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5 Things We Love About Being A One-Car Family

in Joan's Posts, Money Basics, Pay Off Your Debt, Rants, Travel

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan here.

Meet our automotive pride and joy – our fully-paid-for, 111,000-plus-miles, has-even-gone-offroading 2003 Ford Taurus SES.

This car is a beast. And, for the past six years (as of this past Sunday), it’s been put to the test – because it’s been our only vehicle.

In early 2004, I’d bought the Taurus for something like $13,000. When I got it, it was “almost new,” never having been titled and driven only as part of a fleet of cars leased to the dealership’s employees.

That car, by the way, marks THE biggest spur-of-the-moment purchase I’ve ever made; my mom was in the market for a new car, and I’d gone to the dealership with her to help her weigh the options.

She found a sage green 2003 Taurus that she loved… and when I test-drove it too, I realized how awesome it was when compared with the not-yet-paid-for-but-always-broken-down 1996 Dodge Stratus I’d been driving.

So I bought a matching one in red, rolling over my old car note and trading in the Stratus, which was in the running to need a LOT of work. Probably not the world’s sharpest financial decision, but at the time, as a single parent, I really needed and wanted a reliable vehicle.

Fast-forward a little; when we got married in May 2005, Chris had a two-door 1999 Ford Escort. He’d bought it several years earlier, and by the fall of 2005, we’d paid off that car loan and it was ours free and clear. The payments continued on the Taurus, to the tune of $250 a month.

With Sarah still in a booster seat, it was a LOT easier to take “my car” almost everywhere we went as a family. The Escort was used here and there… but not much.

Making the decision

In early 2006, the newspaper where Chris and I both worked full-time relocated its offices… to a half-mile from our home, through two blocks of residential neighborhood.

Suddenly, the infrequently-used Escort became the really infrequently-used Escort. At the same time, we started to get pretty serious about paying off our debt.

And we started asking ourselves: Could we be a one-car family?

We thought about all sorts of factors – positives and negatives. We were “side hustling” even back then, so there were places I, especially, needed to go besides the super-close newspaper office.

On the good side, we hadn’t merged our insurance policies quite yet, so this would help us simplify by dropping Chris’s auto insurance. And, of course, there was the bonus of a one-time influx of cash.

I do have to add one caveat here. My mother lives with us, and she has her car, the green 2003 Taurus I mentioned above. But Mom works and goes out with friends and to church and many other places, so her car is pretty much “busy.”

Very occasionally, I’ll take Mom’s car somewhere, or she’ll take ours, but in reality, we only have crossover when one car is in the shop, and then the three of us draw from the other car.

That said, knowing we had that backup became kind of a security blanket to help make the decision.

We also realized pretty quickly that even if we rented a spare car for the occasional times when we really needed it, that would cost FAR less than the maintenance, insurance and other costs that would come from us keeping Chris’s Escort.

So we sold the Escort for $2,300 on May 6, 2006, after placing an ad on Craigslist as well as in the newspaper classifieds. We asked well below Kelley Blue Book value in order to move quickly, and it paid off: We received dozens of calls, and the first “looker” became our in-cash buyer.

That money quickly went toward debt repayment, and within another year and a half (in the fall of 2007), we were enough ahead of the game to pay off the Taurus almost a year and a half early.

That baby is all ours.

Moving forward, we’ve committed to one big goal: We’ll never have a car payment again. We will drive this sucker into the ground, and whatever we can afford at that time – that’s what we’ll get as a replacement.

If that’s a $500 rustbucket, well, it’s lucky we pay for AAA. If that’s a $10,000 late-model used car, great. But either way, we will not take on a monthly payment for a vehicle.

The good parts

In six years of sharing a car with my husband, we’ve found an awful lot of pluses.

1. No car payments.

We have one car, fully paid off. If we’d kept the Escort, I’m not sure it’d still be drivable, and if we were committed to replacing it, we’d probably still have a payment on its successor.

2. Reduced insurance costs.

Since the Taurus is only titled in my name, Chris doesn’t even much “count” toward the insurance cost. We pay my mom’s car insurance as well, and for the three of us on both Tauruses, we pay $71.14 a month. Before, Chris paid that much alone, and Mom and I paid even more (through our former company!)

