Mass transit.
November 7, 2011 8:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm spending nearly $400/month on automotive-related expenses for a car I don't enjoy driving. That's about 25% of my monthly income, and when it really comes down to it, I think I'd rather be saving that money for something better, like travel. Or education. Or Scotch. Lots and lots of Scotch.

Car in question is a 2003 Volkswagen Golf. If you know anything about cars and a little about me, this purchase was a mistake, solely for the choice of transmission. Really, I can't stand it. I'm falling asleep at the wheel without a clutch pedal.

Because driving this car is such a boring, arduous chore, I do ride the bus from time to time. I like the bus, mostly. My home is a block away from a major bus route (for MSP folks, the 14) and it gets me a few blocks from work; most of my other destinations (friends in Uptown/Northeast, entertainment/shopping/etc) are a transfer away. What the bus lacks in driving excitement is traded for an exciting tour through North Minneapolis.

Total monthly expenses are broken down like this: $150 car payment, $60 insurance, $160 for fuel. Plus maintenance and repairs, which will likely start piling up on this wonderful little box of Brazilian-built German engineering with 100,000 miles. I still owe $1500 on the car; it's probably worth $3000 in its current condition, needing some attention to the exhaust/emissions system and some minor body work.

It's not like the $400 is a complete stretch of my budget, but I'm just not happy that I'm spending that much on a dinky little commuter hatchback with an automatic. I've had it for almost five years now. Yeah, actually, it's not that I'm unhappy about it, I'm kinda pissed. But let's save that discussion about anger management for another AskMe.

Could I buy a different car? Well, sorta. My credit is lousy; I'm in the 590-640 ballpark. But more importantly, I just graduated, and I don't really want to take on another loan or a lease because I don't know exactly where I'll be in three years, let alone three months. I have dreams of getting my foot in the door at a design agency either here in Minneapolis, or, better yet, in Madrid. Or Montreal. Or Manhattan. And those work dreams trump my car dreams.

So I've come up with three plans. YOU DECIDE:

Plan A is selling the car, paying off the loan, throwing the change in savings, and taking the bus year-round. Hooray for saving money and the environment and all that.

Plan B is selling the car and buying a cheap old beater with the leftover cash, like an E28, E30, W201, or something of that size/shape/vintage. Or maybe a motorcycle, if I can find a working R60 in that price range. I could probably be cool with taking the bus all winter long if I had a sweet old Beemer to look forward to riding in the summer. Either way -- more fun to drive, lower ownership cost. Maybe not as practical, but I'm not always a very practical person.

Plan C is doing nothing, because, well, this probably isn't that big of a deal in the long run, is it?
posted by bhayes82 to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Before you make your decision, commit to one month of taking the bus for your commute every single day. As in, don't even drive when you feel tired and not in the mood for public transit. Because once you get rid of your car, you won't have any other option. If, after a month, you feel like the car is something you could do without, sell it!
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:20 PM on November 7, 2011 [21 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you enjoy owning this car at all. What a waste of money! Get rid of it and become a bus-rider. I ditched my car 5ish years ago and don't regret it one bit.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:22 PM on November 7, 2011

Plan D: Ditch the car. Sign up for a car share program.

(That was the first that came up in a search for MSP. There may be others.)
posted by trip and a half at 8:22 PM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Plan C. But put your extra monthly income towards paying off your car loan sooner. A paid off car loan can look good on your credit score, and if circumstances change, you'll have paid-off wheels.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:23 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Plan A, and dedicate 50/mo to funding a rental for those times when it might be nice to have a set of wheels.
posted by iamabot at 8:26 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I vote for A.
Unless you NEED a car to get you around to places the bus doesn't go. Sometimes depending where you live and the places you need to go there's no question.
B is ok-ish for getting around where you need to go but these can really be a money-pit and no savings at all, plus they might let you down badly, and then you can't go where you need to when you need to get there.
C is always an option if it doesn't really matter anyway
I'd still go with A and save for what you want. You'll probably be very happy in the end.
posted by bebrave! at 8:27 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is against my usual kind of talk (bike! train! bus!), but, well, you might want to look for a cheaper car. Because, January.
posted by zomg at 8:35 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

