Giving Up Your Car May Be Easier Than You Think

By G.E. Miller on 28 September 2010 (Updated 6 June 2013) 7 comments
Photo: Mararie

I had owned a vehicle since my junior year of high school. Like many, I considered it a birthright.

It wasn't until two years ago when both my wife and I worked two miles from our employers that we started to question whether we both needed our own vehicle. Getting over that initial stigma of "downsizing" to one vehicle wasn't easy at first, but the idea gradually started to appeal more to us over time.

And then, we did it. We sold the vehicle that we still had payments on and kept the older vehicle that was in the free and clear.

Not only was it one of the best financial decisions I ever made, but I also feel much better about myself for not depending on a machine (that pollutes the environment) to get around. (See also: 10 Cost-Conscious Commuting Options)

Giving Up a Vehicle Requires Alternatives

Living two miles from work made the transition extremely easy. Living a block away from a bus route made it even easier. In order to successfully make the transition to not owning a vehicle, realistically, you'll need at least one of the following alternatives:

  • Live within 2-3 miles so that you can self-power your commute through walking or biking. Note that with this option, weather will undoubtedly throw you some curve balls.
     
  • Live along a bus or other mass transit route.
     
  • Work regular hours and be on a route that permits a significant other, friend, or co-worker to drop you off.

Luckily, I had two of the three. This made my transition extremely easy.

The Benefits of Giving up a Vehicle

There are many:

Money, Money, Money

This is a personal finance blog, so we'll hit that first. I calculated that I have saved about $2800 annually. This was on a used vehicle that cost me $11k. A new, or more expensive vehicle would obviously make this number much higher. Basically add up your monthly payments, insurance costs, maintenance costs, and fuel. Edmunds has a true vehicle cost calculator to help you figure out this number, based on your make and model. And don't forget the money you will save in parking costs if you work in an urban setting.

Environment

You can find out your CO2 impact based on the make and model you own and miles you drive at fueleconomy.gov.

Peace of Mind

Having one less possession — in this case probably your most expensive possession aside from a house — is very liberating. It's hard to place a value on it.

Space!

Not having to store a vehicle opens up your garage for other things.

The Downsides of Giving Up a Vehicle

The only one for me is not being able to conveniently drive long distances to get to a destination whenever I want. However, I was surprised to find out how little this actually happened. There has literally only been a handful of times in two years. And for those times, there's always the car rental outfits, your friends, or Zipcar.

Over the last two years, I started to realize that owning a vehicle is truly a privilege and not a birthright, or even a necessity. If you can make the move, you won't regret it.

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Guest's picture
P-47

You may save a few more $$ by not having the convenience of having a car for and making a haul at a store on your way home from work. Or if you do stop, you may think twice about what's a bargain and what's not, based on how you have to lug it home. If you bike commute as I do and don't live in the flatlands, every pound adds a bit more challenge to the ride home. Although in the case of the 4lb tub of strawberries I spotted in the market back in June for less than $1/lb, it was worth the effort.
Seriously, I don't make nearly as many trips by the "big box" stores on the way home now, and the stops I do make are more likely to be for small, necessary purchases. Bigger trips have to wait for the weekend.

Guest's picture

While we still have two cars, my husband recently started riding his bike into work, and like you, we have saved a ton on gas/maintenance (and a gym membership!) For us, it just hasn't made financial sense to sell the car, because with 150K miles on it, we would get so little out of the sale, that we keep it around in case of emergencies.

Guest's picture
Jessica

My husband and I have one car, since I work a mile from our house. It does get annoying sometimes, though, to not be able to go somewhere when I want to. But it does save a ton of money. :)

Guest's picture

I've thought about this a lot. (But not enough to do it) Our family value is driving our cars forever and when they get old, insurance costs are negligible!

Guest's picture

"There has literally only been a handful of times in two years."

I'm pretty sure the number of times you needed to drive somewhere far away in the last couple of years did not and could not fit in your hand.

"Having one less possession — in this case probably your most expensive possession aside from a house — is very liberating."

No. Cars, not the absence of cars, liberate you. They let you travel where you want, when you want. That's a more concrete form of "liberation" than whatever psychological rewards you derive from denying yourself a car. If it's so liberating, why not give up the house, too?

You also don't mention where you live. Isn't that important?

Guest's picture
Mark

I just started living without a car this summer in Baltimore. It's been a challenge, and sometimes you need a car to go to the beach or somewhere out of state, but the benefits more than outweigh the small inconveniences. I calculated a savings of $500 a month between car payments, gas, insurance, and parking fees. I also lost some weight and feel really healthy biking/walking places.

Guest's picture

I had totally given up owning a car myself as I find it unnecessary since I live in the city where there are lots of mode of transportation I can have. It does give me peace of mind by not having a problem on maintenance and parking wherever I go. Walking on short distances gives me the exercise I need. I guess changing lifestyle too will make it easy for you to give up your car.