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Americans Work 2 Hours Each Day To Pay For Their Cars 46

Cars and cycle path in Montreal

Cars & cycle path in Montreal, Quebec – April 2011 – James Schwartz / The Urban Country

Imagine you could work 500 hours less every year. That works out to be an extra 12.5 weeks of vacation. Alternatively, imagine you got paid for an extra 500 hours of work each year, without having to work those extra 500 hours. That would work out to be an extra $11,000 every year for an average American making $22 per hour.

500 hours a year – or 2 hours each day – is roughly the equivalent to what the average American worker will work in order to pay for their cars (the average is between 1.46 hour/day and 2.90 hours/day depending on which data is used).

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This is a substantial amount of time and cost in order to have the “freedom”, or as I like to call it “imprisonment” of automobile ownership.

Furthermore, Americans on average sit in their cars for 48 minutes each day, and commuters in larger cities spend far more than this in their cars commuting to work. Here in Toronto, the average round trip commute time is 80 minutes – the worst among 19 cities studied last year (the study includes transit riders as well as motorists).

The United States has the highest rate of car ownership in the world, at 779 motor vehicles for every 1,000 man, woman and child. At 563 motor vehicles per 1,000 people, Canada has a 38% lower rate of car ownership than the United States – and Canada’s rate of car ownership is nothing to boast about.

Across the Pacific, China had only 128 motor vehicles for every 1,000 people as of 2008. Even at this very low rate of ownership, by 2010 we saw a 100KM traffic jam just outside of Beijing due to China’s massive population. Clearly there isn’t enough space to accommodate automobiles in the long run.

A recent article on Grist suggests that the UK might have reached the point of “peak cars”, and car ownership may be in fact declining. With rising gas prices, increasing urbanization, bicycles reclaiming urban space, and car-sharing services like Zipcar or Autoshare, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a shift toward declining automobile ownership.

Automobiles no longer represent the freedom that they used to symbolize. Motorists are angry from sitting in traffic congestion, and they are furious over rising gas prices. But instead of complaining, motorists can take action.

A recent article in the Economist covers in fair detail America’s traffic congestion woes, but fails to offer any pragmatic solutions to reducing traffic congestion beyond investing in more reliable and faster rail service. There isn’t a single mention of bicycles being used as a tool to improve congestion, even though the article compares commute times in the Netherlands to America. The Netherlands of course has invested far less in automobile infrastructure, and more in bicycle and rail infrastructure.

Perhaps the article could have also mentioned that 61.7% of all trips in America are 5 miles (8km) or less – an easy distance to use a bicycle. Despite the fact that most trips are within bicycling range, people don’t use bicycles because we have invested in infrastructure that solely accommodates motor vehicles. Infrastructure that is frankly – as the Economist points out – falling apart.

At the very least, bicycles can be combined with rail to reduce our dependency on automobiles and oil.

The Economist touches on a very relevant point however: States are not incented to provide alternate means of transportation, because they lose federal funding if their citizens drive less:

“The federal government is responsible for only a quarter of total transport spending, but the way it allocates funding shapes the way things are done at the state and local levels. Unfortunately, it tends not to reward the prudent, thanks to formulas that govern over 70% of federal investment. Petrol-tax revenues, for instance, are returned to the states according to the miles of highway they contain, the distances their residents drive, and the fuel they burn. The system is awash with perverse incentives. A state using road-pricing to limit travel and congestion would be punished for its efforts with reduced funding, whereas one that built highways it could not afford to maintain would receive a larger allocation.”

Politicians always think big, and America has built a system of freeways and roads that can no longer be properly maintained. With the high cost of maintaining an obscene amount of automobile infrastructure, now is the time to invest in re-shaping this infrastructure to better accommodate bicycles.

Pregnant woman with red Dutch bike in California

“Oma Fiets” by Richard Masoner / RateMyVelo.com

Besides investing in reshaping our streets to accommodate bicycles, another way the government can help provide incentives for people to become less reliant on automobiles is to encourage people to live closer to work.

