A Look Back At The History Of Auto Financing

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
a look back at the history of auto financing

Over at Autobytel, Juan Barnett (better known as DC AutoGeek) takes a look at the history of auto financing, originally intended as a way for the common man to be able to afford an automobile some 90 years ago. The most striking thing is how attitudes have changed so dramatically over time.

Initially, bankers were calling for a ban on financing of personal automobiles, fearing that it would lead to financial imprudence. How times have changed.

In a 2008 letter to the Security and Exchange Commission, a collection of automotive finance companies argued against a proposed federal rule that would have made 60 months the maximum term for an automotive loan. The group said “[that the] 72 month term has become the industry standard,” and that it was critical to the American economy to allow banks to determine independently the risk as it relates to automotive loans. They argued that any mandated term limit would cripple the automotive industry. They were probably right.

Join the conversation
10 of 55 comments
  • Waterview Waterview on Jun 27, 2013

    As a banker, I try to guide people with the thought that "just because it's permissable (or being offered to you) doesn't make it a good idea". Thus, while 72 month financing is offered, I believe it (along with leasing) generally pushes folks into more car (read: debt) than is wise. But, as a car-guy, I also understand there are folks who place a nice car (or newer car) at a higher priority and are willing to devote a larger portion of their budget to the cause. That said, if wealth creation is your goal, finance it for a shorter term and drive it 'til the wheels fall off.

    • See 4 previous
    • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Jul 01, 2013

      @hreardon Damn straight!! I tend to take the value of a dollar, well taught to me, to the extreme, however, since, for example, I firmly believe that a cell phone is a luxury, just as the recent Piston Slap threads showed; I don't need to spend $90/month to be available 24/7 or to surf Facebook, which I can do on my laptop! (See my position on credit cards further up these Comments for another example!) (I am researching prepaid smartphones, however, so I will eventually drag myself into the 21st century, kicking and screaming! :-) )

  • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Jun 27, 2013

    The longer a banks can keep a loan going the more money they make. I really do think the period of time is a little to long. If a person can't pay off a car in 48 months logic would indicate that maybe you are spending to much. There are alot of people out there who need to be 'spoon fed' with finances. They just aren't able to make good financial judgement. For the people who want to buy a vehicle over a longer period, there are financial tools available to allow this to occur. Drive what you can afford. As for the auto industry relying on debt to keep afloat, this needs to be addressed. This approach by the finance sector of loading debt to keep economies churning and burning requires a little restructuring, along with governments who do the same thing. Banks influence on economies isn't balanced, the influence isn't proportional to the size of most economies, sort of like unions, small in numbers, but to much power. Banks seem to be the ones calling the shots. Then whine and expect to be bailed out when they screw up, blame the governments for allowing themselves to become indebted. Much the same as the way unions operate.

    • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Jun 28, 2013

      Years ago, banks were the adult in the room. They had to be, they held the paper. Today, banks do the deal, take a commission, and sell the paper, so they no longer care if you default. The paper becomes "securitized", sliced and diced six ways-so you now want to sell the biggest loan you can to anyone who can qualify, no matter the result...you won't be there for the default. When that borrower defaults, he can't renegotiate the debt with anyone as there is no one to talk to...your loan is part of a larger package and they'd rather lose the whole thing for tax purposes than renegotiate or forbear even an impossible loan. (This is why a bankruptcy judge cannot change terms for a home loan...business gets workouts every day, but YOU cannot....this is the result of bank lobbying) This is also why you can't adjust the mortgage rate easily...the mortgage process is designed to be as difficult as possible. At least in Auto Lending it is much less cleaner.

  • Buickman Buickman on Jun 27, 2013

    Durant created GMAC to extend terms for willing but not able buyers.

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Jun 28, 2013

    Longer terms, and Lease then sell for CPO, are why companies now toss in "free maintenance". I'm sure a significant percentage of folks who lease would never change the oil, etc, as they knew that the car went back in two years and they'd never see it again. This probably showed up in CPO warranty claims so it became cheaper to do very minimal free maintenance (15k oil changes) that eat CPO warranty claims. (I'd love to see an article about this issue...folks who buy a car and NEVER do any work...what percentage ?) The longer terms are a combination of higher prices (when I bought my 2003, gas was $2 per gallon, and let us not discuss my monopoly priced health "insurance") and the fact a new car has a lot more "stuff" than years ago. If the car lasts the longer term of the loan, then it can be a reasonable deal, even if not historically ideal. You pay for a house 30 years but you expect it to last the term of the loan. The game is rigged at the very top, and those of us not at the top 1 % don't determine the music.