3. More consciousness about our driving habits.

You don’t tend to drive like a maniac in your vehicle when it’s the only one you have. (Or, at least, Chris and I don’t.) And since we know that errands aren’t just a “go whenever” proposition, we work harder to plan out our trips and avoid things like running to the store for just a few items.

4. More family time.

This wasn’t something that factored into our decision-making, but it’s turned out to be a great added benefit.

Chris and I spend a good amount of time driving each other places. “I’ll take you to tae kwon do, then go to the library, then pick you back up.” That sort of thing.

That gives us time to talk, and just to be in each other’s space. With two cars, we’d spend a lot of time doing the “you go your way, I’ll go mine” thing.

This goes for Sarah, too; she gets Mom and Dad time instead of being shuttled by just one of us.

5. We walk more often.

When I asked Chris what his thoughts were on why this setup works, his answer was simple: “It helps when you live within walking distance of a lot of places.”

Yes, we could walk with two cars. But we didn’t – and we probably wouldn’t. And the great thing is, we DO NOT live in a “city” by any means. We’re 100% suburbia.

Even so, there are grocery stores, convenience stores, parks, a tennis court, churches, our mechanic, a movie theater, restaurants, banks and more – all within an easy walk of less than a mile.

We’re considering changing banks – because ours is a mile away across a large highway, and we’d rather avoid it.

The less-good parts

Honestly, there aren’t too many things I don’t like about our one-car situation. That said, there are a few down-sides that are worth mentioning. Here’s Exhibit A:

1. I hate my driver’s side door panel.

It hasn’t stayed attached – despite repeated gluing attempts with every adhesive known to humankind – for about the past four years.

If you elbow it hard when you sit down, you’re usually good for about 30 miles, or until you open the door, but then it falls in again.

In the grand scheme of things, this ABSOLUTELY doesn’t matter, but along with the dents/dings/scratches/peeling paint etc., it does make me long for a nice, newish vehicle. (Even if I had to share it – newish would be nice.)

2. Maintenance issues.

This particular car has not been without needs in its first 111,000-some miles.

It’s not good on alternators (yes, plural). It’s soon going to need some transmission work, as you can tell when you try (and sometimes fail) to accelerate from a stop.

The water pump has been replaced. The suspension has been overhauled.

It’s not a money pit yet, but our biggest fear is that we’ll cross the “we shouldn’t put more work into this” bridge before we have the money saved up to buy a decent replacement.

3. Lack of hauling space.

If we had NO cars, and had decided to purchase only one for our family, we’d likely have chosen something with a little more room. The Taurus has pretty good trunk space, but it’s not good for moving even small pieces of furniture and what have you.

We’ve made it work pretty well, but it isn’t always the easiest.

4. Racking up the miles.

When we travel (and we do that a lot), all the miles go on one vehicle.

Now, that’s balanced out by our lack of commute – we average about 11,000 miles a year, which is REALLY low.

That said, we don’t have the option to, say, take the “better” car when we decide to road-trip to Vermont. It’s all Taurus, all the time.

Remember how I said we’ve gone off-roading in it? Yup, really. Dirt and not-even-dirt roads in upstate Pennsylvania are no match for this baby. (And it makes for a fun trip to the mechanic, because he starts off your inspection with the line “I have a really strange question to ask you… has this car recently been on a, well, an unimproved road?”)

So is it for you?

Look, I can definitely say that being a one-car family works for us – and barring any HUGE changes in our circumstances and goals in life, we plan to stay this way and probably even to drive LESS.

In a dream world, we’d keep beating this car up until Sarah, who’s 12 now, turns 17 and gets her permit. By that time, we’d be more than two years out from our final credit-card payment, and if we take even half the money we’re putting on the debt and save it for a vehicle in the interim, we’d be able to afford basically any later-model used vehicle we’d like. (That is, of course, dependent on this car making it five more years.) Then, Sarah could finish driving the Taurus into the ground, hopefully not literally.

We realize it’s not for everyone, though. We have friends who each commute an hour – in opposite directions – five days a week. It would be ridiculous to suggest they could become a one-vehicle family, at least not without a LOT of rearranging.

We’re lucky to live so close to all the places we need to go, especially because our town doesn’t really have a huge public-transit infrastructure. And we’re lucky – though I prefer to say blessed – that I can primarily work from home, which changes our situation drastically.

