Going carless

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Startled Cat
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Going carless

Post by Startled Cat »

I moved to a city several months ago, and have only been using my car once every two weeks or so. Because the car needs serious maintenance, and is a hassle to park, I'm trying to decide whether it makes more sense to get rid of it than spend more money on it.

The car is a 2000 Toyota Echo that I paid $2800 for two years ago. It only has about 90,000 miles, and I feel like I got a pretty good deal. It now needs a new clutch, new tires, and a new alternator belt. I estimate this would run about $1500. I had budgeted for this kind of maintenance, but now that I drive so infrequently, it's hard for me to justify it. I also don't really care much for the car, and as much as I hate to admit it, I'd be happier with an automatic in the urban and hilly area I'm living in now. Replacing the car would probably cost even more, though not by much. I'm also paying about $550 per year for liability insurance, $100 for registration, and $100 for street parking.

With my limited driving, it would seem like a car sharing service like Zipcar would make a lot of sense, but their hourly model doesn't work well for me. Almost all my trips are out into the suburbs, and they last most of a day. Zipcar's daily rates start at $83 on weekends. Actual car rental would be cheaper in theory, but the car rental locations nearby have very limited weekend hours, so it looks like in practice I'd have to rent in advance and keep a rental through the whole weekend.

Even with Zipcar's high rates, I think I would more or less break even. I may end up being able to borrow neighbors' cars some of the time for much less than Zipcar would charge, but I don't want to include this in the analysis because I don't know how often it would be possible. The biggest problem I have with relying on Zipcar, though, is that the high marginal cost of using a car might cause me to avoid leaving the city at all. In that case I'd certainly save money, but I'd see my family less often, and miss out on things that would otherwise be pretty cheap to go to.

To summarize, I'm having trouble choosing between these alternatives:
  • Put a significant amount of money into my car, and continue to insure, maintain, register, and repark it even though I don't like it much and rarely use it
  • Replace it with another car in slightly better shape with an automatic transmission, even though I question whether it makes sense to have a car at all
  • Use car rental and car sharing, even though it will only save me money if I avoid trips I otherwise would have taken.
jmbkb4
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Post by jmbkb4 »

D) Move out of the city!!!!
Uninvested
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Post by Uninvested »

This is a common problem for young people moving to a city. If you think about the repair costs you discuss, insurance and parking, that could be let's say 4 or 5 thousand a year. Simply make a decision that you shall rent a car when you need it for the day. And that you will view the cost as an overall saving. You will not miss having the car in a city at all.
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Startled Cat
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Post by Startled Cat »

I think the true cost is closer to $2000 per year. The car is fully depreciated, and I put very few miles on it. It also gets over 40 MPG. With most other cars, switching to car-sharing would be a no-brainer.

I brought this up with one of my neighbors today, and she mentioned she had also been pondering giving up her car. However, she's enthusiastic about the idea of sharing her car with me as long as she still has it.
donocash
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Post by donocash »

It sounds like the only thing holding you back from getting rid of your car is the "every other week" trip.

It's those trips I could would analyze closely.

The alternatives are car renting/sharing, cycling, taxis, and public transport.

For example, if you travel out to visit your relatives for a weekend, and you only use the car to get there and get home, I could see if would be a pain to pay for a car that's going to sit 90% of the time you have it. But would a taxi be that expensive? Can a bus get you close enough to your destination that it would be no problem for a relative to pick you up at a bus stop?

If it's for shopping, perhaps you can offer to pay gas for a shared ride to the grocery, or mall. I don't know the ettiquette of such arrangements nowadays, but that was common when I was young, and appreciated by the car owner back in the day.

There are a variety of ways to get around in the big city; that's one thing that is nice about big cities. Have you taken into account all of them?

Good luck with your decision. If nothing else, if you get rid of the car, and find yourself feeling stranded, you can always buy a car you like.
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Startled Cat
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Post by Startled Cat »

My parents are particularly hard to reach without a car. I visit them about once a month. They live in the hills, where there's no public transportation whatsoever. There is a commuter rail station 7 miles away, but the schedule is limited on weekends. Just to make it to that station from where I live, I would have to take a half hour bus ride, walk a mile (or ride another bus), and ride a train for an hour. Then add in the time spent waiting for transfers. Of course, I'd have to go through the same steps my way home. During the dry season, the trip between the train station and their house is a very nice bike ride, but sadly it's unsafe at night. Despite the inconvenience and the need to impose on my relatives, I think if I sold my car I would probably end up taking the train sometimes.

