And that resulted in a few kids being run-over by parents who could not see that they were playing behind the car.

Thus, all new cars must have back-up camera systems – and so come standard with LCD touchscreens, which you can’t delete from the standard equipment list. The government also mandated that all new cars come with “passive safety restraints” – the bureaucratese for air bags. All new cars have at least four – and each adds at least $500 in cost to the price of the car. That’s $2,000 added to the cost of an “economy” car – accounting for why there are no such things anymore.

Some will argue the cost is worth the price – but that misses the point. Which is that others now decide what’s worth the price, rather than you, the person who is buying the vehicle (and paying for all of this). It will probably be difficult for those in their 20s today to believe it but there was a time when people were free to buy what they wanted to pay for – and almost everything that’s now standard was optional.

It was also a time when what was available was largely determined by what people were willing (and able) to pay for it.

This was something called the free market.

It existed before the government took over the market and began to decree what would be made, what could not be made – and that we’d pay for it all.

The car companies went along for the ride, too. Though there was some resistance, at first, they came to realize that more money could be made by selling people more expensive cars, even if they couldn’t afford them. The solution to that problem was to increase the time it took to pay for them. It is why the duration of the average new car loan has more than doubled since the 1970s – from three years to six-plus. And – even so – the average monthly new car payment is currently more than $700.

You get what you’re forced to pay for.

It’s a lugubrious exercise to contemplate what we might be paying – if force were taken out of the equation and the market were free once more.

Not being made to buy four air bags would free the car makers – maybe not the current ones, but new ones that would rise to meet the demand – to design cars without air bags. Such cars could be made much lighter and much more economical to drive – and would be far less complex and so cost much less to own as well as buy. Many people do not appreciate that is not just the air bags themselves that add cost. There is also the cost of designing the car around the air bags.

Of course, it’s not just the air bags.

It’s everything else, too. And it adds up to a lot when you’re forced to put it all on your plate.

. . .

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34 COMMENTS

  1. I just want the top end radio. I don’t want the added $4500 of “lame” assist crap that you bundle with it.

    • Amen, Brass –

      That’s why I’m “clinging” to my old truck – and will repair/rebuild it as necessary. I don’t need “assistance” and find the suggestion offensive. Would you buy a toilet that “assisted” you? Assuming you can do your business without it? Of course not. Because people who aren’t disabled don’t need “assistance.”

      Nor with their driving.

  2. What I see too is the turning features off and on per future government mandate. I just ordered my new 340 since BMW had not even one 3 series on the lot and was compelled to ask (btw was the weirdest car buying experience ever – pecking at a computer at the showroom to order the car) if the driver assistance features can still be turned off. Answer yes…… For now. We will see how long that lasts. It would ironic to have a pretty fast car with a speed limiter built in. How’s that gonna work for those Tesla drivers who live to beat everyone out at stoplights?.

    • Oh, the irony, that my old ’07 WRX could beat a newer BMW at the red light simply because of the saaaafety crap. Now that is when you know this world has gone to hell on a whole new level. I mean, that would be just plain wrong. And then again for every restriction some computer geek/hacker will find a way around it without destroying the rest of the vehicle.

  3. With today’s manufacturing and IT, ala carte ordering should be far easier than in the 1960 and 70’s. But all they do is “packages”. It SUCKS that you have to end up (and pay for) things you would rather not have.

    Hyundai offers a base model Elantra without a touchscreen, just not in the US. Just places like the third world like Saudi Arabia. The weird thing, its about the only thing that is deleted from it.

    https://www.thedrive.com/news/the-hyundai-elantra-has-a-secret-touchscreen-less-base-model

    I know GM no longer offers air bag free cars in third world markets anymore. The auto industry is returning to Henry Fords, “you can have any color paint you want as long as it is black”.

    • Hi Mike,

      I would be willing to bet the “450 miles” of range is not with the standard battery – and that it “varies” when you pull a trailer. Or it’s cold outside.

