Can a Two Career Family of Four Get by with Just One Car?

by Katy on October 23, 2010 · 46 comments

My husband and I are just starting a conversation about going from two cars down to one. And frankly, this makes me nervous. It’s not that our neighborhood isn’t walkable, or that Portland, Oregon doesn’t have great public transportation, but it still seems slightly undoable. However, I do get a free public transportation pass through my workplace.

We currently drive a 2005 Honda Odyssey mini-van and a 1997 Subaru Outback.

The Honda Odyssey is great because it seats eight people and can fit an enormous amount of stuff in the back. It’s also super comfortable and trouble free. And I don’t know about your kids, but my kids do better on car trips when they have a little elbow room. We’ve owned this car since it was brand new and it has 36,500 miles on it. The safety ratings on this car are the best of any mini-van, (which is why we bought it) and it has a gas saving feature where it goes from six to three cylinders when it hits a cruising speed. This package came with leather seats and a built in DVD player. Because the car is so freakin’ big, it has a number of dings and scratches which I need to get taken care of. I have a bad back and driving this car feels like steering a Lazy-Boy through town.

The Subaru Outback just hit 100,000 miles and appears to still be going strong. It seats five people, has cloth seats and smells a little funny on the inside. (My husband thinks a homeless person spent the night in it while he was at work last year.) It’s a four wheel drive, which when we need it comes in very handy. This car may have a few dings and scratches, but because it’s an older car we don’t freak out about it as much. Driving this car feels scratchy.

My husband and I both work, and our sons both play soccer. My husband has biked to work in the past, but he dislocated his elbow a couple years ago biking over a railroad track and hasn’t enjoyed cycle commuting since. His work hours are erratic, and often have him not coming home until 8:00 P.M. or leaving for work at 2:30 A.M. My workplace is too far to cycle, although I could take the bus. However, I would have to catch the 5:54 A.M. bus. Right now, I drive to work and leave at 6:35 A.M., so I suppose it’s not that big of a difference.

I wonder how we would get the kids to their two different soccer practices, which run concurrently. I wonder what we do if I wanted to take the kids to the beach or to Mt. Hood for a weekend.

Our high school age son takes public transportation back and forth to school, which is free. Our middle school age son takes a district school bus. Although, he has to picked up two days a week when he stays after school for Japanese tutoring.

I am aware of options such as Zipcar, which allow you to borrow a car without paying for insurance or gas. There is one parked a couple blocks away, so this would actually be a decent plan B.

With all these thoughts swimming around in my head, I took the bus yesterday to pick up a few staples at Trader Joes. I ended up waiting awhile for the bus to come, but I had a good book in hand. Of course, I chose this experiment during daylight hours on a bright and sunny afternoon.

I think we are going to spend a month pretending we have only one car and see how it goes. It will either be much easier or much harder than we anticipate.

Has your family figured out how to get by with a single car? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen McDade October 23, 2010 at 10:21 am

Well…that’s one of the main themes of my blog! However, my workplace is only 2 miles away, and very bikeable. So we bought an Xtracycle Radish, and I bike to work, and I drop kids off at school via Xtracycle as well. And sometimes I do grocery shopping, or I ride to MAX and then ride MAX downtown for a meeting or other activity. Very rarely, we could really use a second car, and in those cases, I can usually borrow a car or get a ride. We don’t have a ZipCar near us; otherwise we would be perfect candidates for the program.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl October 23, 2010 at 10:28 am

This would be tough for us. We live in a very non-walkable area (a liquor store is the only thing we can walk to!), and my husband works pretty far from home.

The difficult thing for me is that the kids and I would be utterly stuck at home while my husband was at work…no field trips, no doctor appointments, no errand-running, no days at the park, no trips to the pool in the summer, and so on. Could we do it? Yes. But the stuff we’d have to give up is not worth it to me.


Jackie October 23, 2010 at 10:42 am

I am embarrassed to say my husband and I failed at this. We tried it for a year before we caved. What’s sad is we work the similar hours for the same company! But because my job requires me to drive around the plant, I needed it every day. So my husband felt stuck at work. Plus his office building is actually 1.5 miles from mine, even though it is still within the fence line of where we work. So by the time we added up all the back and forths, it actually came out to less mileage to drive two cars. So we caved and bought a Toyota Yaris. We have an 05 Corolla as well. Both are paid for, so we are definitely keeping them for now.

