When is a Horse and Buggy more Cost Effective than a Car?

Earlier this week, someone had a clever comment on facebook, suggesting that the horse equivalent of uber be called “Neigh-ber”, which made me laugh, but also got me thinking: How high does gas have to get before a horse becomes more economical?

Obviously, this is going to depend on the number of miles covered, and the price of gas, but if we can calculate the cost per mile for a horse, it should be possible to figure out. Fortunately, someone has done this for us- so we’re spared much of the research and most of the algebra.

Lancaster Online first considered this question back in 2008 when a gallon of gas was over four dollars.

Since this is purely hypothetical, the numbers won’t be perfect, but they should provide a good figure for when we should be taking this budgeting practice a bit more seriously. Besides- I want to know- How does a Horse and Buggy Compare to an Electric Car?

So- the initial purchase. According to Lancaster’s estimates, a new horse and buggy will run about $10,500, a bit more if you want to add a propane heater during the winter. The average price for a new electric vehicle is about $60,000. The average new car price seems to be about $47,000, while the average used car price is over $27,000.

Lancaster calculated an annual cost of about $6,000 for the car and $3,060 for the buggy. Then, assuming the car travels 15,000 miles in a year and the buggy only 1,500 miles, they divided the miles, and determined that it was only $0.41 per mile for the car and $2.04 per mile for the buggy.

This makes for an easy comparison- but lets consider our actual commute. First, we determine the annual cost for each (including food for the horse, gas for the car, electricity for the electric vehicle), then divide by various annual commutes. To make things easier, I’m going to ignore maintenance costs, vet bills, etc.

If Gas is only $4 per gallon:

Annual Costs for Commuting between Fortine and Eureka 5 days a week

For a Buggy
Yearly: $1,050
$1,460 (feed)
Total: $2510
Cost Per Mile: $0.44

For a New Car
Yearly: $4,700
$915.20 (gas)
Total: $5,615.20
Cost Per Mile: $0.98

For an Electric Car
Yearly: $6,000
$283.14 (.15 cents per kW)
Total: $6,283.14
Cost Per Mile: $1.10

As gas increases, (presuming that the cost of feed does not increase as quickly), the Horse and Buggy should become more cost effective. However, the assumption that the only travel is the commute is impractical, excluding other costs (like vet bills) reduces accuracy, and failure to consider the cost in increased travel time is absurd.

That said, if you already have the space and experience needed to house a horse, your commute is short, and you aren’t in much of a hurry to get there, it’s probably time to start examining this question more closely.

*This is a thought experiment, not financial advice. Run the numbers yourself if you’re considering a purchase.

If you are curious, determine how many days you commute each week, multiply that number by your daily commuting distance, then multiply that by 52 weeks.This will be the total miles traveled in a year. Take the annual cost and divide by total miles traveled.

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