The True Benefit Of Driving A Cheap Old Car: Better Mental Health!


If you’re thinking about driving a cheap old car, I think you should. The benefits of driving one far outweigh the joy of driving an expensive new car.

Something disappointing happened on the last day of our Lake Tahoe vacation. After loading up the car I swung around to the driver’s side. There, I saw an enormous gash in my car’s side panel and hood. Holy crap!

Apparently, a truck must have bashed my car overnight and didn’t leave a note. I had dropped the car off with the valet at 1 pm the day before. Cameras showed the car was in perfect condition when the valet drove the car to park.

The True Benefit Of Driving A Cheap Old Car - Bashed car after parking in valet
The True Benefit Of Driving A Cheap Old Car - bashed Range Rover sport after parking in valet

My mind was racing as it usually does when something unusual happens. It was 12:45 pm and my original plan had been to drive 3.5 hours back to San Francisco while my two kids napped after swimming. We had already checked out of our rooms and had loaded up the car.

Originally, the valet guy had said I shouldn’t have a problem driving my damaged car back to San Francisco. But as a precaution, I took the car for a spin to see if it was true. Unfortunately, the damaged sharp-edged body of the car would poke and scrape at the tire every time the car went up and down. And it was just me in the car.

Once four more people hopped in the car, the clearance between the tire and the sharp-edged body would only be an inch. I didn’t want to risk driving the damaged car hours back to SF. Therefore, we came up with another solution.

Buying Time To Figure Out The Best Solution Post Accident

Since it was Friday afternoon, I decided to ask Grant, the Assistant General Manager, whether he could put us up in a suite for free. This way, we could all have more time to figure out what to do.

Enterprise car rental company wouldn’t pick us up, even though it is their tagline. Instead, I would have to drive 50 minutes north to Reno to pick up a car. Then I would have to drive back to the resort. There was no way I was going to have my wife and kids wait in the lobby for two hours for me to then start our three-and-a-half-hour journey back to San Francisco.

Unfortunately, there was no large size rental vehicle available in Truckee, 20 minutes away from the Resort. Therefore, the Resort’s car service would have to drive me at 8 am the next morning to Reno to pick up a rental vehicle. I’d be back by 10:30 am. Then I could spend a couple hours relaxing or playing with my kids in the pool before we headed back to San Francisco.

Losing hours of time was the biggest loss. All told, I lost about four hours of time.

The True Benefit Of Driving A Cheap Old Car

I don’t have a cheap or old car. But I do have a 2015 Range Rover Sport which I bought used following my 1/10th rule for car buying. Instead of old, let’s call him middle-aged.

When I first saw the enormous gash, I didn’t think about my poor car. Instead, my first thoughts were how the hell am I going to safely transport my family back home to San Francisco? Then I thought who the hell did this? Finally, I wondered how the car would get fixed.

You see, if my car was under three years old and worth way more than 10% of my gross household income, I would probably have felt really down about the damages. If the car was under one year old with the new car smell, I’d be downright pissed!

But by driving a seven-year-old car with plenty of door dings, I felt no sorrow for the car. All I saw was damaged machinery that now needed to be fixed. In fact, with a new hood, new side panel, and the replacement of damaged components, fixing it might be like getting a partially new car!

Without any sorrow for the damaged car, I felt way less stressed. My mental well-being stayed stronger. I knew that sooner or later the car would be fixed. In the meantime, I would get to drive a new SUV with third-row seating. I had been wanting to test-drive a larger vehicle for a while.

My main concern was making sure my kids could nap and not feel the stress of a car accident. I see my car as a tool, not as a valuable possession.

Silver Linings From A Car Accident

Although it stinks to lose hours of time due to this car accident, there are some positives that have come out of this incident.

Silver lining #1: Another Night At The Resort

After bringing back our luggage to a new suite, we decided to rest for an hour before going to the pool again. There we stayed for two hours going down the water slide and enjoying the hot tub.

One of my goals now that my boy is five is to teach him how to swim. So we had two more 20-minute swim lessons on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. My daughter decided to play games on the lawn with her mother and then go to the sandpit area and build sand castles.

The cost of our comped three-bedroom suite was about $1,200 after taxes and fees because it was a Friday night in August. August is peak season.

One of the reasons why we wanted to leave on Friday was to avoid the crowds, save money, and capture the weekend’s rental income, which we did. Our condo was rented out Friday and Saturday night.

Silver lining #2: A Wonderful Dinner

After the pool we had a lovely dinner outdoors accompanied with live music. Although the dinner wasn’t comped, we hadn’t had a nice date night in a while. This dinner date likely increased the longevity and harmony of our relationship.

A wonderful dinner date after the car accident
28-day dry-aged rib-eye with garlic and chimichurri lettuce avocado salad

Silver lining #3: Worked Out

After the kids went to bed, I decided to finally hit the gym after three months of not working out! I had delayed going to the gym due to laziness and my focus on marketing my new book. Being a writer is not good for the body!

I figured as I was going to be staying an additional night, I might as well try to make the most out of the Resort’s facilities. In the weight room, I did four reps each for my chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and lats. Further, I also did three sets of 50 sit-ups. The soreness felt so good! No, I didn’t exercise my legs because I play tennis 2-3X a week. My quads and calves are already quite beefy.

This workout has emboldened me to start lifting weights again at least once a week to build back strength. Once a week is better than no workout at all. It’s important to build muscle after age 40 for maintenance. This could be the start of a body transformation!

