In the minds of many Americans, being car-less means you’re careless. There’s a stigma around it that suggests you’re too lazy or irresponsible to drive. But America’s extreme car culture isn’t normal or healthy. If you travel to Europe or Asia, you’ll discover that most households don’t own cars, and it doesn’t hinder them from working or leading healthy, fulfilling lives. They’re actually better off because they avoid the many hidden costs of car ownership. I hope to change perceptions by showing how cars are costly in three important ways: your wallet, your safety, and your environment.
Driving can destroy your wealth at $0.60 per mile. Unless you get good mileage compensation, you’re losing much more than the gas in your tank. In 2019, the average household spent $10,742 per year on total transportation costs, of which only 20% was fuel. Don’t underestimate the cost of insurance, depreciation, administrative expenses, and interest from financing. Not to mention the value of all your lost time sitting in traffic!
Every year, crashes kill 1 person per 6,000 drivers and injure 1 per 83 (source: NHTSA.gov). Over 50 years, that’s a 1 in 120 chance of dying and a 45% chance of getting injured. Driving defensively might improve your survival odds, but if you think you’re an above-average driver, so does everyone else! Life would be much more blissful without traffic danger sprinkled into our daily routine.
Thankfully, most people are aware of the environmental impact of driving. That’s motivated a small percentage of Americans to choose the most efficient vehicles available. But is that enough? Remember how fuel only accounts for a small portion of your transportation cost? The same goes for carbon emissions. Since making a car creates pollution, electric cars still contribute about half the emissions of a similar gas-powered car over the whole product lifecycle. Upgrading too often can cancel out the environmental benefits of electric vehicles. Until the world’s energy systems are completely decarbonized, buying an electric car will still have lasting effects on your environment.
Americans often blame their choice to drive on the lack of public transportation options. In reality, that’s just a convenient excuse. We often seek cheaper housing without considering the hidden costs of driving. If we thought critically about our learned habits, we might find that cars aren’t as valuable or convenient as they seem. Sometimes it’s a matter of asking “Where is the closest market?” instead of “How will I get to Costco?”. Not everyone can choose their living location, but most of us can. A personal vehicle is often just a band-aid solution for bad life decisions and social norms.
For some, living without a vehicle is unimaginable. I have found it liberating to leave the expensive and dangerous task of driving to the professionals. I don’t miss the traffic either. Instead of prioritizing privacy in my living arrangement, I look for quality communities that provide everything I need. That has allowed me to save more for my retirement, and maybe even extend my lifespan. Now you know the major hidden costs of car ownership. If you enjoyed this article, please share the bliss with your friends and family!