Finally, the biggest factor in making this work is that we want it to. We go out of our way to make it a success. I’ll ask friends for rides – in exchange for gas money, or in exchange for returning the favor at other times. We’ll rent a car when it makes sense, or rearrange our plans if that isn’t in the cards.

It would be pretty easy to say it “makes sense” for us to have another vehicle, but we don’t want one, and so we’ve built our lives accordingly.

I’m not asking you to sell your vehicle today. Far from it. But for many of us, transportation expenses are some of the highest we have, behind maybe only housing and food.

Ready to think different about your spending? Get our Unautomate Your Finances guide, as well as several other awesome resources to “kickstart your money,”join the Man Vs. Debt community list by clicking here!

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So I do challenge you to ask yourself this question: Is there anything you can do in the next month to save on transportation expenses? (Or anything you’ve already done?)

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments… and if you’re led to becoming a one-car or NO-car family, well, I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s pretty cool!

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle May 9, 2012 at 8:22 AM

I wish we could be a one car family! On the weekends we just need one car, but during the week it’s too hard because of our schedule. He starts work exactly when I get off.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:05 PM

That would definitely be hard! I think it’s great that you have the desire, though, because I’m sure it makes you more conscious of your driving on those weekends!

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Sunday May 9, 2012 at 8:22 AM

i would LOVE to have no car. i’m actually hoping to get there in the next year. life moves pretty fast (name that movie) so a lot of things could change before then, but that’s one of the goals for sure.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:04 PM

FERRIS BUELLER!!!!! <3

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Angela May 9, 2012 at 9:09 AM

We went from paying off two cars to just one, but then we decided that the monthly expense was crazy and decided to see if we could live without a car completely. Our experiment last three months before we threw in the towel. We were also determined to never ever get into debt again (this includes buying big items like houses and cars) though, so we saved up and bought Clementine (http://thebalanceandlifeblog.com/1735/buying-a-car/) for cash. It’s nice to know that we’re not alone in endeavor to stay out of debt! ;-)

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:07 PM

Angela – that’s awesome! I just checked out Clementine’s story. She has got some great personality!! :)

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Angela May 10, 2012 at 4:23 AM

Thanks Joan…we’re besotted! :-)

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Leslie Srajek May 9, 2012 at 9:23 AM

Hi Joan! We are a one-vehicle family (2 parents, 3 kids) and we love it. It happened by accident, though, literally. We had a Honda Fit (the first new car my husband and I ever owned) but I had an accident that totalled the car. We thought for a while about buying another car, but we decided to try living with only one vehicle (used Toyota Sienna minivan). It’s been awesome!

What makes it work is: my husband and 8th grader bike to school/work (husband bikes kindergartner in bike trailer), my high schooler takes the bus (very popular in our city), and I use the van to get to work and do all kid shuttling in the afternoon.

Also, and this is key to making this work, we have Zipcars in our city (zipcar.com). It’s basically car sharing where you pay an annual fee and then reserve a car when you need one, either by the hour or the day. It’s a totally affordable and convenient option.

I’m proud of us for making this work. We aren’t sure what will happen when my oldest son gets his license in the fall, so all will be up for negotiation then.

Oh by the way, the thing I hate about the van is that one of the door panels doesn’t stay on right…I laughed when I saw your picture!!!

Great topic–thanks!

Leslie

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:09 PM

Literally LOL’ed when I read about your door panel, Leslie!!! Zipcar is a great option – I have friends in New York who make that work very well. Around here, we just have the more standard rental companies, but we have on occasion rented a car to make things work, and it still ends up being much cheaper than the spare car would be!

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Ryan May 9, 2012 at 9:42 AM

We were a 1-car family for the first year of our marriage. It worked great. I loved only having to maintain 1 car. When my wife got a job out of town we had to get a second car.

Put some Gorilla Glue in the cracks of that door panel. That sucker won’t go anywhere.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:11 PM

We have Gorilla Glued, E-6000′ed, rubber cemented, even tried melting the plastic onto the other plastic. The thing is that the “pegs” that keep it in place along with the glue have long since gone the way of the dodo, so the panel just pulls the glue right out along with itself!

I keep trying… one of these days, I might just caulk it!!

