The cheapest solution, as we know, is simply not to have a car. There are the costs of gas, insurance, maintenance, and licencing to consider. Car costs can be sudden and huge. One day, you’re driving to work, and the next day, you have a flat tire on the side of the highway and need a tow truck. Or your transmission has issues or you suddenly need to fix your power windows. My best friend has had the worst car karma in the world and has had all of these issues and more.
On the other hand, there’s the ability to go when you want to go. To not wait for the bus on a frigid Canadian winter evening, or a rainy murky Vancouver morning. It means that you can pick up groceries at the cheap grocery store rather than going to the corner store where the prices are double. And the real pro to having a car is that you’re on your own schedule and can venture where and when you want. There’s no depending on others for rides or mulling over whether you can stay for the next round of Apples to Apples or go for coffee after a great date because you might miss the last bus. This is less of an issue if you live in a major city with late night bus/train/Skytrain service.
Even with all of the associated costs, for me, having a car just feels better. So, how do I make this less of a financial black hole?
There are pros and cons to buying new or used.
I have done both and have an opinion, now that I’ve gone down both roads. I had several used cars prior to buying a new one and loved them all. I bought the new one after I had to abruptly move back to Canada after my father died suddenly of lung cancer. Everything in my life was awful at the time and I needed one good thing to wake up to.
*driving a car off the lot and seeing those first kilometres tick over is amazing.
*warranty applies for between 3-10 years (depending on which parts and what type of vehicle)
*security of knowing that it’s reliable and has all of the modern conveniences.
*it depreciates the very instant you drive away. You’ll magically have lost several thousand dollars just by leaving the parking lot. No other investment is guaranteed to tank in quite the same way.
*new cars are expensive. The insurance is higher, and sometimes they require premium fuel, which is crazily high.
*you tend to be a lot more concerned about where you park in the parking lot, and spend a great deal of time worrying about whether someone has dinged your door.
*basic maintenance costs more. Oil changes have to be done at three months on the dot, whether or not they’re needed, so as not to void your warranty, and there are a variety of things that ‘have’ to be done according to the book, whether or not they’re actually required to run the vehicle at that very moment. (My husband and I have disagreements about this – I see the maintenance schedule as more of a ‘guideline’ than a rulebook)
Overall, having done both, I wouldn’t buy new again….the best of both worlds is to buy something two or three years old. You let someone else take the huge depreciation hit, while still getting a vehicle that is on warranty and runs well. You also tend to be able to get more vehicular bang for your buck…upgrades that would be budget busting in a new car are already included in the price of the used one – and someone else has paid for it!
Here are some miscellaneous tips to lower your car costs:
*drive with less in your trunk. Less weight equals less gas to haul it around.
*fill up with regular. Very few newer cars actually need supreme, and even that ‘guideline’ owner’s manual of which we spoke earlier usually advises using regular.
*slow down gradually and don’t slam on the gas. In addition to being easier on the car, it’s also more zen. And it means people won’t mock you for flooring it only to stop at a red light thirty seconds later.
Alternatives to driving:
Given the impact to the environment and the cost, non-car options are increasing regularly. A lot of the practicalities will depend on individual circumstances, but there are still choices out there!
Car co ops:
Businesses such as Modo, the Car Coop and Zipcar can work really well for people who live in urban centres where they only need a car once in awhile. In a nutshell, you pay a membership fee and a per km or per hour fee for the time you use the car. There are a variety of price points and plans available. I can see this working well for a young professional who lives near a transit line and cycles/takes the train to work and needs a car for grocery shopping once or twice a month or for things like trips skiing.
Cycling has a lot of obvious benefits. Once you’ve made the initial capital purchase of the bike, helmet and any clothing you may want for weather, it’s basically free. It’s excellent exercise, and can be a quicker way to get somewhere than rush hour if you live in a congested area with good cycling routes.
The cons are weather and safety related…the majority of Canada is C O L D for six months or more, and the parts that aren’t cold are usually W E T (see Vancouver and Victoria as examples).There’s also the ick factor of being all sweaty at your destination. I would also be concerned about safety, as cycling accidents in Vancouver happen regularly, and it’s a ‘bike friendly’ city. If you’re a cyclist or wanting to get into it, please be aware of your surroundings, and follow all stop signs and road rules. And even then, things can still happen. A good friend, who religiously follows the rules and is an excellent, experienced cyclist, was lit up like a Christmas tree in the middle of the day when a driver turned left into her. She calls the steel plate in her leg ‘Rod’. So while it’s great exercise and very cheap, it does have its downsides.
Ah, transit. Love it or hate it, all major cities have it in some form or another. Vancouver has Skytrain, Calgary has C-train, and there are buses and trolleys as well. Transit is cheap, efficient if you’re going to a major destination and can make a car unnecessary if you live in a city core. There are a bunch of passes and tickets that you can buy to make it cheaper. Cons are that you’re on someone else’s schedule, and that it can be impractical if you live in an area that isn’t well served.
Most of the cons here are similar to transit…motorcycle accidents can be horrific. They are really, really fun, though, which is a huge pro. And there’s the moment where you pull the helmet off your head and there’s a movie moment where your hair tumbles out and breezes sexily down around you. Or you’ll get helmet head. One of the two. Much cheaper than a car, but only really useable during the spring and summer months unless you live somewhere very mild or are a bit of a masochist and want to freeze in November.
No real cons, but it can take a looooonnng time. Oh, wait, there is a con. There’s that part where wet stuff falls from the sky (if one is based in Vancouver), or it gets to be minus a zillion (for many other parts of Canada).
Happy wanderings by whatever form of transport you choose!