We also live in a very unwalkable location. However, we are desperately trying to get out of here and plan to move to a place with public transport (Portland is actually on our list!) When we do that, we will sell one of the cars, most likely the older one.


Jackie October 23, 2010 at 10:44 am

Oh and one thing, because we work for a chemical plant, bike commuting is not allowed. So even if it was safe to ride to work (the plant is on a major freeway) we would have to dismount at the gate, put on full protective gear, and walk our bikes to our buildings. Which poses its own challenges (distance, time, trucks on the road, cranes, etc).


Susan October 23, 2010 at 10:45 am

Katy, Living in the UK is completely a different experience. I don’t drive nor do I know how to drive. I get my food shopping delivered for £3.50 surcharge and its actually cheaper than if I went on the bus, not to mention less stressful. I am fortunate that I can walk to work and most things my son and I do are in commuting distance or walking distance. However, this is because I live in a place in the UK that is more public transport user friendly. Otherwise, I would rethink my “no car” policy. I think every thing in life should be a balance…if you can’t do the things that make your family happy like day trips out, etc., it isn’t worth getting rid of one car. Quality of life is what is important!


Angela@beggingtheanswer October 24, 2010 at 2:48 am

I love the “Quality of life is what is important” attitude! What a great way to determine whether a choice is worthwhile or not.


Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire October 23, 2010 at 10:56 am

I’ve contemplated this before, but it just wouldn’t work for us. Dallas has public transport, but the suburbs don’t. Technically, we could live with one car, but it would mean some major inconveniences for both of us. For one, I couldn’t work at all. I’m a SAHW, but I do tutor every spring at a middle school, and I sometimes substitute teach. School hours do not coincide with my husband’s work schedule. It might work out fine if he worked nearby, but his office is in Dallas.

Also, it would be problematic for our various church activities. I’d have to bum rides off of other people for evening music rehearsals, and I wouldn’t get to go to women’s bible study. Even if I took my husband to work, I wouldn’t get back in time for my bible study, and I couldn’t pick him on music rehearsal nights until something like 9pm. And we often need both of our cars for hauling our youth group around.

I guess we could do it if I was willing to be a hermit…


Laura October 23, 2010 at 11:35 am

Katy, we debated many of the same issues last summer before we decided to sell our second car. While both cars had low mileage (less than 40K), we ended up getting rid of our hybrid, mainly because it looked better and had better resale value, but also because our other car was bigger and fit the five of us better, and it’s a nicer and safer car as well. We were pretty sure though, as were our kids, that we’d live to regret not having two cars.

So far, it’s worked out fine having just the one car, and we’ve saved a bundle of money. Our three girls are in three different schools this year, with three different schedules, but the oldest (HS) uses public transportation so all I have to do is ferry the other two around, and pick up the kids I watch after school (and figure out their ever-changing schedules). My husband uses public transportation, provided free by his company, but has discovered he actually prefers it to driving as he can get so much done both coming and going to work (we live in SE; he commutes all the way to Wilsonville). He does have to get up earlier in the morning, but has adjusted, and said he kinda likes the quiet time before we’re all up. When our girls have things going on at the same, we have learned to call a friend/teammate and ask them if they can help out, and then we return the favor later.

IF we need a second car, and so far we haven’t, since August, we use Zipcar. We’re lucky – Portland has turned out to be a VERY easy city for a family with just one car.


Susan October 23, 2010 at 1:51 pm

How often I have thought about this! We recently moved for my husband’s job – he is the pastor of a church – and we now live across the parking lot from the church. It’s a great commute! I stay home with our kids, who have bus transportation to school. I drive a lot less here.

The things that hold me back from ditching a car are: 1) our kids are little and riding public transportation with them in the winter would be very hard 2) we live in the midwest, where winter is a major issue 3) though the church is close, my husband drives a fair bit for meetings, visiting church members, etc. and sometimes needs the car on short notice. Negotiating car time could be a big deal.

I will be very interested to hear how your experiment works out.


Abby October 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm

We do, and in eight years of marriage, we always have – but I can’t say we always will.

Right now, I have the luxury of walking to work. Better still, my son’s school and daughter’s childcare center are right across the street from my office. It’s one of the reasons I took my current job – even in the pouring rain, my commute is the best part of my day.

