A recent experience made me realize the best time to own the nicest car you can afford is when you have children. The nicer the car, the safer the usually is.
Although there’s a nice mental health benefit to driving an old beater, I’m willing to spend up as a father in my 40s with two young children.
For two months, I drove a rental car after my car got bashed while under valet care. The rental car was a 2020 Nissan Armada with 60,000 miles. I had hoped for a newer Chevy Tahoe, but this Armada was all the rental car company had at the time.
Although the Nissan Armada was roomy, it handled like a boat. The steering felt loose and it easily oversteered. The car looked fine, but the interior felt cheap. Whenever I played a podcast, I wasn’t able to pause it. Most importantly, the car didn’t feel as safe as my 2015 Range Rover due to poor handling.
But something interesting happens after you’ve driven any car after the fifth time. You get used to it. After two months, I no longer thought about the poor handling and lower quality. Then I switched back.
Switching Back To My Old Car Felt Amazing
Two months and $14,600 in repair costs later, my car was ready for pick up in Lake Tahoe! The hotel car followed me to the nearest Enterprise in Truckee, where I dropped off the rental. Then the hotel car drove me to Incline Village, where my car was waiting at the autobody shop.
Although my car was five years older than my rental, it still smelled new with only 37,400 miles. As soon as I got into my car, I realized how much better it was.
The steering was tight. All four wheels gripped the road better. Instead of thin doors, my car had thicker doors that had a gratifying thump sound when closed. Finally, the interior was much higher quality with leather seats, a large moon roof, and nicer trim.
I felt more in control in my car, which meant it also felt safer.
As soon as I got back to the hotel, I began looking up the newly redesigned Range Rover big boy! Too bad the new Range Rover costs over $130,000.
A Flat Tire, Of Course
On my way back from the autobody shop I must have somehow driven over a large nail. As it was 5 pm when I discovered the puncture, all the shops were closed and I had to wait overnight to fix it.
At 7:45 am the next Saturday morning, I drove three miles to a Chevron station in Tahoe City to hopefully repair my tire. Unfortunately, my driving on the flat ruined the tire. As a result, I had the shop put on the spare.
Check out all the rubber that was found after the mechanic took off the tire! The side wall with the metal wiring was all shredded as well.
On my drive back to the hotel, I again began to think a lot about safety.
It was already jolting to see a huge gash in my car when supposedly a laundry truck rammed into it in the valet parking lot. But to then think about a tire blowout on the highway while driving my family was a good reminder to spend more on good tires and a nicer car.
Having low-profile 22″ tires look good. But they may be more susceptible to damage.
Driving Rules On A Spare Tire
I did some research on how long I can drive on a spare tire. The generally accepted recommendation for maximum safety is to drive no more than 50 miles per hour and 50 miles, or the 50/50 rule. Although, all the valets I surveyed said they’ve driven on spare tires for hundreds of miles at faster speeds with no problem.
A lot of the spare tire driving distance depends on the size of the spare tire, how new it is, and how hot the weather. If the spare wheel/tire is smaller than your normal wheel/tire, it will revolve much faster. If the spare tire is older, it will likely not have as much tread. And if the weather is scorching, the tire will heat up more and be more at risk of a blow out.
We came up with the solution of driving to America’s Tire in Roseville, a town 65 miles away from Lake Tahoe and on the way to San Francisco on Monday. I’d carefully drive 50 mph on average and install two new rear tires.
It was somewhat of a nerve-wracking experience since the only place I could get tires on Monday morning was 15 miles beyond the recommend driving distance. But I had faith.
Having Kids Justifies Spending More On A Nicer Car
The best time to own the nicest car you can afford is when you have kids due to the enhanced safety features. Ideally, you have the safest car once your first is born. Then you continue owning that car for 10 or more years until it’s time to upgrade to an even nicer and safer car.
If you get into an accident, you want the safest car you can afford protecting them. You could be the most careful driver on the road, but a reckless driver could easily make you and your passengers suffer.
In addition, the more people in your family, the more utility your car provides. Think how wasteful it is to drive a large vehicle as a single person versus having a family of five. With a family, you can spread the cost across more people.
Now that my son goes to kindergarten full-time, I am tasked with driving him to and from school five days a week. About 80% of the time while I’m on the road, I see a car running a red light or stop sign, making an illegal turn, speeding, or cutting someone off. Driving is dangerous.
If anything were to happen to my kids in an accident, god forbid, I would not be able to forgive myself if I had opted for a cheaper car to save money. I loved my Honda Fit, but its paper-thin doors and small crumple zone had to go.
Having a nicer, larger, safer car reduces my driving anxiety and makes me a better driver as a result.
Violating My Car Buying Rule For Safety
I have stuck to my 1/10th rule for car buying since 2005. A lot of car drivers don’t like the rule because they spent way more than 10% of their annual gross income on their existing car.
However, once you have kids, it’s worth violating the rule for your daily driver. Spend up to 30% of your annual gross income on a safer car. It can be new or preferably three-to-five years old to skip the steepest part of the depreciation curve. Then drive it for at least ten years to get your money’s worth.
In ten years, your income and net worth will most likely be higher. And the value of your car will most certainly decline to less than 10% of your annual household income. Therefore, your car will naturally become more affordable the longer you own it.
Let’s say you have a median household income of around $75,000 and a newborn. Instead of only spending $7,500 for a eight-year-old Honda Fit, spend $20,000 for a three-year-old Honda Accord. The larger Honda Accord will likely hold up better in a car accident.
In ten years, hopefully your household income will have grown to over $100,000. Meanwhile, your Honda Accord will probably have depreciated to only $8,000, or less than 8% of your annual household income.
At this point, if your kids still are minors, you can decide to spend up to $30,000 on a nicer car. Or you can keep driving your Accord if everything is mechanically sound.
When To Revert Back To A Frugal Automobile
Once the kids are adults, you should consider reverting back to the 1/10th car buying rule. Then again, you might be in your 50s or older and feel like you deserve a mid-life crisis car.
After all, what’s the point of working, saving, and investing for so long if you aren’t going to spend it on things you really enjoy? Your net worth is likely much higher than 10-20 years ago.
Buying a nice car in your 20s can be a serious drag on your path to financial freedom. Therefore, I don’t recommend it. But this is the age-range where most people want to splurge on the nicest cars possible for status and fun.
In your 20s, stick to the 1/10th car buying rule because you’re still trying to build a large capital nut for passive income. You’re also developing sound financial habits that will bring you more wealth as you get older.
Given the average age for new moms is about 30 and the average age for new dads is about 31, you may be forced to spend up on a nicer car in your 30s.
Other Car Buying Considerations
If you let your kids drive as teenagers, then having them drive the safest car possible is a good idea. I’ve been traumatized by too many accidents and deaths involving teenage drivers. So I’m unlikely going to let my kids start driving until they are closer to 21.
Just remember to get umbrella insurance if you have teenager drivers in your household. Your teenagers could do some serious damage behind the wheel that could jeopardize your household finances.
If you are in decumulation mode, then by all means splurge on the nicest car you want. Dying with a lot of money when you could have spent it on a fun and amazing automobile would be a shame. If you commute a lot, then you will appreciate having a nicer car.
Buying The Nicest Car I Can Afford
I’m no longer a car addict like I was in my 20s. However, I’ve come to appreciate nicer cars after driving a boat-like rental car for two months. My main focus is on driving a comfortable and safe car to transport my family.
If I decide to buy the newly redesigned Range Rover, I will have violated my 1/10th car buying rule. But by 2025, when I’ll be in the market to buy a new car, I’ll be 48 years old. My kids will still only be six and nine.
I could enjoy driving the car for the next 12 years until both kids are out of the house. By then, my duty to transport them safely will be over.
I highly doubt I’ll regret driving something sweet in my 50s. Instead, I’ll probably regret not driving something nice during one of my last remaining decades.
It’s already too uncomfortable getting in and out of sports cars due to my knees. Hence, going the utility vehicle route is likely my best bet!
Related: The Best Time To Own The Nicest House You Can Afford
Readers, when do you think is the best time to own the nicest car you can afford? If you drive a cheap compact car and have kids, how have you come to terms with not buying a more expensive, safer car?
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