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How to decide if you should buy a car

3 questions to ask yourself before heading to the dealership.

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Fact checked

Depending on where you live and how far you commute to work every day, owning a car might not be a necessity. Opting for a car-free lifestyle can not only save you thousands of dollars every year, but it can also reduce the stress of driving and keeping up with maintenance. But if you don’t live in an area with public transportation or prefer the convenience and flexibility that comes with driving, then it might be time to buy a car.

3 questions to ask yourself before buying a car

If you’re thinking about buying a car, asking yourself a few questions can help you determine if it’s the right choice for you.

1. Can I afford it?

Between car loan payments, insurance premiums and gas, owning a car can be expensive. If you’re looking to save money, using a rideshare service like Uber or paying for a monthly bus pass might make more sense. Plus, many employers are starting to reimburse workers who use public transportation.

But if you have a long commute or don’t have easy access to public transit, driving a car might be your only option. In this case, opting for a car that gets good gas mileage and maintains its value can help keep costs relatively low.

2. Are there any public transportation alternatives?

If you plan on going without a car, you’ll still need to figure out a way to get around. It could be as simple and inexpensive as just walking or biking where you need to go. But if you’re stuck in suburbia or don’t live in the best neighborhood, this may not be an option.

In that case, check out what types of public transportation are available to you and the schedules. Getting to a train station or bus stop takes time, too, so account for all aspects of your commute when considering local options.

3. Do I have a backup plan?

Before you decide against a car, make sure you have a backup plan just in case you need one in an emergency. It could be a ridesharing service that operates late-night hours or a friend, family member or neighbor willing to give you a ride. Planning this ahead of time can keep you from scrambling to find a car to use when the unexpected hits.

Benefits of owning a car

Though it can be expensive, owning a car comes with a few perks, including:

  • Convenience. You won’t have to rely on public transportation schedules, you can go at your own pace and you won’t be bound to a certain route every day.
  • Major time saver. Similar to the convenience factor, owning a car means you’ll be on your way immediately. If you’re the type who tends to run late, not having to wait for the next bus or train will save you time.
  • Self expression. Whether you opt for a sporty convertible, luxurious sedan or rugged truck, owning a car allows you to tell the world a little bit about yourself.

Decide a car is right for you? Compare auto loan offers today

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Filter Values Minimum credit score APR Loan term Requirements
Carvana
No minimum credit score
3.9% - 27.9%
1 to 6 years
18+ years old, annual income of $4,000+, no active bankruptcies
car.Loan.com Car Loans
300
Varies by network lender
Varies by lender
Must be a US citizen with a current US address and employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income.
Apply with a simple online application to get paired with a local auto lender. No credit and bad credit accepted.
SuperMoney Auto Purchase Loans Marketplace
600
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Fair to excellent credit, an income source, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
Find an offer and get rates from competing lenders without affecting your credit score.
CarsDirect auto loans
Varies by network lender
Varies by network lender
Must provide proof of income, proof of residence, and proof of insurance.
Save time and effort with this lending service specializing in beginner-friendly or subprime car loan.
Auto Credit Express Car Loans
300
Varies by network lender
Varies by lender
Must be employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income of at least $1,500/month and be a current resident of the US or Canada.
Get connected with an auto lender near you, even if you have bad credit.
Monevo Auto Loans
500
3.99% to 35.99%
3 months to 12 years
Credit score of 500+, legal US resident and ages 18+.
Quickly compare multiple online lenders with competitive rates depending on your credit.
LightStream Auto Loans
Good to excellent credit
Competitive
2 to 7 years
Good or excellent credit, enough income or assets to afford a new loan, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
Quick car loans from $5,000 to $100,000 with competitive rates for borrowers with strong credit.
LendingTree
Good to excellent credit
Starting at 3.09%
Varies by lender
18+ years old, good to excellent credit, US citizen
Compare multiple financing options for auto refinance, new car purchase, used car purchase and lease buy out.
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Compare up to 4 providers

3 reasons why you might want to adopt a car-free lifestyle

While owning a car can be convenient, there are a few benefits to choosing a car-free lifestyle:

  • Reduce stress. The process of buying a car involves a lot of decisions, including choosing the right car for you, finding affordable financing and picking an insurance provider. And that’s just to get you behind the wheel. Add to that the stress of finding parking in a busy area or dealing with heavy commuter traffic every day, and you might decide driving a car isn’t worth the headache.
  • Save money. The average driver spends $8,849 per year to own and operate a car, according to a 2018 AAA study. This number includes gas, depreciation, licensing fees, registration fees, loan fees, taxes, maintenance and insurance. Compared to public transit, you’ll be spending thousands of dollars more to own a car.
  • Lessen your carbon footprint. Opting for public transportation can have a large impact on your carbon footprint. Rather than wasting fuel driving just yourself to work every day, you can reduce the pollutants you put into the world. This not only includes oil, but also coolant, brake fluid and antifreeze.

What are my alternatives to owning a car?

Your alternatives depend on where you live, but in general, walking is the cheapest and easiest option if you can. Biking, if you can, will get you where you need to go quicker, save you money and can improve your overall health.

For those longer rides, you may want to consider some of the following:

  • Public transportation
  • Taxis
  • Ridesharing services
  • Car-sharing companies and programs
  • Rental cars

You can also ask a friend or family member to borrow their car or give you a ride. They may be willing to help you out when you’re in a pinch — especially if you throw some gas money their way.

Bottom line

Deciding whether or not to buy a car depends entirely on your personal situation and needs. If you live in a congested city, you may find that you don’t need a car. However, getting where you need can be more difficult if you live in a rural area. Write out the pros and cons, and take a look at your budget to see if you can afford the extra expense.

Think buying a car is right for you? Learn more about how it works and compare your car loan options with our guide.

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