My husband relies on a mix of bus/train/walking and sometimes driving to the Metro station, especially if he knows he’ll be home after the buses stop running. Taxis and ZipCars are options for us, too, though the few times we’ve needed to rent a car, we’ve ended up needing it long enough that we used Enterprise.

I can imagine this working just fine for a few more years, but our neighbors have been challenged by things like job changes, and especially competing after-school activities. Since our kids are 5 and 2 that’s not a major issue for us yet. Given the headaches involved in parking a second car in our ‘hood, I’m inclined to do anything to avoid taking on that hassle. We’ve even talked about a scooter, but it isn’t like you can put a kid on the back of one. Wait … can you?

As for being home for a weekend without a car? We manage, but there are trade-offs. We’ve had a grand total of one absolutely horrible day in three-plus years, so I guess that’s not too bad.

I’ll be curious to hear about your experiment.


Linda H. October 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm

We did it! My husband’s 16 yr. old Honda was stolen this past January from the parking lot at work. It was recovered 2 wks. later abandoned and totalled, complete with hooker shoes in the backseat. But, I digress…Anyways, we’ve done it. I drive my husband in to work in the a.m. I work the afternoon/evening shift. I do errands with the car during the day and then drive to work and when he gets out of work he takes the bus home. Mid-week doctors appts. for him require some juggling. Our public transportation is not so good and they keep cutting routes. Also, it’s not that pedestrian friendly here, but we’ve managed. We don’t have kids, but if we did, I’d see us having to get a 2nd car. Trying it for a month is a good plan.


Karen October 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Katy, since your 15 year old may be driving in the next couple years, be sure to factor that in to your decision. My husband and I had one car for many years and shared it, with him working full time and me working part time/telecommuting. But once our daughter got her license, the whole picture changed.

So, we now had 3 drivers and one car. Needless to say, we picked up a used Toyota so that we 3 could now get where we were going. Even though my daughter paid for part of it, we kept the car in our names, as teen-owned cars have much higher insurance rates. We live in the Bay Area and while light rail is good, it doesn’t really cover the territory. I suppose if Portland’s transit set-up is much better, this could allow you to side step the “kid needs a car to get to school/work/social outings” problem. I hope so–the last thing we need is more cars on the road.

We truly intended for all of us to share one car but it just wasn’t feasible. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out for you.


Kimberly in So Cal October 23, 2010 at 5:03 pm

We’ve done it off and on for 22+ years (probably half that was one car). We could do it now, but choose not to. Why not? We have two paid off cars (one is the 2009 version of your lovely van up there, sans DVD) and insurance and maintenance aren’t that expensive. DH can walk or bike to work and I am a homeschooling SAHM, so I probably drive more than he does. Our reasoning is that we have one more car than we need, allowing for maintenance and repairs. That doesn’t seem important now when both cars are rather new, but we plan to drive these cars for another 10+ years. We also have boys who are going on 11 and 12; not driving age yet, but soon enough the oldest will be getting a permit and it will be easier to have two vehicles for 3 drivers (and 4 drivers a year after that). That the oldest is fewer than 4 years from his license is the main reason we are hanging onto the safe, low mileage, fuel-efficient car; we know that it is exactly the kind of car that we would be looking at for him anyway (and our frugal college plan includes living at home and commuting by car). This way we know it has been maintained, etc.

We absolutely made it work when we both worked outside the home. If DH’s shift started earlier than mine he would drop me at work early and I would read or do homework (college) while I waited for my shift to start, and after his shift he would would come back for me and wait for mine to finish. If my shift started earlier we’d turn it around. When we moved we chose to live close enough to DH’s work to have him walk or bike, not only to save on a vehicle but to have more time with him. Public transportation is hardly an option where I live as it is so slow; I can get to the train station in 15 minutes by car or 90 minutes by bus (plus I’d have to wait for the train). That’s a big difference!


Jeanine October 23, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Absolutely not an option for us. There is no public transportation, and my hubby and I work in complete and opposite directions, he 15 miles south, and me 25 miles north.

When we both lived less than 2 miles away from our respective jobs, it was easy to have one car.

Since both our cars are paid off, we only carry liabiltiy insurance on them, and he does the majority of the maintenance.

Good luck with your project.