A pilot program in Washington DC is doing just that. Citizens can receive up to $12,000 for moving closer to work or public transit. The program is called Live Near Your Work, and will match up to $6,000 in benefits that businesses will offer their employees to move closer to work.

If going car-free and saving up to $11,000 a year isn’t enough of an incentive, then getting $12,000 from an employer and the City of Washington DC would be the icing on the cake. The initial pilot program has a fund of $200,000 to hand out in its initial phase. But the model will provide a great incentive for other cities to invest in reducing their own traffic congestion through positive incentives.

If the money isn’t enough of an incentive, then perhaps the freedom of not being stuck in traffic congestion while gaining a healthy dose of exercise is.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

i share the road

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  • Micheal Blue

    James, that’s nice and true. At the same time the proper bike infrastructure must be in place for people to feel comfortable bike-commuting. Exercising while inhaling car fumes is not very pleasant. I’ll go as far as saying that there won’t be any meaningful increase of cycling until proper separate bike paths are built. Politicians need to wake up. In this case the saying “build it and they will come” is true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Agreed Michael. Infrastructure is important, but we can’t wait around forever while politicians bicker over the cost-benefit analysis of building infrastructure when barely anyone is bicycling. More people need to start riding now and demand better infrastructure or we will still be in the same place 10 years from now.

    Through this website, I try to push for better infrastructure *and* for more people cycling despite our lack of infrastructure. I think it’s important to do both. Things will move faster than if we wait for everything to be built before we change our habits.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00961730330848873802 Ben

    Michael, I disagree. My experience from riding in traffic is that fumes aren’t much of a problem. You get the occasional whiff, but generally the air isn’t bad. There was a study that showed that the air cyclists breathe is slightly better than what’s in the cabin of most cars.

  • Micheal Blue

    Ben, that’s probably true. I’ve also heard that air in cars can get nasty. I speak from my experience. My commute is mostly along the lake shore bike path, but some of it also along some streets. The worst is Queens Quay.
    I was waiting for green light behind a car and the smell from his tail pipe was terrible. It depends how windy it is. There is a huge difference between the air quality at the separate bike paths compared to vehicular cycling, obviously. Some people may wave this off, as you did, Ben, but the majority of people are not “hard-core” cyclists and need to feel comfy while biking. Being enveloped by car fumes is not comfy. James, I think one of the best ways to inspire people to cycle is to show them how enjoyable it is by being seen cycling and looking relaxed and joyful. Speaking of this, I think
    that cyclists who ride road-racing-style bikes, wear tight clothes, and zip by at over 30km/h help with this much. Yet it seems that at least 50% of the bikers I see on the streets and bike paths are of this type.

  • Micheal Blue

    Sorry, I meant to say “don’t help with that much”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Michael, it seems we are on the same page. You might have seen my post the other week about the Velo-City Global 2012 conference in Vancouver. Most of the 60+ comments on that article discuss exactly that – promoting bicycling with people in the same clothes that they would wear if they were walking or driving instead of selling it as something that requires extensive gear and specialized clothing (http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/04/dont-judge-canada-velo-city-global-2012.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04808661100114872654 Yokota Fritz

    I live three quarters of a mile from the transit center I use. Up to $12,000 to move closer? Where do I sign up? Oh wait, DC only :-)

    If you’re only a half mile from transit, the bike infrastructure is almost irrelevant (though in my town, there is no sidewalk connecting the transit center to the rest of my town, believe it or not — people walking to the transit center walk in the street to get there.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03707210159399914876 Rain

    Yeah, those fancy pants road racers are totally ruining it for the rest of us! Why can’t they be more joyful in appearance?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13860435351434957900 cubithq

    +1 to Micheal’s comment.

    Riding my bike on the road with cars in my city is scary. Until I no longer feel that my life is at risk when I bike, I will continue to choose to drive my car 1 mile to the store. I don’t like the implications of my choice, but I don’t see another option that keeps me safe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02171645453783716103 San Diego Dave

    I enjoy my car and don’t mind paying for it one bit. My wife and I deal with commuting by choosing to live close to our jobs (less than a 10 minutes drive each way).

