Why we don’t own a car

One of the key reasons that we are on their way to financial independence is because we don’t own a car. That’s because cars are ridiculously expensive. After tax, insurance, maintenance, fuel and parking we are talking thousands of pounds a year. And that’s before you even think about paying for the car itself.

The real reason we buy cars

I’m sorry to say this, but there is usually one reason anybody buys a car (I’m not talking about vans or work vehicles here) and that is because we are impatient. We buy a car because we can’t be bothered to walk or bike, or because we want to save time compared to public transport. It’s entirely possible for most people to walk or bike several miles to work, it’s just that we value our time more than the exercise!

But we don’t consider the rest of our time this valuable…

We (as a society) waste huge amounts of time on the internet and social media. On average we spend hours each day watching TV. Why are we so precious with our time when it comes to travel but not with stalking our ex on Facebook? It’s because we’ve got in a bad habit. Mr Money Mustache calls it the Clown Car Habit – we feel it’s so necessary to be able to hop in a car and ‘do stuff’ that we forget whether that stuff is worth doing. We see thousands of people each weekend trapped in their cars in horrific traffic – wasting away their precious weekend hours in abject misery.

And it’s completely unnecessary

Let’s be very clear- we are urban city-dwellers who live in the commuter belt and rely on our public transport season tickets, and local taxis, to get us anywhere we want to go within London. We are blessed with a public transport system that is good enough that we don’t require a car to commute to our jobs or to visit our friends. But even in rural areas (where Mr and Mrs YFG are both originally from) it’s not unusual to see lovely ol’ boys on their bikes or to have a community of great taxi drivers.

We do sometimes need to transport bulky items, pets, people, or go into the countryside or simply go for dinner. Instead of hopping in our car, we book a taxi or hail a black cab. We moved house without a car, there are plenty of people who can offer you a car service and the business is booming. Not to mention, most of our friends and family haven’t kicked the Clown Car Habit and seem eager to have an excuse to use their expensive asset.

But it’s expensive to pay for taxis!

It would cost us £200 per month (£2,400pa) to lease a car that would do what we needed it to. We then need to insure it (£800pa), pay UK road tax (£200pa) congestion charge, parking charges and servicing. We would have to pay for petrol (£1,000pa) plus any repairs or maintenance (£100+ pa).

We cannot use the car for commuting. It’s not about cost- there is simply nowhere to park it at our office in Central London. Because of this we would have to pay for public transport to commute regardless of whether we had a car as well: A season ticket for Mrs YFG is £2,400pa.

Compare the additional cost of a car to the £1,000 we spend annually on taxis, and you can see which way the numbers favour.

Mrs YFG commutes to and from work five days a week for an hour each way and we have no plans to waste our precious evening time driving anywhere. We would only use the car on a weekend or if I had the urge to go anywhere in the day (I don’t).

We have no driveway so we could not guarantee we could park the damn thing if we did drive it anywhere.

  • Big shop/bulky items? Everything is delivered now, with a smile (if you order from Ocado).
  • All the shops we need are within walking distance or provide a delivery service.
  • No children, no need for car seats or space to carry their shit.

Plus there are perks

Number 1, it’s a biggie. We drink as much as we want and travel home in comfort – no designated drivers, no morning after to get the car.

Number 2, driving involves other people. Other people are rubbish drivers. We can watch in the back of the car as White Van Man causes chaos on the roads.

Number 3, if you ain’t driving you can do other things, like having more time to stalk your ex on Facebook.

So, you say, after being a miserable bugger, can’t you admit there are benefits to car ownership?

Possible benefits

All the above applies if you don’t need a car for work. And I mean need. I’m talking professional drivers, delivery men, or people who need vans. I can understand that in these circumstances you need a vehicle – especially vans which have the added benefit of being a mobile storage unit. If my future self-employment involved driving or required me to drive then sure, I could probably see the point of having our own car. But until then we’re going to avoid the unnecessary cost of a car.

24 thoughts on “Why we don’t own a car

  1. Spot on. I quit driving here (I still do it in fun locations on holiday, like in game parks) after toting up the stress alone. It’s literally a bad trip from the moment you strap in, dodging cops, cameras, morons who drive various vehicles but shouldn’t, animals and more morons randomly crossing the road, putting up with lousy weather most of the time, what’s to like? Even if you were on the amalfi coast looking out at postcard views, it’s still less of a quality experience than as a passenger when you have to concentrate hard.

    The world’s population has doubled since 1978 and driving as a consequence has become a pain rather than a pleasure most of the time, so only worth it in certain situations. I really do feel sorry for people who genuinely need one to survive (job say) they probably don’t even get much pleasure out of the situation in that case, but am willing to bet that the vast majority of the time it’s all about flashing status, even if only at a subconscious level; a giveaway that we share ~98% of our genes with chimps.

    Financially as you say, most people simply are not very good at maths, let alone controlling their desire for convenience at all times. They may see why it’s a waste of your resources to have a boat, jetski or motorhome in your garage for all but a few days of the year, but can’t extrapolate that to a second car used for exactly the same amount of time.

    1. Spot on FI Warrior. I read a great article a year or so ago which could be summarised as: “You are the traffic”. It really made me realise that whenever we are in a car we are, in some small way, contributing to other peoples’ unhappiness (and that unhappiness I would feel whenever I was stuck in “traffic” or breathing in polluting fumes). And I see it each day – particularly in the outrageous 4×4 vehicles that seemingly can never find a space large enough to park in our local shopping centre.

  2. Hi YoungFIguy – I like your writing style. Although I figured out I have very different views to you on many things you write, I have to say I don’t find anything you write offensive at all. For me, I did remember something I read in Rich Dad Poor Dad when very young, which was about buying luxuries last – so I delayed buying a car as I thought it was a luxury. The car soon became a necessity when we were about to have our first child. Ever since, I cant imagine doing travel with all of the family through public transport. Travel would become such a project in itself. I think your comment on whether things are worth doing is spot on. However, when one makes a choice of having children, having a car does make things very easy – and saves time greatly. And you really need time when you have children. As I see it, becoming FI is important but not at the cost of now living a life that I would not enjoy – there is a balance, and understandably that is different for different people. To some extent, I envy you not for being FI this early but because you seem happy with the limited resources / external sources of happiness.

    1. Thanks Amit for the thoughtful comment. I agree with a great deal of your comment. A bit part of being able to achieving FI is to enjoy a lifestyle devoid of expensive consumption. I think too many FI blogs go overboard though on the frugality. Your lifestyle has to be enjoyable, not punishing. You have to find the balance that works for you. But many people don’t even attempt to find that balance – they don’t ask themselves why they really want the thing they are buying. The way you talk about having a car shows how you’ve thought about it and how important it is to you. I think by the doing that it becomes much easier to value the things that make a difference in your life.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. Eliminating the need for a car is at the top of my list for my next job (or flat that we move to). At the moment I have a car because I (stupidly) took a job that’s an hour’s drive from where I live, and for the past 12 months it’s been gnawing at me that I need to get rid of it. With the cost of fuel, insurance, car payments, and time and stress of commuting, I would and could happily take a £5k pay cut for a job that was within walking distance and be just as well off, if not even better off.

    Anyway, nice to see another UK-based finance professional in the FIRE community!

    1. Thanks for the comment! Your comment had me thinking and one thing I think I have taken for granted is that, by not having to ever drive to a job, I’ve always been able to spend my journey to work thinking about the day ahead. That’s probably quite valuable when the rest of our days is being spent being dragged from one place to another without a break!

      1. Yes and no — my commute is long, but it doesn’t take an awful lot of mental energy to do. I probably spend it much the same way you do (or did). I listen to podcasts, I think through meetings, I mentally compose emails, or I plan my evening ahead and I wind down from the day I just had. These things are all harder to do when driving, but not impossible.

        1. Haha you must be a much better driver than me! I have to focus a great deal when I drive, and besides I often get a bit too angry at other drivers…

  4. If you can manage without a car, great, but in my view you’re being presumptuous, and wrong, about many folk’s reasons for car ownership.