I agree that just visiting relatives isn't a great reason to keep a car that's otherwise idle, but it will be one of the most awkward things to do without one. When they invite me to a special event or ask me to come help them with something at their winery, I'll either have to ask them to drive 28 miles to help me get there and back, or pay the $83 for a Zipcar.
moretolearn
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Post by moretolearn »

Have you discussed this with any of your friends?

It seems likely that you might have a friend or two who uses their car to commute to work but doesn't have as much need for it on the weekend. One of those friends might appreciate an extra $30 to borrow their car for the day, once or twice a month.

You'd want to clearly discuss everything up front, of course, but an arrangement like that could be a benefit to you and your friends.

Edited to add: I missed your comment about your neighbor who's also thinking of giving up her car. It sounds like this really might be a situation where you could set up semi-formal rental arrangements with a few friends to meet your needs.
Hedonic Regression
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Post by Hedonic Regression »

aaronl wrote: When they invite me to a special event or ask me to come help them with something at their winery, I'll either have to ask them to drive 28 miles to help me get there and back, or pay the $83 for a Zipcar.
$2000 is 24 * $83 zipcar rentals. That's slightly more than a rental every 2 weeks.

You did mention that you'd basically be breaking even, but really, for the added aggravation of dealing with parking in a city, it seems like a good deal to no longer own but rent.

Main downside I see to zipcar is getting access to a car for those big holiday weekends when you may have to reserve early.

Paying $83 a pop shouldn't bother you that much if over the course of a year it ends up working out to about the same. If you started driving every weekend then it may pay off to own again.
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Watty
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Post by Watty »

One of those friends might appreciate an extra $30 to borrow their car for the day, once or twice a month.
With a "rental" like that, their car insurance would likley not cover you.

--------------------

It really sounds like you are at an ideal time to try going without a car since you are looking at replacing your current car anyway.

If you sell your car, then in six months decide that going without a car is not working, then you can buy the replacement car that you would have bought anyway.

One cost to make sure to account for is that you may find that your grocery costs will be the higher. Some people without cars find that they tend to shop more at the more expensive local market that is within walking distance since they don't have a good way to get to larger less expensive supermarkets.

Be sure to check out the car rental "frequent flyer" type of programs. If you stick with the same company then those perks could be worth something.

If you shop around you can often weekend car rentals surprisingly cheap because the businesses travelers are gone for the weekend. Be sure to shop around for deals including the rental car companies web site and Hotwire. Get on the rental car companies email lists to get their specials and promotions. Car rentals away from the airport are generally much less expensive.

Greg
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Startled Cat
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Post by Startled Cat »

Watty wrote:With a "rental" like that, their car insurance would likley not cover you.
I'm curious to hear more about this. I was under the impression that insurance was associated with a car, not a driver, and covered occasional drivers automatically. I've always found car insurance confusing though.

What about rental cars? If a renter doesn't have their own liability insurance policy, will that make the rental more expensive?
Watty wrote:One cost to make sure to account for is that you may find that your grocery costs will be the higher. Some people without cars find that they tend to shop more at the more expensive local market that is within walking distance since they don't have a good way to get to larger less expensive supermarkets.
I don't bother to go more than a few blocks for groceries as it is, so this isn't an issue.
Honobob
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Post by Honobob »

I've gone carfree between cars a couple of times for about 6 months at a time. I used mass transit and rented every other weekend from Enterprise for $25.00 total from noon Friday to noon Monday. Did my Costco run, etc. ZipCar was not available.

I worked an alternative schedule at that time and mass transit hours is what drove me back to car ownership.

When elected King I promise "Got a job, got a ride!".

Please vote early and often.
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FedGuy
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Post by FedGuy »

Watty wrote:One cost to make sure to account for is that you may find that your grocery costs will be the higher. Some people without cars find that they tend to shop more at the more expensive local market that is within walking distance since they don't have a good way to get to larger less expensive supermarkets.
I live in the middle of a big city and don't have a car. I love the freedom of not having to deal with a car, and I love not having to pay for gas or insurance or deal with maintenance issues. I do think Watty is on to something here, though. I'd add that there's a limit to how much I can buy in bulk, since I have to literally carry everything home with me.

