Cars are expensive.

I lived in New York for over 18 years. In that time, I never needed a car, never even had a license. (This will make perfect sense for anyone who lived in New York, and be a completely foreign concept to just about every one else in the world.)

Just about seven years ago I moved out to San Francisco. For the first five years I managed without a car. Difficult? Sure, but I become very familiar with the San Francisco transit system.

Things started becoming a tad more problematic when I got my current job at Apple. Getting to work was a two-hour walk-train-train-shuttle affair, only to be reversed at the end of every day.

Three months of it, and I’d had enough. After much hang-wringing, I came to a drastic conclusion: I had to move from San Francisco to the Peninsula. It was a soul-wrenching, but ultimately necessary move which eliminated one train, cut an hour from my commute and unfortunately distanced me from my friends.

It wasn’t all terrible: I could still take Cal-Train north on weekends for softball, or a Giants game or hanging with friends who would pick me up, and I was still very familiar with San Francisco’s transit system.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Cal-Train stopped running on weekends.

Suddenly, what had passed for a social life was in danger of being destroyed utterly. With no way of getting to San Francisco on the weekend, I was stuck. Once again I had to do something desperate, and this time, it meant getting a license.

Buying a car was a typical Jasonian task: research research research, then make a decision based on intuition and feel. I ended up with a 2003 Nissan Altima SE, and it’s been fabulous. I only wish I had made the decision to buy a car a long time ago.

Except for one tiny little thing.

Cars are expensive to drive.

I don’t mean the cost of gas, or of regular oil changes (even though both are absurdly expensive).

No. I mean the regular maintenance costs.

Today I took my Altima in for its 30,000 mile “major service” (thirty thousand miles in just under two years: not extreme, but more than I thought I’d drive). I figured it wouldn’t be cheap, but I wasn’t expecting it to be $500.

Yep, five hundred dollars. That came as a bit of a shocker.

I often wonder if the whole “get it checked regularly” isn’t just one big car industry scam, meant to make them all rich.

Now I’m thinking, they better find a whole lot of things wrong with this car, fix it, and make it like new again.

I’m starting to wonder what my car actually costs me. How much money have I spent since I owned it (forget about the cost of purchasing it in the first place). With gas, insurance, car washes, maintenance, and who-knows-what else… gah. I’m starting to plotz just thinking about it.

What could I have done with all that extra money? I could be that much closer to owning a house.

Of course, I wouldn’t be able to leave it, ’cause I wouldn’t have a car….