    I own a car, which I don’t use for work. I walk a lot, and I cycle even more (twice as many miles on the bike as I do in the car) but the car makes possible my hobbies and interests, such as hillwalking in areas of the country that simply aren’t covered by public transport, or holidaying in the remote parts of our islands.

    I looked into short-term car hire schemes, but it would cost more than owning my own car – it’s not economical to be paying an hourly rate for a car to sit in a layby all day while I’m up a mountain.

    Also, some of your costs are way off – I bought a decent condition second-hand car for £2,500 outright, which will last me for many years. Tax and insurance combined are £200 PA. Petrol cost is obviously a function of how much you use the thing, but mine is <£400 PA.
    Servicing & repairs can be costly, but anyone can do the basic services, even some of the simpler repairs, themselves.

    Does everyone need a car? Absolutely no. Are there valid reasons for even non-professional drivers to own one? Definitely yes.

    1. Hi Scott, thanks for the comment. Its always a challenge to put yourself into someone else’s shoes so thank you for sharing the reasons why you find a car valuable. It sounds like having a car is really helpful for your hobbies – and I think that is an oversight on my part in the piece. Several relatives of mine have hobbies which require the use of cars. I must confess the thought of hillwalking is giving me shudders!

      I think the difference in costs may be a product of differences in age and location? We looked at a cheap second hand car (about £1,500), but the insurance for both me and Mrs YFG (both under 30, me with 5+ years no claims) was just under £1,000. Probably because of our ages, and because we live in London where I assume insurance costs are probably higher. I imagine if you are older and live in a relatively safer place for a car then the insurance would be quite a bit less. Not to mention that public transport links are probably not as good!

      I do hope that my post didn’t come across as saying non-professionals shouldn’t have a car. My intent was more to challenge the “conventional wisdom” that everyone “needs” a car (or so we are often told, a bit like my post on why we don’t want children ). I think for me, and a lot of people in my community, thinking twice before splashing out on a car would be a good thing. Although I appreciate for many people having a car brings a great deal of value – well beyond the costs.

      1. Yep – I’d certainly struggle to get my ton of kit to the beach in order to maintain my semi-pro windsurfing status without a set of wheels..

  5. Hi YFG,

    If I lived in London (and I have done) there is no way I would ever own a car (and obviously I didn’t).

    I still work there and it absolutely baffles me watching people sat in their four wheeled metal thrones stuck in the Hammersmith traffic while I walk past in the morning fast than them!?!

    Conventional wisdom should definitely be challenged so good on you for that and I couldn’t agree more.
    However as Scott says above there are plenty of good reasons to own a car and it mustn’t cost the Earth. The issue with most people is that they want their new shiny thing. Same with many other areas of purchasing! I drive a “crappy” old Pug 307 but it gets me from A to B (when I need it) and honestly there is nothing really wrong with the look of the car at all, it’s just not a 2017 BMW. But there is no way I’m giving up potentially years of extra work just to drive around in a new car. Other people clearly have different opinions on this, I would hope that they’ve thought about it as clearly as us clever lot have done, but I fear this is not the case. Cost wise, it was about £1200 to buy, tax £130/year and insurance £250/year but as you mention no claims and age make a big difference here.

    This highlights the hopefully obvious point that each individuals use-cases and financial numbers are different on almost everything you can think of so you should never just “go with what someone else did or said” and crunch those numbers for yourself and work out what is the best thing for you.
    Hence… Personal Finance 🙂

    1. Thanks FIREstarter – your comment has enlisted two thoughts from me:
      1. My train commute home in the evening would run past a section of motorway and it would always make me wonder why people did the car thing as they’d sit in miles of traffic whilst I whizzed past in a train. (I definitely don’t miss the train commute though…)
      2. One thing not a single one of us has mentioned is that loads of people buy their cars on finance! I know this community is wiser to that idea, but as you say most people want their “new shiny thing” no matter the cost – and sometimes that cost is an extortion!

