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Luxury Car or Practical Car?
June 1, 2006 4:38 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a luxury car or a practical car? Help me make a decision!!

I'm a 27 year old female. I'm single and have no kids. I want to get a luxury car (nothing ridiculous, probably a BMW 325 or IS 250) but I'm wondering if I will regret buying it, as I don't really NEED it... but I just want it. I feel like because I don't have any obligations today, and I can afford it, why not treat myself? However, the practical side of me says I don't really need it and I would be fine driving a practical car (i.e. Camry - although I don't like that it's such a "parents" car) as long as it gets me from point A to point B. I don't want to lease or buy used as I plan to keep this car until it breaks down!

I would like to hear from those who have had similar experiences and whether you are happy/regretted your decision. Hindsight is always 20/20!
posted by mam to Travel & Transportation (65 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you can really afford it -- you're paying cash, you're already putting enough money into your 401-k to get the full employer match, you're putting extra money into an IRA, you've got three (or six) months extra cash saved up, you don't have any looming debt -- then I think you should go for it. That's what money's for: buying things.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:43 PM on June 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


I like driving. We're in similar situations and I was looking at similar cars. I bought the car I *wanted* since I love driving and it relaxes me, and after maxing my 401k out and all the other things mentioned above, I figured once I start a family I have other people to think about.

I work hard, I have a great job, and this area is known for being "car rich" since most people can't afford houses so they spend the extra on transportation. Next car I buy will probably be a lot more sensible, since I think I got it out of my system and a car really is just transportation in the end.
posted by kcm at 4:54 PM on June 1, 2006


It's a car. It gets you from point A to point B and back again. That's it.

Maybe you should ask yourself why you can't be satisfied with something unless it's "luxurious"? Is it because you care so much about how you are percieved by random people on the street, or your peers? Do you really, honestly think that the benefits of owning a BMW--the happiness you'll get out of owning a BMW--will be that much more significant than owning any other car as to justify the expense?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:56 PM on June 1, 2006


Perhaps you should take a look at some of the cars you don't normally think of as "luxurious," and compare their actual features to that of something like the BMWs. You'll likely find that every need you have is more than accomidated by the lower-priced car.

For instance, go take a stroll around a VW dealership. Take a look at the small Jettas, drive them around. I'm a bit partial, of course, having owned and worked on three so far, but I actually went from a more expensive fully-loaded Passat to a less expensive Jetta because I realized I didn't need the extra weight, and I wasn't losing anything in the way of comforts, features, and driveability.
posted by odinsdream at 4:59 PM on June 1, 2006


If you feel weird spending the money - why not meet in the middle? Buy something fun that is also practical and maybe not as expensive as a BMW. A Mini? A Miata? VW GTI? All get decent mileage, are a blast to drive and aren't "parent cars".
posted by Wolfie at 5:00 PM on June 1, 2006


Driving a BMW, if you like driving, has little to do with how people see you. Everyone and their mother has a 3-series around here, but yet I'd buy one since nothing compares to the engineering and driving experience of the '06s. If you agree, it's a good purchase for you if it's in the budget. Enjoy life how you want to.

If it's about how people see you and having "something new", which it doesn't sound like, then I'd agree - skip it. Maybe not, if your career path or lifestyle desires require flashy things and status symbols. There's nothing wrong with that, if that's how you work.
posted by kcm at 5:01 PM on June 1, 2006


(1) Keep in mind that luxury cars depreciate *very* quickly in their first two to five years. It is often possible to buy a 4-year old BMW 7-series for roughly the price of a new 3-series. Of course, the 7- will be more expensive to keep running. Also, depereciation on the 7- is much worse than on the 3-. Lots of 3s are privately owned, while lots of 7s are company cars. As a result, 7- owners tend to get rid of the cars quickly (to upgrade to the latest model), creating a glut of nice cars on the market.

(2) If you are thinking of a BMW 3- or a Lexus IS, you should be considering a Toyota Corolla, not a Camry. The Camry is more comparable to the BMW 5- series, which is why you think of it as more of a "parents" car

(3) People who really want a luxury car are generally happier in a luxury car than not. Similarly, people who think such things are excessive are often happier in an economy car.

(4) You might like a Prius. It is more expensive than a normal Corolla, and has more gadgets and features. It is a hybrid, so you can tell all your friends that you are saving the environment (though it isn't clear what the net effect of so many batteries is), and you may be able to get an income tax credit.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:02 PM on June 1, 2006


Another option here along the lines of "keeping your soul" is to find a unique car that may cost the same as a newer entry-luxury model but that has character you just can't get in a new car of any sort - say, a 60's Mustang convertible fully restored. Maintenance, insurance, etc., but it's just another path. If you do this right, future value can also work in your favor.
posted by kcm at 5:07 PM on June 1, 2006


