Wednesday, 11 February 2009

One car? No car?

Have you heard about them? Those "crazy" people that sell one of their cars and opt to share or bike or walk places. Then there are the "really crazy" people that sell both cars or perhaps they never purchased a car to sell.

In 2008 we became one of those "crazy" people. I'm not going to lie, it was more than scary to even think of giving up a car. To us (Americans, yes, but J. and I in particular) cars represent freedom and independence. If you need something, just hop in your car and get it; want to visit a friend, just go. No need to plan or coordinate train schedules or worry about pedaling in the rain. Distance becomes relative and the only limiting factor seems to be the price of gas. 
The price of gas, insurance and our car payment were ultimately the reason we decided to downsize.  J. was driving a 2005 Xterra that, on a very very good day, could get 20 mpg and cost us roughly $700 a month total expenses. On one income, that was just a bit too much. Instead we decided to purchase a bicycle for me to use to get to and from work. "My" car became ours but was primarily used by J, and infrequently at that. 

Ideally, I would have purchased a used local bike, but after a fruitless search that turned up bikes with far more capabilities (and accompanying price tag) than what I needed, I bought one online. 


It came mostly assembled but still had to be taken in to my local bike shop for a final tune up. Being a small local shop, they charged me as if I bought the bike from them. I certainly appreciated that and made sure to make all future purchases through them.

Bike in hand (so to speak) we made the plunge and listed our Xterra for sale online. Despite listing it for $3,000 less than we owed, we didn't get any interest. This was right when gas prices were really high with no end in sight. The only way for us to offload the car was to sell it to Carmax for $6,000 less than we owed. I know, crazy right? The interest rate on the car was higher than we were getting in any of our short term investments so we took the plunge. 

Amazingly we never looked back. It wasn't always easy to work out who would get the car and when, but I never wished we had the Xterra back. While our Escape Hybrid may not have the power that the Xterra did it successfully towed a small trailer from Colorado to Pennsylvania and still got better gas mileage! 

Biking was a little harder to get used to... I only worked a couple miles from our apartment but I didn't really purchase the best commuter bike. I opted for a mountain bike so that we could use it on the weekends, in retrospect that was a bad idea. My big wheels and robust suspension are better suited for taking abuse, but on level pavement I tended to receive more of the abuse. Occasionally I got caught in the rain or simply didn't have the motivation to make it home so I called J. to come get me. Other days the time on my bike was a liberating experience that gave me quiet time I would not have had otherwise. I truly enjoyed it (90% of the time) and look forward to getting back on the bike now that warmer weather is headed our way. 

Giving up a car is not a decision to be made lightly and would certainly not work for all families. But just because you own a car doesn't mean you have to use it to get everywhere. Commuting by bike even one day a week would cut down on your emissions, your gasoline costs, and increase your overall health and well being. Can't do that? Then try running an errand or two on a bike. If you start slowly and build up your endurance you will soon find yourself cruising down the road farmer's market purchases resting safely in your saddle bags. 

Has anyone else opted to decrease their vehicle usage? Any bicycle commuters? If you don't think this would work for you why not?


cottonclippings said...

I would love to commute the 9 miles to work on a bike, but know nothing about buying a bike that is suitable and don't want to buy new. Any comments to help me decide would be appreciated.

RiverofOdd said...

Hi~ we just went from two cars to one. It has taken some adjustment but I am finding that I like carpooling and the bus is not as bad as I assumed it would be. Time consuming, but restful. Many of my friends do think I have lost my mind, but we are trying to simplify so going to one car was the obvious (for us) next step.

Chiot's Run said...

Mr Chiots and I used to have just one car, and we always did fine. We have 2 now, but could live with one. We plan on keeping them both till they die though.

We've considered riding bikes in to town for mail etc. We both work from home so we don't drive daily. Our work is usually 30 trip a week to the big city (around 160-200 miles depending on job location). So no commuting there (not to mention all of our equipment).

