Do You Wanna LYFT?

Is using your new car as a taxi really a good idea?

lyft

I grew up in New York City which has an extensive public transportation system that covers a significant area. However there were times when waiting for a bus or train were not optimal and then we used taxis or private cabs. These drivers had CB radios in their vehicles, displayed their operator’s license, and had a meter ticking up your fare as you drove to your destination. Occasionally, some enterprising individual using his own personal vehicle would cruse the bus and taxi routes offering his car for hire. These ‘gypsy cabs’ were illegal and you always took a chance when getting into these stranger’s cars. It was like paying to be a hitchhiker. But if you didn’t have the money to pay for a real taxi, these mostly harmless entrepreneurs were there to fill the gap. Most of them were just trying to earn a living, albeit in a dodgy manner.   

As I stated in a prior blog, owning a car is expensive. If you have car payments and full coverage insurance, you still have to factor in vehicle maintenance and fuel costs.  One way or another if you want to keep your car on the road, you need to have some way of paying for it all. Enter Uber and Lyft.

 Uber (founded 2009) and Lyft (founded 2012 and pronounced lift, get it?) are companies that make ridesharing available through downloadable smartphone apps.  You simply download the app, request the car, and the Uber or Lyft drivers show up in their personal vehicles to drive you to your destination, much to the dismay of taxi and cab companies. Unlike the gypsy cabs of yore, these drivers are registered with their respective companies, and all payments are made via credit card to Lyft or Uber using your smartphone upon reaching your destination. You may opt to tip the driver in cash, or you can just include the tip (if any) in the credit card charge. This is all great for the passenger, but what if you’re the owner of the car?

Whether you choose to work for either Uber or Lyft or even both of them, you will need to meet some basic criteria.

You’ll need to display signage indicating that you are a driver for Lyft, Uber or both, and you’ll need to follow all the rules of the road. Tickets for speeding, not wearing seat belts, transporting children not in car seats, etc are the responsibility of the driver and will negate any income earned from ridesharing.

 Document Requirements

  • Driver’s license
  • Vehicle registration
  • Personal vehicle insurance
  • Driver photo

Vehicle Requirements

  • 2004 or newer
  • Fewer than 350,000 miles
  • 4 doors
  • 5-8 seats, including the driver’s
  • No limousines

Both of these companies do have liability insurance that covers the driver and rider during the trip with certain restrictions and conditions. Unless you have that rare rideshare-friendly policy, the only time you can count on your personal insurance is when you are driving for strictly personal reasons and getting into a accident while hiring out your car could end up costing you big time. All personal car insurance policies contain a clause that specifically excludes using your vehicle for commercial activities. Your personal insurance company may deny your claim as a result and refuse to pay. In a case like this, the Lyft company will cover you with their insurance, BUT they have a hefty $2500 deductible that you will be required to pay. Similarly Uber has a $1000 deductible. The ONLY way to be fully protected while using your car for rideshare services is to carry a commercial insurance policy which will run you $5000 and up.    

The Passenger from Hell

 As an independent contractor providing rides for your clients you may encounter many people of questionable character. Unlike a traditional taxi, there is no Plexiglas window dividing the front and back of the vehicle. You are alone in your vehicle with who-knows-what type of person and are opening yourself up to all sorts of potential verbal and physical abuse. There are numerous accounts of both Uber and Lyft drivers being attacked by the passenger from Hell. For this reason it is a good idea to have dashcam recording devices in your vehicle for your own personal protection. Obtain a GPS unit to track and record your comings and goings. If your passenger is involved in illegal activity, this may clear you with the police, and protect you from legal action. Some of these people may try to get you to break the law, like transporting their young children without a car seat.  Intoxicated passengers may vomit in your car. You name it, it can happen so make sure there is some record other than just your word vs. their word. Also inform any passengers the moment they enter your car that the trip is being recorded for safety reasons because failure to inform them that they are being recorded may get you into hot water. If they are resistant to that idea, they are free to hire another car, but if they have nothing to hide, they should be understanding. Also, keep conversations to a minimum and avoid personal information or hot topics. You are a driver, not their friend. Additionally, these people rate your performance and bad ratings could reduce the number of future fares.  

