Cutting the costs of vehicle ownership by buying and driving less

Nineteen years ago, Peter Tombrowski and his wife decided that giving up their paid-off vehicle made sense for them and their six-month-old baby.

“We were living downtown, and we just weren’t using our car,” says the videographer, standing at a southern Calgary transit hub.

He had crunched the numbers and decided that both the money tied up in their vehicle, and the cost to maintain it, could be better spent elsewhere. Instead they’ve relied largely on walking and transit.

But even when Tombrowski had a second child and moved south of Calgary’s downtown, he never went back to the costs of car ownership, which according to the Canadian Automobile Association, runs Canadians an average of $9,000 a year per vehicle.

Not everyone, however, is willing to walk half an hour to the grocery store like Tombrowski, and for many in the suburbs and rural parts of the country, going without a car isn’t an option — but Ian Jack at CAA says that most people could think more about costs when shopping for wheels.

“Generally speaking, people are not very rational when it comes to vehicle purchases. It’s still a status symbol for many people, and there’s an aura of romance around it,” says Jack, managing director of communications at the association.

He says people tend to over-buy, as they think about that once-a-year full haul with the family to the cottage, even though they need much less most of the time.

“They may not be able to get away with no vehicle, but maybe they can get away with a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle and simply rent or car share once or twice a year.”

CAA estimates that nationally, a compact car like a Honda Civic would cost about $8,600 a year to own, while a SUV like a Chevrolet Equinox would cost about $12,000, when everything from insurance, maintenance, gas and depreciation are factored in.

“Try to think about the dollars and the cents, and all of the other parts of life that you could be spending that money on potentially,” Jack advises.

The CAA launched an online tool in 2013 that helps people calculate the true cost of ownership, noting at the time that four-fifths of Canadians underestimate the true costs, and six in 10 underestimate it by more than $4,000 a year.

Jack says the biggest cost of ownership, and the most overlooked, is depreciation, where the value of the car dwindles with every kilometre of use.

“It’s a little bit of an invisible cost to people when they’re running the vehicle, but it becomes very important when you decide to trade in that vehicle, or otherwise get rid of it or sell it.”

Jeremy Klaszus, a freelance journalist in Calgary, was keenly aware of the costs of ownership when his old car finally gave out, enough for him and his family of four to try going without one.

He says weekend car rentals and bike commuting worked well, but with two kids he found the 40-minute waits for the bus and two-seater car2go Smart Cars didn’t quite work with their busy after-school schedule.

Klaszus says they’re back to car ownership now, but have taken the lessons from their couple of months without.

“We still only have one car, so we’re still planning out who’s taking the car to work on whichever day. Often on the weekends we leave the car at home — you know, if we’re going downtown, we bike or find another way, transit,” he says.

“It’s not an all or nothing thing, you don’t have to be purely without a car.”

Just Posted

Red Deer College waiting for feds to finalize marijuana legalization

Like businesses, Alberta and municipal governments, Red Deer College is waiting for… Continue reading

Class size only part of the problem say Central Alberta teachers

Though the Alberta auditor general’s report points out that classroom sizes continue… Continue reading

Lacombe County promoting crime prevention measures

County pushing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles

Red Deer doctor concerned about patient transfers to rural hospitals

Family physician says the move creates less incentive for expansion at Red Deer hospital

Fire permit season begins in March

Earlier springs in last few years prompted Alberta government to move up fire permit season

WATCH: Red Deer’s River Bend upgrades officially open

River Bend Golf and Recreation Area is the latest venue to be… Continue reading

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Stores make push in scan and go tech, hope shoppers adopt it

NEW YORK — Shoppers at self-checkout lanes scanning all their groceries after… Continue reading

‘Stars seemed to have aligned’ for new Halifax CFL bid, commissioner says

HALIFAX — CFL fans in Halifax have been told the league is… Continue reading

The language of ‘Black Panther’? It’s real. Give it a try.

OTTAWA — The military’s top general has promised to get to the… Continue reading

New execution date set for Georgia’s ‘stocking strangler’

ATLANTA — A man known as the “stocking strangler,” who was convicted… Continue reading

Man says he kicked Chevy Chase in self-defence in dispute

SOUTH NYACK, N.Y. — A New York man says he kicked Chevy… Continue reading

Supporters of Tina Fontaine’s family march in Winnipeg to support her family

WINNIPEG — Hundreds marched through the streets of Winnipeg on Friday in… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month