The Coin-Operated Car

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I have a friend whose name is Kevin. He is a very smart guy. In fact, he has a lot of talents. One day, he had an idea that changed the way I saw things.

“Imagine, ” he said, “what would happen if cars were coin operated, and you needed to put a dollar into the slot every 2 kilometers you drove?” We were talking about how expensive cars cost to operate, especially when you factor in all the hidden costs like insurance, depreciation and maintenance. A very conservative estimate of the cost is 50 cents a kilometer, assuming that you don’t drive a fair bit and that you have a reasonably economical car.

Driving on the highway, you can cover 2 km in just over a minute: 72 seconds. So image every minute or so, having to pull out a loony, sticking it into a slot in the dash, and plunk it in to keep the car going.

Living in the suburbs, like I did, a trip to the mall and back was a 40km trip. We did it all the time. Each of those trips was costing $20! There’s no way that I would have driven so much if I had to feed the coins as I went.


It’s hard to think about the insurance company payments or car loans and relate them to actual trips to places. The costs are hidden away. This isn’t an argument against owning a car per se, but just to be aware of how much driving costs and decide if it’s really worth it.


Luckily there are alternatives. Via Rail sometimes has amazing prices, pricing it less than the cost of driving. The bus is cheap too. But the costs add up – if you have four people in your family, it can be expensive. When we lived without a car, it was cheaper to take Uber everywhere.


Faced with having to take the bus, taxi, or any pay-on-demand services, the psychological barrier to traveling is also high, even if it’s cheaper than going by car. Paying for parking is a clear example, where people don’t want to face the high cost of driving, and go to irrational lengths to avoid paying.


You shop local. Sure it might cost more, but when you think about the pile of loonies, it makes more sense. You choose not to live far from work. You buy an economical second-hand car, if you buy one at all.


Here’s wishing that all your driving is worth it.

One thought on “The Coin-Operated Car

  1. Great post and a great reminder too! I completely forgot having this conversation, but am always disgruntled with the cost of driving and am trying to figure out new ways to reduce this cost.

    Right now, I have a long commute via car and have been thinking about moving closer to my workplace so I could cycle or take public transit. I have shifted my thinking recently, however, and am now working on transitioning to working from home instead (I really like where I live).

    The point of my comment is that you should be novel in your thinking on how to reduce your cost/impact of driving. Sure, getting a more fuel efficient car, carpooling or taking transit are all good ideas, but if you think outside the box, you may come up with some solutions that are a little less obvious.

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