Need a cost effective car for a long commute
March 24, 2011 11:57 AM   Subscribe

It's looking like I'm going to be offered a job about one hour's drive away from where I live in North Yorkshire. This will be my first 'proper' job (done lots of temping though). I've found the job market to be reaaaally hard. I'm a graduate and I'm getting interviews and even second interviews but haven't been sealing the deal.

Now it looks like I've finally made it, only the job isn't in my town, it's an hour's pleasant drive away (in the countryside). I've already asked if my working hours could be flexi so that I can go to work earlier in order to leave earlier and that was fine. So now I have two questions:

1) What car would it be sensible to buy to make this commute? I am looking for RELIABILITY and fuel economy over all else. I think my budget is about £2,000. I'm fairly tall (6'2") so hadn't really considered a Smart Car because people seem to suggest I won't fit in. Otherwise, surely these would be great for insurance, road tax and fuel economy? I do NOT want to use this car for anything other than commuting. In the city, I enjoy cycling - even for shopping/carting kids about.

2) Is a one hour each way commute going to destroy me? I do enjoy driving, the roads won't be congested and they will be scenic - I mean, it sounds fine actually but maybe I'm being naîve...
My dream is to have Radio 4 on or a CD and chill out on the way to work...

So yeah, mainly I'm looking for car recommendations that will prevent my salary being used up by:

posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
This is kind of amusing, actually. The saying goes that "In the United States, a hundred years is a long time, but in the UK, a hundred miles is a long way."

In the US, tons of people routinely commute twice or even three times that time, particularly if they work in major urban areas. Seriously, getting into Manhattan is a complete bitch, and don't even get me started about DC. But this sort of thing is possible because we've got four-, six-, and even eight-lane highways scattered about like pick-up-sticks, so spending a lot of time in the car 1) means you can go quite a bit farther, and 2) is way less stressful than navigating around urban or rural roads. Having driven in the UK, that's just not the case a lot of the time. An hour's "pleasant drive" can actually be pretty stressful if the trip requires a ton of attention all the time, whereas in highway driving a lot of people basically zone out.

But that being said, a lot of people even in the US would seriously consider moving if faced with a commute that far. Let's say your job is 40 miles away. That's 80 miles a day, 400 miles a week, and 20,000 miles a year. At current prices, approximately 133p/L, that's something like £2,500 a year in petrol alone if you're driving something as efficient as a Prius. For more standard cars, you're looking at more like £4,000/year. That's a lot of money. It also means that you could spend £200-350 extra a month in rent and basically break even, only you'd also have an extra two hours in your day.

Furthermore, £2,000 is really not all that much car. You're looking at buying a POS junker in that price range, which pretty much rules out reliability and may not even permit much in the way of fuel efficiency either. For a respectable used car, you're looking at more like £4,000-5,000, and new cars run closer to £8,500, at the lower end.

So the question becomes... "Why aren't you just going to move?"
posted by valkyryn at 12:18 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've never lived far from work and I've never regretted that decision. Except for the few times I actually was forced to commute (thankfully by train, but still!!)

Ditch the commute and move closer to work. You can always move back to a bigger city if you keep enough in savings and plan accordingly.
posted by jbenben at 12:20 PM on March 24, 2011

Ditch the commute and move closer to work. You can always move back to a bigger city if you keep enough in savings and plan accordingly.

Or don't? I've frequently chosen to keep a slightly longer commute in favor of actually living where I want to, where my friends are, where my life is. Not that compromise isn't sometimes necessary, but an hour commute isn't nearly enough to make me move.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:28 PM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

For reliability and economy, I'd tend to look at diesels. The price per litre is higher, but you usually get quite a few more miles to the litre.

The Skoda Fabia is a reasonable choice as far as smallish diesels go. I've heard they're quite nice to drive.

I've bought a car for £1000 that reliably did that sort of daily drive for four years (a '98 rover 420), so I'd disagree about £2000 being inadequate. You just have to keep on top of the maintenance.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:29 PM on March 24, 2011

I dunno, I've known people that do this sort of journey in and around Nottingham, a couple from rural villages. All of them have quit, all of them have stated the commute as the reason.

