On a budget: Do you need a car?

I’ve decided that if I don’t have an essay on Monday, it should be due to working on the book. Therefore, I will replace essays with book excerpts whenever there isn’t an essay available.

From the book in progress, “On A Budget: The good housekeeper’s guide to economizing.” I really need a cover for this, by the way, so I’ll be working on something watercolour-ey soon!

The previous excerpts were on supermarket grocery shopping, time management, mending clothing, cooking, vouchers and coupons, staycations and children’s clothes. This one is from the start of the chapter “Transport”.

1.- Cars or alternatives?

Even if you’re hellbent on avoiding owning a motorized vehicle any time in the near future (and I don’t blame you, by the way), it’s worth seriously considering the advantages and expenses of owning a car. So even if you’ll skip ahead to the public transport section after this, at least give this first section a little time and thought. It’s important to bear in mind that when you compare a car to other forms of transport you’re not only considering paying-off the cost of the vehicle, but you’ve also got to factor-in fuel, maintenance and other consumables such as air-fresheners and de-icer, that you would not use if you didn’t have a car. Therefore, the total yearly cost of the car is the car’s price, plus the fuel you used from first owning it until disposing of it, plus all its maintenance, plus insurance, plus MOTS, plus all the accessories, minus the amount you can get when you sell it on (as a vehicle or as scrap) or part-exchange, divided by the number of years you own it. As a formula:

Cost of car = (price you paid for the vehicle + [yearly fuel cost X number of years you ran it for] + total maintenance costs + total accessory cost + [yearly legal paperwork X number of years you paid for] – amount it’s worth at the end) ÷ the number of years you used the car for transportation.

Worked out like this, it’s easy to see how sports cars become more of a lifestyle than an economic mode of transport.

However, when considering running a car we don’t need to think of it in terms of how much we will spend on it as much as how much we need to spend on it.

For example, good tyres that last twelve months and eighteen thousand miles are probably worth £80. However, if you are at either extreme and either burn through tyres or just drive fifty miles a week then you’re better off with something you can cheaply replace. Likewise, a very high end vehicle will always need better tyres than an older or less powerful one. This holds true for most parts: bar antiques, older and less expensive cars will be easier to maintain and find parts for than newer, pricier models. It is, however, worth noting that with very old cars you may however be restricted to pattern parts that may no longer carry a guarantee, so maybe think it over twice before you buy yourself a bargain fix-er-upper.

Also, a car is going to cost a certain amount per mile. In terms of fuel this means that many short hops will wind up costing more than a few longer drives. In terms of maintenance this means that travelling largely on B-roads is likely to wear more on the breaks than travelling largely on motorways. And, the other way around, spending a lot of time on motorways will soon leave you with slicks, but shorter drives on well-maintained A-road will usually damage them less. You need to consider how many miles you will be travelling and what sort of speeds and terrain you’re likely to encounter.

If you’re considering getting a car for urban travel you may want to reconsider entirely. Most modern cities are as cramped as termite mounds and far less organized. For starters the traffic is continually stopping and starting. What makes your drive to work take twice as long and feel five times as stressful is also taxing on the engine and very fuel-expensive. Everything from the gearbox and brakes to belts and fans degrades faster in the hot, dirty environment of the city where you are continually in traffic-jams, changing speeds and suddenly stopping. Due to how cramped cities are and how much of a rush everyone is in your chances of almost killing a cyclist or of getting caught in an accident are far higher than anywhere else. Even the motorways aren’t as dangerous as a busy city-centre. This also increases your chances of a breakdown, which means you either accept the added cost of breakdown cover or you take your chances and risk being vehicle-less for a number of days.

Finally, wherever you live, if the longest trip you make is around 5miles, there is little excuse for owning a car. Unless there is no public transport, no taxis and you can’t ride a bicycle, there are often cheaper, more feasible and more reasonable alternatives. The only exception to all of this is if you need to use your car as a sort of glorified shopping trolley: a small vehicle that makes it easier to carry your shopping home. If you’ll largely be using your car to transport groceries, small goods and fragiles, then you need to consider an entirely different sort of car. Look for something no larger than a Beetle or a Renault 5 (often called super-minis). Look for a small bore petrol engine with very low fuel consumption. This is the cheapest way of running a small vehicle for your shopping and other transportation needs. Just don’t abuse it. These cars are not to be used more than once a day and definitely not to be taken cross-country once a month. They won’t carry you for many total miles or at much speed and won’t tackle country roads or motorways very well at all. They work best in cities and within the boundaries of villages for very short distances at a time. Keep them for their intended purpose, use alternative transport when you need to do anything else and these little cars should last you a very long time.

Now that you’ve assessed the cost of a car it’s best to realize that almost every single alternative is cheaper than owning a car. Public transport, bikes, carpooling, everything bar possibly some train services and flights. However, bear in mind that cars are primarily convenience vehicles. You will rarely find the convenience of a car anywhere else than a car itself. When thinking of a car as a practical vehicle, you need to consider two sides: firstly it’s net cost and the amount extra you’re paying, secondly it’s value to you and how much that makes it worth. After all, if it costs you £10/week more than public transport and you feel the time it saves is worth £10 or more, then all’s well and good. To make this assessment a little easier, I will list the conveniences and inconveniences of driving and you can then consider how much value you place on each.

Conveniences:

1: You manage your own schedule compared to public transport or carpools.

2: You save time compared to some public transport, walking or cycling.

3: You can carry more things with you compared to most alternative transport and have your car pre-packed.

4: You have your own space in which to relax and enjoy the journey.

Inconveniences:

1: You need to spend your time focused on driving rather than working on emails or reading, like you could on most public transport.

2: Driving in rush-hour can be a very stressful experience.

3: You are wholly responsible for anything at all going wrong.

So consider the value each point adds or detracts from your life and compare that value to the extra monetary cost of running a car.

As a final point, if you’re largely considering the car for speed and control, wish to use it for things such as going to work or small shops and will generally carry only one or two people, most commuter motorcycles can do the same job and are usually cheaper, faster and easier to keep in a city than any car.

And remember, if you’re trying to cut down on costs, it’s generally inexcusable to buy a large, sporty or otherwise gas-guzzling vehicle unless you run a delivery service or have six children and three dogs.

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