Stay Connected

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How many cars is your family?

Now that sounds like a strange question. But we call ourselves, "one-car families", "two-car families" or even "car-free families".

Right now, we are a one and a half car family. Neither fully a two-car family, able to go in two different directions of any great distance, at the same time, nor totally stuck with just the one car.

The first car runs well. It's a young 8 years old. Car number two is in it's sunset years. It's 24 years old. In car years, that's about 172 years. And it can only go about 2 miles before it overheats and stalls. Car number two can make it to the nearest park and ride for my husband and son, 5 days a week. The car has to sit in the parking lot for several hours before it can drive again. Car number two isn't good for running errands, taking daughters to dance, for my son to go out with friends, or to Home Depot to pick up a load of bricks.

We've had the car looked at, and while I don't fully understand car talk, (there's something about an engine block that needs grinding or sanding or something like that), I do understand dollars and cents. To have this done, it would cost about $1500, or roughly 4 times what we could get for our car on Craigslist.

A good portion of the time we feel like a 3 driver/1 car family. We have to juggle our schedules so everyone can get to the events that matter most. We have to beg rides from others. We have to wait until the car is free, for pickups. And we have to stay home from time to time because we can't get a ride. We do give priority to school and work-use of the car.

In years past, we were an actual one-car family. Our children were young then, and we lived near a bus line. My husband took the bus to work, most days of the week, leaving the car with me and the kids. This lasted for several years, then we moved. With the move, and still just the one car, my husband had to drive to work.  The kids and I were without wheels every day. I can honestly say, for our family, it's easier to have two cars than one.

But there are merits to having just one car, in a multi-driver family.

  • For one thing, it's just plain cheaper. Fewer license fees, less overall maintenance, less in insurance costs, and less in parking fees.
  • Having just one car forces a family to work together. Learning to compromise is a valuable skill that will translate to many other areas.
  • Having fewer cars than there are drivers in a household, can lead to a simpler life. I find myself "stuck" at home from time to time. But this often becomes a blessing. I finally get some quiet time to read, or work in the garden, or write to a friend because I was unable to go anywhere.
  • Just one car often leads to more exercise. We walk more. Sometimes that's just walking to a bus stop. But walking is walking. Your body doesn't care if this exercise is just transport to the bus.

If I sound like someone trying to convince themselves that having one and a half cars is a good thing, well that's because I probably am. I'd love for us to replace the aging car. Eventually we will. But for now, I'm trying to see the positive in our situation.

How about you? Have you ever been a one-car or no-car family? How have you managed the inconveniences?


  1. We are a three car family with four drivers that have to get to school or work everyday without the benefit of a bus line. It takes some scheduling, but we do many of the same things that you do as walking and waiting. We could afford another car, but so far we have been able to make it work. We won't get the next car until we can't make it work or one of my kids can afford to buy their own.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      It does take scheduling, doesn't it? In today's world of "gotta have it now", I often feel that our family is the only one getting by with just the one working car. It's good to hear others' stories of making it work with fewer cars than there are drivers.

  2. We're a weird hybrid. We actually own 2 cars, but son has one and doesn't live here. He and his wife use that one. We have one for here and I refer to us as a 1 car family. Just so happens we have 2 cars on the

    If daughter and I have to go somewhere (like yesterday's doctors' visits) we drop hubby off at work and then we work our schedule where we are back in time to pick him up.

    I do like a few things about the one car system.
    1. People seem more willing to accept that I can't just drop everything and run when they call.
    2. We spend less.
    3. Like you, I find I get more done.
    4. We plan more carefully for everything from trips to groceries. Carefully planning allows us to live much more frugally.
    5. In the past because of hubby's work we've averaged anywhere from 35,000 to 40,000 miles a year on a car. Yeah! So we have had to change cars often just because we kill them.

    1. Hi Shara,
      you make some very good points in favor of having just one car. Like not having to be the one who drops everything and makes a trip out for someone else.

      Another thing that occurred to me, when you are driving your husband to/from work, that gives you more time to talk. Couples who commute together experience this as well. When all the drivers have their own cars, they go off in different directions, and spend less time engaged in conversations.

  3. We have always been a one or one bike family LOL if the car dies, the bike is the back up plan. Never owned 2 cars ever. I love being a one car family, I really wish we could go without a car at all!

    1. Hi Poor to Rich,
      going without a car would definitely help me get more exercise. I tell my kids that when I'm an old lady I'm going to buy myself a bike on three wheels. Where I grew up there was an older woman with a three-wheeler, that had a bench seat and large basket in the back. She ran all her errands in town on this. I always thought how pleasant it would be to pedal through town. I know it was physical work, but it never seemed like she was in a rush to go anywhere.

  4. I was raised in a one car family and grew up with the lesson that 2 cars was a waste of money and drain on the budget. I am now (as of this summer) a zero car person.

    The funny thing about reading your post was that I was thinking of bathrooms. I grew up the oldest of 6 children where we had one bathroom. We learned to share and rarely had fights about it. It worked as some of us would get up earlier to use the bathroom, others wanted to sleep in. We actually talked at night about who wanted the shower at what time and planned our morning accordingly. Today, most people want at least 2 bathrooms, or a bathroom on each floor of the home.

