Reliable wheels for less

How to Never Have a Car Payment

by Edson Senna

A car payment is something that many Americans have come to accept as part of life and part of their monthly budget. Because of this, many car buyers justify buying new or even luxury cars and shelling out a hefty $500 a month. The funny thing is that the primary buyers of these fancy, new-leather-smelling cars are not the rich; they are just average, American-middle-class Joes. For the most part, the rich don't buy new cars; the rich are rich because they save their money, not because they spend it all. Instead of getting into debt, most wealthy car owners find an affordable car and buy it with cash. You can too if you're careful and clever. Here's how to start:

1. Scrape together $1500 for a used car.

I know that you're thinking, "Are you kidding me? A car that cheap won't even run!" You'll be surprised at how many reliable cars you can find for this price. Many people are worried about driving a car that has 100,000 miles or more, but most cars are actually pretty reliable for at least another 60,000-100,000 miles. My family has a beat up blue van with 200,000 miles on it and it still runs like a dream. Most concerns about car mileage are handed down from the older generations who were buying cars when they were less reliable. So get $1000-$1500 together. (If you can't come up with this kind of money, that's further evidence that you shouldn't be getting into debt for a car). The car will probably need some minor repairs, so factor this in when you're buying and look for something closer to $1000.

2. Talk to family and friends.

Many people have an old car they want to get rid of. Ask you friends, your parents, and your grandparents. A good source is your mom's friends; many of them will want to upgrade from the van they drove when their kids were young. (Being stuck with a van isn't the worst thing in the world. At least you'll be the life of the carpool party.) You're less likely to get swindled when buying from people you know. You'll probably get a better deal. You'll have some idea of the history of the car. And, hey, if it is a lemon, you know where they live.

Get rid of car payments for good.
Start saving for your next car today.

3. Have a mechanic look at the car and get a vehicle history report.

A once-over from a mechanic will cost less than $100 and you'll know if there are any major problems with the car. The vehicle history report will show any accidents that the car has been in. Any good dealership should have the report on file. If you buy from a private seller, you can look at the report on many free websites or sign up for (about $30 a month).

Get free quotes on local used cars.

4. Go for a common car.

When your car does need a repair (because any car will at some point), you don't want to be shelling out thousands of dollars for expensive, hard-to-get parts. As a rule, small cars tend to be the most reliable; SUVs can be more troublesome. So buy something average while you save up for something nicer.

Related: Buying a Low Mileage Used Car

5. Take the car payment on the car you would like to buy, and save it in your "Someday I Will Have a Nice Car" fund.

If your dream car is a 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-ClassCLA250 4 door sedan, for a five-year loan at 3% interest, your monthly payment would be $601. Instead of buying the Benz right now and having the stress of a car payment even if you have a financial crisis, pay that $601 to yourself each month instead. In five years, you'll have $36,060 (not including the interest your little bundle of cash will acquire) and you can pay cash for the car and drive it off the lot stress free. (Or you could buy another used car and put that money towards a house, which ould give you a much better return in the long run.)

A surprisingly low number of Americans actually believe in paying cash for cars, and most of them are wealthy. Don't give in to the idea that a car payment is just a part of life that you can't avoid. A little planning and sacrifice can leave you car-payment-free for life.

Reviewed January 2018

Take the Next Step:

  • Open a savings account dedicated to your auto fund. Find the best rate so you can earn the interest you deserve.
  • Discover more smart tips for buying a car with cash by visiting the Dollar Stretcher Library.
  • Make sure you are not overpaying for auto insurance. See how much you could save with just a few clicks. Fast, free quotes and online comparisons.
  • Get control of your financial life. Subscribe to Financial Independence, a free daily email that provides you with the tools to help you gain that control and achieve financial independence. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist for FREE!

Edson Senna is a freelance writer who focuses on finance and law. As part of his finance work, he consults for companies like Infinite Wealth Advisors, a financial advisor in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Edson is currently single. In his free time, he enjoys biking, hiking, and running.

Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.

Stay Connected with TDS

Little Luxuries

to the Dollar Stretcher newsletter and get a copy
of our ebook
Little Luxuries:
130 Ways to Live Better...For Less
for FREE!

Your Email:

View the TDS Privacy Policy.

Debt Book