How Much Can You Save by NOT Owning a Car?

Pssst – wanna lower your cost of living – I mean really lower your cost of living and do it for good? Ditch your car. No, I’m not kidding, ditch your car! It’s mind-boggling how much you can save by not owning a car.

Most people cut costs by trimming along the edges – clipping coupons, reducing eating out, eliminating vacations and the like. But sometimes that isn’t enough. You can cut all of those and still end up with a tightly stretched budget. One that doesn’t allow much room for savings and investment, for debt pay down and payoff, or for a plunge into the career unknown – a major theme on this blog.

How Much Can You Save by NOT Owning a Car?
How Much Can You Save by NOT Owning a Car?

It comes down to a choice between micro- and macro-frugality – do you cut your smaller expenses across the board, or do you target two or three of the biggest? For most people, housing is the biggest single living expense. But cars are a comfortable second. For many, cutting or eliminating car expense is far easier than making the same choice on a home.

How much can you save by not owning a car?

Before we go any farther on this topic, it?s helpful to get an idea as to what hangs in the balance with this move. Let?s take a look at owing a typical car ? if there is such a thing.

You buy a new car for $25,000, with a 20% down payment ($5,000) and a five year loan at, say 8% ($406 per month), on the balance.

The $5,000 down payment, often thought of as an ?investment?, is nothing of a sort. Since it will almost certainly be wiped out by depreciation?and very early in the process ? it?s actually a non-recoverable, upfront expense. Let that sink in for a moment.

As to the annual cost of ownership:

  1. $4,872 per year in monthly payments ($406 X 12 months)
  2. Repair and maintenance, $500 to $1,000 (late model car), so let?s say $750.
  3. Car insurance – as a licensed driver you have to have it anyway. But premiums are largely affected by the cost, make and age of your car. So let?s just add another $750 here and I don?t think we?ll be too far off in either direction.
  4. Gasoline: if you drive 15,000 miles per year and your car gets about 25 miles per gallon; that means you buy 600 gallons of gas per year, and at the current rate of about $2.50 per gallon, that?s $1,500.

Adding it All Up

So we have $4,872 in car payments, plus $750 in repairs and maintenance, plus another $750 for higher car insurance, plus gasoline of $1,500. Total? $7,972 – and that?s each and every one of the first five years of owing the car.

Over the five year period of the loan, you?ll have paid nearly $42,500 ($8,472 X 5 years) ? plus the $5,000 down payment expense that you paid (and lost) up front. That’s $47,500 for the privilege of owning your $30,000 car. If you?re in the habit of buying a new car every five years, well? – you can figure out how that will play out.

We haven?t even factored in tolls, parking, insurance surcharges, license/registration or ad valorem taxes, all of which can be substantial in some jurisdictions. Oh, and here?s another cost most of us don?t think much about?how much income do you have to earn ? before taxes ? to cover the nearly $8,000 in car expenses you?re paying each year? $10,000? $12,000? $15,000? It all depends on your tax bracket, but that?s the REAL cost of owning a car.

Can you see why this is so much more important than it seems at first glance? What else could you be doing with that kind of money?

Who can ditch their car – and who can?t?

OK, I know what you?re thinking?”this guy?s crazy ? I could never go without a car?no one could, not in this day and time!” And you?re absolutely right, not everyone can. But many ARE in a position to do just such a thing, but choose not to and pay thousands of dollars each year as a result.

When should you consider going car-less?

  • You work at home, and there are more people doing that all the time.
  • There’s a major debt problem, career crisis or career transition and you seriously need to cut living expenses to deal with it.
  • You live in an area that?s well served by public transportation, and/or most of the amenities you need are within walking distance. This is mostly urban areas, but increasingly includes many built-out suburban locations.
  • By renting your home you’re are in a position to relocate close to your work.
  • You have no dependents who need to be chauffeured all over town.
  • You live fairly close to work, and can either walk, bike, carpool, or take public transportation even part of the way in.
  • Your household includes two or more cars.
  • You have the kind of driving record that makes car insurance ridiculously expensive.

Now I?ll agree that many people are not in a position to do this. Certainly people with long commutes, many with children, and those who live in areas with no public transportation come to mind. But certainly many singles, couples without kids, retirees, and especially those who work at home can consider it to be viable money saving option.

Alternatives that Can Make Car Ownership Unnecessary

You need to be able to get where you need to go, and obviously that effort will be compromised if you don?t have a car. But there are ways to get around car ownership that a lot of people are in a position to take advantage of.

Public transportation

Not every one lives in such areas, but many people do and they still own cars and drive everywhere. But one of the advantages of living in an urban area should be the fact that you don?t need to own a car at all. Are you taking advantage of that?


Part of the reason we feel a need to have a car is that it?s become an extension of our legs. We drive even to the places we could walk or bike to. Not only do walking and biking have long term health benefits, but it?s also an environmentally friendly way to travel.