    Not everyone want to live in a dense urban environment. Same thing for businesses – not all are well suited to dense areas in high-rise buildings. For those of us who prefer (or need) to live in suburban areas, cars do equate to freedom. I’m sorry you don’t see it that way, but I can count to many more positive events in my life that have been possible due to being able to get in an car and just “go” than the negatives.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07342092531327478618 tell leo once

    Presumably those 2 hours don’t cover the portion of our taxes which go to roads or oil company subsidies. How many more hours do we work to fund the military operations which ensure access to cheap oil? Two hours a day for cars seems like a low estimate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00724347683404796192 Ryan B

    I agree with a lot of what you said, although this ignores the costs to individuals of bike ownership, public transportation use, possibly needing cabs from grocery stores/hardware stores and the like, the relative difficulty of transporting kids on bikes (I have a 2 year old), the relative difficulty of biking in snow/very low temperatures (I live in Boston) and the cost of renting a car whenever you want to go somewhere far-ish away.

    I find it hard to avoid having a car, but given that I paid cash for the car and that I only fill up its 9.5 gallon tank once every three or so weeks except when going on a long trip, it doesn’t cost *that* much. I also still take public transportation into and out of work, so most days I only use it to drive my kid to day care and back which works out to a total of 10 minutes in the car per day or so.

  • Jill

    If I work about 8 hours a day, two of which go to paying for my car, then that is 6 hrs a day I get paid for that I wouldn’t if I did not have a car, as I need one to get to work (45min drive away – limited work options and limited savings necessitate the long commute). Yeah, it sucks that a quarter of my time at work was spent just getting there, but the other three quarters of my time allow me to pay rent and eat. Better than not having a car (since without the car, the house and food go too).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16483010549633490581 lokipro

    I find it funny when people go crazy about traffic. I actually find it relaxing, and I’ve taught myself to make it my ‘zen’ time. I listen to news, catch up with friends/family, belt out the tunes, listen to a book and relax. If you can’t control it, why let it bother you?

    And before anyone asks, yes, I have to use the beltway.

    And if there are fumes or a horrible smell, you can’t escape it whether you are in a car or outside it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16953610792430204523 Ian Monroe

    It’s very poor strategy to call for massive infrastructure improvements while claiming that we can’t afford to upkeep what we have.

    The fact of the matter is that we have unemployment, a strong dollar, record low interest rates. What exact reason do you think we couldn’t raise a trillion dollars and build rail and upkeep our roads? A trillion sounds like a lot, but with the low interest 30 year loan we could get its actually quite reasonable per year (forget the number exactly).

  • Ernie

    Sorry, $11,000 a year is a daft number that’s been overinflated purely to add shock value to your argument.

    1) People’s free time is exactly that: free. If you lived next door to your work, would you spend that extra X minutes per day working? No, you would not. And don’t pretend that you would. I know that *I* don’t, and I live 3 blocks from work. Maybe the 15% of us that are workaholics would, but they do they overtime regardless of commuting time anyway. Don’t include free time spent commuting in your calculations on “how much a car costs”.

    2) You’re working with averages, not real numbers. There is no household where 1.43 people are working, and paying for 2.28 cars. You want to be helpful? Show the reader how to really calculate how much *they’re* really spending. Unfortunately for your argument, most people are going to come up with a number that is *way, way, way* lower than $11,000 per year. Some more people will come up with a number that is way higher than that. Those people don’t give a damn, because they’re also *making* way more than the average. And when they’re driving a Mercedes, you can bet your well-developed gluteus muscles they won’t give that up for *anything*.

