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August 13, 2013 / Jake Seliger

Why would you want to own a car if you could avoid it?

My Dad sent “Who’s Buying ‘Youth’ Cars? Seniors Aging Boomers Are Prime Buyers for Small Vehicles That Auto Makers Target at Hipsters,” because he bought a Mini Cooper a few years ago, which is probably targeted at “young” people. But I replied with a larger point:

Why would you want a car if you could avoid having one?

Young people don’t care about cars. They care about smartphones. See here for more:

Why are younger Americans driving less?

Brad Plumer considers several good hypotheses, including the recession, gas prices, student debt, tougher legal requirements, and a stronger desire to live in places such as Brooklyn. I would add one other factor to his list: because they are working less. A more speculative additional hypothesis would be “because it is easier to have sex without driving to get it.”

Ugh

Ugh

A nice car is still a status symbol but a much less important status symbol than it used to be. Cars are expensive, dirty, and cause a lot of traffic. Old people like you (wrongly) associate cars with freedom and the open road, because when you grew up the roads were relatively empty.

Young people today associate cars with traffic and their parents and death. Cars are like jails. In ye olde days getting laid meant cruising to drive-ins or malls or whatever. Today getting laid means texting, Facebook, and OKCupid. Former students have talked about Tinder (sp?), which is Grindr for straight people. Going back to the status symbol point, is it more useful for a guy looking to get laid to work his ass off for a BMW or to learn guitar and get a YouTube channel? For someone with no financial constraints the obvious answer is “both,” but for someone choosing between them I suspect guitar + YouTube would win.

An iPhone is much cheaper than a car. Even an iPhone, iPad, and laptop together are much cheaper than a car. See also Philip Greenspun on this.

DUI laws are also now heavily enforced and draconian (A BAC of .1 is much more reasonable than .08) and everyone knows someone who’s had ten thousand dollars or more in court costs and hassles related to DUI. Even so, a cop can ruin your night and next day for pretty much any reason if he suspects you’ve had anything to drink. Gas is much more expensive in real terms than it was even in the late 90s / early 2000s.

No one with half a brain would want to drive more than they absolutely must, so I am skeptical that any “youth-oriented pitches” will succeed because really who cares? Driving sucks. Part of selling is having something to sell that people want. And, as you yourself pointed out, you spent much of your working life in high school and college trying to keep a car in working order. AAA estimates that the average car costs $10,000 TCO, or about one quarter of median income. Even knocking $2000 off for a cheaper car, I suspect a lot of people could allocate $2000 to transit / bikes / Zipcar / etc. and come out way ahead.

Almost anyone who can avoid commuting by car is better off ditching their wheels. Even you, Dad, would be much more financially secure by selling your car, renting your parking spaces, and getting a Zipcar subscription.

[Note: My Dad doesn't have to drive to his office.]

4 Comments

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  1. nem75 / Aug 15 2013 3:41 am

    Then again, driving is fun.

    How many cars could your dad have bought for the money it cost him to raise _you_?

    Would really rather he always only did what didn’t cost him much in the long run?

    Sometimes there’s mor to a decision than the cost factor.

  2. Chas Spain / Aug 15 2013 6:13 am

    So refreshing to read! But it does strike me that most car ads now have young kids in them – which looks to be aiming to appeal to family buyers – but I think it is really evil-y targeted to get kids to associate cars with status from a very early age. If you watch a kid’s films in the cinema there will be about 9 car ads before the movie starts with not so subtle status messages seen through the eyes of the kids.

    Hopefully more kids will get an education before they even think about a car and realise most advertising is rot. But they do give (parents) quite a hard time at a certain age – early high school – if your car is held together with tape and paint. Thankfully we have held out and remain a public transport family with odd jaunts in the car on the weekends.

    • Jake Seliger / Aug 15 2013 7:08 am

      now have young kids in them – which looks to be aiming to appeal to family buyers

      I remember reading Megan McArdle pointing out (can’t find the link at the moment) that cars definitely making having an infant / toddler much easier, but that as soon as the kid becomes ambulatory and self-sufficient, urban environments are much easier than suburban ones because the kids can take themselves to school, soccer practice, etc., while suburban parents are effectively signing up for 15 years of schlepping.

  3. Gilad Rom / Aug 15 2013 12:05 pm

    I love driving and would drive in circles around town all day every day if I had that option. There.

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