Dec 4, 2008

Simple Steps Taken to go Car Free

Over time, I have taken numerous steps to become car free. Each of these steps are small, sometimes infrequent but all of them have added up in the quest of attaining car-free status.

And now they have all now been worthwhile since yesterday, I sold my car and am now officially carless! And you know what, it feels great.


Bikes over here Cars in the Water
Photo: outofpaper

The first thing you need to consider is whether your life would be better or worse if you went car free. This one thing is the most important part of this decision since there would be no point getting rid of the car only to have your life become miserable and annoying. Everything you do should be to make your life happier, easier and more fulfilling.

For me, this decision was easy. I've never really been a fan of cars anyway and whilst I took a liking to my car (her name was Latoya because she was a Toyota) I just became sick and tired of the expense she was costing me, especially taking into account her old age and the number of repairs I had to do recently. Poor Latoya.

But after having a few chats with various friends a while ago, I decided that getting rid of the car was something that was definitely on my todo list but I just wasn't sure when. After having that short, sharp snap of car-related expenses back in September it became the final straw in the coffin with me and car ownership.

Having also moved in to town earlier this year this also made the decision to go car-free a lot easier. Transport to both work and almost all of the other places I frequent was now not required and in fact, probably slower.

If it helps, write down a pros and cons list of having, versus not having, your car. This is a good exercise since there might be some things you'd forgotten about. For example, the convenience of being able to drive to your holiday destination might be one but maybe you're more of a flier anyway. How about the reduced ongoing cost of not having a car versus the increased stress of having to ride public transport? (Unless public transport in your area is amazing.)

Add Up your Expenses - and Include the Car Price and Depreciation too

Another way to help you make a decision, is to add up how much the car is costing you vs the cost of having to pay for other travel arrangements. I can almost assume that because you are reading this blog that this particular item on the pros and cons list has a fair bit of weight in the final decision. It certainly was for me once I fully worked out all my costs.

As mentioned in my post about Two Ways Biking Substantially Improves Your Life, I mentioned a few ongoing costs of car-ownership and I'm sure there are probably others I have left out too. (For example, I think the car will have to have new tyres soon so I'm glad I didn't have to pay for that.)

Another item I forgot include in the original cost list was the actual amount of money I'd originally paid for the car. Now that I also have the sold price I can figure out that the car, over the four years I had it, cost me about another $50 per month just for the privilege of owning it. Of course, the longer I kept it, the less this would be but that's also a risk set against any upcoming repairs that might happen and one I was not willing to take. (Rust on the back windscreen and the slightly sticky gearstick are two repairs that will definitely have to be done soon.)

It Doesn't Stop There

As if you need any more convincing, there are also other factors to take into account. In the past six months, I have probably used the car 2-3 times per month and in fact, my friends borrowed her for the majority of this time. Even out of those two or three times I used it each month, two of those were probably unnecessary if a little convenient. When not in use, she would sit on the road gathering rust or having her wing mirror broken off which was no fun at all. All of these things add up to an unhappy car...

...and an unhappy me!

I knew I was having to spend over $250 per month on something I very rarely used and that amount was never going to get cheaper either (apart from the petrol price reduction recently but that's only a fragment of the ongoing costs). No matter how much or how little I used the car, I was out of pocket by a fairly reasonable percentage of my take-home pay, pay that I'd worked hard for and therefore money which wasn't returning the favour and working hard for me.

If you did choose to go car-free, that extra money would be much better off in a savings account, paying off your mortgage or even put into shares or property. Over the year, that saved money could come to something over $3,000 (or a lot more) not including any additional interest payments and that's a quite significant amount. Even just thinking that not having a car will knock years off your mortgage is really quite exciting.

Depending on the Most Reliable Form of Transport - Your Legs

Having always been a walker and now a keen cyclist too, I am relying on my legs more and more. In fact, I've always said that those legs are the most reliable form of transport ever. They've never slowed me up in a traffic jam, never broken down, never deviated from the scheduled timetable - since I set it - and almost always do exact what I want, when I want. They also never say annoying things over a tannoy system to hoards of beleaguered commuters when the points fail or the bus breaks down.

Both walking and cycling were the forms of transport I decided to concentrate on the most to help me out in the post-car era. I could say I was lucky in that most of my destinations are within walking or cycling distance but that would be wrong, In reality they are close because I specifically moved to this exact area for exactly that reason. All part of the plan, a plan which has been brewing for a year or more, with action taken over the space of six months and a final transaction yesterday to conclusively be rid of that four-wheeled contraption.