    3) Car ownership *does* equal freedom. And scads of extra time added to your life. And scads of other things to do with that extra time. I know this because I do *not* own a car, and have not even driven in 10 years. If I owned a car, I would be able to go places that take an hour on public transit, in around 25 minutes (proven in real-life traffic too). I live in a central location in a dense urban environment, and my townhouse is 3 blocks from rapid transit. In other words, it is the best possible scenario for a transit user. And still I am largely isolated from my friends and can’t get out much to enjoy my hobbies and meetups.

    4) A bicycle does not replace a car. I speak from experience when I say that for the past three years I’ve *almost* been able to make that work. “Almost” really, really does not cut it when you’re trying to cart your 3 year old and a week’s worth of groceries home and it’s 3 Celcius and raining. Almost can be good enough under other circumstances, but not *all* circumstances. Coincidentally, this is the second reason that about 3 or 4 times as many trips are made *on foot* than by bike. Walking is actually more practical. I say this in spite of the fact that I actually like cycling a lot.

    The real mistake that so many motorists make in America isn’t car ownership. It’s utter reliance on a car. Which is why there are 2.28 cars per household. They all need a backup when they live 48 miles from work. And they all bought real estate that requires a car purely because they owned a car in the first place, and said real estate was cheaper.

    When you live where *I* live on the other hand, the most cars you *need* per household is 1.0. If that one car is unavailable for any reason when you need it, take transit. Because you can.

  • Anonymous

    I feel like I work all the time to pay for m car. But, I live in Oakland and work in a Bart insaccessable part of SF, which would make my daily commute RT on public transport, about 13 dollars. Owning my car is a little bit more expensive, but only a little bit, and I can still get out of the cities easily.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08669769749713370493 Michael McGrath

    38 years as a planner teaches me that what is needed is an integrated transportation system that combines the various modes into a coherent whole. The U.S. lacks such a system – we have a mono-modal (auto) system. Years ago traveling in the Netherlands, I saw the other way. People with long commutes rode their bikes to a bus station, got on a bus with bike racks, went to a train station, rode train to work (w/bike) and had the freedom of a bike in the central city for lunch etc. Not bad!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14432418363869314372 Charles Siegel

    It is an interesting calculation, but there is a better source of data. The census bureau does a survey of household expenditures every year and publishes the results in the Statistical Abstract of the United States. The results for 2008 were:

    Total consumption expenditures for the average household: $50,486
    Total spending on transportation for the average household: $8,604

    see the first table at http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/income_expenditures_poverty_wealth.html

    So the automobile does not account for quite as much as you claim – though I agree with your basic point that people would be better off having the extra money or extra time, rather than being forced to spend all that money just to get around auto-dependent suburbs.

  • http://www.shocks-coilovers.com/ k-sport coilovers

    Population has been increasing every year as well as motors that jams the streets. Though I would prefer to be comfortable inside my car while driving wherever I want but the benefit also of walking or biking outweighs the comfort of having a car.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06543338372471668466 Joel

    Ben, “There was a study that showed that the air cyclists breathe is slightly better than what’s in the cabin of most cars.” I find that impossible to believe, especially with cabin air filters filtering out any fumes your car may emitting as well as any outdoor pollutants.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02067960137821266265 LBJ

    Traffic congestion is a huge problem where I live. My commute is too long to do entirely by bicycle, but I just got a Montague folding bike, so now I can ride to the train station, fold the bike and take it on the train, and then ride to work on the other end. It actually ends up being faster than driving to work, and I get some exercise riding the bike, and I can relax on the train. I can’t believe I didn’t start doing it sooner.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Charles, that number doesn’t tell the whole story, and I’m actually not surprised that it’s $8,604. The $8,604 is reduced by households who don’t own any cars (e.g. people who take public transit, walk or bike).

    A more interesting number would be what the average cost of transportation is for households that own at least one automobile. That would remove the subsidization of transportation costs by households who don’t own cars.

    My number attempts to determine the number of hours a full-time worker would work to pay their automobiles, and I calculated the average number of hours based on owning a single automobile and the number of hours for households which own 2.28 cars on average. However, the average of 2.28 cars per household is also subsidized by the households who don’t own cars, so if we removed those households from the calculation, the average would be even higher per household.

