Can a Family of 4 Live With One Car?

My family of four lives in the suburbs and we’re trying to figure out if we can live with just one car. I don’t drive much – in the last five years I’ve put 10,000 or 11,000 miles on my car. Since I’ve been walking to work (three weeks now), it has left the garage once.

In the spirit of putting all major expenses on the table, my wife and I are talking seriously about getting rid of it and becoming a one-car family.

The numbers on the car we’re thinking of getting rid of:

Make: Honda
Model: Civic
Mileage: ~145,000
Monthly Payment: $0
Insurance: $24/month (liability only)
Registration: $10/month
Annual Safety and Emissions Test: $4/month
Maintenance Cost: ?*
Estimated Resale Value: $2,000 to $2,500

*A few years ago, the car required new brakes – the only time it’s been to a mechanic in the nine years I’ve owned it. Of course it will eventually need repairs, but I have no idea when that will be, or how much they’ll cost.

If a safe estimate of repair costs is $50 per month, the car is costing me around $90 per month to sit in the garage. If the real cost of repairs is $150 per month, I’m closer to $200 per month for a car we hardly use.

Even if the fixed cost of the car is only $100 per month, it seems like a no-brainer to get rid of it.

But what about the what ifs?

  • What if I want to have lunch with a friend in Salt Lake or Provo?
  • What if I want to drive up to American Fork Canyon for a hike by myself?
  • What if my mom comes to town and wants to borrow the car again (as happened last week)?
  • What if I want to take a solo road trip?

The Bottom Line

Cost: some loss of freedom and flexibility that comes with having an extra car on hand.

Benefits: $2,000 to $2,500 now, $100 to $150 per month in the budget and the freed-up garage space. Also, a simplified life thanks to one less large possession.

I’m torn about this decision – as is my wife (unlike in the case of getting rid of the house for an apartment, which was over before it started).

We’re considering a couple of options:

1. Put the Car Out to Pasture

Near our subdivision there are plenty of people with large unused plots of land. Some of them use their extra space for RV and boat storage. We could approach one of them (we know most of them through church), and see if we could park my car on their property for a small fee.

That will give us the full experience of having the car out of sight and mind. If we don’t miss it, we sell it. If we find ourselves missing the car (and frequently walking over to get it from Farmer John), we’ll keep it. We might even keep it at Farmer John’s place, which would give us the garage space without giving up the extra car convenience.

2. Four Wheels Move the Body, Two Wheels Move the Soul

Stole that line from a scooter forum user’s signature. Laughed right out loud when I read it.

When Kate and I were newlyweds I had a scooter and commuted on it for over a year – half an hour each way. I enjoyed it, even in the winter.

I’m sure I could get a 150cc or 250cc scooter with the proceeds from selling the car. I don’t know if the fixed costs of scooter ownership are much lower, so it could be a wash financially. But we’d get the fun of a scooter and the convenience of speedy transportation on demand.

Whichever path we choose, I’ve decided not to drive the car at all in the month of May. If we find ourselves NOT missing the car after the month is up, the right decision becomes much clearer.

What would you do?