Knowing the real cost of the car helps reduce usage and save money

By replacing your car with walking or cycling, you will not only reduce your emissions and improve your health, but you will also save a lot of money.

To drive a car actually costs a lot more than many users think. Thus, according to a study published in 2020 in the journal Nature, German drivers underestimated the daily costs of using their vehicle by almost 50%.

According to the survey, driving remains a more desirable option for the user, and this lack of knowledge about its real costs makes other forms of transport – such as carpooling, public transport, cycling or walking – much less attractive.

When it comes to buying a car, price, fuel efficiency, space, performance and safety are top priorities for many consumers. And since it is an expensive purchase, it is usually thoroughly researched. However, we generally don’t pay much attention to operating costs during the lifetime of the vehicle, be it fuel, depreciation, repairs, taxes or insurance – expenses which can be significant.

Emotions and feelings

So why do drivers have such a knowledge deficit when it comes to these everyday costs? The reality is that this cost is only one factor when it comes to buying a car: emotional appeal plays a big role in this choice.

Appealing to motorists as rational shoppers with sound economic judgment is one thing, but for many cars are more than just a way to get from one point to another. For years, car manufacturers have focused on something completely different: the feelings and emotions evoked by driving.

To realize this, just look at the slogans used by advertisers: “The power of dreams”, “The car you always promised yourself” or “Designed to move the human spirit”.

These slogans carry a simple message: people don’t drive because they have to, but because they enjoy it.

Knowing this, it is easier to understand why the sale of cars does not decrease or decreases slightly, despite the increase in the costs associated with their use.

In the UK alone there are 32 million registered cars. In 2022, new registrations have only fallen by 0.3%. In the EU, car use has increased year on year for five years to reach 250 million vehicles in 2020.

The private car is still the first choice for commuting. Motorists deal with traffic jams and delays, just as they are willing to pay parking fees or tolls. Why ? Because cars are intimate spaces where you can chat with family and friends, listen to music and comfortably isolate yourself from the outside world.

Actual costs

But cars are also incredibly expensive, and the Nature study suggests that if they knew the real costs, many drivers would choose other means of transport. The study estimates that this knowledge could reduce vehicle ownership by 37% and increase bus travel by around 8% and train travel by 12%.

So how do you make it easy for buyers to see these costs?

For example, cars could be labeled with their annual cost, similar to the energy labels used on household products such as light bulbs, televisions or washing machines. Information on the average cost of driving vehicles could be displayed and national advertising campaigns could encourage consumers to accurately calculate the cost of driving their own car.

Ads for cars could also include lifetime costs, in the same way that all French car ads shown must carry one of three messages to promote soft mobility: “Make short journeys, prefer walking or cycling”, “Think about carpooling” and “Daily, take public transport”.

Whether it’s reducing air travel or eating less meat, more and more citizens are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment.

For many, stopping using the car altogether does not seem like an option, but with rising petrol and diesel prices, driving is far from the most cost-effective solution. Replacing several weekly journeys with soft forms of travel can therefore make a big difference for the planet and for your wallet.

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