Is it worth it? The Filipino’s guide to car ownership

A car is usually the single biggest money pit in the average Filipino’s portfolio of assets. The value of a brand-new car depreciates by at least 20 percent as soon as they are driven out of the show room. It then proceeds to spend the rest of its useful life draining your bank account of precious cash as repairs and maintenance costs mount, registration fees are incurred, and fuel prices rise.

As such, it often helps to regard car ownerhship and purchasing decisions from the whole point of, well, owning a car: how it performs as an investment aimed at making your transport activities more efficient.

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Consider then, the impact of a car on one’s cost base.

Cars give you the means to engage in lots of non-added-value activities and take unnecessary risks, like taking trips you don’t really need to take, exposing yourself to risks that you would’ve otherwise avoided, and (for the men out there who see their cars as penis-extenders) opening one’s self to opportunities for monkey business.

The fancier the car, the less sensible the purchase decision inherently becomes. For example, many people buy vehicles equipped with four-wheel-drive transmissions that will hardly ever be used. And even then, many vehicles that claim to be capable of managing “all-terrain” conditions don’t have a powerful enough engine or a robust enough chassis to sustain continued use under those conditions. And for all that “sport-utility” performance, you get bigger on-going maintenance bills, more tire wear, more moving parts that could break down, and the renowned ego bubble that usually accompanies SUV ownership.

Where is the sense then in the average Filipino buying a powerful vehicle with a dashboard he can hardly see over and that guzzles fuel in an economy where a litre of gasoline costs more than most people’s dinners?

The above is one of the sorts of questions we need to ask ourselves when buying a car, and owning it over the next several years. It does not even need to be a question as fundamental as one involving choosing between an ordinary car and an SUV. Even the choices we make to “personalise” our vehicles should be examined closely. Such decisions are often made for the wrong reasons. What, for example, is the value of equipping one’s car with rear spoilers, side skirts, and front air dams? Studies show that in sub 200 kph speeds, these modifications hardly improve performance or stability in any perceivable way. Indeed, the core template of most car designs today have long been optimised by computer aided design applications and tested thousands of times in simulations and wind tunnels. Today’s cars are built to be stable even at speeds approaching 200 kph, unmodified.

Other accessories that Filipinos have been known to add to their cars should also be re-considered. Tow bars? We’ve seen these fitted in cars with engine displacements of less than two litres. Such engines are not powerful enough to safely tow anything more than a quarter of its weight. Low profile tyres? These won’t provide adequate cushioning against the Philippines’ decrepit roads for both the vehicle’s passengers, and the expensive alloy wheels these are usually fitted on. Black paint? Unwise in the Philippines’ year-round oppressively hot climate. Dark colours absorb sunlight, light colours reflect it. Not even Physics 101. Lowered racing suspension? Not in a country where speed bumps are the prefered law enforcement devices for managing road safety.

Believe it or not, there is only one point to all this: that the primary purpose of our cars is to get us from A to B efficiently, safely, and (as a basic bonus), comfortably. And even meeting those criteria alone already makes car ownership a bad investment from a strictly financial perspective. So why sink the investment any further by weighing down your car with unnecessary stuff?

16 Replies to “Is it worth it? The Filipino’s guide to car ownership”

  1. getting your own car here, regardless of traffic jams and fuel costs, is an absolute must in the Philippines. yeah its a bitch to maintain but for the sake of sanity, its always been a non-negotiable priority for me. No decent sidewalks so walking is definitely out of the question. Breathing the exhaust fumes of buses and jeeps while walking the streets is another hazard. Then you risk that occasional hold-up on your daily commute, reckless drivers, broken down vehicles due to poor maintenance (even the MRT isn’t spared), choosy taxi drivers who insist on additional fare to even take you in, skyrocketing tollways… its a commuter’s nightmare.

    With a density level like that of Metro Manila’s, an overhaul of the mass transit system should have been top priority.

    Compared to commuting / walking in Singapore or Hong Kong which is quite enjoyable (not to mention its also your daily does of cardio), commuting in the Philippines is like going through an obstacle course.

  2. The government should invest in two things:

    Urban planning to make it unnecessary for workers and ordinary employees to travel large distances to their place of work.

    An efficient mass transport system.

  3. Unfortunately, car ownership even within Manila is a necessity for most — at least for those whose line of work requires that they don’t reek of sweat. Just the same, I don’t think you need an SUV or a racing-fitted automobile to get from your garage to your office parking space.

  4. Hi,

    How does a used car in the Philippines being evaluated for its value? In Canada, they have the so called “black book”. Do we have something that is like that in the Philippines?

  5. Penis extenders, heheh. That should seat well with the Pinoy attitude. It is why you rarely see a pinoy motorist yield to other motorist. It is why the Metros suffer from gridlock traffic. It is why, there is so much road rage in the Philippines.

    Great article, even if it is only now that I have read it.

  6. Great article. I can see the frustration in the gridlock traffic in the Metro. A 4×4 is not really necessary in the metro, however, there are people that live in the provinces, and commuting is a hassle. Having to own one is such not a fancy for the vehicle, but helpful. Having to mention hassle, don’t know if you’ve been out to the Bundok of southern Luzon and the road is really UP and DOWN in a two way traffic. Having a 4×4 would really help in those instances. To some it may be a “penis extender,” but to some it will be a convenience for getting from point A to Point B. Traffic is not the problem in the Philippines. It’s the discipline of each and every one in the country.


  7. really nice insight as I am also considering buying a car. It has now become a necessity when I had a family. It’s not so practical and comfortable anymore to move around the city, given that our public transport system is the worst in the world! I could say after having to experience commuting since I was young (worst cases: I get sexually harassed too often back in college in public jeepneys/ buses). Anyway, I am convinced that now is the time that my family and I needs to own a car. Although, I realized how this could sink us deep into financial worries. I was looking into some guidelines maybe on how to minimise the effect, like say don’t get monthly payment that is more than 25% of your monthly budget. But thanks to your post, you’re right that I should just stick to a basic car for the ease of moving and avoiding those stupid jerks in the public transportations

  8. Hey even you own a car! c’mon get real. The worth of owning a car depends not only on your needs, but even more so on what MAKES YOU HAPPY ;). Personally I don’t like riding in jeepneys and trikes with all the hassle and BS. People customize their cars because they want it to be unique and neat. As long as they’re driven safely and suavely just leave those penis extenders be!

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