    • And who is Gill Pratt?
      https://asiatimes.com/2023/05/japan-motorcycle-makers-revving-up-on-hydrogen/

      >Pratt has been CEO of Toyota Research Institute (TRI) since 2016. Before that, he spent several years at the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where he led the Robotics Challenge, Robotics Research and Neuromorphic Computing research programs.

      >Making a BEV [battery electric vehicle] requires up to six times more critical minerals than a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle. What’s more, while a battery plant can be built in two to three years, a new mine takes 10 to 15 years to be operational. As a result, despite the planet’s abundance of untapped battery minerals, many experts including the IEA [International Energy Agency] forecast a 30-50% shortfall in battery minerals over the next 10-20 years (roughly the lifespan of an automobile).

      https://www.linkedin.com/in/gillpratt

        • Eric,
          Presumably, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha agree with you, since the plan is to develop H2 powered internal combustion engines. The only “emission” from a hydrogen powered IC engine is H20.

          And from Cummins:
          >Hydrogen internal combustion engines are appealing to vehicle makers for two primary reasons. First is their similarity with traditional internal combustion engines. Second is hydrogen’s ability to power vehicles as a zero-carbon fuel.
          >Hydrogen engines are also attractive to end users. Hydrogen engines look, sound and work like the internal combustion engines that every mechanic in the world is used to. Their reliability and durability are equal to that of diesel engines.

          https://www.cummins.com/news/2022/01/26/how-do-hydrogen-engines-work

          • Except water vapor is also a greenhouse gas. They will just move the goalposts and outlaw them, too.

            BTW, EVs aren’t safe from being banned either. In ten years, we will be regaled with stories about poor Congolese kids in the mines. Stories the presstitutes already know about but won’t run now.

  4. I had a co worker survive a 45 MPH head on (not his fault) with the three point seat/shoulder belt. No airbags. Only damage was a bruised sore sternum he said took about 4 months to stop hurting.

    We’re long past rational car safety. I’ve started calling this the “pendulum effect” start the swing on the problem side, should stop in the middle with a rational solution but nope, keep swinging to the far end of that swing and implement requirements in loony excess of the original goal. See also car/truck emissions.

    • Hi Sparkey,

      I have argued for years that once a precedent is established – and a premise accepted – then it is inevitable what may have initially seemed reasonable will become extraordinarily unreasonable.

      I also maintain that my “safety” is no one else’s business. And if it is, then theirs is mine – and see where that gets us.

  5. If given the choice, you’d see less A.s.s equipped cars than manuals on a bmw lot

    I dont need more than 1 airbag, dont need power windows or automatic ac (I still want it though), dont need blind spot assist, I can look myself, and if I want options, let me choose what I want without being part of a bundle. Also please stop with the sunroofs, its all or nothing with me

    This my friends, is why we can’t have nice things and why manuals are going extinct

    • Hell, if I had my way, I would get to choose whether a car was a manual or automatic transmission. This first automatic trans in so many years really screws with my head-ha ha. I suppose you can teach an old dog new trick, but boy, it takes awhile.

  6. Got word this week that the power lift back door on my Cherokee is being recalled. I didn’t want it, but to get a feature I wanted I had to have it added. My guess is that since most people buy off the dealer lot, dealers drive the selection of options in packages. If the factory sees that power windows, locks and power lift are always ordered, they either become standard or in the same package. Then the engineers can start to reduce parts count and consolidate the options into one module. Makes it easier to build too. I imagine every car gets the same wiring harness, same behind the scenes modules, only the human interface is missing. That and the software “unlock code.”

    BMW figured it out. Hardware is cheap, keeping track of a build sheet going down the line is tough. So just dump in everything and charge to unlock the feature. They learned it from IBM with their famed “golden screwdriver” tech-sales force. “You say your miniframe taking too long to run the monthly invoice report? Oh, let me “install” this upgrade! Only another $10K/month. Now shoo while I unpack my top secret tool…”

  7. What always gripes me is the option “package”, if you want one specific thing you have to get a whole bunch of other stuff just to add up the price you pay. In the age of the internet anyone should be able to go to a manufacturer’s website and custom order their vehicle – model, options, color, etc. Too bad it’s been a long time since the car companies gave a crap about what the customer wanted.

