A common opinion in the personal finance blogosphere is that cars are evil! If you read many blogs, you will have seen that opinion, sometimes vehemently. Especially, buying a new car seems to be a terrible idea for most people. Today, I am going to argue that this is not as bad as people want to make you believe. I personally own a car and I bought it new. And I am going to buy the next one new as well! I have already said that I am mostly using my car to go around.
I am going to compare using my car compared to using public transportation. Given where I live, it would be impossible for me to go to work by bike. But comparing a car against biking or other alternatives can be an interesting comparison as well if you can use other means of transportation.
There are several important factors when comparing two means of transportation. Money is important if you want to be frugal, but time is also important as well. And convenience can be important to some people. Finally, we should not forget about the environment either. As to the weight of each of these factors, it would be highly subjective.
In this post, we are going to compare cars and public transportation for my own situation. You need to do the same comparison to decide based on your own situation!
Let’s start with the money part of things. The equivalent of my car for public transportation would be the GA Travel Card. This card allows you to use all public transportation in Switzerland. The card costs 3860 CHF per person.
My car cost 12’000 CHF new. Which I paid cash. I have been driving it for 5 years and I hope to be driving it for 5 more years. My car makes up for most of what I spend to work. That accounts to 1200 CHF per year for the car payment. On average, I spend 100 CHF per month on fuel. This is another 1200 CHF per year. I also have to pay insurance and taxes for my car that accounts for about 1000 CHF per year. Finally, on average, I have had to pay about 500 CHF per year on repair and maintenance for my car.
Moreover, per year, I generally pay around 200 CHF for parking. You may think I have forgotten home and work parking. However, it is free at my work and included in my rent and cannot be removed from it. Overall, this is about 4100 per year for my car. This is slightly more expensive than a public transportation card.
However, this is not over yet! Unfortunately, many people stop the comparison here. But they forget something very important! A car can hold several persons. I am driving Mrs. The Poor Swiss with my car around as well! This is not to say that the price of public transportation would be two travel cards. Indeed, for now, Mrs. The Poor Swiss does not work and does not go out a lot. For a year, I would think it would cost us 1000 CHF more for her to go around. This would push public transportation to 4860 CHF. And this is already accounted in my car fees.
So overall, my car cost us about 4100 CHF per year where public transportation would cost us about 4860 CHF per year! And the winner is the car!
The second thing that is very important to consider is time. Time is incredibly valuable because we have such a short supply of it. Nobody wants to waste time in a vehicle be it in a car or in public transportation. Walking is another story since it will make you exercise and that is great! But that is a story for another time.
Depending on where you live and where you work, the time spent in public transportation and in your car will greatly vary. In my case, I spend about 25 minutes on a single trip to my work. Since I do it twice a day, I spend 50 minutes a day in my car to work. If I was to choose public transportation, I would need to take two buses. The best time with only three minutes of layover would take me 38 minutes. That 76 minutes per day.
So overall, driving my car takes me 50 minutes, against 76 minutes a day, at best, for public transportation. That is 50% more! And the winner is the car!
Usage of your time
There is another thing that we can consider when comparing the means of transportation, it is what you can do while you are commuting.
In a car, you can basically do nothing. The only thing you can do is listen to music or listen to the radio. Some people also listen to an audiobook. Personally, I hate the radio. There is nothing even remotely interesting on the Swiss radio and I really cannot listen to popular music. So I only listen to my music on CDs and very rarely to the news. I want to try to listen to audiobooks in the future.
In a bus, you can do much more things. What I generally do in a bus is read a book. You can also play your phone and listen to music. You can even work if you want. If you have an easy sleep, you could even nap. Basically, you can do all you could do in a car and much more as well. You do not have to focus on the road.
Overall, you can do much more things with your time in public transportation. So the winner is the bus.
The impact on the environment is another thing you may want to take into account when you compare taking public transportation or your car. I do not have access to the train, so I am going to compare taking my car or the bus.
It is actually very difficult to compare the impact on the environment between both. Indeed, it will highly depend on the number of people on the bus. For instance, an empty bus is much worse than a car with a single passenger. For my car, it is pretty easy. I am almost always alone in my car. For an average bus, you need around 10 people on the bus to make it more efficient than a car with a single passenger.
At the time of my commute, buses are pretty full, so they are very efficient. I would say that there are about 30 to 40 people on the buses I would take. This means that it would be about 3 to 4 times more efficient to take the bus. However, the path taken by the bus is about 30% longer than the path I take in my car. So we have to reduce the efficiency of the bus by about 30%.