Even though we haven't sold a car, we have drastically reduced the number of miles that we drive, this will make our cars last longer, and it reduced the amount of gas used (it also reduces insurance).

If we lived in an area with buses & public transport I'd be open to getting rid of one of our cars, but in rural Ohio, no such thing (you're lucky to have it in the small cities).

Miss Frugal in Training said...

We are down to one vehicle, initially it was because someone ran into our parked car, but after car shopping a bit my husband and I decided to wait till later in the year to get a new one, shortly after that we decided to stick to one car, for now it is working out just fine and plan to keep it this way.

Joanne said...

I'm a stay-at-home mum. My husband does irregular shift work so one car for us would mean I couldn't plan anything in advance as we would have to wait until he had his work orders, which come the afternoon before. So I'm keeping my car! If ever he has regular hours, I would be willing to reconsider. But my other half is not really on board with the whole simplifying/saving thing. He'd rather I earned more money so we could spend on whatever we want or need. It makes for some interesting situations...
What we have done (using the physical exercise and increased independence reasoning) is invested in reliable bicycles for our two boys so they can ride to and from school. If I plan my week and do several things in one day, my car does not leave the drive other days.

Barbara said...

I've never driven (despite
growing up in California and
living in Australia for the last
20 years-probably the two most
car orientated societies on earth)
so obviously I never had a car
until I married someone with
one. I walk or ride a bike
everywhere and my husband does
as much as possible. We do still
use the car when we have a lot
to carry or at night if we're
going somewhere more than 5 or
so kilometers away - otherwise we
cycle. But we also live in the
inner suburbs of a major city
where everything we need is within
walking or cycling distance. If
you lived in the country or in a
new area without any services, it
would be a lot different. Ditto
if you have children - we don't.
What works for one person doesn't
work for everybody!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

We've been a one-car family for five years now. We were lucky that four of those years we lived in DC near good public transportation. Now that we're in Raleigh, we purposely picked an apartment close enough to my husband's office that he could bike to work. Sometimes we have to coordinate use of the car, but most of the time it's no problem.

Sybil said...

We've successfully managed with one car for several years - plus two bikes. We live in a suburban area of a city that's not particularly pedestrian or bike friendly, and I must admit I've had a couple of harrowing close calls in this area of cell-phone-chatting, rushing-to-the-mall, behemoth-driving citizens. But we love owning only one car!

We were motivated by Ernest Callenbach's theory of "The Green Triangle" - the three points of the triangle are Health, Economy and Environment. Biking as transportation meets all three points - we save money, are healthier, and reduce our carbon footprint.

Here are my tips for making this work:

1. Know your area and have a back up plan. If no public transportation is available (we have none nearby), know where car rental companies are (Enterprise will pick you up!). We rent a car several times a year when we simply can't work out the schedule
2. Be sure you are ready. Allow extra time. Know your route - the hills, dangerous crossings, alternative routes. Plan for bad weather, flat tires, and getting stranded. It happens.
3. Get a decent bike. Comfort and safety are key, wear a helmet, and keep your bike in good repair.
4. Be willing to ask for rides places. Repay kindnesses with home-cooked meals and reciprocal rides - when you have the car of course!
5. Communicate and cooperate. We have the THINK about every trip, and we can't just hop in the car & head out for a few hours.

Obviously there are some parts of the country and some lifestyles that can't adapt to this. But, we've traveled a lot and find that, in other countries, driving is a real luxury and bikes are the norm. We admire that and have set up things so we can live this way.

A few years ago, we owned 3 cars - a Jeep, our now-grown daughter's beat-up Saturn, and an expensive luxury vehicle. We are NOT a young couple (55 & 60), but we feel the decision to drive only one car has improved every aspect of life!

Loganenator said...

