Transportation: The Honda Fit is the Ultimate Utilitarian Vehicle
The next major step in our process of cutting our lifestyle costs dramatically without reducing our quality of living is transportation. If you aren’t in culture shock/anger about my un-American post on living in apartments, you may be ready for my next suggestion: sell your car and buy a hatchback, unless you already own a hatchback. More specifically, my preferred hatchback of choice is the Honda Fit, which is a marvel of reliability, utility, and efficiency.
Honda has a long-standing reputation for reliability. However, we don’t want brand recognition to mislead us. JD Power listed the honda fit as the most reliable subcompact car on the market. The car was engineered to run and run, and the Fit has a built in “maintenance minder” that tells the owner when to change the oil based on driving style. I have read that some divers can go more than 10,000 miles before needing the change the oil. This is a much more advanced way of tending engine oil than my Dad’s old “every 3,000 mile” rule. This can save on unnecessary oil changes, and can also save a lot of money. Another maintenance-minded cost savings comes in the small tires on the fit. These are generally more affordable than larger, higher-performance cars.
The Fit; and other 4-door hatchbacks like the Mazda 3, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, and Ford Focus; are great because they can haul a lot of stuff despite their small size. While many swear by the Honda Civic, the problem with that car is the inability to haul people and gear. Whether the owner is a college student moving back and forth from campus, a new home owner hauling a new toilet home, or a family with two kids in car seats in the back, a hatchback can handle everything. Besides the ability to seat 4 adults, these hatchbacks can convert to a cargo hauler just like a small SUV. The Fit is renowned for this ability. Check out this amazing cargo space:
Lastly, the Fit shines on fuel economy with a 41mpg fuel economy on the highway. This varies by model year, but most models range from 35mpg to 41mpg on the highway. City economy is generally in the high 20’s or low 30’s. Check out FuelEconomy.gov. The reality is that many other similar-sized small hatchbacks or cars have similar economy, but I prefer the Fit for the cargo utilty and reliability.
My Car Mistakes
As I mentioned, my first car was a Jeep Wrangler. I thought that was the coolest car, until I had to start doing highway travel 3 hours each way to college. Those Jeeps are not fun on the highway, and they get about 15mpg. I look back and imagine how much money I would have if I had invested all of the money I spent on gas in those 6 years. The thought makes me shudder.
My next car was a diesel-powered VW Jetta. That car got about 40mpg, which was clearly a compensation for the Jeep. However, any money saved on gas with that car was spent on maintenance. I actually had to replace the transmission, and the subsequent owner did many other repairs after I sold it. I since have heard that diesel cars and also VW’s tend to have high maintenance costs and a fair amount of problems.
At the moment, I don’t own a car because I live in a walk-able city. However, in the coming years I expect to move to a smaller city in which I will want to own a car. Given my lessons learned above, I’m going to be going with the most utilitarian, economical, and mechanically simple car – a fuel efficient hatchback, likely a Honda Fit.
I have never purchased a new car, and I never intend to. It’s simply easier to make a small pile of $20 bills and light it on fire. The early depreciation on a car is terrifying. We’re talking 20% to 40% in the first year of ownership alone! I’m also not a fan of car dealerships, and I prefer to purchase private party from a private seller. I think the likelihood of someone trading a problem car in at a dealership and you ending up with it is too high when buying from dealers. Not to mention that the car dealers will take their cut and are generally very good at negotiating. When buying from a private seller found on Craigslist.org or autotrader.com, you can ask about the maintenance history and any problems, and watch for any signs of dishonesty in the seller’s face. This always gives me some degree of assurance.
Finding a Small, Local Shop
The great thing about a car that is 3-5 years or more old is that you can usually find a local, independent shop to work on your car. This saves a lot of money versus using the dealership, and the local shops are usually more straight-forward and less sales-y than the service writers (i.e., salesmen) at the dealerships. The service writer’s job is to sell additional service, and I’ve found that the neighbourhood mechanic is just more interested in developing a long-term customer and doing good work. Of course, it’s important to get a good local mechanic, and I’ve found that asking your oldest friends who have lived in the neighbourhood for years is the best way to find these type of mechanics.
What About The Snow and Winter?
In a word: snow tires. Having driven a 4×4 Jeep Wrangler and a VW Jetta with snow tires in Pennsylvania winters for a few years each, I would pick the 2wd car with snow tires hands-down. When I lived in Philadelphia, a city that barely plows their streets, I recall confidently barrelling by SUVs their tires spinning. The stopping response in snow is also remarkable with snow tires. If you haven’t experienced winter driving with snow tires, I encourage you to try it some time; you will truly be amazed. While storing snow tires and changing them each season can be a slight hassle, this is a small price to pay for significantly increased safety and the fuel savings of a small car versus a 4×4. Of course, this is irrelevant if you don’t live in an area with harsh winter weather.
Consider Trading Down
If you currently own a big luxury car, muscle car, or SUV; you may even want to consider selling it and buying a Fit or other hatchback of a similar year and similar miles. By trading down, you may even be able to get a newer hatchback with fewer miles, while still pocketing (and subsequently investing) the surplus proceeds. This is a good way to get out of car debt for some, or significantly reduce it for those in serious car hock. Besides the initial surplus, or even if there isn’t one, the ongoing cost savings in maintenance, fuel savings, and insurance will save you even more money.
A Note On Ego
If you are reading this and thinking that I must be a major dork, I would assure you that I’m doing just fine! I also am extremely secure, and I really don’t want to be friends with anyone who would judge my character or value by my car (especially considering that I don’t own one!). Actually, I have to confess that sometimes I counter-judge people by their cars: is the guy in the BMW insecure? Is the one in the SUV a member of the tea party? I know, I know, it’s not right, but I can’t help it!