Shut up and drive?

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The immediate effect of the recent palaver over the threat of a strike by fuel tanker drivers was panic buying and a rise in fuel prices. It has since been revealed by the AA that some families are actually having to spend more on their fuel than their weekly shopping. What has been highlighted by this whole business is the true cost of driving.  In the current state of affairs, how likely is it that students and recent graduates are going to be able to afford to drive?

The price of a car itself is no longer the biggest worry of those who want a set of wheels. The cost of fuel has been steadily rising, and in the last year alone the average price of unleaded petrol has gone up by 3.5ppl (pence per litre) from 135ppl to 138.5ppl. Diesel has risen by 2.7ppl from 142.8ppl to 145.5ppl. These new figures mean that filling up a 50-litre car will cost around £70, and even if your car is fuel efficient, that’s a lot of money.

But the costs don’t stop there. The price of car insurance, especially for young people, is astronomically high. At the moment, the highest cost of insurance is £5,530 a year for a male driver between the age of 17 to 20 living in the Manchester area. For a women the cost is much lower, the highest being £3,181 a year if she lives in East London. But gender and location aside, younger drivers have to pay the most on average. It hardly looks promising for those living off a student loan of around £3,000.

As well as this, even if you manage to afford a car and insurance, there are expenses other than fuel that will drain your wallet. There’s the cost of parking, fines for parking in the wrong place, the cost of maintaining your car to keep it legally on the road, tolls and congestion charges. The list goes on. Realistically, it seems that students these days are going to struggle to afford a car (unless they get a little help from the bank of mum and dad).

Of course, this great looming cloud of un-affordability may just have a silver lining. A tiny sliver of one, but a silver lining nonetheless. Chances are, future technology may allow for driving on a student budget. Already on the market are hybrid cars, which have significantly lower fuel costs and can lead to lower insurance costs with some policies. However, the cost of the car will set you back quite a bit, with the newest Toyota Prius costing at least £21,100. Not exactly a student friendly price. Along with different technology used in cars, alternative fuels are also being looked into. Already there are several promises of cars that run on water. However, these new fuels seem a long way off (at least while the oil companies are still making money), so it’s unlikely they’ll come in to use while we’re still poor students or recent graduates.

As it stands, and until these low-cost dreams become a reality, it seems unlikely that most of us can afford a car for a long time to come. For those that already own one, you lucky things, don’t expect the cost of keeping it to get any lower. For the rest of us, it looks like it’s public transport for now – or as my friend charmingly puts it, the peasant wagon.

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