My Frugal 1996 Dakota Keeps On Trucking


image courtesy of mapichai at

image courtesy of mapichai at

I detailed the financial “secret weapon” power of my 1996 Dodge Dakota pickup truck in  another post ( I explained how keeping it instead of buying a late-model vehicle every 5 years lowered my retirement “magic number” by $150,000. How its cheaper operating costs lowered that magic number by another $50,000. And how that moved up my financial freedom retirement date by more than SEVEN YEARS. But some people think there is a “dark side” to an older vehicle like this. Inefficient. Unreliable. Unsafe.  But no; that does not apply to my truck. Here is that part of the story.

My Dodge Dakota has never  broken down on the road. It has never failed to start up. It has never had to be towed to a repair shop. NEVER.  And that is 100% reliability. You cannot get any better. A newer, fancier, costlier vehicle could not be any more reliable. (And I can thank my by-the-book maintenance program for that.)

In an accident, I would rather be in my pickup truck than in any car I can think of. Weight, height, bumper strength, material strength would all be in my favor. But the most important factor affecting my driving safety is my risk-averse driving. I do not exceed speed limits (much). I do not drive on ice, snowed-up roads, or in bad rainstorms. I do not have to, remember? I retired seven-plus years earlier than I otherwise could have thanks to my oldie-goldie, thrifty-nifty truck.

I know someone is going to bring up comfort as a counter-argument to my vehicular frugality. But expense and extravagance are not necessary to attain comfort. I can drive for hours sitting in my Dodge Dakota car seat without stiffness or fatigue. I keep the heater and airconditioner in good repair so temperature control in the truck cab is just fine. And all the while I am driving I am listening to great classical music on a wonderful sound system that I bought on sale and had privately installed at a total cost under $200. So, no. Neither late model, leather, or over-the-top electronics are requirements for comfortable driving. At least not for me.

I do take a hit on fuel efficiency. I get 20 miles per gallon (mpg) and I drive 12,000 miles a year. That is 600 gallons and about $2100 annually . If I had a newer vehicle yielding 30 mpg, I would burn 200 gallons less and save $700 a year. Fair enough. Choosing to keep my 1996 Dodge Dakota means I have had to build up my savings by an extra $14,000 to cover the extra fuel expense. Overall, though, I am still $186,000 ahead on my financial independence magic number. I am still ahead over seven years.  And based on a 30-year retirement, that has increased my post-retirement free years by a minimum  25%. All thanks to that little pickup truck.

But my Dakota experience is just one example of how the right vehicle can help set you financially free. If you need a vehicle that can carry a large family, there is a money-saving one for you. If you need a vehicle with cargo capacity, there is one for you. Even if you need a prestige vehicle for your sales/professional career, there is one for you. (I worked as a corporate sales manager in the 1990s, driving clients around in an impeccably maintained 1980 Ford Thunderbird and my clients LOVED it.) The point is: your vehicle is a choice that is either helping to make you financially free faster — or it is a choice that is dragging you down and binding you to the working world longer and longer.

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  1. I agree. We also drive an older car. It’s 15 years old. We take really good care of it inside and outside. People always tell us it looks brand new. I think it’s also very important to have an excellent mechanic to keep the car going. Sometimes it’s difficult to find one of those.

    1. Regular maintenance is what I really believe in. Following the manufacturer’s guidelines for the changing of all the various fluids and servicing of major systems is something I have done for years now. And I think that is the biggest reason that my 1996 vehicle still performs like it does.

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