(/has lived in mpls)
posted by zomg at 8:35 PM on November 7, 2011

plan A is great. but plan b.... oh lord e30's are a blast, but you are fooling yourself if you think they are affordable, even with lowered cosmetic expectations. I had one when i was broke once, and it was always one thing or another. enter a parking lot too fast? $500 for a (lovely) cast aluminum oil pan. They aren't cheap. I tried that route, it was hell of fun, but i was riding a lot of buses and cursing a lot of Bavarians.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 8:48 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, A, all the way. I've never driven, don't have a driving license, and I'm telling you it is a totally fine way to live. The weather here is virtually identical to the weather in Minnesota. I spent less than $1500 a year on transportation, and that includes taxis when I need them and getting my groceries delivered. Because you can actually drive, you have the added bonus of being able to rent a car as needed or sign up for a car share.

I, personally, think it's a myth that cars are more convenient. Sometimes they're better, I guess, but honestly, if you have a transportation budget that allows for taking cabs or renting cars when you need them (and getting your groceries delivered, I can't tell you how this has changed my life), I think you're better off. In my experience, except for when you are going a long way, public transportation can be quicker than a car, when you factor in traffic and looking for parking. I get all kinds of antsy when someone offers me a lift and then we spend twenty minutes bumper to bumper or circling the neighbourhood looking for parking. The bus would be quicker!

Plus, the bus can be less stressful, since you can totally shut off for the duration of the ride, rather than having to be amped up in traffic. This is variable, though, I sometimes have a little hissy fit when the bus doesn't show up as expected.

You do lose some measure of control, and subject yourself to the whim of the gods of public transportation, but the money, the money!
posted by looli at 8:56 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I vote for Plans A and D. My car met its demise in July, and I have decided not to replace it. Since then I've been riding my bike more, taking the bus, and renting a car when I want to leave the city (it's surprisingly cheap, and mileage is often unlimited)! I also signed up for car share, but have yet to use it. I calculated that I was spending about $1800/year between insurance, registration and maintenance --- and that was without car payments (I owned the car) and not including gas. So I can easily rent as much as I want (which so far has been less than once/month) and will still spend way less money than when I had a car.

However, I will get back to you in January, when it hits -35C and I'm walking to my yoga class.
posted by lulu68 at 8:57 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I understand the longing for a cool vintage motorcycle, but it's going to be a money pit unless you know how to work on them yourself. It's going to constantly need work and depending on what kind of bike it is, parts will be hard to find. I'd go with Plan A and use the extra money each month to pay off debt which in turn will make your credit better. If you don't have debt, put it in savings.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:41 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're working, your employer may subsidize or completely pay for a bus pass.

I don't drive, and I don't have a license for medical reasons. My work pays 100% of my bus pass, for unlimited use throughout the month. So, I've spent about $50 total in the past year in transportation costs out of my own pocket - and that includes the buses I've taken on vacation in Portland. That's not a typo. Fifty. Dollars.

(I live in a place with decent public transportation, and I don't use cabs much. So, YMMV)
posted by spinifex23 at 9:47 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unless you are careful on which model you buy, a motorcycle will be as expensive, or more expensive to run and maintain than a car. If your objective is to cut costs, you should get an indestructible Yamaha or Honda whose parts are readily available in scrap yards. And a maintenance book.
posted by gmarceau at 9:59 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Man! I have some experience with this decision!

Years ago when I moved from the burbs to the city (Philly) with my (now) ex, I reverse commuted in his (our?) dinky, hellish Chevy blah blah for several terrible months, and when I got a job in the city, I promptly convinced him to sell the car. I can't say it was a decision that regretted; I worked only a mile and a half away from where I lived, and we owned bikes and a motorcycle (a Triumph ;D). My ex definitely did, as he relied on the bus or his bicycle (he was and is a pretty avid cyclist but not much of a MOTORcyclist) to make his 14-mile round trip to work. When we broke up, buying a car was one of the first things he did. I remained carless and carefree.

