Zen and the art of motorcar ownership: how much are our car ownership costs, really ?

For some time now I have been looking at our family car and thinking! You see, we have one car, I don’t drive to work and John works from home. We live in a city with good public transport, and infrastructure. When we go to the city centre we use the bus; and we do our food shopping in the local shops (ha, I really love my shopping trolley and it annoys and embarrasses John so much; this is a bonus, of course).

What I am saying is that it is very rare for our car to leave the drive more than five – six times a month. As to longer journeys, we probably do these three-four times per year.

You already know, that cars rank very highly on my list of liabilities; actually they are pretty high on any list of liabilities. One rationale to keeping a car is that it allows a level of flexibility that people don’t have otherwise (this is if people live in the city and there is acceptable public transport) and peace of mind through the knowledge that one can get in and drive off if and when it is necessary or they simply feel like it.

Now, let’s do the maths and see what having flexibility and peace of mind is costing us at the moment. The calculation of car ownership costs is very simple monthly expenditure per month and doesn’t even account for depreciation. Pure spend on keeping our under-used car.

  • £382 ($606) per month on car loan (over three years);
  • £23 ($36) monthly car insurance (paid all at once, of course);
  • £60 ($95) petrol on average;

Heck, this adds up to £465 ($738) per month or £5,580 ($8,859) per year; and this is a lot of money to pay for flexibility and peace of mind. OK, we will finish paying for it at the end of this year but then the car will be three years old and we will have to budget for technical check, service, break downs, new tires…It is an educated guess that this will still be too much to pay for a car that mainly stays in the drive; and of course ages faster because it is not driven much.

This made me look for alternatives and I remembered that when I was in Brussels last, I saw these funny little electric cars that said ‘Zen Car’ on the side. They look funny but there is a very interesting idea behind them. Zen Car is a scheme the main aim of which is to promote clean transport in two ways: first, it is a workable system for car sharing which reduces traffic and secondly, the whole fleet consists of electric cars. The scheme is supposed to be an edition to public transport. Sharing rules are simple: members of the scheme state when they need the car, for how long, where they want it delivered and where they will deliver it. This way, members have access to a car when they need it and the car pool gets maximum use.

Logistical hiccups aside, Zen Car type arrangements sound like an appealing option to me. Yearly membership costs the equivalent of £3,713 ($5,892) which is considerably cheaper than what we pay for our car now. This is assuming that one needs a car in the city at all. It is possible to scrap the idea altogether and get around by foot, on a push bike or using the public transport.

There is also a company called Zipcar that operates in the US, Canada and the UK. It uses similar principles to the one used by Zen Car but doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Now here is the question: is it justified to continue owning a car or we can get rid of this liability and get flexibility and peace of mind in different ways?

31 thoughts on “Zen and the art of motorcar ownership: how much are our car ownership costs, really ?”

  1. Here is Seattle we have Zip Cars. (I know they’re in other cities on the west coast, too, but not sure where else.) While we aren’t members, we have friends who are. They use a zip car when they are doing something that public transit can’t handle. My company even has a company account with them to encourage staff to use public transit to and from work. If you need to run to another site for a meeting, or run an errand during lunch, you can use the company account to reserve the zip car and you’re good to go.

    1. @Shanendoah: Sounds very interesting. Do Zip Cars have different cars (because zencars have only these funny little electric things).

  2. I’m going one step further and ditching my car when my big boy goes to High School (No more 3 mile school runs). It is being replaced by a rebuilt charity bike and trailer for the little one ……………… savings of £2500+ per year and that is a chunk of money that is going straight off my mortgage account.

  3. We have gotten good reviews about Zipcars from friends who’ve used them. It sounds as if you should manage fine without the car. Except, that, well, you won’t have a car. Humm. Huge step.

    1. @Paul: Thanks for sharing, Paul. I would think that longer trips are more expensive but still over time it probably works out cheaper.

    1. @Miss T: Certaily there are places where a) people need a car; and b) it has to be reliable and ‘sturdy’. We live on a bus route and when I am in training I run back from work (when I am not, I walk or cycle).

  4. Wow, you have cheap insurance. I hate car notes, so I don’t do them anymore, so at least we save there. You are spending a small amount on gas, but you did say you don’t really use the car. How much per gallon is gas? I apologize if I somehow missed it above.

    1. @Roshawn: About insurance see the post about the five things older people have 😆 . As to the amount of gas we use per month, we use little because the use of the car is mainly for taking me to the Airport (this is also very near) and the occasional outing. At the moment gas/petrol is about $9 per American galon (as we call it on this side of the pond and this took quite a conversion).

  5. My car recently went bang and much like you, only do maybe 2 long journeys a month (‘long’ being defined as “I don’t have the patience to do it by public transport”). I live and work in the same city; it has superb public transport; and my partner has a car we both now use.

    Originally I was planning to get my baby fixed. I love that car! But when the repair costs probably outweigh what it is worth, as a personal finance blogger I really, really have to start considering “is that a sound decision?”. Even having 2 cars in the first place given our circumstances is a waste of money, nevermind spending more to repair one of them than it is worth.

    We have several “rental by the hour” companies around as well. If I really wanted we could do that, but even then I think the membership fee outweighs the benefits. I can’t remember the name of the one I see everywhere, but I remember a friend saying the membership fee is £50 a year, and then you pay both by the mile and by the hour.

    I think, all things considered, we’ll probably fall back to one car and I’ll just scrap mine. 😥

  6. @Lee: Thanks for stopping by! As to your situation – yes, it sound like the rational thing to do is to have only one car. It does hurt at first though – I remember giving up my two seater (the worst car in the world, btw). It feels like you are saying ‘good bye’ to a temperamental but trusted friend and loosing your independence. All of this is rubbish ultimately; now I feel similar about mu push bike and am toying with the idea of getting a motorbike – wouldn’t this be cool?

  7. In your situation would hiring a car for your longer journeys rather than paying membership for a car club and taking a taxi for your airport trips would cost less than keeping your own car?

    1. @Kate: This works out cheaper as well. Even if we include the occasional other trip that we make. Thanks for helping us make a decision.

  8. I do love the zip/zen car idea but nothing like that here. We do only have one car and have reduced the size and I am often tempted to just try and manage without, but unfortunately some of the journeys I do regularly with my son are not on public transport routes and at daft o’clock and they involve transporting equipment. I do begrudge car costs though, I think they are top of my resented expenditure list.

    1. @Karen: Fully agree: car is third on the list of my biggest liabilities (after the children and the house). Difference is I don’t love it (as the children) and it is possible to live without it (difficult without shelter).

  9. We have two of the beasts but dh uses his for unsocial work hours. I’ve slashed mileage by about 8000 miles by walking more and getting a job closer and still trying to get it down. Have been frugal over hols and still running on the £50 I put in on 29th March!

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