Does this sound familiar: You’ve been driving your car for quite some time, and ongoing maintenance and repairs start seeming costly in view of its market value. A new used car that’s not in danger of dying on you straight away will obviously be more expensive than the problem that has to be fixed now. But what if this is only the first in a row of necessary repairs, one thing will add to the other…maybe better not risk a bottomless pit?
That’s pretty much where I am at the moment. Only with the additional twist that objectively, I don’t really need a car. My husband drives a company car which we can use for private trips. So for all practical purposes my car is our second car. That’s become a standard in a lot of families, depending on individual circumstances it might even be a necessity, but in my case it’s really a luxury.
How often do I really use my car?
There are very, very few occasions where I actually need a car. When I meet friends, that’s mostly very doable using public transport. I do actually pretty exclusively use the bus and metro trains whenever I go to more central quarters of our city – traffic has become so heavy that you get stuck in traffic jams pretty much any time of the day, and it’s super inconvenient having to find a parking space in the central residential quarters. Right in the city center there are multi-story car parks and even the odd parking space alongside the streets, but I find them outrageously expensive – given that I well remember when they were actually free to use or only cost a very low fee.
I can do any shopping during the week by foot or bike. We do tend to do a larger grocery run at the weekend, but that’s when my husband’s car is available. During the last few months, we actually used my car for those trips to make sure it was driven on a regular basis at all. The only times where I do use my car are trips to the vet, and the very occasional trip somewhere where public transports takes so much longer that it doesn’t seem worth the time. So I guess that gives a very clear indication I don’t really need a car.
Car = Freedom (?)
Now, my car does not incur heavy fixed costs, it’s 22 years old, taxes and liability insurance come up to less than 40 Euros per month. On top of that there’s regular maintenance, TÜV, and gas, of course. Which probably lands me at nor more than 100 Euros per month in total. So the option to use a car whenever I want would well be worth it.
Or wouldn’t it? I’m not so sure about this anymore. What I find interesting is that this would have been a knock-dead argument for me for a long time: Owning a car felt the essence of personal freedom to me. There’s a reason for this, as I grew up in a very small town in Schleswig-Holstein. Secondary schools were 12 kilometres away, and my friends dispersed throughout the school’s catchment area. So it was crystal clear that I wanted to get my drivers license as soon as I turned 18. And my parents very kindly let me use a small used car at my own discretion. It was a superb feeling to be in control of where I wanted to go at any time.
A bottomless pit?
And I actually liked cars a lot, I can still get quite enthusiastic about specific models. My love of the actual driving bit has gone down substantially, though, after I commuted weekly between Hamburg and Cologne for my job. I still love the gliding feeling you can get in a car. But you don’t very often get that anymore, but you have to concentrate on heavy traffic, are stuck in a traffic jam, or squeeze yourself through construction lanes. While I was working in Cologne, traffic-jams have become much more of a problem in Hamburg, and this seems to be pretty much the same in most larger cities. And what I also notice when comparing driving in Hamburg versus Cologne is that people here (me included) are way less relaxed when driving. Not so cool either.
But back to repairs which is the major issue I have at this point. My admittedly very old car runs quite well, but three years back at roughly 130,000 kilometres the gearbox had to be exchanged for around 2,500 Euros. And there’s something wrong with the car’s electronics, the trunk can only be opened manually, for example. Which is not a big problem, but operating the windows does not work reliably anymore either, and that’s where it gets tricky, if you can’t get them to close anymore. We took the car to the repair shop about this some time ago, and it cost about another 600 Euros to get this fixed. Which it was ultimately not, which we realized three weeks ago on a very rainy weekend. We’re still waiting for a slot in the repair shop now (I drive a 22-year-old SAAB, and there are only very few repair shops that will deal with this brand at all).
Is it still worth it?
When you add up the bills, the problem is evident. The total real costs per month are a lot higher than what I calculated above for “normal” maintenance. I think that’s quite a lot for having the luxury of keeping car at hand at all times. With my current lifestyle It’s quite improbable that I would be spending as much money on transportation even if I treated myself to the occasional taxi ride. (During the repairs I wrote about my car was in the repair shop for almost three months in the first case due to difficulties in diagnosing the exact defect, and subsequent problems to get the necessary spare parts, and several weeks the second time. And we’re now well into the third week I can’t use it. So this somewhat defies the idea of having a car available at all times anyway).
And on top of that: different from my 18 year old self, I actually get a feeling of freedom from not owning some things. I don’t have to worry about repairs or replacements. And I don’t have to feel badly for not making enough use of a possession. For loads of millenials, sharing a car rather than owning one is the natural choice. Nevertheless, I’m still struggling with the idea of voluntarily getting rid of my car before it literally dies on me. But maybe the repair-shop will take this decision for me – in that case I would definitely not replace it as long as it’s not necessary.
Financial Independence Rocks!