Life Without Wheels
September 3, 2016 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I sold my car. After a bad experience at a car dealership, I'm now wondering: do I actually need a car?

• I work from home; I don't commute. On average, I have three to four meetings per month, most of which are within 5 miles of my studio. For these meetings, I'd use Uber or Lyft.
• The grocery store, the bank, and many other errands are within walking distance.
• I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I use BART and MUNI on a regular basis.
• I drive approximately 7000 to 9000 miles per year, although many of those miles were road trips with my wife.
• I can use my wife's car for emergencies.
• For road trips or the occasional times I need a vehicle, my wife and I would rent a car.


1: Would I save money using Lyft, Uber, taxis, public transit, and the occasional rental instead of owning a car? (this question is the most important)
2: Is life without a car feasible, practical, and easy?
3: If I don't own a car, should I keep my insurance for rentals and the occasional times I use my wife's car?
4: What should I know before relying on Uber and Lyft for transportation?

I have owned and relied on cars for the past 30 years. I like cars and I enjoy driving so giving up my car would be a big change for me. Please help me with the arithmetic and share your stories of going carless!
posted by mattdidthat to Travel & Transportation around Berkeley, CA (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't own a car (and don't have one that I can borrow) and manage quite easily. Your wife will need to keep you on her insurance and that will cover you for rentals, etc. Depending on your work, your Lyft etc charges for commuting to client meetings may be tax-deductible. Car2Go is also your friend.

There are times when it is inconvenient AF, but that is FAR outweighed (for me) by the convenience of NOT having a car the rest of the time.

Why not just try it for a period of time, say three to six months? No one will stop you from buying a car if you decide one is right for you.
posted by cyndigo at 9:20 AM on September 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

1: Would I save money using Lyft, Uber, taxis, public transit, and the occasional rental instead of owning a car? (this question is the most important)

You need to use real numbers to answer this. You can probably make good estimates of the taxis and rentals, and then it depends on what you would be buying -- the answer will be different if you are considering buying a used Prius versus a new BMW, for example.

I agree with the suggestion above of giving it a try for a couple of months and then deciding. There are other ways to solve this, too -- I know people who own an old car for local errands, and rent a car for long trips, for example -- so it's not as black and white as car vs no-car.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:22 AM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

1. Yes. You'll be paying a car payment plus insurance (always higher on a newer car) -- that's going to be at least $400 together, probably much more. That's a LOT of Uber and rentals.
2. If you live in a walkable neighborhood and don't commute, and *your wife has a car anyway*, then the answer is yes.
3. No. The insurance follows the vehicle, not the driver. You can purchase insurance when you rent the car, or pay with a credit card that offers rental car insurance as a benefit.
4. The apps are so much better than taxis I don't know how I coped with living in SF without them.

Why don't you give it a shot? As long as you don't turn not having a car into your identity, getting one later isn't going to be a huge problem.
posted by ananci at 9:26 AM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does SF have car sharing services?

The friends we have that are in a similar position use one --- Vrtucar in Ottawa. They seem to think it's a great deal. It gives them flexibility to do the occasional trip or errand that needs a car, it's cheaper and easier than a rental, and cheaper and more flexible than an Uber (which might not want to go to a hiking trail on the outskirts of town for an afternoon for instance).

That's a third option that seems to work for people who only need a car a few times a month.
posted by bonehead at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2016

I think you will definitely save money got from two cars to one, even with the additional Uber and rental situations that will entail.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2016

I just did the math in a similar situation (I walk to work) and ditched my car. I was already in the habit of walking to do errands and I found I was driving maybe twice/month and my car was reaching a point where it required maintenance of some sort every two months. I did the math and found that my fixed costs for the car (insurance, registration, taxes, passing inspections) were about $70/month and in the past year I'd spent another 60/month getting shit fixed. That's plenty of money for rental cars and taxis. A new car would probably cost less in maintenance but more in insurance, taxes and depreciation.

Give it a shot for a couple of months - you can always buy a car later but it's a lot more expensive to deal with a car you didn't actually need.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 9:32 AM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

2: Is life without a car feasible, practical, and easy?