I like to buy that flavored bottled water stuff (I can't stand the taste of plain water, and the flavored water has let me dramatically reduce my soda intake, which is a good thing); water is heavy, and I can only carry one or two six-packs at a time. So, every week or so I need to go out and buy more, which is annoying. Every once in a while I'll decide to place an online grocery order just to stock up on the stuff, which probably isn't particularly cost effective.
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leeks
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Post by leeks »

I may also be going carfree at some point in the future and have priced the options in my town. Through a university, I have access to a carshare service that is a competitor to zipcar, with slightly lower prices (about $50 for a full day rental). Since it is designed for people without cars, the rental price includes full insurance coverage and it includes the price of gas. Those features make a difference when comparing the price to a typical car rental outfit. For rentals of more than 24 hours, it is cheaper to go with a regular car rental agency in my area. There is one within walking distance and another that offers free shuttle service. I estimate these options would be cheaper than car ownership as long as I take trips an average of 3 times per month or less.

We have started getting groceries delivered and while there is a slight cost premium, it is very convenient. Ordering online based on previous purchase lists also makes it easy to avoid impulse buys.

I am in the process of comparing several job offers and I consider location and commuting options to be one of the most important factors. I am probably going to select the job that is within walking/biking distance of my home so that I will have the option of living car-free when my aging vehicle finally dies.

I find that living without the need for a car has a huge impact on my quality of life.
Bfwolf
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Post by Bfwolf »

I am car-less in a big city and love it. I don't have the family every other week need like you--the only time I really wish I had a car is when I want to go to Costco, but I can usually get a friend to give me a ride.

Besides the expense of owning a car, car ownership is a HASSLE, especially in a city. The parking, the break-ins: the stuff just wears on your mind. It's incredibly FREEING to go car-less. Especially if you might be able to "rent" from your neighbor.

As your Mom told you as a kid when there was a new food on your plate you didn't recognize: try it, you'll love it. Only in this case, you really will.
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Watty
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Post by Watty »

aaronl wrote:
Watty wrote:With a "rental" like that, their car insurance would likley not cover you.
I'm curious to hear more about this. I was under the impression that insurance was associated with a car, not a driver, and covered occasional drivers automatically. I've always found car insurance confusing though.

What about rental cars? If a renter doesn't have their own liability insurance policy, will that make the rental more expensive?

I am not an insurance pro but the problem isn't with letting someone borrow your car, but taking the money for it. That would likely cause the insurance to not be valid. It is sort of like if you used your car for pizza delivery, your normal policy would not cover you without a special rider.

As to renting a car without your own car insurance policy, your credit card would likely cover the collision insurance, and for liability you could buy the expensive daily policy they offer with the rental, or you could get a "non-owner auto liability insurance policy" (google this) or umbrella policy if you will be renting car often enough to make the cost worthwhile. Even with a Zip car these might be good to have since their included liability coverage is pretty low in some areas.


Do watch the limits carefully, only having $50K of coverage probably won't be enough for even a minor injury.

Greg
Starting Investor
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Post by Starting Investor »

Never owned a car, and not planning on owning one.

Surprised nobody considers the simple fact that a car is extremely energy inefficient, moving around and powering a huge and heavy vehicle, just to transport one single person has never made sense to me.

Not trying to save the climate or anything like that, but it just seems like an excessive waste of power, and I dont like to waste things.

Live close to family, friend, and work, and all problems are solved ;-)
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White Coat Investor
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Post by White Coat Investor »

Starting Investor wrote:

Live close to family...all problems are solved ;-)
Hmmmm...beg to differ. :)
1) Invest you must 2) Time is your friend 3) Impulse is your enemy | 4) Basic arithmetic works 5) Stick to simplicity 6) Stay the course
smutticus
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Post by smutticus »

I went carless in 2008 and have never looked back. I have access to something similar to Zipcar which I pay a monthly subscription to. It's called Greenwheels and it's available in The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. I live in a city where public transit is pretty good. The biggest thing I miss the car for is when I need to buy lots of things from a big store like the garden center or hardware store. So that's usually when I'll exercise my option to use the Greenwheels car.

When I first went carless I thought I would be using Greenwheels more. But over time I have used it less and less. I think you'll find that the longer you are without a car the easier it gets and the less you have reason to drive. I ride my bike to work even in the rain. And as I'm looking at all the comfortable warm people in their cars every morning I'm usually smiling. Because there is just no better way to wake up in the morning than with a bike ride. And everyone always looks so miserable in their cars in the morning on the way to work.
jazzykat
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Post by jazzykat »

I'm carless and love it.

My suggestion just schedule things so you can use your bike and buy a good rain suit.

