To car or not to car

By | October 12, 2019

You know that article where I complained that I didn’t have any idea what I was doing and questioned all my opinions and decisions in life? What if I’m wrong about everything? Shunning cars is one of those opinions I think I may be wrong about.

For over nine years, I didn’t have a car. Working in Chicago and Sydney and then nomading, I didn’t need one. I preached that nobody needed a car and touted it as one of the many ways you could retire early.

Walking is more fun and better for you. Biking supplements when walking takes too long. Public transportation intervenes when biking and walking fail. Ubers and Lyfts and a car-sharing service like Zip Car fill in the remaining gaps.

Not owning a car is a great way to live.

Except I think I’m wrong.

Because owning a car is great. I don’t think I counted the sheer convenience factor high enough when I calculate the joy of having a car. It is ridiculously convenient.

I never used to use the tabs on google maps for driving, but wow, is it faster than public transportation. So much faster.

My car after using headlight cleaner

So, yeah, I bought a car. My parents sold it to me for a dollar that I still haven’t given them. It’s the family car, a 16-year old Toyota Corolla with 150,000 miles on it and a good attitude. It was titled in my mom and my sister’s name. My dad put the down payment on it in late 2003 (my parents prefer new cars) and I made the monthly payments for three years. In 2009, after law school, I gave her back to my parents. Like I said, family car.

She’s mine again. And I love her. I love having her. Having a car makes life bigger, so much bigger.

When I first stayed in Colorado, I house sat all over the place from the south side of sprawly Denver, to a northern suburb, to Boulder and beyond. As a result, I have a lot of friends in different areas.

The best thing about retirement is my ability to say yes! to adventure that comes up. Let’s do things and experience life. A car makes that easier. I would decline more than half the invitations I received if I didn’t have a car.

And I like saying yes when friends invite me.

Having a car opens up your world and allows you to cultivate friendships with people that are a bit more distant.

So that’s the positives and why I “bought” a car. I love her, but I do miss the days without her.

The bad thing about being a lawyer is my tendency to argue both sides. Both sides usually have merit.

Cars aren’t cheap. They’re a significant expense.

Car insurance: $500/year
Registration: – $100/year
Gas: $40/month
Oil changes: $50/year
Repairs: (???)
Tickets: (???)

She takes more of my money that I’d like.

More than the cost, though, I just really hate cars. I count any time spent in that moving box, alone and driving, as a net negative on my happiness. Every ounce of me screams not to be driving when I’m driving because I hate driving. So much responsibility and possibility of death or maiming lies in every minute spent behind the wheel. All my body parts, especially my legs, ache to be anywhere but where they are.

I don’t know the answer. I can’t wait until self driving cars become the norm.

39 thoughts on “To car or not to car

  1. Jerri Jones

    I love that you argue both sides! Its one of the many things I like about your blog.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      That’s super sweet, but actually one of the things I dislike most about myself! It’s so hard to make a decision when you argue both sides constantly.

  2. Jerri Jones

    Good healthy restaurant recommendations? Ever been to Rockford, IL?

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      My parents live in Rockford and I’m there often. My favorite place to go is Johnny Pamcakes, but that’s the opposite of healthy. Their swedish pancakes are so damn good though.

  3. Shane (from Ireland)

    I have a car which I use maybe 3 times a fortnight and a bicycle and my legs.

    The car is priceless when you think I want to go a city that is 2 hours away right now.

    It’s pretty poor though in a traffic congested city like where I live so 2 weeks ago I bought a Honda SH125 Scooter. Havnt got a chance to ride it yet as I have to complete government-mandated training first.

    I think this as yet unnamed Scooter may actually improve my life. It’s a 2014 in good condition.

    My car is called Monty.

    1. M.B.

      Electric bike for the win, but seriously you should see the motherload documentary.

      1. Shane (from Ireland)

        I watched a trailer on YouTube just now and can see that it’s not my cup of tea politically. I use my bike on average 6 days a week. I cycle to work 95% of the time (it’s less than 15 mins by bicycle) – so not only am I a bicycle fan, I’m a long-time bicycler.

        I can’t watch a film using cycling as a women’s issue. It’s for both genders. Don’t want to get political as thankfully there’s very little politics around here! Thanks for the recommendation.

        1. Thriftygal Post author

          At least you gave it a shot. That’s all anyone can ask.

          Thanks for being such an awesome bicycler. I want to be like you.

      1. Shane (from Ireland)

        Thank you! YouTube has stories of guys crossing continents on scooters – crossing town will be enough for me. Yeah they scream fun, independence, frugality, flexibility and speed (which is a lot to scream 😂)

  4. Don Mertle

    Self driving cars are the stupidest idea in decades. Build transit or live where you don’t need to drive already. What a sick idea dragging thousands of pounds of metal, instead of transit.

    How can you justify emissions when you have so many wonderful no carbon choices. Don’t be spoiled into carbon complacency. Challenge yourself to live an equal adventure on carbon avoiding or absorbing means. Make that your meaningful goal, instead of cooking which is clearly no your calling.

  5. Stuart_F

    I love thriftiness and frugality in almost every area – but I think automobiles should actually be an exception for people who have spare cash. Car safety features have been improving so significantly and steadily over the last two decades, that being able to get a newer car can dramatically increase the likelihood that you, any of your passengers, will survive a crash or just have less injuries than if you’re driving an older car.

    WSJ has a great infographic on this basically showing crashes between new cars = very unlikely to result in death, crashes between older cars = much more likely to result in death.

    This is sadly why we have inequality when it comes to auto deaths – people without a high school degree die at far higher rates in car crashes.