We live in a time when more people are working from home than ever. That eliminates the single biggest justification for car ownership. If you work from home it means most other transportation alternatives suddenly become possible.

Own a ?Beater?

If you work from home, or live close to your job, all you really need is a vehicle for short trips. A ?beater? will fit the bill. Owning an older car means no car payment and no collision insurance. And you can fix it with used car parts and a good backyard mechanic.

Car Rentals

I work from home and don’t have my own car ? after all, I have no commute and my trips are short. But there are times that I need to drive longer distances. When I do, I?ll often rent a car for a day, a weekend or a full week or even longer. You can rent an economy car for about $40 a day (or $150 for a week) at major car rental companies, and even less if you do some digging. That?ll get you where you want to go if you don?t own a car.

Car Pooling

The preference is usually to ride with people who work with you, but if that isn?t possible, you can probably find people who work in the same general area. The internet has made this easier than ever. Chipping in $20-$30 a week for gas would be welcome expense money for the driver, and much cheaper for you than owning your own vehicle.

One Household, One Car

One of the unfortunate cultural norms is that we?ve moved from ?a car in every garage? to a car for every adult in the household. That?s an expensive lifestyle! If there are two cars in your home, can you find a way to get by with just one? If one spouse needs the car to commute, but the other works from home, maybe shopping and other trips can be done in the evening, or by some other arrangement that eliminates the need for two cars.

Our Current Car Arrangement

My wife and I currently have one late model car that we bought “gently used” (three years old and with just 17,500 miles on it). It serves as our family car, and is currently our only car. We make it work, though admittedly it isn’t always easy. My wife uses it for her commute, six miles each way, five days a week. I plan my excursions around her work schedule for the most part. But on days when I need the car for a specific purpose, I’ll drive her to work and pick her up, and use the car for what ever purpose I need it for.

My loose plan is to buy a beater sometime next year, just to enable me to make short trips around town. But who knows? We’re making it work with one car, so maybe that won’t ever happen. It’s amazing what you can get used to, and once you do, you hardly feel inconvenienced.

You can combine several of the above in order to eliminate your car. For example, if you could work from home or move close to where you work, you may be able to bike or walk to what ever else you need, and rent a car for long trips. Based on the above it?s even possible to construct a life that doesn?t require car ownership. We?ve covered how much that can save you.

Do you think that living without a car is possible today? Is it something you?d ever thought about? Can you suggest other ways that might enable a car-free lifestyle? We?re looking for ideas here!

( Photo by NCDOTcommunications )

64 Responses to How Much Can You Save by NOT Owning a Car?

  1. I think you are playing with fire here, but I love it!
    I tried this for three months in Vancouver BC and it worked. Ok, the public transportation there is smooth, bike roads are well developed and we were living in the city.
    But reducing the number of owned car per household is a good start.
    And those are in larger cities car co-ops or car sharing are feasible alternatives. Zipcar can be found in many cities in US, UK and Canada. Further sharing options can be found at carsharing (dot) net/where (dot) html.

  2. Hi Attila–When you tally up what it costs to own a car–I mean what it REALLY costs–it’s worth the effort to find alternatives. Cars are an enormous expense, much bigger than we realize and they’re one of the primary reasons why the cost of living seems so high. If we can recondition ourselves to see them in a different and more limited way we can open up a world of options.

  3. I have often thought about what it would be to not have a car. It seems like it might be a liberating experience! However, at the current point in my life, that just isn’t going to happen.

    My wife and I live in Phoenix, a very spread out metro area. Where we live, there is very little within walking distance. Public transit is out of the question (I couldn’t tell you where the nearest bus stop is, or if there is even one around). We routinely drive 20 miles just to get to an area with good restaurants. Etc, etc, etc.

    The one thing we have done for probably the last 8 years or so is only have one car. We have been able to do this because we used to work at the same company, and now we work from home.

    I remember a point in our lives, many moons ago, where we had four cars between the two of us. Two were old and paid for. Two were newer with payments. Ugh, that was A LOT of money going out the door!

  4. I ditched my car about a year ago. No more gas, oil changes, and especially parking tickets!

  5. Hi Kevin–Congratulations! It must be inconvenient at times but the money you’re saving must more than make up for it. Cars are a habit too, and once you get it out of our life it just isn’t so important any more. We say we can’t do this or that until we actually do, then we find that we really can. It has to be liberating on some level.

  6. Hi Marshall–By owning one car in a two adult household you’re actually doing a modified version of going car-less. You’re cutting your car expense in half, and in the area where you live that’s pretty stinking good, if you ask me.

    Not all areas or situations are conducive to going car-less, but it’s something to aim for. In your case, with both of you working from home it’s easier to do this.

  7. “Gasoline: if you drive 15,000 miles per year and your car gets about 25 miles per gallon; that means you buy 600 gallons of gas per year, and at the current rate of about $3.50 per gallon, that?s $2,100.”

