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Canadian drivers fail knowledge test on real costs of car ownership Add to ...

It’s not that Canadian drivers are lacking in skills.

They can handle the worst of Canadian winters (for the most part), can dodge road-hockey players with the manual dexterity of an F-1 driver and somehow know instinctively how to react to stop signs in two official languages. (By slowing down, if you’re wondering.)

It’s just that when it comes to the mathematical and financial aspects of driving, well, Canadians belong in the slower learners’ class.

While this may not come as a surprise to those who’ve seen those car ads that never mention prices, except the biweekly lease payments that are comparable to the price of a toaster, Canadians are woefully inept at understanding the basics of owning and financing a vehicle.

A new survey shows that Canadian drivers don’t have a clue as to what owning a car entails and how it affects their bottom line.

The survey, conducted by Ipsos for Canadian Black Book, showed that only 2 per cent of drivers understood that depreciation was the single biggest cost of car ownership. Most figured it was insurance, fuel or maintenance.

Not even close. That’s like being asked to list Canada’s largest cities and Red Deer tops the list.

“The average Canadian car buyer needs a bit more help in understanding the basics of what happens when you buy a car,” says Brian Murphy, vice-president of editorial and research for Canadian Black Book. “Educated consumers are doing a lot research these days. They’re looking at fuel economy, crash-test ratings. But we want people to think about depreciation. They all depreciate, but not at the same rate.

“If you buy wisely, at the other end you could be ahead $4,000 or $5,000 when you go to trade in that vehicle.”

If this were just a matter of failing an automotive economics test, that wouldn’t be so bad. But this financial folly is expensive. By not understanding the basics of depreciation, many drivers are buying the wrong vehicles.

As a calculation tool on the Black Book website shows, not all vehicles are created equally when it comes to depreciation. Buying the wrong car can cost a car owner a lot of money down the road.

“A $40,000 vehicle will often depreciate $12,000 in a year,” Murphy says. “That’s enough money to buy enough gas to drive around the Earth three times.”

But depreciation is only the tip of this economic iceberg.

Only half of those who had previously traded in cars said they had a good idea of their vehicle’s trade-in value. The survey also showed the average Canadian – 78 per cent – doesn’t have much of a grasp of how much car loans affect equity.

Understanding what long-term financing means is something else that Canadians aren’t good at, especially when eight-year terms aren’t uncommon. Only 22 per cent knew that a $30,000 car financed at zero per cent over 96 months would result in the car finally being worth more than the amount owing on the loan in 48 months.

“Eight years is a long time,” Murphy says. “By the time you pay off the loan, the car has 200,000 kilometres on it and you’re looking at possible expensive repairs for a car that’s not worth very much.”

While Black Book is in the process of trying to develop an equity calculator, Murphy suggests simply pushing the sales staff to detail exactly what you’ll be paying over the term of the financing.

Such knowledge is increasingly important considering another of the survey’s findings: six in 10 Canadians say they’re likely or somewhat likely to buy a new vehicle in the next two years.

If the survey is correct, they might want to take an economics course first.

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