I bought a new(at the time) 2003 BMW 325 and regret it. Not only is the maintenance a ton of money, but more people seem to intentionally ding and bump my car without leaving a note (I guess they figure I can afford it). Also, even though oil changes, regular maintenance and such are covered for the first four years, I've had to take it in about every 3 months for something going wrong with it (all the power windows have failed, headlights, turn lights, tail lights, pressure crack in windshield, etc). I'm not looking forward to the warranty expiring and may even sell it then.
No question - it's a fun car to drive, but I guess now I realize reliable is more important to me than fun.
I was REALLY happy with my then-11 year old 91 Honda Accord, and wish I'd stuck with a solid Japanese car.
But, yeah, what croutonsupafreak said -- if you can afford it, get something you want. Otherwise, save the extra $$$ towards a house or early retirement. Don't put yourself into serious debt for something that depreciates that quickly.
posted by j at 5:14 PM on June 1, 2006


I stuck with a solid Japanese Acura TL by the way :) - no maintenance issues at all so I can keep my ridiculous purchase for 4-5 years without a single worry, based on my previous Honda experience.
posted by kcm at 5:20 PM on June 1, 2006


3-series BMWs aren't really 'luxury' cars. In Germany, they're 'cars'. If you want an luxury car, you can pay the same for an S-Class from the late 90s or early '00s as a 2006 325.

And what kcm said; although I get the feeling that you want the S-Class immersion-in-comfort-and-leather experience more than the Miata one.
posted by holgate at 5:21 PM on June 1, 2006


I've driven a BMW 3-series continuously since 1995.

I have never regretted it for a moment.

When I was hit by a bus on the George Washington Bridge at 60 mph, going sideways and airborne, and landing in such a way as to shred all 4 tires, sand flat spots into the wheels, and wreck the front suspension: I especially did not regret the fact that I was able to regain control of the vehicle before I went over the side of the bridge. That's good engineering.

Given that I can afford it, I can think offhand of no reasons not to get a BMW, and I could probably list 100 reasons in favor. So if I were you, that's what I'd do.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:25 PM on June 1, 2006


I bought my 3-series in 1995. I still have it. I still love it. It's a great car, it works well, it performs fantastically (I've taken it to 185km/hr on a straight highway somewhere in WA state and it didn't weave, didn't vibrate, felt as solid as a rock).

I take excellent care of it - oil change every 3,000 miles and all scheduled maintenance (Inspections I and II). So far, it's the car that has cost me the LEAST money in maintenance. My previous cars (some American, some not) were far more expensive to maintain - from the cost of oil changes, to other repairs. Fortunately, I've not yet had the 'other' repairs.

A note about depreciation - in my first year of ownership, I was offered what I paid for the car. I declined.

Buy the car that makes your heart sing. You are young, unattached, the bimmer is a fun car, but it's also practical. After all, it's European ;) It's safe. It's well built. Why settle for a 'parent' car when you can have fun and smile every day when you drive to work.

Go on, buy the bmw (or the IS 250) you know you want to.
posted by seawallrunner at 5:38 PM on June 1, 2006


Buy the Beemer. When all your expenses are taken care of and you can afford to buy something, by all means, buy it. If your lifestyle changes, you could always sell it and get something more economical.
posted by cellphone at 5:40 PM on June 1, 2006


You'll regret not buying it when you have kids and have to buy a minivan.
posted by smackfu at 5:42 PM on June 1, 2006


Be a satisficer, not a maximiser. The car will make you happy for a while. That happiness will quickly decline, passing through the point where you're where you were when you bought the car, until it's so low that the opportunity costs of what you could have done had you saved your money and bought an ordinary car will cause you to be unhappy.

As holgate said, the luxury tag is all in your head anyway. I remember visiting Europe for the first time and stepping into the car park at Frankfurt airport. I was so amazed by the cars that I stopped to record them on my video camera. BMW, BMW, Audi, Volvo, BMW, Mercedez Benz, Volvo - the kinds of car you might see a couple of in a day here in Australia. "Does everybody drive a car like this in Germany?" I asked. "A car like what?" they said, which pretty much summed it up.

In short - if you have to ask whether you should buy a luxury car, you probably shouldn't buy a luxury car.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:54 PM on June 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


I was in your exact situation when I bought my car last summer ('cept I'm male). I was considering going with somthing like a Mazda 3 (or maybe the 6). Then a co-worked told me they just got a great deal on a Saab (part of that GM employee pricing deal they were doing), so I went in to test drive a few. 5 minutes into test driving a 9-3 Aero, I was sold. I knew I could afford it (though it was close, I wouldn't have looked if not for the deal), and I had nothing else holding me back. I don't know if the 9-3 qualifies as 'luxury', but it's certainly a huge cut above anything I had ever driven. I haven't regretted the purchase for a second.

Do it! In 5 years you could be married, have kids, have a crappier job, etc, etc, and you may never have the chance to own a luxury car again. Just make sure you test drive everything you possibly can before you commit.
posted by blind.wombat at 5:58 PM on June 1, 2006


You only live once. Have a few splurges along the way.
posted by caddis at 6:06 PM on June 1, 2006


There are two schools of replies here, and I think it's because you said "BMW" and not, say, "Lexus". Because a BMW is a solid car to drive if you're passionate about driving. Then again, so is a Suburu WRX, and that ain't luxury.