    So you drive 15k miles a year that is 41 miles a day average travel that you want to offset by walking and riding a bike? It isn’t that simple unless you plan on adding 2-3 hours to the length of a day. That average 41 miles a day travel takes you approx. 40-50 minutes in a car but would take you 2:45-3:00 by bicycle and that is at a solid 15mph and even if you were the next Lance Armstrong and could belt out 22mph for the whole trip it would still be 2hr a day getting back and forth.

  8. Point well taken Scott. But I didn’t say this is for everyone–only something for people who can, such as those who live close to work, work from home or are in areas with ample public transportation. It flies in the face of the “suburban lifestye” and perhaps that’s what needs to be reconsidered–it’s a more expensive lifestyle than we generally assume.

  9. @scott

    I think your car/bike speed comparison is relevant for the country but once you hit the city the ratio is less than 2 to 1. That is because bikes and cars go at exactly the same speed when stopped at a light. The slower vehicle suffers a lower penalty when stopped for the same time.

  10. And it gets there for a lot less money! It really does depend on where you live and the type and location of your work.

  11. Buying a pre-owned car, just like buying a new car, can be a great experience when you’ve done your research and are confident that the car you are buying will meet your needs and you can feel comfortable about it. There are seven vital things to check before you buy a pre-owned car that you determine once you’ve decided on the make and model that you want. Research before getting to that checking point can involve looking at Consumer Reports data regarding the safest, most durable, highest mileage, best comfort or other criteria that you have determined to meet your needs and desires. These guidelines are for use once you think you’ve found the car you want.

  12. I just ditched my car…donated it to NPR. It broke down and decided I didn’t need a car. I live near the Lite Rail and bus service. I live in Phoenix. So far, I don’t miss my car. I can walk to markets and one even offers home delivery. All of my doctors are on the bus line. It got to the point where the mechanical problems were too expensive to fix and I just can’t afford it anymore even though my car was paid off. Repairs and insurance, gas were just too much for my budget.

  13. Hi laine–I’ll bet the money you’re saving more than offsets any inconvenience! But if you do need a car for a trip for a day or a weekend, look into Zip Cars. It’s nice to have a car source for when you absolutely need one, and those days will come.

  14. Good article. I ride a bike everywhere in the city regardless of the weather. I have a decent car for driving out of town when needed (about once a month). ‘Auto’ is definitely not a category in which I spend much money. Plus, I’m in super great shape!

  15. Hi Will – I think you’ve got the whole car thing figured out. What you’re doing is a win on all fronts. I hope you’re not paying much for the car you’re hardly using though 😉

  16. I ditched my 2009 BMW back in 2011. For one I didn’t want to continue to pay financing and have it stored while I was out backpacking for a year. Since then I haven’t owned a car instead use my two legs, carpool and public transportation. It’s worked out well.

  17. Hi Jason – I’m going the beater route since I live in a suburban area un-served by public transportation. But I’d love the savings that come from not owning a car at all. Not only does that save money on car expense, but since you don’t have a car you can’t go out and spend money on things you don’t need. It’s good on so many fronts!

  18. I gave up cars about 7 years ago. The first few months were hard, but now I can’t imagine going back. We have a great bus system that has bike racks on the busses and they run from 5am to 1am.

    Unfortunately my employer moved to where the bus became impractical. Tried to get a raise to cover my added costs, but they said no. So they lost one of their best employees! Now I’m trying to get work as a musician and working on a sound system I can carry on the bus!

    One other major cost-saving component of being carless is that it takes time and effort to go spend money! There have been many instances when I realized that what I wanted at the time just wasn’t worth the effort! It has saved me thousands I’m sure. No more impulse buying when you gotta haul it home!

  19. Hi Ric – I envy you – seriously! I wish I lived in such an area. If I could ditch the car (yes, even my beater) I wouldn’t have to work outside home at all. Right now I can’t because of the area I live in, but hey that’s always subject to change in my world! (I keep it that way by design – options are always good to have!)

  20. You are not wrong. I did the math and our 2 car family auto expenses were $20K in 2013.

  21. Hi May – Wow, I’m sorry to hear that. But it makes a point of something that I hadn’t covered in the article, and that’s the financial impact of having two (or more) cars. When you think about it, $20,000 is serious money in a middle class household, especially if total income is less than $100,000/year. Even at $100,000, your car expense alone is 20% of your income. Think about what else you could do with that kind of money…

    Taking it a step farther, if you add car expense at that level, to the cost of housing, healthcare and college for your children, it’s easy to see why so many people are struggling despite apparently high incomes.

  22. Having no car is also very mentally freeing. For me, cars always end up being a hassle. Bills, fees, repairs; they never come at a “good” time. Not to mention driving is stressful in itself. Stuck in traffic, trying to find parking, etc. Not fun.

    Another cheap transport recommendation: if you’re lucky to live in an area where it works, a moped is a nice way to get places in the 3-15 mile range quickly and inexpensively. 50cc mopeds usually require no insurance and are very cheap to buy, fuel, and repair. Also they’re fun to ride, can park anywhere, and zip by traffic. However, one downside is safety, you gotta be very careful and alert at all times.

