What are the Disadvantages of Owning a Car?

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

For many people, not owning a car is a positive choice. It is best for the environment, and can be best for your finances too.

See all the reasons not to own a car below

Article at a glance

  • Owning a car has lots of disadvantages including cost, impact on the environment, inconvenience and stress
  • If you live in a city, there are generally many viable alternatives to car ownership
  • There are some situations where owning a car is sensible

Reasons not to own a car

The high cost of car ownership

Cost of one of the big reasons to avoid owning a car if you can. Costs include:

  • Initial purchase Buying a new car is super exciting. All that gleaming metal and new car smell. But the cost can be frightening. According to NimbleFins the typical cost of a small car in the UK is around £15,000. That is a small car like a VW Polo.
    If you step up to a medium-sized car like a Volkswagen Golf R TSI 4MOTION, the cost jumps to around £36,000. Compare that to the average disposable income in the UK in 2020, which was £30,800.
    In the US, the average transaction price for a light vehicle was $ 37,851 in January 2020.
  • Depreciation Of course it isn't really fair to just look at the initial cost of the vehicle is it? After all, you are buying an asset, aren't you?
    That is true, but the thing about cars is that, unlike houses, stocks and cash deposits, they always fall in value as time passes. It's called depreciation, and it is most extreme for new cars; it is often said that you lose 25% of the purchase price as soon as you drive it away from the showroom.
    Car in showroom

    Photo by David von Diemar on Unsplash

    This beauty loses 25% as soon as you drive it away


    According to themoneycalculator, most cars in the UK depreciate by 40-50% over the first 3 years of ownership from new. So that Volkswagen Golf you bought for £36k? It's cost you £18,000, just by sitting on the driveway.
  • Insurance Car insurance can be a big cost, especially for the young. According to Your Money Advice, in the UK, the average insurance cost for someone in their 20's is £1,036, and this assumes 5 years driving experience and a 5-year no claims discount.
    If you are under 20 . . . your best hope is that your parents can put you on their insurance, otherwise the cost is going to be astronomical.
  • Other costs you might have to budget for include fuel, car tax, parking, MOT (this is the UK version of the US Vehicle Inspection) and servicing or maintenance.
  • In the UK, the total cost of running a car, including finance payments, was around £400 a month, or £4,800 per year. In the US, this figure is $8,600 per year, according to the AAA.
    However you look at it, that is a lot of money to find every year.

The environmental cost of car usage

Cars have got a lot more environmentally friendly over the years. However, it is still the case that using a single vehicle to transport usually one or two people to work, to the shops, to college and back on a regular basis, has a highly detrimental effect on the environment.

Environmental issues include:

  • Number 1 on the list is the consumption of fossil fuels. Most of the world now accepts that we are causing irreversible damage to our planet by the burning of oil and gas. As a car owner, you are contributing to that damage.
  • Noise pollution
  • Air pollution. The Union of Concerned Scientists put it better than we could when they said,
    “The health risks of air pollution are extremely serious. Poor air quality increases respiratory ailments like asthma and bronchitis, heightens the risk of life-threatening conditions like cancer, and burdens our health care system with substantial medical costs. Particulate matter is singlehandedly responsible for up to 30,000 premature deaths each year.
    Passenger vehicles are a major pollution contributor, producing significant amounts of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and other pollution. In 2013, transportation contributed more than half of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and almost a quarter of the hydrocarbons emitted into our air. ”

    Source: Union of Concerned Scientists Vehicles, Air Pollution, and Human Health

Safety issues

Cars are a lot safer than they used to be. Design improvements like ABS have reduced the risk of crashing. Safety improvements like seat belts, airbags and crumple zones ensure that you have a better chance of walking away unhurt. And driver behaviour such reduction in drink-driving and speeding have also helped.

Car crash

Photo by Esri Esri on Unsplash

Emergency services at a car crash

But even with these significant changes, a study of US transport deaths showed that cars remain much more risky than all forms of public transport, beaten to the top spot by only motorbikes.

The faff factor

Aside from the cost, there is an awful lot of stuff you have to do when you own a car. From arranging a service, to taxing, cleaning, finding parking, to making sure the tires are at the right pressure, even changing them when necessary, you could probably spend a day a week in the service of your steed. Surely a car is supposed to help you, not absorb this much of your time?

Risk of damage while parked

You wouldn't leave your annual salary sitting out in the open for all to see, would you? And yet, if you think about it, that's what you do every time you park your new car in a car park when you go shopping, or if you park overnight on the street. Any fool could bump into your pride and joy, causing £'000s of damage.

If someone is feeling particularly malicious, it is so easy for them to key your car. Imagine coming back after a shopping trip to find every panel damaged! The blood boils just thinking about it. It is almost worse than an outright theft of the vehicle, which of course is another danger you face by being a car owner.

Impact on driver health

Driving can be stressful, and we all know that stress is not good for us. Sitting in a regular traffic jam can raise the blood pressure. Finding an unexpected diversion that is going to add an extra 30 minutes to a journey isn't good for the sense of humour.

At the same time, driving a car isn't very energetic. Sitting hunched over a steering wheel is poor exercise compared to a brisk walk or cycle, which are some of the alternatives to driving everywhere. Drivers can also develop chronic back and posture problems as a result of sitting for so long in a fixed position.

Alternatives to car ownership

Given the dramatic disadvantages of car owner highlighted above, it is a relief to know that there are abundant alternatives.

It is worth doing a few calculations to see how much you could save by ditching the car. For example, for that estimated £4,800 annual cost of owning a car in the UK, you could get 240 taxi rides of £20 each. That is a lot of taxis, over 4 per week before you came close to the cost of actually owning a car.

Everybody's situation is different, but there are lots of carless options available, especially if you live in a reasonable sized city.

  • Public transport Depending on your locale that can include trains, buses, trams, underground railways. Usually cheap, reliable. Not always as comfortable as you would like though
  • Uber or similar ride share service Although ubiquitous in many places now, Uber was a real game changer. Leveraging new technology (mapping/route-planning systems and widespread smartphone usage) and new working patterns, Uber has cut fares and increased the convenience to the consumer dramatically
  • Under your own steam - cycling or walking. Free, good for you, enjoyable. If your journey is relatively short, these options are hard to beat
  •  Electric scooter

    Photo by Martin Katler on Unsplash

    Electric scooter

  • Electric scooter Another solution made possible by technology (in this case development of lightweight, powerful batteries), relatively short trips can be made at speed.

When you might consider owning a car

For some it just isn't practical not to own a car. If you live in the country, where distances are greater and public transport infrequent, then you haven't really got a lot of choice.

Similarly, if you regularly travel long distances or have a lot of luggage to carry, a car is probably the most convenient way of getting around.

If you have to have a car, then an electric car could be an option. Electric cars alleviate the environmental cost of car ownership to some extent. They are not directly polluting, although someone has to generate the electricity used to run your car, and this is likely to be at least in part by burning fossil fuels. However, electric cars are not the cheapest options.