Car Buying: Are You Paying Too Much?By: Benjamin Gran
Americans love cars. Driving a car is synonymous with the American dream - being behind the wheel of a car represents freedom, mobility, independence, travel, new horizons, adventure… everything that makes America great. Whether it's driving to the prom, getting your kicks on Route 66, stopping by a fast food drive-through or a drive-in movie, most of America's cultural memory involves cars.
But as much as Americans love their cars, our cars do not always love us. Cars are expensive - more expensive than most people might realize.
According to a recent article in Wired, the true cost of car ownership averages to approximately $9,500 per year - including car payments, maintenance, gas, taxes, insurance, registration and all the other expenses that go with owning a vehicle. This adds up to almost $800 a month. When you consider that the average American earns $32,000 per year, this means that owning a car consumes almost 30 percent of the average American's income. The true cost of car ownership is even more of a burden for the poor: the U.S. federal poverty level is $22,350 for a family of four, which means that the poorest Americans who have cars spend 42 percent of their income just to get around town.
What if you can't afford a car? Well, there are other options (e.g. biking, walking, taking the bus), but in America, not having a car makes it more difficult to participate in the everyday routines of life. And not being able to afford a reliable car makes it harder for the poor to get to work. According to a report from the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights, 60 percent of jobs that are suitable for welfare-to-work participants are not accessible by public transportation. In the United States, mass transit is often unreliable or unavailable, and many jobs are located far away from the urban centers where most buses run.
There are no easy answers to the high cost of car ownership. Americans love their cars, and it can be hard to live without one, even if you can afford a car but choose to go without (by biking, riding the bus, walking to local stores, etc.). Perhaps we should start paying more attention to the true costs (and limitations) of car ownership, for ourselves and for our fellow Americans who struggle to achieve the basic mobility and, well, freedom that so many of us take for granted.
Are you looking to reduce your cost of owning a car? Here are a few ideas, depending on where you live:
- Car sharing: Zipcar is a car sharing service with locations ranging from Atlanta to Boston to Chicago to Portland. Instead of paying the high cost of owning a car (which usually just sits in your driveway or parked on the street), Zipcar makes it possible to get "wheels when you want them" by renting a car short-term (and sharing the costs) by only paying for a car when you actually need to drive it.
- Bike to work: The League of American Bicyclists sponsors national Bike to Work Month every year in May. Check out their website for ideas and resources on how you can reduce the costs of your commute and improve your physical health by pedaling to work.
- Save money on gas: With gas prices averaging $3.45 per gallon, it's more important than ever to get the best gas mileage out of your vehicle. Check out the FuelEconomy.gov website for free tips and resources on how to improve your gas mileage and save money on fuel.