 Where am I?

 A passenger not used to driving may tell you to drive to a certain road and then make a turn which would be the wrong way up a one way street. You may be totally unfamiliar with the area and have no idea where you are going. Speed limit signs might not be obvious. Having a GPS unit in your car will help to avoid these situations when driving in unfamiliar areas.  

 The Tax Man

 Keep in mind that income is INCOME and is taxable! You will be required to track all of your income and expenses and will be expected to reconcile these come tax day. Many of the items you need for operating your car as a rideshare vehicle may qualify as legitimate business expenses so contact a certified public accountant to learn what may or may be covers, then keep records and receipts. Always remember that your money is YOUR money and you want to keep as much of it as possible

 I made HOW much?

 Although it seems like using your own personal vehicle as a rideshare sounds like a great idea on the surface, when you break down the costs, it’s not really worth the hassle in my opinion. According to the IRS, using a vehicle for commercial purposes averages about 54¢ per mile.

 This breaks down to:

  • Fuel 12¢
  • Depreciation 24¢
  • Repairs and Maintenance 9¢
  • Insurance and Paperwork 9¢

Considering this, at best case, you’ll be earning about minimum wage for all the trouble you’ll be going through. Wouldn’t flipping burgers at McDonald’s be easier? As always I wish you success and happiness.    

Do You Really NEED A New Car?

Can you rely on a used car?

newCar

There’s no smell on earth quite like that ‘new car’ smell. I really think that everyone should own a new car at least once in their lives. The only two draw backs of a new car are the price and the depreciation.  New cars are EXPENSIVE! In most cases if you buy a new car, you will have to finance it, and depending upon your credit rating and the term length of the car loan, you can expect to  pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars in interest. Additionally,   when you finance a brand new car you are required by most lending institutions to have the vehicle FULLY insured. If you own a car outright in the USA you can get away with really inexpensive liability insurance that covers the damages to another vehicle should you be at fault. You can further reduce the cost of insurance by opting for limited tort insurance which places a limit on how much you can sue another driver for should they cause you bodily injury and financial loses. Of course, how much you pay for car insurance also depends on how safe a driver you are.

With the possible exceptions of the first year of a new model,  there’s usually nothing more reliable than owning a new car especially if you depend on the vehicle for transportation to and from your day job.  But there’s more to think about besides just the monthly loan payments before you  decide to buy that brand new car. You should examine your needs, motives, and current situation.

Do you even need a car at all?

I’ve owned eight cars so far in my life, all but three were used. My first car was a ’71 Bug.

cars

Next I owned:

  • ’80 Chevette
  • ’89 VW Fox (New, but a remainder that sat on the lot until 1991)
  • ’80 Pinto (I miss that car)
  • ’97 Escort (New)
  • ’91 Tracer
  • ’96 Accent
  • 2002 Accent (New, now 16 years old with over 475,000.)

I grew up in New York City. Specifically the town of Woodhaven in the borough of Queens. In NYC there’s really little reason to own a car because the public transportation system will get you almost anywhere in the city, by train or bus, round the clock, seven days a week, even on holidays. And there’s also taxis, private cabs, and now Ubers and Lyfts to get you where you need to go.   So I didn’t learn to drive until I moved to Pennsylvania for college. I got my driver training at the Wilson Driving School. In Lancaster PA, a car is really a necessity, and those early years living in this state prior to 1993 were a nightmare when I was without a car. Buses to when I lived didn’t even run after 6 p.m. and there was only so far I could travel on foot or by bicycle, weather permitting.

Now having lived in both places, one where a car is an optional luxury for convenience verses one where a car is an absolute necessity, let me tell you  I’d much rather have a car I don’t need than need a car I don’t have. Public transportation is great for some people, but I love to travel and I want to go where I want to go, whenever I want to go. If you live in a big city with an extensive public transportation system that suits your needs, and you don’t suffer from wanderlust then you really don’t need a car at all and you can save your money.

