Costs of keeping the car vs. using Lyft

One of the things I’m considering, as I approach codger-dom, is whether I want to keep the 2012 Prius PHV, upgrade it, or dispense with car ownership entirely and rely on occasional rentals plus lots of Lyfts. (I generally prefer Lyft to Uber, although I use both.) Hence I was immediately interested in an article in the SJ Merc today (1 Dec) entitled “Why owning a car is still cheaper than hailing a ride.”

It was a couple of years ago that I first ran through some back-of-the-envelope numbers on this. A relative was getting where he shouldn’t drive and I wanted to urge him to give it up in favor of ride-hailing.

Start by adding up all the costs of owning a car for a year. Most of us could do a quite accurate job of this: the insurance ($1500 for me — and that’s with a good driver discount), the maintenance (with the Prius, another $2000 which includes an allowance for a new set of tires every 3 years, and paying for a carwash every month or so), the license and the fuel. Well, can’t be arsed to get up and get those numbers. Let’s just take the AAA average for 10K miles in a small sedan. As cited in the article, that’s $5800.

My typical Lyft bill is pretty close to the average cited in the Merc article, $13. I think I could come in lower if I always took Lyft’s carpool option, but let’s go with that number.

$5800/$13 = 446 Lyfts per year. That’s more than one Lyft per day. Would that be enough? Um… probably not. Because if you take a Lyft to go somewhere, you also need a Lyft to get back. Just about every use of Lyft implies two trips, out and back. Go to the museum for a docent round in the morning, and out to a movie at night: four Lyfts. Supposing I average three Lyfts a day (2 some days, 4 other days), that’s 365*3*13=$14,235. Hello!

So it looks as if my best option is to keep the Prius with its high reliability, low maintenance, and excellent fuel economy, for as long as I can safely drive (a decade at least, barring strokes etc.). In Prius forums people routinely talk about going over 150K miles, and mine is just at 50K now. In other words, it should outlast my driving years. If I get to a point where I prefer not to drive at night, I can take Lyfts for evening trips; or if I don’t want to drive (say) up to SF for a concert, I can take CalTrain plus Lyft. Those rides would be extra expenses (any reduction in fuel/maintenance costs would be small compared to the Lyft charge) but I can afford them.

Maybe I’ll give the Prius some love, get the paint chips on the bumper fixed, some other appearance upgrade. But not do what I’ve been tempted to do, buy a new Honda Insight, Chevy Volt, or Prius Prime. A new car would change the numbers significantly. If I want to drive a new car, I can rent one.


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