Spannerhead Dot

The Joys of a Paid-Off Car

February 15, 2012 by Matt

Mazda MPV 05 2005 LX Grey Gray Gunmetal

We paid off our minivan yesterday. It was our first—and to date only—car to have been financed, and after 2 years and 10 months, I’m proud to say we’re in the clear again, considerably earlier than the term of the loan. The extra money in our pocket will be helpful for a whole host of things, from kid activities to home improvement and assistance in paying off other debts. It’s incredibly liberating and satisfying to know that we now hold our cars’ titles, not the bank.

It also makes me want to take better care of the minivan. It’s an ’05 Mazda MPV LX, powered by a 3.0l, 200 hp V6, and it’s been incredibly faithful. 3,000 more miles to go to hit the big 100K, and our only failures to date have been:

  • A PCV hose around the back of the intake manifold a year ago. $50 worth of parts and tools later, and it was good as new.
  • The door handle cable inside the drivers’ door. Found a gentleman online (I love the internet for sourcing car parts) with a spare and was able to fix it for around $20.

Mazda MPV 05 2005 LX Grey Gray Gunmetal Rear Taillights Back

Other than that, it’s been bulletproof, with a couple of trips to the beach and many, many errands around town under its belt. It does have to sleep outside, unlike its siblings (the 240Z and the BMW get the garage), but it doesn’t seem to mind too much. It does need a good wash and wax and clean-out, though, along with a potential transmission service at 100K. Debating about that last one.

Having the minivan paid off makes me think about the ways in which car acquisition and ownership have changed since my parents’ day. My dad always paid cash, and almost always bought new, even if he had to sell some stocks or dip into his other investments to do so. To my knowledge, my parents have never had a car payment, and I have a feeling it was like that for many more families than just mine. New car prices have increased significantly over the past 30 years, and not just because of inflation—modern cars are packed with electronics and safety features, a dozen airbags, traction and stability control, navigation systems, and so on. It makes me wonder how far the avalanche of features and gadgets can really go, how far the market can really sustain the one-up-manship between automakers.

Mazda MPV 05 2005 LX Grey Gray Gunmetal Interior Inside Cockpit Dashboard Dash Console

If I had to put forth a prediction, I really do see car ownership going in the same direction as home ownership in the sense that 20-30 years out, everyone will finance their cars; they will simply be an investment on the same level as buying a house. Debt coaches will advise their clients on another type of “acceptable debt” besides a home loan: the car loan. Between cars’ rapid increase in sophistication, the growing complacency (the past few years excepted) toward consumer debt and the looming specter of federal regulations that threatens to hike the price of the average car even more, only a very small percentage of buyers will pay entirely out of pocket for a new car. It’s unfortunate, really, symptomatic as it is of the decline in the average consumer’s purchasing power, even as the shift has the potential to be a boon for the used car and auto repair industries. I really don’t think we’d be surrendering a great deal by shifting our buying habits toward smaller, simpler, less expensive cars and simply taking more responsibility for ourselves behind the wheel in terms of driving safely, entertaining ourselves and finding where we need to go.

Filed under: Car Industry, Car Stories, Mazda, Our Cars


  1. Mike B. says:

    I would also say that salaries have not kept up with inflation and that the disparity between the rich and poor is much greater.

    As far as car prices increasing more than inflation, I am not so sure. My 540i was $50k when new in 1995. In today’s dollars, that is $70k, the same as a new 550i, my 540i’s successor. I’ll admit though, that is just one example.

    • Matt says:

      The fact that income hasn’t kept up with inflation is the single biggest reason cars have gotten more expensive for sure. Income disparity doesn’t really affect the price of cars. And I totally agree that when adjusted for inflation, the average BMW isn’t any more expensive than it was when it was new (probably cheaper, in fact—German luxury cars were priced into the stratosphere until Lexus came along).

  2. K Fox says:

    “I really don’t think we’d be surrendering a great deal by shifting our buying habits toward smaller, simpler, less expensive cars and simply taking more responsibility for ourselves behind the wheel in terms of driving safely, entertaining ourselves and finding where we need to go.”

    This I agree with. But here’s the biggest issue I see with it – you’re requiring the average Joe to not only think, but to take responsibility for his actions. From what I’ve seen, this is simply asking too much. Especially here in America, people simply can’t take responsibility for their actions unless it’s forced on them – take for example how it’s commonly accepted how litigious our society is. Everyone knows that you make the easy big bucks be suing someone, so you just need to be wronged and then you’re rich!! (where’s my rolly eyes smiley??!?) And the sterotype has roots in truth – people here simply aren’t responsible. It’s very saddening.

    K Fox

    • Matt says:

      It is saddening. I’ll just add that I think we’re rapidly losing any concept that more often than not, the things/skills really worth having take effort to acquire. I’m all for convenience, but I’m old enough to know there’s value in actually working for something, whether it be rowing your own gears, learning how to drive properly, or just conversing with the person next to you in the car rather than having 972349082 satellite radio stations at your fingertips.

      Geez, I sound like an old fart. :)

  3. John D says:

    A paid for car just drives better. Therefore, all true car enthusiasts should, for the ultimate driving experience, drive only cars purchased in full. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. Dave Ramsey would be proud. ;)

    • Matt says:

      Thanks John. :) I figured you might have something to say about our situation.

      And it does drive better! It’s weird… I had to run a quick errand this morning and sat behind the wheel for a second thinking, “This is our car. Yes, it is.” ‘Twas nice.

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