I Sold My Car

I love cars, but getting rid of mine was probably the smartest, most gratifying decision I've made during my twenties.

I love cars, things that move in general, but particularly cars.

They have always fascinated me since I was a kid. Back then I use to study read the final pages — those that listed each and every model with its specs — of all the car magazines I could get my hands on. I knew every single model’s spec by heart: horsepower, weight, torque, transmission, height… everything. I use to play this game with my parents, where I handed over the magazine and let them ask me anything: “what’s BMW 323i horsepower” or “the wheelbase of an Audi 80” and we could go on and on…

I’ve always thought of the road as an everlasting showroom for cars. They keep going and going. I remember stepping out of the house hoping to see some wild species among the utilitarians.

In 2008 I bought a car.

I was 20 and in the middle of college. I felt like I needed one — fast forward almost 10 years, I didn’t. But I was stubborn. I did my research, evaluating all sorts of parameters, from efficiency, performance, lightness and a large etc. It took me some time to decide on a market I already knew pretty well, but I’ve always spent a lot of time studying each purchase I did, this was not going to be an exception.

Finally, in June 2008 I had my shiny new car parked in my garage and I was amazed. I looked for any excuse to drive it. I use it for nearly everything, although some commutes could be done more efficiently by bike or public transport. I couldn’t be more materialistically — I just made that word up — happy. This was the early days, the heat of the moment.

But eventually, like every material pleasure, it faded away.

After some time, I found myself with a car, which I worshiped in terms of craft and engineering, but also hated because of the idle time it was wasted in the garage. That contradiction didn’t come overnight, but it grew on me the more I thought about it.

I started to think what meant to have an underused car. It terrified me. Not just the costs associated with the “having”, but also the fact of owning a piece of metal, plastic, and glass sitting quiet, useless, in my garage.

The Costs

The simple fact of buying that car means that the very moment you push the start button, the artifact is worth 10% or 20% less. In terms of economics, I would say that’s a pretty bad investment.

Worse, regardless you use it or not, its value will inevitably continue to plunge. It’s also not a current asset, so you can’t exchange it easily for money, and the process of selling one it’s tough and requires a lot of your own time.

So, immediate value loss assured lifetime deprecation and non-current asset. Pictured that way, nobody would bet on it, yet everybody seems to drive one.

The Breakdown

  • Gas: here we are talking a lot of money. With the current gas prices driving 750km with some medium class car translates to something like 100€. That’s just crazy, but gas prices continue to go up and people don’t seem to give up on cars.
  • Insurance: add from 500 up to 1500€/year, and that’s for basic insurance policies. If you want something that covers robbery or pays even if it’s your fault you could add an extra 500€ to the number I just wrote.
  • Maintenance: this cost depends so much on your car manufacturer and the kind of maintenance you are getting in for, but in my case, it was even worse. I didn’t use the car much. So one would think that no distance equals no wear, therefore no maintenance. It doesn’t work this way. Cars account the revision periods either by the mileage or by a time span… So either way, you should visit your beloved mechanic at some point.
  • Taxes, parking, wash, accessories… The list goes on and on, I’m not going into the specifics here, but I think I made my point.

Every year I kept my car, used or not, I spend on average more than 2.500€ on all the things I described above.

And that’s a ton of money.

Underused Stuff

Sometimes I think it’s healthy to look around and think about how much we use or need the things we own. I just did that with my car. I’m not saying every car is underused, mine just happened to be. It was sitting in my garage more than 95% of its lifetime — and yes, I did the math. I felt sad about it. That’s a lot of metal, plastic, glass and other commodities that could be better used in other places.

We all use cars to go places. That’s the way it is. It’s inefficient, expensive and a waste of resources, but sometimes we are left with no other options. That was not my case. I live in a big city, there are great communications, buses, underground, bikes… I get this may not suit everyone’s needs, but it suited mine.

Beyond usage, we user stuff as a proxy for determining social status. We were told that driving a fancy car pushes yourself up in some kind of social ladder.

That’s sad.

We have collectively lost track of what is valuable. Progress doesn’t mean that even the poorest guy should get a car, it means that the richest should be going to work by bike. It seems that we have forgotten about that.

I Sold My Car

After some months of dealing with possible buyers, I finally sold it. I felt conflicted, but in the end, it turned out to be a relief. If minimalism and owning less has a great impact on people’s life, selling my car was clear proof of this.

Ok, but what now? Sometimes I needed to travel long distances, and I had to deal with these situations, too. So I signed in for ZipCar. Zipcar is one of those services that when you tell people about, they say: “boy, that makes sense!“.

And it really does.

Why everyone needs a car that is not using if a company can hold it for you and you just pay them for the time you want it. It’s brilliant. Moreover, I live in Barcelona, one of the few cities outside the US that has the service, thanks to the company acquisition of Avancar, a Zipcar-like service that was operating here.

So those cars are better used because more people are riding them, they spend less time parked and you get to use a car whenever you need one.

Everyone wins.

There are more radical approaches to this concept, like RelayRides or here in Barcelona, SocialCar. Where you own the car and you rent it through the platform so other people can use it.

I consider myself an early adopter, but I felt that maybe this was too much. I went to Zipcar. And looking back I might say that this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Because I uncluttered my life, get rid of some preoccupations and saved a lot of money.

Just because I sold my car.

First published on September 08, 2013