The thing that all the pro-BMW responders seem to have missed from your post is that you didn't mention anything about performance or handling or oneness of rider and horse or anything remotely resembling "lover-of-driving." That much is obvious by the fact that you had the gall to group the Lexus and the BMW in the same category. You care only for the appearance that you're in something made of unobtanium. Sadly, you're going about it in probably the most pedestrian way possible (if you'll pardon the pun). If you want to show off your luxury automobile, you'll have to pay the equivalent of at least a couple of BMW 3-series.

The only way to get around this is to do what kcm recommended and get a restored "classic". But I can guarantee you it won't be nearly as luxuuuuurious in amneties as a run-of-the-mill Camry, though it will seem that way, and that's all that really matters, right?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:18 PM on June 1, 2006


Cars are personal. I've said more than my peace in this thread, but it seems like a lot of this has to do with what car you "love" being in. That requires test driving everything under the sun, which is a helluva fun thing to do in itself - in fact, it's how I sated my car lust every time this popped up. Try it, it might do wonders, and you're going to need to anyway to be confident in your large purchase.

Then I sold my car and moved across the country, which is why I ended up in a new car in the end.
posted by kcm at 6:24 PM on June 1, 2006


So she wants the car, and it's a good car, but you're upset because she doesn't want the car for the right reasons? Or it's not luxurious enough to be enough of a status symbol to satisfy the reasons you've just deemed bad?

It seems like if this not-uber-luxury car is a solid car (which it seems even Civil_Disobedient agrees it is), and you like it, then go for it. (And maybe get used to people questioning your motives for driving it!)
posted by occhiblu at 6:25 PM on June 1, 2006


A 37 year old female coworker of mine was buying a Mini and asked my advice on color. She couldn't decide between fiery red or more conservative beige/white. I confirmed the fact that she planned to have the car for at least 5 years, and asked her if she really wanted to be a 40 year old woman driving around town in a red car. She went beige.

You're under 30. If you plan on having kids some day, get the luxury car now, it may be your last and best opportunity to spoil yourself. Live it up, you're worth it.

Once you're over 30, kids or not, go more practical so you don't look like a douche on the road (which may be more appropriate advice for males.)
posted by wubbie at 6:57 PM on June 1, 2006


We just got my wife a 2003 BMW 325xi after selling our newer Honda Odyssey. It's a very nice car, drives well, and she loves it.

I had a 2005 Camry until last week, so I understand what you mean about driving a parents car.

Look around for something a couple of years old, avoid that major hit of buying a brand new car. A car is never a "good" investment, but don't discount your personal enjoyment. You can't measure that in dollars, but you only go around once.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:02 PM on June 1, 2006


I can't offer hindsight, but I'm facing the same decision, and my take is that this may be my last chance to have a silly car until I retire. I want to live a life of having tried things, not of wondering if I was missing anything. In that sense, it's easier to move to a practical car later down the track than it is to move from a practical car when your circumstances no-longer give you as much of an option.

I see a lot of people that get their dream car at age 50-60. I don't want to carry a dumb dream like a car that long, looking towards the future, I want to get it out of my system, and go find other, (less dumb) dreams :)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:22 PM on June 1, 2006


Why not get a couple of years old BMW for the price of a new Camary?

I never understand why people buy new cars, personally.

And are you sure you're going to keep it until it breaks down? The way cars are built these days it could be up to twenty years.
posted by delmoi at 7:28 PM on June 1, 2006


Check out the Acura TSX. Significantly cheaper than a BMW and very fun to drive. Wall St. Journal rated the TSX above the IS in a head-to-head comparison.
posted by Frank Grimes at 7:30 PM on June 1, 2006


3-series BMWs aren't really 'luxury' cars. In Germany, they're 'cars'. If you want an luxury car, you can pay the same for an S-Class from the late 90s or early '00s as a 2006 325.

You never could get a 314td with cloth seats and no air conditioning in the US. While BMWs may be common and Mercedes are Taxis in Europe, only the top-end luxury models tend to get exported to the US. Certainly an S-class or 7-series will be more luxurious, but a 3- or C- is a decent place to start.

That having been said, Civil Disobedient is exaggerating when claiming that you should get either the 3- or a restored classic. There is plenty of middle ground, particularly when it comes to 5-12 year old cars with 50-100k miles. mam seems to want a new car, though, and a 3-series BMW is a fine car for anyone to drive.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:34 PM on June 1, 2006


I was in a very similar situation myself last fall. (Male, age 27, no kids, no mortgage, etc.)

On the one hand, I'd never owned a car that was remotely new and could easily purchase something on the sporty end of the spectrum while living well within my means. I figured that if I didn't make such a purchase now, I'd possibly never get to, saddled with other obligations a decade down the line. On the other hand, such an action didn't strike me as terribly prudent. 'Cuz yeah, a car just gets you from Point A to Point B when the day is said and done.

Of course, if being prudent was the order of the day, I'd wear nothing but purchased-by-the-pound used clothing and subsist on nothing but bulk-purchased sale goods cooked at home... which is clearly not the life I lead. Being frugal is a virtue, to be certain... but at some point, intangibles like "quality of life", "personal happiness", "sense of style" - call it what you will - factor into the equation. (Where you fall on this "inessentials vs. cost" continuum is a matter of personal taste.)