Also, can your parents visit you once a quarter?
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market timer
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Post by market timer »

I have been car-free for nearly 11 years now. It's one of those lifestyle decisions that influences many others. For example, I find myself actively searching for ways to get free/cheap Amtrak or flight tickets. Fortunately, NYC has great public transportation options, which is perhaps one of the reasons I ended up there after going car-free.
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Rager1
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Post by Rager1 »

market timer wrote:I have been car-free for nearly 11 years now. It's one of those lifestyle decisions that influences many others. For example, I find myself actively searching for ways to get free/cheap Amtrak or flight tickets. Fortunately, NYC has great public transportation options, which is perhaps one of the reasons I ended up there after going car-free.
Market Timer,

Glad to see you "back in the black".

Ed
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Startled Cat
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Post by Startled Cat »

I'm definitely leaning towards car sharing now. My main concern at this point is vehicle availability. If I have to reserve a car in advance for a Saturday or Sunday, that may be a dealbreaker. I think I'll sign up for the local non-profit car sharing service's entry level plan, and watch availability near me over the next few weeks. If it isn't satisfactory, I'll try Zipcar.
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Rob5TCP
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Post by Rob5TCP »

I live in the East Village Manhattan and keep a car. My expenses are as follows:

1. Parking: $3,180
2. Insurance: $843.00
3. Maintenance: $400.00 (approximately)
4. Gas: $450.00 (approximately)
5. Car payments: $0.00

Total per year: $4,873.00 or about $5,000 plus or minus.

My car is a 13 year old Ford Escort with only 43,000 miles on it.
Zipcar would run about 40%-60% less.

Since I use my car primarily for business, its net cost is closer to $3,000.00

I will probably keep this car until it becomes to old to repair. At that point I will consider Zipcar as an alternative. One problem is client emergencies where I can not do it remotely and can not wait until Zipcar finds a car available.
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Rob5TCP
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Post by Rob5TCP »

As for Zipcar insurance coverage:


For Zipcar members 21 years of age or older, our insurance coverage consists of a combined single limit of $300,000 per accident, meaning that all third party bodily injuries, or property damage costs relating to the accident are covered in the aggregate up to $300,000.
rasputin
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Post by rasputin »

the biggest thing holding you back from selling the car is that you're used to owning the car. its a cultural thing. i suspect that if you took a cold hard look at the costs and hassles that you'd simply get rid of it.
Valuethinker
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Post by Valuethinker »

Rob5TCP wrote: I will probably keep this car until it becomes to old to repair. At that point I will consider Zipcar as an alternative. One problem is client emergencies where I can not do it remotely and can not wait until Zipcar finds a car available.
My guess and only that is that when you need a zipcar is often when everyone else wants one?
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Startled Cat
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Post by Startled Cat »

It does look like availability is a problem. I had a friend who is a Zipcar member check on the cars in my area for Saturday and Sunday, and only a few of them were available for even half a day at a time.

I think there will only be a few times a year when I need to drive without advance planning and don't have reasonable alternatives, but if car sharing doesn't work because of availability and car rental doesn't work because of the hours of operation, I'll be out of luck. With this in mind, I'm not sure selling my car makes sense, as liberating as it would be.
chicagobear
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Post by chicagobear »

I live and work in downtown Chicago and haven't owned a car for many years.
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norookie
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Post by norookie »

:D I could never give up my car. Like cowboy with no horse stuck in Tucson for life.
" Wealth usually leads to excess " Cicero 55 b.c
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LonePrairie
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Post by LonePrairie »

When I moved from Marin County to San Francisco in 1998, a parking spot in the apartment garage would have cost $150/month. This was in a busy tourist area, so street parking was impossible. I was a 30-minute walk or 10-minute streetcar ride from work and two blocks from a supermarket and large drugstore, so I sold my car and bought my first-ever non-retirement mutual funds with the proceeds. I continued investing every month, putting in what I wasn't spending on parking, maintenance, insurance, etc. I have never regretted my decision.
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JupiterJones
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Post by JupiterJones »

I was carless for five years when I lived in Boston. It was great. I did have a bicycle, which helped.

Of course, I didn't have much of a need to go too far beyond the public transportation network. But that's what rental cars and taxis are for.

I agree that you should give it a shot for awhile. If you can't make it work, you can always go back to having a car*.

JJ


* Or get a motorcycle or scooter. Cheaper to buy, maintain, operate, and store.

Another option would be to get a car, but pay for parking somewhere out on the outskirts, convenient to public transit, where it's cheaper (or maybe even free?). When you needed to get to your folks house or haul a bass amp around or whatever, you'd take the bus/train/whatever out to where your car was and drive on from there.
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