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hannah June 25, 2013 at 10:57 PM

You should go into a dealer and see about ordering the part. Or go to a auto parts place/car junkyard and just buy a whole new door/panel. I’m sure it’d be dirt cheap!
we have a 2007 Camry with a faulty visor that always fell down in the driver’s view. We ordered an exact match replacement off of ebay. And THEN we got paperwork from Toyota stating it was faulty and we could get it replaced for free. I’m still trying to figure out if there’s a way to get our money back for it.

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Jason May 9, 2012 at 10:16 AM

New MvD member as of yesterday…I’ve been inspired perusing the info around here ; )

It is amazing to me, as I have grown into more of an adult (with wife, then kids, etc…I’m 35 BTW), the sheer number of options out there for people to do something other than what they thought was “normal.” If we all could break out of our current paradigm and re-think, re-learn and re-invent “normal,” this one-car concept wouldn’t sound so crazy, would it?

Challenging ourselves to live differently than how we were trained and raised as kids is incredibly difficult. With all of the energies being expended on living our lives, managing our jobs, making sure our kids ready 150 minutes a week, having food on the table each night, AND maybe, just maybe, having 10 minutes to sit with your significant other to rekindle the relationship a bit…well, it’s just damn hard to do well. It’s no wonder people take the easy way out a lot of the time.

I’m no saint with regard to this…we have three vehicles and I don’t really plan on having just one any time soon. But there’s a romantic ideal that draws me closer each time I read a post like this or others by like-minded individuals professing the beauty and benefits of simplifying our lives for a better future. I’m working my own plan to get there, but it doesn’t mean this isn’t a great concept and one that shouldn’t be shouted from the mountaintops. Keep it up!

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:15 PM

Jason, thanks so much!! I think that the idea that gets me is that everyone has to design their own idea of “simplicity,” and while that might not look like one car for a lot of people, if it motivates you to think of the areas in your life where you can downsize in some way, then it’s worth talking about! Glad to have you around Man Vs. Debt – and looking forward to hearing how you change your own life in the ways that work for you!

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kristine s May 9, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Great post! We have been dabbling with the one car idea. You have opened my eyes to an idea of reducing transportation costs, working together and building “your” life around the situation. The wheels are turning in my head… Thanks Joan!

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:15 PM

Oooh, I like that, Kristine! Keep us posted on what you decide to do!

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Philip Campbell (Freedom From Student Loans Blog) May 9, 2012 at 10:33 AM

Great post Joan.

I am loving my car that has 218,000 miles on it right now. Hoping I can get 300,000 miles or more out of it so I don’t have to go out and buy a car anytime soon. I like being a one car family (of course, being single with grown kids helps make it easier) :-)

I love how you wrote about the pluses and the minuses. Super helpful.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:16 PM

Thanks so much, Philip! We sure hope to hit at least 200K on ours, if not higher… cross your fingers!

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James Schipper May 9, 2012 at 10:48 AM

4 years ago, I got rid of my last vehicle. She kept hers, which is a 1999 Mitsubishi Mirage she bought new. It was paid off long ago, is our only transportation aside from bicycles or our feet, and since we religiously do the maintenance on it, it runs great every day.

It occasionally has something go wrong: the A/C went out in 2008. That cost about a grand, but since we don’t pay the $300 or so a month that most people spend on one car payment (let alone the customary two), that thousand bucks was nothing. $3600 a year saved on payments is no problem compared to the occasional repairs.

It’s not the nicest car, it still has manual crank windows, and it won’t last forever, but so far we’re happy with the 239,000 miles it has on it today.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:17 PM

James, that sounds like a great setup!! And you’re exactly right – the occasional repairs, at least as long as they’re only occasional, are more than worth it when you consider not having the payment, in my book.

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Rand May 9, 2012 at 10:53 AM

Great post!

Whenever I look at taking a new job we look at maps, walkscore.com, padmapper.com, streetviews, and any other information we can find. We draw two mile circles around work, the library, stores, and school for the kid. I’m happy to bike that if there’s no giant highways to cross.

We’re currently a one car family. We bought a new Civic in 2005 and it’s been great for the family. I woudn’t call the lack of cargo space a problem. This encourages us to live simply and not acquire any giant furniture or televisions. We do have a bike rack for it.

We hope our next move is to a more urban environment and we can sell the car. Bikes, walking, and renting the car you need for the job, seems to be the way to go.