Hi all,

My partner have been car free for one year now and it is fantastic! We saved about $600/month after selling it. My partner has a blog if you are interested in reading about our experience (

It is difficult to suggest a bike to you Cottonclippings without alot of detail on your needs. However, the best all around commuting bike I have found for price, reliability and commuting is a Surly Cross-check (

Some advice:
1. I strongly encourage getting measured for a correct frame size at your local bike shop before ordering. Having the wrong size bike is a terrible experience and almost as bad as having a shoe not fit.

2. Budget the money for quality, the Surly I mentioned above retails for about $1000 but it is reliable and will last a lifetime when maintained. A typical walmart/target type bike will break down after 3 months of continual use and will cost more money to fix than you paid for it.

3. It is difficult to find a good "commuter bike" at local bike shops as it seems to be a niche market. They usually only sell racing bikes, extreme mountain bikes and comfort (crusier style) bikes. One place to find good reviews of commuting bikes are a few bike commuter blogs like (

If you would like any more tips feel free to email me. :)

Good luck on the transition! We love it!


Georgie said...

I have three children and don't drive; unfortunately I have to catch seven buses a day just to get the oldest child to school. My solution for that is to try and move house, rather than learn to drive ;)
Ideally I would like to learn to drive, but we would still only run one car, it would just mean that I could use the car some days for some things. My partner catches the bus to work as well, though he drives to the nearest bus station to do so (a 5-minute drive as opposed to the 30 minutes or so it would take him to drive all the way).

CM said...

We are a biking family. Dh bikes the 4 km to work most days and as we live only 1 km from the town centre I can do all of my errands on the bike too. Our oldest dd bikes everywhere and the rest of the kids usually walk when they have to go somewhere.

We have one van that can haul all of us that we use if the distance is great, the weather is lousy, the load is huge, or it is night.

My dh has a really old truck that he licences in the summer for the market garden he runs.

The biggest improvement to my garage sale bike was the wire market basket I bungee corded the rear rack. It makes doing the errands easier when I can hauld stuff about.

I've written about biking on my blog:

I have two bikes, one a 5 speed with attached basket, and a mountian bike with a tag-a-long for my youngest son as he refused to learn how to ride until just this last fall.

I just got a new bike trailer at a garage sale, I used to buy the groceries and haul them home in my old one. Thankfully we live only 5 blocks from the store :o)

A people powered life is possible. You should see friends of ours on their tandem flying down the road, they are both retired and live 7 km out of town, it is rare to see them in their car!

Jenn said...

We've been running on one car for over 9 years. It can get interesting and we usually end up with one of us getting a ride from a family member or friend when our shifts overlap, but even using our one car to get both of us to and from work the same day with insurance runs us at most $200/month, but then again we are lucky enough to have an extremely reasonable and knowledgable mechanic if it's something we can't take care of ourselves.

Rebekka said...

I moved to Copenhagen 6 years ago from California and haven't owned a car since. It's normal to not have a car here.

My husband and I both ride our bicycles to and from work and on errands unless it involves something too heavy to carry; otherwise we take the bus or the local trains/metro. Long distance travel is by train. It takes some coordination and you can't bring everything and the kitchen sink with you, but it's very manageable.

Last time I was at home in California I used Amtrak to get back and forth between cities visiting friends, and it worked really well.

We have talked about joining a car-sharing association here in Denmark where you pay a lump fee to join and then by kilometer to use the car, but getting our own car is not in the picture at all.

Remember to use a bicycle helmet! Lots of people don't like the way they look, but I'm a nurse, so trust me on this: brain damage doesn't look so great either.

P~ said...

Hay there B.H. I haven't given up our cars, here in norther Utah the winters are pretty harsh and biking year round has it's challenges to say the least, but then again I don't owe on them either. I do ride my bike often during the summer, but sometimes end up running late or have an afternoon appointment so I drive. This year, we're investing in an 80-90 mpg scooter for me to use on the days I can't ride. costs and footprint should go down nicely.
Great post!

silversewer said...

