The True Price of Cars

A powerful statement from No Impact Man:

  • American adults average 72 minutes a day behind the wheel of a car, according to the WorldWatch Institute.
  • That’s more than twice as much time as the average American father spends with their kids, according to the United States Department of Labor.
  • It’s the equivalent, if you do the math, of just over one eight-hour workday a week or just under 11 40-hour work-weeks a year.
  • According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 percent of the average American’s income goes on the costs of owning and running a car.
  • That means, in other words, that we spend eight weeks of every year working to pay for our cars.
  • Putting it all together, we Americans spend the equivalent of nearly five work-months a year either driving our cars or working to pay for them.
  • And a lot of the time, reports the Texas Transportation Institute, we aren’t even getting anywhere, since we annually spend the equivalent of 105 million weeks of vacation sitting in traffic jams.
  • Every ten minutes we spend commuting, according to Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, means 10 percent less connection with our friends and communities.
  • Even if you don’t own a car, research also shows that the more traffic on our city street the fewer friends we have, because the traffic causes to spend less time hanging out in our neighborhood.
  • You don’t need to own a car either to breathe the 70 to 80 percent of air pollution that automobiles and trucks contribute in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas, according to the Environmental Defense Fund
  • Meanwhile, studies show that the more a nation’s citizens commute by walking, biking and public transportation, the less obese they are.
  • To top it all off, people who ride bikes or walk to work are 24 percent more likely to be happy with their commute than those who drive their cars.

No Impact Man

6 Responses to “The True Price of Cars”

  • Dale says:

    These are all some very good reasons for allowing the auto industry to fail. They’ve already failed – the whole “automobile system” is in failure.

    Turn those factories into bike factories. Turn all these highways into bikeways. And take those fat b@%*&#@’s out of those corporate jets and make ‘em ride a bike.

    Something wonderful has happened in this world – automobiles have become obsolete. I’m so happy! :- ) :- ) :- )

  • Adam says:

    While I certainly agree with the sentiment, your math is either off or needs more explanation. 72 minutes a day x 5 days a week equals 6 hours, not 8. That totals 7.8 40 hour work weeks, not 11. I don’t understand how you came up with 5 work months either. It’s still a grotesque way to spend that much time, and since time is a zero-sum game driving takes away from other (more productive) ways you could spend your time. It’s also dangerous to mix statistics from so many differing agencies, some state, some federal, and some not even US based. All these agencies have their own agendas and methods of deriving those statistics. Cherry picking statistics from each of them is a great way to make your point, but isn’t necessarily very accurate. Driving can also be a good form of transportation at times, not 100% of peoples times behind the wheel is spent in traffic doing nothing but spitting smog out of their tailpipes. Cars aren’t inherently evil, it’s the way that they’re used (or rather abused) that can be.

  • Alan says:


    Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough (wouldn’t be the first time), but the list was pulled straight from the No Impact Man website. If you have questions about his math and methods, it would be best to address them on his site (the link is at the bottom of the original post).


  • andy parmentier says:

    it’s warm and cozy in a a sauna on wheels. in finland almost everybody has a sauna. there’s also lots of cross country skiers-skiing is 4 limbs of sweat-breaking ass busting activity. i suspect that a lot of the saunas are wood fired, meaning more ass busting chopping wood.
    people bust their children’s children’s asses by choosing en masse to go for all this perfectly legal
    but lemming like driving.
    by the way, i believe there was a guy named noah, and there is a boat on top of ararat, you dirty rat for not giving credit to a giant deluge for depositing all that biomass material-where ALL our gas and coal comes from. or is it santa claus?
    either way, try to be thankful. look up a website called ANSWERS IN GENESIS.
    i’m not saying i always had that worldview. i don’t call myself a christian, but i’ve got my earth history facts straight. i hate dogma, one way or the other. whether darwin’s or bible thumpers.

  • Bob says:

    Here’s a very simple calculation showing the money we waste buy spending it on cars. Simple, in that it doesn’t even factor in maintenance costs, etc. Clearly, the auto industry is causing many people to throw away their retirements.

  • Fergie348 says:

    I love riding my bike to work, but I’ve proselytised to my neighbors for years to relatively little effect. Every once in awhile (maybe 3 times yearly), someone comes up to me on the Ferry and asks me about riding my bike to work. I’ve gotten about a half dozen people in my area to try bike commuting and maybe 4 of them do it regularly. The paradigm shift necessary to get say 30% of the neighborhood commuters out of their cars simply will not happen until costs are clearly externalized, such as a dramatic increase in fuel costs.

    People don’t value their time like they should, and most people are too out of touch with their bodies to even contemplate riding a bicycle more than 2 miles per day on a regular basis. When I tell people I frequently ride 23 miles to my work I’m usually met with astonishment and disbelief, as if this were something that were close to impossible. Which of course, it’s not.

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