SUVs are flattening everything in their path, including the finances of people who buy them.

In both Canada and the United States, sales of cars are declining while demand for SUVs and pickup trucks rises. The market research firm J.D. Power says cars last year represented 27 per cent of retail vehicle sales, down from 42 per cent in 2014. Car sales fell 16.7 per cent in the third quarter while light-truck sales rose 4.8 per cent, says Desrosiers Automotive Consultants. The New York Times recently reported on how SUVs have sideswiped sales of station wagons.

The personal-finance angle on SUVs is that they cost more than cars. In an example I included in an article earlier this year on financial stress, the SUV version of one particular car model cost $10,000 more. It’s no wonder that, according to J.D. Power, the average monthly payment on a new vehicle loan is roughly $650.

We owned an SUV for a few years and loved how it accommodated the kids, the dog and all our stuff. SUVs totally make sense for busy families, provided they’re affordable. Three quick ways to tell if the payments for whatever vehicle you drive are contributing to your financial stress:

  • You’re not saving consistently for retirement and/or our children’s college or university costs;
  • Your monthly vehicle payment feels like a mortgage payment;
  • You traded in a vehicle with an outstanding loan balance and folded that debt into a loan on the new vehicle.

Three more thoughts on how not to let SUVs flatten your finances:

  • Buy a used SUV instead of new;
  • Pick a vehicle for durability and drive it long enough that you have years with no payments;
  • Resist the temptation – it’s hard – to buy a fully loaded version of the vehicle you like;
  • Go with a car instead – hatchbacks are super useful, easy on gas and more fun to drive around town in a lot of cases.

The Globe and Mail, November 28, 2019