Aston Martin. Bentley. BMW. Jaguar.
When you think of luxury cars, these names come to mind. Beautiful, fast and fun, they represent the good life – and come with price tags that reflect their status.
Or do they?
While you will pay a small fortune to take these cars off the showroom floor, that fortune will rapidly dwindle as these cars age. And when you're ready to unload them, be prepared to watch most of your investment shrink to a pitiful fraction of what you laid out.
Aston Martin Dapide S and DBS
Best-known as the preferred vehicle of James Bond, Aston Martin is a renowned for its style and beauty. Yet, there are several models of this prestigious British brand that don’t stand the test of time. First on the list is the Aston Martin Dapide S, which “is more of a ritzy family sedan and less of a collectible” according to Autos CheatSheet. Sedans are made to be driven, and when they are, they lose value. Cars.dotcom reports that, high mileage hurts the resale value of exotic cars to a greater extent than it does their less-exotic cousins.
That also holds true for the even more exotic Aston Martin DBS convertible (one of the actual models that Bond drives) . It typically loses $170,000 of its $325,000-when-new value over just three years. So sorry, James.
Another British brand, the storied Bentley, is perhaps the finest hand-made automobile on the planet. Certainly, it's one of the rarest; just 8,000 cars are made each year (which alone often makes it a must-have for the well-heeled set). While you can’t touch a new one for under six figures, you can pick one up used at a 60% discount – if it's the Arnage, a sedan (or "saloon," as the English say) produced from 1998 to 2009. Again, exotic luxury sedans lose value more than other cars.
BMW 7 Series
When it comes to resale value, the ultimate driving machine’s 7 Series is nearly universally panned. Cheatsheet.com, Autobytel and "Popular Mechanics" all note that these high-tech wonders depreciate considerably over time.
When they roll off of the dealer’s lot, these technological marvels offer all of the latest gadgets and electronic gizmos that Germany’s best engineers can fit into a car. But these high-tech toys have a questionable long-term track record in terms of reliability. When all of that state-of-the-art stuff gets old and breaks down, it is expensive to repair, causing potential headaches for second owners. Hence, these beemers get low marks from reviewers. On the other hand, but low marks (or dollars) is what you'll pay to acquire one: Models that fetched $70,000 in their brand-new heyday now go for as little as $10,000.
Jaguar XJ and XK
Jaguar has a long-term reputation as maintenance-heavy. Back in the 1980s, the dad of this writer's friend had a Jag that seemed to spend almost as much time in the repair shop as on the road. Some 25 years later, Jag’s reputation hasn’t changed much among car buyers, even though Ford (which acquired Jaguar in 1990) largely fixed Jag’s reliability issues before selling the company in 2008. All the same, iSeeCars shows a 29.2% drop in the value of the Jaguar XK in just the first year of ownership.
Mercedes-Benz Maybach 57
The top-of-the line Maybach 57 may be the subject of praise and envy in pop songs and among aspiring billionaires. But just as fame can be fleeting, so can the value of this expensive toy. Instead of gaining value with age, this car be found in the bargain basement, with a 2004 model, ($300,000 when new) going for the low-low price (relatively speaking) of $90,000.
Name brands at bargain prices. So, what’s the catch? It’s worth remembering that new cars come out of the factory with a full array of the latest must-have technology, backed by solid warranties. In the unusual event of a breakdown, the trouble is usually fixed free, courtesy of the warranty. For many people, buying new is worth the loss in terms of depreciation because they get to enjoy years of hassle-free driving with all the best toys.
Once the warranty expires, however, repairs can be ultra-expensive, especially on luxury cars. Age and use take a toll on even the best-engineered automobiles. The money you save on low resale value may end up trickling away as you bear the steep cost of ongoing maintenance of an aging luxury car, especially from a brand with a low reliability record. If your budget doesn’t have a line item for vehicle repairs – and you aren't a certified mechanic with a garage full of tools – you may want to steer clear of these expensive indulgences.
The Bottom Line
Top-of-the line luxury cars appeal to buyers who purchase them because they can. For these folks, a mid-six–figure car is an accessory, like a designer purse or a bespoke suit. Normal mortals who want to ride in the style of rock stars and hedge-fund managers should shop carefully. If you make a mistake, you could find yourself saddled with a budget-busting white elephant that's worth a whole lot less than what you paid for it. For advice before you shop, see Luxury Vs. Affordability: What's The Better Car Purchase? and 5 Tips for Vintage Car Collecting.
And never forget: When it comes to certain brands of classy wheels, buying new is all about the look and not about the value. Enjoy the ride, but don't expect a return on investment. For pricey cars that are more likely to pay off, see Luxury Cars with High Resale Value.