  23. Hi Jo – I thought about the moped idea – right after I hit the publish button! Thanks for bringing it up, it is a viable alternative, at least when it’s not winter. As to it being mentally freeing, I can only imagine. Sure, you’re giving up the convenience of having a car, but you’re also getting rid of a MAJOR expense. That forces you to be more creative, and that always feels good. Most of us under-estimate what we’re capable of until we’re put to the test and come out on top. THAT’S liberating!

  24. We meet several of those contingencies for owning, but I agree that if you can swing this, it’s good for your pocketbook and the environment! When I’ve owned beaters, though, I’ve found I’ve had to pay far more in repairs just to keep it running each month versus loan payments on gently used vehicles.

  25. I agree on the repairs, at least on certain cars. But we’ve never had that problem. We keep the oil changed regularly, and when we do need repairs we can usually find a less expensive repair method. They’re out there if you look. And of course, we only drive our cars a few thousand miles per year. If you have to drive more, than I agree a beater will be expensive, and you certainly can’t go car-less.

  26. I have no problem with people getting rid of their cars. People should do what works for their own unique situation. But this posting clearly compares apples and oranges.

    You point to the high cost of car ownership if a person drives a considerable amount and goes about buying a car the most expensive way possible (buying new with debt). But these costs can be greatly reduced by purchasing used (and with cash). In addition, your estimated annual repair costs are grossly exaggerated, especially for a new car. I don?t know that I?ve had $750 in repairs on one car in a year more than a couple times in my lifetime (and I have owned a series of very old, very high mileage cars). Then, you go on to say that people who don?t need to drive a lot should consider getting rid of their cars.

    The fact is, it probably doesn?t make sense for someone who needs to drive a lot (for whatever reason) to get rid of their car. Taking a bus or using some other form of transportation tend to take considerably more time and are far less convenient. If a person values their time, not owning a car is very expensive. Plus, the cost of ownership is significantly lower for someone who doesn?t drive as much. As a result, a more apt comparison would be to show how much it costs per mile driven.

    Ironically, I hit a number of your ?consider going car-less? points (only drive 3k-4k/year, work from home, rent, bus stop less than 100 feet from my front door, and have 2 cars) and have considered getting rid of my car in the past. But I work a lot and see my time as incredibly valuable. The convenience of owning a car is simply too much for me to forgo. Not to mention the fact that the ?family car? gets less than half the gas mileage of my car.

  27. Hi Rob – On a subject like this, the apples and oranges conundrum is inevitable. There are so many different possible combinations. The point of the post is to stimulate people to think and act outside the box. I’m not sure most people comprehend what the real cost of owning a new/late model car really is, and when they see the numbers it could be a call to action.

    As to your situation, it’s much like mine. I work from home but own an older car. No public transportation and wide suburban area, but owning the older car saves me thousands each year. I’d love to be able to function with no car at all.

    Notice too that I pointed out numerous options, realizing that this is a broad topic, and there is no one-size-fits all. I also believe that it’s possible to construct your life around not owning a car. That’s not common today, but it is possible.

    The main point overall of course is to challenge conventional thinking.

  28. Over the years I have owned new cars and old bangers for both commuting and pleasure. But I have always considered my vehicles as a masive financial liability with never ending costs. Given the alternative options available, you wouldn’t want to run a business with that level of waste so why try running a household that way!

  29. Hi Natasha – That’s an excellent observation. Cars are a massive expense, and I don’t think most of us seriously consider this, at least not the way we do with other expenses. In fact it might be better to say that a car is a series of expenses like a monthly car payment, insurance, repairs, gas and taxes (my state has an annual car tax). If you can get rid of that altogether you might open up some other doors in life, financially speaking. Not everyone can go without a car, but the stakes are high enough that it’s worth exploring. For now, I’m going with owning an older car, with no monthly payment, and making repairs on the cheap. Working at home, I don’t do a lot of driving, so on our next move, we’ll be looking for a place that may eliminate my need to have a car at all.

  30. As I am now aged 67 and planning to move I am very enthusiastic about finding an urban condo where driving is not needed. I have seen so many older relatives hit disaster when suddenly driving is not viable for them. But it is too difficult for them to change their car dependent lives so they lose all their independence. If you buy wisely in a high walk score area when you are still able to explore your area on foot you will set up all the services and things you need where you can get to by foot or public transportation or by shuttle services or home delivery. This gives you a great sense of community and you have supportive people near you. Don’t wait until too late. There are many costs to being car dependent beside finances.

  31. Hi Rex – I think you’re on to something with that idea. As an older person, it’s just a question of time before driving will no longer be practical (though many elderly drive several years longer than they should and court disaster). I know a number of younger people who have adapted to a car-less life, but as you say, you have to live in a area where all that you need is within walking distance or near public transportation. But it is very doable.

