I love cars. They have always fascinated me, since I was a kid. I knew (still do) every model, every spec: horsepower, weight, torque, transmission… everything. I’ve always thought about the road as a non-stop showroom for cars. They keep going and going. You step out of your house and (if you are fortunate enough) you might see some wild species among the utilitarians, a game for a kid who loved cars. In many ways, they feel like magic to me.
In 2008 I bought a car. Back then I was 20 and in the middle of college, but I felt like I needed one (fast forward, I didn’t). So I did my research (of course some branding issues weighted here) evaluating all sorts of parameters, from efficiency, performance, lightness and a large etc. It took me some time (months) to decide, I always spend a lot of time studying all the alternatives, overlooking all the details, picturing the different scenarios within the possible choices… I was designed that way, I can’t help it. But finally I chose. And by the way, I did a pretty solid choice.
In June 2008 I had my shiny new car parked in my garage and I was amazed. I looked for any excuse to drive it. I use it for nearly everything, although some commutes could be done more efficiently by bike or public transport. I couldn’t be more materialistically (I just made that word up) happy. This were the early days, the heat of the moment. But eventually, like every material pleasure, it faded away.
After some (not that much) time, I find myself with a car, which I worshiped in terms of crafting and engineering, but also hated for all the time it was spending parked in the garage. That contradiction didn’t come overnight, but it grew on me the more I thought about it.
So I started to think what implied to have and under used car. And it terrified me. Not just the costs associated within the “having” that car, but also the fact of owning that piece of metal, plastic and glass sitting quiet, in my garage.
But first things first. The costs.
The simple fact of buying that car (not talking about renting / leasing plans here) means that the very moment you push the START button, that artifact is worth 10% or 20% less of what you just paid for it. In terms of economics I dare say that’s a pretty bad investment. But it’s not just that, because despite you keep the car in a garage and never use it, its value will inevitably continue to plunge. Moreover, it’s not a current asset, so you can’t exchange it easily for money, and the process of selling one it’s tough and often involves some costs and a lot of your own time.
So, immediate value loss, assured lifetime deprecation and non-current asset. Pictured that way, nobody would bet on it, yet everybody seems to drive one. Let’s continue.
What are the costs involving keeping your car running?
- Gas: here we are talking a lot of money. With the current gas prices - 1.6€/l - driving 750km with some medium class car translates to something like 100€ (~USD133). That's just crazy, but gas prices continue to go up and people don't seem to give up on cars.
- Insurance: add (obviously depending on the car you own, I'm talking average here) from 500 up to 1500€/year, and that's for basic insurance policies, if you want something that covers robbery or pays even if it's your fault you could add an extra 500€ to the number I just wrote.
- Maintenance: this cost depends so much on your car manufacturer, the kind of maintenance you are getting in for (it's not the same changing oil that replacing the transmission), but in my case it was even worse. I didn't use my car that much. So you'd think that I could skip this cost because no distance equals no wear. But it doesn't work that way. My car had some fancy display that counted the revision periods either by the mileage or by a time span… So either way you should visit your beloved mechanic.
- Taxes, parking, wash, accessories… I'm not going into the specifics here, but I think I made my point.
Each year I had my car, used or not, I spend on average more than 2.500€ on all the things I described above. And that’s a ton of money.
The under used stuff
I’m not going to start a discussion about the usage of things. That’s a whole new post. But sometimes I think it’s healthy to look around and think about how much we use or need the things we own. I just did that with my car. I’m not saying every car is underused, I just did this reflexion by myself. My car was sitting in my garage more than 95% of its lifetime (and yes, I did the math). I felt sad about it. That’s a lot of metal, plastic, glass and other commodities that could be better used in other places.
We all use cars to go places. That's the way it is. It’s inefficient, expensive and a waste of resources, but sometimes we are left with no other options. That was not my case. I live in a big city, there are great communications, buses, underground, bikes… I get that this may not suit everyone’s needs, but it suited mine.
Another problem involved here is that sometimes we relate material things or experiences to social statuses. I mean, “we are taught” that driving a fancy car pushes yourself up in some kind of social ladder. That’s bullshit. We misunderstood “developed world”. Development doesn’t mean that even the poorest guy should get a car, it means that the richest should be going to work by bike. And it seems that nobody understands that. Even though it may be changing.
I sold my car
After some months dealing with possible buyers I finally sold it. I was unchained from my car and it felt great. Lighter and liberated. I really believe that minimalism and owning less has a great impact in people life, selling my car was clear proof of this.
Ok, but what now? Sometimes I needed to travel long distances (where a bike cannot take you) and I had to deal with these situations. So I signed in for ZipCar. Zipcar is one of those services that when you tell people about, everyone says: “boy, that makes sense!”. And it really does. Why everyone need a car that is not using, if a company can hold it for you and you just pay them for the time you want it. It’s brilliant. Moreover I live in Barcelona, one of the few cities outside the US that has the service, thanks to the company acquisition of Avancar, a Zipcar-like service that was operating here.
So those cars are better used, because more people are riding them, they spend less time parked and you get to use a car whenever you need one. Everyone wins.
There are more radical approaches to this concept, like RelayRides or here in Barcelona, SocialCar. Where you own the car and you rent it through the platform so other people can use it. I consider myself an early adopter, but I felt that maybe this was too much. So I went for Zipcar. And looking back I might say that this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Because I uncluttered my life, I get rid of some preoccupations and I saved a lot of money. All of it just because I sold my car.