April 04, 2008

One Car Families

Meredith and I have been talking about this lately and since she brought it up on her blog, I thought I'd write about it. I don't know that we technically count as a one car family, because my husband's car is sitting in the driveway, but since we've been back home from our trip to England, we have effectively become a one car family.

My husband drives a Volvo wagon. The first car I ever owned. I bought it in 1996 when it was nine years old. That makes it twenty years old this year and it shows. Various people hitting it in parking lots over the years have left marks on the exterior and Volvo interiors have never weathered very well. In the fall, the power steering became such a problem and more expensive to fix than the car is now worth, so we had the power steering disconnected. The tires need to be replaced. The electrical system has problems and the air conditioning hasn't worked in years (and we live in the hot sunny South -- well except for today when it is pouring rain). I could enumerate more problems that the old car has, but you get the point. If my husband had a commute of more than 3 miles to his office or had to drive on interstates, it might not be a car you'd want to take anywhere. In fact, for work that takes him out of town, he's been renting a car for the past year or so.

When we were in England, we all enjoyed the beauty of public transportation. Of course, there isn't any Tube here and the buses aren't so interesting either, but they are available and one stops less than a block from our house every 15 minutes or so and makes a straight line to downtown. One day my husband decided to give it a try and except for the morning he had a dentist appointment and this morning when he had to go to court on the other side of town he's ridden the bus every day. The other two days he took my car and his has been sitting in the driveway.

It has been a good experience. He enjoys the time to read a magazine and not having to pay attention to the traffic around him and it has made us all a little more disciplined about time. Since my husband's job is not one that demands he clock in or out at a certain time, we had fallen into slackardly ways where he might go in rather late and come home rather late. Now he makes sure he tries to catch a specific bus in the morning. In the evenings one doesn't want to be out too late in the ghost town non-tourist areas of downtown too late, so he's been coming home a little earlier as well, which I like a lot.

There are times when one car seems totally doable for us, but when I think about potential mornings when I have to get the kids to the doctor or a class or something and my husband might need the car to go to court or something else, or if there were an emergency at home and I needed him and he needed to wait for a bus to get him here -- then it all seems like a second car becomes almost necessary. However, I suspect there are ways to work around those difficulties and even if it involved the occasional expensive taxi, perhaps that would be cheaper than paying gas and insurance on two cars all the time.

All of these questions come up, not only because my husband's car has become increasingly unreliable, but because as we await the arrival of baby #5, we still don't know whether we'll need to trade in the minivan for one of the huge vans. We don't want to take on a car payment, which we've never had and don't want and going to one car might make affording a mega-van more do-able.


We did the one car thing for several years (after doing the no-car thing in the city for a few years). I just got my own car back in December. For me, right now, it's fabulous to be able to get out of the house when I want to, without driving my husband to work first.

One thing we tried, but which was still too much in its infancy, was a car share program. I hear from those still living in Philadelphia that it has really taken off and is convenient now. We have friends who went down to one car and some who are doing without just fine. Is there anything like this near you? Though they might not have large vehicles like you would need. It could be worth looking into.

Even though we bought a fairly inexpensive used car in cash, I'm surprised how much it costs when you add in insurance and maintenance. It's definitely a luxury for us - one I'm happy to have right now, but I know we could always cut it out if necessary.

Posted by: Jennifer at April 4, 2008 11:10 AM

I'm not sure that we can do it as a long-term solution. If our Volvo dies, we may go the summer with one car until we see where my husband's job will be next year.

New babies require such frequent doctor visits, and dropping my husband off at work by 6 am wears thin.

For now the second car option is a luxury I'm glad to have.

Posted by: Meredith at April 4, 2008 04:18 PM

I was thinking about trying the bus from out here, but it's not realistic when we've got 3 kids with various after school activities, etc.

And, I'd have to go all the way downtown to catch a bus to get close to where I work.

The whole thing takes over an hour, hard to imagine, but maybe I'll try it this summer.

Posted by: Busy Mom at April 6, 2008 09:33 PM

I love public transport, rode buses whenever I could in Dallas. It saved wear and tear on my nerves and parking fees.

Posted by: Janis Gore at April 7, 2008 07:19 PM