Opinion: Owning A Car In S’pore Is A Flex, But Most Of Us Can Live Without It

Singaporeans May Be Better Off Without Owning A Car

This piece is part of MS Speaks, a segment in which MS News reporters share their honest views on current affairs and trending topics.

Singaporeans get a car for many reasons — convenience, a status symbol, or just the passion for driving and cars.

However, Singapore’s a rather small island that’s not that hard to get around in. You could even cycle across the country in less than a day, let alone via public transport.

Source: shawnanggg on Unsplash for illustration purposes only

My family hasn’t owned a car for as long as I’ve been alive, yet convenience has never really been a concern.

Instead, the hidden costs that come with owning one — like the record-breaking Certificate Of Entitlement (COE) premiums — make it seem more like a burden.

Why do Singaporeans want to own cars?

Before even discussing car ownership, let’s take a look at the possible root of Singaporeans’ desire for cars.

The concept of the 5Cs has been around for a long time.

For older Singaporeans, the definition of success is when they live in a cushy condo, become an esteemed member of a country club, have multiple credit cards, and lastly, own a car.

Source: @circleslifesg via Instagram

The concept might be a little outdated though, said a writer from The Business Times in 2022.

While a career should still be a main priority, the other Cs seem like a luxury you can afford to live without — even if you are successful.

In fact, perhaps those who are successful are where they are because they aren’t chasing the other 4 Cs.

Living frugally and having financial stability at a younger age is definitely a bigger flex than going to a country club on the weekends.

Source: National Service Resort & Country Club on Facebook

To be fair, some may need a car for practical reasons, like chauffeuring elderly family members, or younger children to and from school or enrichment classes.

But even then, calling for a Grab or hailing a taxi might be the better option.

Owning a car burns a hole in your wallet

Let’s break it down, starting with the earnings of an average working Singaporean. According to the Ministry Of Manpower (MOM), the monthly median gross income for Singaporeans — including CPF — was $5,070 in 2022.

After paying for other expenses like bills, groceries, and other necessities, there’s not much left that you can save per month.

Then you take a look at the dreaded COE prices, the price of being able to own a car here.

COE premiums have been relentless this year, with cars across all categories costing over S$100,000 in October.

And no, you can’t even pay in installments — that’s an upfront payment you’re expected to make.

Not to mention the insurance, the car itself, petrol, and the maintenance that you’ll have to pay for later down the road.

Source: Erik Mclean on Unsplash for illustration purposes only

If you need further convincing, it apparently costs twice the amount every month to use a ride-hailing app than to own a car.

And that’s if you’re taking a Grab all the time — think about the savings if you’re using other forms of public transport like the MRT or buses.

Getting around in Singapore is getting easier with enhanced MRT network

Statista shows that only 6,390 Singaporeans on average took public transport each day in 2022.

Meanwhile, there was a total of over 650,000 cars on the road that year, according to data from the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Hopefully, though, more Singaporeans would be open to making the switch once the Thomson-East Coast line is completed.

Source: Jiachen Lin on Unsplash for illustration purposes only

There’ll be even greater connectivity in the years to come according to Channel NewsAsia (CNA), with the Cross Island Line and Jurong Region Line in the works.

Perhaps once all these lines are complete, we can get to anywhere in Singapore in less than an hour by train — whether we’re from Joo Koon or Joo Chiat.

Plus, the MRT even helps you avoid traffic jams. You’ll just have to deal with the human jams during peak hours though.

Owning just any car isn’t a flex anymore

Now, just owning a car might not be a flex anymore in Singapore — you’ve got to get a branded one to even have it as a status symbol.

As a reference, there were over 49,000 BMWs and 72,391 Mercedes Benzs on the roads last year.

The bar will only keep rising as time goes on and for some, it might feel like a never-ending chase to be seen as successful.

But at the end of the day, being successful shouldn’t be based on superficialities like owning a nice car.

Unless you’re part of the top 1%, being able to support yourself and your loved ones is the real flex.

Note: The views expressed within this article are the author’s own.

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Featured image adapted from Josh Calabrese on Unsplash for illustration purposes only.

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