Women in vintage convertible with suitcase on trunk rack
Women in vintage convertible with suitcase on trunk rack

drive into retirement with your dream car

Easy steps to avoid financial strain

From a 2020 Alfa Romeo to a 1962 Jaguar, the cars of our fantasies tend to take a front seat in our imaginations as we approach retirement. Nearly 30% of new vehicles sold in 2020 – from electric to SUVs – are expected to be sold to people 65 and older.1

But with an average sticker price of $83,850,2 luxury cars require thoughtful planning before purchase. If one has not saved for years to pay cash for that car, the loan and other associated expenses could become an unplanned burden, especially for those retirees living on fixed savings.

We suggest buyers set up a goal-based plan before signing that title, so those golden years are smooth cruising. Here are some options to consider.

Define the car’s place in your retirement

List what is most important to you when you retire and use that to prioritize your goals and budget when it comes to choosing your car. Not everyone is looking for the flashy “I’ve arrived” vehicle. For some, retirement means less driving so a more conservative, practical car is in order.

How long do you intend to keep it? Unless it is a vintage or rare vehicle, it will probably depreciate over time – some models more quickly than others. The answer to this question will help inform your finance choice.

What is the expected role of the car? Knowing this will help you identify the vehicle that will deliver the most enjoyment in the life you want to live. Be realistic. The notion of touring Route 66 in a Thunderbird convertible is romantic, but would the cost of gas and possible replacement parts destroy the dream? If you’re a shade tree mechanic, terrific! If you can’t so much as change a tire, you may want something more reliable.

In short: Be honest with yourself about what you expect from the vehicle. Viewing a car purchase as a depreciating asset, and not an investment, is a good start.

Establish realistic financial guidelines

For many, purchasing a luxury or sports car in retirement is akin to buying a first home. In many cases it will require a big monthly payment, and one should plan on unexpected repairs.

These costs can be baked into your retirement budget – the key is that you maintain enough cash flow to remain comfortable in all aspects of life. It sometimes pays to plan for the worst. Here are some issues to think about.

  • How much can you afford? Add up all monthly expenses and factor in unexpected but reasonable setbacks such as home repairs, medical procedures, and changing property taxes (a good rule of thumb for a rainy-day reserve is a few month’s household budget).
  • When it’s time to purchase the vehicle, be sure to first know your current car’s trade-in value. Knowing ahead will prepare you to absorb the shock of a possible low-ball offer.
  • How much will it cost you to get the new vehicle serviced? If you plan to bring it back to the dealer for regular maintenance, these costs and time frames should be provided. Note: Many new models require fewer oil changes3 and other maintenance visits than older cars.
  • How will you pay? In monthly installments, cash, or a combination? If you plan to hold on to the vehicle for a short time, consider leasing. Many current-year vehicles are available for lease, fully loaded, at lower monthly payments and with warranty protection to boot.4 It’s worth considering for those on fixed incomes.
  • What are the tax implications if you withdraw extra retirement funds for a car purchase? Call your financial advisor; it’s likely you will be cautioned against this unless it’s an emergency.
  • Have you researched the depreciation, or appreciation, rates of the vehicles you are considering?
  • How long do you expect to keep the car? This will help determine your repair and upkeep budget.
  • Will a car purchase be a recurring event? If so, the lease may be your best bet.

Plan and explore

Once you’ve established car-buying guidelines, you can frame up a timeline of how to comfortably reach them.

Prioritize. When taking a goals-based approach, it’s essential to not only identify your goals but also to rank them in order of importance. Next, apply a timeframe with some flexibility, in case things don’t go according to plan.

Retirement doesn’t put the brakes on life. And while buying a big-ticket item like a fantasy car can be an emotional decision, it can be a level-headed one, with careful consideration to changing needs.

It requires motivation and conviction to make it happen, but so does learning how to drive a five-speed stick. Stay focused, know the road ahead, and you can get the most out of those bucket seats on your bucket list.


1 “New Car Buyer Demographics 2020,” Hedges & Company; updated 2020; https://hedgescompany.com/blog/2019/01/new-car-buyer-demographics-2019/; accessed Sept. 24, 2020

2 Ibid.

3 “How Often Should You Change Engine Oil,” AAA.com; https://www.aaa.com/autorepair/articles/how-often-should-you-change-engine-oil; accessed Sept. 24, 2020

4 “Should Retirees Buy or Lease Cars?” By Joel Baglole, Investopedia; updated Jun 11, 2020; https://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/060916/should-retirees-buy-or-lease-cars.asp; accessed Sept. 24, 2020

The information on this page is accurate as of January 2021 and is subject to change. First Financial Bank is not affiliated with any third-parties or third-party websites mentioned above. Any reference to any person, organization, activity, product, and/or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement. By clicking on a third-party link, you acknowledge you are leaving bankatfirst.com. First Financial Bank is not responsible for the content or security of any linked web page. Member FDIC / Equal Housing Lender.

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First Financial Bank is not affiliated with any third-party websites. Any reference to any person, organization, activity, product, and/or services does not constitute or imply an endorsement. First Financial Bank is not responsible for the content or security of any linked web page.