We just celebrated our 1-year anniversary as a 1-car family. We sold our little Honda Civic a year ago, and we replaced it with a good bike rack for our family car.
It’s something we had been discussing for awhile. The Hippie Husband took to biking like you wouldn’t believe – he almost never uses the car by himself anymore. We purchased a new car at the end of 2011 to accommodate car seats and the occasional extra kid during carpools and play time. We could all squeeze into the Civic when we had to, but once we had the bigger car, we never needed to do so. We knew that we weren’t using our second car all that often, but we were hesitant to make the jump to sell it. We got a little push at the end of Summer 2012. The night before I went in for surgery, my husband went to move the car and found that it wouldn’t start. It was not a huge priority at the time – I wouldn’t be able to drive for about a month, and HH was way too busy taking care of the kids and me to deal with car repairs. So the car sat on our driveway. For a long time. We found that we didn’t miss it. The repair was inexpensive, so we fixed it and let folks know we were thinking of selling the car. Our goal was to get rid of the second car “soon,” but with no timetable or real plans to actually make it happen.
I’m a data nerd. I love having empirical evidence when I’m making a decision. So, I put a little notebook in our second car. We made a note whenever someone used the car with the following information: a) Who was riding in the car b) Where they went c) What was happening with our main car during this trip. I planned on collecting this data for a year so that we had solid details about our vehicle usage during all seasons before making the decision. Starting at the end of summer, we were able to really see how much winter use the car got, which was a key for me, since I’m not an all-weather cyclist. We called off the test a few months early – by the end of March, it was clear that we had barely used the car during the previous winter. It was time to dig all of the cheerios and melted crayons out of the car so we could sell it.
We sold our little old car at Carmax because it was easier than getting it show-worthy and then dealing with strangers doing test-drives and worrying about getting sued if the car died a few weeks later. We got a little less money for it that way, but the trade-off was worth it for me. The amount we got for it paid for a new bike rack and trailer hitch.* It would have paid for a new adult bike and bike trailer, too, but we already had those items. So, selling the remnant of our more vehicular lifestyle gave us enough money to purchase what is needed for our one-car lifestyle.
Since selling the car, there have been a handful of occasions when we could really have used the extra vehicle. However, there is always a workaround – catch a ride with someone, hop on a bus, call a cab, or rent a car. Since it happens so rarely, the hassle and expense of calling a cab or renting a car are more than outweighed by the benefits of getting rid of the extra vehicle. There are so many benefits!
- Cost savings: Gas, maintenance, Insurance. Our car was paid off, but if yours isn’t, that’s another bit of $$ in your pocket.
- More family time: We used to take two cars to the same place far too often. Now we are together more often in the car. Biking and walking also mean that the kids are not reading a book or playing with a toy in the backseat while we drive – I wouldn’t trade bike rides with Little Hippie for anything.
- More exercise: This is true for the Hippie Husband all the time because he is a year-round cyclist. For the rest of us, this is more true in the warmer months. The more places you reach by bike or walking, the more donuts you get to eat once you reach those places.
- Moral superiority. Being a one-car family really ups the hippie cred. Carbon footprints are whack.
I get that most people can’t make this leap immediately. There are a lot of reasons that it is easier for us to be a one-car family: nearby schools, bikes that we love, a bike trailer loaned to us by some very generous friends, local stores and services, and jobs that are mostly done with telecommuting. Over the past 5 years, we gradually made a few lifestyle changes that enabled this because it was important to us. And we are also very lucky.
Even if you can’t make the jump to selling a car and replacing it with bikes, there are several steps that were part of this process that anyone can take to reduce their driving expenses and footprint. Get more efficient with your errands. Do you know how many times I used to drive to Target and grocery stores in one week? It was a shameful number. It was so easy to just run out to grab that one ingredient or that package of toilet paper we didn’t realize we needed. This also meant that we spent more with impulse purchases, in addition to gas and mileage. Insane. Being more organized really cut down on how much we needed to drive. Here are a few ideas:
- Plan shopping lists better. Have a detailed meal plan, and double-check the grocery lists before heading to the store.
- Stock up. The farther away the destination, the fewer times you should be driving there. If what you’re buying isn’t perishable, get a few extra now.
- Group nearby errands. When you are driving somewhere, think of all of the places nearby that might need a visit.
- Carpool and/or share errands. Sharing errands just means checking to see whether your friends/neighbors are going to the same places, especially if those places are far away. If so, can you take turns? Speaking of which – does anybody need something from Trader Joe’s? We’re thinking of making the trek soon.
- Combine activities. Can you schedule swim lessons or sports activities or book clubs at the same time or back-to-back so that you can kill two birds with one stone?
- Better yet, cut back on activities requiring a car. This usually saves money, too. Right now is a great time to evaluate exercise-related trips and expenditures. Run outside. Plant a garden. Hop on a bike. Play basketball or hide-and-go-seek tag.
One year in, and we are loving the one-car lifestyle. Wanna join us?
*I can’t say enough nice things about etrailer.com. The website is so helpful. You can tell it what kind of car you drive, and it will tell you all of the racks and accessories that are compatible with your vehicle. Most racks have a video, created by the staff at etrailer.com, that shows how the rack is installed and used. The user ratings are also extraordinarily helpful. In addition, this site had excellent customer service. I emailed them with a link to another site that was advertising a lower price for the rack I had purchased. Etrailer.com immediately refunded the difference to my credit card.