Why My Car Costs More Than Taking Uber Everywhere

Two weeks ago, I sold my car. It was a great car: a 2002 Subaru WRX with 36,700 miles. It did 0-60 in 5.9 seconds (and I'd tested it out enough times to appreciate that). Super fun. Carried groceries and anything I needed. Good for city, good for climbing and camping trips. Worked well. Nothing wrong with it.

Good riddance.

I'm an abnormal car owner, for sure, but one of the points I raise below (better uses of the capital expense of the car) applies pretty broadly. Over the life of the car, I paid more than $US4 per mile traveled. Even if all of my travel was one-mile trips, Uber ( $US2 base fee + $US1.25 per mile in Pittsburgh) would have been far cheaper. You can substitute Lyft or Yellow Cab for Uber in that equation, of course, assuming you could actually get a cab in Pittsburgh to pick you up when you needed.

I paid about $US18,400 for it in 2005. I drove about 9200 miles. It takes premium gas. I created a little spreadsheet to let others do the same computation for themselves. Or to argue with me about it!

In the end, my car cost more than $US4.20 per mile that I drove it -- and over $US38,718 over ten years, and that was with getting back more than 50% of its purchase price when I sold it and spending only $US1100 on gas. I'm probably undercounting still - I'm not factoring in things like parking, but feel free to copy the spreadsheet and do the calculations for yourself!

Note that the dollars are effectively inflation-adjusted: I put in 2005 dollars, and at the end, everything's reckoned in 2015 dollars. The 7% yearly growth is a slightly conservative assumption based upon the performance of VFINX over the same period, including taking into account the expense ratio (but not taxes on any realized gains or distributions); VFINX's 10-year trailing return is about 7.8% average annual.

I hope I never own a car again. For now, my wife's car is more than enough for both of us (clearly!). What an unfortunate waste of resources. Taking public transit, Uber, or cabs (or biking -- I do, after all, own a lovely bike that I love) wouldn't have been free, but it would have been better for my wallet, the environment, and likely my health.

Car, you were an engineering delight, a ton of fun to drive, and you held your value surprisingly well. I'm glad you're gone, and you're not welcome back.

David Andersen is a Computer Science Professor at Carnegie Mellon University and writes his own blog, Dave's Data. Follow him on Google+ here.

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