Everyone has a radius - how far they're going to reasonably go in an hour or a day by their chosen mode or modes of transportation. You're in a major metropolitan area. If you can emotionally come to terms with your new radius, you'll do fine.
posted by aniola at 9:39 AM on September 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

I agree with Cyndigo and DipFlash - why not try going car-free for a few months, and then you can decide if you want to make this a permanent lifestyle? You're not signing a car-free contract in your blood, you are just trying out a new lifestyle, and, if car-free doesn't work for you, then get a new car, no harm no foul.

I would suggest trying out the car-free life through winter, if you can. Right now the weather in the Bay Area is gorgeous (yay fall!). You may not be as thrilled to go car-free in the rain.

I was car-free when I lived in San Francisco and later Oakland. It was fine, but it would have been so much easier if Uber and Lyft had existed then. Taxis suck, and are so unreliable that calling one was always a gamble rather than a guaranteed ride. I prefer Lyft, as they treat their drivers better (per drivers I have talked to) and you can leave your driver a tip in the app.

BART works well, as long as your destination is near a station. The only problem is that they stop running at midnight. Some cities offer free shuttles to and from downtown or business parks to BART.

San Francisco also has the option of renting a Zipcar if you really want a car for a weekend getaway or to haul groceries, home supplies, pets to the vet, etc.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:48 AM on September 3, 2016

Especially because you live in San Francisco and will still have one car in the family, going to one car will be super easy. I'm not sure why you would need to rent one for roadtrips if your wife owns a car?
posted by MsMolly at 9:58 AM on September 3, 2016 [13 favorites]

someone else here who works from home and uses his partner's car if absolutely necessary. life is fine.
posted by andrewcooke at 10:09 AM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't think you need one. We are a four person household (two kids) with one car, and both of the adults work outside of the home. For us it is a great deal cheaper to forgo the second car, taking into account insurance and upkeep. When we upgraded to a new car a year and a half ago we kept our old car for about a month and then sold it because it was clear that it would just be a money suck/driveway paperweight most of the time.

There are minor inconveniences, but for us these are mostly related to the kids (two sports events at one time) and are solved through carpooling or public transport or occasional rentals if my partner needs to travel out of town for work. It does require occasional juggling but the cost savings more than make up for it imo.
posted by Cuke at 10:18 AM on September 3, 2016

I live in SF. My wife and I own two cars. I refer to it as "our folly," because while in the Midwest having two practical family cars would be a totally normal thing, it's a giant pain in San Francisco, especially since I have to street park "my" car.

Having a car seems especially bizarre because while my wife commutes in "her" car, I commute on BART to work every day and I have a monthly MUNI pass (with SF BART privileges) for my commute. This is, honestly, a great city to not have a car in. I often joke that our cars are used exclusively to escape from San Francisco, but it's true - I almost never drive it to a destination in the city. I've only put 10,000 miles on it in the past three years.

It costs me about $2500 a year to keep "my" car in San Francisco, after insurance, registration, parking permits, maintenance, gas. It's an inexpensive, reliable sedan. Your parking situation may be way different than mine, where street parking is merely deeply annoying and not impossible like in some areas. Fuel economy and maintenance calculations may also be different.

Another big thing: my car's paid off. But let's say, since this was not the world's most expensive car to buy, that I expect $2500 of depreciation each year (which is higher than what I believe it really is). That's $5000 a year. It costs me less than $100 a week to keep my car in San Francisco, fully-loaded.

How many trips do I take each week that aren't possible or absurdly inconvenient with my MUNI pass? A few - after all, we put between 50-100 miles on "my" car each week. Those are mid-range trips that would cost me $30-$50 each in a Zipcar or Uber due to timing or traffic, and this doesn't take into account weekend road trips. There's no possible way I'd pay less than $100 a week in Zipcar or Uber or rentals given my driving patterns despite the fact that I don't drive very much. This isn't purely academic - we spent a year with one car, and it was neither cheaper or more convenient, and in fact, it was often very frustrating having had been used to having a car at the ready within a few blocks of our place. And so my car stays.

