Consumers keep cars longer: What's wrong with that?


Bloomberg reports that "Drivers rattled by the worst U.S. labor market since World War II are hanging on to old autos longer instead of buying new models, threatening to crimp sales again in 2009 after demand plummeted to a 16-year low."

That raises an important questions: What exactly is wrong with people exhibiting a bit of Yankee thrift and driving their cars longer? Of course it's not good for the auto industry, but the fact is that too many families have been spending money they don't even have to drive cars they don't need.

In The Millionaire Next Door -- a bestselling book that studied the lives of "middle class millionaires -- Thomas J. Stanley explored the way that wealthy people live. It's very different from the image created by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Most millionaires do not drive new cars, very few lease, and they never purchase cars that they couldn't afford to pay for with cash. If they do take out a car loan, it's because they qualify for a super low-interest loan and they can make more money by investing the cash.

These car-shopping methods are part of what makes them rich and the car-shopping methods of the aspirational middle class that is addicted to debt are part of what prevents them from becoming wealthy.

If the changes in car-shopping habits are long-lasting, this recession could make Americans a lot richer.