Friday Rant: Don't Buy My Used Minivan — Spend Management's Limits

Notoriously thrifty people requiring their own automobiles almost always inevitably purchase a vehicle used rather than new. "Why should I be the one to take the initial 10-25% depreciation hit?" the educated saying goes. This is the philosophy I held for years, purchasing five second-hand cars before deciding to shell out the bucks for a new Honda Odyssey a few years back (albeit one that I was able to negotiate over $5000 off the sticker price at the end of the model year). It turns out this decision to purchase a new people mover (as they like to call it over in the UK) was among the most prescient ones I've made in my adult life. I tell you this now to warn you why you should not buy our minivan when we sell it later this year or next when the next version of the Odyssey goes on sale and we decide to buy a new one.

As I hope our story will show, next time someone tells you to buy a used minivan, think again. As my wife will attest to, our house is largely spotless. But the Odyssey is another story. It's where we tend to let our fastidious standards go for weeks at a time, where the "no-McDonald's inside" rule is tossed out the still-working sunroof just as fast as a three-year-old can whine (after being hit by his older brother), and where university biology students could conduct experiments on the residual growth of bacteria even after all manner of germ rubs and Lysol have been sprayed time and time again.

Not convinced yet? Read on. Heck, even I agree that there are a good many reasons that buying a secondhand minivan appears to make similar sense to buying a used car -- on the surface. After all, they depreciate like any other vehicle. In addition, they're probably more superficially banged up as well, which can lead to a lower valuation and more negotiation wiggle room. But the reasons against far outweigh the decisions for. And it takes a family man (or woman) to tell you why.

Over the course of 45,000 miles and nearly four years of service, our Honda has been all but bulletproof on the outside (aside from the dozen or so dents and scratches that grace its suburban exterior). It's the first time in my life where I can say that I feel ripped off on buying a negotiated extended warranty for a product simple because the underlying product its protecting is so good it won't be necessary.

But the interior and non-mechanical side of the vehicle is another story. Like most families with young kids, there's a better than certain chance -- I can't confirm or deny -- that our vehicle has gotten to know (in some cases quite intimately) most bodily fluids and functions that typical fast-growing babies and children carry out over the course of the day (and over the course of stomach bugs). It's also capable of swallowing quite large amounts of breakfast cereal, dried fruit, small candies and just about any other sustenance or treat that children drop within its many crevices.

Sure, it cleans up fairly well. And the "new leather" smell still permeates the cabin to some degree. But now it fights with less attractive olfactory opponents -- long banished from the battlefield yet still lingering -- that somehow permanently mark their territory. Speaking of marking territory, most minivans are the part-time home of family critters, which also have been known to do their duty at 75 MPH on the highway. But kids can be far worse than dogs, as anyone 40 miles in between rest stops on a rainy day will tell you.

Quite often, the decision to let thriftiness be your guide -- in a smart, total cost way -- strongly outweighs all other merits of an argument in a purchasing situation, especially on the vehicular front. But sometimes you need to go with your gut (versus the remnants of some previous child's gut) when it comes to purchasing that family truckster. And it might make sense to spring for that Scotchguard option while you're in a free spending mode. After all, in certain cases, spend does not matter quite as much as it does in others.

And if you happen to be the one responding to my Craigslist advertisement in a few months time, I'd like to remind you that this essay was based entirely on the experience of another minivan parked next to ours. Disgusting family, I tell you. Really. I mean it.

Jason Busch

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