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October 24, 2017

How We Came to Own Five Cars at Once

Most people know it costs a lot to purchase, operate, maintain, register, and insure a car. That's why car ownership is one of the biggest targets of early retirement bloggers. It seems we ignored pretty much all of that advice because just a few months ago, we owned five cars. That's right, our family of three had five cars at the same time. However, it's not as bad as it seems. Read on to learn how this happened.

Not all that long ago, we were a one-car family. For a while we owned two hatchbacks, but at the time I was riding my bike to work every day, so my car sat on the street outside our apartment. Worst of all, I had to move it every week for street sweeping, which was much more stressful than it should have been. I was constantly paranoid about where my car was parked and whether it was going to get a ticket. After fixing a few issues the car had, I sold it and we were very happy as a one-car family, for quite a while.

Car #1:  2011 VW Golf TDI
We have lots of good memories with "Gustavo."
This is one of the hatchbacks mentioned above. Chrissy got this car before we were married and we loved it.

Car #2:  1994 Mazda Miata
Yes, it really is that small. I need a custom seat to even fit.
We got the Miata as a fun weekend car to drive in the Malibu canyons. At the time we would go driving with our friends almost every weekend. They all had sports cars that we would usually ride in and occasionally get to drive. After agonizing over it for a long time, I finally decided, and was able to convince Chrissy, we should get a sporty car too. This sounds like a terrible financial decision, but my inner cheapskate knew what he was doing. We bought a 20 year old version of the most reliable sports car ever made, the Miata. The beauty of our Miata is it was fully depreciated, and we could sell it any time for just about what we paid for it. It's also cheap to run. It's reliable, gets pretty good mileage, and insurance and registration are cheap because it's so old and worth so little.

Car #3:  2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In
I don't recommend it, but you can haul 1,400 lbs. of tile in a Prius.
This demonstrates why we needed car #5.
When I got a new job ~40 miles from our home, it was obvious we were going to need another car. I did an extensive amount of research on what would make my commute as bearable as possible and I concluded I needed a car with two features: HOV lane access and adaptive cruise control. Those features were not particularly common, so my choices were very limited. I wanted to buy a used car to save money and I chose to go with the oldest vehicle that had those features, which was the Prius Plug-in.

Our Prius was a great car. The carpool sticker and adaptive cruise control definitely helped with my miserable commute, and it averaged almost 60 MPG. That made it much cheaper to own than most other cars.

Car #4:  2016 Hyundai Sonata
Sorry for the stock photo, but our car looks exactly like this.
I've written about this car purchase before, so I won't belabor this section. As you probably know, there was a massive scandal involving Volkswagen's diesel emissions, and our Golf was one of those affected. We learned we would be able to sell it back to VW for a great price, but we would need something to replace it as our main car. We also decided we needed a car slightly larger than the Prius for our extra tall family, so we couldn't just keep the Prius. Since we wanted it to be reasonably efficient, we settled on a midsize sedan and started shopping. I was leaning toward a used Toyota Camry, but they were surprisingly expensive. However, brand new Sonatas were surprisingly cheap. We eventually found the right one, and after a massive discount, it cost almost exactly what we were going to get from VW for our Golf.

You may be wondering why we bought this car before getting rid of the Golf, which is a very reasonable question. We did this because we were given a date when our VW was supposed to go and the car's registration was due for renewal two months before that. I didn't want to pay for a whole year's registration to own it for two months, so we registered it as non-operational. That obviously meant we couldn't drive it, so we had to buy the Sonata at that point. Unfortunately, VW delayed our buyback date, so we ended up owning the Golf longer than expected.

Car #5:  2000 Ford F-350
We actually use our truck for truck stuff.
The final car we added to our fleet isn't a car at all--it's a massive truck. Most frugal folks will tell you a giant truck is a money pit, mostly due to the poor fuel economy, but we only use the truck when we need its capabilities, which are substantial. What other vehicle out there can carry six passengers in relative comfort while carrying 4' x 8' sheets of plywood and/or several thousand pounds of cargo in the back? Not many.

We didn't really need to buy this vehicle before we moved, but I knew the precise combination of features I wanted would be very difficult to find, so I started looking months before we actually needed it. If you're curious, I was looking for the most indestructible (and reasonably priced) truck possible, and after a lot of consideration and discussion with my coworkers who helped design trucks, I determined I needed a 2000 or 2001 Ford F-250 or F-350 with the Power Stroke diesel engine, manual transmission, crew cab, long bed, and four-wheel drive. As I said, that particular vehicle is very hard to find. When I finally did find a truck with a fair price and all the features I wanted, I jumped on it (after I gave it a pretty good inspection), even with 234,000 miles on the odometer.

Paring Down
It was immediately clear that five cars were too many. Just figuring out where to park them all became a challenge, as you can see in the top photo. Luckily, after just a month with five cars, VW finally bought back our beloved Golf, bringing us down to four vehicles.

A couple months later, after we were done with the chaos of our move, we sold the Prius, bringing us down to a somewhat reasonable three cars, which is where we are today and will probably stay for quite a while. I just can't justify getting rid of any more cars. I get too much use and enjoyment out of each of them.

There is a part of me that thinks we should sell the Miata, but I get so much joy from it on winding roads and it isn't worth much at all. It also lets me avoid driving the giant truck around when I need to go somewhere but Chrissy needs the family car. The biggest problem with the Miata is it only has two seats, which is a problem in a family of three. Don't tell Chrissy, but I'm starting to think about swapping the Miata for an equally cheap, fun car with a back seat.


What kinds of cars do you own and why? Let us know in the comments.



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