Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Costs of Car Ownership, Part II

In addition to the costs in time and money, there are other, less quantifiable costs of car ownership. These may be personal costs or costs to society at large.

Mental and Emotional Costs

  • The car is one more thing you have to worry about, and it’s a fairly big one. You have to worry that your car is operating properly, that it isn’t being towed away or ticketed right now, that you are going to have enough money for the rising costs of gas, and that the place where some paint got scraped off your car isn’t going to rust. You have to worry about whether or not you need to get a new car, when you are going to get the new car, and whether you can afford the car payments.
  • The car is something that you have to feel guilty about. Especially when you become a parent and you upgrade to a larger car, you have to feel guilty about your carbon footprint. You have to feel guilty when you hop into the car to take a trip that you know you could get to on foot, but the weather is bad or the kids don’t want to walk or you are just plain tired and need a break.
  • You have the mental stress of being cooped up with your kids while you take them to daycare, on errands, or on a road trip. Babies scream in the car seat, older kids pester you incessantly about how much longer they’ll have to be in the car, and siblings fight since they can’t get away from each other.
Social and Environmental Costs
  • The obvious cost to all of us is the carbon emissions of a car. An average car emits 77 pounds of hydrocarbons per year. There are roughly 135 million passenger vehicles in the US. If we got rid of one out of every fifty of those, we’d reduce carbon emissions by 208 million pounds per year.
  • There is also the cost of sprawl. Easy access to a car has enabled us to live far away from where we work and to shop far away from where we live and work. This has helped to create sprawling communities which are not walk-able or bike-able and which require us to drive even further.
  • Automobile dependency and inadequate public transportation negatively impact the working poor who may have trouble affording car ownership or accessing reliable alternative transportation.
  • Car use certainly has the potential of distancing us from our local communities. We don’t get to know our neighbors because our real friends live across town. We don’t shop at the neighborhood market because we can get better, cheaper food when we drive to a supermarket.

The good news is that going car-free will free you from these costs. The bad news is that there’s no free ride. Giving up a car means giving up the many benefits of car ownership (and a car-free lifestyle comes with it’s own costs as well). If you are considering going car free, you are going to have to determine whether the benefits you get from freeing yourself from your car outweigh the costs.

What do you see as being the biggest costs of car ownership and car driving? What are the benefits to car ownership that you can’t imagine giving up? If you own a car, how do you minimize the costs?


Anonymous said...

For those who can't quite go completely car-free or can't go "cold-turkey", there are numerous car sharing opportunities such as Zipcar and Flexcar. Many can be found via

To offset some of the concerns about getting all or the errands done you can also share shopping tasks with others in your circle of friends or neighborhood!

Angela V-C said...

Hey! I think that we could be carfree without zipcar, but it would be a lot more frustrating. It's really nice to be know we can get a car easily and quickly if we think we really need one.

And I really want to start making the errand sharing work!

Ellipsoidal said...

Actaully, according to your link to US EPA Emission facts, a passinger car emits over 12,000 pound of STUFF per year. That includes the hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. I don't know what's up with that number on Gasoline. Is that un-burned gas being emitted? Anyway, the numbers are huge!