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A car ownership survey released by MarketWatch has some interesting takeaways. The Guides team spoke to 1,000 American drivers on how their car might affect their cost of living and overall sense of well-being. The summary is startling: 40% reported that they haven’t been able to afford other life essentials due to their car expenses. Almost half – 46% – of respondents said that they struggle to save or invest due to their car ownership costs.

The brands flagged most by folks who claim they have trouble affording other living expenses due to their car are:

  • Volvo
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Ford
  • Jeep
  • Chevrolet

The survey also asked respondents to clarify which aspects of car ownership affected their budget the most. In order of mentions, these costs were:

  • Fuel
  • Unexpected repairs
  • Insurance premiums
  • Registration and licensing
  • Parts
  • Car loan payments
A clipboard being held up with a car repair cost estimate in front of an open car engine hood
Car repair costs are one of the most mentioned barriers to saving or investing. | Ralf Geithe via iStock

When asked what they do to get by with their strained budgets, these were the answers in order of response frequency:

  • DIY car maintenance
  • Using fuel rewards programs
  • Using emergency savings
  • Learning basic auto mechanics
  • Reducing car insurance coverage
  • Paying with a credit card
  • Getting a side job
  • Paying other bills late

A few weeks ago, we reported that 82% of Americans can’t afford new cars entering the market. As the overall financial strain continues for many Americans, it’s important for us to understand how to choose the cars that best fit our needs and budget.

As a licensed car salesperson, I often found folks making emotional decisions about which car to buy more frequently than logically. They preferred a certain nameplate or body style, for instance. These decisions often didn’t consider the costs of ownership over time.

The MarketWatch survey also asked folks who said they could afford their car expenses what they did to make sure they weren’t too stretched. Here are some of the answers:

  • Start with a used car priced well under what you’d qualify for on a loan
  • Drive a reliable car until it isn’t reliable
  • Buy an older car with cash
  • Pay off car loans as fast as possible
  • Refinance your car loan
  • Take public transportation
  • Use credit card rewards to save on gas
  • Learn how to perform basic car maintenance tasks