10 Reasons Why I Ditched My Car

why I ride a bicycleBy M Butler, special to pfadvice

I don’t own a car. I found myself in a desperate situation where I was not able to meet all of the payment obligations that I had and I was slowly drowning in debt. I needed to do something drastic and my decision was to get rid of my car. This was over a year ago.

At the time everyone I knew thought that I was crazy. I even thought I was crazy. There isn’t anything more un-American than not owning a car. When I made the decision I wasn’t sure if it was going to be even possible to live without a car, but I felt I had no other choice. Now that I have lived without it for awhile, I wish I had done it sooner. It was by far the best thing that I could have done. I no longer even want to own a car.

The decision to get rid of the car was by no means an easy one. I am a single mother with a two-year-old child. The nearest store and its shopping center is about 5 miles from my house so having a bike is not the most convenient way to go shopping. Still, even though I can now afford a car, I choose to only have a bike.

While I ride my bike almost every day, there are times when I need to use a car. On days that it rains, I usually have a friend come and we carpool into work. There are times when I need to buy a large amount of groceries and I will either have a friend drive or call a taxi to get this accomplished. Even when I have to pay for things like a taxi or occasionally rent a car, I still come out far ahead than if I owned my own car.

While not having a car poses some problems, overall they are small to what I gain in return. I realise that not everyone can get rid of their car, but a lot more people can than think it is possible. These are the 10 reasons that I don’t have a car and don’t want one:

No car payment: I do not have a car payment that drains several hundred dollars a month from my bank account. This is money that I can save for more important purposes in my life — mainly, by forgoing a car, I will be able to help my little girl go to college while still being able to build a retirement fund for myself.

No car insurance: In addition to not having a car payment, I don’t have to pay twice a year for car insurance. For me, this adds up to almost another $1000 in savings.

No pain when gas prices increase: While everybody else is worried about the price of gas and the rising costs of operating their cars, I don’t think about it at all. Since I don’t have to purchase gas, it has very little effect on my lifestyle and I don’t need to figure out how to squeeze higher gas prices into my monthly budget like I used to.

No car repair bills: One of the worst things that can happen when you own a car and are living paycheck to paycheck is to have it break down on you. All of a sudden you have a several hundred dollar car bill that needs to be paid right away in order to get you back on the road, but not the money to pay for it. I no longer have to worry about these unexpected expenses. While my bicycle may need to get a tuneup every once in awhile, it is far less expensive than anything a car would cost.

Better health: Not having a car gets me off my lazy butt and outdoors much more often than if I had one. The direct result of this is that I’m in much better health than I would be if I owned a car. In fact, I’ve lost about 15 pounds since making the switch.

Environmentally friendly: An added benefit of not having a car is that I’m doing my part to help the environment. While I do not expect everyone to quit using their cars, I think that everyone should make an effort where they can to help the environment. This is one of the ways that I am able to do this.

No gym membership: A month after I bought my bike and sold my car, I cancelled my gym membership. Since I ride my bike to work, I’m in much better health than I would be if I owned a car. I get plenty of exercise on my own and don’t need to shell out the $30 a month I was paying to try to keep myself in shape.

Better organization: Due to having only a bike, I must plan my trips much more carefully and not having a car has made me become more organized. In fact, a side effect of getting rid of the car was that my monthly grocery bills dropped by about $200 a month. The bike forces me to always shop with a list (because I’m not making another trip if I accidentally forget) and I can only carry so much stuff back (so no impulse purchases) that my shopping bills naturally went down.

Less stress: While I will readily admit that a car is more convenient, the amount of money that it requires was making my life extremely stressful. The car had me in a position where I felt like I needed it to survive, but it was costing me so much that I was always in negative numbers when the end of the month rolled around. Now that I don’t have a car or the costs associated with it, I no longer have the financial stress that I had before.

A much healthier bank account: What this all adds up to is that I have a much healthier bank account than I would ever have if I still owned a car. Instead, I am able to add hundreds of dollars to my savings account each month and put away some for both my and my daughter’s future.

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27 Responses to 10 Reasons Why I Ditched My Car

  1. Debbie says:

    I think it is weird that an action that everyone, including you, thinks is crazy can be so great. It is distressing that we are so bad at guessing what we will like. I wonder what other drastic-seeming actions we should be taking!