Great topic!

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:18 PM

Rand, you make a really good point – if we DID have more hauling space, I do think we’d have more stuff, which is 99% of the time stuff we wouldn’t need. When that 1% comes along, I get jealous, though :)

Thrilled with your system – the biking, the “staying local” when possible, etc. I think that even if you drive, it makes so much sense to do your business close to home if you can, so this sounded great to me!

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Janie May 9, 2012 at 10:57 AM

Good article. I have been one car for a while now. In august my son had an accident. he went out and bought a new car. I always had him on my insurance (for the discount of multiple drivers) but once he bought a new car went on his own. My car died about a month later. so now we are sharing his car..I feel the weight of less insurance (yay!) He is soon to be engaged so eventually I know he is going to move which will mean having to get another car, but for now I am trying to bank the extra insurance that I am saving instead of spending it…at least for a while it will be a bonus!
When my husband was alive, from time to time, we did this (car sharing) It always worked out well. We felt we were polluting the air less with only one car, and lessening the number of cars on the road, and in the street…

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:21 PM

Janie, sounds like you have really embraced the ways to make this work when it can! And you have exactly the right plan – bank the money you’re saving NOW, and then you can use it later when circumstances change! Good for you.

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Shelly May 9, 2012 at 11:34 AM

We have been a 1 car family before, but not now. You see, we have 8 kids, and we homeschool, and my husband and oldest son (21yrs old) work out of town. With that said, we do economize. Our vehicles are older and paid off. We will never have another car payment again! It’s been so nice to get out of debt and know that whatever happens, the car payment company isn’t going to come knocking at our door. :)

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:22 PM

Shelly, that’s AWESOME! If I had 8 kids – I’d have two cars. I might even spring for a chauffeur. :) Congrats to you on economizing in that situation – I think you’ve got a great setup and am glad to hear you’re car-payment-free for life!

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Chris May 9, 2012 at 12:37 PM

My wife and I share one car. She’s (the car – not the wife) a 94 Mercury Grand Marquis with 175,000 miles named Stella. We’re able to do so because we bought a home a few years ago that was only 4 blocks away from where I work, so I walk to work, leaving a car for my wife’s errands during the day. It has helped our finances SO much. It’s nice when you can make it work. Thanks for the article!

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:24 PM

If your wife’s a 94… that’s kinda weird :)

Just kidding. But very glad to hear how you’ve made your situation work – much like in our case, living in a walkable distance to the out-of-home employment is key. Congrats on making that work out so well for you. I also love hearing how everyone names their cars! We haven’t come up with a name for ours yet… maybe it doesn’t have quite enough character still :)

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Leah E-H May 9, 2012 at 1:04 PM

We’re a one car family too! We’ve been that way for a long time. We live in the city, so it makes it pretty easy. And my husband prefers not to drive, always choosing walking or biking as his transportation of choice. If he needs the car during the week, I use the bus to get to work. There are 2 kids and 2 adults in our family. And we’ve never had a car payment, we’ve always saved up for a used car, $3000 being the most I’ve ever paid for a car. Our current vehicle needs some maintenance right now, but at $2300 for the purchase price back in 2009, a couple hundred bucks every year for any problems seems reasonable.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:42 PM

Leah, that’s awesome! I can’t wait to be able to pay cash for whatever vehicle we eventually get next. And like I said – whatever we have, we’ll get what we can for that amount (or less). No more car payments EVER!

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Leah E-H May 10, 2012 at 6:27 PM

Totally! Car payments suck! :)

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Michael May 9, 2012 at 1:20 PM

Great story. We are a family of 4 (my wife and I plus 2 kids–3 and 1). We decided to become a single car family 3 years ago (kind of unheard of around here), when our first child was born. We are lucky enough that my wife can stay home with the kids and my work hours are flexible. We live in the burbs of Houston–not the easiest place to be without a car. They drop me off half the time (15 min. drive), and they are carless the other half. That is the downside, and sometimes a challenge for my wife. But I love sharing more time in the car with the family. And of course the money savings is part of why our kids get mommy at home instead of work.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:44 PM

Michael, that’s AWESOME! I love that you guys get “car time” too. We never expected that to be such a benefit, but it’s really worked out well. Yeah, there are times when Chris has the car and I’d kind of like to go somewhere, but I can’t imagine I’d trade that for, as you said, having to be “Mommy who works outside the house.” Good for you guys!

