A Car Shopping Dollar-per-Pound Study

2017-12-15T11:14:46+00:00

A well-reasoned vehicle purchase involves examining a wide spectrum of features, determining what matters most to you, and, in a sense, assigning a dollar value to each factor. For example, someone who goes camping twice a year might estimate that an off-road package might increase a vehicle’s value in the buyer’s eyes by $400. If, however, that off-road package raises the vehicle’s sticker price by $2,000, then the buyer might conclude that it isn’t worth paying a $2k premium for that package.

In that example, the car buyer would benefit from engaging in a feature-to-value assessment, because it helped him avoid overpaying for something that would only have a nominal impact on his life.

An off-road package is just one example. If you were in the market for a new vehicle you might look at fuel efficiency, towing capacity, or horsepower. The value you’d place on those features would depend on your specific needs.

To my mind though, there’s one characteristic that is almost entirely overlooked during the car buying process: the vehicle’s weight and its dollar-per-pound cost.




For instance, if you considering two vehicles that appeared to be equal in virtually every way, how much more would you pay for the vehicle that was 1,000 pounds heavier? Maybe that seems like a strange variable to consider. But, let me ask you a question: how important is your safety on the road?

If your safety were a priority in your search for a new vehicle, you may consider paying a little extra (or maybe a lot) for the heavier vehicle.

The Correlation Between a Vehicle’s Weight and Safety

David Zuby of IIHS suggests that all things being equal, buying a heavier vehicle is the best thing you can do to protect yourself. JD Power has determined that in the past 20 years, most flagship models have increased the weight of their product by approximately 500 to 700 pounds. That increase can be attributed largely to safety regulations.

Statistical data suggests that the additional weight is a major determinant of safety on the road.

Consider this: for every 100 pounds that you remove from the median vehicle’s, the likelihood of being involved in a fatality increases by 1%.

The reason for this is simple. The greater the disparity between your vehicle’s weight and the weight of the other vehicle in the collision, the greater likelihood the accident will result in a fatality.

Maybe you are wondering, how big of a weight disparity is problematic? The short answer is any. Of course, when the weight disparity is severe, the safety risk is enormous.

Studies suggest that car buyers would be prudent to limit the weight difference between their vehicle and other vehicles on the road. The average weight disparity between a light pickup truck or full-size SUV and the average sized passenger car is 900 pounds.

This statistic should set off some alarms when you consider that being struck by a vehicle that weighs 1,000 pounds or more than yours’s increases the likelihood of a fatality in your vehicle by 47%. Simply put, the average private passenger car isn’t far from being in this dramatic danger zone.

What Does Vehicle Weight Have to do With Wealth Building?

It goes without saying that protecting your health is vital to building wealth. After all, it’s pretty tough to contribute to your retirement accounts if you’re permanently disabled (or worse). With that said, an obvious way to protect yourself is by taking precautions with the vehicle you drive. Most of us are on the road on a daily basis. That means there are ample opportunities for misfortune to befall us and impair our health. That also means that there is serious value to be gained from spending money to maximize our safety on the road.



A starting point would be purchasing a vehicle with weight no less than the average vehicle on the road today. When it comes to safety, substantial weight equates to substantial increases in protection during a traffic collision.

Okay, we get it . . . HEAVIER VEHICLES = GREATER SAFETY

But how am I supposed to incorporate this consideration into the car buying process?

In The Millionaire Next Door, the authors point out that successful millionaires have contemplated the dollar-per-pound costs of their vehicles for some time. At the time the book was written vehicles were being sold for about $7 per pound. The most popular vehicle models purchased by millionaires were costing less than $6 per pound. The millionaire respondents to surveys stated that many foreign and luxury cars had an extremely poor cost-per-pound. They therefore determined that much of what they paid for in those vehicles would not add to the safety in occupying them. The millionaires surveyed stated that a vehicle’s cost-per-pound was one of the most objective ways to analyze a vehicle purchase.

So what should you do?

Just as I discussed hypothetically assigning a dollar value to the off-road package, I’d also encourage you to assign a dollar value to the vehicle’s weight the next time you’re in the market for a vehicle. Here’s an example of what this could look like:

  • 2017 Ford Escape
    • 3,650 pounds
    • Seats 5 passengers
    • Sale price of $23,750
  • 2017 Ford Focus
    • 3,000 pounds
    • Seats 5 passengers
    • Sale price of $19,765

In this example, the functionality of both vehicles is fairly similar. Storage, seating capacity, and handling are all similar. However, the Ford Escape outweighs the Ford Focus by over 600 pounds. Interestingly, both cars are priced at similarly at $6.50 per pound. Therefore, the additional $3,985 that you’ll pay for the Ford Escape is merely going to the that additional weight that will protect you and your family in an accident. Is the 650 pounds worth another $4,000 dollars? That’s a question that only you can answer.




By merely looking at basic characteristics that correspond with functionality, it could make perfect sense to save $4,000 and choose the Ford Focus. But if you consider the dramatic difference in safety and the commensurate per-pound costs, I think there is a strong argument that paying the extra $4,000 makes a lot of sense. In this case, the extra $4,000 goes a long way in narrowing the potential weight disparity between your vehicle and others on the road.

A Few Final Thoughts

In writing this article I do not intend to encourage everyone to purchase the largest vehicle that their money can buy. I’m merely trying to bring a often forgotten feature to the forefront. In fact, I’d argue that a vehicle’s weight (and the dollar-per-pound calculation) should be one of the first factors you consider when looking at a new vehicle.

Most people would agree that a vehicle’s ability to protect you and your family should be a top priority when selecting a new vehicle. I’m just offering a metric that will help you achieve that goal. Although crash test safety ratings have a place in this world, the number one correlate for your safety is the weight of vehicle you are being carried around in.

By recognizing the importance of the weight of your vehicle, you are in a position to decide for yourself how much it’s worth to be drive a vehicle with a more substantial frame. And even if your concerns lie outside of the safety issues, it may be worth considering what you are paying for your vehicle per pound.

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About the Author:

Darian
Hi, I'm Darian! I am a twenty-something insurance professional working on my ultimate quest for financial freedom. I hope you enjoyed this article. Stick around to learn more about financial strategies to manage debt, save more, spend less, and live the life you want.

4 Comments

  1. CashflowKat January 17, 2018 at 5:02 am - Reply

    This is so true. You may get comments from frugal/green readers who will talk about gas mileage and expense, but there is still no getting around the safety issue. I speak from experience. As a teen I bought an old VW Karmann Ghia and had a wreck with a Suburban. I had to be pulled out of the wreckage of my car with the jaws of life and taken to the ICU, while the Suburban driver has a scratch in her bumper, literally. It’s also the reason I put my teen driver in my newish Ford Escape while I opted to drive our old Honda two-door Civic. Those pounds on the road do protect.

    • Darian
      Darian January 17, 2018 at 9:50 am - Reply

      I appreciate the comment. That’s quite the life experience, and hopefully some readers won’t have to go through that type of traumatic event before electing to go with a safer ride. Appreciate you stopping by!

  2. TeacherOnFire January 17, 2018 at 5:45 am - Reply

    Interesting article! Back home in Canada a lot of people favor heavier vehicles or SUVs for the snow. Higher off the ground and often better traction control.

    • Darian
      Darian January 17, 2018 at 9:45 am - Reply

      Hi there! I am sure with the added weather perils Canadians are especially wise to consider prioritizing weight/safety, and hopefully they are. thanks for stopping by

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