Maybe these aren’t two cars you’d normally consider cross-shopping, but that’s exactly the dilemma for today’s Ask TFL question. Rob is a firefighter from California is looking for something to replace his aging Honda Accord with over 330,000 miles, and is considering a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited as a daily driver that can also offer some fun when the situation calls for it. However, as a pure commuter car, he also wants a Tesla Model 3, particularly for its advanced Autopilot system.
Here is Rob’s dilemma in his own words:
“I have a dilemma that I’d like your take on…I live in Redlands, CA and I have a 50 mile (one-way) commute to work. I currently drive a 2001 Honda Accord with 330k miles. I work 24 hour shifts as a firefighter and when I’m home I usually drive my 2000 Chevy Silverado Z71 around town or use my wife’s 2016 Suburban.
It’s time for me to get a new vehicle and I’ve been longing for a Jeep JKU or JLU but now also want a Tesla Model 3 (I know…two totally different cars). I’m not sure how comfortable the Jeep would be as my daily commuter but if I use it as such then I’ll get to have it around for play as well. I love the Model 3 and I think the commuting with autopilot would be awesome. I can use it as a family car at times saving some fuel cost from using the Suburban. The family does not want to ride in my Accord.”
Rob crunched the numbers on costs of ownership to come up with two roughly equivalent options:
- Buy a new Wrangler JL Rubicon, use it as a daily driver
- OR, buy a Tesla Model 3 Standard Range and an older Wrangler JK for occasional off-road use
He asked us to take a look at the numbers and see if they were roughly in the ball park: “I would really love your input on the accuracy of my estimates and what you guys might do in my situation.”
Option 1: Buy a (new) Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Rob’s first choice figures on a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited for about $44,000 out the door. He figures on financing the car on a 96-month (8-year) loan, at 4% through a local credit union, with $10,000 down. Including maintenance estimates, depreciation, insurance and fuel, he figured it would cost $58,851 over to run a nearly new Wrangler over an eight-year time span.
Option 2: Buy a new Tesla Model 3 and a used Jeep Wrangler JK
Option two sees Rob buying a Tesla Model 3 and a Jeep Wrangler JK for about $59,000 combined — $39,000 for a Tesla Model 3 “after rebates”, which may mean a Long Range model. Although, you can buy a Standard Range Model 3 through Tesla’s site for about $39,000 before any tax credits. Again, we’re looking at a 96-month time span under which both cars would be financed.
Newer, nicer ride versus cheaper daily driver and a weekend toy
This is a question we enthusiasts in particular ask ourselves. Is it worth buying the nicer, newer car that can do it all, or buying something less expensive and getting a weekend toy? I’m more of a one-size-fits all sort of guy, so I like having something like a new Wrangler JL. It’s a relatively comfortable commuter, especially compared to its predecessors, it’s a capable off-roader and it offers some fun and flexibility.
Recommendation: Buy what you can afford
In crunching the numbers, it’s important to take a look at each part of ownership one by one to get a better idea of the big picture. We have many of those numbers here, by my first take is that these are a bit optimistic for long-term ownership. Recent studies show Americans are paying more than ever for new cars, based on rising interest rates and longer-term loans than what was normally accepted just a few years ago. Finance charges rose in 2019 as did depreciation rates, making car ownership a more expensive prospect than ever before. On that basis, there’s one important point the AAA, among others, hammer home before locking yourself into a loan.
Before you buy, know what you can actually afford.
It’s the silent financial killer on pretty much any new car. How much will it be worth when your loan has matured? Half? Maybe more, dare we dream?
No. Sadly not. In fact, research firms like iSeeCars.com figures that the average vehicle loses half its value — 49.6 percent to be exact — within the first five years of its life. The Jeep Wrangler does beat the curve, but it may lose more than half its value over eight years depending on how much you drive it. It’s a bit early to tell how much depreciation is going to hit the Tesla, but that figure $22,400 figure (meaning it’s worth $17,600 after eight years) may be more realistic. Electric cars tend to depreciate worse than conventional models, so that’s worth taking into consideration.
Maintenance and fuel
Maintenance figures will vary from car to car, so it’s tough to predict exactly where expensive axes will fall over its lifespan. Budgeting $500 a year to maintain a Jeep may be enough for the first years of its life, but cars tend to cost more to maintain the older they get. On that basis, $4,000 may not really be enough over eight years to keep it on the road, but that figure will vary on a case-by-case basis.
Particularly in California, fuel costs can really blow out your budget, and that eye-popping $16,666 estimate is revealing. I won’t say that’s inaccurate out of hand — far from it. On that basis, it may be worth leaning toward option two, but the purchase price and depreciation could make just as expensive, if not more so, in the long run.
As someone who currently has a long-term auto loan commitment, I’d like to implore Rob or anyone out there who’s thinking about an eight-year loan term to reconsider. Cars are hugely expensive, and stretching that burden out for the better part of a decade is madness. It wasn’t too long ago that a five-year loan term was outlandish, and here we are staring at terms that are twice as long.
If you can save a bit longer, put a bigger down payment and secure a shorter loan, you’ll end up saving money in the long run.
The Jeep Wrangler is a more refined daily driver than ever, so I wouldn’t mind owning one as a daily driver, as long as you take higher fuel and maintenance costs into account. I wouldn’t mind the Model 3 either, but I’d keep a close eye on depreciation and unexpected maintenance costs, depending on whether these cars develop issues in the next few years.
What would you recommend? Let us know in the comments below! If you have a question, e-mail us at email@example.com and we will publish it in an Ask TFL post.