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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

What It's Like Being a One-Car Family

For most of our married life, we've had just one working car. There were a few years in there where we had two working cars at the same time. But for the most part, we had either one non-working plus one working or just had a single car. Currently, we have one car that we share between 4 drivers. 

A lot of the time, we don't really think about having just one car. That is unless you're the one walking a mile each way to the bus in the pouring rain.

Despite trying to have a positive attitude, there have been several negatives to the just "one car" thing.

  • Sometimes, my plans to run errands or pick-up groceries conflict with another family member's plan to use the car.
  • When the car needs repairs, we don't have a back-up car to use.
  • When the car has broken down on the road or a driver locked themselves out of the car, there was no back-up car to go help. This actually happened. My daughter locked the key in the car while paying for gas. A couple of us took the bus up to the gas station so we could break into our own car. We also don't have a second car to jump a dead battery.
  • One of us invariably plays chauffeur in order for the car to be free for another driver. 
  • We've each had to pass on at least one opportunity that would have helped our respective careers.
All that said, we've also found several up-sides to the just "one car" situation.
  • We've really had to learn to be considerate of one another's needs. In that respect, having one car between all 4 of us has been a good thing. I think especially, this has helped our daughters learn that valuable lesson at a time in their lives when they might have become self-focused.
  • We tend to do more as a family, I believe, than if we each had our own vehicles.
  • We are more inclusive with all of our family members. If one or two people want to go out to the beach, we tend to invite all of the family.
  • Because one of us often plays chauffeur, there is more one-on-one time for conversation. 
  • We save money on maintenance, insurance, gas, and purchase price with just one car.
A big however, though -- when it becomes the right time again to buy a second car, we will jump at the chance. We live in the suburbs. Stores are not at a walkable distance. The nearest bus stop is just over a mile from our door. We need our sleep. Some of those early morning chauffeur jaunts can be very early for more than one party. And I think all of us would appreciate being able to go where we need to go on our own schedules.

I know there was once a time when practically all households had just one car. My parents had one car when I was small. My father's commute was about one hour, making it difficult for my mother to have  the car for her use. They managed. But when the time came for a second car, I'm sure they were relieved.

These are my personal reflections on sharing one car between multiple drivers. I don't know many families these days who are in the same situation. So I thought I'd write a bit about it. 

How do you think your life and relationships would change if you found yourselves as part of one-car families?


  1. We have always had two cars because we lived in a place where we split the driving. I went north 40 minutes and my husband went south 40 minutes. We moved closer to my work when he retired which also put us closer to family, grocery stores, hospitals, etc. but we still need two cars to get to work. Like you, the closest bus is over a mile away and then that is not even close to a direct route to work. I purchased a "newer" car just before covid hit and never really have driven much since except for groceries and parent care. Had I known how much the world would change, I probably would not have upgraded my car.

    A quick note: God gave our family a MIRACLE yesterday. Daughter's dr. appt. showed a live and healthy baby growing in her womb. The miscarriage is likely the baby's twin but there may not be an explanation but she was confirmed as having a miscarriage a few weeks ago. I see this as a beautiful gift from God! Praise God!

    1. Happy for your family's good news!

    2. Oh, Alice, such good news, but it sounds like your family has been on a roller coaster of emotions.

    3. Thanks for keeping us updated, Alice. Praying for a continued healthy pregnancy.

    4. Alice, what a miracle and a blessing! Congratulations and I will pray that the rest of your daughter's pregnancy is healthy.

  2. We've had a few times where we had one working car, one fairly long-term. During that time, my husband tried biking to work. It was a dicey proposition. No bike lanes and lots of traffic at that time of day.

    It would be an interesting thing to go back to, not necessarily in a good way. I have to say that I am THOROUGHLY enjoying my freedom from doing the really early morning high school school run the past few years since the oldest, and now the second oldest, have started driving. If we were to have only one car now, well, my husband works north, the middle and high schools are south, and most shopping is east or west of here. Not a walkable city at all, very few sidewalks or bike lanes. The other thing it would put a serious kink in, would be my backpacking trips, since I often drive for those. Closest are about 250 miles from here, but when I go to New Mexico, it's over 500 miles to where I hike.

    Would we, could we make it work? Probably. But for now, I'm grateful not to have to do so.

    1. A very thoughtful reflection on your needs. I'm glad for you, Cat, to have the second car. It sounds like it's really needed for your life and your area.

  3. You're reflections of the positives and negatives of one car seem very accurate to me. We have never had just one car, but I did spend some time at one point coordinating with my son for the one car between us. We had a bus about a mile away so it was doable.

    I wonder now that more people are working from home if the number of cars people have will decrease? My husband's car rarely leaves the garage since he is working from home.

    1. I wonder, too, Live and Learn. If cities and towns were more walkable or bike-able, more households might choose to have fewer cars than drivers. It all depends on personal circumstances, I guess. Having a bus nearby does make it feasible. In our last state, buses were terrible and impossible for my husband to use for his job at one point.

  4. We've had two vehicles throughout our marriage. One has always been a 4-wheel drive truck. We don't always have super snowy winters, but when we do, it's important to be prepared. My most recent vehicle is a Chevy Equinox with all-wheel drive and it makes my commute soooo much easier. Like others who have written, my husband and I drive opposite directions for work. I think I would have to give up my job for us to make a one vehicle household work.

    Around here, we are considered odd because my 17-year-old son doesn't have his own car. It seems like so many high school kids get jobs to support owning and maintaining a car. We've decided that it doesn't financially make sense for him to have one right now and that the money is better spent being funneled to help with his college expenses. There ARE times when it would be handy not to have to loan him a vehicle but like you said, Lili, it forces us to share and work together. Thank you for your interesting thoughts!

    1. Hi Kris,
      I think we are a rarity for our kids not to have had cars in high school, too. So many teens do seem to have their own car. My no-longer-teen daughters have been saving since college graduation (a couple of years ago) to buy their own cars, likely very soon. Throughout college, they had to use their summer job earnings to help pay university tuition. Each family does what seems best for themselves.


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