Thursday, February 7, 2008

Henry Ford is Laughing in His Grave

Cars and Americans are so firmly welded together that we might as well consider a person's car as another body appendage. The way some people act, car ownership is right up there with all the other rights the Constitution guarantees us. Not having a car is a sign of poverty. Actually, having only one car puts you pretty far down the totem pole of wealth.

So what does a car cost us? The answer is not so simple. First, where do you live? Certain frum neighborhoods are categorized by the types of cars seen parked in front of frum houses. Cruise the streets of Brooklyn in the frum areas. You would think that a van dealership had gone out of business and donated all the leftover stock to Brooklyn Jews. Ditto for SUVs. If it's big it's found in Brooklyn. If it guzzles gas, it's found in Brooklyn. Nor is Brooklyn the only neighborhood so characterized. Cruise along in the Five Towns and in Far Rockaway and you'd think you were still in Brooklyn judging by the cars. And big costs more. And if you want to know what a Lexus looks like or a BMW then cruise the same areas.

There's also this. Are we talking one car or two or three? I have students whose parents bought them SUVs to commute to school with, and they aren't carpooling either. One of my married students admitted that he and his wife and 7 month old daughter have two cars, in Brooklyn.

And then there are the leased cars. Everyone talks about those leases as if they were the best thing since the invention of white bread. Well, we now know that white bread is not as good for you as whole grain is, and leased cars are anything but a bargain. You spend a whole lot of money, and at the end of three years you own nothing. Not to mention that leasing companies insist that you have the full and complete package of insurance on their car; no cutting corners.

Nor is it just the price of the cars themselves. Cars require regular maintenance to function correctly. They are fairly voracious eaters and require regular infusions of gas and oil and other fluids. The bigger and "fancier" the car, the more it eats and the more often it eats. Like their owners, cars sometimes get "ill" and require the services of an "auto doctor." If you think human medical practitioners are expensive, wait until you get a mechanic's bill, and they aren't covered by insurance.

The tri-state area is a haven for tolls of all kinds. Getting over bridges or through tunnels is going to cost you. The Verrazano Bridge is vying for the title of "Most Expensive Toll Bridge in the US." And if the Mayor of NYC has his way, tolls are going to go way up on all the other bridges and tunnels as well.

As one commenter pointed out, car insurance is not cheap. And if you are a male 25 and under you are going to pay easily double what someone older would pay. Certain parts of the city pay more in car insurance fees than other parts of the city, way more. When we moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island, our car insurance bills were cut in half.

And then there is the question of where to put the cars you own. If you are renting an apartment in a building then you are spending a whole lot of time trying to find a parking spot for your car. Or you could ante up the monthly parking fee for using your building's parking facilities, if they have them. And if you are in certain parts of the City your job becomes highly frustrating due to alternate side of the street parking. Now imagine having to park two cars.

I might also mention that there are yearly inspections that have to be done and car registration fees and renewal fees.

So how much does that car actually cost you? I'm going to use a new Toyota Corolla LE 2007 to illustrate this. Purchased by a savvy purchaser who had done all the homework, knew what dealer's prep was and what would most likely be accepted, the car cost $17,000. For those bigger cars that are so popular? Double the cost. For a driver 25 or younger in Brooklyn full insurance, according to Geico, for the car is "only" $3800 per year. Insuring two vehicles, with the wife as the principle driver of the second car, is only $6000 per year. Gas for that car, conservatively figuring is, for a smaller car like the Toyota, $1300 per year if you don't fill up more than once a week. Double the cost if your car is larger and one of those gas guzzlers. If you are leasing one car, figure from $5000 to $10,000 a year in leasing and another $3800 in insurance. If you are leasing two cars, that's $10,000-$20,000 for the leasing fees and $6000 in insurance. Maintenance and small repairs and tires and inspections add on another $500 a year for newer cars and the sky is the limit on older cars.

My student who lives in Brooklyn and leases two cars pays, at a minimum, $18,000 in car expenses per year. If you are buying the cars your expenses won't be much less but at least you will own the car at the end of the payments. And I haven't included any tolls in this figure.

How many taxi cabs or car services when a car is absolutely needed to go somewhere do you suppose you could pay for with $18,000? How many bus or subway tokens do you suppose you could buy with that kind of money?

Now let's add our car expenses to the apartment expenses and we get--ta da--$43,500 per year. That's after tax money. And you still haven't eaten. And you're still going naked. Still feeling really cheerful about what being married can cost you? There's worse to come yet.

To be continued.


Bas~Melech said...

Your opening premise is true for most people, but for those living in densely populated, high-traffic areas with adequate public transportation, car ownership is neither a given nor a sign of prosperity. It is just a pain in the neck. Why drive yourself [crazy] if you can take a train with no traffic for less than the cost of gas without having to look for parking or have insurance? No contest here!