A Plan for Post-Car Blues

As shown above, I took a few steps to make sure I put myself into a situation where I could get rid of my car but there are other things to think about too. Maybe you'll find things slightly more inconvenient because you'll have to take the bus or train instead of driving but actually you don't have to make it harder on yourself by not owning any petrol-fueled transport.

Firstly, you could do what I did and buy yourself a bike. I managed to get one in the spring sales (in this hemisphere at least) and as I've said before, it's already brought a lot of joy to my life, both for exercise and for social engagements with other bikers. Essentially I have prioritised that a bike is more important to me than a car and therefore, I'm happier because of it.

Not to mention that I have already lost some weight and can feel that my stamina is steadily increasing.

Of course, you also have the option of public transport, which admittedly requires extra planning, but it's hardly a burden. If I can plan to retire at 40 then I can certainly plan to take a bus somewhere on a Sunday morning.

It's also not a bad thought if you remember you can still take cars every now and again. A taxi for a quick trip here and there doesn't work out to be too expensive (factoring in your lack of tax, parking, maintenance, insurance, breakdown cover and all the other things) or even hiring a car on the odd weekend for that jaunt away isn't going to break the bank either. In fact, you'll still probably be saving around half to three-quarters of what you were consistently spending every month and in some months near to 100% of that stays in your bank account!

All in all, no matter what transport you take during the course of the month, you'll be much better off than you were before.

Added Advantages

After selling the car yesterday, I also figured out a couple more advantages which, even if they are only small ones, still add up to extra happiness. Firstly, I was able to get some money back from my insurance company to the tune of $240 as reimbursement of my pre-paid yearly policy. It was a lovely parting note to my insurers and one that my Emergency Fund will be very happy about.

Secondly, when signing the official papers, I had to take my car key off my keyring and hand it over. And you know what, in that simple act, I went from having two keys on my keyring down to just one key and it was an amazing feeling. Simplifying my life in a most unexpected way made me smile and actually brought a little bit of joy to my face. Realising that you've just gone down from having a set of two keys to a measly one was much more fulfilling that I'd ever thought it would be.

Almost halving the weight of the keyring already makes me happier and certainly puts me one more step on the road to a life of simplicity and financial independence.

What would you do? Can you go car-free? What stops you, your family, your location, your job or something else?


Concetta Phillipps said...

Way to go! I'm so jealous. I take the train into the city everyday but still depend on a car to get around the Chicago suburbs.

Debbie said...

I went car free for four years when I was feeling poor and then got a car again. Then the insurance people said that because I had been uninsured all that time, I was a risky driver and I had very expensive insurance at first. I explained that I wasn't DRIVING uninsured, but they didn't care.

I wonder if you can have someone add you to their insurance for free as a 1% driver or something. This might help you when you rent a car, too.

To answer your questions, I mostly have a car now because my friends moved to far away suburbs with no buses, because I have better mileage than my roommate, and because I like to have a car to loan to my sister and others. I buy a car 10 years old, don't get collision insurance, and keep it 10 years. It still costs me real money each month, about $200 including taxes, insurance, repairs, and saving for my next car, but it might be worth it.

While I was car-free, the hardest things were going to parties, doing laundry, and doing grocery shopping. I could get to parties on the bus, but then the buses would quit running and I'd have to ask someone for a ride home and they'd never let me pay them.

I'd have to do laundry and grocery shopping weekly or it would get too out-of-control and I wouldn't be able to carry everything. I considered grocery shopping to be one of my weekly aerobic activities. (If I was sick that week, I would do my shopping at a local convenience store I could easily walk to.)

Other transportation had to be better planned out, less spur-of-the-moment, but it was okay. I've always deliberately lived and worked centrally, so I could always get to work (which I like even when I own a car so that it's okay if my car breaks down).

RetiredAt47 said...

I am so impressed that you did this. I agree about walking being a most reliable form of transportation. I am not quite ready to let go of my car yet, but I think if I spend some time considering the pros and cons I will be in the future. I really don't drive very much, but I have to figure out what the alternatives will be when I do need to get somewhere.

Do you ever worry about an emergency situation where you might need quick transportation? That's one of the areas I'm still thinking on.

Anonymous said...


Yes, I do think about that but there are easy ways around it. I live close to town so if I ever need a taxi I can get one in about 3 minutes. Also, I can always hire a car if necessary and still come out having saved money.

If it's a real emergency (like I'm injured) then I figure I'd just phone for an ambulance. In fact, earlier this year I drove myself to hospital with suspected appendicitis around midnight. If I didn't have a car, I'd have either phoned a taxi or a friend of mine.