Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Cost of Owning a Car vs. Going Car-less

So, I want to do a little comparison of what it costs to own a vehicle versus being car-less.

The Ford F-150 is the best selling car in 2013 (and most of the last 35 years), so it will be the perfect test subject.

The average price to purchase the vehicle is right around $35,000 (Source). Let's assume that you've had another F-150 for 10 years, if you've  kept it in good condition driving an average of 15,000 miles per year, you can expect to get a trade-in value of $4,100 (Source). So that brings your price down to $30,900. Let's say you've also got good credit and are able to make a 20% down payment. So you'll put down $6,180, bringing your car debt down to $24,720. As I mentioned, you've got good credit, and you want to finance your car through your credit union for 48 months. Right now you can expect an interest rate of 3.95%  (Source). This comes out to a monthly car loan payment of $563.92. So, you've committed to paying $27,068 over the next four years to pay down the car debt. In the meantime, you've got other expenses to worry about: Taxes and fees, fuel, insurance, maintenance, and repairs (speeding and parking tickets if you can't follow the rules). Working with the 15,000 miles driven per year figure, you can expect to pay $2,151 in Taxes and fees, $29,452 in fuel costs (wow.), $20,506 in insurance costs, $8,720 in maintenance costs, and $1,774 in repairs. (Source). Now, there are 41,000,000 traffic tickets given out each year in the country, and 196,000,000 drivers, so let's say the average American will get 2 tickets over the lifespan of their car. With an average ticket cost coming to $152, you'll spend $304 on citations. (Source). If you live in a city, you'll have to pay for parking as well, but that's a little more difficult to calculate.

I think that about covers it. I'm not going to calculate depreciation, because I've factored in a trade-in.

So the initial price of the car is $35,000. What do you actually spend over the car's lifetime?

$4,100 trade-in
$6,180 down payment
$27,068 loan repayment
$2,151 in taxes and fees
$29,452 in fuel costs
$20,506 in insurance costs
$8,720 in maintenance costs
$1,774 in repairs
$304 in citation costs
$100,255 over 10 years.

That comes out to a cost of $10,025.50 per year.

Okay, calculating the cost of being car-less will be simpler since it doesn't have to be calculated over a specific timespan. For this we'll include walking, biking, and public transit, as these are the three major modes of alternative transportation in OKC.

It costs no money to walk. That's easy, but there are costs for taking public transit (not everywhere, but in OKC). A monthly bus pass costs $50. Which comes out to $600 per year. Purchasing a bicycle can set you back anywhere between less than $100 to several thousand dollars, but let's assume the user is a commuter and not a bicycle enthusiast. $300 will be our purchase cost, and we'll say the average user spends $80 a year on tune-ups and maintenance. (Source) I refuse to account for theft as a cost, because a car could also be stolen, and if a cyclist locks his bike up, it shouldn't be a problem. $150 for gear includes a helmet, reflective gear and a lock, and let's make that a recurring cost every five years, so $300. I don't really think winter clothing should be calculated for biking and walking because having a car doesn't preclude you from participating in a cold climate.

So for 10 years:

$6,000 in transit fare
$300 for a bike
$800 in maintenance
$300 in gear

That comes out to a cost of $740 per year.

This is 7.4% the cost of car ownership, and you have three modes of travel included compared to one. So, if you only used a bike and walking, you would spend $140 a year. If you only used transit and walking, that would be $600 a year. If you only walk, well, you spend nothing on transportation other than buying new shoes slightly more often than other people, but you'd really have to be walking a lot for it to be a big deal.

So I'll break this down for comparison by year:






This is why walkability is so important. You can save literally 10s of thousands of dollars by not owning a car. If extrapolate the cost of owning an F-150 over 60 years of driving, you're looking at more than $600,000 spent on transportation. I can think of a lot of things that I would like to spend that on other than a vehicle. Our cities should be designed so that people have the option not to spend this kind of money on something that they don't necessarily need.