    As someone had pointed out, the outliers certainly drive up the number of cars owned per household, but they also drive up the median income as well. Either way, I still think I was fairly conservative in these estimates.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Ian, I’m not calling for massive infrastructure improvements, I’m calling for pragmatic, cost-effective solutions that make the choice easier to use bicycles for short trips.

    If most Americans didn’t drive their cars for all of their trips, then we wouldn’t need the massive infrastructure that we currently can’t afford to maintain.

    I actually think the solution is to make motorists pay based on usage of the roads and invest that money in providing better alternatives to driving. That way, drivers will be “incentivized” not to drive while money is being raised to give those drivers better choices.

    The gas tax currently collected doesn’t cut it anymore. People are perversely incented to drive more because of better fuel economy in their cars, while the government raises less money to maintain the roads!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Ernie,

    1) $11,000 a year is not overinflated to add any shock value. In fact, I was very conservative in that estimate. Also, I didn’t include the time people spend in their car commuting. I assume that people will spend time commuting regardless of which mode of transportation they use so it wouldn’t make sense to include that time in the calculation.

    2) People with more disposable income will buy more cars, yes. But they will also drive up the median income – which has been included in my calculation.

    3) This point is debatable. Yes, people choose to live in places where they require a car for survival. But I wouldn’t call that freedom.

    4) You are correct, cars are still necessary for some trips. And that’s where car sharing programs are great. A car should be one tool in our toolbox that we use to transport ourselves – just like a bike is. I just don’t think the car should be our *only* tool in that toolbox.

  • dr2chase

    The problem with “car ownership adds years to your life” is that in practice, it doesn’t. In theory it could, if you also owned a bike and used it for short trips, which gives you a fair amount of exercise, but in practice, people use their car for all trips and that just helps you get out-of-shape. That subtracts years from your life. I’ve seen three different estimates for the benefits of bicycle-related exercise. In one, (Mayer Hillman) it was estimated that every year of life lost to bicycle crashes, was paid back ten-fold in years gained from better health. In another, a large multi-year Danish study, they found that non-bicycle-commuters had a 39% higher mortality rate. Another, I don’t recall where I read it, made the claim that every hour spent cycling is paid back in (on average) increased lifespan (one year = 10000 hours = 120,000 miles. 2000 miles/year for 60 years is a decent amount of cycling, it’s plausible). So that literally, the time spent on the bicycle is not subtracted from your life (within reason — this fails to work if you are one of those rare people with a 50-mile commute).

    Another way of looking at this is to suppose that you did get enough exercise at the gym to get the same benefits. That’s great, but you’re going nowhere. If you instead rode a bicycle for errands whenever it was no more than twice as slow as driving, you would get that same exercise for only half the time spent. Again, bicycling wins.

    And the goal is not “no cars”, in the same way that I am neither a teetotaler nor an alcoholic, and not particularly interested in becoming either one. It is much reduced use of cars. That would provide us with numerous benefits. Even the 50-mile-commuters should want other people with shorter commutes to ride bikes to work, so as to reduce the demand for gasoline and thus make their commutes somewhat more affordable.

  • http://www.fluitek.com/ Fluitek

    This article makes sense.. I agree with this post. Thanks for the information. :)

  • Nik

    I used to live in a two car household. And when I switched to my bike as primary transportation for myself, I saw a large decrease in car expense. My insurance was cut in half as well as lower fuel costs and other miscellaneous vehicle costs (registration, maintenance). While it may not be practical for people to cut their cars out of their life, there are ways to integrate using your bike more. For people who are afraid of riding your bike on the street I say this: The streets won’t get safer until we make them safer. I ride in a very urban area with no bike lanes and buses and cars who can’t see/ or aren’t looking for someone on a bike, but that won’t change unless we make it change. The more bikes on the road means less cars will be on the road. And cities will have to look at the infrastructure when it doesn’t work anymore. With the economy as tight as it is right now isn’t it worth saving the little bit of gas to hop on your bike to the corner market?

