It’s not just about buying a car – owning a car is getting more and more expensive – NPR | CarTailz



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Cars are very expensive these days. The average new vehicle costs almost 50 grand, but that’s only part of the story. As NPR’s Camila Domonoske reports, it’s not just buying a car that’s getting expensive. It also has one.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Sometimes the fare in America sounds like this.

(SOUND BITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNKNOWN PERSON: Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade.

DOMONOSKE: Another time it sounds more like that.

LEONELA GARCIA: The only way I can explain it is – it’s like a flapping, like (mimics a flapping car noise). And I’m just like, OK, well, that doesn’t sound good.

DOMONOSKE: This is Leonela Garcia. She is a single mother of two in Southern California, where she drives a 2011 Kia Optima. Or rather, she drove this Optima on the freeway until the moment she learned what a blown head gasket sounds like.

GARCIA: (Imitates flapping car noises).

DOMONOSKE: The lowest estimate for repairs is $5,000.

GARCIA: It’s just still mind boggling how much auto parts and labor and all those little things in between could cost.

DOMONOSKE: Supply chain issues drove up car prices — 50 grand new, 30 grand used. That’s a big driver of today’s inflation. It also drives many people completely off the car market. They’re sticking with cars they own longer and longer. The average American vehicle is now more than 12 years old – even older than Garcia’s Kia. Longer vehicle life is generally a good thing. But individually, these older vehicles can pinch wallets, as Garcia discovered. Ivan Drury is the Head of Insights at Edmunds and he says if you drive a car until the wheels fall off…

IVAN DRURY: So they will come and incur new costs. You will learn what it’s like to change a timing belt for the second time. You’ll find out, hey; Labor prices have gone up at my local store or dealer. Certain parts are becoming increasingly difficult to find.

DOMONOSKE: At the moment, the cost of car repairs exceeds inflation. Car insurance costs are also increasing. Then there is fuel. Everything said…

DRURY: Even if you don’t buy anything new or used, your ongoing maintenance and continued relationship with your car is becoming increasingly expensive.

DOMONOSKE: So yes, vehicle costs are going up everywhere these days, but inflation doesn’t feel the same for everyone. At the top of the market, people are paying staggering prices for incredible luxury vehicles — big trucks and SUVs packed with sensors and cameras and cutting-edge safety features. At the lower end of the market, people who just need a car to pay their bills are pouring money into drivers because there isn’t much choice. Greg Bannon (ph) is at AAA and he says the lower end of the used car market is empty.

GREG BRANNON: A few years ago you could probably buy a decent car for $5,000 — you know, something that was relatively reliable. And now the same number at 10 is hardly possible.

DOMONOSKE: And that means that even with rising maintenance costs, it’s probably still cheaper than buying a replacement vehicle.

BRANNON: And I think if there’s one piece of advice right now, if you don’t need to buy a new car now, I would wait.

DOMONOSKE: Where is Leonela Garcia? She doesn’t have five grand for repairs. She has no credit for a loan except at an exorbitant 28% interest rate. What she has is a 50-mile commute and a car she initially borrowed from a friend. So what’s your plan? Well, it’s sitting on her driveway, blown head gasket and all – not moving, but sparkling clean.

GARCIA: I wash it because I don’t want the paint to be ruined because in my head I think I’m going to make this car run. I will make this car run.

DOMONOSKE: She raised a few thousand dollars after starting GoFundMe to help cover the repair bill. Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS SONG, “SCAR TISSUE”)

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