The Expatriated Consumer

Imagining life without debt. Working to make it reality.

120 MPH!!!

Posted by Max Finkle on May 17, 2008

A question in Click & Clack, the automotive Q & A syndication column, caught my attention this morning. A seven year old wrote in to ask why his parents’ car speedometer went up to 120 mph, when they can only legally drive at maximum 65 mph.

Ray, one of the columnists stated it was a good question. I’m inclined to agree. The answer was simple. Marketing. Auto manufacturers are savvy enough not to encourage people to break the law, so they don’t advertise their cars as having the ability to go that fast.

They promote horsepower, sporty looks, aerodynamics, and even brand of engine. The easiest way to validate all that advertising is simply to drop a speedometer in the car that displays a large number, since no one can really test the limits of the equipment for themselves. Speed is equated with power, so a buyer just has to look at the speedometer to know that car’s got power! They don’t need to drive it, it’s right there, printed on the dashboard display. It’s called advertising by implication.

Now, I grew up on a farm. I’ve driven tractors that couldn’t top 15 mph on a downhill slope, if you were pushing it along, to boot. I guarantee that tractor had more power than any truck advertised on t.v. If they were trying to sell true power, they’d be selling tractors, but they’re trying to sell speed – because as we all know life is fast, and you gotta keep up. Not to mention the glamour, and the girls! (Or guys!)

So go ahead, smell that new car smell they sprayed in the car yesterday (yes, it’s actually a scent), Ooh & Ahh over the look and style, admire the power, but look at the finer details, too. Take a look at estimated mileage per gallon in the type of driving you normally do. Consider the cost of replacing those expensive low profile tires, and even the cost of insuring such an impressive vehicle. How much are your payments going to be, and how much interest over the life of the loan are you going to pay? What’s the resale value of the vehicle going to be after you drive it off the lot?

Evaluate everything related to the car purchase. Make sure it’s as good as it seems. Negotiate for free floor mats and mud flaps. I twisted them for 3 years worth of oil changes, a free lifetime warrantee on tires and a couple of other things. Sounds great until I moved 1500 miles away and no other dealer will honor all the side deals I got. So much for value added bonuses on my purchase. My move whittled away a considerable portion of my purchase savings because I was banking on saving money over the life of the vehicle on maintenance, it wasn’t money in my pocket right now, or taken off the sticker price. It was marketing genius. They hedged their bets that I wouldn’t be able to utilize all the freebies I had negotiated, and they made out in the end.

I’m paying about $5,400 in interest alone on my minivan purchase, which is about 20% of the total amount we financed at 6.99% annually. I would have saved arguably an additional $1000 over the life of the vehicle in maintenance had I stayed put, but that’s money that flew out the window somewhere between Tennessee and Texas. Sounded good at the time, I guess. Now I’m not so sure. I’m sure if we hunted around a bit more, we could have found something a bit more modest used & saved an arm and a leg.

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2 Responses to “120 MPH!!!”

  1. Nice writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

  2. Good writing. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed my Google News Reader..

    Matt Hanson

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