  6. Hello and thank you for your article, I like your style and directness.
    I live in a provincial city and I do not own a car. I am more than happy to use public transport and my own feet to go anywhere around. I am not sure that a car is a way of saving time, as a former car user and commuter, driving took like forever and then it was the discomfort of paying for parking. Now I can read, listen to music in the bus or even do a bit of email checking and browsing using the free wifi service. I think that there is a social stigma in this country associating the use of public transport with economic or social exclusion. The physical structure of cities is basically made for car use so that does not help. And if you live in a small town or in the countryside there are no other options, true. On the other hand I feel compelled to warn about the use of bikes for commuting. I assume that most people around here is young and fit but not everybody has these features. You have to be brave to defy the traffic with cars and buses competing for space with your tiny unprotected vehicle. I work in a hospital and one of the most common injuries in middle class people is not the proverbial avocado knife syndrome but injuries associated with bike accidents. It would be ideal to have a large network of cycle lanes, but they are not very consistent and can be closed for months due to repairs or other roadworks of which we have plenty of here.

    1. @devonico – for sure, thats the inconvenient truth about cycling on roads. Its sort of safe, in as much as you can go a long while without injury, but when they do occur, they are horrific.

      I was a keen cycle commuter, with a 50km round trip to work. Over the period of a few years, say a 20k ish kms I had about 6 near misses with cars. Regular abuse from car drivers. Its all pretty unpleasant. Then I did have a proper crash and I’m still off the bike 5 months later coming back with a bionic shoulder.

      All my relatives who cycle have broken bones in crashes. One was a rabbit through the front spokes.

      Out of my mates who I cycle with, one was out for months after hitting a peacock, another got hit by a deer. Potholes have left several concussed and in MRI scanners in the hospital. Ones dead after being hit by a truck.

      Don’t intend to stop road-cycling, but it is a risky business – it hurts like hell when you hit the deck.

      500 times less dangerous than playing rugby though supposedly..

      Its no accident that the netherlands have the lowest bike helmet use and also the lowest incidence of bike related head injuries. They’ve successfully managed to separate the cyclist from the road (at least the roads which cars use)

      1. Very sorry to hear about your accident Mr Rhino. Hope you are recovering well. I must confess I am not a cyclist. I only actually learnt to cycle after leaving work!

        1. haha – the risk-return calculation finally caught up with me (it always does)

          I’ll live to fight another day, but no wonder the rhino is an endangered species..

  7. I have a car, which for me is an necessity for the daily hourly each way commute to work. I do miss when my job was in walking distance but them my employer closed the office to which I moved with them. I’m frugal in what I drive, £8000 second hand car (will keep 5 years), insurance £250, tax £zero, mot, £35, servicing 2x£90, petrol £10 per day (130miles). If I was to do public transport it’s over double the time/price so works out more expensive, getting a job closer to home would half my salary, moving closer to work (big city) would wipeout my own time activities.

    A colleague has a lease car plan, costs him £8000 per year, I joke that’s a car a year for me, when I look into them all I see is a good deal for the leasing company. Yes I need a car but I’m not going to pay for metal that’ll be worth scrap value in 5 years time.

    1. £8,000 a year! That is crazy. I don’t know much about commercial leasing but it does feel like a con. I know quite a lot about the Motability scheme (which is great) as my mother has had a Motability car for several years. In exchange for giving up your benefit of £58 a week you get a brand new car for 3 years, fully insured and serviced. 5 star customer service and almost all the paper work and hassle is taken care for you. So that works out at £3,000 a year. You have to pay lump-sum amounts if you want a fancy car, but pretty much all good family cars are “free” or with a nominal payments. Now whilst Motability is a charity, the operations (the buying, leasing etc.) is all run commercially so they make money on the scheme. So comparing that £8,000pa to £3,000pa – someone somewhere is making out like a bandit!

  8. Car ownership is something of a trapdoor equation, once you pass thru’ the hatch it’s hard to go back!
    The memories of once motoring down to the coast on a whim or the odd smooth trip to shops, work etc outweigh those of sitting in traffic and forking out constantly.
    I have not run a car in almost 15 years and occasionally consider buying again. But each time I weigh up the opportunity cost it’s never quite worthwhile.
    Of all my frugal habits it’s the one that I most worried about when I met my future wife, because it’s so normal in our social circle.

    1. Hi Bill, thanks for sharing. It sounds like being carless has worked out well for you. I have similar memories – harking back to the days of driving through the countryside on a sunny day!

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