Cars as Houses? Why Not?

The fact that we usually don’t separately consider the value of a house and the value of the land it sits on I think tends to mask how much houses really do wear out and depreciate. It’s certainly not as steep a curve as a car, but without (relatively) frequent remodels a house’s value will approach zero with time just as surely as a car’s. I’ve often thought that if it weren’t for the stigma of modular houses, people might start to figure that just buying a new house off an assembly line every 25 or 30 years or so might be cheaper than the constant cycle of maintenance and remodeling every few decades to keep an older house livable.

Here’s one way to think about it.

You can certainly keep a car running for 40 years (or 100), if you just kept fixing it and replacing parts that failed. By then, you’ll probably have replaced just about every single part in the car twice. Some more, some less.

Now, compare to just buying, say, 4 cars over that period, each for about 10 years. You’ll replace some parts on those cars, but most cars these days will make it a decade without any major work.

In terms of material cost, the first case is better than the second. You get to actually use the full useful life that all those parts had. Instead of throwing away the remaining useful life of the parts, you kept using it until it failed.

But in most other ways, the second case is better. Your labor costs are way lower. A tremendous amount of labor goes into replacing each part when it fails, compared to taking all new parts and assembling them into a car once. In addition, in the first case, you’re driving a car that’s more likely to break at any time, and you have to spend more time without a car, while it’s being fixed.

Comparing these, it’s pretty easy to see the economic case for keeping cars running longer. If you have the skills to do the labor yourself, and you enjoy it, then your labor costs are greatly reduced. If you have another car that you can use while you’re fixing the broken one, then the opportunity cost of not having a car is greatly reduced. If you have limited funds to buy a new car, or there are political barriers to buying one, then the alternative of buying a new car is effectively more expensive, and it makes sense to keep going with the old one.

There’s your major classes of people who keep cars for a long time: Mechanics, people with multiple cars, poorer people, and Cubans.

Now, you may argue that we should be able to make cars that last 40 years without wearing out and having to be replaced so often. It turns out that’s pretty hard. Cars move around, and have internal moving parts. Things that move wear out and break much more than things that don’t. And making things stronger or more durable often makes them heavier, which is really bad for cars because fuel is a substantial part of the total cost of ownership.

I live in a neighborhood with high land values. I see houses torn down, to be replaced by newer, larger houses, all the time. There are 3 holes right now on my 10 minute commute. They will be mcmansions by spring.

That being said, my 1959 house still functions nearly as well as a new one. It was retrofitted with ac and more outlets. Now that stuff is wireless, it doesn’t matter that we weren’t very aggressive about adding more network wires. The kitchen appliances are modern. The roof is new. It cost a lot less than a new house.

The average car lasts 15-20 years. The parts break down and it costs too much to maintain it vs buying another car.

That just shows houses can be lemons too. My house was build in 1953. It had a new roof somewhere over 20 years ago (before we bought it) but has had little to repair in the 17 years we’ve owned it.
Now when you get to reasonably old houses, like late 19th century, all your windows and stuff are non-standard in size and unless you refinish things - which people do. Doing this pays off a lot more for houses than for cars.

Location, location, location.

You buy a house because you want to live there. You buy a car because you want to go somewhere else.

This, together with the frictional wear that’s been mentioned many times, is your answer.

Not to mention the pain in the ass that it is when it breaks down halfway to Disneyland or halfway to the airport. Past a certain point, you know something is going to go flooey every month, you just don’t know what or how badly it will strand you.

I had a spark plug blow out once. There was a loud boom in the engine compartment and then the sound of the engine was massively louder. I was coming from the airport that time, having picked up my youngest who was on leave from the army. I pulled over fast, thinking the car had to be dead.

Once we figured out what had happened, I was able to drive it home and deal with it the next day. But it was noisy enough to make other drivers nervous. The noise came out of the spark plug hole instead of being processed through the muffler.

It was a time when I was working my way through a series of used cars, driving them until something broke that was too expensive to fix. I think Sparky lasted another two years.

House repairs can cost a lot because the systems originally installed are known as “builders grand” - cheap, inefficient crap, especially the AC