We have only ever had one car. we changed it recently for a newer mode with a much better fuel usage profile. It will have to last us until I give up driving.

We looked long and hard at giving up the car but it represented too many dificulties in doing some of the thngs we do, we cannot get to the allotment, to my youngest daughters or to my friends, holidays would also be difficult as my OH cannot travel on buses for long distances......what we did do was make a concious decision to use public transport when we could. Our local shopping centre and the City are both on a bus route, so apart from visiting the supermarket for my monthly shop, we use the bus.

Anonymous said...

Hi We need 2 cars because we live in an area with unsitable public transport. My husband drives 10k to a station, and then travels to the city. We have swapped our 2 6 cylinder cars for 4 cylinder ones. I'v been wanting a bike for a few years, but was worried about my balance, so i got a TRIKE, (its red) Its fantastic, in the morning, i heard the children (3) on their scooters, with school bags in the big basket on my bike, then ride home with the scooters. My husband laughs and won't use it, the kids think its funny, and all the mums love it. I now only use the car for ferrying around kids after school. I am having fun, reducing my petrol consumption, and getting exercise, its great.

Jacky Queensland Aust.

Canadian said...

My husband and I do not own a car. We sold it and moved closer to downtown. We take public transportation to get around. In the warmer months (April to October) I often bike to work instead. It takes about 45 minutes each way, which is great because I get my exercise at the same time. I use a 15 year old mountain bike which I have altered to make more commuter-friendly (e.g. narrower, smoother tires). I plan to buy a different bicycle eventually, perhaps a Dutch bike.

Rosa said...

Me & my partner have both always been bicycle commuters. It gets cold here (it was -10 or below for two straight weeks last month) so I ride the bus in the winter - her rides his bike year round.

We do have one car, and will for the foreseeable future - mostly we use it for long-distance trips. If we could move to Chicago we wouldn't need a car, but from here rail travel is a pain.

My son has grandparents in Kansas City Missouri, and to get there by train we would have to take the train east to Chicago, south to St Louis, and then West to Kansas City - a three day trip compared to a 7 hour drive. (For those of you not in flyover country, Kansas City is due south of Minneapolis, but there's only an east-west train from here.)

The problem with having the car is we end up using it when we don't really need to - like when it's cold or icy we end up driving the kiddo to daycare even though it's only 8 blocks, or using it for grocery shopping when it's -20. The good thing about having it is that we enable a few friends to be car-free by lending them the car when they occasionally need it.

Meryl said...

We shifted from two cars to a car and a scooter. It takes a little shuffling some days--particularly during the winter, when the weather is too bad for scootering--but for the most part it's worked very well.

Billie said...

We used to have one car. It was a ton of work for me to drive my husband to work and pick him up. No bus service and WAY to far to bike (25 miles one way?). As soon as he got his driver's license we purchased a second car. We gave our old car to his ex and purchased another new car. It was this or drive her to work every day. I have my limits and that was apparently it.

I would be willing to not use my car so much if I could commute to work by bus. I can't do that right now because I work two jobs and need to get from one job to another quickly. But a car is truly a time saver that I am not sure I could do without right now. I do make sure to run errands on the way home and go to stores that are close so that I reduce my use of gas.

Anonymous said...

For anyone looking for tips on buying a commuter bike:

-If you are strictly using it for commuting go for a hybrid model. These put the rider in a comfortable seated position on the bike. They are also built for comfort as well as speed. You can also easily put racks and baskets on these models for transporting cargo.

-If mostly riding on pavement than go for a slick tire which will allow for more speed than a knobbier tire seen on mountain bikes.

-If you are biking in the winter switch to winter bike tires, mountain bike tires, or studded bike tires. These options will give you more grip in slippery conditions.

-You can almost always find used bicycles on sites like craigslist. Many people buy expensive bikes with the intention of using them but never do. Then they turn around and sell them for half the price.

-Buy a good lock, and always make sure you put the lock around a secure part of your bike. For example don't put the lock around the tire since it can easily be detached from the rest of your bike.