  • http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/ jean

    As the first line of my blog post says, “I’ve been wanting to tell my story…”…the money I’ve been able to save for other things when living a car-free life for past 30 years.

    http://thirdwavecyclingblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/30-car-free-years-cycling-pumps-money-into-my-wallet/ It’s alot of money folks to own and operate a car. I did my calculations provided by CAA.

    Unless one has a job that involves multiple visits to client sites or work site, and especially if a person doesn’t have children, and lives in a city with transit system, I absolutely will affirm that one can live without a car.

    We rent a car about 1-2 times per yr. for about 2 days in total. Use taxis..hmm less than 5 times annually.

    REst is cycling, walking or transit. It also helps to make a conscience decision to live near transit system.

    By the way, I lived, worked and cycled in Metro Toronto for over 20 years..I worked across the region and did live out in Scarborough near East York border. So I cycled through the ravine pathway system or waterfront route to get to work in the financial district.

    In VAncouver by the Seaside-Seawall path. In Calgary, near the BowRiver MUP system.

    All 3 MUP systems are great commutes early in the morning. Very peaceful and invigorating.

    I gave up my car license at 22 yrs. because I didn’t enjoy driving.

  • http://profiles.google.com/repo371 Rodney Youngblood

    I thought the same when I first began commuting. Perceived fear is what keeps many people from actively cycling using the existing vehicular infrastructure. We don’t fully understand traffic dynamics and the culture of speed alienates all other forms of conveyance.

    Check out http://www.cyclingsavvy.org for the to begin the empowerment you are seeking.

  • Ride On magazine

    Calculations of the Australian situation by Ride On magazine found savings of $3.5 million (Aust) possible from riding instead of driving a car. Alternatively riders could payoff a mortgage 13 years faster. http://rideons.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/you%E2%80%99re-in-the-money/

  • http://twitter.com/BehoovingMoving Steven Fleming

    I would add the amount of time we spend working to pay tax to build roads. I’m tired of my taxes paying to build and maintain roads I will never use.

  • bobfairlane

    I’d love to ride my bike more for transportation, but the drivers here are #cks and if you are pulling groceries or something that makes you a little slower they are even worse. I have a motorized bike that does 35 and that’s STILL not enough for the cagers.

  • http://twitter.com/djkenny kenny heggem

    There is many extremes in terms of cost here, I am sure.

    This is based on the average American willing to pay big money to have new(er) cars, perhaps every 4-5 years even. But for some folks like myself that keep their cars for 15-25 years… we do not have this level of expense.

    New cars cost a lot to buy (often 10 grand to over 20 grand), they have higher insurance and registration costs often as well. The cost to repair are even higher due to folks making the mistake of paying high dealer maintenance and repair costs.

    I bought my car used in the year 2000 for, a 1992 VW GTI for 5 grand. I fix it when it breaks, have a decent priced/honest mechanic, and “when I used to drive it” more regularly, say 8 thousand miles a year… I doubt I paid over $1500-2000 a year average between gas and a repair, tune up, occasional tri yearly $25 oil changes, or what have you that might come up.

    The last 5 years I have owned it has been closer to $500 a year to own and keep up because I drive less than 600 miles a year now, even put it on limited use with insurance, often not driving a whole month, calling in while it is on “storage status” at $30 every 6 months = $100 a year insurance to drive with those occasional calls to insurance to use it for $4 for the day, Less than $8 for the weekend. Oil changes, I do them about 1 time a year… for $20 from a local Jiffy Lube with a coupon. I could probably stretch it further since driving is not common enough to hit 3000 miles in even 4 years now.

    Follow a program like this, folks not intending on driving more than say less than 1000 miles a year like me… it beats Zip Car costs even. Only works if you actually “own” a car free and clear, otherwise.. just do Zip Car.

  • http://twitter.com/djkenny kenny heggem

    There is many extremes in terms of cost here, I am sure.