    I went without a car for four years for similar reasons: each time my car broke down, it was like the mechanic called my bank to find out the balance so he could charge me that!

    My main trouble was getting home from parties. I could get there on my own or on buses, but the parties would outlast the bus schedule and the daylight so people would want to give me rides home, and they wouldn’t let me do anything in return, so I didn’t like that.

    Every three or four months I would rent a car to take a long trip (such as to visit my parents who live 200 miles away) and/or to buy large things or go to far away stores. As you said, this is soooo much cheaper than owning a car.

    I learned that there are two kinds of car rental places: the kind for people who have cars but are traveling out of town (these are at airports) and the kind for people who have cars but they are in the shop. The latter are much better for people without cars.

    Now most of my friends have moved so far out that they are no longer on bus routes. I have a car again, but I only buy reliable ones and I buy them ten years old and keep them about ten years. You don’t need collision insurance on old cars (even the slightest ding will “total” your car, according to insurance companies). It costs me about $200/month to own a car including gas, repairs, insurance, and saving for the next car. I don’t drive it much (insurance is cheaper if you don’t drive to work, too), and I often lend to my friends whose cars are in the shop.

    It’s not always easy to remember that you don’t have to drive somewhere just because you have a car. But I try hard not to forget. And grocery shopping on the bus definitely counts as one of your aerobic activities for the week!

    Thanks for sharing. One day you will have to get a bike for your child!

  2. Alex says:

    Great article. While I don’t intend to get rid of my car, I now will be looking into whether I can start using my bike in more areas of my life.

  3. Carol says:

    Great to hear your story! We sold our last car in 1999 and never looked back. I can’t even imagine owning one now. I agree with all the benefits you mention. It’s a real relief not worrying about when the silly thing is going to break again. We’ve probably saved $20,000 over the eight years we’ve been car-free.

  4. Mich Mash says:

    Thank you for posting this. My friend linked me to you. I’ve been talking to my husband about moving onto the military base (he’s in the Army) so we can be close enough to everything that we can ride bikes. I’m not sure if he would let us get rid of our little Saturn, but I definitely have been more interested in making riding a bike my primary mode of transportation for a while now. Reading this makes me think about pushing it to the next step sometime in the near future.

    Good for you!!!

  5. brklynsurfer says:

    I like how you listed 10 reasons for going without a car. I wish I had this luxury. However I do have to nit-pick on one part of your argument. That when it rains or snows you ask a friend to come pick you up. If everyone in your community followed your advice then their would no one to drive you in the times you need it. Again this is just one point I would just not make in rationalizing your car-less life style.

  6. Raj says:

    I truly commend you for what you are doing. Although I haven’t quite reached to your level of dedication yet, I try to group errands together and try to include them in my daily commute so I don’t have to make a special trip just to pick-up an item or two.

    Thanks for inspiring us to do more.


  7. brian says:

    this is why Zipcar is the greatest thing ever. I got rid of my car and now drive a Zipcar about once a month when I need to. My annual costs for Zipcar and biking needs are less than auto insurance alone.

  8. Montreal says:

    I am also car-free and loving it. Here in Montreal most supermarkets will deliver your groceries for about $4 or so. (One of the chains even lets you order online.) We have our groceries delivered about once a month. In between we carry our groceries ourselves, often on the way home from work.

    We have a good subway system, and I occasionally bring larger items than most people would expect. Things like televisions and bookcases can usually be delivered (often it’s free if you spend over $50).

    There’s really nothing I want to do that I can’t do by walking, biking, or subway/bus. I don’t need to get a ride from anyone. (Actually there are quite a few people here who are car-free.)

  9. aj says:

    also in Montreal here, and also living carfree. When I need to go places I can usually take public transit, short taxi rides if I’m running late, or carpool with friend. Not having the cost of a car is not only a personal savings, but it is a net positive when it comes to the community you live in, as well. From an efficiency standpoint, having one truck making deliveries is much better than 100 cars all making small trips; costs less, less traffic, saves gas, and less carbon / ozone emissions. Better air quality = less incidence of lung disease and childhood asthma, therefore less of a cost on society in providing health care. Many employers here are realizing that it makes no sense to invest in big offices and real estate solely to provide a desk, chair and high-speed internet connection for employees, when employees likely already have these things at home; teleworking and flex-time is very common. I myself work from home in Montreal for a company based in Toronto.

