The Financial Burden of Being Mobile (in a car)
Sad, but I knew this. These types of statistics were one of the reasons I got back on a bike last year – I can’t stomach working at a job for 4 months out of the year just to pay for a car, which I only need to get to the job. The numbers are not so bad for me (cheaper very used car, decent income) but the very thought hurts my soul.
Anybody read the authors’ book? (“Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effect on our Lives”)
This got me thinking and I did some quick numbers on my car. I paid cash for it 4 years ago and have since put about 40k miles on it.
Including the purchase price, a conservative estimate for gas (total miles I put on car divided by average mpg x $2.50 per gallon of gas), insurance and repairs I came to about $14k for the 4 year period. I’m figuring that’s a really conservative estimate. A lot of those miles were on the Turnpike, and I didn’t figure in the tolls. And I’m sure If I really think about little things like wiper blades, washer fluid, oil changes, putting coins in the air pump for my tires, car washes, etc I could easily tack another $1,000 to that figure over 4 years.
And that’s for a 96 Jetta with 171k miles on it.
I know my situation isn’t typical, but I’ve bought cars, driven them for months, sold them, and still profited after repairs/gas/insurance/etc…
In the past 18 months our household of 2 has spent $5495 on service, repairs, parts, parking, fuel, insurance, tolls, registration, rental/zip cars, etc for a late 90s Toyota Camry. (mint.com is really, really cool) Maybe add $15-20 for parking meters and air pump machines that weren’t recorded digitally. A large chunk of that is service and parts, since it is an older car. It is a decent chunk of money, but driving that much is only a temporary situation for us. I’m guessing around 17-18k miles were driven in that time, mostly on the turnpike. It allowed two people to live in one place, but work/school some 30 miles apart. Without a car, we would have to give up one of those things.
Unlike Nick, we probably won’t make a profit unless we find a brick of $100 bills in the door panels.
I guess that is a very good indication of just how valuable some tools and a mechanical mind are worth.
I think I have invested under $4,500 in my car (including the price of the car, insurance, repairs, gasoline, parking, etc) in the past 25 months. That is being a bit on the heavy side since I minimize fuel consumption in the summer by riding my 100+mpg Aprilia scooter.
In my mind, that is a bargain because without a car there is no way I could have run either business.
I hung out with Lolly at bikepgh a few weeks ago and we compared transportation costs, which lead me down a trail of woe recounting the money that has gone into my cars.
91 civic from 2004-2008:
$850 w/ parents insurance
$1800 initial repairs
$4160 estimated gas
Sold for: $900
total loss: $6510
2008-2010 ’08 subaru impreza lease
$3120 estimated gas
I needed the civic when I was in jersey because I commuted to school and there were no public transportation options, and I needed the subaru because the civic had 500,000 miles on it and I didn’t know what driving in pittsburgh would be like or how much driving I’d be doing. Its helped me get through a tough winter pretty well and its helped me truck around a ton of stuff.
Next august, when my lease is up, I’ll be ditching my scooby for another scooby, but just buying used, probably a baja, for all the moving/construction/building/freelance gigs/geekery that I do.
@Nick I’d estimate $800 of that is labor. So for my situation, tools and a mechanical mind are worth $44 a month. I did do a number of the repairs myself. Granted, if I knew the first thing about cars, I probably would find a good deal on a decent used car and fix it up like you did. Gas and all that other shit would still costs what it costs, and was well more than half of what we spent.
I trued my own bicycle wheel though. That only cost me $10 for the wrench.
Lord. This discussion made me go look in the garage. I haven’t driven my car since early july and it has three nearly flat tires. Anybody want to buy a very used audi? With a torn cv boot, bad rear brakes and an iffy tranny… (:
Dan, even though the invoices say only $800 of it was labor, the true labor cost is much higher. When a shop invoices you for parts, they mark-up the parts from their cost. I have seen some shops that charged customers 100% mark-up.