Me, I ended up buying my sports car and do not regret the decision in the slightest. Of course, I'd made damn sure that this was the awesome car I really truly wanted and could handily afford, not something I'd quickly bore of - or worse, become resentful of were I to be on shaky financial footing and suddenly become unemployed. But if it's within your budget, sure, go for it. Why bother saving money if you don't ever do anything with it? :-)
posted by youhas at 7:42 PM on June 1, 2006


As long as you can afford it, buy whatever you want. It's your money and you'll be the one driving it.
posted by desuetude at 7:51 PM on June 1, 2006


You need to compare your satisfaction level, in your imagination, after having bought the luxury car versus having bought the basic car PLUS whatever else that money would get you.

Personally, I replaced an BMW with a Honda in part because I was tired of paying for premium gas (required by the BMW). Might be worth keeping that in mind.
posted by NortonDC at 7:57 PM on June 1, 2006


When I was your age I bought a top of the line Jetta (not even as fancy as a Beemer but I thought it was pretty fly). A year later I'd gotten rid of it. I realized I'd rather be saving some of that money or putting it toward something other than sitting in luxury while I drove. I was making great money at the time but once you're socked into paying $450 a month on your car you realize: SHIT, I better KEEP ON making a lot of money or I'm fucked. If you go nuts on a sweet car, you wind up getting locked into your job so you can pay for the car that gets you to your job. Pretty lame vicious cycle.

I got rid of the Jetta, found a more economical housing situation, and scoured my personal expenses over the course of a few months. Then I saved for about 9 months and took a year off work. That was so much better for me than driving a trick car. I mean, really.... isn't there ANYTHING else you'd rather do with your money/time?

You just have to ask yourself if that's really what you want to spend your money on. Especially with gas prices being what they are, and the environmental/foreign policy considerations of using lots of gas, it's just hard to make excuses for a car that gets around 20MPG.
posted by scarabic at 8:07 PM on June 1, 2006


I don't want to lease or buy used as I plan to keep this car until it breaks down!

If you have a taste for fancy cars now, why assume that in 8 years' time you'll be willing to keep driving your aging BMW? You are telling yourself now that you'll keep this car a long time and really get the most out of it, but I wonder... Kinda sounds like you're saying "Let me be extravagant now and I'll be practical later." Just something to think about.
posted by scarabic at 8:14 PM on June 1, 2006


The car will make you happy for a while. That happiness will quickly decline, passing through the point where you're where you were when you bought the car, until it's so low that the opportunity costs of what you could have done had you saved your money and bought an ordinary car will cause you to be unhappy.

Bullshit.

I bought a Mercedes E320 eight years ago, and have not regretted it once. It's comfortable, handles great, has plenty of space, and feels very safe. And, it gets better mileage than the Honda Accord 4-banger it replaced. I still get more pleasure from it than from any possession I've ever had. Every day. When it gives out I'll buy another one.

Buy your BMW.
posted by Wet Spot at 8:21 PM on June 1, 2006


There's plenty of reasons to buy a new car and drive it for 5-10 years. You've owned the car, you know what has been done to it, and not least of all you've paid for it and you're going to get every cent out of that purchase. There's no reason to extrapolate that buying a new car now locks anyone into a cycle of doing so every year or two.

Also, let's say you fill up once a week at 10 gallons or so. $.20/gal more for premium means $2/wk more in gas. Do you have on the order of $100/yr to spend to get the car you want if you're already buying one anyway? I don't think this thread is about "what do I have to worry about in the cost of a car", but it's more about making a decision about your financial situation and what makes you happy. If driving car X makes you happy, make yourself happy by driving it. Maybe you'll find it didn't last in the end, and you've learned, and you can prattle to anonymous strangers on the Internet too. Maybe not!

Personally, I plan to keep making my salary and advancing in my career, and while I've planned for unforseen circumstances, I will never let myself be scared into not spending my hard earned money because I might not have it tomorrow. I'll deal with it and sell the car then. People tend to regret what they haven't done, not what they have.

I enjoy my spectacular waste of money every single day, more than I imagined, and it makes me happy when I get to work having made hands-free phone calls and keeping my errands in the nav systems, listening to DVD-Audio 6-channel versions of Yoshimi. I work better. I look forward to my drive home, and I make the occasional late-night drive out to the ocean or down 17 just to drive. I wouldn't have done that with a Malibu Maxx.
posted by kcm at 8:28 PM on June 1, 2006


If the decisions boil down to "how can I afford this shiny", don't do it, don't even consider it. If the decision is "do I really want to spend this money I know is within my budget", that's utterly normal and a huge hump to get over for anyone making under a mil/yr. My dad in fact bought that Mustang - albeit when it was brand new - as his first car and only new car, and has driven everything under the sun since - diesel Jettas, minivan after minivan, the original no-heater Bug. He still talks about the Mustang with the love some 40 years later.
posted by kcm at 8:33 PM on June 1, 2006


Have you budgeted for the maintenance and insurance? The BMW is $15 - 20,000 more than the Toyota, as far as I can tell. If you can really comfortably afford it, it's not a bad purchase. But if your pension is underfunded, or you have credit card debt, that money would make a big difference.
posted by theora55 at 8:47 PM on June 1, 2006


Bullshit.

