Is a car a good hedge against inflation?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

Would you discuss the ins and outs of "stocking up" on cars as a hedge against future inflation? For instance, I just bought a 2009 Honda Fit that I love and that is basically considered the best car in its class -- with high-quality workmanship, excellent safety features, high miles per gallon and so on. So my question is, Why not go out and buy another one for the relatively low price of $16,000, and simply store it as a hedge against future inflation? Then, after 15 years or so, I could take it out of storage and use it when my current car has worn out. My point is, if one could live with the stylistic and other changes that will have occurred in cars by that time, one would have a "brand-new," high-quality car that represents a huge bargain when compared with the undoubtedly highly inflated prices of those future cars. Do you agree?

-- Steve

TOM: Steve, I think you've solved the problems of the American car industry. All GM and Chrysler have to do is stop selling their cars right now, put them in storage for 15 years and then sell them as gigantic bargains in 2024. Of course, it would mean that in 2024, they'd be selling cars with 15-year-old technology.

RAY: So? Have you driven a Jeep Wrangler lately?

TOM: This sort of idea works well for things like toilet paper, Steve, where technological innovations are few and far between. But it's less predictable with cars. Fifteen years ago, no one would have predicted that electronic stability control would be a standard -- and very effective -- safety feature. Or that an inexpensive car like your Fit would come standard with side AND side-curtain air bags.

RAY: And while the Honda Fit gets excellent mileage now, compared with other cars on the road, it might not look so good in 15 years, when safer cars are getting even better mileage. So you're taking a significant risk.

TOM: For some people -- like you -- that's fine. I drive a car that's more than 30 years old, and it's good enough for me. I don't need any of that fancy stuff like ESC, anti-lock brakes or electronic ignition. Of course, I don't have to drive much. And having a bus stop near my house as "Plan B" helps me maintain that carefree attitude!

RAY: And then there's the opportunity cost of the money. If you sink $16,000 into an "extra" Honda Fit now, in 15 years, even if it's perfectly preserved, it's going to be worth a lot less than that. You'd be lucky to get $5,000 for it in 2024 if you needed to sell it.

TOM: Whereas if you invested that 16K in the stock market, by 2024 it could be worth $5,500!

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