Congress, Take Note: Deferring Road Repairs = Costly Wear and Tear for Autos

Add the cost of making cars and other vehicles hardier to withstand the beating they get on crumbling roadways to the already enormous toll deferred maintenance of the nation’s infrastructure is taking on everyone.

The latest evidence for these added costs is the fact that Nissan is trying to figure out how to make a car that can stand up to the streets of New York, which one Nissan executive ranks among the poorest anywhere.  The company needs to get vehicles ready for when its Nissan NV200 van becomes the designated model for the New York taxi cab fleet beginning in 2013.

In order to design a car sturdy enough to take New York’s mean streets, the company has made a mockup of a road in Queens in the Arizona desert. There, the company tests its vehicles to see how they withstand traversing the treacherous surface.
Nissan America’s vice president for light commercial vehicles, Joe Castelli , says that New York “has some of the worst streets and potholes” and the company has appropriated (and adapted) the aspirational line from the city’s theme song, “New York,” –to use it as a tag line in an ad, promoting the virtues of the well-constructed NV200 for any road-challenged area of the world. For the ad, “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it just about anywhere” from the song, becomes, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.”

If Nissan has figured out how much more it will cost for it to build a car hardy enough for New York, it hasn’t disclosed the figures. But, you can bet it will cost more. And, that means the cab companies will pay more for the cars and those additional costs will be passed on to taxi passengers. More heavily constructed vehicles also means more gas required to power them, adding yet another new expense attributable to deferred maintenance.

More than a year ago, the nonprofit group TRIP estimated that our neglected highway and roadway infrastructure is costing the average urban driver $402 per year in repair and other expenses (pdf here). On top of that, deteriorating roads cost us another $32 billion in travel delays every year according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Congress has been putting off passing a comprehensive transportation bill for two years. There’s no longer enough money to fund the bill with revenue from gas taxes, so Congress has been fighting over whether and if so, how, to sustain spending at previous levels. Meanwhile, the costs of repairing our roadways are mounting steadily.
It would be far less costly if Congress got to work right away on fixing the roadways. Public transportation investments are desperately needed too. (This helps road users too, not only by alleviating congestion and reducing air pollution, but by reducing wear and tear on the roads).

Then, car companies could get back to what they should be doing, making efficient vehicles to reduce gas consumption, rather than designing armored tanks to traverse Stone Age roads.