*shrug* There are always exceptions. There's a fair whack of research into satisfaction and happiness, though, that shows that for most people, most of the time, their mental picture of how happy something will make them is nothing like what they actually experience. Many of those who defend their purchase are simply hiding their regret, lest they be perceived as somebody who makes poor choices, or because they're experiencing cognitive dissonance (I don't make bad decisions, therefore, this car must still make me happy). I'm not saying this is how it is for you - just that the research suggests it's like this for most people, most of the time, for most of their large purchases.

When pressed, or when their happiness is objectively assessed, they're no happier than people without the new car / phone / TV / console / shoes / spa / handbag / watch / whatever, and no happier than they were themselves before they got the big ticket item. When asked, they almost seem startled, and come over all Hugh Grant: "Why, erm, yes, I suppose that, erm, now that I, er, think about it, I, uh, do rather still enjoy my {big ticket item}." The truth is they haven't even thought about it in a long, long time. They don't get into the car this morning and think "Hot damn! My very own beemer!" After a couple of months, they turn they keys, drive to work, and think nothing more of it. In a few years, they need another fix, and they buy another car.

Maybe if you're a "car person" - somebody who really enjoys driving, or takes an interest in things mechanical, or can think of no better way to spend a weekend that sitting around talking about cars - then a car might provide a sustained level of happiness. I'd suggest that for somebody who just wants a "luxury" car "just because" or for a "treat", and is tossing up between that and a Camry, the buzz is going to wear off pretty quickly.

I bought a Mercedes E320 eight years ago, and have not regretted it once.

I'm happy for you. These guys don't seem real fussed with the latest E320 wagon - indeed, they seem to wish they had bought a...wait for it:

"The six-cylinder engine just does not have any snap and it is easy to see why since it offers about the same horsepower as a Toyota Camry yet weighs significantly more."

posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:44 PM on June 1, 2006


My general advice is to not look at it as all or nothing. Its too easy when making financial decisions to dichotomize. But I bet you could find a compromise that makes you very happy but isn't as expensive as it had to be. If you save 6K and get a car that makes as happy as the more expensive car, then you'll feel good about everything. I think you can find something that is say, half way between the camry and the lexus that makes you 95% as happy.
Another way you can cut some costs, as many have suggested, is to go used. Even just one or two years old can save some serious cash.
posted by alkupe at 10:25 PM on June 1, 2006


I had considered at one point buying a nice car once I moved to Los Angeles and got a new job. I figured, hey, I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the car in traffic... might as well be something I enjoy.

Boy, I'm glad I didn't. Never have I seen more door dings and nicks from day-to-day driving than I have in LA. I would have been a nervous wreck had I been driving a nice car and not my beater. Also, it's quite satisfying to have a car that you don't mind 'getting hit in' to give you the upper hand in agressive traffic.

If you live someplace rural this probably isn't an issue, but in my mind, sometimes having a nice car isn't an asset necessarily.
posted by FearTormento at 10:25 PM on June 1, 2006


I agree with FearTormento: take into account your local area. Here in Los Angeles, parking next to someone is apparently code for "open your door as fast and hard as possible because my car is conveniently located so as to prevent your door from taking damage from opening too widely." Five thousand door dings on my corolla: no big deal. Five thousand door dings on my BMW: not good.

I've also been (all while completely stopped) backed into at a stop sign, rear ended at a stoplight, rear ended at a freeway exit, backed into in a parking lot, and backed into parked on the street. Oh, thats in the last three years.

I would never buy an expensive car here.
posted by Justinian at 11:21 PM on June 1, 2006


*shrug* There are always exceptions. There's a fair whack of research into satisfaction and happiness, though, that shows that for most people, most of the time, their mental picture of how happy something will make them is nothing like what they actually experience. Many of those who defend their purchase are simply hiding their regret, lest they be perceived as somebody who makes poor choices, or because they're experiencing cognitive dissonance (I don't make bad decisions, therefore, this car must still make me happy).

Cognitive dissonance changes your internal state. Rather then 'pretending' to like the car, it actually causes you to like the car.

I have one friend who gets tired of new expensive toys, and another who loves his BMW as much as the day he bought it. It depends on personality, and I've never seen research that says people are unhappy with their purchases in general. You may simply be projecting your own dissatisfaction caused by being too much of an impulse buyer.
posted by delmoi at 11:46 PM on June 1, 2006


I'm happy for you. These guys don't seem real fussed with the latest E320 wagon - indeed, they seem to wish they had bought a...wait for it:

They don't say they 'wished they bought' it's a review so they didn't buy anything, and don't regret anything. And there's a lot more to a car then power -- and that's a station wagon, not a sadan.
posted by delmoi at 11:52 PM on June 1, 2006


What do you mean by "I can afford it"? Do you mean "I can pay cash"? Or do you mean "I can afford to make monthly payments for six years"? Or something in-between?

