The Financial Survival Guide
Yes! You should sell your car!
Well, it’s something to think about, for sure.
Selling my car is something I’ve thought about, at least, as I’ve watched Old Portland get swallowed up and spat out into something newer and shinier and more expensive. Driving in the city used to make perfect sense—you could get just about anywhere in 20 minutes or so, and no one cared if your car was a piece of shit (in my case, an ’89 Jeep Wrangler). But in 2019, it’s less clear: Traffic’s gotten terrible, but bike infrastructure is better and TriMet lines have grown. Lyfts are everywhere, and it’s super easy to rent bikes and e-scooters. Portland is a different place. A place where having a car—piece of shit or not—might not be logical.
Does logic matter with cars, though? Americans take driving personally, and telling anyone how or what they should drive is all but guaranteed to piss them off. Blame our cultural fetishization of the automobile, or an infrastructure that caters to petroleum interests, but Americans’ lives revolve around cars. It’s a reliance so ingrained that there’s no scratching it out—regardless of facts, like that humans are clearly incapable of driving safely (more than 40,000 Americans were killed in traffic collisions in 2017—a decrease from previous years), or that not driving is one of the few meaningful ways a person can actually stop destroying the climate. (It’s right alongside going vegetarian and not having children. Hey, look! Two other things people get all pissy and entitled about!)
But it’s hard to argue with a spreadsheet, and the expenses of owning a car in a city like Portland are more complicated than ever. There are the obvious costs, like the up-front price and monthly payments, along with whatever the hell we’re paying for gas thanks to inscrutable decisions made in a desert 7,000 miles away.
Then there are the other factors: Insurance, and if it goes up or down. Parking, on the street or in a garage. Oil changes, replacement parts, the inevitably increasing number of repairs. I have friends who factor in all this before they buy a car—working out, as best they can, how much a car will cost them over the next decade—and I have others who do the math when they get a massive car repair bill, compiling all those expenses and comparing them to whatever a new car payment might be. I have other friends who say, “Actually, I bike.” Those friends don’t get invited to parties.
Other factors are harder to quantify: Is the time you spend in gridlock, and the money you spend on gas, worth sacrificing to know that on any given day, you can hop on a highway and race to the Gorge or the coast? Will you enjoy a show more if you take a Lyft to the bar rather than spend 20 minutes trawling for a parking spot? Is biking or taking the bus to work actually worth adding an hour to your commute, knowing you won’t end up sweaty from road rage or twitching from a panic attack?
In that respect, at least, driving is personal: Everyone’s math is different. I live close enough to my office that I bike or bus to work every day, but I still hold onto my car for groceries, travel, and getting other places in the city. I take a Lyft or bus to the MAX when I need to get to the airport. And I ride an e-scooter if I ever need to look like a dipshit. For years, this is what transit nerds, city planners, and other people who’re smarter than me have called “multimodal”—consciously piecing together the different parts of public and private transit systems to get around in the easiest, safest, cheapest, and most environmentally friendly way.
That’s my math, and yours will be different. But every few months—and jesus, for sure every time I have another goddamn car repair—I sit down and run the numbers, making sure things still work out. Our city looks different than it did a few years ago, and the ways to navigate it are different, too. Maybe it still makes sense to hold onto your car. But maybe it doesn’t.