Silver lining #4: Drive A Newer Car I Want

I get to test drive one of the cars I’ve been thinking about getting for the past 12 months for free. I was considering the Chevy Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade, BMW X7, Tesla Model X, Nissan Armada, Defender, or the Range Rover with third-row seating.

The longer it takes to fix my car, the more I save on mileage and wear and tear by using the rental car. The rental car is also slightly larger, so it should be more comfortable.

Silver lining #5: More Content On Financial Samurai

One of the best things about having Financial Samurai is that I can always use the platform to share a new story. Maybe this post will help some people not spend as much money on a depreciating asset. I might even earn some advertising revenue too.

Further, I can also write a new post comparing the Nissan Armada to the Range Rover Sport. Instead of testing the Armada for a day like most auto journalists, I get to do a deep-dive review after driving it for at least a month. So far, the Armada drives like a slow boat!

If my car comparison post goes well, I will submit it to a car publication and maybe land my dream job test driving and reviewing supercars! Those folks get to drive Lamborghinis and Ferraris on the race track and then post video reviews. They have the best jobs.

Silver lining #6: A Reaffirmation Of My Car Ownership Beliefs

After going through this car accident debacle, I firmly believe owning a cheaper, older car is the way to go. So long as it is mechanically sound with good safety features, having an affordable car is less stressful to operate and maintain. Not feeling attached is one of the best reasons for owning a cheaper, older car.

I’d much rather drive an older car onto a parking lot and not have to worry about door dings and gashes. Dings and scratches always happen, which can be super annoying if you have a nice car. Further, insurance costs are also lower for cheaper cars.

The sweet spot is buying a car that’s three or four years old and then driving it for eight-to-ten years. By doing so, you’ll miss the steepest part of the depreciation curve while also driving a car with some relatively new safety features. After ten years, you might want to buy another three or four-year-old car for better safety features.

Car Depreciation Chart For Cars Average
Depreciation Chart

Another reaffirmation after this incident is my desire to own only one car. Two cars means more parking tickets, more maintenance headaches, higher insurance costs, more damages, greater liability, and a higher risk of theft.

I will try to stay a one-car family for as long as possible. I don’t mind driving the family everywhere or paying for rideshare services when necessary.

The Cost To Fix The Car Damage And Make Me Whole

What’s scary about having your car damaged is how much it costs to fix nowadays. I once had to fix two panels on my $20,000 Honda Fit and it cost about $3,500! Therefore, make sure you have great auto insurance coverage. However, it might not be good enough.

Since my Range Rover Sport costs more than my Honda Fit, I’m guessing it will cost around $7,000 to fix my hood, side panel, and internal parts. The cost includes painting the panels. Then it will probably cost another $1,500 to replace my cracked windshield for a total of $8,500.

It will probably take the autobody shop two months to get the parts and do the work. Meanwhile, the resort’s car insurance company has to pay for my car rental. My quote is for $973.32 a week for the Nissan Armada. Given I expect it to take nine weeks to fix my car, the rental car cost will be about $8,760.

Cost to rent an SUV a week from Enterprise
Weekly rental cost for a Chevy Tahoe from Enterprise

The costs continue! I may or may not drive back to Lake Tahoe for another vacation in two months. Therefore, if my fixed car is towed from Reno or Truckee to San Francisco the cost will likely be around $4,000.

We’re now talking a total cost of $21,260!

If my family wants to go back to Lake Tahoe for vacation when the car is ready, we might be able to save the Resort’s insurance $3,500. Instead of towing my fixed car from Reno to San Francisco, they would just tow it from Reno to the Resort, a 50-minute drive.

I also save a net 170 miles of wear and tear on my car by driving the rental up to Lake Tahoe. Wear and tear adds up over time.

The Desire For Nice Cars Fades Once You Get Richer

When you don’t have enough money to afford a nice car, your desire for a nice car is high. Once you make enough or have a large enough net worth to buy any car you want, the desire for a nice car dramatically goes down.

Hence, if you want to eliminate your car buying desires, try to make a lot more money or grow a larger net worth! I’ve asked a couple wealthy friends why don’t they buy a Ferrari or another exotic car as a weekend car. They both said their interest in cars went away once they could easily afford them.

This phenomenon of no longer wanting to buy a nice car once you can afford it is another example of how money doesn’t buy happiness. It is much more thrilling being a broke teenager who daydreams of their favorite cars with posters on their walls.

I remember one of my favorite hobbies in my 20s was going for test drives at the BMW, Audi, and Mercedes dealers. I couldn’t get enough of the thrill of driving a brand new car and inhaling the intoxicating new leather seats. Now, I hardly ever go.

In conclusion, the true benefit of owning a cheap old car is more freedom and better mental health. Your freedom from worry and stress fades if you have an older car. With less worry and stress in your life, you will feel lighter. And when you feel lighter, you feel happier!

Oh, and one last tip. If you ever valet, you might want to ask them to park your car out front!

Reader Questions And Action Items

Do you drive a cheap old car even though you could afford a nicer one? Did you find your desire to own a nicer car faded the wealthier you got? What are some other benefits of owning a cheap old car? Should the Resort compensate me for my four hours of lost time beyond just giving us a night to stay?

To go deeper into building greater wealth and deciding on how to tackle some of life’s biggest dilemmas, pick up a hardcopy of my new Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom. 

Join 50,000+ others and sign up for my free weekly newsletter. Everything I write is based off firsthand experience and my knowledge as a finance veteran since 1999. Because money is too important to be left up to pontification.



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