2 cars - 1 car = 1 car
June 12, 2019 11:27 AM   Subscribe

I’m pondering life without a car.

The kids are out of the house, my wife has a career job that she enjoys, I’m retired. We are financially comfortable and live in Austin, Texas. My wife has a new-ish car that she uses to commute to work. I have a 20yo car that I rarely drive anymore, and it becomes more finicky with each passing year. I find I’m quite happy at home working on misc projects, cooking, taking daily showers, and so forth.

I’d like to hear from other people who have personal experience in downsizing (or seriously considering downsizing) to a one-car household. Are you happy you did it? Any unexpected problems or triumphs?

Stuff I’m wondering about:

- Budgeting $N / month for a Lyft or Uber for rare occasions when I need to go across town. Is this realistic?

- Just thinking about riding a bicycle in North Austin gives me the galloping heebie-jeebies. But a low-cost powered scooter of some kind might work for a quick run to the grocery store.

- Public transportation around here is not easy to use.

- Resisting the urge to say “screw it” and just buy a Corvette.

Thank you.
posted by doctor tough love to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How long have you been retired? How often do you use the car during the day? Maybe track your use over a period of time, and then decide? Maybe you'll notice a pattern of use (ie every second Thursday, lunch with John, 20 minute drive each way).

There's no reason why you couldn't sell, and then if it doesn't work out, buy something that would make you happy.
posted by Ftsqg at 11:36 AM on June 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

My household went from one rarely-used car to none early last year. (It kinda got towed away and we didn't notice for a few weeks. Probably a good sign that we didn't really need it.)

I don't live in a downtown city sort of area, but do have a fairly walkable neighborhood with a decent number of grocery stores, restaurants, retail, and other amenities within a mile walk or bike ride, along with adequate-but-not-amazing transit. We bike most places we don't walk, often combining longer trips with transit. It's all pretty doable, but we did choose where we lived based on that, making a pretty good tradeoff on price versus convenience to amenities and current and potential employers. It's saved us a lot of money.

I'd second tracking your car use now, and consider trying to make some trips (especially the shorter ones) by means other than driving, even though you have a car. (There's no reason you have to use a car for every trip even if it's available.) Try Smart Trips Austin for some guidance on local options.

The other thing I'd suggest doing right now while you're figuring it all out is to check on your options for car sharing services. Austin appears to be served to some degree by Car2Go and Zipcar. More flexible than app-taxi services for most of the running-inconvenient-errands needs you'd be likely to want a car for, and doesn't require people to drive in circles for hours (or just kinda hang out in a perpetually idling car in a random lot somewhere) on the off chance someone might want to be chauffeured.

And oh yeah, if biking and walking don't seem like good options because y'all don't have decent safe infrastructure, please consider devoting a bit of time to pestering your city and state governments to fix that. Same for public transit; it doesn't have to be terrible forever. Ask! This will all make life easier when driving a car is no longer an option, something that'll come for each of us, should we be so lucky as to live past our ability to drive a car safely.
posted by asperity at 11:48 AM on June 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

I've lived happily in a one-car household for two people and a no-car household. It's a great choice for the environment and health (I walk *way* more without a car on hand). My retired parents have lived without a car by choice for more than a decade. I like the suggestion of tracking your use now (and thinking about how that could change if there are errands you could do with your wife or on the weekend, etc). What are you concerned about with a bike? Check out an electric bike if you haven't yet- they're fun to ride and make it easier to deal with traffic.
posted by pinochiette at 11:50 AM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm in Chicago (read public transit friendly) and were a one car household. We generally do car chores together (bulk shopping, etc) so that's never been an issue for us.

It's absolutely realistic to budget for taxi or figuring out an alternate work commute (if that's cheeper or realistic) for the times that stuff needs to get done.

Watch your habits or think about them for a month or two and price it what it would cost versus to have a second car then make a decision.

You can challenge yourself now to live like your car isn't available, and just see how it goes. If you hate it, your car is just right there.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:51 AM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Does your neighborhood have any carsharing options (that is, hourly rentals, such as Zipcar or Car2Go)?

One thing to consider: When you have to pay for something, you're likely going to use it less. Let's say you use your car 2 hours a week, or 100 hours a year, and the total cost is $2000. That's $20/hour. You might figure out that using Uber or Zipcar for the same amount of transportation would cost $1000 a year. But when you are actually considering whether to spend that $30 for an outing, you might not, which could leave you more isolated than you want.

