The hidden costs of owning a car

13 Jan 2022

Hidden costs owning a car

You’ve found the dream car that’s within your price range, you’ve taken it a test drive, and you’re ready to buy! But before you do, it’s time to slam the brakes on that decision for just one moment. 

That new car may have one shiny price tag on its windscreen, but the costs absolutely don’t end there. From flat-rate parking fees to flatter batteries, breakdown protection, and brake pad inspections. Owning a car can hit your bank balance in unpredictable ways.

Let’s run through some of the top hidden costs to factor in when thinking about buying a car.

Car maintenance and servicing

Any car owner will probably remember a time they took their car for a routine service and came out with an unexpected bill. The average car has 30,000 parts — that’s a lot of things that can potentially have problems!

Unless your car is brand new (less than 3 years old), you’ll need to carry out at least one annual check-up, also known as MOT test to ensure your vehicle is roadworthy. But the problem is (unless you’re a mechanic), you have no idea of what charges might be coming your way. There might be something you’re expecting, but there are also those hidden costs for car parts you’ve never even heard of. 

The key problem is that maintenance costs are unpredictable — there’s no easy way to budget for them. And as a consumer, it can be difficult to understand the quality of the maintenance work carried out. 

Do you go with the manufacturer’s service centre, or a cheaper option at the end of your street? Will the quality of work and parts be the same? 

What’s clear is that service costs will keep on increasing in line with inflation and will be with you for the rest of the car’s life.

Insurance and breakdown cover

Insurance isn’t necessarily a hidden cost of owning a car itself, but it can often turn out to be more than you expect. 

On top of your premiums, you might come across things like renewal, cancellation, and adjustment fees. Then, there are ‘add ons’ — extras that you soon realise you do in fact need! And then, life happens. If you’re involved in an accident, get a speeding ticket or have a change in your credit history, these could all affect your insurance premium. 

Depending on your car insurance quote, breakdown assistance might also need to be covered by a separate provider. 

Luckily, today, there are plenty of insurance comparison sites to help you find the right one. But the key takeaway is: don’t take the first number you see at face value as there may be other costs hiding around the corner.

Fuel costs when owning a car

Buying a car is just one part of the equation of actually using it. Next up, you need fuel! But unlike the price of your new car at the dealership, fuel costs change minute by minute, day by day. So although it might not seem like it, fuel is one of the biggest hidden costs as it could change at any moment, without warning.

You might turn up at the pump one week and see a higher per litre price than last week. And even if it doesn’t look like a big jump, it starts to add up once you’ve refilled your 80-litre tank a few times.

As well as global crude oil prices, you’ll also need to consider the size of the tank, engine size, your driving style, and how many miles per gallon (mpg) your car can do. These will all affect how much you’ll need to spend on fuel each week. 

Parking fees, charges, and security measures

Urban planners generally agree that, on average, cars are parked 95% of the time. Stop and think about that for a second — that car you might buy will spend the majority of the time just sitting there, idle. For that reason, how and where you park your car is one of the most important decisions you can make in terms of cost. 

Parking at home 

First up, let’s take your place of residence, where we’ll assume the car will spend most of the time. 

  • What’s the situation with on-street parking where you are — can you park there whenever you want?
  • Maybe you have a private car park for residents — but how much does it cost upfront and per year for maintenance?
  • Or maybe you’re lucky enough to have a private driveway where you can store it without charge — but do you need additional security (cameras) to keep the car protected?

Whatever your situation, consider how much it will cost to keep your car parked safely and securely because it may well be more than it seems. 

Parking in the city 

Then, of course, there’s the issue of parking charges when you’re out and about. First up, you may have to pay for the privilege of parking at your workplace. Whether annually, monthly or ad-hoc, this may well be high enough that you’ll want to find a car alternative for those commutes!

And what about short trips in and around the city? As cities do their best to tackle rising vehicle numbers and the resulting pollution, parking charges are rising. Indeed, the global parking management market is projected to be worth USD 5,762.8 million by 2025. 

As well as the financial cost, it’s also worth considering the emotional cost of parking. A study by INRIX found that UK drivers spend an average of 44 hours a year looking for a parking spot, costing each driver around £733 in wasted time, fuel, and emissions. The same study was more recently conducted in New York City, where drivers spend an average of 107 hours per year looking for parking, and an estimated $2,243 in wasted time, fuel, and emissions.

Whatever the city, we all know how frustrating finding a parking place can be. Imagine that you arrive on time for an appointment, only to then drive around for the next 15 minutes looking for somewhere to leave your car. And when you do find a spot, you’re a walk away from where you need to be — in the pouring rain. Although it’s difficult to put a price on this lost time and stress, it’s certainly worth considering. 

Get around fast and affordably

One way to dodge the financial (and emotional) costs of owning a car is to choose an alternative.

Leave the driving to the pros. Bolt drivers are on the road all day and can pick you up in minutes. By getting dozens of people to their destinations throughout the day, they make the most of their cars — covering those expenses and using their car as a profitable tool, while you can focus on everything other than parking or car insurance quotes!

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