-Keep your tires pumped up all the time. Keep a small portable pump with you, as well as a repair kit.

-Keep your chain clean and well lubricated. Give it a good once over at least every two weeks.

-Make sure your bike is equipped with a bell and lights. White light on the front, red on the back. The more lights you have, the more visible you will be. Some people also wear bright orange reflective vests for increased visibility.

-Also keep in mind that the less attractive the bike is, the less likely it is to be stolen. Many people cover up the bike logo with a big sticker or paint over it to make it less attractive to thieves.

Hope these tips help!

MystikMomma said...

We recently moved and one of the decisions to live where we currently do was in relation to getting rid of one car. Before the move we lived in a place with NO public transport and there we were at least 10 miles from the school, store, bank etc. My hubbie's job was an hour drive away without traffic.

When we moved, we purposely chose to live within walking distance of my hubbie's work, so we did not have to keep a second car. He often rides a bicycle to work. We feel good about only having one car, that is paid for which gets 20MPGs and is only driven 1-2times weekly. So far this is what we have committed to.

lazy susie said...

My husband rides his bike to work. He even has gear that keeps him warm in sub-freezing weather.

The only prob is the pack of dogs down the street that chase him. He has to go 25 mph to outrun them; they terrify him.

Slice of life said...

We only have one car, that is all we have ever has since we combined our lives.

When the old car gave up the ghost, we put huge efforts into not only getting a car that was economical with fuel but also was cheap to service and maintain.

After lots of test drives and lots of questions on forums etc, we bought a Vauxhall Astra 1.7 diesel. We get approximately 45-50 mpg mixed use i.e. motorway and around the town. Service intervals are 1 year or 30k miles, which is fab for a diesel and it falls into a cheaper tax bracket.

Only downfall is the boot isn’t very large, which can be a chore when going to the allotment.

I use the bus, when I can’t catch a lift home. Using the bus is not for everyone. If every journey was like today’s adventure (it was a pretty stomach churning trip when someone who smelt like the carpet from a smoky nightclub dipped in an ashtray and rubbed on a wet dog, sat down next to me and already had the next cigarette in her mouth before the bus has stopped). Yes days like today I wish we had 2 cars.

All in all we don’t need a 2nd car as we plan shopping etc so this makes it easier.

Anonymous said...

After a trip to China last Spring I bought a 150cc scooter for commuting and gave my car to my son. I drive 25 miles round trip 4 times a week and it's been mainly terrific. It doesn't hurt that I live in southern California, so no snow, but it's been rainy lately and I've handled it. When it's too windy I look for alternatives. At 75-85 mpg it's a great deal.

Chookie said...

Dh didn't get his licence until our first child was born, so we were car-free for nearly 10 years. I am hoping to cut down on car use next year, when both my children reach school age. At the moment, public transport to work doesn't allow me to collect my children from day care and OOSH care before closing time. I doubt if we'll ever be a no-car family again, but we will be decreasing our usage.

sealander said...

We haven't had a car since last May. Most of the time it is not a problem but maybe every six weeks or so something comes up where it would be really handy to have one. A car sharing program would be great but no such thing here. We live walking distance from shops and inner city, and live on a bus route. So far Christmas was the biggest hassle as it is spent at the MIL's place on the other side of the city, and the buses stopped running at 6 pm, so we had to beg a ride home.

ConfessionsOfAnOverworkedMom said...

We've had only one car for years. We did it long before it was a fashionable statement because it was a financial necessity for us. We live out in the country so walking anywhere is really not an option. We are three miles to the closest tiny corner store and almost ten to get to any type of grocery store, drug store, etc. While I could handle a three mile walk on a good day during the sprint time, a three mile walk in January in Vermont just isn't working for me.

CAM said...