Your math is going to be different, especially surrounding parking if you're in an area where you can't street park or you take trips to places in the city you have to pay for parking (which I generally don't) or you have a fancier, more expensive car than mine and are paying a high monthly on it. The core of it is to get an understanding of how much the car you want will cost you fully-loaded in the city, break it down week by week, and estimate how many trips you'll need to pay for using an alternative service and about how much each of those trips will cost. It can quite legitimately go either way.
posted by eschatfische at 10:22 AM on September 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'd double check that you're explicitly covered as a driver under whatever insurance policy covers your wife's car, but other than that I'd join in with those that say to give it a try for a while and if it's unworkable, you can always get a car later.
posted by Aleyn at 10:26 AM on September 3, 2016

I recently sold my car and didn't replace it. I'm in a similar position to you (work from home, wife has a car) and it's worked out very well for me. I can walk to the store if I need to, and we have access to a second car if we absolutely need two, but I think it's come up twice in the past four or five months. We live in the suburbs, too, so it's not even as convenient as it would be in the city.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:32 AM on September 3, 2016

I was carless for six years, including two after my first child was born. We finally bought a car because trying to transport two kids in winter here would be miserable. I mostly walked or took the bus. In the beginning Enterprise has a $9.99 a day weekend deal and we used that a lot. But I think they figured out that was crazy and it mostly doesn't exist now. Then we did car sharing which is amazing. We spent about $100 a month which basically what we spend on insurance plus registration now. I very much recommend trying it without a car.
posted by betsybetsy at 10:45 AM on September 3, 2016

I went car free something like nine years ago.

You aren't talking about life without a car. You are talking about going from two cars to one. Given your situation, it is a no brainer. Do it.

This means no more car payments, no more insurance, no more gassing up, no more going downtown once a year to deal with tag and title, no more filing and storing insurance, tag and title papers, no more sitting in some horrible waiting room while they change your oil, no more washing the car, maintenancing the car, storing the car, looking for parking.

The longer I live without a car, the more stamina I have for walking wherever the hell I want. I use public transit if necessary.

Some of your assumptions will start changing after you give up your car. You can irder things online these days and change habits that become too inconvenient after the car is gone.

Having a car can be like that story about the guy who needed a cart to carry around all his cart repair supplies.

You won't know how much impact it has on your life unless you try it. It takes time for habits and thinking to adjust to life without a car or, in your case, with one less car.

I have known people who went down to one car temporarily and concluded it absolutely didn't work for them. So, you know, maybe that will be you.

Nthing "just try it for a few months, you can always go back to two cars if it really does not work."
posted by Michele in California at 10:48 AM on September 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

I live in an urban area and gave up owning a car after about 20 years of having one. It was time to replace my existing car and I just didn't. I have very easy access to car shares. I belong to two, one where you book a car and put it back where you got it and Car2Go, which allows one way trips. I also have easy access to public transit. The car shares cover insurance and is considered being an insured driver for insurance history. For the occasional rental, I have a premium credit card that covers rental cars.

I know how much my car used to cost in terms of depreciation, parking, insurance, maintenance and gas because I tracked that very carefully. In my case, that was CA$600/month. My car share usage is never close to that (max has been CA$300 in one month). You probably want to do a flat out comparison. Go without the car for a bit and see what you end up spending.
posted by TORunner at 10:49 AM on September 3, 2016

I lived in the SF Bay Area (lived in Berkeley, worked in SF, dated someone living in Redwood City) for nearly 15 years in a 1-car household. I never drove it, and my roommate rarely drove it--mostly for the occasional Costco run or road trip. I relied on my feet and public transit and it was great. It got even more great when Uber and Lyft arrived, and extra great when I got a bike. There are good transit options for even farther-out trips like Sonoma, Davis, Sacramento, etc.

I now live on my own in downtown Denver, with no access to a car at all, and it's still great. I can walk or bike pretty much everywhere, take local buses or trains when I'm not feeling up for the walk/bike or I want to go a little farther, and there are regional buses and trains for when I want to get out of town.