    I think families can learn a lot about each other and themselves by how they learn to compromise whether it's one car, one bathroom, or even shared bedrooms. If we never have to learn the art of compromise at home when are we going to learn it?

    1. That's funny--MY first thought was also of bathrooms! I was raised in a family of 4 kids with 1 bathroom. It had its moments but we all seemed to have survived into adulthood. I must admit, when my husband and I went house-hunting, my bottom line was a house with at least a bath and a half--which is what we have (we have 2 children). We often host family for overnight visits and the extra bathroom space (and the half bath is TINY!) is a blessing with extra bodies in the house.

      I think there is a lot to consider when it comes to the number of vehicles you own. Proximity to public transportation and climate are very big factors, as is the length of a commute to work and the number of people working. If you live in a snow belt like I do, bike riding or walking isn't realistic for several months of the year. If you can pull off being a 1 car family (or zero car) then more power to you!

    2. Absolutely, Lois. Learning to compromise is an important skill to master, whether it's about sharing a car, or a bathroom, or these days, sharing a computer.
      I do have to say in defense of more than one bathroom, in our house, I can think of many instances where the second bathroom was a necessity. When you gotta go, you gotta go!

      Kris, there are a lot of considerations when making the choice to have more than one car. You're right, if you live in the snow belt, well you certainly don't want to be dependent on a bicycle. Living in a big city can make it much easier to be without a car. When I was single I lived in the city and relied on the bus system. It worked great for me then. I wouldn't have wanted a car to have to garage anyways.

    3. I never had a car till my senior year in college when my parents loaned me one so I could commute to my fieldwork sites. One of my sites ended up being much easier to commute to via public transportation because it dropped me off right at the front door of the hospital I was working at AND I didn't have to pay for parking.

      I tend to think that parents who get cars for their kids in high school are nuts. Perhaps loaning them one for a job ... but for the kids to own one? In my mind that opens the kids up for responsibility which, frankly, most teens I know (even the "good" kids) aren't yet ready for. I guess I'm a fuddy duddy. :)

    4. Not at fuddy duddy at all. Just sensible! Not just because of the money. Teens just don't have the life experience to always drive safely. They're easily influenced by their peers to do risky things, including driving dangerously. And if a teen has his/her own car, or exclusive use of a car, they'll be driving more and at risk all that many more times. Keeping using the family car as an occasional privilege seems to encourage better habits by the teen when using that car. At least it did in our family. We knew that the car better be clean and in good shape when we brought it home, or we'd not be driving again for a while.

      I have a neighbor down the street that has given their teen sons two of the family cars, for their exclusive use. One car had a smashed up front end within about 6 months and the other had a cracked windshield just a few months after that. Now I know those things could happen to anyone, but twice in less than a year's time?! And I've seen how those boys drive out o the neighborhood in the mornings.

      I'd really rather drive my kids around as they need me to, until I feel confident that they're ready for the privilege of driving. You might know this better than I, given your occupation. But I think I read that there is a part of the human brain, that can foresee consequences to risky actions before acting on impulses, that does not complete its development until around age 24 or 25, lagging slightly in boys than girls. If this is true, it would greatly explain some very poor choices among teens.

    5. Yes, your information is correct! One of the neighboring communities had a horrible thing happen last spring--a teenager rear-ended a school bus on the way to school in the morning. He and his sister were killed. No drugs, no alcohol, probably just a sad error in judgment that cost a family two of their children. Sad.

      My mom was very against high school kids having their own cars because she felt if gave them too much freedom to defy their parents and/or go off unsupervised with their friends. She's a wise woman!

    6. Oh, that is tragic. I feel for their family. How very sad.

  5. Mr Omnivore and I each had a car when we got together, so for a short period of time we were a two-car family. Unfortunately both cars died within a couple of months of each other, so we bought one together.

    We can both catch the bus to work, so we rarely drive the car during the week, and it's not that often that we both need to be in different places on the weekend, so it usually works out. Plus we are lucky enough to be able to walk to the local shops.

    1. Hi Economies,
      I think living within walking distance of shopping and buses is a real help for making do with fewer cars than drivers. It's actually kind of nice to walk to stores, and be out and about where you can talk or just say hi to people in your neighborhood. When we jump into our cars to run to the market, we eliminate that opportunity to just say hi as we're passing by. I'm glad one car is working for you and Mr. O for now.


Thank you for joining the discussion today. Here at creative savv, we strive to maintain a respectful community centered around frugal living. Creative savv would like to continue to be a welcoming and safe place for discussion, and as such reserves the right to remove comments that are inappropriate for the conversation.


Be a voice that helps someone else on their frugal living journey

Are you interested in writing for creative savv?
What's your frugal story?

Do you have a favorite frugal recipe, special insight, DIY project, or tips that could make frugal living more do-able for someone else?

Creative savv is seeking new voices.


share this post