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Pros & Cons - Buy a high MPG car & Park the Truck or Spend the $$ on Gas

I drive a 2005 F150 4x4 about 14000 miles a year - at about 13-14 mpg average - about $4300 a year for fuel (at $4 per gal). I’m thinking of buying a 2012 Ford Focus or Chevy Cruz and parking the truck except when I need to tow my boat or utility trailer.
Some folks tell me the cost of the new car & insurance wipes out any $ savings. It’s cheaper to keep driving the truck compared to buying a small car - even at 38 mpg!
I’d be interested in the thoughts of other Car Talk fans on this subject to help me make up my mind.

IMO, if the goal is to reduce your overall cost, then your friends are right. Even if you spend cash on that other car, the insurance, recouping the money spent, and continuing fuel costs will be more than the current costs all added in.

If you goal is to reduce your outlay on fuel, then clearly, this is the way to go.

You won’t get 38 mpg all the time. Only under absolutely perfect conditions will a Focus or Cruz achieve this mileage.

You can buy a LOT of gas for the price of a new car. Fuel cost is just one part of vehicle ownership cost. The price of a new car, plus insurance, tags, maintenance, etc, will far outweigh the savings in fuel.

Buying a used economy car might make more sense, but you’re not going to save money by buying a new car.

The cost of the savings has to be figured out over time. You will be adding substantial life to the truck which is a valid consideration and not just mileage which makes the advantage more attractive than on the surface. A second consideration is the cost of the new vehicle.

How big is your boat ? A utility trailer is quite small and an option might be a smaller 4 cyl two wheel drive truck which easily gets 10 mpg more than you have. For only occasional towing of weights up to 3500 lbs, they are hard to beat overall, especially used.

If you have the finances to buy a new small car, then do it. Plan on driving the truck much less per year and keeping it a long time. This way you’ll have the truck for towing, home improvement projects, and anytime you need to haul something. The rest of the time you’ll be getting decent mpg driving the car.

I have an '01 SUV (Toyota Sequoia) and an '03 Honda Civic. Both are paid off. The Civic gets the most miles per year by far. But, I use the Sequoia to haul a boat trailer, a horse trailer, trips to Lowes and Home Depot, and anytime I need big car space. For me having these two vehicles is like having the right tool for the right job.

The current gas prices hurt a lot less because I fill the Civic for $40. and can drive almost 400 miles. The Sequoia would take $105 of gas to cover the same distance. That means with only one car I’d kick myself every time I filled the Sequoia to drive it around empty most of the time. Big trucks just aren’t good vehicles for quick runs to the grocery store and post office. But, you can’t haul a boat or horses with a Civic.

I’d bet you could cut your truck mileage from 14K a year to something like 3K a year. Then you won’t feel bad using it, because you are driving it when you need a truck. With the low yearly miles you might never need to replace the truck. It could last 10 or more years easily.

I believe the price of fuel will come back down to where it was, or at least under the $3/gallon mark. When that happens, you don’t want to be stuck with a car payment and extra insurance costs.

If you can find a reliable fuel efficient used car for a reasonable price ($2,000-$4,000), that might be a good plan. You would need to keep it a long time to recover your investment. Carrying minimal insurance (what is required by law) might make it slightly more feasible financially.

If your truck is going to spend most of its time in storage, get yourself a trickle charger for the battery and fuel stabilizer for the fuel tank.

It really depends on your usage of vehicles.

If you normally commute to work with an empty vehicle, and not need to bring any items with you (work tools, large displays, etc), and you live in a section of the country that gets lots of sunshine during the spring through fall, a motorcycle can massively increase your fuel economy numbers, without breaking the bank, plus you will still have the truck for foul weather, and for towing and hauling things when you need to.

You can easily buy great motorcycles that give fantastic fuel economy (anywhere from 35 through 65 mpg) , and that can eat up highway miles for under 2 or 3 thousand dollars on the used market. Throw in Motorcycle Safety Foundation training for ~$150 in most places in the US, and about $500 worth of protective gear (HELMET, riding Jacket, riding gloves, riding boots, etc), and you can have great fun, be safe, and save a lot of money.

Something to think of.


“I believe the price of fuel will come back down to where it was, or at least under the $3/gallon mark.”

In just the past few days the spot price of regular gasoline dropped from$3.50 to under $3.00 - almost 15%. The drop is almost 30% of the gain in the last year. Crude oil had a similar, large drop.

And you need to look at the difference in cost per year in gasoline. The Cruze gets an average of 28 MPG in combined city/highway. At $4/gallon, you would save $2000/year with the Cruze. It will cost you $18,000 to $20,000 to but one. You can pay it off with the gas savings in as little as 9 years without interest on a loan. But it hardly seems worth it to me.

dagosa beat me to it, you have to include the value of extending the life of the truck in the equation.

I made a similar decision about 9 years ago. I was driving 100 miles per day round trip to work and back. I have a 97 Nissan truck getting about 24 mpg. Then Saturn came out with their “Silver Blue Special” which was pretty basic, but it had AC, got me 38 mpg (rated 29/40) and only cost $9995.

Now, 9 years later and just retired, my truck only has 165k miles on it. The Saturn has 235k, so if I had not gotten the Saturn, the truck would have 400k miles on it, if it made it that far. I probably would have had to buy another vehicle anyway so I believe I made the right economic decision because I would never gotten another vehicle for that money.

All this only works if you keep vehicles for a long time like I do.