If a NEW car is a must have…

You have to decide what kind of car you need, and if it must be new or not.

My first NEW car was a 1989 VW FOX. The 71 Bug lasted only four months, I brought it used for $500, it needed rust repair, and I sold it for the same amount. I brought a used Chevette for $1000 which I drove around for a year before trading it in towards the VW FOX.  I COULD barely afford the car, and the insurance, UNTIL I damaged it, and couldn’t afford the repairs to the front axle and didn’t have enough to cover the deductable. So the car sat undriven in a friend’s driveway,  I cancelled my insurance, and I took the bus to work. UNTIL I GOT FIRED. When I was unemployed, the first thing I did was to surrender the car back to the dealership that financed it as a voluntary surrender.   I explained the situation, I was not going to play the ‘car, what car?’ game until the repo man found it, I just said here it is, here’s the keys, sorry.  Trust me, THAT was my BEST option. I ended up unemployed for almost the entirety of 1992.

So the above tale of woe covers the next set of considerations.

if you have a car loan:

  • Will you be able to keep up the payments should you lose your job?
  • Will you be able to pay for repairs and maintenance?
  • Can you afford the insurance?
  • Do you have GAP insurance should the car be totaled to cover the difference, or will you be making payments on a large crumpled paperweight for several years?  

Never buy a car that is more that you can afford. Don’t but a Jaguar if a Jetta will do. Don’t buy an SUV, a truck, or a van if all you need is an economy car to get to and from work. A car is for the most part, an A to B machine. If you’re not going off road, you don’t need an off road vehicle like a Jeep. Plus consider the cost of gas. Do you really want something that gets 18 miles to the gallon for a daily driver? My Hyundai Accent gets 40 Miles to the gallon, and is adequate for MOST of my adventures. I do plan to buy a Jeep Wangler in the  near future, as a SECOND vehicle for adventures.

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If a USED car will suffice…

There’s a brand new shiny super stocked Dodge.

And ev’rybody’s sayin’ that there’s nobody meaner than

The Little Old Lady From Pasadena.

She drives real fast and she drives real hard,

She’s the terror of Colorado Boulevard. – The Beach Boys, The Little Old Lady From Pasadena

 

Bear in mind that whenever  you buy a used vehicle, you are buying every misdeed the previous owner subjected it to. Did they keep up the maintenance schedule? Was it involved in undocumented accidents? Did they punish the vehicle mercilessly or were they gentle? Highway miles, or city gridlock with potholes thrown in for good measure? Is there a warranty? Every used car dealer will swear that their cars were only driven by a little old lady, once a week to church. Of course that little old lady may have been from Pasadena…

Also, most lending institutions will ONLY finance a used vehicle up to so many years, and miles. Remember what I said earlier about making payments on a large paperweight.  If you finance a five year old car for five years, you’re bound to have something major occur. If you don’t have an emergency fund to cover the repair costs, including towing and renting a temporary replacement car, you could be in trouble and without a car for a long time.

Here are some possible repair costs:

repairs

Over the last sixteen years that I’ve owned my current 2002 Hyundai Accent, I’ve replaced EVERYTHING at least once, sometimes two or three times. I’ve probably been towed in for repairs at least a dozen times, and if you live in the USA as I do, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND signing up for AAA (American Automobile Association) or if you live in Canada they have CAA. Trust me, one tow cost will pay for the basic membership fee. I splurge for AAA Premier because of the long distances I drive, and even that is well worth the fee. An ounce of prevention always beats a pound of cure!    

In EVERY case, I still managed  to keep the repair costs for the year under what a year’s worth of car payments would be. It’s always been cheaper to keep my car than to replace it, and I look forward to hitting the 500,000 mile mark sometime within the next  twelve months. I haven’t had a car payment in fifteen years, and my insurance is less than $500 a year.  Hopefully you will be as fortunate with your next car as I’ve been, As always I wish you happiness and success!