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Owning a car vs. Uber and Zipcar 2024

How often must you drive to make buying a car worth it?

If you live in a buzzing metropolis, you’ve likely asked yourself whether owning a car is worth the money. Finder ran the numbers for a closer look, comparing the costs associated with owning a car to taking an Uber and cars on demand with Zipcar.

Bottom line: Depending on how often you drive, you may want to rethink buying that next set of wheels.

See the end of the article to see how we worked all this out

What did we find?

Two factors played a role in working out the cheapest transportation option among owning a car, Uber and Zipcar:

  • How often you drive
  • How long your trips are

If you plan on getting behind the wheel only a couple of times a week for an hour at a time, a Zipcar membership is your cheapest option at an average cost of $1,236 a year. Surprisingly, buying a car works out as the next cheapest option at $7,805, with Uber costing you a whopping $8,971.20 a year.

In fact, Zipcar is your cheapest option until just after you hit your 12th hourlong trip in a week, when buying a car outright takes over as cheapest. What’s consistent in all of these hourlong scenarios? Over the course of a year, Uber is your most expensive choice for getting around.

But what if you want to use a Zipcar or Uber as your personal conveyance every day? You’re looking at spending a whole bunch of money you don’t need to, because it’s three times more expensive to take a Zipcar every day and four times more expensive to be chauffeured around in an Uber every day than to own a car outright.

60-minute trips a week2018 Nissan Sentra (with loan)ZipcarUber
2$ 7,805$1,236$8,971
6$ 7,805$3,540$26,914
12$ 7,805$6,996$53,827
20$ 7,805$11,604$89,712

Doesn’t sound like the trips you’d be making?

Not all your trips will be hourlong jaunts, and you probably won’t need these options every day. Here’s what specific scenarios will cost you, according to Finder research.

The university student

You may not need a car all that often if you’re a student living on campus. If you take four 30-minute trips weekly, here’s what you’d spend over a year:

OptionAnnual cost
2018 Nissan Sentra$7,805
2018 Nissan Sentra$7,246
Uber $8,986

The office worker

You’re a nine-to-fiver, grinding away with the hope of weekend respite. In this scenario, you’ve got a 45-minute commute to work each way. Throw in a couple of 45-minute trips on the weekend — totaling 12 for the week — and you’re looking at an annual cost of:

OptionAnnual cost
2018 Nissan Sentra$7,805
2018 Nissan Sentra$7,246
Uber $40,393

The stay-at-home parent

Your days are packed with running errands, whether ducking into stores for milk, picking the kids up from school or escaping the family for a little bit of “me time.”

If you made just 16 15-minute trips a week, your annual costs would run you:

OptionAnnual cost
2018 Nissan Sentra$7,805
2018 Nissan Sentra$7,246
Uber $20,024

Which option is best for you?

As you can see, how often you use your car and for how long each time largely determines the cost you’ll pay over a year. Which means that ultimately it comes down to your own circumstances. If you’re a city dweller that seldom gets behind the wheel, you’re better off opting for a Zipcar. If you’re a commuter who plans to drive between home and work each day, you may want to buy your own car outright.

Richard Laycock's headshot
Senior editorial manager

Richard Laycock is Finder’s NYC-based senior content marketing manager & insights editor, spending the last decade data diving, writing and editing articles about all things personal finance. His musings can be found across the web including on NASDAQ, MoneyMag, Yahoo Finance and Travel Weekly. Richard studied Media at Macquarie University, including a semester abroad at The Missouri School of Journalism (MIZZOU). See full bio

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