  8. RPO L88
    Ain’t no Pontiac.
    Of course, there were also aftermarket parts and accessories.
    🙂

    For VWs of that era, aftermarket parts were not only available, but essential, at least in my experience. I could have the engine out of my 1960 single cab pickup
    (Not this one, but one like it):
    https://www.oldbug.com/phorvsing.htm
    in about 20 minutes, which was good, because air heated by the stock oil cooler inside the shroud burned the valves on #3 & #4 cylinders with great regularity. The easy fix was to replace the stock oil cooler with an aftermarket unit which mounted to the firewall, outside the shroud. I used a Hayden, but there were other mfgrs. No more burnt valves, after that.

    In Europe, there were many customized body types, I guess similar to standard practice today with medium duty trucks, where you buy the chassis with cab but no bed, and build whatever bed you need. My brother found a glossy picture book which showed everything from fire trucks, to delivery vehicles with the under bed storage compartment eliminated in favor of a fold down “low boy” side to allow rolling a hand truck directly into the bed, and many other clever designs.

    So, yeah, options. 🙂

  9. But if cars are cheap, you don’t require a loan.
    Without the loan, you don’t need a job so desperately.
    If you don’t need your job, how can they threaten and control you?

    Even though it failed, they tried to leverage your job against you to get the jab.
    They will try again.

  10. My understanding is that power locks are mandatory because of anti-theft and anti-carjacking regulations. Locks when you put it in gear or walk away from it. I like driving with the windows down and power windows let me adjust them to get a nice breeze with an acceptable level of wind noise, the AC is virtually never used but works when I need it.

    It’s a shame you can’t get a basic car anymore like the Chevette. It might have been plain and slow but good enough for shopping or commuting and was easy to park unlike a F250 4WD.

  11. I understand the focus on higher end vehicles because they are a net paoitov profit wise compared to lower value higher volume sales.
    I see the same trend in home building the ability to buy a new (starter home in my area is basically gone unless you consider 1700-3000 ft² a (stater home). The builder look at minimum lot sizes and put as much house per lot as they can simple because developable land is a finite resource. They are also however cutting out a huge number of people who would like to buy a hous and would gladly take a 1000 ft² house with smaller lots similarly to what you’d see available in the 1960’s-70’s. They simply can’t swing a 2000k per month payment over 30 years. These builders who only cater to upper middle class buyers will be the same ones who get their bankruptcy paper work in order when the next contraction of credit occurs they have put all the eggs in one proverbial basket.

    I miss being able to buy, basic cars, hell even a work truck with manual tranny, crank windows and vinyl seats/floors, standard cab long bed. (They are out there but very rare.) Perhaps when we get to a tipping point where the high end stuff is simply fresh out of customers we may see some basic options back on the lot.
    Doubtful: The auto makers will just cry about an implosion of sales and get a multi-billion dollar bailouts again.

    • > The builder look at minimum lot sizes and put as much house per lot as they can simple because developable land is a finite resource.
      Not only that, but government fees are outrageous, at least here in California.
      A local builder told me he paid $75,000 in fees to the city for one single family house, and that was more than five years ago. No doubt la mordita bites deeper today.

      >I miss being able to buy, basic cars, hell even a work truck
      I am not planning to trade, sell, or otherwise part with my 1989 F150 anytime soon, but for grins and giggles I went to the Ford website to see if they sell anything remotely like what I drive. Amazingly, Ford does, theoretically, still sell a single cab pickup with an eight foot bed, but I do not believe I have ever seen a late model one on the road. Every late model pickup I see (Ford, GM, or Dodge} is dual cab with about a 5 foot bed. body jacked up with vey high sides. Since I actually use my pickup as a pickup, I am not interested in that configuration.

