A former colleague once told me that she doesn’t understand men’s fixation for wheels and engines. Apparently, her boyfriend wanted to have a car before owning a house. Talk about priorities. Whether for status, prestige, a feeling of independence, convenience, the safety of their children or any other reason, it seems that many middle class and above people consider vehicle ownership as a matter of course, a basic necessity (aside from wifi) that appears to be at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid.
How much does it actually cost to own a brand new car? Is it really a need-need? What does car ownership entail in the light of eternity, and in our stewardship of resources?
The last time I checked, the list price for an entry level Toyota Vios, the de-facto standard for cars, is around 615,000 Pesos (USD 14,200). Depending on the down payment and length of instalment, most people will actually pay around 750,000 to 800,000 pesos for it, if interest is accounted for.
Let’s say you will plan to own the vehicle for around 10 years before selling it. If the average cost of annual registration (with insurance, emission testing, etc) will be 7,000 pesos, then that means another 70,000. Now, a car will not run without gas. If for the next 10 years, the average gas price is 65 pesos per liter, and the Vios will net you an average of 9km/L over its lifespan. Assuming an average of 30km travel per day, you would have to spend 216.67 pesos per day, or around 790,000 for 10 years. That’s roughly the same as the car’s price! How about maintenance? Surely you would need to replace batteries, wheels, engine oil, and have some moderate repairs. If these amount to 20,000 a year, then that’s 200,000 in 10 years. The good thing is, if you manage to sell your car after 10 years, you could probably get 150,000 back.
Well, there you have it. If you earned minimum wage in Metro Manila, and worked seven days a week, including holidays, you could probably afford a car – if you don’t spend on anything else. I didn’t even factor in toll fees, parking fees, and the coins you give to people who watch your car and guards who signal you when backing up. My brother once did a rough calculation and came to the conclusion that a single person with a modest lifestyle would need a gross monthly salary of P30,000 to afford owning a car. Now, these are just the cost implications, how about in terms of stewardship?
As we all know, fossil fuels are a limited resource. It is not something we could really call “sustainable”. On top of that, people who drive cars to work often are alone. In some instances, they drop a spouse, relative, or child along the way to school or work. In terms of fossil fuel to person ratio, any form of public transport would seem more sensible from a stewardship perspective. It’s also the same thing for road use perspective. The average vehicle is around 1.8m x 4m. That means if you are alone in the car you are driving, then you consume 7.2m 2 of road space at any given time. Multiply that by 1,000,000 vehicles and you have a traffic jam. In contrast, a bus that occupies 25m2 may contain around 70 individuals during rush hour. That’s 0.35 m2 per person, easily 20 times more efficient road use than a private vehicle with 1 driver/passenger. Speaking of area, owning a car also means that you need a house with parking space. Whether you are renting or owning, that additional parking space has additional cost. It will not be proper stewardship for someone to permanently park along the road, which is government property.
From a financial stewardship perspective, more often than not, commuting would be much cheaper. If we were to assume that commuting would only cost 25% of the above mentioned cost, then that means you would have an extra 1,256,250 pesos saved over a span of 10 years. That’s enough money to sponsor a 1-week leadership camp for 400 people!
I do not mean to say that vehicle ownership is wrong or even demonic. There are of course jobs that require you to drive for you to be able to do your job, and also to properly represent the company. If the company shoulders the cost, then that’s a different issue of stewardship. There are also ways for you to help people – the church, your community, relatives etc. that entails the use of your private vehicle. What I want to point out is that owning a car is not something you enter into without counting the costs and benefits, and it’s definitely not a need for everyone. It may even be a liability in certain instances – many cars have been re-sold after the previous owner was unable to pay the balance of a car loan.
What then, are the possible alternatives? Find out in Part 2.