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Rich May 9, 2012 at 2:18 PM

My wife and I have shared 1 car since 2008. We sold and traded in 2 expensive cars, and opted to share a used Honda Element. It’s the best vehicle ever – needs regular maintenance of course, but at 80,000 miles I haven’t had anything go wrong with it. Also it averages 25mpg in mixed driving, and it carries lots of stuff – I’ve moved plenty of furniture in it. In my experience Hondas are still the best cars for longevity and durability. I have friends that have put over 300K miles on theirs and still running fine.

Regarding that door panel – before applying any glue make sure it’s clean and wipe down both surfaces with alcohol. You might even want to gently sand both surfaces to create a better surface for adhesion – then wipe down with alcohol and allow to dry. Use a good epoxy and it will never pop off again.

Thanks for sharing your story!

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:44 PM

Hmm, I’ve tried epoxy but not the alcohol wipedown, Rich! I’ll have to give that a shot next time I get motivated (aka FED UP). Good for you guys on car-sharing and on finding what sounds like such a great vehicle to do it in!

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Rebecca May 9, 2012 at 3:49 PM

We have been a one car family for awhile now. I personally would love to just get rid of my car but, with having a little one in need of a car seat and a bus that does not run on Sundays at least in my area because I am I assume in a not top priority area for service. I would however love to be closer to downtown for better bus service not to mention shops and other things that my family frequents including a library. For now we will keep the car and hopefully next year be able to move closer to downtown and keep my husbands motorcycle for his commute to work or sell the motorcycle and keep the car.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 4:56 PM

Rebecca, it sounds like you guys are handling things really well! I hope the move works out if that’s what will be good for your family… keep us posted!

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harold May 9, 2012 at 4:13 PM

we have 4 vehicles. an suv with 124k miles, a pickup (diesel)w/ 203k miles, and a sports car w/ 131K miles are all mine. my wife gets the new(er) car because she works in an area where I want to be sure she has reliable transportation (2011). we didn’t expect to acquire a payment but are working to pay the loan early. (we don’t buy new cars). as my cars wear out, they won’t be replaced (but I’ll be honest with you – all are very well designed and American made). ultimately, we’ll get back to one car (retirement in next 3-5 years) and rent cars when the necessity arises.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 11:09 PM

That sounds like a good long-term plan, Harold! I’m glad to hear you have so many miles on all your vehicles. I’m curious how you ended up with three – I’m guessing the pickup is a work truck of some sort, but how did you come to have the SUV and the sports car? I’m truly just curious, I don’t know too many people with two “regular” vehicles, though I know a lot who have a work vehicle and a regular one.

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Jenn May 9, 2012 at 4:16 PM

Looks like the good parts outweigh the bad. Not to mention you’ll have money to pay down debt or save.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 11:12 PM

Jenn, that’s exactly it – it’s not perfect, and we don’t claim it to be. But it’s worth doing, especially because of the other ways we can use that money!

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Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager May 9, 2012 at 4:25 PM

I have one car (in my name) and access to another car (which sits at my house). And honestly, I hardly ever drive. Yeah public transportation! While both cars are insured, they are both leisure vehicles, which is super nice and helps me save a pretty penny.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 5:03 PM

That sounds awesome, Jenna! I love how you make use of what’s available – and I love that you have public transportation; very jealous!!

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Robert May 9, 2012 at 4:57 PM

Having two cars is almost like having two homes: it’s convenient to have, but it’s a colossal waste of money unless both parties use vehicles to commute. We are a one-car family and it keeps our bank account from drying up.

By the way, I have to commend you on your car-buying habits, as buying “almost new” is the best way to get a great deal on a car.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 11:16 PM

Thanks for the compliment! That is something we honestly lucked into this time around, and an experience I’d love to repeat. The 20,000 miles that came on our car dropped the price literally by half from a “new” model, yet left us with almost nothing as far as “inherited worries” and left us with the use of so many miles of vehicle! :)

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Debbie May 9, 2012 at 6:16 PM

We are also a one car family, a 2003 chevy cavalier that we paid cash for several years ago, when it had 39k miles. It now has 71K. My commute is only 5 miles to work and the beach and most of our stores and banks are less than 5 miles also. I like to ride the bike as much as possible to save on gas. Our only regret with having a small car is the cargo space. We love to go to garage sales and many times have to pass up great deals. We plan on keeping this until it dies and then will replace it with a car that we pay cash for.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 11:13 PM

Debbie, sounds SO MUCH like our situation! We didn’t go into the purchase of this Taurus knowing it would be our only car, and we do miss the cargo space for sure! We can’t wait to pay cash for our next car – that’ll be a ton of fun!

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eemusings May 9, 2012 at 7:39 PM

It’s not always easy, but definitely doable! (http://eemusings.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/the-art-of-the-one-car-household/)

Love the financial aspects – that’s what I remind myself whenever I get grumpy about inconvenience. I also really don’t like driving.

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 11:14 PM

I have to agree with that. Very occasionally, I’ll love going out and driving around the country and woods near us, but I am not someone who just “enjoys driving.” Usually if we go out as a family, my husband drives, which is 100% fine with me.

Glad you guys are making it work too!

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PQ May 9, 2012 at 10:32 PM

When we moved from NYC to a small town in the midwest, we had to buy a car. Paid cash. We own it. From zero cars to one car seemed like such a luxury. We still love our one car and even though we had a child and are moving to a suburb of big city soon, we plan to stay a one car family. Many family members and friends who live in the area we are moving to think we are nuts. Thanks for this post! Reminded me that “nuts” is in the eye of the beholder :)

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Joan May 9, 2012 at 11:15 PM

EXACTLY! Good for you, PQ. I am so glad to hear you’re sticking to your guns – and that you treat having a vehicle at all like the luxury it is. I have some friends who do not have cars at all, and for them, it would be an incredible luxury not to have to figure out bus service, etc. It is definitely a blessing!

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Eric Hanby May 10, 2012 at 8:45 AM

Hey Joan

My wife just purchased a gently used vehicle. She purchased the vehicle out right after saving all her pennies. No car note for her. We do have two vehicles now but we were a one car family for over a year. She bought this one mostly to give our other vehicle a break (it’s almost 15 years old) and to have a back-up. But even though she has this new car she told me she’s still going to get rides to work from her co-workers to save on gas. I couldn’t be more proud.

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Joan May 10, 2012 at 10:42 AM

GOOD FOR HER (and you!) That’s awesome. If you’ve got the cash for it, I’m never opposed. I just hate seeing folks tied into car payments because it’s “what you do,” you know? You guys rock.

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Denise May 10, 2012 at 12:10 PM

Great article and timely as my husband and I are considering going to one vehicle. He recently changed jobs and will be able to work from home when not traveling out of state, so we no longer need a car to get him to and from work. We own both our cars free and clear paying cash for a used BMW for my husband and paying off our mini van in under two years. We figure that if we sell the BMW, we can use the cash to pay down some debt AND will save just under $700 a year on car insurance. After several months if it’s not working, we can always pick up a used Toyota which would be cheaper to run, maintain, and insure.

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Joan May 10, 2012 at 1:53 PM

Denise, that’s AWESOME – I really applaud your thought process in this and I hope you’ll keep us posted on how it works out!

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The Young Urban Unprofessional May 10, 2012 at 2:08 PM

I live in Boston and work just outside of Boston. I sold my car just after graduating college and moved into the city to avoid the need to drive. I ended up saving about $400/month by selling my car and moving downtown. I take the commuter rail to work, use zipcar during the week if I need it (and I rarely do) and then rent a car on weekends that I want to drive somewhere farther away. The few hundred dollars I pay every month to rent car is far cheaper than owning one with monthly payments, gas, maintenance, insurance, parking/speeding tickets, etc. I now put that extra $400 into my student loans trying to reduce my debt faster. I realize that this model won’t work for everyone but it certainly works for me and I love it!

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Joan June 23, 2012 at 12:10 AM

I’m so glad! That’s exactly what this is about – finding what works for YOU, and not just defaulting to, “Oh, I should have a car” for no good reason! Keep up the great work!

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lily May 10, 2012 at 6:25 PM

My husband and I were a one car family for 5 years living in L.A.. This was pretty weird in a city where it seems like everyone has to get the biggest, fanciest car they can get a loan for. This became even more radical when we were both working on opposite ends of the city (my husband was working within easy bus ride distance of home).

Later on, my husband was taking classes in between home and work, so he’d drop me off at work and drive to class and then pick me up after work. We definitely took the one car thing to the extreme! All this towards the goal of quitting, travelling for a bit and living someplace nicer.

Now that we’ve moved, we got a second car, even though we only need it occasionally (we carpool to work, lucky us!). Our new home state has much cheaper car insurance (and plenty of parking) so it’s not as expensive to own the second car. We are buying a house in the middle of the woods, so have a second car will be a comfort with no stores within walking distance.

I do believe going without fancy, extra cars helped us meet our financial goals, even though it was a lot of a drag at times.

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Joan June 23, 2012 at 12:11 AM

Lily, I’m so glad you were able to use that as a temporary way to meet some goals! I think that would be true for a lot of people – it’s not a “forever” thing unless it’s convenient enough, but it can really help in the short term! That’s awesome!

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Andi Brunett May 11, 2012 at 4:02 PM

My husband and I recently decided to try the “one-car family” thing. We too have one vehicle (ours is even worse… lol 2000 Mercury Sable) and I mostly do walking around town to things I need immediately and then if we need to go anywhere else, we plan it. It has worked out pretty well so far. Granted sometimes it would be nice to have our own vehicles, it just isn’t practical with gas prices the way they are and the fact that most of MY work is at home writing or taking care of things around the house.

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Joan May 11, 2012 at 6:46 PM

Andi, I think that’s our thing too – it might be “nice,” but it sure isn’t reasonable!

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AlanR May 15, 2012 at 10:10 AM

My wife and I have been a one car family since we got married. Well… We had 2 cars for the first 6 months but mine was never driven because it was in need of major repair. But it was always there as a safety net.

We made the decision to sell it and haven’t looked back. It’s a temporary thing for us though. My wife travels between multiple offices and will drop me off at my work on most days. If she is working out of town I jog home (roughly 5 miles) or I work late and wait for her to pick me up.

We hope to avoid a second car until this one is paid off. $5,600 more to go!!

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Joan June 10, 2012 at 12:43 AM

Alan, good for you guys!! Even if it’s temporary – you’re doing what’s right for you now, which is great. And good luck finishing the payoff!

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Susannah May 16, 2012 at 12:56 PM

We’ve been a one-car family (mom, dad, two young kids) for about two years. After several years of either working from home or commuting by bus, we realized it was silly to keep paying fees and maintenance for the second car, so we sold it and dropped the cash into the kids’ college accounts. We moved to a new city last year, and set up our lives carefully to continue the one-car lifestyle: from home to my husband’s office, and from his office to the kids’ school & daycare, are each less than two miles. Both adults have bicycles, and we have a double jogging stroller. I telecommute. Our part-time nanny comes to our house in her own car, and does some school carpool. When we need a second car, it’s almost always work-related, and our employers will often pay for a rental (since they’d otherwise pay mileage for work use of personal car).

Something that I don’t think anyone else has mentioned is the additional financial and health benefit of a one-car family: all the walking, running, and bike riding imposed by our car choice makes paying for a gym membership unnecessary!

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Joan June 10, 2012 at 12:45 AM

We definitely find it to be a health benefit too, Susannah! My next step is to find a bicycle (hopefully at a yard sale this summer), which will open up my travel possibilities a bit.

So glad to hear you guys are living this lifestyle too – and making it work! I love it!

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Mads Phikamphon May 23, 2012 at 3:43 AM

Being a one-car family is a step in the right directory, but why not go for being a zero-car family?

Who says you have to live in the suburbs and work far away from home? Why not live downtown, close to work, so you don’t need a car.

Or maybe move to a better place, where you can bike, walk or depend on good public transportation.

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Joan June 10, 2012 at 12:42 AM

Mads, that’s a good question for a lot of people. In our case, the public-transportation issue aside, we’re actually VERY close to my husband’s full-time job (exactly a half-mile), but our “city” is 3 to 5 miles away. Ditto our grocery store – there isn’t one inside our city proper, but there are three less than a mile from my home.

We drive very little day to day, but we have a significant amount of out-of-area family that we visit monthly or more often (again in areas without much public transportation), so having zero cars would probably not be a good fit for us long-term.

That said – it’s a good fit for a LOT of people, more than some might expect!

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