Crunching Numbers: Should I buy a Honda Insight?

Last year I drove a first-generation Insight and while it wasn’t particularly spacious or powerful, it handled crisply and covered nearly 70 miles before consuming a gallon of gasoline. With its light clutch, precise shifter, and short wheelbase, it reminded me somewhat of the 1990 Mazda Miata, weighing in at just under 2000 lbs. It still manages to score 4/5 stars in government crash tests.

I spend a lot of time on the road, as much as some retirees with recreational vehicles. Last year, I accumulated 40,000 miles on my 2001 Cadillac Seville and 10,000 miles on my 1991 Saab 900 turbo convertible. Over the course of a year I spent just under $8000 on fuel averaging around 20 mpg between both cars.

That’s a fairly substantial cost considering how much of my mileage is for leisure and entertainment (99%). I could have spent two weeks in Paris… twice!


An older Honda Insight promises roller skate handling at 70 miles per gallon, almost too good to be true. Can I really have my cake and eat it too? Let’s play the numbers, assuming I own an Insight for five years and drive 250,000 miles.

I recently sold my Cadillac Seville for $3200.
I could buy a previously-adored 2000 Insight for $4500.
Purchase cost with trade: $1300

Compared to the Cadillac, my insurance premiums would drop slightly, from $50/mo to $40/mo.
Insurance savings over five years: $600

The IMA batteries could fail. A company in Arizona will replace all of the cells for $1100.
Gas to Arizona at 66mpg would be $160 at $3.40/gallon, traveling 3100 miles round trip.
Throw in two nights at Motel 6 for $96.
I can’t really add food to the cost since I also spend on food at home.
Battery Cost: $1356

A 2000-2004 Cadillac Seville costs on average $2500 per year to keep on the road due to chassis wear, accessories, tires, sensors, high-end features, and other odds and ends typical of heavy and complicated luxury cars.
I expect the Honda to cost about $900 per year to maintain, and that’s being pessimistic.
Maintenance savings over five years: $8000

Now here’s the fun part — fuel costs. Between the Saab and Cadillac I spent approximately $8000 on gasoline in one year. That’s over the course of 50,000 miles averaging about 20 mpg at $3.40/gallon.
Driving the Insight exclusively, my annual costs at a realistic 60mpg (EPA highway figure is 70 mpg) would be $2833.
Fuel savings over five years and 250,000 miles: $25,835

Staggering! That’s a nice chunk toward my retirement, upcoming investment opportunities, or the acquisition of my dream car, a used Cadillac XLR.

Let’s consider some other factors, like my occasional need to drive somewhere far with multiple people or haul cargo.
Van rental, 20 times per year at $40/day: $800.
Sedan rental, 2 times per year at $120/weekend: $240
Rental costs over five years: $5200

Now, let’s add it up:
-$1300 — Purchase cost with sale of Cadillac
-1356 — Battery cost
-$5200 — Rental costs
+600 — Insurance saved
+8000 — Maintenance saved
+25,835 — Fuel saved
Total Saved: $26,579 over five years, or $5315 per year.

Those are jaw-dropping numbers.

If I sound like I’m attempting to rationalize a decision I’ve already made, it’s because I am. After having had everything from a Lincoln Navigator to a Nissan Sentra, it’s time for me to try something radically different, if not for any practical reason, then for variety.

I’ll report back later this year when I make my decision.

3 Responses to Crunching Numbers: Should I buy a Honda Insight?

  1. KRSTS says:

    Lets put it this way, would I rather be driving my Cadillac STS or some cramped econbox for the next five years? Life is short and you can’t take your money with you. Whatever lights your fire.

    • jesda says:

      You’ve made a -very- good point.

      The issue then is one we all face in economics: scarcity. Even the wealthy have limited resources (time, energy), so how do we use them to maximize our living?

      It’s a series of needs/wants questions that ask whether giving up Cadillac levels of comfort and power are worth gaining in the ability to travel overseas, make other investments, or set additional money aside for retirement.

      They say good things come to those who are patient, who can save, invest, and wait. On the other hand, like you said, any of us could die tomorrow.

      With the three dozen or so vehicles and the amount of leisure I’ve enjoyed from traveling with them over the last decade, I wonder if I really have to have a luxury car anymore.

      • KRSTS says:

        Everyone has choices. Its a matter of one’s priorities. Most of my life I drove used cars and cheap cars, saved and invested wisely. I am now retired and I can afford better, therefor I will drive a car I like. I am not about status, but I am about comfort and what is fun to drive. BTW we also travel extensively. To each his own.

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