Wednesday, July 3, 2019

In looking for a new vehicle to drive I've questioned whether or not owning a vehicle even makes economic sense anymore.

I've started looking at car options to replace a vehicle I lost when I totaled my 20 year old Toyota Rav 4 earlier this year in a medical emergency that I suffered behind the wheel. It was a weird and surreal experience, losing consciousness briefly due to an extreme coughing fit. When I came to, there was air bag dust, a shattered windshield, and the car was on its side. No one else was hurt, and again, this was many months ago. There's this kind of strange path that all of us (I think) go on when a car is completely ruined once all medical things are taken care of. Here's a little bit of how my path has played out thus far:

1) What do you do with a car that is basically a pile of junk? The tow truck driver needed to take it somewhere, and everywhere you take it to is going to charge a daily fee to store it. There is no free land in America folks, so towing it to your house and having this pile of junk sit in your driveway to avoid storage fees is about the cheapest option you have until you can find a buyer for said pile of junk. And yes...there are buyers of said piles of junk, but you have to find them and woo them to your cause.

2) After deciding to tow the car to said free parking lot, that's where it sat for a while, attracting curious onlookers and comments on all the destruction porn that it offered to the world with its bent frame, its blown tires, and its shattered windshield and deflated airbags. It was an old-fashioned eyesore, that by virtue of its ugliness, invited all kinds of whispers and speculations.

3) I eventually got a place called Tear-A-Part here in Salt Lake City to buy the car from me for $150.00 in cash sight unseen. The hitch? It needed to have four wheels (not tires), an engine, and a transmission. That was all they cared about. Oh and I needed to have the title that I could sign over to them immediately. I told them it indeed had all of those things, and they came by with a tow truck and hauled it away and handed me the cash in an envelope. Needless to say, it cost $200 to have it towed in the first place so I was still $50 in the hole. What was interesting in talking to this place is they could care less about any story or conversation about the car. Does it have four wheels? Yes. Does it have a transmission? Me: "Do you care if it works?" Them (ignoring my question and restating their question): Sir, does it have a transmission? Yes. Does it have an engine? Yes. Them: "We'll buy it for $150. Bye." So I guess those things are all that counts. Good thing to know in the future if I ever need to scrap a car.

4) Now down to one car (I owned two), and my second car is not one I can drive in winter snow storms and it itself is 20 years old...I embarked on seeing about getting a second car for Utah winters. I of course needed to change my automobile policy to reflect only one car. That was easy and pretty much a simple phone call. Then I started examining car models and decided I wanted an SUV of some type. That's when I learned that cars are expensive. No really...they are really expensive. I haven't been paying that much attention, but it got me to does anyone afford these things? There is a robust used market, which is a lot more affordable. But cars that are in the used market were once new. Are people really making that kind of cash that they can afford to drop $40,000 on new cars only to toss them a couple years later so they are used for people like me to pick over for half that price (only I think $20,000 is still expensive). Or is this just the newest form of income inequality that I'm becoming aware of. In other words, there are people all over the place making six figures, and then there is everyone else. In just 1999 to 2000 (yes 20 years ago), spending $40,000 on a car would be unheard of, folks. That was like the best what you'd expect to pay for a Jaguar or something fancy. Nowadays, the very bottom rung of Toyota's smallest SUV (the Rav4) sets you back $40,000 once taxes and other fees are paid. In other words, I'm saying that "everyday cars" are running darn close to the halfway mark of a hundred grand when they are new. Holy crap. Wages have not increased to coincide with this in that same time period. At least not any wages I know of.

5) And then there's the question of whether a car is really useful to someone living in a city anyway. How many Uber rides could I take for say $25000? If I spent $20 a day on Uber being shuttled to and from work, it would take 1250 days for me to spend up to $25000. So that's roughly 3.5 years, and that's only if I worked every day. It'd (in all actuality) take me 7 years to recoup that cost in just taking Uber rides. And I'm not even factoring in the cost of gas, maintenance, and interest that might be accrued for a loan, not to mention the storage space it takes up. So is buying a car really something that I want anymore? Is it something that actually improves my life? I have no idea.

Owning cars is ubiquitous in our society, and I don't know if I could ever convince my brain otherwise. I'm from that generation who always "owned" a vehicle. So I most likely will just take more time and find a replacement vehicle that I can drive on snowy roads. I've got my eye on my dad's old 1997 Ford F-150 that he no longer drives, and it's likely that I'll be getting that and tooling around town in it just fine with its old gas guzzling, carbon emitting engine. However, I think that the gig economy and the sky high prices of cars has created a strange scenario wherein every transportation solution is going to be different for every single person.

I will be taking Friday off from blogging. I'll see you Monday.


  1. Cars are expensive! As much as a small house now.

  2. Try doing the Uber thing and see how it works. I think it's a great option. I used to rent a car when I traveled visiting family. Now I Uber everywhere and it saves me tons. And when I've really needed a car, I've used TURO. It's renting a person's car for as long as you need - a day or weeks. Their price is way cheaper and the insurance is included.

  3. Owning cars is about to become a thing of the pass, like buying an actual MMORPG. Everything is moving into micro-transaction space, and cars, especially once they become automated, are no exception. Before too long, there will be subscription services. You'll pay a monthly fee and ring up for a car whenever you need one.
    This is going to receive a huge boost in that a huge proportion of Millennials (relatively speaking) don't WANT to drive. 2/3 of my kids have no interest in getting a driver's license or ever owning a car.

  4. A lot people just lease cars these days. Two years later they turn it in for another like an iPhone. If you look into that though check the fine print about miles allowed and balloon payments at the end or anything like that.

    When I bought my Focus 9 years ago new it was 18K with the supplier discount. A Model T or other early automobile cost like $500. 😂

  5. I lease. It's so easy. You get a new vehicle, and I've never had one break down. If I ever totaled it, they'd be the ones having to figure out what to do with it. You loss money on a car no matter what you do, so why not have a new one every 3 years?

  6. And now you know why there are so many used cars on the market. Those who have been leasing them get the new ones, then they resell it as used after the lease is up. I wonder if car manufacturers make more money that way.

    What's your rapid transit like? How well do the buses run? Because that's always an option. There are plenty of people who try to do without cars. (Not me. But I live in SoCal, and it's practically a necessity.)

    You only hinted at your accident before. (I think. Did I miss a post on you talking about it?) I'm so sorry that happened. I hope you've healed up well.

  7. First, I'm so sorry about your accident. And yes, cars have gotten ridiculously expensive. I drive a used small economy car, but I take the bus to work (just a few miles) since we get free bus passes at work and Denver has a decent mass transit system (just the city does, not the suburbs).

    Also, a major economic sign that a whole lot of workers are struggling is that there's a record number of defaults on car loans.

    Scary times. But I hope you find a manageable solution soon!