Cost comparison: Owning a car vs taking Grab/TADA/Ryde

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Taking Grab vs owning a car – which is the more economical option for the average Singaporean commuter?

Ponder me this: Is it cheaper to get my own car, or continue using my favourite ride-hailing app? While common sense tells us that ride-hailing is likely cheaper, it is not that simple. 

Owning a car is a fixed cost, but ride-hailing costs go up with every trip you book.

Which means that if you’re a heavy user, there may come a point where you cross a tipping point, and owning your own car actually becomes cheaper for you.

Is this the case for most average Singaporeans? Let’s find out.

Firstly, let’s set things up

The first step in any experiment is to set it up. For our purposes, this basically means defining what we will test.

One of the most important sets of data we need would concern the cost of owning and driving a car in Singapore.

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Luckily, we’ve attempted a deep dive on this exact topic earlier this year, and will be borrowing some numbers from that article to help us out today. 

One of the main numbers we need is the distance of a typical trip, as ride-hailing services charge by distance. 

From our reference article, we derive the following: 

  • Average annual distance driven per car: 17,500 km
  • Average distance per trip: 23.97km (assuming two trips per day)

Thereafter, we can plot a trip with a similar distance into the respective apps – Grab, TADA and Ryde – in order to find out how much each platform would charge for the trip.

Also, we are testing this using a weekday trip during the evening peak period, to make allowance for surge pricing.  

How much does driving your car cost per trip?

To start, let’s work out how much it would cost to drive your car on a per-trip basis.

Once more, drawing from our reference article:

  • Average annual cost of car ownership: $17,499.20* 
  • Assuming two trips a day, 22 days a month: 44 trips per month
  • Average cost per trip: $33.14

*Note: (First year cost/10years) + (Annual average cost)

Cost comparison: owning a car vs Grab, TADA or Ryde

Cost per trip Car (Honda Jazz 1.3l) Grab (JustGrab) TADA (AnyTADA) Ryed (RydeX)
24km, weekday peak period $33.14 $19.30 (surge) $21.40 $24.30 (boosted)
Savings n/a $13.84 $11.74 $8.84
Number of trips to break even n/a 75 68 60

The results are in and – to nobody’s surprise – owning a car is markedly more expensive than using Grab, Ryde or TADA. This also means it’s especially important to a car loan with the best interest rates.

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Depending on which service you use, you could save between $8.84 to $13.84 per trip.

That’s enough for bubble tea and cake, and maybe macarons too! This makes sense, and explains the popularity of ride-hailing services.

They wouldn’t be successful if they didn’t offer a significant benefit or advantage over the alternative – in this case, cost saving.

(However, whether ride-hailing services will ever become truly profitable remains to be seen.) 

And by the way, given our numbers above, it would take a significantly higher number of ride-hailing trips to approach the breakeven point.

Hence, we can reasonably assume that the average commuter likely won’t find any cost savings by buying their own car.

Having said that, of course your individual mileage will vary, so to speak, so you should always run your own numbers before making a decision.   

Which ride-hailing platform was the winner?

As our numbers show, Grab emerged as the winner, as it provides the highest amount of savings over driving your own car. You could save as much as $13.84, even with surge pricing in effect.

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In second place was TADA, with its AnyTADA service charging us $21.40 for the trip. This resulted in savings of $11.74. Coming up third was Ryde, which quoted us $24.80 for the ride.

Do note that this is a boosted price, which is a voluntary option for passengers to be bumped up the queue in exchange for a fee.

(In our experiment, the non-boosted price was $18.30, which meant boosting our trip cost an extra $6.50.)

Using Ryde instead of driving our own car would give us savings worth $8.84.

Do the numbers tell the whole story? 

Given how exorbitant car prices are in Singapore, common sense tells us that ride-hailing platforms are a more economical option. And indeed, our casual experiment seems to bear this out. 

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However, if you currently own a car, you may feel differently.

Indeed, for most drivers, the day-to-day costs of driving comes in the form of parking fees, ERP charges and – once every few days – petrol.

You likely do not feel you are paying very much more driving your car than if you were to hail a ride instead. 

But don’t forget that you also have a monthly car loan to pay, on top of other periodic costs like maintenance and insurance.

Also, you have already paid 30 per cent of the cost of your car as a down payment upfront.

These periodic and one-time costs tend to fade into the background of our awareness, such that we don’t really feel the pinch when we’re behind the wheel.

The intangible value of owning a car 

A large part of the value of owning a car actually stems from intangibles, such as convenience, prestige and sense of ownership. 

Even then, cars can take out a substantial amount of money from your stash, which is where a car loan will come in handy.

The biggest advantage of owning your car is convenience – you can use it as much as you like, whenever you like (provided you have money to pay for petrol, at least.) 

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Arguably, ride-hailing services can also provide a matching level of convenience, being available 24/7.

But you might face some difficulties during peak periods such as festive seasons.

Also, there are restrictions on pets, durians, and number and type of passengers. 

Also, would it surprise you that buying a new car is the “single worst financial decision” you can make (according to a self-made millionaire, no less), given the alarming depreciation rate? 

Yet, as leading car-makers will tell you, the decision to buy a car is an emotional one, and not a rational one.

Recall your favourite car commercial – chances are you remember how it made you feel, more than the actual specifications or features of the car. 

This translates to car ownership being not just about function, but also very much about prestige, and owning something that is an extension of you. 

And the fact is, ride-hailing platforms will likely never be able to scratch these intangible itches.

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