Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Costs of car ownership, part I

Those of us who go carfree or car-light often do so because of the high costs of car ownership. So I thought it would be a good idea to spend a some time detailing those costs, which look to me like they come in four broad categories: monetary costs, time costs, mental/emotional costs, and social and environmental costs.

Monetary costs include:
  • Car loan payments, lease payments, or one-time cost of purchasing a used car
  • Car insurance
  • Gasoline
  • Parking, including parking in a garage, the rental or purchase of a parking space, and paying the inevitable parking tickets
  • Car repair, including regular car maintenance and unexpected breakdowns
  • Items to make it safe or practical to transport your children in the car. This includes buying several car seats and booster seats for your children as they grow from infants through the toddler years and into the grade school years. It also includes the portable DVD player for the kids to keep them quiet, the toys that you buy to keep them entertained in the car seat, and that sun shade that you put up on the rear passenger windows.
  • Car “bells-and-whistles” including items purchased to make your car look nicer, smell better, or just be a more pleasant environment to spend time in. This includes that lock deicer, the nice floor mats, the new seat covers, the car CD organizer, and the hands-free cell phone.
  • The cost of buying more stuff. My mother recently moved to Boston from Orlando, Florida and got rid of her car. She says that she's actually saving money to spite the increase in the basic costs of living simply because she doesn't shop as much. Without a car, there aren't as many stores that are easily accessible and you almost never end up at the mall.
According to the AAA, it costs an average $9641 per year to own a car, and that's before you factor in your car loan! Bikes at work also has a calculator to help you total expenses.

Time costs include:
  • The obvious one: time spent driving. Note that this isn't just a time problem, but also potentially a health problem, since you are exposed to pollutants when you are driving. Of course, commuting by foot/bike/bus/subway takes time too (and can subject you to pollutants), but people often commute farther in cars than they do via other means, and if you are commuting on bus/train/bike/foot, the time can be used for other things (reading, exercise).
  • Time spent in car maintenance and repair. This includes both maintenance and repair that you might do yourself (e.g. washing car, changing wiper blades, changing oil) and dealing with maintenance and repairs done by others (e.g. car detailing, major car repairs)
  • Time spent finding someplace to put your car. In the city this can actually be a fairly large amount of time if you don’t own or rent a parking spot.
  • If you live in a snowy climate, time spent digging your car out of the snow in the winter.
If you have a car, what are your biggest costs, both in time and money? What are the hidden costs? If you are carfree, are you saving money? Are you saving time, or do other forms of commuting eat up the time saved by getting rid of your car?

Next time we'll address mental and emotional costs as well as social and environmental costs, and then we'll start to look at the flipside -- the costs of being carfree.