Going into debt over a car is a poor decision
Not really, it's called leverage. Let's do some math.
Let's say you were looking at a new car in 2012, and settled on a Toyota Camry. You buy the car, it costs you $25k out the door (not a great deal, but you're not getting totally screwed either). Let's say you have the money to buy it outright, but could also finance the vehicle at 0% interest (in 2012, dealerships were begging for business so 0% isn't unreasonable).
Now comes the math.
If you finance the car with, say, 10% down ($2500), you're left with $22500 to invest/do whatever you please with (assuming you can afford the monthly payment without dipping into savinge). Let's say you invest that $22500 in VTSAX, a large, broad-market Vanguard fund with low fees. VTSAX has had an annualized return of 14.62% per year, for the past 5 years. That $22500 would be worth $44,512.76 right now (using the standard TVM calculation, with PV=22500, PMT=0,Rate=14.62,Periods=5). In addition, you have a solid, reliable vehicle with ~60,000 miles on it that's worth ~$13,000 (according to NADA/KBB).
Even with the $12k depreciation hit, you're coming out with (44512+13000)=$57,512 in assets at the end of those five years.
By comparison, let's assume you pay for the car up-front, and instead invest the money you would have spent on payments on that same VTSAX fund. If we do the math on that loan, you'd be paying $375 per month for the loan. Working the TVM calculation (PV=0, PMT=375,Rate=14.62/12,Periods=60), you come up with a FV of $23,187.31.
So, if you buy the car outright, 5 years on you have a car worth $13k and an investment account worth $23,187.31, for a total asset value of $36,187.31.
If you buy the car in cash rather than using leverage on good credit, you're essentially costing yourself $20,000 over the course of 5 years.
If you're smart, can afford the payments, and like not being poor, buy large-value assets on credit. Simple as that.