If you can buy the luxury car without incurring significant debt — if your financial position is solid — then by all means: do it. Hell, I would! I want a BMW, and hope someday to be able to afford one without going into debt to get it.

If, however, your version of "I can afford it" is "I can make the payments", consider your decision carefully. Sure, you will receive pleasure from a luxury vehicle, but you'll be doing so at the expense of future comforts.

Do some research. Put the decision off for a month. If, after some time away from thinking about a new car, you still want to buy one, then take the next step. Don't buy a car on impulse.

(Note: I recently wrote about shaking the new car itch on my personal finance blog.)
posted by jdroth at 11:52 PM on June 1, 2006


jdroth makes a very good point. I bought my '96 Mercedes C280 with less than half of the cash I had on hand at the time. Although it doesn't really have any features that my girlfriend's '04 Corolla lacks, the C280 just feels better. If I was making payments on a new C-class, I strongly suspect that the pain of the financial grind would outweigh the positive feeling of owning and driving a Mercedes.

Unless you are a real estate agent, or are in some other profession where the appearance of your car directly impacts your ability to earn, try to stay away from car debt. A debt-free car is a wonderful thing, even if it is a 1984 Yugo.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:20 AM on June 2, 2006


There's a fair whack of research into satisfaction and happiness, though, that shows that for most people, most of the time, their mental picture of how happy something will make them is nothing like what they actually experience. Many of those who defend their purchase are simply hiding their regret, lest they be perceived as somebody who makes poor choices

This is wild generalizing and disingenuous. If you have a point to make, make it, but don't go on about supposed research supporting your point without linking to it.

I do note, however, a slightly defensive tone in the folks who've proudly declared their undying and absolute love of their expensive cars. They have a big investment to "defend," whereas people who choose the practical cars don't. As far as I can tell, the 10-20K dollar difference has something to do with some kind of magical driving zen that makes your life happier, combined with a large perceived gap between the crash safety of one car and another. Let me tell you, I experienced a lot of magical happy life zen in my year off. And since I didn't drive at all, my crash safety was better than a Volvo :)
posted by scarabic at 12:42 AM on June 2, 2006


Are you worried that you'll feel guilty about "treating yourself" on a superfluous indulgence? You could spend the extra cash on something that looks sharp, drives well, and runs on Bio-Diesel or a hybrid engine; then you could enjoy standing out from the Toyota Camry crowd and have a solid reason to brag about your purchase rather than endlessly neuroticizing over it - your car would be sexier than 90% of the rest and entitle you to having a better conscience about your purchase than almost everyone who drives (no matter how happy their sports car does or doesn't make them).

(I could never afford to buy a car newer than, say, 10 years old, but if i could, that's what I'd buy, and it would be really great if others who could afford "luxuries" would think this way about their spending.)
posted by xanthippe at 2:59 AM on June 2, 2006


Treating yourself to.
posted by xanthippe at 3:02 AM on June 2, 2006


There is plenty of middle ground, particularly when it comes to 5-12 year old cars with 50-100k miles.

Absolutely true. But the OP said she wanted a new car. If the OP was willing to get a car that's a year to two old (most still under warranty, BTW), it would expand her range of selections.

This is wild generalizing and disingenuous. If you have a point to make, make it, but don't go on about supposed research supporting your point without linking to it.

[sigh] obiwanwasabi is correct, and your vitriol surprising. There have been a number of high-profile studies on happiness and this particular aspect of it. To summarize, people often make mistakes when choosing something they think will make them happy. For example, if someone was offered a smaller house closer to work, or a larger house further away, most people choose the larger house because of the "luxury" aspect. Only they get used to it, as human are excellent adapters. What you don't get used to is the extra 45 minutes in your commute. That's an added stress that your bigger house can only offset for a short time, until the newness wears off.
"Considerable evidence suggests that if we use an increase in our incomes, as many of us do, simply to buy bigger houses and more expensive cars, then we do not end up any happier than before. But if we use an increase in our incomes to buy more of certain inconspicuous goods–such as freedom from a long commute or a stressful job–then the evidence paints a very different picture. The less we spend on conspicuous consumption goods, the better we can afford to alleviate congestion; and the more time we can devote to family and friends, to exercise, sleep, travel, and other restorative activities. On the best available evidence, reallocating our time and money in these and similar ways would result in healthier, longer– and happier–lives."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:12 AM on June 2, 2006 [2 favorites]


Civil_Disobedient's band of rogues even turned up in Forbes, that demonizer of wealth and consumption: "People generally overestimate the amount of long-term pleasure they'll get from a given object."
posted by NortonDC at 5:26 AM on June 2, 2006


I have a small "luxury sports sedan" and I do not regret getting it. It's my one major splurge. Before getting it, I'd already done all the prudent financial things like paying off debt, maxing out 401K, buying a house, and driving my old car for 12 years. After that I think it's time to reward yourself a bit, especially if you love to drive.