Bas~Melech said...

P.S. If anyone was trying to do the math and compare the quoted figures with the cost of public transportation, bear in mind that many employers have some kind of plan with the MTA (my father's is enough to provide for himself plus half the family.) Furthermore, student passes are completely free (compare to carpool)

ProfK said...

those living in densely populated, high-traffic areas with adequate public transportation,

You are correct Bas Melech that in areas where there is available public transportation there would seem to be no need for having a car, much less two or more cars, the key word being need. And young couples in such areas with limited budgets should not be including cars as part of their budgets. But they are, and in droves. They may take the subway to Manhattan, but they don't go to Borough Park from Flatbush using the subway. They don't go from Avenue J to Kings Highway using the subway. In short, they aren't considering their outside of work transportation needs as needing public transportation or cabs.

For those outside of Brooklyn who find themselves having to be in Brooklyn, if you find on-street parking it is a miracle. Those cars on the street belong to someone. Many of those "someones" are young couples.

Also keep this in mind: buying a choson a car is frequently part of the "negotiated package" of things that a choson and kallah are gifted with by parents. I had a shidduch go back over a car. The girl's father found a perfectly good used car that he thought would suit the kids. The boy's parents threw fits. They said: "We're not giving you a used boy and he is not getting a used car."

Another observation: at the chasoneh last night everyone arrived by car. I saw not one car service pull up. There were tons of young people there. We could be l'chav zchus and say they all borrowed their parents' cars. I suspect that was not the case however.

Anonymous said...

Some of us live in areas where there isn't great public transport or almost none. I have to have a car for my job and my boss pays mileage but the main costs of the car are still mine. At least my insurance is a lot cheaper then in Brooklyn. My wife takes cabs for shopping or errands and its still cheaper then another car.

Anonymous said...

My husband had a car that came into the marriage with us. We were supporting ourselves. We lived near a subway, the stores in the area mostly all delivered and we couldn't afford all the money the car was costing us so we sold it. That year after we sold the car it cost us about $700 in cabs and car rentals for when we had to be someplace that we couldn't get to by subway. A lot less then the car cost us.It's 8 years and we just bought our first car since then because we've moved to where there are no subways and we need a car. And we can afford one now when we couldn't then.

Anonymous said...

We drive a small mid-90s year car with some dings that are just not worth repairing. Gets us some pretty funny looks but we don't care any more. Even with more repairs because it is older it doesn't cost us anything like what a big new car would cost. Don't need theft insurance on it either. Who's going to steal it when all the neighbors have fancier cars worth more?

Anonymous said...

Comes down to having to decide if you really need the car because of work or because of bad transportation where you are living or if you want the car for whatever your reasons are. If you only want it there better be the money to pay for everything else first.

Orthonomics said...

Driving newer cars is a killer. A young couple I know bought a new Corolla (debt financed of course) and is paying out the nose for the loan plus the insurance.

Our insurance, two drivers/two cars, is less than $1000 a year. Of course, one car passed its 10th birthday last year and the other is almost 20. I fear the day we have to upgrade to something made in the 2000's.

Orthonomics said...

Of course, we live in the burbs and actually do need the cars. I can't imagine maintaining two newer cars in NY. It would be like my first mortgage.

Anonymous said...

"They may take the subway to Manhattan, but they don't go to Borough Park from Flatbush using the subway. They don't go from Avenue J to Kings Highway using the subway."

There are buses for that, including frum ones on some routes. There are also conveyances such as feet, bicycles and friends with cars.

There is a generation gap here that should be mentioned. The rate of car ownership in the past (and I don't mean pre Henry Ford, I mean like a generation or two back) was not as great, by far. And they managed. If there is a will, there is a way. Not having a car is also healthier, makes people walk more, less fumes, less time wasted looking for parking, moving car due to alternate side of street regulations, etc. There are still some frum people that manage without cars.

I think another factor is that at one time the subways were in very bad shape in terms of reliability, delays, safety. They have improved dramatically since then, but some people seem to think they still are the disaster they once were.

There are also issues of tznius and stuff like that that factor into the proverbial equation, as well as status.

Anonymous said...

To elaborate on a point I made in passing above - I think there definitely are grounds to speculate on a link between the growing problem of obesity and not being in shape among some of the 'frum', and the frum buying into the car culture in such a big way. Why, if not for Shabbos and Yomtov, some of the frum would hardly ever walk !

A former neighbor of mine once told a joke about someone who saw a friend who had a weight problem and on a subsequent occasion saw him and he was looking much more fit. He asked what happened. The friend said that he was on the Chase Manhattan diet. Chase took his car, forcing him to walk and stay in shape.

People should do things like walk and cycle more and then they will be in better shape (vinishmartem meod linafshoseichem) and they can also save money by not having to join a gym/health club to work out since they are doing it while getting around in the course of their regular activities (saving time too).