That is how I used to get cars so cheap. Plus, when you are in control of the parts, you also decide the grade. The difference between a generic part like a ball joint, and a higher quality one (Moog or Bilstien for example), can be huge, but sometimes the cheaper part that only will last a year or two is perfectly fine for a car you plan to get rid of or rarely drive.
On that note, plenty of shops get the lowest quality parts available and charge you premium part prices plus mark-up.
I have often seen part prices around $80-150 for things like rotors, where the shops is using the cheapest ones that cost $15-30.
Lyle, Year? Model? Manual or auto?
I don’t have a wholesale source for parts. I did a good bit of research before each repair and determined the parts cost based on what I could buy the stuff for online, just to make sure I didn’t get screwed. The shops I found usually priced them at or lower than the net price. I have no doubt it would be cheaper if I did a lot of auto repairs and got wholesale pricing. A few of the smaller parts that aren’t known for quickly wearing out I was able to buy used on ebay and brought them to the shop for installation. I’ll just call you next time the thing breaks down
The Huffington Post article references AAA’s new per-mile rate: $0.73 per mile. It was around $0.50-0.55 as of last year. Yowza.
yeah, I noticed that too Ian. The federal rate is $.50 I think. It was $.55 a year or so ago when gas prices were up.
Dan, you just might have found an honest shop.
Though, next time you need something, let me know, I do have a wholesale source.
Nick – I think you’ve hit on a broader philosophical point. DIY is cheaper… IF you know what you are doing. For cars, you do. For cars… I don’t.
I can tell when a mechanic is making an inappropriate amount of money off of me (usually their body language and shop conditions tell me). I don’t know enough to argue or instruct them otherwise. So I have a “guy” I go to, that I trust. BTW, if anybody has a german car and is looking for a mechanic, I’ve got your guy (other cars are out of luck, he doesn’t like anything non-german and sends them away).
I’ve found it to be true of food (cooking for real, from scratch, seasonal, preferably from my garden is dirt cheap if not free), home repair (I can manage a lot on my own with the internets and a decent hardware store), sewing (though goodwill kind of makes this moot)… most of life.
If you can do it yourself and you know what you’re doing, high quality results are affordable. Problem is, not everyone can be a mechanic, carpenter, electrician, chef, gardener, plumber, seamstress, spouse, parent, AND work a full time job. Maybe a few, but the others will be outsourced.
I think cars, since they’re used every day and gas/tolls are pretty frequent for people who use them, have a lot of expenses that people forget about (unless they’re in the business like Nick or OC about money like me). I know some people who are car nuts and love them and driving, and no increased understanding (if possible) of costs would ever change their ways (good for Nick’s business!). But they’re not spending because it’s necessary, they spend because they love it.
I don’t think they’re the majority of the people sitting on the parkway every afternoon, though. Maybe I’m wrong.
I once knew a guy who bought almost dead cars, around $1000 in today’s dollars, and drove them until they needed a repair he couldn’t do himself. Sometimes he only got a month or two, sometimes he lucked out and got a year or more. By his figuring, he was way ahead, money-wise. Always had $2K sitting in the bank to get a car on no notice. Minimal insurance, never a repair cost, never a payment, always paid cash in full so he was getting interest on his savings instead of paying it on a loan.
Except for living on the edge, having a car that might not make it through the day, I’d say he really did have a valid concept.
That’s a very good point. There are a large number of people out there that truly do love cars and driving (myself included). Many of them are gear heads that just love them for what they are or the experience they offer.
Thinking about it, I realize I have spent more money on bikes and bike related things in the past two years than I have on my car…
(I think the cheapest car I ever bought was a 1989 Honda Accord SE-i–$200. It was an ugly thing but handled well and got ~45mpg. After $300 in parts for repairs, $24 for six months on insurance–it was an addition car on a policy–$220 in gas, and $85 for registration, title transfer, and taxes, I profited about $1,000)
I calculated recently that I’ve spent about $8,000 on transportation since I graduated from college in 2001.