    With all the app-based driving services I’m thinking it may be the wave of the future. According to AAA, it costs nearly $9,000 per year to own and operate an average car, and with the economic future now as uncertain as it is, the car-less movement could be the wave of the future. My thinking is live close to town, and rent a car when you need it for personal reasons, like a vacation or weekend trip, or just a few days when you’ll need to get to a lot of places that require a car.

  32. Private cars in their current form is a horrific liability. It’s insane that banks let you even list it as an asset. Sure some people really need one to get to work.

    That being said I am incredibly passionate about cars, but sold mine after developing eye trouble so that I became anxious of driving (although not legally disqualified), and I am only in my 20s. So, having such a love of cars and losing the symbol of my freedom was devastating.

    But, I think it’s a blessing in disguise.

  33. Hi Jack – I think I get what you mean. You’ve lost freedom in the form of the mobility that having a car provides, but you gained freedom in the form of greater financial control. I’ve seen people who don’t have cars and they always seem to have more money than others. According to AAA it costs about $9,000 per year to operate the average car. If you don’t have one that’s a huge expense gone from your budget. And with Uber it’s easier to do than ever.

  34. For Ric Watson above: A great PA for bus or bike travel is a little 2-channel 17 pounder called The Bud, by Henderson Amps in Colorado. I’ve had mine for two years now and still am surprised how good it sounds. Good luck!

  35. I am 52 and live in a very bike-friendly town in Oregon. I donated my car to Goodwill over two years ago and have never regretted it. I walked for about two months, then wanted a bit more speed and mobility, so I got a bike. My car was costing me about 25% of my monthly income. I wasted so much money on gas and late night runs for fast food, it was ridiculous. Now with a bike, I am not so tempted to ride several miles just for a burger…and If I do, I earn it after the exercise. An occasional, maybe once or twice a year rental satisfies my car needs…other than that, I have never missed having a car. For me, it is a change in lifestyle that is not for everyone…yes, I am tired and sweaty when I get home, but that is a small price to pay for being physically healthy, and having money to either save, or to spend on whatever I want. As an aside, most of my cars have been beaters, but honestly I don’t think they are any cheaper in the long run than newer cars.

  36. Hi Scott – I applaud you for making the transition in mid-life. Usually, by the time people get up around 50 they’re already “set in their ways”. But you’ve pointed to the health benefits in a very tangible way – the inability to reach junk food – as well as regular exercise. It is true that not everyone lives in a bike friendly community. After all, most of America has been build around (and for) the automobile, at least since World War II. But if you do, it’s an excellent transition. My wife and I are getting by with one car, but then I work from home. We’ve been able to make it work, but there have been inconveniences. Interesting though, you get used to those when you have to. A few times we’ve resorted to Uber, or bumming rides from third parties. You can make it work.

  37. I was surfing the web to find articles about the benefits of ditching a car because I had just started that journey and I am glad I found this detailed one. I was reluctant but after reading this, I am more than ever into this idea. It has been two months and I feel liberated and looking forward on saving! I can’t thank you enough of your thoroughly researched article. I had done my part but yours really is spot on.

  38. Hi Trimu – Interesting, just this week my wife’s boss turned his car in. He and his spouse are going to work with one car, in an effort to save money. Fortunately he lives close to work so he can walk. We’re still getting by with two cars for four adults, so it can be done. Not everyone can, but there are a lot of households where it can work, either reducing the number of cars or going car-less completely.

  39. I have ADHD and I have never owned or driven a car. I get around on public transportation. I am a substitute teacher and sometimes I ride the bus for 20 miles in one direction but I have time to do things on my commute. I also might have to walk a mile after getting off the bus. I only get about $30K a year but I can live on $20K. I really don’t know anything else but being car free. Sometimes I have to have someone drive me and I offer to help with gas.

  40. Hi Shasta – It sounds like you’ve got everything under control on the transportation front. If you had a car, at an average annual cost of $9,000, it would eat up about 30% of your income. The way you’re doing it, you’ve got an extra $10,000 per year. Good job, and good example of how going car-less can work!

  41. 10K per year 100K over 10years. No with the magic of compound interest.

  42. Good article. Car ownership is definitely expensive, especially after you add tolls, registration, etc. I live in the city now and I am debating ditching my car. There are a lot of advantages. The day is coming when I will be car less and I?m both excited and frightened by that thought. ?

  43. A couple of points to ponder here John. First, you can get used to anything. Yes, it’ll be a difficult adjustment at first, but the longer you’re carless, the easier it will be. Over the past four years I’ve gone from being a car owner, to merely having access to a car SOMETIMES. And yes, I’ve gotten used to it. Most days I have no car.

    The other point is that it isn’t irreveresible. If after a time you still can’t get used to it, you can go back to having a car. But it’s worth making the effort as long as you don’t dramatically compromise your lifestyle and income earning ability. And of course, you have a built in advantage living in a city.

