Above: Raptors Doing Raptor Things
I really like buying, caring for, and selling cars. And while I generally don’t buy them for profit or as investments, I definitely do not view them as mere transportation. That I once owned an early model Chevy Corvair is testament to this ethos. I buy what interests me, and for the purpose that it serves in my life. A quick aside: here is my car buying litmus: 1) I will buy a car if other owners of that make/model want to talk to me about it in a parking lot, in the rain, on a Monday morning; 2) I will not buy a car if there is any chance I could put my groceries or children in the wrong car by mistake in that same parking lot. And while a ’67 short wheel base 911S would pass both tests, I live within a car world constrained by budget. And so to continue to engage in this hobby, I must choose wisely. Fortunately, one of the very cool aspects of enthusiast car ownership is that you can have fun, engaging, and useful cars that will cost you less over your ownership than a silver SUV.
Think of the following as a case study. Your taste, interests, and budget may vary, but the principle should translate. I owned a 2018 Ford F-150 Raptor Crew Cab, nicely equipped with mid level goodies, for about three years and 40,000 miles, and it was cheaper than a Chevy Traverse. Almost five thousand dollars cheaper, in fact. If you’re reading this and thinking, “gosh, the Traverse is a pretty snazzy car, and that Raptor seems awfully big,” well, that’s a perfectly valid point of view shared by many, but perhaps this article is not for you. Click here for articles that may better suit your interests. If, on the other hand you’re thinking, “this sounds like a bunch of click bait bullshit, but man, I’d sure rather own a 450 HP super truck that looks like it just crossed the line at the Baja 1000 than a baby vomit infused Traverse,” then by all means, read on.
But here's the point: My Raptor was $4,819 cheaper than a mid-spec Chevy Traverse. And that's one reason why the enthusiast car hobby is so great, and why many of us can afford it.
"But sir," you may say, "the Raptor is a far more expensive car, how could it be cheaper?" To which I may respond, "what does a car actually cost?" I don’t mean, what’s the out the door figure at the dealership. I mean, what did it actually cost you to own it once you’re done? The lynch pin here is focusing on overall cost of ownership, and not the initial purchase price. That is because depreciation is the single biggest differentiating cost of car ownership over time, and it is not tethered to the purchase price of a car. Some very expensive cars depreciate fast (i.e. BMW 7-Series), some hold their value (i.e. the Raptor discussed here). Some less expensive everyday transportation depreciates fast (i.e. the Traverse) and some holds their value pretty well (i.e. Toyota Highlander). Point is, big MSRP does not necessarily mean big depreciation. Don’t shop price, shop depreciation.
To illustrate this, I pulled some data from my own experience, historic new car MSRPs, and current NADA blue book values (10/15/2021). I calculated additional costs assuming the Raptor gets 15 mpg combined and the Traverse 20 mpg over the same 40k miles, with gas in the mid $3 range. I assumed oil changes every 5k miles at $70 a pop for both vehicles at a dealer, and that other consumables will last that mileage (tires, brakes, etc…). Insurance can fluctuate. Purchase price is a major factor in premiums, as is propensity for theft, and propensity to be owned by tatted flat brims who crash them. The Raptor checks all three. So I calculated the Raptor at $2000 a year, and the Traverse at an industry average $1,700 a year. I factored in trade in values and retail (as a proxy for a private party sale). Finally, the price of a Traverse can vary widely between models, so I calculated a base (LS), mid level (LT, 3LT pack, AWD) and High Country (fully loaded).
The Raptor absolutely wipes the floor with all three Traverse models when comparing depreciation. I knew that without having to crunch a number. The biggest delta there was between the Raptor and High Country on both trade and retail sale, at about $11,000 more for the Traverse, or 25% depreciation v. 4%. However, I was less sure about what would happen when you take a car that costs substantially more in gas and insurance (the Raptor) and factor that in. But the depreciation deficit was too large, and the Raptor still cost a substantial $4,819 less than the mid spec LT, and more than $7,500 les than the High Country.
The take away for me is that depreciation is king. A car may be more expensive to purchase, run and maintain, but if it holds its overall value better it’s going to cost less in the long run. And here’s the tie in: Most enthusiast cars tick all the boxes for decreased depreciation (and/or are cars that you still actually want to own at the bottom of the depreciation curve). This means that when searching for an enthusiast car, you’re often naturally in a low depreciation market. And thus you can own cool, reliable, and usable cars for less than some bullshit egg on wheels.
A few other notes: the above assumes a cash purchase. However, with money as cheap to borrow as it is now, while the lower priced Traverse would close the gap a bit, it’s not likely to make much difference over this time period. But anyway, I strongly recommend to anyone looking for an enthusiast car that you look within a range that you can afford to buy with cash. This dovetails with another worthy factor not included here: This is a short ownership window, and the numbers would likely shift in favor of the Traverse over time as the depreciation curve gets flatter, and annual costs add up.