How generous is that hour? Is that allowing for traffic? If it is genuinely in the back of beyond, have you allowed for things like getting stuck behind a tractor or delivery artic that can't cope with the windy roads? There is always traffic of some kind. If you're commuting from one small town to another (it's not clear from your question?) this can be even worse than commuting around a city, as old, quaint English towns aren't designed for the massive volumes of people driving through them from 3.30pm-5.30pm every single night.

But you might cope ok with the commute for a year or so, being young and un-used to the drag of commuting. However, Valkyryn is bang on with the cost of running the car: it's the car cost vs rent offset PLUS the value of two extra hours a day that really kills me.

If you did want to buy a car, I have a Fiat Panda which I really love - it's cheap to run and (so far) reliable* - no problems in the four years I've owned it (from new). It still costs me £250 in service/MOT every year, £130 in tax and £500 in insurance annually, though.

*I had a Fiat Punto before this, however, which was the least reliable car I've ever known so I'm not saying all Fiats are a safe bet, ymmv etc etc
posted by citands at 12:34 PM on March 24, 2011

it's an hour's pleasant drive away (in the countryside)

I don't know much about North Yorkshire, admittedly, but as someone who's commuted in a lot of different places for various distances, I'm guessing that the "hour" and the "pleasant" are based on a nice spring day when the sun is shining. How long will it take in the rain, or snow? How well/quickly are roads plowed where you live? How will it be when it's dark, either early morning or late afternoon/evening in winter? Are the roads well-lit? Just stuff to think about...
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:51 PM on March 24, 2011

I have commuted an hour each way to work on a short term basis (although for several months). I thought it was ok - I listened to the radio. The problem with driving is that you can't actually zone out, but it's not likely to be the end of the world.

If you hate it, you can always look for a new job, or move closer to work. Not the worst choice in the world.
posted by plonkee at 12:54 PM on March 24, 2011

For me personally, up to an hour is fine and is actually what I do each way currently (NJ, US). I've done 1.5+ hours each way and that is a bit much. Audible was a lifesaver then.
posted by crankylex at 1:08 PM on March 24, 2011

Since this is anon, it's hard to ask whether there's a remotely feasible train option, but I'll assume that there isn't (thanks, Dr Beeching) which likely puts you in a part of the county that raises DestinationUnknown's questions: it's going to be a very different commute as the days shorten and the weather gets rougher, and it doesn't take too much to make some of the smaller roads treacherous, especially at higher elevations. It also raises valkryn's question about whether you'll find the smaller roads as charming and as easy to drive over extended periods of time, whether on account of conditions or traffic or the local fauna.

Just in terms of the commute itself, and looking beyond the American tolerance of long drives, I know people who have similar treks from relatively remote villages on both sides of the Pennines, and they manage it with the accompaniment of their preferred radio station.

All that said, if you do want a car for the commute, it's worth looking for a diesel, just for the marginal MPG gains.
posted by holgate at 1:20 PM on March 24, 2011

I drive an hour each way (45 miles) and I don't mind the drive or the time, per se, but every now and then I worry about my safety. Sometimes I'm very tired, making me a less than alert driver, which makes me wonder about all the other drivers out there. After making this commute for a little over a year, I'm wondering if it's just a matter of time before I'm in a major accident. (I travel on busy highways where most people drive 75mph, plus or minus 10mph.) I'm not a nervous driver AT ALL, but one has to start doing the math at some point.

Alas, jobs ARE hard to find, and I LIKE my job, so I stay there. Moving closer to work isn't an option. Jobs are temporary. I love my home. I hate the area my job is in. So I guess I'll be fine until I either die in an accident or happen upon a fantastic opportunity elsewhere. But I digress.

I drive a 2004 Toyota Matrix that has had no problems at all and I can't get less than 30 miles per gallon no matter how hard I try. (If I drive a reasonable speed, it's high 30s.) I don't know if you have that car there. It cost $17k new ... a used model might fall within your range. Also, I recommend Toyotas in general. Fantastic reliability.

