Your Car is making you Fat, Angry and Broke (and what you can do about it)

bike vs car stencil

I've discovered some bad news. Your car is making you fat, angry and broke. But, I've also found out what you can do about it. You may be wondering who I am and what do I have against cars. Believe it or not, I'm a gearhead and I do love cars. As a kid my favorite t-shirt had a silk-screened '57 Chevy. I read car books and magazines from cover to cover. I think cars can be useful, fun, beautiful and exciting. Unfortunately, it turns out that our cars don't love us.

For years, we have been told that cars equal personal freedom, rugged independence, coolness and sex appeal. Of course, advertising does not equal reality. Just as driving a 'cool' car doesn't make you cool, cars don't provide the freedom and independence that has been promised. Research in the past several years has determined that our dependance on cars has great health costs, mental costs and financial costs. In other words - your car is making you fat, angry and broke.

Your car is making you fat
It is obvious that sitting in a car isn't a form of exercise. But, it isn't so obvious that the more you drive the more likely you are to be obese. According to University of Tennessee and Rutgers University in Walking, Cycling, and Obesity Rates in Europe, North America, and Australia "Those countries with the highest rates of car use for travel have the highest obesity rates." In Growing Demand for Communities that Promote Health San Diego State University researchers found that "A study of 33 communities in California in 2006 found that the obesity rate for adults who drove the most was 27 percent, three times higher than the rate for people who spent less time in the car". The link between obesity and the built environment by California State University discovered that "The highest mean rank obesity was associated with the highest rank of VMT (Vehicle Miles of Travel) (p<0.01). Similar rank patterns were observed between obesity and physical inactivity and commute time."

Your car is making you angry
Most of us are mad about our cars when they break down and are towed to the mechanic. But, even when our cars are running perfectly they damage our mental health. The IBM Global Commuter Pain Study found that "49% of drivers in the 20 cities think that roadway traffic has gotten worse in the last three years, and 18% think it has gotten a lot worse." Research from the Cairo University, Egypt Impact of gasoline inhalation on some neurobehavioural characteristics of male rats shows that "chronic exposure to either the leaded or the unleaded gasoline vapours impaired the levels of monoamine neurotransmitters and other biochemical parameters in different brain areas and modulated several behavioural aspects related to aggression in rats."

Your car is making you broke
Cars are not only expensive to buy, they are expensive to operate. To understand exactly how expensive a car is requires calculating the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Total Cost of Ownership for a car includes depreciation, fuel, insurance, financing, repairs, fees and taxes, maintenance and opportunity costs. While you add up the TCO for your car you may be interested to know that the average annual auto operating expense in the U.S. is $5,477.

What you can do about it
Well, that's kind of a bummer. But, you can do something about this! First, here are several ideas for what you can do about your car today. Car Pools and Ride Sharing are a great way to reduce costs by putting more people in fewer cars. Trip Planning is another way to reduce your time in the car by linking trips and tasks into one trip instead of several. Hypermiling (not tailgating) is a set of driving tactics that can improve your gas mileage without buying another car.

Of course, there are other ways to get around than a car. Many communities have mass transit, including Santa Fe which has the RailRunner Express, NM Park & Ride and Santa Fe Trails Bus. The California State University–Fullerton study How Will the Centerline Affect Property Values in Orange County states that “…light rail transit has enhanced residential property values 2-18 percent in Portland, Sacramento, San Diego and Santa Clara, with larger changes in cities with commuter rail systems.” In Residents Who Live Near Public Transportation Live Healthier, Longer Lives the Victoria Transport Policy Institute determined that "High quality public transportation and transit oriented development tend to affect travel activity in ways that provide large health benefits, including reduced traffic crashes and pollution emissions, increased physical fitness, improved mental health, improved basic access to medical care and healthy food and increased affordability"

If you prefer the wind in your face, bicycling may be a better commuting option. According to the Worldwatch Institute in Power to the Pedals "For the community, cycling means an improved urban ambience thanks to decreased congestion and pollution, better quality of life because of proximity to bike paths and increased open space, and sounder fiscal health via increased economic activity and reduced taxes." As well, you can be chic and stylish while you ride (lycra is not required). Keep in mind that bicycling is fun! When was the last time your car commute was fun?

But, what can you do about your car tomorrow? Very simply, you can live closer to work or work closer to home. If you own your home this may be a long-term solution. If you rent it may be easier to find a house or apartment that is in walking or cycling distance to work. Another way to eliminate your commute is telecommuting part or full-time. By reducing or eliminating your auto commute will save money that can be banked or spent on something more fun than gas.

I haven't mentioned the environment yet, but you already know that the fewer fossil fuels we burn, the better.

In conclusion ... Hey, Let's go ride bikes!

More Info:

Walking, Cycling, and Obesity Rates in Europe, North America, and Australia

Growing Demand for Communities that Promote Health

The link between obesity and the built environment

IBM Global Commuter Pain Study

Impact of gasoline inhalation on some neurobehavioural characteristics of male rats

True Cost to Own (TCO) Revealing the Hidden Costs of Car Ownership

The Real Costs of Car Ownership Calculator

The Cost of Driving A Car - infographic

Gas & Auto Expenses: Spending by State New Mexico average $5,606 auto + gas annual expense

Car Spending in the biggest U.S. Cities

What You Can Do


RailRunner Express
NM Park & Ride
Santa Fe Trails Bus

How Will the Centerline Affect Property Values in Orange County

Residents Who Live Near Public Transportation Live Healthier, Longer Lives

Power to the Pedals

Copenhagen Cycle Chic

Millions Of Barrels Of Oil Safely Reach Port In Major Environmental Catastrophe



A small anecdote - I have recently begun to ride the 10 miles to town and back on a regular basis. It's pretty hilly between Eldorado and Santa Fe, so it takes me about an hour each way. The reality of that distance at 75 miles an hour was not very strong - you float like magic and barely give it a thought (turn up the radio). But when you bike it, it is a very real experience! Every piece of the terrain, the up and the down, is noted and appreciated for what it brings to the journey. The breeze, the traffic, the smells from the restaurants... its all so enhanced.

This is a great post - tons of links to inetersting information... oh yeah, and I've lost 12 pounds in 6 weeks on my bike!

Brett Frauenglass; AIA, LEED AP