Oh, and by the way, the average American family has 2.28 cars (Source). So the average family, driving the most common car for 60 years of driving (this obviously isn't the case for EVERYONE), will spend nearly $1,400,000 on cars. I think I'd rather have that for retirement, thank you.

edit: A friend of ours has brought to our attention that the $1.4M is under-shooting the true savings over time:

"I would add that even though the $400,000 (pre-post edit, now $600,000) over 60 years figure is significant and calls for a change in behavior, you have ignored the impact of investing these savings and the power of compounding interest. If you were to invest this roughly $7,000 per year in a low-cost, low-maintenace index fund at 6% annual interest (a fairly conservative assumption over the long run), you would have saved over $3.7 million during this 60 year period. This is savings that CANNOT be ignored."

This is valuable information (which kind of blew my mind) that shows how empowered people can be by not buying into the automobile cycle. More to come on this subject.


  1. Hi! I'm at KOSU Radio and I'd love to talk to you two about your blog and your story. Let me know if you're interested! You can email me - Nikole at KOSU dot org,

  2. Ed Shadid talking about the need to improve the transit system in OKC,

  3. I've ridden what passes for public transit, Metro Transit) for 21 years, twice a day. My employer pays for my pass so I've saved thousands of dollars in car expense, making my car last much longer, more money in my pocket for essentials, more reading accomplished, plus cat naps.

    The drawback is that the drivers are mostly surly and contemptuous, buses are dirty and nasty, many of the other riders are nearly as dirty and nasty as the buses.

    The OK Gazette has a story about the soon-to-be-retired general manager of Metro Transit ( ) Rick Cain after 10 years on the job. The article concludes with this nugget of self-satisfaction: "While the number of buses in the transit fleet hasn’t increased in the last decade, they are a bit newer, cleaner and more efficient."

    What kind of manager fails to grow his business after ten years other than a suck-up toady ordered by his boss to be complacent?

    It's my 21-year experience is that Metro changes but it gets no better.

    1. Great comment, Jim. It will be very interesting to see who replaces Rick Cain, as well as to see the results of the planned changes to the transit system. I agree that there needs to be an investment in the expansion of service: Sunday bus service would be a good start, as well as to run the buses later in the evening so that they don't simply function as a way to get home from a full-time job, but allow people who work full-time to use the buses for travel to and from places.

  4. I agree completely that not owning a car in OKS is completely doable if you live in the Mesta/Heritage/Paseo/Lyric/downtown area.

    I would figure a little more on the bike expense - or the cost of two or three. You'll need a "hauling" bike for grocery day. Another option is to figure in either car rental from a major chain or a car share membership from "TimeCar". They are locally owned and locate their cars on the OCU campus.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I wrote this post before we started using TimeCar (we actually used it today, and have been using it most weekends to get to Sprouts!), and I think I will amend the cost of being car-less to include car sharing, as well as to include the full range of bike expenses. TimeCar has locations in Midtown and Deep Deuce that we use.

  5. Love the idea of being carless. Once we retire it will be possible.
    Moved to a townhouse very close to light rail, which we use often. Many shops, stores, restaurants within walking distance. Most everything we need / could want along the light rail.

    We will need to keep one suv for camping, we love camping. Maybe I will look into renting a truck for a week for camping trips.

    1. That's great that you're in a position to be able to decrease how much you use a car! We've definitely felt similar feelings about camping and how to handle that situation. So far, for us, it's still cheaper to occasionally rent a car/truck for camping, but it ultimately depends on how frequently you're camping. It might be more cost-effective to keep that one vehicle around to use for camping if you're going often.

  6. The exaggerated debt-slave situation makes this comparison seem dishonest.

    Try it again with the situation of someone who would put thought into the distinction between car-owner and car-free, someone who would buy outright a used economical car, and maintain it themselves.

    1. Here's the thing: We *could* try it again using a different situation, but our point is the same: it costs a LOT less not to own a car. Insurance payments alone, on any car, cost more than we spend each month on transportation. Furthermore, our broader point on this blog is that we support transportation options. We want for our cities to be set up to allow everyone to travel how they choose - on foot, by bike, by train, by bus, by Ford F-150, or by a used/economical car - or by using some combination thereof. Our personal perspective is that of a couple who live without a car. Different strokes, you know?

    2. Our insurance on two cars is more than yearly public transport fare. Once we hit 65 the transport fare is half.

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  8. I was recently interviewed by a researcher who has been commissioned by EMBARK to do a survey of riders and their experiences and opinions. If anyone who reads this blog would like to participate let me know.