Ann October 23, 2010 at 6:43 pm

What does it cost to register and insure the Subaru for a year? If you keep it garaged and just use it when you need it, why sell it? Your oldest will be going off to school in a few years. Why stress the family with all this eco-challenge stuff when what you really need is to spend quality time together or with each child? Some activities may not be possible with just one car. You are heading into your last 6 years or so of intense family life. Give up the car when they are both in college and you need to economize. If you are really tight on money, cut your clothes and gift giving expenditures to the minimum. We have had some family tragedies and I would give anything to have that family time back again.


Jinger October 24, 2010 at 4:51 am

Your response resonated with me…my daughter died as a young adult and I do all I can to ensure my granddaughter has the life she deserves. I purchased a safe, reliable car for her so she can commute to college and I have a 10 year old Honda CVR which runs well.

Some cutbacks just aren’t worth it in the long run.


Katy October 24, 2010 at 9:14 am


Thank you for this reminder. My friend’s 19-year-old son died last year and I have been trying to remember to appreciate the here-and-now of my family. My older son only has a few more years until he launches into the world, and I want to spend my energy on living in the moment rather that nit-picking every little thing. Life is precious and unexpected.



Ann October 25, 2010 at 4:03 pm

The reason I said that was: My 21 year old son killed himself a few years ago. He probably had undiagnosed schizophrenia. I am so grateful for the times we had together. We traveled as much as we could afford and tried to celebrate big birthdays with the grandparents. My husband’s siblings and mother died of cancer, he watched the second plane hit the South Tower, so we are trying to live meaningful lives.


Alana October 23, 2010 at 8:07 pm

It’s funny – after living in Europe for a year the idea of one household having two cars seems totally unthinkable to me. For most people here, having one car is a luxury. In my German class, when we were learning about daily routines, the textbook showed a wife dropping her husband off at the bus stop before driving to her own job. That said, I lived in Portland for 7 years without ever owning a car, and it wasn’t a problem. I took public transportation or biked to class and work, and if I really needed a car for something, I borrowed one or used Zipcar. Is it not an option for your middle-schooler to take the bus home after Japanese? I used to see middle school aged kids on the bus going to and from school all the time in Portland. I don’t have a family, but my parents have never had two cars, and they both worked, and my brother and I played soccer and did after school activities. We often carpooled with other teammates to get to these activities. Really, I think the problem is that having two cars in the first place allows you to get into a situation where you depend on them.


Angela@beggingtheanswer October 24, 2010 at 3:04 am

Our situation is not EXACTLY the same, but we have recently become a 1-car household. Husband works, and I stay at home with the kids. We recently moved to Middleton WI (suburb of Madison WI), which is reasonably walkable.

Husband takes the bus to work. All-in-all it takes about 45 minutes, but compared to the 1-and-a-half hour drive he had when we were BOTH working in OH, that’s nothing.

Husband found he likes the bus. He doesn’t have to think about driving, traffic, etc. which frees his mind so he can think about what to do at work that day, and he can recharge on the way home. He’s in a better mood when he gets home even though he now has 6-day work weeks!

So, the bus has its upsides as well.

Also, does either of your companies have a work-sponsored carpool? Or could you carpool with some other families to get the kids to soccer? That might be another option.


Katy October 24, 2010 at 9:10 am

My husband is the coach of one of the soccer teams, so he needs to both drive there and back, add to that a large amount of soccer equipment and he requires a car. We do a carpool for my older son’s soccer team. I drop off and someone else picks up. The field is in a sketchy neighborhood, and I don’t feel comfortable having my son waiting around for a bus.

My younger son takes martial arts classes, but we chose a location that is walkable for him. The after school Japanese tutoring will soon be ending in the dark, so taking a bus is not an option. We are very deliberate about not choosing classes and events that are not halfway across town. This is both for the reasons of driving and simplifying our lives.

I doubt my 15-year-old son will be getting a license the second he turns 16. He’s super spacey and really has no need for one anyway. He takes public transportation to school, which is what I did in high school as well. I’ll make sure he knows how to drive before he leaves for college. I didn’t get my license until I was 20, and it led to a number of instances of being in cars with drunk drivers. It’s important to be able to be that designated driver.

I should ride my bike more, but I have pretty bad asthma that keeps me from attempting much exercise. And before you ask, I just switched from my somewhat useless Nurse Practitioner to an MD to address this issue. (I actually think it’s not asthma, but a reactive airway issue anyway.) Hopefully I should be breathing free and clear again in the near future.