  • When you're first starting out doing this, always give yourself a ridiculous amount of extra time to get where you're going. You'll soon start learning how much time you should actually give yourself, but it's going to take a few trips for you to learn the best routes and tips-n-tricks.
  • Get a Clipper card, learn how it works for the transit agencies you'll use most often, and load it appropriately. Be sure to set up autoload.
  • Install all the transit apps on your smartphone. All of them.
  • Depending on where you live, the ferry or the transbay bus may occasionally be useful for you. They're both awesome, don't discount them when planning trips that involve crossing the Bay.
  • If you don't have to be somewhere by a very specific time, Uber Pool and Lyft Line (the carpooling versions) will save you lots of $. Never, ever use them if you have to be somewhere at a set time--just use the regular Uber/Lyft.
  • You may also want to consider getting a bike, but you'll be just fine without one, too.
Definitely try it! Give yourself at least three months, if not more, to find and develop a routine that works for you. Feel free to MeMail me if you have specific questions about getting from Point A to Point B in the Bay Area.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:18 AM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have never owned a car and do not have a driver's license. I have lived in several cities, some with public transit not as good as SF's. (I haven't lived in SF, though.) I do 99% of my travel by public transit or on foot. It is absolutely possible. I do not miss having a car; car people often talk about needing to drive in situations that I wouldn't ever consider taking a taxi for. It'll be an adjustment to the non-car-person's view of life and transit, but once you get there, yes: it is feasible, practical, and easy.
posted by snorkmaiden at 11:20 AM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Can I ask why you and your wife would need to rent a car for road trips instead of just using hers? Renting a car can get very expensive.
posted by teponaztli at 11:52 AM on September 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another Bay Area resident here; I sold my car about 6 months ago and it's one of the best decisions I've made. I use my boyfriend's car occasionally on the weekends when I need to go somewhere, but other than that use a combination of Lyft, Uber, bicycle, BART, MUNI buses, and walking to get around. If you live close to where you run most of your errands and don't commute via car, there's very little reason not to become a 1 car family.

It's definitely cheaper than keeping a car, and more importantly it saves me a bunch of time - I don't need to move my car twice a week for street cleaning, no worrying about where to put it when I go out of town, no need to deal with maintenance, smog, and registration periodically. Adding myself to my boyfriend's car insurance was around $30/year.
posted by asphericalcow at 12:11 PM on September 3, 2016

1: Absolutely. The number of rides you're looking at paying for in a month wouldn't even approach the monthly cost of car insurance.
2: Yup. It's a no-brainer.
3: No. See #1.
4: Add a car sharing membership like City Carshare, Zipcar, or Flexcar and you're golden.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:49 PM on September 3, 2016

I would go from two to one cars in a New York minute if I lived in San Francisco. My wife and I lived in Paris and Berlin at various points and got by very easily without a car; we occasionally rented one if necessary. Now we live in rural New England, with a three-mile (one-way) commute to work (same workplace), and grocery stores about 2.5-3.5 miles away. We got by with one car and bicycles for five years. We just got a second car because my work responsibilities have changed and my hours will be less flexible, but were it not for that, we would still be a one-car family. And there's no convenient public transit for us; if that existed, we wouldn't have needed a second car.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:16 PM on September 3, 2016

Insurance companies also may offer options for driver insurance even without a car. I remember getting a quote for it once, so it's worth looking into.

N-thing the recommendation to give it a try.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 1:19 PM on September 3, 2016

I can't speak to cost, but I've never owned a car, though I do drive. I live in a large city and cycle or walk most places, with public transit when I'm lazy/it's snowing/I've pulled a hamstring and can't cycle (or whatever). I'm a member of Zipcar, but usually borrow either my mother's car or a friend's car or truck if I really need independent transit. So far this year I've needed a car...twice, that I can remember. I get a lot of stuff delivered (including groceries!), and generally have found that my life is markedly improved by not having to deal with the expense and trouble of a car.

I really like driving, and like it a helluva lot more than Philadelphia's public transit system, but bottom line is that it's vastly cheaper for me to use any other form of transportation, and I have never missed having a car at my disposal.
posted by kalimac at 1:33 PM on September 3, 2016

The Living Car Free forum on Bike Forums can be helpful.
posted by BobtheThief at 2:29 PM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Go for a few months without and see how it is. When I moved back to Seattle without a car, I decided to wait a few months before buying one. Personally, I found that relying on car2go/uber/transit was kind of a pain, and I was spending almost as much (sometimes more!) per month on those services as I would having a car. So I bought a car. I really, really appreciate the flexibility (i.e., not having to worry if there's a car2go nearby or if I just missed the bus that only runs every 20 minutes), and if I'm going to spend the money, I'd rather have my own car. But you may find that you don't use those services much, and maybe you don't actually need a car that much. Most of the people I know who are happily car-free and don't live somewhere like NYC do have a partner with a car, so they don't have to rely on car2go/uber/transit for emergencies/big errands/day trips.
posted by lunasol at 2:43 PM on September 3, 2016