      • The fees and requirements from local municipalities is a huge thing even in “red” central Kentucky. Tap fees to connect to sewer , city water etc. are many times more costly than the actual work involved in making the connections to utilities. Years ago the “tap fee” to attach a school to the sewer system on a project we did l was over 100k. The school still had to pay a plumber to run the pipe and dig the ditch. 100k simply for someone to review plans and approve attachment to public utitlities… Want septic instead of sewer? “Well, your going to have to get permission to do that and we’ve decided you can’t, so attach to our sewer system and pay whatever the hell we tell you to pay.”

        • >100k simply for someone to review plans
          Yeah, where I live, City charges $4500 to review the precise grading plan for one SFR. Realistically, this should not require more than 2 hours of a plan review technician’s time. People have complained, but to no avail.

          Can you say, “License to steal?”

  12. We must be talking upper middle class? Average rent is about $1200,,, Eric says average car pmt is about $700. That’s $1900.

    Assuming the average Wally Worlder ‘earns’ $15 per hour,,, $600 per 40 hour week,,,probably about $520 take home. Which grand totals $2080 per month. $180 left. I haven’t even mentioned food, gas, insurance, utilities, those damned bank cards and other associated costs.

    How are these folks doing it? ‘Free’ guvment stuff must be in there somewhere…

  13. Worked at a Sweden House smorgasbord back in 1969 for some extra cash, you had a job, still in high school, so you are still green, a nascent shoot, not a fully grown idiot yet.

    Bus tables, haul out fried chicken and potato salad, stack clean dishes for customers to fill food on the plates, all you can eat. It was a nice place, good ambiance, fireplace there, customers were satisfied with the meals. It wasn’t the mess hall.

    You move on because you can’t be working in a food establishment when you are 45 unless you own the franchise. All you have to do is look at papers and numbers.

    A paper corporation produces nothing, has a steady stream of royalties and dividends, all paper, nothing else. The holdings are owned properties that are developed by other corporations, you receive what is paid out in leases and royalties, a portion of the resource belongs to you, then the developer of the resource sends a check to you, your payment for the ownership and right to benefit.

    The owner owns it all, can hire a driller and drill for oil, if you strike oil on your mineral acres, you’re in the money. Don’t have to rely upon an oil company for 20 percent of 100 percent of what is yours. You not only own the oil, you also own all of the minerals beneath the top ground. If there is coal or potash, those also can be mined for your benefit.

    If you have an extra 5,000,000 dollars to drill and complete a well, at 200 bpd you are at around 15,000 dollars in oil income. 300 days of pumping, 4.5 million dollars. Might as well hire EOG and let them take the risk, you still get the 1/5th royalty.

    If it all works out okay, the money does flow, the oil is there, supply is always available, everybody wants crude oil, a fungible commodity, how you get by in the world, use raw materials and resources. You get tractors and trucks and lots of other stuff. It is not rocket science, civilization moves forward no matter what the maha reishis say.

    You’ll starve to death if you don’t do something. It’s potato planting time. Staying alive is extremely important, no other choice. Can’t stand on one leg and hold your breath, doesn’t work that way.

    Ford F-150, a pickup truck that costs 50,000 dollars, will sell, there are buyers, demand, Ford provides the supply, a market forms naturally.

    For every 100,000 sold, Ford has an income of 5,000,000,000 dollars. A profit of 10,000 dollars per truck, you’ll have one billion dollars in the bank.

    If Ford sells 500,000 F-150’s in one year, they will have an extra five billion dollars; pay the dividend and see what’s left over.

    Kurt Vonnegut maintained that there was no use for the semi-colon to punctuate a sentence.

    You gotta be careful out there.

  14. As the owner of a 2006 Corolla I’m a bit surprised the base price now is only $22k.

    I paid ~$15k for a new base Corolla. When I say base it only included A/C (a must in the Southeast) and a stereo AM/FM/CD. It has a 5-speed and crank windows. I told the dealer what I wanted and by the time I got home he’d called and said he had the car. Yes, even in the Southeast with the Toyota buying group. In a way they HAD to sell it. It was the one they featured in the ads. Now they don’t offer it without all the bells, whistles and gingerbread. The idea that a new model is only $22 is, frankly, amazing.

