TodayJune 19, 2021

Does working remotely mean the end of car ownership?

The pros and cons of working from home

To say that 2020 was a shakeup would be the understatement of the century. After all, the past year has not only shaken our lives but also turned them upside down, inside out, and then shaken them up a little more. Everyone is trying to figure life out as COVID-19 makes us quarantine, and the pandemic looks like it is here to stay and is mutating.

That said, while not much is clear right now, one shining beacon seems pretty certain – this is the age of the remote shift.

Remote working might have been comfortably bubbling along under the surface for a few years, but it’s becoming a workplace prerequisite since social distancing became an everyday verb. Already, commuting to the office feels like something we did in ye olde times. And, with a Gartner study showing that 74% of CFOs want to keep remote posts once the pandemic is behind us, this is a trend that doesn’t look set to go anywhere soon.

But, we know what you’re thinking. What on earth all of this has to do with the cars? Well, fear not, friends, because cars and coronavirus are inexplicably linked in more ways than you might expect.

Most notably, this last year has seen us drive fewer miles than ever before. This is due to the stay-home orders that remain in place for many, with remote working playing its part. After all, cutting out the commute means removing the sole usage for which many of us have vehicles in the first place.

This can seem like good news on the surface, considering that commutes can cost as much as $795 annually. But, for car lovers, this fact can seem like a death sentence. After all, reduced usage leads to the rather obvious question of whether car ownership is worthwhile.

We know it’s a painful thing to consider, but seeing a car sit on your drive without the use it deserves can be just as terrible. What’s more, we’ve got good news in that there are plenty of reasons why car ownership may well still be worth your while into the future.

Admittedly, the whys and wherefores of this argument very much depend on your unique situation. Most notably, from a money perspective, you may find that it is worth getting rid of your car if –

You aren’t driving at all. As we’ll discuss later, cutting commutes could mean saving money on car costs, but those costs are still going to exist in some form. Even if it isn’t doing anything, vehicle ownership comes with financial responsibilities such as insurance and maintenance. Worse, the likelihood of repair costs actually increases through a lack of use (would you believe it!?) as idle engines fall foul to seizing. As such, if your car quite literally sits on the drive untouched from one month to the next, it may be time to ask some tough questions or use resources like this auto loan calculator to determine whether payments are worthwhile once and for all. If that amount seems too high to justify, then you’ve got some thinking to do.

You’re looking to make some money. We hate to say it of your loved possession but, as much as an unused car is a money pit, it could also make you a fair amount on the used market right now. After all, while new car production falters, used cars are enjoying a boom like never before. Between June and July of last year alone, average used car prices rocketed from $708 right up to $21,558. And, these are figures that have only continued to rise, with large vehicles especially enjoying soaring secondhand prices. With that in mind, you may well be able to furnish your bank account with the vehicle you no longer use.

That said, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Excepting the above, remote work most definitely doesn’t spell the end of car ownership. And, here’s why.

Public transport is off the cards.

Most notably, with the current situation, car ownership remains a must because public transport is falling so far out of favor. After all, work isn’t the only reason you need to get behind the wheel, with everything from personal appointments to shopping trips also requiring transportation in most cases. In the past, it may have seemed more sensible to hop on the subway, but that’s not the case any longer.

Now, we live in an age where public transport and the proximity it can bring are best avoided at all costs. Rather, private cars with ventilation and contact only with your bubble of chosen people are guaranteed to be a preferable option. And, who knows how long that will be the case?

For now, certainly, this makes keeping your car more than worthwhile in itself. And, we’re only just getting started!

It’s possible to keep your car for less.

As mentioned, cutting out the commute could see you spending more on car ownership than it’s worth to you right now, but that isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, done right, using your car less can often see you saving a great deal of money.

For one, cutting the wear and tear of your commute may well mean you spend less on vehicle repairs overall. As mentioned, you do need to drive your car regularly to avoid costly engine issues, but that’s a small price to pay, considering the high commute costs you’ll save this way.

Note, too, that getting clever with finances could see you enjoying further savings and even unexpected car ownership bonuses. Most notably, driving fewer miles should see your insurance rates plummeting if you take the time to talk with your insurer about this or shop around.

Note, too, that while this will likely change in the future, many employers still offer reimbursements of some kind for vehicle usage. By continuing to cash in, you may therefore find that you make rather than losing money. At the very least, this should see you breaking even on car costs for the time being.

There’s no telling how long remote work will last.

While predictions look pretty set that remote work is here to stay, if this year has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is set in stone. Ultimately, there’s no telling how the events of 2020 and beyond will impact the working world. Within a year, we may all be back in the office like none of this ever happened. It’s a slim chance, we’ll grant you, but you can’t rule this out right now, especially when you consider that many companies looking to remain remote are aiming to do so only some of the time.

With this in mind, the last thing you want is to land yourself with no form of transport to get to the office if needs be. This is a fate you especially want to avoid considering that car prices are doing unpredictable things right now. As we mentioned, used car costs are rocketing and, if Chinese precedents are anything to go by, even new car costs could soon start creeping. After all, car sales in China soared by as much as 20% when lockdowns first lifted. This popularity has since dropped back to a more modest level, but it’s not the only thing that could indicate creeping car costs. Limited manufacturing and shipping restrictions could soon see new vehicles costing more than ever before.

Ultimately, then, keeping hold of the vehicle you’ve got is really your only chance at saving yourself untold expenses in the future.

Work isn’t your only vehicle need.

This is an obvious point, but it’s still one worth making. While it can seem like commuting is the only reason you could ever have for owning a car, that simply isn’t the case. To prove that point, try keeping a tally of all the times you use your vehicle in the next week. The chances are that it serves you in more ways than you’d ever imagine.

Families, especially, rely on vehicles right now to get from A to B, while increased recent needs to head to remote countryside locations also make cars top of the wishlist. While dropped commutes will certainly dent your usage; then, you may still end up getting plenty of use out of the old motor yet.

A final word

Times, they are a-changin’, and our car usage has undoubtedly taken some pretty severe hits this year. Worse, it’s impossible to say just how long, or how permanent, these driving shifts will be.

But, if you’ve been feeling the pressure to get rid of your much-loved vehicle, then don’t. Cars are still a crucial part of our daily life, and for the most part, that looks set to remain the case well into the future. So, breathe a sigh of relief, get behind the wheel, and drive off that workday stress just like you used to in the old days.

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Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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