  44. If I could get could reliable public transport where I live, I’d be happy to rely solely on these with the odd car rental when I need to move around. Unfortunately we’re not there yet, so I’ve been owning a small car for about a year now and as soon as the winter clears away I just bike everywhere! Anyway that’s some great points about the hidden costs of car ownership here. Cheers!

  45. Hi Kevin: Love your unique blog. Lots of comments already which is not surprising considering how we Americans feel owning a car is a right and not a privilege. When I was single and living in Honolulu I lived downtown and was carless. Walking to work was fine, but doing things on weekends took time and planning because the bus system is good but centers around working people. I had to depend on friends and family and boyfriend to get rides to weekend events. Now I?m married in Florida and we both have paid off vehicles. Most people would save money if they would just stop leasing and falling in love with cars they can?t afford. I?m old enough to remember the old days when sharing vehicles was the norm. It?s inconvenient to have just one car but definitely doable. Wish more American cities had mass transit systems like in Europe.

  46. Hi Karen – You’re pointing to a real Catch-22 with mass transit. We don’t have enough of it because everyone owns a car, but everyone owns a car because there isn’t enough mass transit. I don’t think we’ll ever fix that. But the ride sharing services are offering a private sector hybrid solution that at least makes it possible to live with fewer cars.

    I also agree that part of the issue is financing and leasing. The institutionalization of the perpetual car payment has raised the cost of owning a car, and most people don’t see it. Europeans hold on to their cars a lot longer than Americans, and maybe even that has something do to with greater reliance on mass transit. Here, we drive four blogs to get a gallon of milk! We’re doomed to replace a car every five years or so with that kind of behavior.

  47. Having had to deal personally with having a car and not having a car, I can offer a few reactions. Okay there is a cost to owning a car, more if you are financing it, plus there’s insurance costs which determined more but your physical address than your personal safe driving record, but you do save a great deal of time commuting than if you use alternate means of transportation. Forget about the utilization of Uber/Lyfts because they despite the hype are equal in cost to regular cab fares. The cheapest method of transportation is public transportation but you have to have a reliable service that runs every day of the week and close enough to your home to get to. You do have to dress for the weather daily and be prepared for a longer commute time because of both the schedules and routes which are determined by city variance as to which streets and areas to be run on. Nothing takes the fun out of a commute than an extra walk distance to get to your destiny. As for using a bicycle or a scooter (manual, assisted or motorized), you are limited by the weather and road conditions and despite current prevalences must follow rules of the road and wear safety equipment, like a helmet. I never learned to ride these and haven’t found any reasonably priced adult tricycles, so I can only assume that you also can get your cardio exercise in while using these and in some locals, you can bring them on public transportation like the train or bus in part of your commute. Again the biggest decision in what form of transportation is how far is the job from home and how long you are willing to do that commute. I had a job that was 26 miles that when I had a car took 20 minutes to get to in good weather with no traffic but was a 90 minute, 3 bus commute by public transportation no matter the weather. There was a cost difference but I had to pay for a monthly bus transfer and daily coffee and snacks to keep me awake which I didn’t have driving a car. The main reason I had to use public transportation was I couldn’t afford to pay the needed maintenance repair for my paid for older car (needed complete new valves since the old ones were shot and that was after I had replaced the head gasket and all the belts and replaced all the seals, eliminating all the leaks). Cars today most models don’t last more than 5 years. So unless you are mechanically gifted, choose the best method that works for you.

  48. Hi Maria Rose – I have to agree, you have to go with the transportation mode that will work best for you. I’m blessed to be able to work from home so my wife and I can get by on one car. But I must admit that car repairs are one of the most stressful events for me, because of both the cost and the inconvenience. So I get why people trade their cars in every five years. For myself and my wife, I doubt we’ll ever buy a brand new car again. But we’ve had good luck with both cars and with mechanics. Our last two cars, certified “beaters”, lasted well over 15 years and 150,000 miles. I always feel like the Good Lord is with me in what ever I do, even with my cars! I have no other explanation for why we’ve done well on that or any other front, especially given the problems others have had. But like I’ve written in the article, going without a car isn’t for everyone, but anyone who can should consider it. Cars are expensive! And having two is double the cost.

  49. Great post, Kevin. I lived/worked carless in Cambridge, Mass. for years, enabling me to save up for my 1st property. But I am also an “outdoor” person and used to dealing with cold/heat/rain that can make others curl up into a ball. Now, I have a paid-off vehicle, but rarely use it (I work from home in Atlanta, which is, as you know, pretty hot in the summer/fall months). Although I work from home, I find extreme heat intolerable for walking/living carless (something I’ve considered). Thinking about where to live next (ideally, a walkable urban area). Welcome any recommendations (will not be heading back to Cambridge, though).

  50. Hi Chris – I give you credit for doing that in Mass. I live in NH so I’m familiar with how cold and miserable it can get in winter. I’ve also lived in ATL and am very familiar with how hot it gets in summer and why you wouldn’t want to go carless there (in addition to the fact that everything there is so spread out).