Today is a definite two car day. My husband started work at 3:00 A.M. to which he drove, and my older son is having a birthday party. I will drive them to a local arcade. It should be walkable, (maybe a mile and a half?) but the weather forecast is for a rainy windstorm.



Abby October 24, 2010 at 3:37 am

@Alana, I don’t think having two cars is what creates dependency. We live between a major urban area and the ‘burbs. When our 5 y.o. played basketball, none of his Saturday games were accessible via mass transit. Factor in that kids are required to be in booster seats until they’re 7 these days, and carpooling isn’t as easy as it sounds.

When everyone else owns two cars – or more – the world is organized on the assumption that you’ll be driving. As a family, we do our best to find alternatives, but I’ve watched parents come up against brick walls – you just never know.


Cyndel October 24, 2010 at 4:43 am

We only have one car and live in a suburb of Washington DC. Last year, we did the same thing in a suburb of Baltimore. Last year, I worked in Baltimore, so I took the two buses and a train to work. My boyfriend drove the car to DC where he worked.

Now that we both work in DC (we live 15 minutes from the nearest metro stop), we decided we would just share the car. Whoever needed to be at work first would get dropped off and then later drive the car back to metro, park, and go to work. Whoever got off work first would drive home and then later come back and pick up the other person. It worked for about 2 weeks and then my boyfriend got put on second shift. Now, he drives his car to work because the metro is closed and I’m back to taking the bus.

I’ve done it so often that I’m not really concerned. I get on and off the bus at dark and have a short walk to my house, but that’s why we purposely chose a nicer neighborhood to live in. I also carry pepper spray just in case. The bus drivers are very nice though and I’ve seen them put a stop to any form of harassment.


sarah k. October 24, 2010 at 4:46 am

We’ve been married for 10 years, and have 3 kids, and have only ever had one car. Sometimes I wish we had another, other times I feel that yucky kind of virtuous for “doing my part”, even though it’s such a little thing. My husband takes that car to work, I stay home with the kids. We don’t go places that are too far to walk or bike. We just don’t. Ever so often, someone will lend us a car for some field trip, or someone will drive my boys to Tae Kwon Do, but mostly, we just don’t sign up for all the crap.

I’d love it if public transit we’re better in Dayton, Ohio, but my husband can’t take it to work, unless he wants to leave at 5:00 am and come home at 4:00 pm. Yes, there’s only one bus per day that goes there. I, however, can take the bus to school downtown, or even ride my bike (which I only just started doing, and it’s fabulous! It’s 9 miles roundtrip, twice a week.) I also take my daughter 1.5 miles in a bike trailer to preschool. It’s actually faster than driving (not to mention safer!), since I don’t have to wait in any lines to drop off or pick up.

Sure, we only have one car because we can’t afford a second (such a luxury!), but we make it work. We have to choose our activities carefully, but who doesn’t benefit from learning to prioritize and being willing to sacrifice?


Annie Jones October 24, 2010 at 5:04 am

We have discussed this, but it just isn’t a practical solution for us at this time. My husband is an ironworker and must carry his tools with him onto job sites. I’m not talking a small hand-held tool box, either, but two truck sized boxes, which are, of course, in his work truck. On any given day, he could be working anywhere and everywhere within a 2 hour radius of our home.

The only part of the idea that works is that I’m a SAH grandma and live just blocks away from my granddaughters school. I could walk her to and fro each day. Unfortunately, other than a gas station, no shopping or services are within walking distance. Our suburb has no public transportation and the larger metro area only has a poor transportation service.

My husband I agree a second vehicle is necessary for my errands, doctor appointments, etc., many of which cannot be done in the evenings or on weekends. We also want a vehicle that will hold all of us comfortable and cleanly; his work truck does NOT fill the bill.

So, we remain a two vehicle family. I try to minimize the amount of driving I do, consolidate errands as much as possible and route trips for fuel economy when I can.


Jenn L. October 24, 2010 at 7:18 am

As I mentioned in my comment on your last post, we recently became a one car family. Mind you, we do not have kids, but we do have 2 careers and we live in LA where the public transportation is less than fabulous. That being said, because we live downtown, I can take the subway and bus to work and my love rides his bike everywhere. We refuse to believe that one can not live with only 1 car in LA!