Personally, however, I will never get a BMW. There is simply too much cultural baggage -- that is, the general assumption is that BMW owners are assholes or vain idiots, so when someone sees you with your car, they've already made negative prejudgements about you, moreso than other car makes. See also above comments about mysterious dings and scratches.

Audi, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura ...
posted by intermod at 5:53 AM on June 2, 2006


They have a big investment to "defend," whereas people who choose the practical cars don't.

I drive a ten-year old Neon that I bought off the lot (at an additional slight discount because it has manual locks and windows.) But I still maintain that mam should buy the BMW if she wants to.

Most people take their selection of car very personally, as evidenced by all responses upthread. Heck, it's the first big investment most people make, so this is understandable. But remember the ferverent advice of that parent/friend/uncle/co-worker that you're so glad you ignored?

If she were waffling over spending a chunk of money to travel, we'd all be egging her on to see the world. (I acknowledge that this is not parallel, as a car is a longer-term investment.)
posted by desuetude at 6:36 AM on June 2, 2006


To me, the 325i says "I can just barely afford a BMW, so I got the cheapest one out there." They're not particularly sporty and aren't the best performers out there. If you want something that looks luxurious and is fairly reliable and performs well, I'd look at Lexus, Infiniti and Acura. If you just want performance, the Subaru WRX Sti is fast as all hell and is pretty reliable.
posted by electroboy at 7:07 AM on June 2, 2006


I drive a 325i, I guess I can barely afford a BMW so I got the cheapest one out there. I've driven a lot of cars that friends have and I love the 325i the most. I wouldn't give it up for a 5-series (well, maybe an M3). It's amazing experience, it's really fun to drive. I had a Mercedes and it drove like a yacht. I'm sure it had better numbers than the BMW, it might have even handled better but it felt like I was driving a giant boat. The BMW was like a go-kart, and an amazing one at that.

The only thing I can compare a BMW to that I've driven is a Porsche in terms of fun-factor. Besides I'd be afraid to buy a larger engine for a commuter car as I frequently find myself going 80+ on the highway. So smooth is the ride I don't even notice the elevated speeds.

There is a huge stigma (at least where I am) attached to BMWs. I don't know why, but even though they're "cheap" (what ~$30G starting price?) they are seen as incredibly yuppie and new money. I get all kinds of dings and people never leave anything, you just learn to deal with it. It's expensive to maintain, yes, but my experience with the dealership has been phenomenal. They always clean the entire car, I always am taking home another fun car to drive (upselling is awesome) and they are generally pleasant. Again all I have to compare it to was the Mercedes dealership when they made it known that unless you're the $80,000+ customer they don't really have the time to deal wiht you. It felt really snobby, where as BMW felt like a place where people truly love cars. The best I can compare it to is the weird Mac clique, where Mac owners bond and form relations in a weird way over a brand.

I find most Japanese cars to be boring. I realize that quantitatively their performance is probably the same but the driving experience is heads above the rest. Sorry to sound like a fan-boy, but I chose my BMW after looking at all so-called luxury sports cars and found it to be the most driveable day-to-day. If gadgets and other things impress you go for a Japanese car, if you like driving go for the BMW.
posted by geoff. at 8:19 AM on June 2, 2006


Thank you for substantiating, Civil_Disobedient. I didn't disagree with the point, just the claim of supporting research with no links.
posted by scarabic at 8:35 AM on June 2, 2006


Geoff.'s point is interesting: If she were asking about buying a top-of-the-line Mac rather than a low-end desktop, would people here have the same reactions?
posted by occhiblu at 9:25 AM on June 2, 2006


I think if you really want it, and can comfortably afford it, you will enjoy it and not regret your decision. That has been my experience with cars. The "point A to point B" people have a different outlook, and I think you'd know if you were one of them. They seem to enjoy public transportation, too. However...

If you have a taste for fancy cars now, why assume that in 8 years' time you'll be willing to keep driving your aging BMW?

This really hits home for me. I leased my first new car (3 years), thoroughly enjoyed the experience, then bought one. Now, at about 3.5 years later, I'm starting to feel that itch again. Even though I think the exact model car I own is still the best car for me. It's still as fun as the day I picked it up, but it's acquired a few rattles, and I enjoy playing with fancy new things. ;)

Also, I'm starting to really see the advantage of having maintenance and warranty covered at a dealer instead of dealing with sketchy mechanics.

Is this safety thing a concern for you? Because I have a BMW nearly-saved-my-life story too.
posted by trevyn at 9:31 AM on June 2, 2006


I've been in a similar situation to yours. I bought a new BMW during the dot-com exuberance. Because I was young and stupid, I almost immediately totalled it. It was the luckiest thing I ever did! I used the insurance payment to buy a house, which then doubled in value. Comparing the value I got from the house with what the car would be worth now, my mind boggles that I would have ever bought that stupid thing in the first place.