Oh, one big difference between having a car and using a mix of different services is that the costs and the hassles with owning a car are somewhat fixed (barring accidents/big repairs), while those are variable without. This has pluses and minuses. It's nice to have flexibility in your budget, but it also means making decisions about expenditures a lot more, which some people find stressful. I'm one of those people! So for me, it's nice to know what I'm going to be spending each month on transportation (including budgeting for repairs) and then not have to make a financial decision every time I want to run an errand outside my neighborhood. But some people don't find that stressful or will feel more comfortable knowing their budget is flexible. Really depends on your personality.
posted by lunasol at 2:50 PM on September 3, 2016

Absolutely you don't need a car. I've never had one. I live in a way less public transport friendly area and I do just fine. Just takes a little planning ahead (more for me than it would for you). I don't drive at all so I never hire one, just the occasional taxi.
posted by kitten magic at 3:16 PM on September 3, 2016

I live in the east bay and haven't owned a car until recently (like, a few weeks ago). Lived in Oakland for about 9 years without one.

It is totally doable, and yes it is a LOT cheaper. Here is what I did:
  • Clipper card - for transit
  • Zipcar - for when I did need a car
  • Rent-A-Relic on Telegraph Ave - cheapest car by the day/week car rental I could find in the area - great for road trips or extended car needs, local company
  • Uber/Lyft - getting to clients offices / rain / whatever
  • BIKE - if you don't already do this, just go out and buy a nice one with racks and bags to get around town. For where we live there is no excuse not to, I use my bike for like 90% of my trips around the neighborhood or town. Never look for parking again.
  • Delivery services - amazing how many shopping trips you can just completely rid your life of. Amazon Prime for most stuff and Instacart for groceries.
Really I'm like the opposite of you because I hate driving and have no interest in cars themselves so I would basically rather bike or take BART over any other way of getting around. I only bought a car for work-related reasons (I was renting cargo vans a few times a month via Zipcar) which tipped the math in favor of owning one. And it's really amazing how much mental space owning a car occupies: parking, meters, street sweeping, gas, fees, etc. and for all this trouble I really don't know what to do with it honestly. I'm still biking around my neighborhood and taking the train and catching a Lyft home from the bar.

The whole time I didn't have a car people I worked with or whatever were completely baffled by how I got around but really it is not hard at all... just a different set of habits, ability to use a few apps and read a map. There are so many options now it is pretty easy.

I agree winter here will be the test. I use Uber/Lyft a lot more in the winter and only rarely the rest of the year. One thing to consider is do you have the appropriate clothing, shoes, etc. to make it through a rainy day - something a lot of drivers never consider.
posted by bradbane at 3:51 PM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a little confused about why you couldn't use your wife's car for non-emergencies as well as emergencies, and for road trips. My husband and I have always had one car, it's just our car, even though he uses it to commute to work while I commute on the train. We live in Salem, MA, so we walk for local stuff, I take the train to work, we drive into Boston for fun stuff when the train schedule is inconvenient. We both use the car for various errands and whatnot on weekends, when my husband works some Saturdays I drop him off and pick up, and then I can use the car during the day. I have had a Zipcar membership for over a decade, from our pre-car days, and I still use Zipcars once in a while when I need a car and our car is with my husband. I use Uber and cabs once in a while, too. We have a kid and in the past year since he started school there have definitely been a bunch of times when having a second car would have made life easier, but it is way cheaper to only have one.

We split costs for the car in as equitable a fashion as we can without actually keeping track of numbers. It's just our car, it doesn't really matter who uses it most (the loan is in my husband's name, but I don't think it's ever occurred to either of us that it's "his" car).
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:38 AM on September 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I lived for ten years in San Francisco without a car; it's easy there (and this was long ago; I'm sure it's even better now). Questioner says "Bay Area" though -- and my answer somewhat depends on exactly where. In the described circumstance (and it sounds like Berkeley/Oakland), it would likely work just fine imo.
posted by lathrop at 11:40 AM on September 4, 2016

posted by rhiannonstone I lived in the SF Bay Area (lived in Berkeley, worked in SF, dated someone living in Redwood City)...Install all the transit apps on your smartphone. All of them.

posted by lathrop my answer somewhat depends on exactly where. In the described circumstance (and it sounds like Berkeley/Oakland), it would likely work just fine imo.

Yes, I live in Berkeley, so please recommend the appropriate apps!

Thank you all for your great answers, tips, recommendations, stories, and encouragement! Please keep 'em coming!
posted by mattdidthat at 1:22 PM on September 4, 2016

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