But yes, if you're on the edge of getting a new car anyway, trying to live without a car for a few weeks or months seems like a no-brainer.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:54 AM on June 12, 2019 [8 favorites]

I work from home and when my car needed more repairs than I wanted to pay for, I sold it. My wife's got the car most days, and I need to plan ahead a little for things like doctor's appointments and haircuts, but honestly I only miss it once or twice a month, if that. It's even easier if your wife's job is 9-5, because you can just drop off/pick up on days you need the car in the middle. And it can totally be a trial thing - you can sell your old car and see how it goes for a month, then look into scooters/another car as necessary.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:05 PM on June 12, 2019 [7 favorites]

We went 2->1 a few years ago.

We're middle aged with no kids, and live in what I'd call a rural burb; no public transit to speak of, and far enough spread out that biking isn't an easy or feasible mode of transport. Mr. Dash works at home, remotely. I work 6 miles away. His car sat in the driveway for a while (like two years), then we gave it to a neighbor for the teenager.

It's really been easy. Mr. Dash isn't motivated to leave the house anyway, he is pretty nose-down during the day. I'm close to home, but we haven't actually used that fact much. I have colleagues who are also close who I can catch rides with as needed (we all use the same auto shop that is in between my home & work, so we give each other rides a lot for oil changes and stuff already). My schedule is also fairly flexible (academic), so I can easily be late if Mr. Dash has to dentist. He has Lyft-ed to meet me at a restaurant after work maybe twice in the last year.

For us one less car was one less thing to worry about maintaining and insuring and wondering whether it was driveable at any given point anyway.
posted by Dashy at 12:06 PM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

We are a one-car household. (Well, technically we have a 2nd car for another month, but then it's going to my sister, so this is a temporary situation.)

While we were in Chicago, this was a no-brainer. Mr. Meat drove the car to work every day, and I took public transit as needed.

Now we're in St. Louis, and the public transit isn't as good. Mr. Meat bicycles to work most days, and if there's a day of horrible weather, either he'll take the car, or I'll drive him to work so I can have the car. I try to plan most of my "need the car" errands for a single day in the week. I am mostly a homemaker. What makes this work is that I can walk to the gym, the park, the grocery store, etc. I can't walk to all my friends' houses, but I can walk to some. I will say the days that he takes the car, especially in the winter, I occasionally feel "trapped" at home.

We have done the math many times, and it doesn't make financial sense for us to have a second car. The occasional uber is much cheaper than insurance/maintenance.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:07 PM on June 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've done this, and it worked out fine. In fact, I'm presently living in Silicon Valley and still don't bother with a car (!!!). I don't miss it at all; I actively hate driving (although I can), and I frankly despise having to deal with the various intricacies of internal combustion engines, so perhaps I'm more motivated than you.

Now, I also happen to live in a spot where I can reach three groceries, Home Depot, and a Target within a twenty minute walk (one way, 40min round trip), so your situation may be different.

Specific adaptations:
1) Uber/Lyft budget for sure (possibly based on your TCO for the car?)
2) I've had to rent a truck from HD to carry some large sheet goods home. NBD, aside from me hating every second behind the wheel.
3) just about everything in the world can be delivered to your doorstep (and in fact I should have just had those sheet goods delivered, but I wanted to put the ceiling up that same day)
4) I enjoy walking, so doing a 2hr roundtrip for an errand doesn't bug me unless it's hideously hot (in which case see #1 above)

Cars suck, definitely see if you can live without one! Give it a try for a month, at least. No cheating, however, or you won't have a real assessment of the situation.
posted by aramaic at 12:09 PM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

What does your wife think about the idea? If you start to wait on chores that are easier with a car, she may resent it.

Nthing Zipcar and the like. If you find that you end up renting regular cars a few times a year, I'd recommend getting a Costco membership. Their car rental rates are the lowest I've found and the discounts will pay for the membership.

Budgeting $N / month for a Lyft or Uber for rare occasions when I need to go across town. Is this realistic?

It's what most of the single car couples I know do - a certain amount off the budget is set aside for transit, with the focus of simplifying life rather than trying to save money by eliminating a car.
posted by Candleman at 12:13 PM on June 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

We went from two cars to one car on January 1st, when Herr Duck's old car crapped out on us. We'd been talking about going from two cars to one, and even though we were kind of thrown into a one-car situation we were kind of prepared.

Our stats: two adults, we live in the Twin Cities (good public transit, bad winters), we're both fair-weather bikers. We live within walking distance of almost everything we need - with the glaring exception of a grocery store. Our city is working on that!

We already have a budget line for transit, but it's mainly used for bus fare. We decided to "be prudent" in terms of using Lyft the first year to see how much we really use it. It turns out that we have only used Lyft once, and that was due to poor planning on our part. Once we have a full year under our belts we're going to adjust the transit budget line. Lucky/unlucky for us, we went to one-car on New Years Day so we have a nice, neat one-year mark to look for.

