To keep my car or to sell it – that is the question
Though ‘tis much cheaper to endure and suffer
The smelly and dirty online taxis
But the faithful old jalopy is close to my heart
I cannot bear to let it depart
(With apologies to Hamlet)
Owning a car is now an expensive and impractical proposition. Apart from the ever-increasing fuel prices and maintenance costs, driving itself is problematic in our crowded metros, and parking is an even greater hassle. Besides, Olas and Ubers are just an app away, and cheaper, too.
Why do I keep saying ‘cheaper’? Aren’t online taxis expensive? Well, let’s look at the math.
The annual fixed cost of maintaining a five-year-old Maruti Swift (just as a benchmark), which has a current market value of, say, Rs3.5 lakh is (in Rs):
(Note: these are just the bare bones fixed costs. I haven’t included the cost of any repairs, accident damage, replacement of parts, etc.)
So, even if you never drive your car at all, you are paying over Rs11,000 per month for the privilege of owning a car. If you have a driver, your cost soars to nearly Rs25,000 per month.
Let’s say you drive your car 10,000km a year. The fuel cost will work out to Rs7.5 per km, or Rs75,000 a year. Your annual cost on the car will now add up to Rs2,09,000 a year, almost Rs21 per km. If you drive 6,000km a year, or 500km a month, your cost per km will be Rs30.
An Uber or Ola will get you from A to B for less than that. Plus, you will not have to battle your way through traffic, search for parking once you get to your destination, worry about breakdowns, fear traffic cops and all of that.
No brainer, right? A car no longer makes sense in a metro city.
Ah, I see. You never think of depreciation or foregone interest as costs, because they are invisible. Let me assure you – they are real costs.
When you bought your car five years ago you paid Rs7 lakh. Today, it is worth only Rs3.5 lakh. A year from now, it will be worth even less – Rs3 lakh or so. By just keeping your car a year longer, even if you do not drive it a single km, you will lose Rs50,000. That is depreciation.
Also, if you sell your car today, you will get Rs3.5 lakh. Put it in the bank as an FD, and it will fetch you Rs21,000 a year in interest. By keeping your money locked up in your car, you are losing every day.
Yes, the math is right. It is cheaper to use an online cab than drive your own, unless your car runs, say, 50,000km a year, at which level your per km cost will drop to around Rs10, cheaper than an online cab. If you have nothing better to do, you can work out the break-even point.
Yet, people are buying new cars still, and those who already have cars are not selling them off and switching to online cabs.
Apart from the ‘prestige’ of driving your own, shiny, customised set of wheels, you avoid getting delayed by a late pickup or having to pay some ridiculous ‘surge rate’ during busy hours, that too after waiting in the hot sun for a long time.
And then there is the joy of revving the engine in second and slipping into third to zoom past 80…Oops! The radar flashed! If your wallet does not get you thinking, the cops will.
Maybe one day a new business will emerge – car sharing. Put together a group of 1,000 or so car-owners who do not use their cars daily and are willing to share their cars with others, for a fee. Offer self-drive cars, for a pittance, to 10,000 people, who would like to drive a car from time to time, but do not have one. Add a few drivers to shuttle the cars between owners and hirers. Build an app to connect the two groups. And voila – you have a business!
The writing is on the wall – personal cars will become a rarity in one decade, maximum two. Cars will go the way horses went, from an essential means of transportation to a luxury device maintained for the sheer joy of it.
You have heard the logic, which should appeal to your head. Now ask your heart. Will you hang on to your car, or let it go?
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US but returned to India to be a ‘first-class citizen in a second-class country’, rather than the other way around. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until COVID, that is), playing bridge, befriending streaming services and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)