Car Talk

Henry Clements

I’VE LIVED IN BIG cities for the past six years—Cairo most recently and St. Louis before that. During that time, I’ve enjoyed inexpensive public transportation and nearby groceries. I never felt the need to buy a car, and it never made sense. But since moving to New Haven five months ago, my calculations have changed.

For the first time since high school, I’m back in the ‘burbs. I can walk or bike to class and to friends’ apartments for dinner. But getting to the grocery store or train station requires somewhat more exertion—and a decision. Should I bother my friends for a ride to Stop & Shop, or even take an Uber for a small-ish fee (around $12 roundtrip), or should I buy from the overpriced bodega just around the corner? Should I order a cab to the train station, or instead haul my bag to the Yale shuttle and profit from its free, albeit glacial, hour-long trip?

So I’m considering buying a car. I’ve thought long and hard, and still I’m unsure it makes financial sense. My mother is considering giving me her old Nissan. But even then, the ongoing costs might outweigh the benefits. I’ll save on cabs and Ubers, but there’s still the cost of gas. I could drive home to New Jersey rather than drop $40 on two trains and a subway, but surely car insurance would undo those savings. Without much cash on hand, furthermore, I’d likely have to pay off the car over time—a source of stress as mental as it is financial.

I figure today I spend about $175 a month on cabs and trains. If I owned a car, I calculate that gas, maintenance and insurance would run me around $250 a month. On top of that, there’s the cost of buying the thing. If my estimates are accurate, I’d be spending more than saving, and I’m not sure the benefit of owning a car justifies it.

Perhaps a used car makes the most sense. It would be less expensive and cheaper to insure. But the undergraduate economics major in me, wary of information asymmetry and the market for lemons, is sounding the alarm. I haven’t yet decided what to do. Until then, I suppose I’ll make the best of the (involuntary) exercise and keep cozy with my car-owning friends.

Henry Clements, Jonathan’s son, is a PhD student at Yale. Back in the U.S. after two years in Cairo, he studies modern Middle East history and is considering taking up the banjo. His previous article was Friendly Fire.

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