Crazy Car Prices

Dear Dr. Per Cap:

I can handle higher prices for food and rent, but the cost of a vehicle, even a used one, is out of control. What’s a single mother supposed to do for transportation these days?


Needs a Car

Dear Needs a Car,

Growing up in the 80s, our family drove a Toyota Camry that cost about $13,000 brand new. That wasn’t cheap either, when the price of an average new car was under $10,000.

Click ahead to 2023 and the average price of a new car is almost $50,000. A five-fold increase ― really?

Yeah, it is totally out of control and the only way the math works for a lot of folks is by either leasing or signing up for an ultra-long loan, like the 96-month car loans some lenders offer. For most car buyers, I can’t in good faith recommend either option.

In recent years, used car prices have also skyrocketed to an average of over $25,000. There’s no easy solution other than just saying “no” to vehicle ownership. I know it might sound crazy, but is it possible for you to get by without a car? For people who live close to work, school, a grocery store, and other vital destinations, it’s not as off the wall an idea as you might think.

I’ll use myself as an example. There are many weeks in which I only drive one day – usually an early Saturday morning trip to stock up on groceries and run other errands. With so much business done online these days and free shipping, it’s possible. Factoring in bus fares, other public transportation, and an occasional Uber ride, all those options still cost a lot less than a car payment, insurance, and gas.

But I get it. What if you live on the rez or someplace rural? Or do you need to travel back and forth on a regular basis? Or maybe you spend a lot of time shuttling the kiddos to activities? The no-ride lifestyle might get old quickly.

So, another option is a good used car that won’t break the bank.

The National Consumer Law Center has a program called “Working Cars for Working Families.” It operates through a network of local nonprofits in 29 states that offer affordable vehicles for eligible families.

Basically, it works like this: People who donate used cars get a tax break. Local repair shops volunteer their time and expertise by inspecting the cars and making necessary repairs. The vehicles are then sold to families at an extremely reduced price. There’s a “Working Cars for Working Families” partner in the town where I live that sells their refurbished cars for only $500. It also offers deeply discounted repairs for drivers who can’t afford to fix a car they already own.

To learn more, check out the Working Cars for Working Families website.


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