Magazine article The Spectator

Use and Lose

Magazine article The Spectator

Use and Lose

Article excerpt

Motoring

For sufferers of compulsive car buying syndrome there are few more mortifying marks of decay than the discovery that one can no longer read Exchange & Mart or Autotrader with ease. I've kidded myself for years that there was a plot to print successive editions of the A-Z in diminishing type, but I know that's not the case with the car mags. For one who could once spot bargains in the other man's Exchange & Mart from the far side of Hyde Park, this is a sad decline.

It's particularly sad now because car prices are diminishing almost as rapidly as my ability to read them. This is usually attributed to such factors as cheaper private imports, the 'high' pound, worldwide over-production, Internet selling and the advent of sell 'em cheap, sell 'em fast car supermarkets. But it's surely also because we're all getting richer. Many of the buyers of new or nearly new cars are the people who, ten or 20 years ago, would have been scrabbling for telephone money outside stations to get directions to the house, hoping the banger hadn't meanwhile been sold to someone who'd got a lift. The result is that there's never been a better time to buy a cheapie. The question is why we ever buy anything else.

Consider the figures. You pay L22,260 for a new Volvo V70 estate, base model. Doubtless a very good car, reliable, safe, air-conditioned and with performance and handling that could only be dreamt of in older Volvos. If you're intending a high mileage you might want all those qualities and accept the almost penal levels of depreciation that come with new cars. There are no precise figures for the V70s yet, but if they depreciate at roughly the rate of other Volvos you should be left with round about 35 per cent of purchase price after three years or 30,000 miles (which ain't that many). Thus, the motor trade would value your three-year-old at about L8,000, which represents a monthly depreciation of about L388. Add to that the costs of servicing, replacements (tyres etc.), new car insurance and a possible loan and you're looking at L400-500 a month. That's a mortgage for many people.

Now suppose you don't do a high mileage, that your Volvo is used mainly for local potterings, the occasional long trip and the general load-lugging that inevitably comes your way when you've got a car that will do it. …

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