    Unfortunately, it seems the most walkable cities, the places you can best get by without a car are mostly in the Northeast. The cities are dense, putting much of what you need within walking distance. As well, they have public transportation systems designed for an era when public transportation was the way people got around – in other words, it goes just about everywhere. In much of the Sunbelt, mass transit systems are “me too” developments. They know they have to have them to be considered legitimate big cities, but they don’t ever compete successfully with the interstates. MARTA in Atlanta is a classic example. I knew almost no one who took it on a regular basis, because it doesn’t go to the places people need to go, and it has (intentionally) limited suburban connections. In most cases you have to drive some distance just to get to a station, then pay to park your car all day.

    Not a lot of good choices on this front here in America. Since you work from home have you considered Europe?

  51. A car is definitely a big expense, but there are so many factors to consider when trying to come up with the dollar figure that truly represents cost savings. And the factors are different for every person.

    If you buy or lease a late-model car, but stick with an economical model, you can keep your payments, maintenance, and fuel costs down. Also, keeping a good car for a longer period of time spreads out the cost of ownership. If owning a car, it would be more accurate to measure depreciation rather than payments.

    Walking and biking is more practical if you live somewhere with a milder climate. But in places where the winters are harsh, even standing at a bus stop is downright unpleasant.

    If you have access to public transit, it does still carry a cost. In my city, a monthly transit pass is $100. A single ride is $3.25.

    The biggest kicker is the time and convenience factor. When I drive to work, it takes 12-15 minutes. When I take the public transit, it takes 45 minutes. With the car I can run errands or do grocery shopping as part of my drive home. Long ago, as a student, I would take the bus home from the grocery store. I never want to do that again. If I have to leave work in the middle of the day to see go and see the doctor, I can’t afford to be gone for 3 hours.

    If you have kids, you’re kind of screwed. Driving kids to appointments or extra-curricular activities pretty much requires a car.

    If a car is truly $8,000 a year, that’s 22 bucks a day. That’s not a bad investment in reduced hassle, increased freedom, and more time to do things you really want to do.

    Getting rid of a second car has much more compelling arguments in its favor. To have multiple cars in a household is a significant investment in convenience.

  52. Hi Neil – I agree, the second car may be the real issue. But if you have kids, you’re right, you basically have no choice. As I’ve been saying, going carless isn’t for everyone, but it can work for some. And it may be a necessity for those struggling financially. I my case, my wife have been able successfully work with one car. And when our two adult kids lived with us we made it work with just two cars. That went on for four years, and it worked. Not always comfortably, but it did work and saved us a fortune as it did. I certainly think it’s an option for anyone who lives in an urban area and especially for anyone who works from home. We often underestimate how much commuting to work is what really tethers us to a car. Take away the commute, and going carless becomes an option.

  53. As time goes on. Having a second car will no longer be an option for a middle-class household. Eventually having a car will no longer be an option for many.
    The middle class, if things do not change are gonna start losing more than just a car.

  54. I agree with you Tim. But I remember back when a lot of households got by with just one car, so we can survive it. The multiple car thing only hit in the 70s. And it started out as a late model car + a beater. Now, many households have two late model cars for two adults. But I think that will change soon due to the rising cost of owning a car. Also, if self-employment and work-at-home become more common – which I think will happen in the next recession (out of sheer necessity) – one car per household could work.

  55. Yes Kevin
    Those were the days though when only one person had to work outside the home.
    Also, we didn’t have all these kids in hundred different activities. Kids like myself played sports in school and with the neighbors kids in the street.
    It was easier to have one car.

  56. That’s all very true Tim. But maybe simplification of life is really what we need. It’s the complication of life that forces the need to have so many means of transportation. What’s funny (in a sad way) is that simplification is a common goal, yet we seem to be moving collectively and individually in the opposite direction.

  57. I was thinking about this article concerning car ownership while doing my daily walk (I am trying to average 10.000 steps daily) when I walked pasted this house that has a huge driveway and on this driveway was 9 cars from the household. This is a regular house but it has a lot of rooms, which apparently is inhabited by a big extended family group sharing the entire house. Here we are talking about trying to keep the budget in line by lowering or eliminating the expense of having a car, but this household by sharing the housing cost managed to have every adult have one. I know the housing cost is high in my area because of a house on my block is on the market for $595,000 and looks nothing like what I would consider a fancy house and needs some structural work (paneling).
    So I am going to throw this idea out there, find or create a much lower housing cost and then car costs are manageable. That means we have to revise our budgets and expectations of what is acceptable housing cost. Okay, I am not up for shared housing with complete strangers but within an extended family, it is entirely doable. Rather than the brunt of housing cost on one, it is paid equally by all adults, lowering it substantially and leaving room in the budget for car cost. Of course, I am not talking about those who have disposal income like the 1%

  58. Hi MariaRose – You’ve hit on a fundamental concept, that we’re coming to a point where we can no longer “have it all”. To survive at anything that looks like a middle class lifestyle certain expenses, often large ones, will need to be either cut or eliminated. The problem is that the top 10% are able to afford life comfortably without compromises, and as the economic leaders of the culture, they set the consumption level standards society wide. There are a lot of people in the bottom 90% who are living in houses they can’t afford, driving cars they can’t afford, and taking vacations they can’t afford. But they do it out of an odd mix of conformity and (I think) fatalism (“eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”).

