Less Is More: From 2 Cars to 1

Less Is More: From 2 Cars to 1

Making the decision to reduce your household fleet can be intimidating. We have become so accustomed to having a personal car at our disposal, that the prospect of operating any other way seems like it would earn you a freak-badge from your friends and neighbours.

The Data

These thoughts are understandable in light of the statistical data. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average household owns 2.28 vehicles.

Even more alarming are the trends over the last 30 years. They show that the proportion of households with no cars, halving from 15% to 8%. Households with 2 or more cars increased over the same period from 50% to 58%.

Many factors impact vehicle ownership: the cost of the car, fuel, financing, maintenance, taxes, and repairs. But access to alternatives, such as mass transit, or the practicality of bicycling should not be under estimated.

The sprawling design of urban environments makes it virtually essential to primarily get around by car. The historically low cost of fuel has made the car a very convenient option. It has become the default method of transportation, without any analysis of the alternatives, in most cases.

What if you decided you could cope with a little inconvenience by transitioning to a 1 car household? How much better off would you be?

Savings

Let’s assume that the car we are giving up is an average mid-size sedan, like a Honda Accord, or Toyota Camry, with a purchase price of $25,000.

Edmunds.com estimates the total cost of ownership over 5 years to be $35,000. This includes depreciation, financing, taxes and fees, fuel, insurance, maintenance, and repairs.

According to these costs of ownership, the household would spend $7,000 less if it did not have to operate this second vehicle. That’s a significant boost to cash flow. The cost of parking should also be added to this figure. In major cities, this can add up very quickly.

Increased Costs

However, because the other vehicle (now the only vehicle) is being shared, you can expect these running costs to all increase. The additional miles that are added to this car, will determine the additional running costs. It’s reasonable to expect that aggregate running costs will be less for a single car, than a fleet of two, even with additional use in a single car scenario.

Some costs won’t increase with extra miles, like taxes and fees, and financing for example. Others may increase, like insurance, if the multi-car discount is lost.

The cost of mass transit should also be factored in. For regular commuting this is likely to be a substantial amount of money, but probably much less than the cost of operating a car.

Convenience

The transition to one car will be easier for some. Access to mass transit or reasonable proximity to destinations that allows for bicycling, are important considerations.

Assuming the household consists of a couple, and some children. Arranging for the delivery of children to school is paramount. How will this be achieved, in all weather conditions?

Can the couple commute together, in a single car? If only one adult works, which person will have access to the car, the worker, or the person at home?

Other Factors

In an emergency situation it is reassuring to know you have access to your own car, in case a quick trip to the ER is called for. This is even more important when children are concerned. Planning should take this into consideration.

Some people may take a hit to their ego by giving up a car. A nice car is viewed as a status symbol; a sign that you are doing well financially. Are you willing to swallow your pride?

The health benefits from doing more walking or bicycling will become immediately apparent. Either walking to and from mass-transit or just walking to the convenience store instead of driving will improve fitness.

The Bottom Line

The overall financial savings realized by switching from 2 cars to 1 are significant. Assuming you would save an extra $5,000 per year, would this be something you are prepared to do?

The additional cash-flow would significantly help families, by paying down your debt ceiling or boosting savings and investments. An improved net-worth would result. The transition to a different transport routine would be challenging at first, but this represents a realistic opportunity for many households to take the path less travelled, and get ahead.

 This is an article written by Hunter. He writes for Financially Consumed on every-day personal finance issues. He is married to a Navy meteorologist, proud father of 3, a mad cyclist, and recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Family Financial Planning.

 

18 comments to Less Is More: From 2 Cars to 1

  • brad

    We went from two cars to one about five years ago, and now we’re strongly considering going from one car to zero. We live in a city with a great car-sharing system (similar to Zipcar), and there’s a car about a 7-minute walk from our house. I drive so rarely now anyway that it typically takes a month or two to go through a tank of gas; last autumn I filled the tank in mid-October and didn’t fill it again until the end of December. The savings in going car-free are really significant, because you have “pay as you drive” insurance, plus no repair or parts costs. The big thing you give up, of course, is convenience, and that’s been the only thing keeping us from making the leap. But we will eventually.

    • In theory we could go down to zero too but as this past week proved, road trips (Toronto area, to Windsor, the Pennsylvania, to Virginia then back to our home) prove difficult – and we would have had to kennel our Newf, Freya ($$$$). Our family (parents siblings) all like 2-7 hours away so every visit would mean renting a car. We also help run a music festival where we camp for 5 days – more renting … and then bulk load shopping issues. We have 1 car, don’t use it much save for longer trips and we’re OK with this set up.

  • We went from two cars down to one when we moved downtown. There are many public transit options and we have Zipcar right around the corner. It’s great to be able to drive less and save money at the same time.

    • Hunter

      Hey Joe. It’s kind of funny that I have written this article, and on the same day I have expressed my addiction to cars on your blog. Some might call me a hypocrite! My intentions are in the right place. I can’t wait to go electric with my next car purchase.

  • I would love to go to one car, but it is difficult in southern California. Maybe in retirement!

  • I am considering going to a 1 car household sometime in the future. Currently, I drive about 8 miles per day (and that’s just to the gym, I walk to work) and very seldom use the car. It could be worth it in the future to get rid of one of my cars once it breaks down.

  • Theresa Torres

    Hi! I can imagine how the transition to one car or even going without a car can really be inconvenient for many people. Two years ago, it was really a big decision in our family to sell our one and only car. We couldn’t cope with the cost of fuel and maintenance anymore and we decided to just use the public transportation because it was cheaper.
    It took time for us to adjust but we’re sticking with our decision because of the increase in savings that we’re having. We are also fortunate to be located where there are many options for commuting.

    • Hunter

      That’s a bold move Theresa, and I applaud your courage. If only mass transit was a real option for so many more. I honestlt belive there is a huge unmet demand for mass transit. The three levels of governement need to build-it, and the people will come.

  • Hunter

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Brad. It’s a big step, I agree. I went from 1 car to zero when I was single and living in Sydney, Australia. I short walk to the train line made this possible and I saved a lot of money.

    I think if people were to just base their car purchases on what they use a car for 95% of the time they would make more rational decisions. I see so many trucks ans SUV’s on the roads. Perhaps these are never used to their full utility? Why not rent a truck or 4×4 on the 1 weekend in the year that you need it, and save gas the rest of the year?

  • Karndean Flooring

    The sprawling design of urban environments makes it virtually essential to primarily get around by car. The historically low cost of fuel has made the car a very convenient option. It has become the default method of transportation, without any analysis of the alternatives, in most cases.

  • We currently own two cars but we really only drive one. I used to walk to work but now carpool with my husband since my office location changed. Both cars we own don’t really cost us anything since they are paid for and our insurance is cheap. Only driving one also saves a bunch of money and wear and tear.

  • Zoon Buggy

    Considering selling one of our cars.

    Same car was bought 1 month apart for $29500 ea

    At a guess, lets say we sold one at $22000 now

    What do you think would be the correct amount to transfer to the other to now be 50-50 owner of the remaining car?

    I have done my figures, but interested to see if you work it out the same……

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