Then a met this hot guy with a sweet Nissan. We dated and he drove me around. It was a manual car and it was a little older (2001), but it ran just fine. We got hitched a few years later, transferred the titled from his parents' name and state (Alabama, heyo), and he taught me how to drive it. And it is oh so fun.

Even as a city dweller, I don't think I would get rid of the car.


-We both work a mile away (in the same building!) from where we live and ride our bikes to work, rain or shine. We can walk if it's snowy or we have a bike malfunction.

-We own the car outright.

-Our insurance is less than $40 a month, probably because we both have great driving records and are over the age of 25.

-We spend AT MOST $50 per month on gas on a regular basis. Much less if we aren't taking frequent trips to the other side of the city. Much more when we drive to see family, but I'd say it averages to about $50/month.

If I were spending $400 a month on a car, I'd second guess my stance on owning a car. My REAL advice to you is to pay off the car, take the bus more frequently, and try to get to 25 years of age (if you haven't already) and a good driving record without the car falling apart. THEN see what you think.

And having a motorcycle is great, but it's not fun for commuting. Trust me.
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:02 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would actually agree with BuddhaInABucket and roleplay it first. And be really serious about it, too. Like if you need to buy something heavy or something you can't carry like lots of groceries, you have to figure out how to get it home without using your car. It can be done! I've lugged home an office chair on the train and carried a TV a mile to the taxi stand. It's just a question of whether the winter changes your mind. I'm ever so thankful to have a car now, but even in really walkable places with good public transit, I was glad to have the option to drive when it was snowy/excessively rainy/I had things to move around/etc.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:29 PM on November 7, 2011

A, but I disagree with BuddhaInABucket. It's harder to really make yourself avoid using a car than just to live with it once it's gone. Sell the car now, and you can afford to change your mind and move on to plan B instead in a month or two if it turns out to be too much of a PITA.

I have a friend who takes taxis everywhere and she and I once compared notes and found that she still spent less on transport than I do, and I own my car outright with no monthly payment! Once you figure in taxes and insurance, it's SO expensive to own a car.
posted by lollusc at 10:33 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sell the car and buy something cheap used with a manual transmission. A few years ago I bought a 1997 Saab for $2000 and the only maintenance it has needed was a new battery. Used Volvos are similar. For some reason Swedish cars have very poor resale value. They are comfortable, reliable, safe, and if they must be good in the snow.

A Honda or Toyota in that price range will also be reliable. You could even stretch to $3000 if you have the cash because you won't need to have financing, and therefore you won't have a monthly payment after that.
posted by twblalock at 11:14 PM on November 7, 2011

I suggest ditching the car, too. It's expensive for something you don't really need and don't enjoy. There is merit in commuting by bus for a month as a trial. If you do, keep track of all of your transportation expenses.

I've lived here in Calgary (so I know from winter) for a decade without a car. The solution is to think in terms of a mobility portfolio; I use walking, cycling, transit, telecommuting, home delivery, carsharing, taxi and rental car. Each of these has advantages, so there's usually a reasonable option. If I ever find myself needing a taxi, I take one; I'm saving hundreds a month in transportation costs, and the occasional taxi is supercheap in comparison. (And convenient, too!)

The few times I've needed to move something heavy, I've used a taxi, I've had the heavy stuff delivered to my place, and I've carshared. I can't stress how awesome carsharing is even though I only use it like three times a year - it's mobility insurance.

And this time next year, once you've made $1500 profit on the car, and a net gain of $300 a month (your current $400 costs, less transit fares, taxis, carshare and probably enough left over for a nice bottle of Scotch on occasion), ask us a question on how to spend $5000.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:21 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd add an option to your list:

D: Pay off current car loan asap, use the bus for commuting, and keep this car for long road trips and emergencies.

The current car is a known factor, and almost certainly less of a money pit than an unknown beater would be. And as someone who has done it, I can assure you that relying on an old motorcycle is not a way to save any money, though it does add a lot of style to your life. (Something you didn't mention in your transportation planning was dating: I think you'll find that a lot of dates just aren't that that interested in going out for the evening on the bus, and plenty of them won't want to ride on the back of your motorcycle, so if you are single and hoping to date around, build this into your plans.)

