The idea of owning a luxury car is appealing. The glossy paint, swoopy lines, and prestigious badges speak of the owner’s success in life, while the interior opulence offers scented leather surfaces, high-tech telematic devices, and all the creature-comfort accoutrements you can shake a credit card at.
But how much of an investment is a luxury car? And how much is the cost of ownership going to further devalue the experience? Good questions, and ones that aspirant owners of luxury cars need to consider before making that big decision.
The fact is that most affluent car buyers seldom keep a new vehicle long enough to fully experience the long-term costs associated with sophisticated, high-tech vehicles. Most cars these days will go 50,000 miles or better without any serious technical issues and many of the initial buyers will get out of them at about that point.
Then the cars move into the second-hand market, where things get a little harder to track.
Here are ten things to think about before making that big purchase decision.
1. Even if you’re planning to buy a new vehicle, check the vehicle’s residual value rating. Many luxury cars are leased, and the residual value at the end of the lease tells the sales company and anybody else who wants to know just what the vehicle is believed to be worth at that point.
It’s a key indicator of vehicle quality and a particular model’s value retention characteristics. Built into that calculation is the car’s durability and reliability expectation, because they are key factors in the resale performance of used luxury vehicles. There are many places to find a car’s residual value; Kelley Blue Book is a wonderful resource.
2. Check the warranty. Some manufacturers have extended coverage of the car’s powertrain, rust protection, and other aspects of the vehicle for quite considerable periods of time and mileage. This may be because of a perceived inadequacy in terms of quality and durability, or it might be because of real issues the manufacturer has had in the past.
The good news is you’re covered either way. And further good news is that the cost of extended repair and maintenance insurance is borne by the manufacturer, and that compels them in short order to tighten up quality audits from suppliers and in their own assembly facilities. So they improve dramatically over time.
3. See if a manufacturer will offer a free maintenance package with the sale of the car. This is often a way the manufacturer of vehicles with poorly rated reliability and ownership-cost issues try to induce buyers to put that doubt out of their minds.
4. Check the classifieds for prices of used luxury vehicles. See how they hold up against each other. The secondhand car market is as canny as they come. Those used-car lots are staffed by people who know which cars hold their value best. And the used-car buyers are a pretty smart bunch too. They know which 80,000-mile car has another 80K in it, without them having to drain the kids’ college fund along the way.
5. Visit some showrooms and see what sort of welcome you get. The level of training given to sales staff is often a measure of how seriously the dealer and the manufacturer take customer loyalty. While you’re there, drop in on the workshop and see how it’s run.
6. Examine your reasons for wanting a luxury car, and make sure they line up with how you want to be seen. Are you just showing off how well you’ve done, or are you demonstrating how much you appreciate fine craftsmanship and engineering? Are you a keen high-performance driver, or are you looking for a quiet, safe and comfortable ride? You could spend a long time regretting a boring driving experience, or an overloud exhaust system, or a lack of luggage capacity while you wait for the lease to run out.
7. Are you interested in fuel economy? There are luxury vehicles out there that use hybrid, diesel, and other technologies that maximize fuel use without diminishing the luxury experience. Choose one of these, and you can deflect any criticism about being a conspicuous consumer of fossil fuels.
8. Will you be accompanied by passengers some of the time? Sure, you fancy that Lamborghini, but you’re also expected to pick up important clients at the airport. You can balance those needs by carefully selecting a commodious car that also happens to boast seductive driving dynamics.
9. Do you expect to use this car on a daily basis? If so, there are models that meet all the requirements for a daily commute as well as they do a pleasurable long trip, or an exciting rip through the mountains.
10. How much will you pay? There are big discrepancies between cars with a similar mission statement. Hyundai’s Equus costs ten grand less than a Lexus LS460, but they offer very similar features. This is where the research you do about value, quality, durability and image comes into play. But for the final decision, you need to drive what you’re interested in. It’s often the subtle aspects of a vehicle’s character that mesh with an owner. Good luck.