    It’s pushing 400k miles and even the driver seat shows little wear. You’re going to have to pry it from my cold dead fingers.

  15. ‘the duration of the average new car loan has more than doubled since the 1970s – from three years to six-plus.’ — eric

    With its electromechanical ignition and fuel systems, a 1970s vehicle needed tune-ups every 12,000 miles. By 100,000 miles, it was approaching the end of its reliable service. Three-year loans recognized that such vehicles depreciated rapidly.

    For the rest of the 20th century, cars dramatically improved with more corrosion-resistant metals, less-frequent maintenance, and reliable service lifetimes reaching 200,000 to 300,000 miles.

    But in the 21st century, such progress has stopped cold. Costly parts that get broken or fail may mean scrapping an otherwise sound vehicle. A hard stop to this willful degradation comes in 2026, when ‘drunk monitoring’ means a vehicle can refuse to operate.

    That’s when the dinosaur auto industry needs to be euthanized, liquidated, and its pieces sold off to entrepreneurs who can end-run Big Gov’s controlled demolition of personal mobility. Cars as we knew them have turned to shit.

    • Indeed, Jim –

      I don’t drink (alcohol) much. I never drive “drunk.” But that is beside the point (expect Green to chime in and miss it). The point is that if the car can refuse to operate for one reason it can refuse to operate for other reasons.

      This simple logically inevitably escapes people like Greene – our new Clover!

  16. I bought a ‘21 Crosstrek premium (one step up from base) and am amazed at the list of standard features, comparable to what my loaded 2011 BMW had. Unfortunately the trend is getting worse, MT will be no more on the Crosstrek, and I’m sure their “Eyesight” system will eventually be standard as well.

    Guess it’s used vehicles for me from here on out.

  17. ‘New car buying is a lot like being made to eat whatever someone else slops onto your plate – and pay for it, too.’ — eric

    A New York Slimes article titled “Why Is Inflation So Stubborn? Cars Are Part of the Answer” amplifies Eric’s point:

    ‘As the coronavirus spread, factories shut down. Even when they reopened, semiconductors remained scarce. Manufacturers allocated chips to their highest-priced models — trucks and sport utility vehicles — offsetting lower volume with higher profits on each sale. About five million cars that normally would have been produced never were.

    ‘Domestic automakers are still producing fewer cars and focusing on more profitable luxury models. Loath to relinquish profits enabled by scarcity, they started talking about exercising “discipline” in their production targets.

    “During this two-year period, auto dealers and auto manufacturers discovered that a low-volume, higher-price model was actually a very profitable model,” Tom Barkin, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said.

    https://archive.ph/jL9dN#selection-1271.157-1283.242

    Sounds like an old-fashioned ‘antitrust conspiracy,’ don’t it? But the “Biden” regime, busy subsidizing the EeeVee transition and Battery Baloney plants, isn’t going to simultaneously attack its compliant corporate puppets.

    One phenomenon about which the Lügenpresse dare not speculate is owners “clinging” to older vehicles which lack objectionable nanny state tech, such as functions which freeze when a door is open or reverse is engaged or the driver’s eyes are averted.

    For now, we’re clinging in the shadows. But it’s gonna become more visible, as buyers reject overpriced, tech-infected vehicles served up by Soviet-style suppliers who cater first and foremost to Big Gov dictates rather than to their own customers.

    Time for captive automakers to get the Bud Light treatment: a total cold shoulder from former loyal customers. Take this Ford and shove it.

  18. Too weak to roll up your own window, or put a key into a lock, or check behind your car before you get in it, etc.?
    Too incapable of driving to do without all the driver “assist” features?
    What’s more dangerous, a car not design specifically to withstand rear impact, or a car that won’t let you see the potential impact and avoid it?
    Nothing the state puts forward is good for people, and it isn’t meant to be. It’s meant to make you their slave. Up until the early to mid 70s, being their slave was pretty comfortable. Since then that has radically changed. The rich get richer, and the rest roll down the hill, with no increase, if not a loss in real income.

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