We live rurally so biking is out of the question not just because we are ages from everywhere but also because we have dodgy little roads with no room to ride and lots of trucks (livestock, milk etc). We have no footpaths out here either. We have two cars atm because of this but as hubby is going to be working close to home soon I am going to try and convince him to ride to work on his bike (covered in cobwebs at the back of the garage somewhere) as he is in the local fire brigade and knows the fire tracks he could probably take to stay off afformentioned dodgy roads.

Liz said...

We only have one car. My husband is two minutes away from the bus stop at home and at work and it's a straight trip with no need to change buses, so he's quite happy to sit on the bus for 40 minutes twice a day and play on his laptop (yes, he's a geek). After our one car died recently we tried going car-free, but I am a SAHM to our 11yo, 4yo and 1yo kids whom we homeschool, so we are out and about to so many different classes, groups and excursions that catching buses to everything would be a nightmare... We were given a tiny, ancient hatchback by family friends, which is a bit of a squeeze for all five of us but gets us where we need to, and we try to consolidate trips where possible. It gets much better mileage than our old car.

cathy c said...

I work p/t one mile from home. I always ride my bike... only a snow storm can stop me. I wear a bright yellow vest so the crazy drivers don't hit me. So far, so good. I am in suburban Chicago and it is not real bike friendly. Riding has made me a better driver when I use our car. For example, use your turn signals! Bikers assume you are not turning if you don't have the signal on! I will not rant here but you get my meaning. It is not possible to live without a car in my life but I make wise choices when I do use it.

Thanks for the great post! Enjoy the ride!

cathy c

Mrs. Anna T said...

We live in a settlement with virtually no public transportation, so having at least one car is a must, especially with a baby. I'm a stay-at-home wife so we don't need more than one.

Before I was married, I never owned a car. I lived in the city and got by with buses/trains. I believe doing this helped me emerge out of my college years without debt.

shelle said...

When I worked in WI I commuted by bike from april-october, this included dropping my son off at daycare. I loved it, he loved it on all but the really cold mornings. When we moved to CO we find it much harder to commute by bike. I have pledged to bike all errands within a 3 mile radius of home, unfortunately most errands take us farther. I am hoping that they extend the bike path in my area and that the big trucks slow down for biking families.

cottonclippings said...

Thank you for the suggestions.

One thing I do have to say is the fear I have of the people on the cell phones in large vehicles. I live in SUV-ville. I drive quite often my planned bike route from home to work to observe the traffic conditions. Hopefully soon I'll have a bike. (I'm looking for a used one.)

Deb G said...

I've been without a car for 2 1/2 years now. I wish I'd done it sooner and I doubt I'll ever have a car again. I bus, walk, get rides from friends and family occasionally and am starting to bike (have a trike!). It really is a change of lifestyle.

One thing that I think makes this a reasonable choice for me is living close enough to where I work that I can walk if I have to (3 1/2 miles). I think the key to being successful without a car is to be organized. And more patient.

It does make life more difficult at times, but I've also lost 20 pounds, made new friends, accomplished a lot more knitting, and saved money.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic blog! I'm happy I found this site today!

My husband and I live car free in Southern California in a city that unabashedly LOVES their cars. We have a 2-year-old and I think everyone assumed we'd get a car when we had a child. I take the bus to work a couple of days a week, and he buses or walks 5 days a week. We recently moved so my bus commute is a little longer, but I actually look forward to 40 minutes of toddler-free knitting time! We live pretty well without a car, as we live close to our grocery store, farmer's market, library, post office, restaurants we like, etc. Though the neighborhood we live in is not at all pedestrian-friendly (no sidewalks on most residential streets!).

When we need to haul something or pick up something or go somewhere we can't get to by bus, we rent the car we need for however long we need it. It's nice to be able to have the type of vehicle we need for the job that needs to get done, and to always have a new well-running car.

I think the hardest thing about being car-free is dealing with other folks' opinions about it. Of course I live in an area with no harsh winter weather, but for the most part, you just get used to the routine, and change it when you need to.