After thinking about it for a few months and doing an experiment to see how little we could drive in a given month, my wife and I decided it was time to sell our car. It has been a positive change so far.
Since moving to Portland, we shared the car. It was a 2009 SUV that did not get very good gas mileage and began to feel more like a burden than a useful tool with the auto work, stress of driving, and monthly costs. For the last three years, we didn’t drive it a whole lot. Usually a few times a week. We rode public transit quite often, even when we had the car, and walked as much as possible.
The real change that spurred us to make the leap to be car-free was when we moved to a new neighborhood that’s more walkable. We live within three blocks of a co-op grocery store, the library, a park, a major bus line, and a streetcar stop. The only time we have to leave the neighborhood is when we want to go to a place like the local art museum or visit friends, which happens once a week or so.
I work from home, as I have most of my career. I love not having to spend time commuting because I can spend that time on creative projects. Also, having access to a full kitchen and pantry for making lunch is a big help health-wise. Abagail started a new job recently where she takes public transit to work.
The less I have driven over time, the more I have come to dislike it. I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey where getting my driver’s license and having a car at 17 felt like the most important part of my life. It was freedom. I could go places and spend time with friends. I wasn’t constrained to the mile radius around my house with nothing but other houses.
When I lived in Burlington, Vermont, exploring the outdoors and getting around the less dense city made the car feel like a necessity. I only took the bus once over the course of five years in Vermont, even though there was pretty decent public transit available. I can’t help but wonder how we could have made being car-free work there.
The more Abagail and I thought about car ownership, the more it didn’t add up. Cars are expensive, gas-guzzling, polluting, dangerous, multi-ton marvels of engineering. Our society has prioritized this one particular mode of transit over most other aspects of life – financial health, environmental health, and mental health. The car-occupied roads dominate much of life as we know it. I’d argue that cars and the time spent on the rode don’t make most people happy.
Owning a car was no small cost. We spent at least $500 per month to insure, park, fuel, and maintain our vehicle. And that’s with us only putting 2~3k miles on it per year.
Is the freedom to go wherever we want whenever we want worth $6000 per year?
We decided no for financial, environmental, and quality of life reasons. Instead, we’ll now save that money and put it toward reaching financial independence. Without even considering any sort of compounding interest from the investing money, $60,000 over 10 years is a sizeable chunk of change.
During our month-long experiment to see how often we really used the car, we only used it three times. Those trips weren’t even necessary. It was time for the car to go.
Selling the car was pretty simple. We brought it to the car wash to vacuum the interior and wash the exterior. We went to a nearby park to take lots of photos (seriously, take as many as you can if you’re selling your car). We listed it on Craigslist with as much information as possible and priced it based on Kelley Blue Book’s value. After that, we gathered all of the paperwork to be prepared to sell.
It took a couple of weeks to find the right buyer, but we eventually did for a price we were happy with. Hooray, we are car-free!
The same day we sold the car, we canceled our auto insurance and parking spot, which felt great. We took the cash from the sale and put it in our savings. The most intangible, wonderful feeling is a new sense of freedom. Not the freedom of being able to go anywhere, anytime. But the freedom of not having the physical and financial burden of the vehicle anymore. We don’t have to worry about some part breaking or parking it or getting into an accident.
It’s been two weeks since selling the car, and there hasn’t been a time where either of us wished we had it. Time will tell if that changes, but so far, so good. I’ve been using my bike, the bus, and walking, as before. I haven’t been late for anything, yet!
The ease in our ability to go car-free is definitely aided by so many factors in our lives, most of which are intentional, like moving to a more walking-friendly neighborhood, me having no commute, Abagail being able to take public transit to work, not having hobbies that require regularly hauling large items from one place to another, etc.
I can’t say whether going car-free would be possible in everyone’s life or not because there are bound to be circumstances that require it. But I still think lots of folks could drive less or relocate to a location that’s more friendly to walking and biking.
There are bound to be some challenges with being car-free, but I’m not worried about them. A rental is always an option if we feel the need to go on a road trip or have to move. The cost of renting a car a few times a year is far less than the cost of owning one.
I’m glad we sold our car, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we fare in the coming months and years without one.
Listen to this post: