Monday, May 18, 2009

One Less Car?

I am struggling with a dilemma. Should I get rid of my car? I expect that many people would answer that question in various ways, from "Why?" to "Why would you hesitate?". I would appreciate your comments on this!

This is not as easy a decision as I thought it might be. I have been enjoying the virtues of bike commuting since last summer. Since I've deliberately commuted to work by bike for almost a full year now, through blazing heat and winter snow, I feel confident that I can handle it. And there's the fact that I enjoy it. Nearly every day I look at my car taking up space in front of our house and think, "Why is it there?"

We are a two car family. My wife drives the all-purpose minivan, and I (rarely) drive the same little car I've driven for the last 12 years. I'm the second owner; I bought it from my mother, who bought it new. It's a 1990 Mazda 323, 2-door hatchback. No frills, meaning no A/C, no power steering or brakes, no power windows, etc. It did have automatic seatbelts until the driver's side broke. The interior is rough, the body rougher still. It has a number of dents, scratches, and the bumper is smashed in front, but there's no rust. The engine (with 176k miles on it) runs like a top. I've rarely had to put money into repairing the thing, it just keeps going like the Energizer bunny. It's valued at $550

Insurance costs me $404 per year on this car. That's sure to go up as soon as my teenage daughter gets her driver's license. I put no money into maintenance aside from the bi-annual oil change. Altogether it costs me roughly $40 a month to own, plus gas. 

MPG is about 32, which is quite good. It is an extremely fuel-efficient car. I don't find myself at the gas station so much. 

It's not a particular comfortable car to drive. Manual transmission, with no power steering/brakes/windows. It gets far too hot inside in the summer, it's like a sauna. No A/C, of course. 

I find myself needing to drive the car for work about 2 days per month. I find it convenient to drive probably 4 days per month on average, on top of that -- either because the weather's not friendly or I'm feeling lazy and not wishing to haul a bunch of things to work. (A bike trailer would mitigate that.) Of those days I need to drive (required for my job to visit some remote facilities, too far to bike in a timely fashion), I could arrange with my wife to borrow her vehicle. So not a big deal. However, there are always those times when it's very convenient for the parents to have 2 cars for 3 kids. 

I'm not even considering the argument of how much cheaper it is to use a bike for regular daily travel versus a car. I already do that. The bike's bought and paid for, as is the car. There's no question of investment. I've committed a couple of years ago to not putting any money into repairing this car, and the darn thing just keeps humming along happily with no problems. If a major problem came up, I wouldn't fix it and would get rid of the car. I've been halfway hoping this decision would be made for me, but it seems unlikely to happen any time in the near future. And if I sell it now, while it still runs, I could get a bit of cash for my trouble.

What I'm balancing is the cost of convenience. $40 per month keeps me (and my family) in a second car. If an emergency or priority comes up, it sure is handy. And that seems quite cheap for a second car. If I had to rent one, that's the daily rate for a similar car. 

The bit of cash I could get for the car now would pay for a used road bike, or a bike trailer, or perhaps both if I'm lucky. These are things I've been wanting badly, and go a long way toward replacing a car, so it seems almost a fair trade. Plus, I could put that $40/month into a bike fund and plan on upgrading my bike from time to time.

What would you do?


  1. I ride my bike to work most days when the weather is nice. My wife and I share one vehicle, so often my bike rides are both something I enjoy as well as a necessity due to her need of the vehicle. We also have an infant and I don't like the idea of leaving her without a vehicle should something happen.

    That said, I would love to have a second vehicle. We keep talking about it, but I can't bring myself to spend the money on it. However, if I had a vehicle that was paid for and had minimal ownership costs, I wouldn't readily give it up. Assuming you "trade-up" for a bike trailer, etc., but later decide that a second vehicle is a necessity (for your daughter or any other reason), what's the likelihood of finding one for $500 that's worth anything or that you realistically could rely on?

    Totally an opinion here, but I think you'd be making a mistake to be rid of the vehicle.

  2. That's a tough one...we went through that this year as well. Our car is considerably newer, but less fuel efficient. Sara drives 25 minutes each way to work, so for the foreseeable future, she'll need one, but I don't as a stay-at-home dad. However, what ended up killing us this winter was taking cameron all over town. With him on the bake of the bike, we were limited to about 40 degrees before he ended up looking like Ralphie's brother on A Christmas Story.

    Once he's in school we'll reevaluate, but both cars are paid for, so like you, we're looking at fairly fixed costs.

    Were I you, it's hard to say because getting rid of your car is going to get you so little money. You could take the money from selling it and pimp out your bike Xtracycle style...I can't say enough good things about that. My X is my main bike now.

    But, like you said, $40/month is a pretty cheap car.


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