We are fair weather bikers. Herr Duck bikes to work 6 miles each way, including lots of late-night rides home. I highly recommend getting proper lights and a reflective vest if you're going that route. I work at different locations between 2-6 miles from the house. I have a friend who has an e-bike and she LOVES it. They're not cheap, but they're definitely cheaper than a car. And seeing as you're in Austin, you'd be able to use it the vast majority of the year versus the 6 snow-free months here.

We do rely a lot on public transport. We're lucky that we live right near a major arterial bus route and my job provides a big discount on bus fare that we both use.

We have a weekly white-board calendar that has both of our schedules on it. Since the beginning of the year, we also have a blue marker that we use to put a * next to schedule items that require the use of the car. That way it's easy to see who needs the car when. We do a lot of combined trips (he'll drop me off at the gym and go to Target, etc).

Our current big issue is that the bike rack - which used to be on his car - is now on our shared car. When the bike rack is on, we can't open the hatchback and we can't use the car for hauling loads of stuff around. The bike rack is difficult to remove. Anyway, we need to work on being clear about when we need to not only use the car, but use it for hauling bikes vs. hauling garden stuff. I guess the moral here is "communicate". We also have had to borrow a friends truck for hauling some large stuff around, but neither of our old cars would have fit the piles of wood anyway so we would have had to borrow a car regardless.

I say give the one-car thing a try for, say, six months. If you're in agony six months on, then consider whether or not you need a second car.
posted by Gray Duck at 12:13 PM on June 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

"You can challenge yourself now to live like your car isn't available, and just see how it goes. If you hate it, your car is just right there."

This is the answer. I've done the 2-to-1 thing before, and I could tell you about it, but firsthand experience is always better.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:13 PM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

If I stayed in Austin I’d have gotten a nice E-bike: you can get them about as powerful as scooters and with as much functionality, but you’re allowed to use bike lanes (and can get away with riding just about anywhere). Austin sucks for biking but ebikes are generally safer.
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:19 PM on June 12, 2019

We have one car, but our city is different enough from yours that I don't think there's much comparison. I wanted to mention though, maybe once a year I end up renting a car for a day because there's just no other way to make logistics work, and it's way cheaper than using taxis for the same trips I'd be making. Our regular car insurance automatically covers rentals and was happy to provide documentation, which you'd want to confirm because that's where they get you.
posted by teremala at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was married for 20 years and we never had more than one car. This was in an era/ area where taxis and Lyft weren't really available, and where we had long winters. And it was fine.

However, you don't need to figure everything out in advance or make a final decision. Just try it out for a few months! If you don't like it, then you can buy a car again.
posted by metasarah at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Who goes grocery shopping? Unless she likes it, make sure it does not become your wife's primary chore just because she has the car most weekdays. This is true of most car errands, but groceries is the most annoying one to do without a car. You can also drop your wife off on a car-centric day and then pick her up from work.
posted by soelo at 1:53 PM on June 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

I am from San Antonio. The thought of waiting for an uber outside in the summer, even for 3 minutes, freaks me out. When I visit my hometown in the summer, I am essentially housebound except for very important missions. Consider it well!!
posted by 8603 at 4:00 PM on June 12, 2019

Unless you think you'll frequently need the car last minute, then if there's a time where you think you'll need the car and your wife is going to be at work, you could just arrange to drive her there and pick her up. Then you're free to use the car all day. Depends on her commute time, and your wife might not want to do it regularly (as someone who can't drive at all, trying to time pick ups for minimum waiting around rarely works and is pretty annoying when you have to do it daily), but that's another solution that doesn't require an Uber.

For perspective, I'm a full-time graduate student and my partner is unemployed; we have one car, and they drive me everywhere, and it works fine. You're in an even better position because your wife can drive herself when she wants.
posted by brook horse at 4:17 PM on June 12, 2019

We went from 2 cars to 1 car. I maintained a VW transporter for over 20 years but keeping up two vehicles was eventually not worth the expenditure. Having said that, I definitely miss the extra utility of the camper for big loads, long trips, and vacations but maintaining an older vehicle for that with no air bags lost its luster.

Our Volvo station wagon does 95% of all our transport needs, but sadly the car camp road trip is no longer an option. Likewise, the pop-top sleep in the bus option. I borrow a truck when I have a big project to transport.

I bike commute 4 miles each way and have an electrified cargo bike. It works great, though I admit in the deepest winter months I'm using the bus. I live in a bike and bus friendly town so that's a real bonus. I use the car once or twice per week to do grocery or other shopping.

I'm a dedicated bike person so this is also a bonus. I have more money by supporting less cars, enjoy the challenges of riding and am willing to deal with traffic and occasional interactions with cars that are less than completely safe. It's my choice and I have a lot of riding experience so am professionally paranoid on my commute.