    When I worked in mortgages in accounting, and saw personal financial profiles as part of my job, I saw this struggle all the time. People would be already on the financial edge – deep in debt with an empty bank account – but they’d be buying a new house, car or college education. It’s all financed with debt, which raises the basic cost of living, and further impairs the financial future. But that’s the happy little way in today’s world.

    I think you’re idea of making trade-offs will be the wave of the future. It won’t happen voluntarily, but as part of a new wave of frugality that will accompany the next economic downturn. Of course, it’s best to already be doing that before a crisis hits, but that’s not how most people think. The “I want it all and I want it now” mentality is killing us financially.

  59. Great article. I work in a job that provides a vehicle because I am on call. I can only use it for work. We have one car that is mostly used by my wife for work and shopping. We had two vehicles at one time but I realized I was driving the second vehicle about 500 miles a year and was paying $500 per year in insurance, it just didn’t make sense. Got rid of it. About 3 years ago I saw an electric unicycle and had to have one. The one that I currently use can go up to 30 miles on a charge and it cost about 15 cents to charge. Very low maintenance and cheap compared to a car. There are many personal electric vehicle options out there from e bikes, e skateboards, electric scooters electric unicycles to choose from. They eliminate parking problems as well. Even the most expensive models pale in comparison to the cost of a car. If I was a single person in my situation I would not own a car and would do as you stated, rent a car when needed. Even if I didn’t have a company vehicle I would use my personal electric vehicle to commute to work.

  60. That’s quite ingenious John! I’m guessing you live somewhere where the weather is well-behaved? I can’t see using one here in Northern New England, at least not 5-6 months out of the year.

  61. Great article!

    I’m newly retired and have only owned one car in my entire life. Aside from the costs, I find them a real hassle in many ways. Not owning a car, I plan my time accordingly and rent a car every once in a while. I walk a whole lot and, as a result, I am in great shape. I also bicycle and use public transit.

    Living without a car is feasible in many cases. For instance, living close to work and amenities.

    I also don’t own a smartphone. They mess with our mindfulness. Instead of being in the moment, they incite us to be elsewhere. Same thing with social media. I don’t use it. My attitude to technology is to use it only when it really improves my quality of life.

    I haven’t had a TV in years. I compare it to eating junk food.

    There is so much to real life, so much to learn and discover, why drive around in traffic jams, numb your mind and fritter away your precious time!

  62. Three years ago I visited Australia and New Zealand. This year I visited Scandinavia, flying business class. I’ve been to Europe now three times. I’ve been on three cruises. I’ve been on a lot of smaller trips as well. I am not rich. I might be considered lower-middle class or maybe upper-lower class. I retired at 62 but I work part time and plan to until I’m 70. My home is paid for. I don’t own a car. I’ve never owned a car. I never learned to drive. When I lived in Washington State I didn’t own a boat. If I wanted to take a boat ride I road the bus to the waterfront and got on the ferry. It is cheaper to buy milk than own a cow. I got rid of cable TV and satellite TV years ago. There is a lot of free stuff I can stream, although I’d be better off reading a good book or listening to music while doing crafts. That’s a lot cheaper to make stuff than to buy expensive stuff. I make my meals. If I go to a restaurant and like something, I look through it and figure out how to make it and I write it down. I might ask my friends if there’s something in it I can’t identify. I walk, I take public transportation. I certainly can’t afford to pay $500 a month. If I save that much a year that’s $6000, enough to pay for a trip I want to take.

  63. Hi Mona – Your story reminds me of the line from a 1960s movie I saw where a guy in is 30s or early 40s was asked, “when are you going to settle down and have a family and buy a house”, or something along those lines. He replied emphatically, “I rent life, I don’t own it.” That got me to thinking about how much money we waste acquiring things we can have access to even without owning them.

    For example, one person who likes the beach might feel the need to buy a beach house. Another who also likes the beach may be perfectly happy visiting the beach. They both get the same thing – access to the beach – but the second guy/girl has none of the burden and expense of keeping up the beach house.

    I’ve kind of adopted that mindset in my own life. I don’t need to own a lot of stuff to enjoy the pleasures of life. I just have to come to terms that I don’t need to own things to enjoy my life. I realize not everyone thinks that way, but to me it just makes the journey of life easier.

    The people I’ve seen who most enjoy their lives aren’t the rich ones, but the ones who learn how to live a rich life without being rich. Maybe the fact that they don’t get attached to stuff creates lower expenses and a greater sense of freedom. It makes abundant sense in the grand scheme of things too, because none of us are here forever. We’re just passing through, and all that we own will eventually become someone else’s property, one way or another.

Leave a reply