Car ownership costs roughly a million dollars over 50 years if all the costs are tallied.
For people towards the lower end of the income scale, this is more than they spend on housing over the same period, and for all of us, more than we spend on food.
These eye-watering figures come from a new study from Germany that investigated the real costs of private car ownership over a lifetime of driving.
The costs turn out to be far higher than car owners estimate.
The study selected three popular vehicles on sale in Germany—the Mercedes GLC (SUV), the VW Golf (compact), and the Opel Corsa (small car) and calculated the private purchase and operational costs, and the social costs, i.e. the costs not paid for by the owner such as pollution impacts.
The private costs are based on data from the German Automobile Club and included vehicle depreciation, operating costs, fixed costs and repairs, maintenance and other costs.
The private costs of owning an Open Corsa for an unskilled worker were 36 per cent of their income over 50 years.
The social costs included uncompensated crash damages, air pollution, noise, land use and infrastructure, traffic infrastructure maintenance, street parking, resource requirements, subsidies, and climate change.
The social costs for a vehicle such as the Opel Cross were 41 per cent of the total costs, representing a massive effective subsidy to drivers by non-drivers.
This has major implications for the economics behind investment in transport infrastructure, especially for active transport and public transport.
The authors say: “It is important to consider policy reforms to more efficiently price automobile ownership and use in order to achieve various community goals including congestion reduction, infrastructure cost savings, reduced traffic congestion and barrier effects, increased traffic safety, pollution emission reductions, and increased fairness.
"Due to the diversity and magnitude of these external costs, a variety of policy reforms are needed to increase efficiency and social equity.
"These can start with removing direct subsidies such as company car benefits and subsidies for vehicle and fuel production, plus efficient pricing of roads, parking facilities, traffic congestion, barrier effects, traffic congestion, accident risk and pollution emissions."