    This is based on the average American willing to pay big money to have new(er) cars, perhaps every 4-5 years even. But for some folks like myself that keep their cars for 15-25 years… we do not have this level of expense.

    New cars cost a lot to buy (often 10 grand to over 20 grand), they have higher insurance and registration costs often as well. The cost to repair are even higher due to folks making the mistake of paying high dealer maintenance and repair costs.

    I bought my car used in the year 2000 for, a 1992 VW GTI for 5 grand. I fix it when it breaks, have a decent priced/honest mechanic, and “when I used to drive it” more regularly, say 8 thousand miles a year… I doubt I paid over $1500-2000 a year average between gas and a repair, tune up, occasional tri yearly $25 oil changes, or what have you that might come up.

    The last 5 years I have owned it has been closer to $500 a year to own and keep up because I drive less than 600 miles a year now, even put it on limited use with insurance, often not driving a whole month, calling in while it is on “storage status” at $30 every 6 months = $100 a year insurance to drive with those occasional calls to insurance to use it for $4 for the day, Less than $8 for the weekend. Oil changes, I do them about 1 time a year… for $20 from a local Jiffy Lube with a coupon. I could probably stretch it further since driving is not common enough to hit 3000 miles in even 4 years now.

    Follow a program like this, folks not intending on driving more than say less than 1000 miles a year like me… it beats Zip Car costs even. Only works if you actually “own” a car free and clear, otherwise.. just do Zip Car.

  • http://twitter.com/djkenny kenny heggem

    There is many extremes in terms of cost here, I am sure.

    This is based on the average American willing to pay big money to have new(er) cars, perhaps every 4-5 years even. But for some folks like myself that keep their cars for 15-25 years… we do not have this level of expense.

    New cars cost a lot to buy (often 10 grand to over 20 grand), they have higher insurance and registration costs often as well. The cost to repair are even higher due to folks making the mistake of paying high dealer maintenance and repair costs.

    I bought my car used in the year 2000 for, a 1992 VW GTI for 5 grand. I fix it when it breaks, have a decent priced/honest mechanic, and “when I used to drive it” more regularly, say 8 thousand miles a year… I doubt I paid over $1500-2000 a year average between gas and a repair, tune up, occasional tri yearly $25 oil changes, or what have you that might come up.

    The last 5 years I have owned it has been closer to $500 a year to own and keep up because I drive less than 600 miles a year now, even put it on limited use with insurance, often not driving a whole month, calling in while it is on “storage status” at $30 every 6 months = $100 a year insurance to drive with those occasional calls to insurance to use it for $4 for the day, Less than $8 for the weekend. Oil changes, I do them about 1 time a year… for $20 from a local Jiffy Lube with a coupon. I could probably stretch it further since driving is not common enough to hit 3000 miles in even 4 years now.

    Follow a program like this, folks not intending on driving more than say less than 1000 miles a year like me… it beats Zip Car costs even. Only works if you actually “own” a car free and clear, otherwise.. just do Zip Car.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Kenny, the numbers I used are simply averages so they take into consideration people like you who keep your car costs very low, but as you mention there are people on the other extreme who spend a lot on a car.

    Where I live in Canada, the insurance cost alone is $2,000 a year, so you are fortunate to be able to only pay $500 a year. For me the insurance cost alone makes car sharing a cost effective alternative.

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    All employers have to comply with strict health and safety legislation to ensure that their employees are not put at risk of being injured and that the work environment is safe. Despite this, many personal injury at work or work accidents still occur – accidents which lead to injuries.

  • Stew McGregor

    Incredible play on your arithmetic there. Clearly, Americans need to be more frugal on their spending for their cars. The government should be building more infrastructure for mass transportation not only to save their current economy from this financial mess in terms of their mortgage lead but more importantly to save their middle class in the future.

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  • http://Mansgreatestmistake.com Man’s Greatest Mistake

    Great piece – and there are lots of other hidden costs to car ownership – http://www.mansgreatestmistake.com/the-true-cost-of-cars/are-cars-really-our-greatest-mistake