For us, it has just been about planning a little bit more and then when we need a 2nd car, we either borrow or rent. We are only 3 months into this new change, but so far so good! It has been bumpy at times, but we are learning so much about ourselves and that is quite fabulous, if you ask me!!


Jodi October 24, 2010 at 8:13 am

We’ve been married for thirteen years, had kids for almost ten, and have only every had one car. I can think of two situations in all that time that we wish we’d had two. My husband walks or bikes to work, my 9-year-old takes the bus home from school, and we ride our Lightfoot Transporter (a recumbant cargo trike) as much as we can. We’re in Missoula, MT, where the bus system is minimal, the weather is bad eight months out of the year, and some parts of town sprawl out some distance. There’s no Zipcar. But it works most of the time. It does affect our choices–we don’t sign up for six sports and multiple back-to-back meetings across town, but is that really a bad thing?

I agree with other comments–having two cars means finding uses for both of them. And gosh, if you have Zipcar a couple of blocks away, you can always get a car when you need one with little fuss.

And although it’s good to think of a near future when you’ll have three drivers, I would also challenge the assumption that we’re all obligated to provide our children with cars to drive the minute they turn sixteen. My husband, who grew up on the west side of Portland, didn’t get his license until he was 18 and his first car until he was 28.


namastemama October 24, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Love your response Jodi – no excuses. I also think this is a personal situation and like anything, one makes it work or one chooses not too.
Katy, I think the answer lies in the fact that you drive so little and have so many other great and even FREE options. We bought our Honda Odyssey almost 6 years ago and have put 111,190 miles on it. The average American drives somewhere around 15,000 miles a year. You only have 36K on an almost 6 year old car. That’s very few in my view.
Have you done the math? I think it’s very expensive to own a car, even if it’s paid for. You still have insurance, wear and tear, maintenance and gas. Give it a go, ditch the extra car! Be an example to the rest of us! I know my sis and her hubby had one car in Portland. She commuted on her bike. My other sis and b-friend have NO cars and use: feet, bikes, public trans and the most awesome Zipcar. Good Luck!


Alice October 24, 2010 at 8:37 am

I agree. You do not need to provide your teenager with a car the second they get a license. They can take public transit. Having one car and no car is less compfortable and requires more planning but it is better for the environment and would fit nicely with your goals and “compact” ideals. Put the second car in the garage and change the insurance so you pay less (when the car is not on the road often) and you’ll be able to try this out. Trust me, waiting on a bus in the winter is not so much fun… but you have a free bus pass from work! Free!!! And you said you only work three days. You’ll be used to this before you know it. Although I think you’d be more likely to stick with it had you done this challenge in the summer instead of fall/winter.
My secret to a good commute on public transit? Know your bus/train schedules, bring a good book, umbrella, small snack and water and you’re good to go! Good luck!


Laura October 24, 2010 at 9:11 am

Do be sure to teach your children to drive before they go to college. I’ve had far too many friends have to learn under pressure because they were graduating college!


Katy October 24, 2010 at 9:18 am

Funny. I was just writing about how my son will get a license before going to college so that he won’t be in the position of getting in cars with drunk drivers.



pat October 24, 2010 at 11:54 am

While I was reading this I was thinking of your sons since I’m assuming they will probably be dating in a couple more years. Or getting that first job, etc. Public transit is great when available and it sounds like Portland is the place to be since you have many more options than we do in Michigan (ZipCar – what exactly is that?). We are hopeful to go back to just one car when we retire in 10 years. Our kids will (cross fingers) be on their own by then. Good luck with reducing your car.


CanadianKate October 24, 2010 at 4:08 pm

We live in a rural village with a car repair garage, 3 churches, 2 schools and a general store. It is 3 miles along a highway to the next village with grocery, doctor, library and my church office. It is 10 miles to decent shopping. No public transit except the ‘shopper bus’ which runs once a week and takes us into a mall in the city for $7. Each way. Taxi to nearby shopping would be about $30.

We work from home when we aren’t traveling for work and so went down to one car when the brakes on the PT cruiser needed replacing, again, because they were rusting in place. A PT gets at best 20 mpg and we went 3 months on one tank of gas because it just wasn’t being driven.

Our van was a 2003 Odyssey. It had better gas mileage and was more comfortable to drive than the PT so when we did go somewhere, we took it.