    So I hope people with old cars (even if wonderfully reliable and cheap!) consider getting a newer car if they can afford it. Even if it’s still used, and from say 2010, 2013, whatever, it’s going to be much, much safer than something many years earlier than that.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Wow, thanks for the great comment. I honestly never even considered car safety in my thought process for getting a car, but you make an excellent point.

  6. Bob

    Buy a Nissan Leaf. No gas, no oil, no radiator, hoses, belts, water pumps, etc.
    If you have federal taxes then still have $7,500 credit. Along with state grants and utility rebates could buy 32,000 car for 17,000! Select renewable sources for electricity and reduce your footprint and expenses!

    1. H. Hudson

      I agree. We’ve had one since 2013. So far we’ve bought nothing for it. Two tires will be needed soon though.

    2. Thriftygal Post author

      That sounds like a great deal. What about mufflers? Do they have mufflers? That’s been my only repair on my car so far (touch wood).

  7. h. hudson

    Visit Amsterdam and see how transportation is done without a total reliance on a car.

  8. Doug M

    I retired in 2015 at age 53, and my sister talked me into moving back home (a small rural town I left 30 years before). With no public transportation & nothing in walking distance, a vehicle was absolutely required.

    Six months later (and absolutely miserable) I came to my senses and moved back to the city. I can walk to everywhere or ride the bus or subway.

    After I was back for a year, with some sadness, I sold my car. I loved the little guy, but it wasn’t worth the hassle or expense of keeping it around. Plus I’ve never been a great driver & felt like I was taking my life into my hands everytime I got behind the wheel.

    Anita, keep the car–you’re young. You’re obviously comfortable with driving. The car pretty much fell into your lap 🙂 Your annual expenses for it… c’mon, they’re not so bad. You have plenty of time to give up the car later!

  9. Mike

    Your price for auto insurance sounds reasonable. I’m always looking for a better deal on car insurance. What companies are you looking at for coverage?

  10. plam

    Cars are useful! Commuting to work by car is the worst (unless you’re commuting by public transit 2hrs each way) though. I’m not optimistic about self driving cars. I still think building cities around cars makes them far less livable.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Oh, you’re 100% right with your last sentence. I hope more cities become like Amsterdam like another commenter mentioned.

  11. Lydia Kirkes

    I feel you. I also hate driving, and would love nothing better than to move to a city where the public transportation makes car ownership obsolete. Baton Rouge is not that city, unfortunately. It’s all about where you live though, and sadly most American city’s are still reliant on everyone having a car.

  12. PaleBlueDot

    I came to this same realization this year and will be purchasing a used EV early next year. I left my old 2001 Civic with my parents when I moved out. I live within less than 5 miles of work and bike almost every day. I’ve been without a car for almost 3 years now and recently I have felt the inconvenience of not having one. Having to rely on Lyfts, others to pick you up, trains that are delayed in NJ, it’s become a bit of a hassle. Dating is also challenging when you are expected to have a vehicle.

    Since I always hated the pollution involved with cars I’m glad to see there are reasonable EVs in the used market that will suit my needs.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I found it hard to date without a car as a woman. I imagine it’s worse as a dude. Maybe that’s sexist.

  13. PaleBlueDot

    I had the same realization earlier this year. I left my old 2001 Civic with my parents when I moved out. I’ve been cycling the 4.5 miles to work mostly everyday for almost 3 years now. Lately I have felt the inconvenience of not having a vehicle. Dating can be difficult when you are expected to have a car. Waiting for lyfts, relying on others, inadequate train service in NJ has made me start saving for an EV.

    I always hated the pollution factor of cars. The used EV market available now leaves me with better options.

  14. Ms Vine

    Yay new post! And on one of my favorite topics.

    A paid off car in a metro area that’s car friendly isn’t so bad. We have two paid-off cars both of which we plan to lose by attrition. During the week, my spouse uses one car to commute while I either carpool with him, walk or take a free bus. Our cars are most used for out of town adventures or offsite work appointments.

    I still think your conclusion that a car free life is possible, and best, is a sound one. But used effectively, a car can also be very convenient.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I wish all public transportation would be free. I went to Warsaw recently and everything was free on Sundays. It was so convenient!

      1. Ms Vine

        More people will use public transportation when it is some combination of cheaper, faster and more convenient than other modes. We tried the bus to/from the airport once, but that route requires 2 connections, doesn’t run on weekends, and takes 3 times as long as driving. Even though it is a fraction of the price of rideshares or airport parking, it is too inconvenient to be viable.

        My city has free bus routes in the core that serve / are funded by parking lots on the city edges. We also have a regular bus transit system that has a fare. I’m fortunate to live a short walk from a free bus stop, and my office is right at another on the same route.

  15. Luke

    Looking forward to the day when star trek transporters are the norm. 9am busy streets of Delhi, 9.01am Hawaii Beach (time difference not accounted for)

  16. Fit DIY Dad

    I’m in a Miami suburb to be close to my son and between the distances and heat a car is essential, I’m considering an electric bike + trailer for shorter trips. We don’t all have to be anti-car purists and they have a place and are fine, no rigid definitions needed, you gotta do what works for you.

    Glad to revised you’re thinking, you’re smart. Here’s some candy 🍬🍭 (I took your comment box somewhat literally).

    I’m a car guy, I just do it in a way that aligns with my beliefs and work it into my FIRE goal.

    I also eventually want to convert an older, light gas car into electric, but I still like to occasionally be wasteful/selfish and burn fossil fuels and add some extra pounds of carbon into the air at a higher than normal rate.


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