Kathleen Waldock’s family made a change for the better a year ago.
They joined the dwindling club of one-car, one-family households.
It’s done her finances the world of good, and has resulted in a fitter, happier family, but it’s required the family to lead a much more local life.
Waldock works for HLC, which is in charge of developing the old Hobsonville Air Base into the Hobsonville Point township.
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She used to commute to work from a distant suburb, but just over a year ago, she and her family bought one of the new Hobsonville Point homes.
Suddenly it was walking distance to work, and the children’s school, and for her husband, Auckland CBD was a ferry ride away.
“It definitely feels like there are a few more coins rattling around in our pockets,” she says.
It wasn’t just the petrol, insurance, and rego costs. “The car repairs always seemed to come at the wrong time,” she says.
Official figures show Waldock’s family is unusual.
Census data from 1996 showed 43 per cent of one-family households had only one car.
By the 2013 census, that had dropped to 38 per cent, with two and three car households on the rise.
That coincided with the cost of car ownership falling as a proportion of incomes.
But cars aren’t cheap, and one-car families can drop their weekly costs dramatically by going from two to one cars.
Every year the AA calculates the cost of owning a car.
Based on 14,000km of motoring, the annual cost over the first five years of owning a new car run from $6990 for a small car (1500cc or lower) to $13,930 for a large one (3502cc or more), though the real costs of motoring will vary from person to person depending on their unique circumstances.
One man who freely admits he didn’t know the costs was John Bolton from Squirrel Mortgages.
“When I lived in London I never owned a car. And when I worked in Sydney and Melbourne I similarly didn’t use a car and neither did my friends. We caught the train or the bus or the ferry.”
“Yet I’ve always owned a car here in New Zealand. I know it’s expensive, but just how expensive?”
He blogged his estimated annual costs.
Petrol and oil $2680. Insurance $800. Rego and WOF $400. Depreciation $3000. Tires and maintenance $1033.
The annual cost, he estimates, are nearly $8000 a year, or $22 a day, though the price of parking means many commuters can add on another $10 a day.
Bolton confesses to driving a relatively cheap car. Others with more expensive tastes would pay substantially more in purchase costs and depreciation.
Mike Columbus from NZ Home Loans confessed in a different blog that serial car-buying is his worst financial habit.
“A sensible financial choice around cars would be to buy a Toyota and drive it until it dies,” he says. “I’m not sure I know anyone who does that.”
Columbus’ business is to help people get clear of their mortgage faster, so he compared the debt-clearing power of dialling back serial car upgrades.
He compared the debt-clearing ability of a person who buys a new $50,000 car every three years, trading in the old one for $25,000, with someone who buys a used car for $20,000 and replaces it every five years trading the old one in for $8000.
Assuming both started with a $325,000 mortgage (Columbus is based in Christchurch), the more modest car-buyer would go mortgage free six years earlier than the new car fiend, if they sunk the difference into repaying their home loan, and save around $90,000 in interest.
Some people go one better than cutting down from two to one cars.
Francesco Pretelli swapped Italy for Auckland six years’ ago, and now lives and works in the city centre.
“I’ve never wanted a car in New Zealand,” he says. “I came here about six years ago. I had a car when I was living in Italy. I needed to. I was living in the country.”
“Now, I go everywhere on foot. I’m enjoying it. I don’t see why I should own a car.”
That feeling didn’t change, even when two weeks ago, he became a father.
If he needs a car, he uses Uber, or borrows a car from Cityhop, a car-share business he is a member of, paying either an hourly, daily, or overnight rate depending on how long he wants the car for.
“I brought my wife and child home from the hospital in a Cityhop car,” he says.
Victoria University philosopher Andrew Brock also chose to go “zero car”, but he acknowledges the “privileged” position he’s in.
”My children are all grown up, which makes it easier, and we live in a very good location in walking distance of the centre of the city and both of our workplaces.”
Like Pretelli, he now Cityhops when he needs a car.
Some “peak car” believers doubt the growth of cars per household will continue, and that more people will switch to co-ownership models like Cityhop.
Cityhop founder Victoria Carter says: “Every Cityhop cars takes 9-15 privately owned off the road, this in turn means fewer cars looking for parking, safer streets for cyclists, less pollution etc…”
And because members see exactly what they pay per kilometre, it changes the way they live.
“Members walk more, use public transport and bike 50 per cent more than when they owned a car.”
As a result, she says: “Individual members can own one car less and save a lot of money.”
“This New Zealand love affair with cars has really got to be looked at,” says Wellingtonian Bruce Whiteside from Island Bay.
Every year, says Whiteside, who has been tracking his motoring costs for the last eight years, Island Bay’s streets are clogged with more parked cars.
“Where I live, even small families will have at least two cars. Several families in my street have five cars, and they are only two parents and a teenager.”