A typical American family like mine—with three kids, three drivers, and a middle-class income—drives their three vehicles a total of about 100 miles a day. That’s 36,000 miles a year. (This is a higher number than I would have believed but it’s from a giant dataset maintained by the US Department of Transportation, so I’ll trust it for now.)
Before my family started its experiment in car-less living in February, we were averaging about 22 miles a day in our aged station wagon. (That’s 8,000 miles a year.) In other words, we were already driving about 22 percent of the norm.
What’s happened since?
Find this article interesting? Support more research like this with a gift!
In March, our first full month without a car of our own, our FlexCar bill says we drove 120 miles. We also borrowed cars a couple of times or got friends and family to go out of their way to give us rides. I’ll estimate the month’s total driving on our behalf at 200 miles. That’s less than 7 miles a day (or 2,400 miles a year). We cut our already low mileage by two thirds.
The norm is 100 miles a day; we drove 7. I’m not bragging. I’m shocked. Who would have guessed such a reduction was possible?
1. Even for a family like ours that lives in a complete, compact community, there’s still a huge amount of change that happens when prices tell the truth and you start paying to drive by the hour: staring at $8 an hour every time we consider driving a FlexCar has inspired a first-month reduction of two-thirds from us. Apparently, we’re not unusual: driving reductions of 50 to 70 percent are normal among households that shed a vehicle and start car sharing, according to the Transportation Research Board.
2. When you own a car, ownership is expensive but driving is cheap. When you don’t, driving is expensive but everything else is cheap. Replacing our old car with another old car would have cost us at least $425 a month. In March, we spent $160 on FlexCar, plus another $65 on taxis, extra bus fares, gas money for friends, and a basic “non-owner” insurance policy for when we’re driving friends’ cars. We were left with an extra $200 a month. That’s equivalent to a $3,000 raise, because it’s tax free.
We decided to devote $60 a month of that savings to cell phones for our kids. The other $140 is, literally, walking around money. When we’re out and about, we can afford to stop for a slice of pizza or an ice cream cone. (This new reality makes the car-less life much more palatable to our kids.)
Bravo! I’ve been making these arguments to my siblings and friends for years. Your columns are a joy to read. My wife and I unfortunately went the other direction a year ago. We had our second child, and finally broke down and bought our first car. What a bummer it has been, both financially, and in terms of how it has altered the “daily rhythm” of our lives.We bought the car because of a child care conundrum—daycare for Maia(1) and preschool for Kari(4) are about 4 miles apart, and we have only a 15 minute window to drop both of them off. Yes, we could have chosen closer childcare options, but we fell in love with both providers, and once that happened, we were stuck…)When we only had one child, we used to ride Kari to daycare by bike, and then commute (again, by bike) downtown to work. Since buying the car, we’re about $450/month poorer, I’ve gained about 15 pounds, and I’m starting to understand the “road rage” phenomenon.This morning on the way to school, Kari said, “Dada, I don’t like my car seat anymore.” What could I say? Neither do I.The good news is that in two more years, the girls will be going to school together, and I’ve already announced my intention to ditch the car. My wife Amanda may not be cheering, but so far, at least, she’s open to considering it.With young kids, living car free is a real challenge. But for anyone who can do it—especially those of you without families—you really ought to give it a try. Ask most Flexcar members—you won’t miss your car.-Steve
This caught my attention: “a basic “non-owner” insurance policy for when we’re driving friends’ cars.”When we started our car-free experiment I asked my insurance agent (State Farm) about this and was told there was no such thing. We ended up adding an additional personal liability rider on our homeowner’s insurance to cover us for liability when driving rental cars and friends’ cars. We rely on our credit card’s coverage for collision for rental cars.Can you talk more about insurance for car-free living?
Jeffy,It sounds like you know more about it than I do. When we called USAA to cancel our insurance, the agent told us about their non-owners policy and we decided to take it. It seemed prudent. Besides, the agent said we’d probably get stuck with higher bills when/if we buy a car again later. We’d be treated as new customers rather than longstanding ones. And different risk tables would apply. That was when we thought the car-less experiment might last only weeks. Now that it’s going to be at least a year, perhaps we should dig deeper.And, please, do say more about your strategy.
Alan,Most insurance companies won’t require that you maintain auto insurance while car free. If you decide to purchase a car later, get a letter from your carsharing company (like Flexcar) that states that you’ve been covered by their insurance while you’ve been a member. This is a way to show that there has been no lapse in your coverage, provided you joined Flexcar before you got rid of your car or shortly thereafter.If your insurance agent won’t accept this, find one who will!
My wife and I have been carless in spokane for two years now. We reside six blocks from a supermarket, and eight blocks from Riverfront Park, the cinema, our favorite restaurants, the public library, the neighborhood pub, and local book store. I commute up a flight of stairs to my office. I average driving a car (renting or borrowing) about two days a month. I smile when people complain about high gas prices and think to myself that maybe we’ll finally get smart about resource consumption.
My wife and I have been carless in spokane for two years now. We reside six blocks from a supermarket, and eight blocks from Riverfront Park, the cinema, our favorite restaurants, the public library, and art galleries. I commute up a flight of stairs to my office. We average driving a car (renting or borrowing) about two days a month.
I enjoy the comments about going carless. I live in a suburb of Vancouver, BC, and work downtown. While I’m not now carless, I have reduced my driving to ~100 km weekly (that’s 60 mi for USans). My downtown return commute by bike is 25 km daily. I estimate my overall cycling to be >10,000 km annually. All this has done wonders for my figure. While my boy friend is almost always at least diplomatic, he assures me I’ve got some of the best looking legs and buns he’s ever seen on a middle-aged guy. I also run and have reduced my body fat from ~16 to 11% in the last 5 years.
I finally remembered to check on the insurance angle. I haven’t owned a car for years, and just called the gecko co. about occasional driving coverage. They have a “named non-owner” policy with various levels of coverage, starting at about $27/mo. Unfortunately, it’s not an option you tend to see on ins. cos. websites, so you have to call each one to see if they have it, and get a quote.
Hey, anybody from the Portland area who wants to share their story about living car-free and whether this series inspired them? A reporter from Portland is looking for stories.
When our 1989 Caravan with 261,000 miles died two weeks ago, we looked into buying a replacement vehicle. After some investigation and reflections on what I had read in this Sightline discussion group, we decided to try going carless. We were already bike commuting, and my husband has an electric cart for when he is too tired to pedal (he has MS). We live in Corvallis, Oregon, a bike friendly town. We also have city bus, dial-a-bus, taxis, friends, and one block away is Enterprise Rental cars, where we can get a compact car for $32 per day. As for insurance, our State Farm agent is issuing us a non-car-owner policy for under $100 for six months, with the same coverage we had on our van. It covers rental cars or driving friends’ cars. I looked into the coverage from Visa on rental cars and it includes damage, vandalism and theft but not injury, medical, or personal liability. To get it, one must decline the CDW or LDW insurance offered by the rental car company, and use the visa card to pay for the rental. This feels a little scary, and a little exciting. Having a community of like-practicing folks is encouraging.
Non-owner policies are tough for people like me who have been carless for four years (and lived in three different states during that time!). I’ve just spoken to someone in the WA Insurance Commissioner’s office and obtained this list of insurers who might write these policies. DairylandProgressiveLeaderFarmersFinancial IndemnityVikingGuarantee national InfinityMore info once as I follow up with these.
I love reading these stories. Going carless is the key to getting trim. And no more road rage. It’s the best thing I have ever done. Besides, so many things can be done by computer now that moving a 4,000 pound vehicle everywhere is no longer necessary. I take up so much less space now. When I had my car, it was like strapping on a 7 foot by 20 foot wooden frame around my body and walking down the sidewalk as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Why did we all ever think that was okay behavior? 🙂 Car people look like a bunch of whales trying to do ballet in a small room.
Update on Insurance coverage: I must modify information in my earlier post about non-owner insurance. We got to test this on Friday when we were driving a rental car near Salem, OR on I5 and some flying debris hit and broke the windshield. I called the insurance company to report this and they called me right back and said they had made a mistake, and that the non-owner policy only covered injury, and not damage to the vehicle. Fortunately, in this incidence, they were able to reinstate my not-quite-yet cancelled policy, and use that to pay for the windshield damage.So, it seems like one might be able to piecemeal an injury policy from an auto insurance company, some damage coverage from the visa card, and maybe fill in the blanks from the rental agency. That, or just pay for the rental company coverage, which seems high priced to me. Also, the rental car company I used this weekend had a special three day weekend rate of $17.95 per day, but none of the cars available had great gas mileage… I requested a compact but ‘got upgraded’ to a larger car. Will keep in touch.
Thanks to Margestevens1 for this great, practical advice. With this community working together, we can answer all manner of questions.And compliments to those who are also carless.(Sorry for the lack of new posts! I’ve been waylaid with the duties of running Sightline. But I’ve got several most posts in the offing.)
Another insurance update: Some people think of popcorn as a vehicle for eating butter. We have translated this into the car insurance arena. My son has a friend who has an old, low value Subaru. It is sort-of for sale, but he’s not actively selling it. He hasn’t been driving it, had not been insuring it, and has parked it in our driveway. Here’s the butter and popcorn part…we can insure his vehicle as non-owners, including liability,collision and comprehensive coverage, and use that insurance to apply to any rental car we use. To insure the old Subaru, we pay about $28 per month (the owner is over the magic age of 25). To buy the rental company insurance would cost about $30 per day. So, we’re ahead if we only rent a car one day a month. His old Subaru is serving as the vehicle to carry our insurance, at a discount rate. The stars have to line up for this to happen, but I thought it might work for other folks out there, too. Just another example of the stimulation of imagination, and the increase in conversations that come from the problem-solving that arises with the car-less experience.