I was talking recently with some of my coworkers - just another lazy lunch in the cafeteria. We were skipping from one topic to another, until we got to cars. I stated openly that I do not have much expertise in the topic, since I never owned a car or even a driving license. The chatter abruptly stopped. You could feel the mood change. First it was shock, then a bit of confusion and people looked at each other not sure how to react. Finally the smug smiles took their rightful place and I knew that from this moment, it was socially acceptable to make fun of me. In matter of seconds I lost quite a lot of credibility. It’s an exaggerated example of what I’ve experienced quite a few times in the past.
Cars seem to be a very important thing to a large portion of population. Why is that? I never quite understood it.
Obviously they are a sign of status, but it’s something on which you can’t really cheat. All your peers and your family know more or less how much you earn. If you buy a car that is clearly out of your range then everyone knows that it’s just stupidity on your side not wealth. The opinion should not change when you do not buy a car at all - you are still making the same amount. Yet somehow, there is a shift. Why?
Auto industry figured out a long time ago how to sell their products in the most efficient way. There are a lot of tricks, but what seems to be one of the most important things is our emotional attachment. People do not buy cars, they buy imaginary lifestyles. I can understand that this can sometimes overlap with reality to a degree. If your wife just gave birth to quintuplets it might seem like a good idea to buy in a minivan. Is it really though?
As I mentioned before, I never got a driving license. At the time people are normally doing that I didn’t have enough money and I was in constant survival mode. That simply wasn’t a priority. Once I got older I started thinking about this again. It soon became apparent to me that I did not need a car at all and there were a lot negative aspects of owning one. Maybe it’s just like with cigarettes - if you do not get hooked up while you’re young, there is a very small chance you will pick them up later.
Here are some reasons why I think private cars do not make sense:
Cars contribute to pollution
This one is obvious and was covered adequately in the media. You could argue that a lot has been done to nullify this negative effect, but so far no one can say that production and usage of a car is carbon neutral. One might still want to stick to a more egoistical perspective though, so it’s may be not that compelling, but…
Cars increase the chance of death
WHO lists road injuries in top 10 reasons for death in the world: WHO statistics
Even if you are a good driver, you have zero control over the behavior of other people on the road. You take your minivan out of the dealership, put your newly born quintuplets in this metal cage sitting on top of small-explosions engine, and accelerate to 60 MPH like everybody else. Does it really seem like such a good idea? How good is the worst driver on the road? That is the weakest link.
One of the other aspects of the situation in the traffic being a bit random is that you can kill someone by accident. He may just be too absorbed by his phone and go out on the road in a bad moment. You might have a sudden health issue, possibly a heart attack, and crash on the sidewalk killing dozens. It’s not you fault, but would you really be OK with that? We seem to never ask ourselves this question before buying a car.
Last, but not least - if we are able to eliminate natural aging, then our priority would become to reduce all possible death risk factors to zero. For any non-zero factor in an unlimited time span the probability of death approaches one.
Cars increase the chance of death once more
At the top of the WHO list there are two funny things called heart disease and stroke. They are treated as if they are the reasons for death, but in reality they are not. Those are outcomes.
Among one of the main reasons for cardiovascular diseases is the lack of enough exercises. Here is my point - people that own cars tend to move less. Hey, even the American Heart Association thinks that walking more might be a good idea: AHA walking
When we take into account unlimited life span, then it would also be a good idea to look at possible “maintenance costs”. We do not know how much it will cost to keep our bodies from decaying and it’s always a good idea to avoid any major organs failure. Even if the reasons are purely economic.
You lose a lot of time
If you spend as much as an hour driving a car to and from work, then you lose over thirty 8h work days per year. That’s one and a half month that you could spend reading and learning new skills. It’s probably more than an average college student uses for checking up his course reference materials. Just think who could you become if you had this time.
I know that nowadays a lot of people listen to audio books, but in general it’s a sub-par experience. There is not that much place for titles that force the reader to do some analytical work. Mostly, those are just trivial management, coaching and self-help positions. You probably would not want to listen to anything that distracts you while you drive anyway.
We are then wasting quite a substantial amount of time, that could be used in a much more productive way. As the popular proverb goes - “time is money”, which gets us to…
Cars are crazy expensive
Some time ago I read about the “1/10th rule” which states that you should not spend more than 10% of your income on your car. First of all, existence of such a rule suggests that there are people that actually spend more. Second, this is an insane amount of money.
Saving up and investing on this scale through most of your career would make you financially independent when near retirement. It could provide you additional medical insurance which could save your life, push you or your child through college, or just make life a bit easier.
There are not a lot of things which I would spend so much cash on. You would have to give a very good reason for that - some basic unfulfilled need. Which gets us to the last point…
Most people don’t actually need them
Come on, how much do you really need this thing? There are a lot people that have a very similar situation to yours that can live without a car. Unless your business uses them, you live in some remote place to which you cannot commute, or getting supplies there is hard, there seem to be no good reason for a private car.
Most areas where people live can be reached by public transport. I would not choose a car for a longer ride anyway since it’s just very inconvenient.
In the case of some urgent need, there are a lot of other services you can use - taxis, Uber, etc. Paying for them would still be cheaper than keeping an insured car.
In summary, it was always very unclear to me why people want to own cars. This seems to solve no real problem and any emotional needs that get fulfilled are offset by heavy costs. Is this just some relict of our past still rummaging in the back of our heads, or is there something that I’m missing? Will the car industry finally die out, or will the need for compulsive consumerism be stronger? What is your opinion?