I've learned that when I reallyreallyreallyreally want something (which is how I felt about the car), I can just wait it out. I recently avoided buying a plasma TV that way. Luxury has its place, but you can do it intelligently (e.g., buy a house and redo the kitchen). Once you've got a couple million in the bank, though, then you can buy whatever the hell you want because you can retire at a moment's notice...but I don't get the sense that you're quite there yet.
posted by jewzilla at 9:47 AM on June 2, 2006


If gadgets and other things impress you go for a Japanese car, if you like driving go for the BMW.

While that may have been good advice before Chris Bangle redesigned the BMWs as wannabe Japanese cars, it no longer is. What sets the 3-series' Japanese competitors apart from BMW currently is a) they're better built than the BMW, b) they drive arguably better than the BMW (and a non-enthusiast wouldn't know the difference), c) fit and finish, materials, interior, etc are better than the BMW and d) they cost less than the BMW.

When you buy a 3-series, you're paying a premium for the little propeller logo. It didn't used to be that way, but now it is. Look at Infiniti and Acura. They're kicking the 3's butt in every category currently, in my opinion.

If you want a real BMW, buy a used one. The new ones are teh suck (but yes, they're fast and fun to drive).

Read some reviews of the new 3's. this is a good place to start.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:54 AM on June 2, 2006


desuetude -- a car is a longer-term investment.

Absolutely false. An investment is an outlay of resources in anticipation of growth. Cars universally depreciate. jewzilla's story illustrates the difference succintly.
posted by NortonDC at 10:46 AM on June 2, 2006


Absolutely false. An investment is an outlay of resources in anticipation of growth. Cars universally depreciate. jewzilla's story illustrates the difference succintly.

I wasn't using the word "investment" in the legal sense. I meant that the car would be a more substantial ongoing financial commitment than my big vacation example.
posted by desuetude at 12:26 PM on June 2, 2006


If she were asking about buying a top-of-the-line Mac rather than a low-end desktop, would people here have the same reactions?

Again, missing the point. The poster was particularly interested in the luxury aspect, and in fact makes no mention of the performance aspect. Everyone keeps talking about how amazing BMW's are ("go kart", "saved my life", etc.) and utterly disregard the context of the original question, which is all about luxury. Appearances. Look how much bigger my wallet is than yours.

Had the original poster remarked on any of the performance aspects, or heck, even the driving aspects of the Beemer, you folks might have a leg to stand on. As it stands, this thread is about 50% red herrings.

If you want luxury, hire a driver.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:28 PM on June 2, 2006


I'm 30 and drive an 2005 Acura TL (company car). It was new and cool for a year. Now I see the TL about every other car. Same as the BMW 3 Series or any of the 'near luxury' segment.

If you define luxury as standing out of a crowd you may need to spend some serious $$.

In terms of overall satisfaction, I do enjoy the fact I drive a safe, relatively fuel efficient (and ultra-low emission), 270 horsepower vehicle. The added power is nice and adds to feeling of safety. Bluetooth rocks if you're into that, answering your phone from the steering wheel keeps eyes on the road. Even when the phone is in the trunk--cool! Get GPS if you tend to be lost--like me.

If I had to pay for the car myself, I would go rear or all wheel drive. Get the big engine if you like performance and don't skip out on any options as you plan to wear the car out..
posted by vaportrail at 8:11 PM on June 2, 2006


the context of the original question, which is all about luxury. Appearances. Look how much bigger my wallet is than yours.

I don't think emphasising luxury in cars is necessarily about wallet-waving. It's also about enjoying being surrounded by gizmos and leather and having a seat-back heated massager.

If the original poster has money to burn right now, I'd go as far as recommending a short rental from an 'exotics' outfit. Spend a week driving a Merc and see if it's really worth it.
posted by holgate at 9:18 PM on June 2, 2006


I was in your exact situation last summer (27 yr old female, single, no kids) after my old car finally died and had a lot of the same worries. I wanted a car that I would enjoy personally but that I could also feel comfortable driving clients in. I wanted something that I would love not only now but that I could see myself still enjoying in 5 years - a “grown-up” car that wasn’t boring. I researched, checked out a lot of car sites and message boards, talked to all the ‘car people’ I knew, and test drove everything. I ended up buying a used 2001 BMW 325 and I love it intensely. It drives like a dream (I never knew I could love driving for its own sake until this car), it’s safe, it’s pretty, it’s been incredibly reliable so far and I (like kcm) look forward to my drive home.
My reasoning was that I work hard for my money and since I had to buy a car anyway, I’d rather spend a little more for something I love then paying less for something I just tolerate. I would have regretted that. (I did go the used car route and found a great deal on a car in fantastic condition)
I guess the real question is: is this what you want to be spending your money on? If it is, then go for it.
Geoff – one of the reasons I originally gravitated towards the BMW was that I kept running across forums of devoted beemer drivers. I figured any car that people got so excited about that they wanted to go online just to talk about how much they loved their car was worth a look.
posted by finallymarki at 1:18 PM on June 4, 2006


If you must get a fancy car, buy something Japanese. A BMW will be a money pit, as will most German cars. The Nissan Maxima (or Infiniti G35), Acura TL, Lexus IS are all good sporty-upscale-sedans.
posted by knave at 1:11 AM on June 5, 2006


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