The well-known personal-finance expert, Suze Orman, was recently interviewed by Mike Wallace, and she didn’t mince words. When Wallace sheepishly admitted that he leases a car, Orman retorted that no one should ever do that. “Leasing a car,” she said, “is the biggest waste of money out there.”
Of course, Suze knows her stuff, and she is technically correct. Leasing a car will cost you much more money over the long run. The best plan for anyone hoping to minimize the costs of having a car is to buy a good brand, take impeccable care of it, and own it for years. I know many people who put a couple hundred thousand miles on a car, change the oil regularly, and get huge bang for their buck.
But Mike Wallace made some good points. He explained that, by leasing a car, he gets a new car every three years. And since he doesn’t drive that much, he never exceeds the leasing mileage limit. He pays less in payments than the comparable purchase-finance payment. He has a worry-free experience.
I’m with Mike. I lease my Volvo and have gotten a new lease every three years since 2013. The reward each time is a spanking new car with a beautiful, clean interior. And given that the car is so new during the period I use it, I’ve never had a maintenance problem—so my usage has been maintenance-free. But my reasoning for leasing over buying is not the smaller lease payment or the repair-free experience. I’m aware that if I owned the car for a long time and took good care of it, I’d come out ahead financially.
So what am I thinking? By leasing a car, I always get the safest car around: the one with the newest safety features and the best crash-test ratings. I’m also able to get the most fuel-efficient car with the highest mileage per gallon. (And once the range gets large enough on the all-electric cars, I’ll be ready to pounce.) Increased safety doesn’t just consist of airbags, seat belts, and anti-lock brakes. Relatively new features like lane assist, electronic stability control, head-up display, and collision avoidance systems get better every year. The newest and most sophisticated safety features can easily make the difference between surviving a car accident and not.
Why wouldn’t I want to take advantage of these innovations every three years? If I owned the car, I would be trying desperately to make it last as long as possible—which would mean forsaking each new year of improved safety. This might be healthy for my wallet, but it’s less healthy where it truly counts. By leasing a car, you’re basically entering into a program where you’re guaranteed to put safety first. And that, to me, is worth the price in dollars and sense.
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