I used to use foreign language learning CDs for the first 30 minutes of my commute. I don't remember how I got out of that habit. Then I found a morning radio show that I really, really enjoy, so that helps pass the time, even if it translates to 100% wasted time. (It's not news or anything, just mindless morning nonsense.) By the time my evening commute rolls around I'm too tired/spent for the language CD so I just listen to music and decompress.
posted by iguanapolitico at 1:31 PM on March 24, 2011

I live and work in London, and I commute from the east end to central every day. Door to door, it takes me about an hour each way. That includes a walk to the nearest tube stop, the tube journey, then the short walk to work.

Honestly, an hour is nothing. It seems perfectly reasonable to me. I generally use my time on the tube to read, which isn't an option if you're driving - but if you've got a good radio station, MP3 player or whatever, I think you'll be fine.

Frankly living and working in the countryside sounds like my idea of hell, but I'm sure a private car is way more pleasant than a rush hour tube. I think you'll be fine.
posted by Ted Maul at 1:44 PM on March 24, 2011

I had an hour commute a few years ago. I did it for a few months, then we looked into moving. It's not a decision you have to make today.

I am 6'4", and the ideal car for me is a VW Beetle. They aren't very large, but they're tall above the passenger compartment. For me, that was a must. I got tired of lying down to drive.
posted by Mad_Carew at 1:49 PM on March 24, 2011

Not qualified to comment on the car, and I agree that a lot of this depends on the roads in question -- driving on a highway is a completely different experience from back country roads.

However, I'd actually sound a note of caution on what Ted Maul said. While a private car is perhaps more pleasant than a rush hour tube -- it isn't, really, if you are the driver. A rush hour train may be crowded, but you have to be minimally alert for it. Nodding off for a couple on a seconds on the train would normally be inconsequential; doing the same while driving a car can result in accidents. I guess what I'm trying to say that I think it's disingenuous to compare times on a public transit commute to a car commute. An hour's drive, particularly in the winter/bad weather, will almost certainly be more tiring than an hour on a train.

(I apologize that this is somewhat off-topic from the OP's question, but I've commuted by both car and transit in Los Angeles and Chicagoland and I find them sufficiently different experiences to avoid drawing too much from one to the other.)
posted by andrewesque at 2:01 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agreed with andrewesque on the differences between driving and using public transportation. I'm in Chicagoland. I drive from one suburb to another (45 miles in 60 minutes). I used to take the train from my suburb to the city (25 miles in 75 minutes, door to door). The train commute took longer, but required no thought or attention to just about anything. Driving is much more tiring. So if you get tired easily while driving, that's a consideration.

Then again, getting a new job is always an option. Right now if you're choosing between this job and no job, you're better off having a job. If you can't swing it after a while, you can get a new job or at least quit, and still be better off than you are now. (Presumably you will have earned some money and gained some experience.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2011

I'll admit to not reading the whole thread, but unless my browser's search function is broken, no one has suggested it, so I will:

Have you considered a motorcycle? Killer gas mileage and reliable, used, beginner-friendly, cheap, models are generally plentiful, as many riders sell their "beginner bike" after they've gained some experience.

Extra bonus: waaaaay more fun than you'll have commuting in an econobox.
posted by zen_spider at 5:17 PM on March 24, 2011

It is my firm opinion that motorbikes + windy, twisty, potholey, blind-bendy, hairpin-cornery, vergeless English country roads are not a match. Have you seen the speed some people think is appropriate down those roads?!

On second comment (sorry) I agree with andrewesque and DestinationUnknown. I currently commute roughly 20mins each way and there are times that I get home after a long day with absolutely no memory of the journey. There were two days this year where I couldn't drive from my city-centre house to my other-side-of-the-city-centre job because of the snow.

In the winter (which, let's not forget, lasts six months), in the countryside with the snow, ice and rain? I certainly wouldn't want to do it. I bet there'd have been whole weeks you wouldn't have been able to get to the office.
posted by citands at 11:34 AM on March 25, 2011

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