I’m about to turn 30 this year, and my father still drives me to work since buying a car isn’t an option for me. In his passenger seat, looking out the window, I often remember the untranslatable Welsh word hiraeth: a weighted, unnameable longing for a home that never was. Perhaps it is because this word tenderly holds the entirety of our father-daughter relationship. I became daddy’s girl on the road through decades and thousands of miles in different places we’ve made home, a bond forged on the go instead of living rooms, from my school years up until today. By now, I thought I would’ve switched seats with my father, my capable hands firmly clutching the steering wheel. But nothing could be further from the truth.

I didn’t get my driver’s license until four years ago and it rests in the back compartment of my wallet, unmoved except for its biennial renewal date. Having a parent driving me around at 30 years old is not the picture of adulthood I envisioned for myself. My younger self would have never imagined that I’d work multiple jobs and still not cut it financially, without the personal convenience of a mini red hatchback that I’ve always wanted.

The fact is, cars are expensive, even if you’re looking to buy used ones.

This reality isn’t unique to my situation. Millennials are dubbed the new ‘lost generation’, coming of age in the global financial crisis of 2008. We’re entering the workforce in an economic downturn more severe than the Great Recession while saddled with soaring student debts. We’re a generation of side hustles and gig cultures, stuck in cycles of low-paying jobs and stagnant wages. Gen-Zers are also facing the same dilemma, forcing them to look for alternative career paths and futures. Faced with grim prospects in long-term savings and wealth accumulation, it’s only natural that car buying doesn’t rank high on our priority list. There’s even a term for this: demotorization, where younger populations worldwide are losing interest in cars and are less dependent on them. 

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I wouldn’t be as bothered with car buying if I had access to an effective transportation system. Living in the poorest state of Malaysia means that I have to contend with subpar infrastructures and expensive ride-hailing services to travel. For those of us who live in areas with gaps in public transportation, having a car is a necessity that we can’t always afford. The fact is, cars are expensive, even if you’re looking to buy used ones. Here, in Malaysia, they’re notoriously costly where I’m from and we’re known for having one of the world’s highest taxes on cars

When I first voiced my car-buying intention to my father, I had no notion that it would be a harrowing process. First, I’d need to save up for a 10% down payment, which is near impossible when I can barely set aside paychecks for emergency savings. Although zero down payment schemes are available, I didn’t want to be burdened with high annual interest rates, especially in a flagging economy. 

Another concern I mulled over was the long loan tenure, which lasts up to nine years in my country to accommodate reasonable monthly installments for new car owners. However, if you have to take an extended loan period to finance your vehicle, you really can’t afford one in the first place. Then there’s also the issue of car depreciation, which makes future selling or trade-ins difficult. Cars lose their asset value over time and long-term loans mean that your car will depreciate in value faster than you’ll be able to pay it off, with high maintenance costs. Overall, the true cost of car buying isn’t listed on its price tag; it’s a hefty strain that charges interests over time beyond just financing your loans.

Looking at the bigger picture, I ultimately decided against purchasing one. I’ve had to let go of yet another marker of adulthood, on top of making the tough decision to live with my parents after university. Unfortunately, losing the freedom to travel has made huge dents in aspects of my personal growth, such as workplace choice, career advancement, hobbies, and a thriving social life. 

Still, I’m privileged and thankful to have parents who graciously understand the challenges of our current generation. Navigating life as an adult in the same home you grew up in has been a bittersweet lesson in patience and graceful acceptance. There are days when hiraeth and the grief of releasing milestones I expected to have at a certain age grow emotionally crushing. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to remain in my father’s passenger seat. As long as I have his steadfast hands and wisdom steering me, they’re reminders that I’m not alone as I continuously strive towards self-development in an increasingly uncertain future.

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  • Thira Mohamad

    Thira Mohamad is a writer based in her seaside hometown of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo. She has lived and studied in Toronto, where she found her love of writing, poetry, and grassroots community work. When not busy battling tropical allergies, Thira dabbles in literary translation, teaches poetry workshops, and mulls over the unwritten manuscript of her first book. She loves coffee, and Star Wars even more.