Wednesday, July 11, 2012

To drive or Not to drive...

Our car died last weekend. Well, it was fixable if we wanted to spend $2000 on a 14 year old car. We didn't.

We're currently borrowing a vehicle from a family member. It's a Suburban which is huge and isn't very parallel-parking-friendly in our almost only-street-parking-allowed East Bay. (Can I add more hyphens to that sentence?) Having a Suburban available to me is limiting where I can go.

Now we have to decide what to do. McKay wants to buy a newer car. In fact, he wants the bells and whistles and get a certified pre-owned fancy warranty car. I, on the other hand, see a price tag of $30,000 and my jaw drops. That seems a little much for a vehicle to me. Maybe I'm out of touch with the world since I've only bought cars off of Craigslist, but yeah. We lived off of less than $30,000/year for a few years and putting that much money on a vehicle you'll need to replace within 20 years and never be able to bring its value up to where you bought it? That seems a bit indulgent.

Personally, I'd like to try going carless. Almost everything is within 3 miles of our house: the grocery store, the parks, LLL, the dentist, etc. The only regular issue is getting to church since the bus line by the church only runs Monday through Friday. But getting a Zipcar for Sundays would be about $160/month and the insurance and gas is free. Bring that out to a year, and it's a lot cheaper than making payments and paying for gas, insurance, and upkeep. Yes, there would be times when we'd  need to rent a car (vacations, the county fair, etc), but doing that every couple of months is still cheaper than car payments and all the extras of owning a car. We have buses, BART, bikes (and alliteration!). I think it would work. I would probably have to get rides for evening things I go to (quilt group, knitting group, book group, etc) or figure out the buses at very late in the evenings, but lots of the other attendees get rides, so that's not unheard of. It might also disqualify us for callings in the youth program at church since a lot of the youth leaders' job here is to give rides to the kids to church and the youth programs. That can be good or bad depending on your own experience with youth callings.

If we really want to get serious about going carfree, we can save our money for those nice Dutch bikes that can fit 3 kids on them. Put money in hardy bikes that can handle the extra mileage.

So here we are. We do have one eye open on possible vehicles, but I think I'd like to try going car-free for a couple of weeks to see how it is.

Anyone else go car-free? Did you get quads of steel from biking everywhere? What was the biggest hurdle? What was your favorite thing about it? If you gave it up, how long did you carfree time last and why did you go back to owning a vehicle?


  1. Emily8:51 AM

    What car are you interested in buying? $30,000 is ridiculous for a car (I agree with you there :) )! I own a toyota corolla and those can be less than $18,000 (new, thu also come with free road side assistance + oil changes for like the first 2 years(?)) & even less if bought used and it gets good mileage. However, I know it won't fit 3 car seats in the back (I've tried). Going car-less can be okay if you have a lot of public transportation in your area, but I like the security of a car.
    I also live in the bay area, I can't imagine life without a car, lol.

    1. Our previous one was a Corolla- and supposedly the Radian carseats can fit three across, but we haven't tried! The $30,000 is because McKay was looking at hybrids, but still- if we have to move up to the minivan option, they get into the $20k range pretty fast. I'm in North Oakland, so we have tons of public transportation and options. It's almost like Berkeley was built to keep people from using cars- ha!

  2. I think the biggest thing to consider, and this seems like it would be more for McKay than you, is just how much fulfillment vs dollars spent you are going to get out of how much you spend on a car. Like, if you find a car that has the perfect setup and is going to make you happy every time you drive it, whether that is tomorrow or in 10 years, then yeah, it's probably worth spending the extra money. But I think when we make big purchases like that, it is good to remember that we are advertised to all the time, especially for cars, and they are a big conversation piece among people interested in "keeping up with the Joneses" but that you may prefer to take a $20,000 vacation in 5 years and just spend around $10,000 on the car. Compare not just with the cars, but what other things you might be interested in doing with the money. Anyway, just my two cents. Consider what all could be done with the same amount of money, and whether it's worth it to you to spend that much on that thing. I mean, I'd say the same thing when considering the $20,000 vacation. You just want to look at what actually aligns with your values and what brings you happiness, and then spend the majority of your money there, whatever that may be.

  3. Go car free. Do it! You're in a big metro area with lots of public transportation options, you have Zipcar for when you need it, you live in a climate where you can be outside year-round (I know it's not SoCal, but still...not like Minnesota where I grew up!). Id' love to be able to ditch our car, but we live in a small town with no public transport at all. So we use it for going to church and for getting groceries. Otherwise we walk/bike.

    You can fit 3 carseats in the back of a VW Golf and, if you buy the diesel version, they get 45+ mpg!

  4. a major consideration for me in going car-free is kids and emergencies. in an emergency, do you think you can appropriately get everybody where they need to be fast enough?

    1. We've been discussing this between ourselves as well. So far we've never had an emergency (knock on wood). Yeah: over 4 years of children and no ER visits and no one has turned out to be allergic to peanuts or bee stings. It's miraculous.

      Rushing to the hospital in this traffic is kind of crazy in and of its own- and trying to do that with a (screaming?) kid and maybe needing to put pressure on a gash and also other kids that need buckling and hurrying- well, it's going to be slow going anyway. At what point do you give up and just call the paramedics?

      Then there are other emergencies: earthquakes, evacuations, etc. It's definitely an issue we're looking at.

  5. TopHat, My husband and I have been car free in LA since last January. While I hate driving and love biking, I was skeptical. But, it has been almost entirely wonderful. Our church is only 3-5 miles away, so still bikable, my husband bikes to school, and I walk to a metro station, take it to a larger station, and commute to my school twice a week.

    We still go places, even if it means we are biking home at 1 am, and still see friends. I've even tried LA's bus system which as I recall is not nearly as good as your BART. We have saved so SO much money that it is difficult to conceive of going back to a car, but there are a very small number of things that I haven't been able to go to that I would have liked. We also rent a car for very special circumstances, like weddings in far-ish away cities.

    We also don't have kids, which may make our situation easier. I wish you luck all the same!

    1. Do you find biking home that late feels less safe than other times? One of McKay's worries is muggings, especially when winter happens and it's darker sooner. We don't live in the worst part of Oakland, but even the very nice parts have robberies and muggings. I know that can be said of everywhere, though.

  6. Totally go car free. Bay Area? So unbelievably doable. Neither my husband or I drive, so we've never had a car. We only have one child (19 months) so I don't know how it would be with more than one, but it's worked really well for us. There are adjustments. Sometimes it's really annoying. But sometimes a car is really annoying, too.

    For me, the most important thing is to be a no more than a 1/2 mile from a pharmacy/grocery store/somewhere I can grab things if needed. I've lived further than that, but 1/2 mile seems to be the sweet spot, especially with kids.

    Good luck! And church is totally the hardest. Sometimes I think I need to belong to a church that likes to build an urban core, not the suburban fringe.


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