So of your ideas, I like A the best; there's nothing stopping you from deciding it was a bad idea after a few months and buying another car. Even smarter will be if you switch to the bus and keep putting an amount equal to your car expenses into a bank account -- in a surprisingly short time that will allow you to pay cash for any vehicle you want, such as a motorcycle in good condition, say.
posted by Forktine at 4:30 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

$160 of fuel a month is a lot of driving. Are you sure you can replace all that driving with the bus?
posted by gjc at 4:32 AM on November 8, 2011

Have you taken the bus for a long period of time as your commute? If you lived in NYC, I would say ditch the car, but I am not sure how it will be for you to commute by bus in the winter there.

I take the train and I walk for ten minutes to the train from my home every day. The train is anywhere from a 45 min to 1 hour ride and leaves me a block from my workplace. I do it everyday, rain, snow, sleet, wind, sun and it doesn't bother me because I don't want to deal with what to do with the car when I am not going straight home after work.

If you considered that and feel that it is doable in any weather condition, ditch the car. You can rent one for cheap if you need to do some driving.

If you do a test run and think "wow, this seemed great on paper, but in practice this stinks!" then you should just keep the car for now. If you decide to buy another used car, you may find yourself asking why you purchased THAT car.
posted by Yellow at 5:03 AM on November 8, 2011

The $400 a month is misleading, because the fuel part isn't really negotiable unless you either stop driving as much or get a Hybrid or something that's extremely fuel-efficient. You're doing a lot of driving, and replacing that with bus rides is probably not really doable. The insurance part isn't really negotiable either, and $60/month in insurance is on the cheaper end of it anyway. The part you can change is the car payments, but getting another car means you'll have to, you know, pay for it somehow, so that part will still be there. You can always get rid of this one and get a 12-year-old Japanese car with a manual transmission, but you're not going to be saving a huge amount of money in the long run. Driving 20k miles a year does mean you'll have to spend a decent amount of money on maintenance unless you have a new car, in which case you will spend a ton of money on that.

That said, if you really dislike this car, then by all means, get rid of it and get a new one. But if you're driving as much as you're indicating to us, you can't really use public transportation to replace that unless you start driving MUCH less.
posted by Slinga at 6:01 AM on November 8, 2011

That car is rated at a combined city/highway 23mpg. At $4/gallon, $160/month is 920 miles/month, or about 11,000 miles/year. Some of those miles are probably frivolous, and some are going to be replaced by switching to a bus for your commute. But there are a bunch of other miles in there that are probably necessary (visiting family, say) and that you will need to pay for somehow -- renting a car, perhaps -- and that cost needs to be part of your calculations of potential savings.
posted by Forktine at 6:47 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I personally am leaning towards something between B and C. By all means pay off your loan as soon as possible, and if you just absolutely cannot stand this car, do be rid of it, but do your research and get something else that will be somewhat reliable. Winter is coming, and as a Minneapolitan who takes the bus in the winter, it can sometimes be a miserable thing. Even trying to carry a single bag of groceries to a bus stop when it's -20 and the snow is shin-deep is very difficult, and the Star Tribune at least is predicting that we will have another very snowy winter like last year. This could even mean that bus service could be stopped or limited due to weather conditions. Also, if you think you might be in another city months from now, you're going to need transportation for you and your stuff to your new location, right?

Do start taking the bus more to get a feel for it, but I would be reluctant to go car-free right now.
posted by koucha at 7:00 AM on November 8, 2011

Unless you're already an amateur mechanic with the space (in MPLS, that might mean a heated garage) and tools to work on it (and, respectfully, based on the car you have now, and on your idea of a cheap old beater, I'm not sure you are), you can probably take plan B off the table, at least as a money-saving strategy.
posted by box at 7:17 AM on November 8, 2011

Plan C. I live in the Twin Cities, and after 5 years of living here without a car, I caved and got one. The bus just isn't reliable enough -- this time last year, I had to walk two hours both ways to an important meeting because the buses were all stopped due to an ice storm. I would have killed for a car that day.