Overall, taking the bus would be between two and three times more environment-friendly than taking my car. And the winner is the bus!
Another thing that is also worth comparing is convenience. This will highly depend on where you are living and where you are going with your car or public transportation.
A car is extremely convenient in that you can leave whenever you want. There is no delay waiting for a starting time. However, you need to maintain your car. The first instance, you need to make sure you have enough gas for your trip. You also need to make sure your car is in working order by making regular checkups to your car mechanic. And your vehicle is more likely to be out of order than public transportation.
On the other hand, public transportation depends on its availability. If you are living in a densely populated area, it is likely that public transportation will be available often. And you will be able to find several means of public transportation close to you. On the other hand, if you live, like me, in a small village, there will not be a lot of choices for public transportation. In my village, there are less than ten buses coming each day. That means that you have to wait sometimes more than one hour to get a bus to go from there or to arrive here.
Due to where I am living, a car is much more convenient than public transportation. Even though it has more upkeep time, its high availability makes it much more convenient overall. For me, the winner is the car.
One other thing that we could compare is the comfort of each option. Of course, this will highly depend on your car and on the available public transportation means you can take. Public buses are not very comfortable. Even though my car is not a luxury car, it is still more comfortable than a bus. And it has the obvious advantage of not having many people inside. This is a huge comfort. I do not know about you, but I do not enjoy crowds.
Overall, driving a car is much comfortable than riding a bus. Unless you take trains in the first class, public transportation is not really comfortable. So, the winner is the car!
A few rules for cars
Even though cars not the evil of personal finance, there are still a few things that you should not do with cars. And these things can lead to evil in your personal finances!
First of all, there is no point in having a car you do not drive. And it is even worse if you have several cars that you do not drive. A car that is very rarely driven should not have been bought in the first place. Or it should be sold once there is no more need for it. A car in your parking that you do not drive is simply money that is losing value. A lot of families have too many cars. There is no point in having more vehicles than drivers. And there is no point in having cars that are not used enough.
One of the biggest mistakes people do is to have a very expensive car. If you spend many hours in commute every day, I can understand the need for some comfort. However, there is no point driving a luxury car just for the sake of it. And there is really no point in having an oversized car. Do you really need a car that can go from 0 to 100km/h in 10 seconds if you drive all the time in traffic? No! Not only are these cars more expensive to purchase, but they are also using more fuel per kilometer than cheaper cars. And even though they are generally very sturdy, their maintenance is more expensive. You should only purchase a vehicle that meets your needs and your financial goals. For most people, a little and cheap is more than enough.
The worst you can do with a car is to buy a new one each year. The first year is the year where you will lose most of the value of the car. They depreciate really fast. If you change your car every year, you are basically losing 40% of its value each time before you can sell it. I believe you should buy a car for a long time. If you are afraid of depreciation, you can, of course, buy a used car. But I have had a so bad car experience with my first used car that I do not want to try it again.
Finally, another reason many people consider cars the evil of personal finance is because people are not paying cash for their cars. If you take a loan for your car, it probably means you could not afford to buy it in the first place. I believe one should save enough money to buy a car with cash and not finance it! Buying a car with only a downpayment or even worse, leasing, will only make your financial life worse.
If you only buy a small car that you are going to use daily and that you pay in cash, I believe that there is no issue with having a car!
For my situation, cars win on almost all fronts except for the environment and the usage of your time. We save some money compared to public transportation. I also save a lot of time every day. And it is much more convenient since you can drive to work at any time, not only at fixed times. The first downside is that most of the time inside your car is mostly wasted. And finally, the car is definitely the loser in view of the environment.
Do not take me wrong, I am not advocating for everyone to have a car either! I am just saying that there are many valid options. And driving a car is often a better option than people would like to make you believe. If you prefer living in a small village, a car will likely be a better option than public transportation. It may even cost you less than public transportation, at least in Switzerland.
On the other hand, if you are living in the city, public transportation is probably better. Cars are not evil, they are just another choice. As for the environment, if you drive a small car and try to have always several people on it, the impact is not as bad as most people will say it is!
Of course, my comparison only holds for my personal case. I do not drive much and I do not like to go out a lot. Moreover, public transportation in Switzerland is incredibly expensive I think. The most important thing to remember is that cars are not evil for your budget. You need to do the comparison yourself to find out which would suit your situation the best!
Enough about me, what do you prefer? Cars or public transportation?