It wasn’t until recently that I really came to terms with the cost of owning a car. I’ve owned a car since I started driving, starting with the cliché of the hand-me-down station wagon, and most recently with my first new car purchase. That’s right, personal finance universe, I purchased a new car four years ago, and I took out a car loan to do it. It’s paid off now – just within this last month – and my recent personal finance revelations have left me with a lot of mixed feelings about twenty thousand of my hard earned dollars being locked up and frittered away on an object that frankly doesn’t get used all that often, and is just depreciating in my driveway.
What’s My Real Excuse For Owning a Car?
We do not live in an urban area with all of the light rails and mega busses and convenient airports and what have you. If we want to get to the airport, we have to drive, or pay to take the shuttle van. If we want to go anywhere for the weekend, we have to drive. If we want to recreate with our canoes and kayaks, we drive. We drive to see family, we drive to go to neighboring towns for activities or events, we drive across town to the park with our dog.
In addition to this weird little personal finance hobby, I am also a passionate advocate for active transportation. That means biking, walking, and multimodal transportation, and having safe enough infrastructure to make these transportation choices possible. I bike and walk a lot, and try to do it whenever possible. Yes, there are hurdles to this lifestyle, but as with all things that go against the status quo, there are also excuses.
I reside in a two-person household, and we currently live very close to my place of work. Despite choosing to bike and walk to work a majority of the time, I haven’t been able to fully commit to this lifestyle and become a one-car household. The onus would definitely be on me to bike and walk more often since 1) I enjoy it more than my significant other, and 2) my workplace is closer. The idea of sharing a car with my partner has been the other sticking point in me not being able to surrender personal car ownership. Mr. Green and I are not married, although we have been together for many years now, and we intend to be married within the next year or so. I’ve been burnt in a big way in a past relationship, and I can’t get over the small measure of security that is offered by owning a separate vehicle. In no way has it ever come down to this (or even close) in our relationship, but there’s a peace of mind knowing that I could hightail it out of this town with my dog and several of my favorite earthly possessions if things ever turned sour. My anxiety in becoming a one-car household is compounded by the fact that my family is located several hours away from where we’re living now, and owning a car means I can head to my hometown at any time for any reason, without pre-arranging for a rental car or car-sharing schedule with my significant other.
Cars Are Uncool and The Sharing Economy
I’m a Millennial (an old one), and the internets tell me all the time that the youths are not buying cars! Cars are for unhip suburbanites! We live in cool cities now. Or wait, maybe we are buying cars, but spending less as a share of our total consumer spending? One thing’s for sure – after a slump in annual miles driven during the recession and recovery (because gas was expensive and nobody had jobs), we (as a nation) are driving a lot more miles again, and we’re buying a lot more cars, too.
But your average car is very wasteful, and I’m not even making this argument from a fossil fuel standpoint. People who live in urban areas know that cars take up a lot of room, and unless you’re driving your personal vehicle for work purposes, basically everyone’s car sits unused 95% of the time. 95%!! People in my town also expect parking to be free and readily available, and any discussion about removing parking for bicycle or pedestrian amenities is promptly met with pitchforks and torches. With my routine of biking and walking as much as possible, I wouldn’t be surprised if my car sat idle more than 99% of the time in any given month. Simply put, owning a car is a really expensive luxury that I could probably do without.
While urban areas benefit from public transit, everyone in the US knows this can be a dicey prospect at best. Even if you live in a part of the country with amazing transit, you still may need to leave that part of the country on occasion to come back to visit your family in Middle America. Once you land at the airport, you’ll have to rent a car or borrow your relative’s station wagon for the week, since there probably isn’t a light rail connecting the airport to your parent’s house. In my town we have pretty good busses, and maybe like two cabs. We also have an intermittent Über driver population, but as we are a university town, those late night fares are harder to come by in the summer months and there just aren’t as many Über drivers around to chauffeur us townies.
Then there’s the question of robot cars. Will they save our transportation system or destroy it? Will I be able to share a robot chauffeur? And will we ever be able to teach them to drive in the snow?
With my car freshly paid off last week, I don’t anticipate getting rid of it any time soon. I’m not ready to give up the luxury and security of having a personal vehicle. I know it’s a huge privilege to have a working, reliable car, and I’m very thankful that I can afford it. However, anyone venturing down the road to financial independence needs to carefully analyze the true costs of owning a car and how it can affect their long term financial goals.
Would you ever consider giving up your personal vehicle? Or have you already done it?