Take the bus (or bike!) when you can, which will cut out most of the gas cost. And the car payment is mostly going to equity in the car, so it's not really an expense. But keep the car around for when you really need it.
posted by miyabo at 7:34 AM on November 8, 2011

You should buy a bicycle. (Note that this is generic advice that I give to anybody, and something that I'd recommend doing regardless of what you choose to do here...)
posted by schmod at 8:05 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can leave it parked for a month in the weather that is about to hit us I would suggest following BuddhaInABucket's advice and taking Metro to be sure it works for all of your needs before getting rid of this thing.

I've been in your place before, and spending a car payment each month just to keep your POS running is heartbreaking, especially since it basically prevents you from buying something else.

I'm personally going to buy a bike in the next week or two and try to bike to work as long as it's not ridiculously cold outside.
posted by zombieApoc at 9:34 AM on November 8, 2011

I lived car-free in Minneapolis for the first several years I lived here. It's certainly doable and it will certainly save you a substantial amount of money. When I was doing it I had a pathological resistance to taxis, which is in retrospect pretty dumb.

The Twin Cities metro transit system is pretty so-so though some of its tools work well - the website if you're not taking advantage of it will help you a lot judging the feasibility of things.

If you master carless living in Minneapolis taking it to Madrid, Montreal or Manhattan should be a snap (off topic, you understand your life is being secretly ruled by alliteration, yes?).
posted by nanojath at 12:33 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Plan D: Pay off the car and sell it. Then, move somewhere you can better live a car-free life. I'm car-free in Portland Oregon and I've never been happier. I live right in the heart of downtown. It's a very good life. It's amazing what putting yourself in the right location will do for your quality of life.

posted by 2oh1 at 12:51 PM on November 8, 2011

I'd do options B or C.

I did a MN winter without a car and seriously, never again. Right now "a transfer away" to socialize might not seem like such a big deal, but when it is 20 below outside and your options are to take a bus that may or may not be late, then freeze your ass off at some random intersection waiting for another bus, then meet up with friends for a few hours, then do the same thing in reverse when it's 1 am and even colder out - OR to stay home and watch a movie? Trust me, your social life will suffer.

It sounds like you're in North Minneapolis, which has some neighborhoods that are seriously lacking in amenities. Think about your errands. Are you close to a supermarket? Hardware store?
posted by lunasol at 3:39 PM on November 8, 2011

Plan A is best, but look at those expenses: your single largest expense is gas. So, unless plan A is truly an option for you, keep the car; reduce your insurance to the minimum mileage you think you need (as there must be some need, or plan A would be an option) and your insurance costs will go down. Then, actually drive the car no more than those times you need it, and your gas costs will go down.

Here's what I would do, though:

1. Do what I describe above, except I'd try to drive the car not at all for two months, other than drive it around long enough to fully warm up once a week.

2. Tally up the resulting savings compared to past months.

3. If at the end of two months I didn't need the car even once, I'd sell it and go with plan A. If I had needed the car once, I'd keep the car and continue to pocket the reduced insurance/gas cost savings.

I might also consider sending those savings to pay off the car faster, because there's nothing better than having a paid-off car for those times you need it, but not sucking gas/payment money out of your pocket the rest of the time. Since you're due to pay the money no matter what (until/unless you sell it) you might as well pay down principal and save the interest.

Oh, and don't sell it for another car, because at least you know this one's reliable. One repair bill could turn your cheaper replacement car into a much more expensive one.
posted by davejay at 4:14 PM on November 8, 2011

Old beaters only have a low ownership cost until you have to spend $500 replace X part, and then three months later you spend $400 to replace Y and Z parts and then two days later you go to fill up at the gas tank and notice that there is gas leaking all over the sidewalk and take it in and spend another $100 to replace something else, and on top of that there's still an unidentified rattle that you know is going to cost you a paycheck as soon as you find a mechanic who can actually identify it instead of coming back and scratching his head. And consider you're still paying the same amount in gas and liability insurance. Not a money saver unless you're good at fixing cars/lucky/very well informed about what beaters are a good bet and then lucky.
posted by geegollygosh at 6:37 PM on November 8, 2011

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