Overrated: Owning a car isolates you from your world
bySep 19th 2008 3:00PM
In 27 months without a car, I have saved thousands of dollars and become an entirely new person; happier, more balanced, and much more muscular. Though I spent decades of my life in love with the American car culture, and then happened into the decision to give it up without much forethought, I've learned that owning a car is highly over-rated. I'll tell you my story.
In the year 2000, I was young, sort of rich, and definitely single. Living in Northern Virginia and working in management for a dotcom startup I'd helped get off the ground, I was spoiled and spendthrift. I bought a brand-new Mercedes ML320.
Cut to June 2006. I'd finally paid the Mercedes off, but myriad mechanical issues (note to self: don't buy German cars manufactured in the American south), insurance and gas were costing me $300-500 a month. I had two little boys and an under-employed husband. Living in Portland, Oregon, I was becoming more and more concerned about our impact on the environment every day. Then I got a flat tire; it was unfixable, I'd have to replace all four tires to the tune of $650 (for the cheapie version).
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I parked the Mercedes, still rocking its "donut" spare tire, let the insurance expire, bought some bus tickets and fixed up my mountain bike.Over the ensuing two years I've spent about $2,400 on bicycles, tuneups equipment and $500 on bus tickets and passes; a savings of at least $6,000 over driving the Mercedes (and even an economical car would have cost a similar amount). After I had a third child, we bought the sweet setup pictured here -- I call it my mamabikeorama -- that can haul three children and groceries.
It would take me days to list the benefits of our new car-free lifestyle, but here are some highlights:
- Doing it all: Riding the mamabikeorama combines travel, exercise and family togetherness all in one; no more making time for the gym and I'm running faster than I did when I was 24 and training five days a week.
- Simplification: If I have to bike and bus everywhere, it forces me to make decisions about what's truly important. I don't say 'yes' to invitations to parties I really don't want to attend; I don't overextend my kids with too many activities.
- Freedom: I never have to think about whether the gas for a trip is in the budget. I just unlock the bike and go.
- Good excuse: You need help moving? Sorry, can't make it, I don't have a car.
- Guilt gone: I used to toss and turn over the melting ice caps. Now I remember that I'm living the life I believe in and doing just about everything I can to reduce my impact on the environment, and sleep soundly.
- Get out of debt: I'm using the money I'm saving on a car (and its inevitable replacement) to pay extra on my mortgage and pay off other financial obligations.