We moved down to one car 11 months ago. That cut my repair bills by $100+ per month and my insurance by $400 per year. It is a 25 minute drive to the nearest car rental place but we decided we’d try that as a second car strategy. We’ve rented twice in the year, once for a week while my husband had a consulting gig outside the house for a week, and once when our church jobs took us in two different directions without someone with which to carpool. So the total cost was $245.

We’ve managed just fine. My dh has stayed home for up to a week while I was away. We shopped for food before I left and if he got too much cabin fever, he’d have friends pick him up and he’d take them out for lunch. If there was a real need, a taxi would come.

We were just talking about this in church today and the other couple that has done the same thing share rides with us quite often. In both cases, the husbands tend to be the ones left at home a lot, but in general, we are both pleased with the experiment.

BTW: we gave our son the van so he could get a job (it now has 150K miles on it) and bought a used Prius. We find we are driving more now that the car doesn’t use much gas so I’m not sure that was a great idea! But we love the car and how we are taking mini-breaks more often now (we drive down to the St. Lawrence so I can see ocean-going ships) and visit friends more often.

I wouldn’t do this when I had kids so I’d wait a few years. Kids can’t be as flexible as adults can. If you give up doing something it is your choice but if the kids can’t do something because of your choice, that might breed resentment.


Beth October 24, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Hubs and I don’t have kids. We live within 6 miles of his work and 3 miles of where I student teach. One wall of Safeway is literally outside our back window, Trader Joe’s is a 15-minute walk, and the rec center where I take dance is a 10-minute stroll. I drive to class (28 miles round-trip) three times a week and take the car to school when it’s rainy and I’m feeling like a wimp.

So, our situations are pretty different. Good luck!


Laura October 24, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I have a few friends who live in Portland and don’t have cars, I hear the public transportation is great, but I don’t know how I would handle that with kids. When I was in Eugene, I didn’t use my car and very rarely had to get a ride somewhere. Now in Klamath Falls, buses run very strange routes from 10am until 7pm. The nearest bus stop is over a mile from me, I really wish we could do more in terms of public transportation, but I own my car (still making payments on hubby’s) and I rarely drive it since I work from home.


WilliamB October 25, 2010 at 5:48 am

Since you’re asking… it doesn’t look to me as if one car will fit your lives right now.


Andi October 25, 2010 at 6:04 am

We live in the burbs with two school-age kids and have only ever had one car. In fact, we didn’t even get our first car until we were in our late 20’s. Hubby drives to work, and I walk or take public transit or taxi on the odd occasions when scheduling won’t permit me the time for public transit (which happens maybe 2-3 times a year, so it really isn’t a big cost). We made a family choice that we don’t want to spend our evenings and weekends running from one activity to another, that we prefer to be more conscious of where our “lost minutes” go so that we can spend more time with each other as a family, and as a result of that decision, we have never felt the need for more than one vehicle. Your kids are older than mine so you may not be able to have as much control over activities, but rest assured, “making do” with one vehicle is completely possible, even with kids.


Tracy Balazy October 25, 2010 at 7:40 am

I live in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the world headquarters of Ford Motor Co., and Detroit’s nearest suburb, which explains why public transportation is sketchy around here, as the Big 3 auto companies made sure years ago to squash that competition.

I was laid off from my job in December, and my husband has a company vehicle and works two miles from our house. We could easily get by with one car and probably will when my 2000 Saturn starts giving us major problems. Our cars are paid off and we do not have children, so I see us going down to one vehicle in the next year or so.

When we met six years ago, I had the Saturn, and he had the 2003 Ford F-150 we still drive. He also has an ’86 Mustang convertible he drives infrequently. I call it the garage paperweight.

We live in a 1920s-’40s-era neighborhood with walking/biking access to a farm market, grocery stores and libraries, not to mention my doctor’s and dentist’s offices are within half a mile from my house. Unfortunately for us avid bicyclists, Michigan weather isn’t always amenable to biking, and it would be difficult to do the full grocery shopping without a car to haul the stuff home.

I still make trips outside my immediate neighborhood for certain items, such as, I only buy eggs from a woman who raises chickens in her yard 10 miles away in Detroit. I fill the car a few times a year with stuff for Arts & Scraps, a Detroit non-profit that uses odds and ends for children’s art projects. And my husband needs the pickup truck for his frequent trips to the Home Depot two miles away, since he does all the work on our house himself.