    To respond to brklynsurfer, I don’t really understand your point. If more people carpool (for whatever reason, bad weather, etc.) then that’s still fewer cars on the road, less traffic, and shared savings (or split costs, however you want to see it), plus the other environmental/social benefits as I’ve outlined above…no?

  10. benjymous says:

    I can agree with this whole heartedly – about a year ago my car was reaching critical mass of repairs (bits kept going wrong, and I’d been quoted a £1000 repair bill for a car worth far less than £1000)

    Since my wife and I owned two (small) cars, we decided to cut our losses on mine, and keep her Smart car (which gets incredible milage!) – I now use the bus every day for work, as we’re lucky enough to have a strong public transport system, and she uses the car, mostly at weekends.

    The money we save on insurance, road tax, fuel and repair bills on my old car more than pays for my weekly bus tickets, and can easily pay for a hire car when we need a bigger car

  11. Jason says:

    There is another more holistic benefit of going car free (in intrest of full disclosure, my wife and I own 1 car). When you are car free you gain an understanding of the mass transit system and where it needs improvement. Therefore, if you are of the mind to attend council meetings (or run for office) you are able to address the added needs of the transit system that will benefit everyone.

  12. Steve says:

    Terrific article, it may lead to a few readers dumping their car and getting with the program. I have been car free since late 1998, at the time I had a sweet BMW. After a couple of years spent getting to know my local mechanic on a too often basis, the car had to go. I actually asked mechanics at three BMW dealerships, in three different cities which BMW model they owned. The answer in 100% of the cases was ZERO. None of the mechanics owned a BMW, they all owned a Honda, Toyota, Nissan or Mazda. All Japanese, all said it was for reasons of quality, repair costs, insurance, etc. I was told BMW stood for Bring My Wallet, very true.

    When I need to rent a car I rent from: http://www.premiercarjet.com/

    The reason for renting from Premiercarjet are simple, the rates are much lower than I can find and I am really a frugal person when it comes to an auto rental. Also, the cars are fully fueled when booked and you return the car with as little fuel as you wish, no financial hit either. As well, the rental rates include full insurance coverage. The only downside I have found is that you need to book the vehicle 24hrs ahead of time. Hope some of you toss your car and rent when you really need a vehicle.

    As for the “party ride”, I sometimes get a ride home from another person if the night goes late. The next day I will pop around and drop off a nice bottle of wine with a thank-you note. I have made plenty of friends in getting a ride from a late evening. Good conversations in the drive home lead to friendships.

    Cheers, Steve

  13. James says:

    No kidding, car ownership is expensive. I estimate I spent $600 on car-related items (down to $400 after car loan is paid off). Nevertheless, car is an essence unless living in more urban area.

  14. Eric says:

    There are a few bike makers that do really cool things to help people who don’t have a car, but need some of the functionality a car provides. A popular one is xtracycle.com which talks about their “Sport Utility” bikes. It’s like a bike with a rack, but lower center of gravity allows you to carry more stuff. They come in retrofitting kits or complete bikes. There’s another custom bike making company that makes this custom truck-like bike called ANT: http://www.antbikemike.com/flom.html I wish cool stuff like this was more affordable of course, but it’s probably still cheaper than owning a car. Learning to fix your own bike is another big thing to keeping ownership costs down, getting a good book to help you learn to fix things can help, or local bike cooperatives like the one in Carrboro can help a lot. Check them out at http://www.recyclery.info/

  15. Cindy says:

    Bravo. I keep telling my family (who all think I’m nuts, of course) that after my current car quits, I probably won’t be getting another one though I can afford to. Mine is 8 years old now. I have to say I truly have not sunk a fortune into my car. I paid for it very quickly because I made up my mind I’d do that beforehand. I do have the oil changed, one set of new tires and a brake job; guess I’ve been lucky. I like the idea of the freedom I’d have by not owning a car anymore, strange as that sounds (though I’m sure you all comprehend that). I’m practicing doing without the car by not using it much right now to test things out. I like it! Helps tremendously that I work from my home for sure. My house is within walking distance of so much, I do have a bike with a basket, and the bus stop close by will take me to 2 different towns to get anything I’d really need in either direction. Looks to me like it would be a lot less stressful and fulfilling to live in such a way where you’re not always thoughtlesslessly tearing around in a car for no good reason.

  16. Jonathan says:

    I wrecked my car (not my fault) and took the insurance settlement and socked it away in the bank. For awhile I looked for cars to replace my old one (which I loved) but there wasn’t that perfect one, so I never followed through.

    I ride the bus to work and I’m moving to an apartment closer to the city soon so I can start biking to work. The accident happened 8 months ago and it was a blessing in disguise!

  17. Hun Boon says:

    Actually you only have 2 reasons:
    1) Save money
    2) Better health

    “Better organisation” i.e. “plan everything in advance” because you don’t have a car is actually an inconvenience.

    But hey, 10 reasons is a much catchier title than 2 reasons. 🙂 And those are perfect good reasons too.

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  19. Rohan says:

    That was a fantastic article. I agree, that not owning a car is a hard choice for everyone. I have my car too. But I use the bus service to my office everyday along with me colleagues. Instead of 14 of us using our own vehicles, we use just one bus. That means keeping 13 vehicles off the road. Other than reducing greenhouse gases,it helps me in not thinking about traffic jams and gets me stress free to office.I know that it is not always a feasible choice as we work late hours….but it helps atleast when we choose to drive together to office.

  20. pf101 says:

    Excellent! I haven’t owned a car in over 5 years and don’t expect that to change soon. I just moved cross country and purposely chose a city that wouldn’t require a car. Priceline is great for cheap day/weekend rentals and it’s rare that I really wish I had a car on a more frequent basis. If I ever do decide to get wheels again I’ll probably go for a scooter instead of a car.

  21. Mike says:

    Don’t forget the occasional parking ticket (or parking expenses) of a car, and any city sticker/ registration (or similar) fees you may need to pay. For most car owners in a city, these are reality.

    I stopped driving to work a couple months ago, at least during periods of good weather, and have dropped about 10 pounds walking the 3 miles (1.5 each way) each day. The walk has let me get some good iPod time and decompress before/after work in a way that sitting in traffic did not.

  22. Shavon says:

    You can save a lot of money without a car. The car is a big expense. You can put the money you spend on a car in a bank account or something else important. You have less stress and a healthier life. This is why I may go to a state where you don’t need a car after or before I finish college.

  23. KT says:

    Stellar article! Your efforts are really commendable. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope it inspires more of us to “get off our lazy butts,” as you say, and bike instead of driving.

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  25. Stacia says:

    Inspirational! Our young family includes three small boys and we worry a bit about how it’s going to be on the flip side. However, the money we spend on car payment/insurance/gas is just disgusting. What could we be doing with that money? Amazing things. I will say, in response to the step where you get rides from friends, I have a handful of Seattle friends who predictably depend on me at parties and social meetings for rides home because they are car free. This is unbelievably annoying and rude. Carpooling I can understand…mooching is costly in a friendship. I think some extension of gratitude, food contribution, wine…anything, would be nice. I intend to do it, at least, if I end up bumming rides repeatedly.

  26. Wes says:

    My life without a car started when my spouse wrecked 2 cars and a motorcycle all within a few weeks. I live in Long Beach which has an extensive bus and light rail system that I can ride as a senior for 75 cents.

    I got a new bike for Christmas, I do my errands using my bike or I just walk. I try to walk or run 45 min twice a day anyway so if I need to go to the bank or the barber,I combine it with one of my runs. I also have dogs who love the twice daily outings.

    Once a month I make a big trip to the grocery store, I buy most of my groceries and take a cab home. I still need to make small trips for milk and fresh veggies but just carry these home in a bag or back pack.

    I also don’t need my gym membership any more and I am back into the size jeans I wore in high school, 31″, down from 36″

  27. Good for you, Wes! Sounds like a nice little life you’ve created for myself. I always use a bike and trailer to do my grocery shopping.

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