I sold my car four months ago. I loved that car. I owned it for exactly 12 years and 1 day. It was reliable, safe, cheap to operate, paid off, comfortable, etc etc. So why did I decide to go car free?
I bought my car in 2005. It was a 2005 Honda Civic EX Special Edition (fancy!), black exterior and grey interior. I consistently got 34-36 miles to the gallon. In 12 years I only ever had one maintenance problem which ended up costing about $1000 but should have cost about $270 (thank you, bad mechanic).
Did I mention I freaking loved that car?
It was a good size, and it was comfortable. It moved with me to five duty locations in four different states. I’d purchased it brand new, delivered to me from the dealership where a family member worked (hello, deal!). Despite all that moving, commuting daily, and a few road trips, I only managed to rack up about 120,000 miles in that 12 years. It helps when you are sent overseas for 1-12 months at a time.
Moving To A Car Free Friendly Area
Then, in summer 2016, I moved to the DC metro area. Those of you in the military might refer to it as the National Capital Region. This area, comprised of the Washington DC city limits as well as parts of Maryland and northern Virginia, is big city living. With that comes a number of public transportation options as well as highly walkable neighborhoods.
Within a half mile of my house, there is a mall, two parks, two grocery stores, dozens of restaurants, a library, and more. I stopped needing a car. Anywhere I need to go, I can walk to. Anywhere I want to go, I can walk to or get to through other means. A car became unnecessary.
I drove a fair amount in my first two weeks here. I needed to get settled, which always includes lots of trips to home stores and grocery stores and Target. But after I was fully moved in, my car just sat. Unused. Unneeded.
I only drove 7 miles in 9 months. I was having to jump start my car half the time, because I wasn’t using it enough to keep the battery charged. It was a hassle that I didn’t need.
Within 2 blocks of my house, I have at least six different transportation options. This is pretty common for a car free area, which my current city is encouraging people to embrace.
The first option, of course, is my feet. I can walk to about 90% of the places I visit on a regular basis…and I do. If it’s just a bit too far to walk or I want to get there faster, my area also has a bike share service. I can pay $2 per trip to rent a bike, or $8 per day. There is also an option to sign up for an annual service, which costs $85/year. I haven’t needed that, but I can certainly see it being useful!
If I’m going further afield, I have multiple bus stops and a Metro station within 2 blocks. The Metro is the subway, in case you aren’t familiar. This is my choice for 99% of the trips I take outside my neighborhood. The Metro is fast (usually) and the bus system includes express routes that go exactly where I want to go. I usually pay $1.75-$3 each way for these trips, although if I’m going really far the Metro might cost up to $6 each way. I’ve heard there are trips that cost more, but so far that’s been my highest cost.
If I really, really need a car for a short amount of time, there are two car share services within a block of me. In this area, the services I’ve seen are ZipCar and Car2Go. These aren’t the cheapest option, but if I needed to move something large somewhere these would do nicely.
I’ve also been able to borrow a car from a local friend who kept his car but doesn’t use it all the time either.
Worst case, if I really need a car for awhile (like a road trip), I live about ¾ of a mile from a car rental location. If that one is too expensive, I could also hop on the Metro to go to the myriad car rental places at the airport.
Lots of options!
So I sold my car.
How Much Money I’m Saving
This is a personal finance blog, so you are probably wondering why I chose to write about this. Here’s the tie-in.
Since becoming car free, I’ve been saving nearly $200 each month, broken down as follows:
- Parking: $100/mo
- Insurance: $64/mo (this was probably too much, I realize that)
- Gas, Maintenance, and Registration: estimated $30/mo. Remember that I was barely driving the car, so I didn’t need much for gas and maintenance.
My car has been paid off for years, as any 12-year-old car should be. But if I’d had a car payment, I’d be saving even more.
Of course, I do spend a small amount on transportation. I choose to live very close to work, so I can either walk or bike that distance easily. If I end up moving to a different base in the area I might need to get a car, but I’ll deal with that if and when it happens. I spend about $20 each month on public transportation and Uber or Lyft, so my net savings is about $180 each month.
I’m also saving on some things that are less defined. For instance, if I had a car I’d be more tempted to go to the Target shopping center that is about 1.5 miles away. It’s juuuuuuusssstttttt far away enough that I don’t want to walk there every week, but in a car it’s a short drive and I know I’d go often. That shopping center includes Target (obviously) plus a Barnes and Noble and a movie theater – all places I enjoy spending money. Instead, I go there less than once a month, spend less money, and get in some exercise during the trip.
My Experiences Being Car Free
So far, I’m absolutely loving the car free lifestyle. When you have to drive a car daily you don’t really think about the hassles that come with car ownership. Stopping for gas, getting the oil changed, making sure you submit your car registration on time….
Which, by the way, can be an even bigger hassle for military members who maintain registration in their home state! I don’t know about the rest of you, but my home state requires steps that aren’t always necessary where I am stationed, so it can be a pain. Have you ever considered how hard it is to get a smog check if your home state requires one but your local area doesn’t?
Not having a car has made all of that go away. I don’t have to think about where the cheapest gas is, or even where the closest gas station is. I don’t have to think about paying for parking or whether I’m parked illegally or when the street sweeper will be by in the morning. Maintenance? Ha! No thanks.
I do have to plan out my travel a little more carefully if I’m going somewhere new, but it’s not bad. For instance, for an upcoming trip I’ll be going to an airport that isn’t Metro accessible. I need to plan out how I’m going to get there. No problem, though. I took about 10 minutes to compare my public transportation (Metro as far as I can, then bus) with Uber and Lyft. Then I simply weighed the hassle and time the public transportation would take against the cost of the Uber, and boom! I had a solution. Bonus: I don’t have to pay for parking at the airport!
I also don’t have to deal with the awful traffic in this city. I simply walk everywhere, or if I’m going far enough I take the Metro or a bus. If I’m in a hurry, I get an Uber or Lyft ride.
Looking To The Future
Eventually I’ll move, and I’ll likely have to get a car again. I’m fine with that. There are benefits to having your own car, and I do miss driving sometimes. But for now, I’m digging the car free lifestyle. It’s cheap, environmentally friendly, and easy to do. Good news all around.
I admit the car free life isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t for every location. But if you end up in a city where getting rid of your car is possible, I encourage you to give it a try. If you are part of a couple, perhaps you can downsize to only one car?