Angel October 26, 2010 at 3:23 am

I so miss the days when I lived in NYC and didn’t need a car. It was great not to worry about parking and traffic and gas prices.
I live in an area now that is not walking or biking friendly and has no public transport. Still when we had an accident and lost one of our cars, we went about half a year without getting another. Honestly, it was hell on earth but again that was due to the fact I could literally go nowhere without the car. I’m interested to see how your experiment goes since you are in a much more public transit/walking friendly area.


Amanda Y. October 26, 2010 at 7:22 am

So are you just trying to do this to experiment? Because since the van fits the kids/family and the car is older and paid for, I guess I don’t understand why you would give up one vehicle? Are you looking at it just for the enivornment?


Katy October 26, 2010 at 8:23 pm

I am just curious whether it would be an option for us. It would certainly save us money, (which would be great) but I am realizing how our family’s life is complicated and busy in ways that kind of require a second car.

We do try to drive as little as possible though.



Amanda Y. October 26, 2010 at 7:31 am

Count yourself lucky that it’s an option. We could truly not have one car where we live, public transportation is horrible. The closest grocery store isn’t a very good one and is 5 miles one way. Nothing else is near by. Our weather is very sporatic so biking would be hard and not safe as there are very few areas with (very torn up) sidewalks and no bike paths/lanes.


Diane October 29, 2010 at 8:23 am

Love your site, Katy, but have to ask, as kindly as possible: What would you be proving? One owns a car for convenience and the ability to get on with the business of life. Think of it as a tool that enables you to enhance your frugal lifestyle.
Life is hard enough as it is: why make it harder than necessary? Instead of spending your time figuring out transportation, why not spend it with your family or garage saling, or picking up some fabulous necessity found on freecycle ? There is a point where frugality can be taken too far. Your cars are not flashy. You can afford them. Spend a little energy keeping them safe and well maintained so they last for many years. Don’t drive if you don’t have to.
Suffering (C’mon everyone knows it really does rain all the time in Portland 😉 for the sake of saving a few more dollars seems like a waste of your time and energy. Time is in many ways a more limited resource than money. Perhaps later, when your kids are grown and gone, you can address this issue again, as my parents have with good success. For now, give yourself a break, for Pete’s sake.


Katy October 29, 2010 at 9:06 am


These are exactly the issues we’re mulling over — Is it possible? We’re pretty much coming to the conclusion that the positives of being a one car family (saving money, green living) are outweighed by the negatives, (difficult to volunteer as soccer coach, would take too long to come home from work.)

My husband and I are very involved with our community, and having a single car would throw a huge wrench in the works.

Having said this, we choose activities as close to home as possible and avoid far away destinations whenever possible. Kid activities are within walking distance and the boys attend our neighborhood schools.

Thanks for your comment.



Lilypad November 2, 2010 at 9:44 pm

We could totally work with only one car, if we had a Zipcar nearby. Unfortunately, the closest ones are half an hour away, because we live in a little town outside of a suburb of Seattle…My homeschooling son (9) and I only drive about 2 days during the week (science class and maybe a local errand or meeting with a friend another day), while my husband takes our Prius to his work (a 60 mile round trip, which just horrifies me, but he works in a bad neighborhood in Seattle and there’s no way we could live there). Here, we can walk to a grocery store, library (which is a dream come true for a book geek like me!), 2 coffee shops, about 8 restaurants, and many parks and trails. On the weekends, we all 3 usually go somewhere together, or the guys have a “guy day” while I have time to myself. (Yay!) I HATE to drive and avoid it as much as possible. Bus service is only early in the morning/evening commute times, not during the day, and a taxi would be very expensive. So I dream about Zipcar coming here…but I know it’s not gonna happen.


LHT Rider November 7, 2010 at 8:04 am

My husband & I made the decision to reduce to 1 car 2 years ago and we haven’t looked back. We were both anxious about it even though we live within easy biking distance from both our jobs and also have shopping and library amenities also within easy biking distance of our home. And we don’t have children. We decided that if we ever both “needed” the car for different purposes, we’d just have to be grown-ups and work it out. It ended up that the first “conflict” we had over transportation had nothing to do with the car, but over who got to use the Xtracycle!


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