Car vs public transport: An old banger is cheaper than the bus!

Which is cheaper - using public transport for your commute, or buying an old car for the job?

A friend of mine has moved in with his girlfriend, 20 miles away from his office. He currently commutes using public transport, but feels it’s costing him a fortune. So he's come up with an idea; buy an old car to drive to work every day.

Could buying a cheap car for the commute save him some cash?

My mind was made up immediately – public transport all the way. How could a few train and bus fares come close to the vast cost of buying, insuring, taxing, maintaining and fueling a car?

My husband, however, disagreed. He reckons public transport can be extremely expensive, and, if our friend could take costs into account over a four-year period, “buying a banger” for the commute, as he so eloquently puts it, would be cheaper.

The challenge was on!

Public transport

Firstly, we looked at our friend’s current expenditure:

At the moment he catches a bus to the train station, a train to the town where he works and a bus from there to the office.

Mode of Transport

Cost per year

Bus to railway station (£3.80 return)


Annual season ticket


Bus to office (£3 each way)


Grand total = £4,860

Grand total over four years = £19,440

So the total cost per year for 48 weeks of commuting (assuming four weeks are taken as holiday each year) is over £4,800, meaning over four years he is forking out nearly £20,000.


The banger

Now, for the car:

Assuming beggars can’t be choosers, we turned to Autotrader.

A quick search revealed he could pick up a petrol Nissan Micra (2000), 1,000cc, with 71,000 miles on the clock for £850. And there were plenty of other options available for under £1,000 ,including an S-type Jaguar for those who like to commute in style!

So we allocated a £1,000 car-buying budget, and assumed 25% depreciation per year.


Cost per year




£1,000 car depreciating by 25% per year



Four-year’s no-claims discount



£300 service,

£55 MOT,

£600 maintenance



Car registered before 2001 (under 1549cc)



40 miles per day, five days per week over 48 weeks. Petrol costing £1.40 per litre (£6.37/gallon) and 40 miles per gallon.

Using the Micra as our example car, insurance would cost around £350 due to some existing no-claims discount and tax would be a straightforward £130 per year.

Assuming he picked his car carefully, we budgeted for a service costing £300, an MOT costing £55 plus a maintenance budget of £600 each year.

With petrol costing an eye-watering £1.40/litre (or £6.37/gallon) fuel costs would be high. Assuming the car did 40mpg, driving 40 miles per day (20 miles there and back) for five days a week, 48 weeks a year the cost would be around £1,530 per year. Yikes.

On the plus side, parking would be free.

So, the grand theoretical cost per year of buying and using a banger for the daily commute would be … £3,214 per year, or £12,855 over four years.

Buying a banger could save him a whopping £1,663 each year compared to using public transport each year – that’s £6,650 over four years!

Now of course, none of these figures take into account inflation and price increases, both for the car costs and train/bus ticket prices. There are an awful lot of estimations concerning costs. And we assumed the 'banger' is reliable enough to run for four years with no hideous problems.

Bus passes

But could our friend improve upon his current commuting costs?

The answer was an emphatic yes. He could buy a monthly bus pass to the station for £40, which would save an extra £400 per year.

Alternatively, he could use use PlusBus.


PlusBus is effectively a bus pass travelers can buy with their train ticket in many towns and cities that gives unlimited travel on participating bus and tram operator’s services.

What’s more, season ticket holders get a 33% discount off PlusBus tickets.

A PlusBus ticket to the station would cost just £2 per day, and one from the station to the office would cost just £1.70. And both tickets can be used for the return journeys too.

So how do the numbers look now?

Mode of Transport

Cost per year

Bus to railway station (£2 return)


Annual season ticket


Bus to office (£1.70 return)


Total = £3,396

Over four years = £13,584

So using PlusBus would shave £1,464 a year off our friend’s current public transport commuting costs.

Banger is cheaper!

But even with these savings buying a car would still theoretically save our friend £182 per year (and £729 over four years) compared to using public transport.

I am astounded (and my husband is grinning)!

What’s more, he would halve his travel time, have a car to use at the weekends and possibly recoup some money by selling it when the four years are up. Wow.


So, what did my friend say when he saw the figures?

Well, it’s all been too much for him – so he’s off to buy a bike and plans to cycle to the office instead!

If you have any further tips to help cut down those commuting costs, post them below – we’d love to hear them.

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