All in all it's a big win for us. I can focus my energy on taking care of one car and one bike and that works pretty well overall.
posted by diode at 4:47 PM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Having spent many years in Austin without a car I say: If you can afford a corvette without penalizing your future finances I say buy the corvette.
posted by nikaspark at 4:55 PM on June 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I live in Austin. When my wife and I merged households, we got rid of one car and my wife got a scooter (like a Vespa, not like those kid's toys) and started commuting to work on that. I worked at home up until recently, and we could get through the week using our car only once or twice.

I've been working an office job lately, and commuting by bike. We've been using our car more than usual for the past couple of months due to exigent circumstances, so sometimes I drive her to work, sometimes she drives me. We haven't really felt pressure to get a second car.
posted by adamrice at 6:23 PM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Buy a used Nissan Leaf and enjoy carefree errands around town with near-zero maintenance.

The residual value of a 2012 Nissan Leaf is at most about $3000. It will have a range of about 50 miles. There is no internal combustion engine and so super easy maintenance. We love ours.
posted by dum spiro spero at 7:44 PM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’ve lived with no car or sharing a car for much of my life. In LA I shared a car with my live in boyfriend because we couldn’t afford two. It meant one of us had to drop the other off at work and pick them up. If the other wanted to go out, one would have to get a ride. This was before Uber & Lyft but we never took taxis. We were in our 20s though, I’m sure it would be different now.

It was only bad for me when I was working freelance from home. We lived at the top of a steep hill and I felt trapped. I could walk down but walking up was a real hike. I felt I had all of this free time but no freedom. It sucked and I was lonely and depressed. I don’t even think I’d have used a car that much, but not having it made me feel isolated.

It’s not the access to a car so much as the situation. I have also lived alone with no car and it was fine, I lived in urban areas with lots of public transport. My husband and I now live in London with no car. We aren’t that unusual here, we get heavy items delivered and buy only as many groceries as we can carry home.
posted by pazazygeek at 12:08 AM on June 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have not owned a car since 2002. I love not owning a car. To be fair, I lived in the Bay Area for 8 of the post-car years, and that area has fairly good public transit. Plus I love riding a bike (a fact I did not actually learn about myself until after I got rid of the car and impulsively bought a cheap yard-sale bike).

If I lived someplace as hot as Austin, I don’t know what choice I would make. It is possible I would break down and buy the second car if public transit sucked. One minus to a second car is that it encourages more driving. And usually when a person drives, the person is contributing to global warming and pollution that literally causes cancer. Note: I am not trying to derail responses; the environmental cost of driving was one but only one of the reasons I got rid of my car.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:56 AM on June 13, 2019

Ooh, turns out there is a business in Austin called Uptown Exotics that will rent you a Corvette, a BMW, a Rolls-Royce, or another sporty or luxury vehicle. If you like, you can give up that second car and still zoom around in something flashy from time to time.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:04 AM on June 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have been car free in Austin for upwards of ten years. I definitely agree with you on the 'biking in North Austin' even as someone who...well, lives their life biking in North Austin, but in my mind scooters aren't that much better in terms of safety - they're like motorcycles without the power to get you out of a pinch. Someone upthread suggested an e-bike, and I'd definitely second that notion. Just a little power boost can make the entire experience of summer biking in Texas surprisingly pleasant. The JUMP bikes are everywhere these days, so you can even try one out and see if you like it before you make the plunge.

I do regularly use Car2Go (regular ridesharing is more than my little introvert heart can take). It's VERY convenient for when I need to pick something up or get places in a hurry in Central Austin, but unless you live right by Crestview or the Domain, it's very limited in North Austin.
posted by theweasel at 7:59 AM on June 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you! Many of you offered helpful, insightful ideas and observations, and I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to answer. Just a few comments, if anyone cares:

The point about chores and shopping and just generally keeping Mrs Tough Love happy is well-taken. The only real point of contention was over Uptown Exotics: I think it’s a wonderful idea! Mrs Tough Love: not so much :(

Chauffeuring my wife to work and back probably works for some people, but it won’t work for us.

Those who mentioned the weather make a very good point. But I’m going to try to tough it out. I may fail.

I feel sorta dumb that I’d never heard of Car2Go or Zipcar, but they may be viable options - they seem mostly clustered downtown, but I live near The Domain and ACC, so theoretically I might be able to schedule a vehicle pickup there.

Mostly, I really appreciated hearing from so many people that downsizing to a single vehicle can work!
posted by doctor tough love at 8:42 AM on June 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

« Older How to successfully manage a preteen's screen time...   |   On rereading. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.