I’ve never owned a car. I have always intentionally moved to places where I could rely on good public transportation that is fast, predictable, clean, and affordable.
I became addicted to riding a bicycle in 2006 for transportation when I asked my parents to bring my old Huffy from high school to my apartment in DC.
@StuInMcCandless: I think I might be that guy. Except I keep two vehicles around at all times. When one goes down for repair, I drive the other. I don’t drive very much, maybe 4,000 miles a year. I used to have one NICE vehicle and I learned that if you don’t drive much then things start to rust, such as brake rotors and other brake components, also mice like to move into engine compartments and chew on wires. If you have a place to store a vehicle indoors then you can keep a nice vehicle and not drive it much but when you store your vehicle outdoors it will develop problems even if you don’t drive it(As I learned the hard way).
So, now I sold my one vehicle for nearly twenty (yes, 20) times what I have into my current 2 vehicles. Granted, neither of them are nice but they both are reliable and have yet to leave me stranded. They have a combined mileage of nearly 400,000 miles but most vehicles today will last a long time if rust does not get to them first. I am also able to do almost all the work on my vehicles, which saves me a lot of money but sometimes eats up a lot of time.
If you do research and are willing to work on your own vehicle you can find a lot of good deals out there. I’ll use my Ford Ranger Pickup for an example. I found out that the leaf spring hangers on the rear of the truck are prone to rusting out. This will cause the rear suspension of the truck to fail pretty catastrophically. Most people (after getting an insane quote from their mechanic) will send the truck to the scrap yard or sell for a few hundred bucks on craigslist. I can fix the issue in about 6 hours work and about $200 in parts. So I just look for Rangers with this problem.
My second example is the Honda Civic. There are a billion of these vehicles out there, maybe only second to the ford ranger and f150 (A Honda Civic is my second vehicle). You can find parts on ebay for these cars for 1/10 price of other vehicles. The main reason is people are always modding these cars, they will pull perfectly good stock parts in order to replace them with faster/higher performance parts and sell the stock parts for almost nothing. Even the aftermarket high performance parts are cheep. I bought a complete stainless steel exhaust system for less than $200. Including a high performance header. I priced out the parts at NAPA without the header and I was looking at $600!
Now at this point your eyes might be glazing over. SO I’ll get to the point. If I had not had two (and sometimes three vehicles) I would not have been able to allow one to go down for repair and then research a less expensive way to fix it. I would have been at the mercy of an mechanic.
Just like Ejwme said above, it is always cheaper to do it yourself than to rely on others to do your dirty work. If you can work on a bicycle, you can fix just about anything. You just need the right tools.
Stu: just keep a folder in the trunk.
Unfortunately San Diego is really spread out and my neighborhood is full of old rich people & the neighboring neighborhood is bro-town & the bus isn’t much use so I think I need something motorized to be able to do a lot of things I want to. A car would be a lot of money for a luxury item so I’m thinking about a motorcycle. Less than $2000 for something that stands a chance of being reasonably reliable, hopefully.
It’s probably more expensive in CA, but here, for $2,000, you can get a motorcycle that will run until the end of the next millenium.
In fact, you would be better off buying one in PA and riding it out there! Here they only get ridden 6 mo/year. Road trip?
Last year I calculated that for the price of gas to work for 12 months, I could instead buy a Bike Friday and, if I was completely insane, throw it away at the end of the year (or more rationally I could either save a lot or I guess eventually have hellalot of bikes.) So we only own one car.
I’ve managed to get along with only one car since 1994, but if the next job is in Moon or farther, I may have to reconsider, especially if the buses go bye-bye in March. I may take my friend’s advice and get a dirt-cheap almost-deadmobile, using the bike and Car #1 as backup. These two-hour-each-way trips are killing me.
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