Our One-Car Experiment and Car Decision

“Then the baby came, and it became evident that our barely-four-seater small car just wouldn’t cut it.”

This is part of a seven-post mini-series that will explore our journey in selling and buying a used car. As more posts go live this week, I’ll link to the entire series at the bottom of each post.

I’m going to do a bit of storytelling today. The gist of the whole situation goes something like this: Our car needed extensive repairs; we experimented with one car for three months; we finally sold our car on Craigslist; we bought a former rental car. But as good stories often go, the devil’s in the details. Over the next few days, I’ll look at how and why we finally decided to ditch our ride and get something new.

Today, it’s all about the old car and how we played with the one-car-family thing for much longer than we thought we would last.

What We Were Driving

Since 2005, I’ve been driving a 2001 Dodge Intrepid around town. It’s a roomy, comfortable car with a smooth ride. Unfortunately (sorry, Dodge), it has a horrible reliability rating (Source: Consumer Reports). And I’ve lived that reliability first-hand for the last five years.

In just under five years, I’ve managed to put over $5,000 worth of maintenance into the car, including: a new A/C system, new engine sensors, fans, brakes, oil system, and a slew of recent problems that never materialized (the rest of the story is coming below!).

Most people could not live with that price tag, but I was more than willing to accept the hits. The overall expense was still fairly low compared to buying a new car, and the practicality and size of the car was awesome.

The One-Car Decision

The last set of sudden repairs really pushed us over the edge. Between a new suspension, an oil leak, and worn/rotted tires, we were staring down the barrel of well over $2,000 of repairs that needed to be done before any further safe driving could take place.

That was November. With the baby only weeks away, I wasn’t about to make any large-scale decisions that would affect our finances for years. We decided that the best option was simply waiting it out.

With my wife out of work, becoming a one-car family didn’t have the impact it would have otherwise. We had done it before for weeks at a time with relative success, and with my wife’s mobility impaired more and more by the day, I would be doing most of the driving anyway. We realized that once the baby arrived on the scene, we would be able to re-evaluate the situation with more clarity. So we waited…

The One-Car Experience

And for a while, everything went fairly well. We sacrificed a bit of time every day by having to drive everywhere together (my wife was staying with her family during the day because of her pregnancy), and we used about the same amount of gas as we did between two cars prior to the change. But we got away without having to face the repair bills or having to make a rushed purchase decision.

The change also had the surprising effect of giving us 30 minutes each morning and afternoon to just talk with one another about anything and everything–something that might have gotten lost otherwise in the daily rush to get out of the house, or to “cool off” after work.

Then the baby came, and it became evident that our barely-four-seater small car just wouldn’t cut it. We were also spending even more time driving around town, and it was starting to take a toll on our personal time, housekeeping time, and most importantly…sleep time. 🙂

As my wife became more independent, and could move around and drive on her own, those effects were amplified.

We were still careful not to get into a decision frenzy, but we were also confident that three months of thinking about the problem would help us out in evaluating our final options.

Our Options

At this point, we narrowed down our choices to a few ideas:

  • Sell our older car and do nothing (which would obviously not resolve our current transportation problem, but would save us thousands…).
  • Repair our car, spending about $2,000, with the hopes that the car would last another 12-24 months with minimal repairs.
  • Sell our older car, producing a small chunk of income, and using the cash flow to purchase a new car.

The Results

Well, I guess I spoiled the surprise at the start of this post, but we eventually elected to go with the third option, selling the car privately on Craigslist, and purchasing a very inexpensive 2-year-old family car from a rental company. I’ll talk about both experiences in detail later this week…

The decision ultimately came down to cash flow and looking at the situation from a long-term perspective. Let me explain:

  • We knew we were planning to buy a new, family car in the near future. We weren’t happy to spend over $2,000 just to replace the car next year anyway.
  • We were looking for a car that could accommodate and expanding family (possibly up to 3 kids in the next 5-6 years!), and all the “stuff” that gets lugged around as we travel from place to place.
  • Instead of spending $2,000, we gained $2,000 from the sale of our old car, with a net effect of $4,000 positive cash flow into our finances. That not only covered our very small down payment on the new car, but also nearly a year of car loan payments on the new vehicle.
  • We are now the owners of a car that is 7 years younger than the car we got rid of.
  • The expected reliability of our new car is “Excellent” according to Consumer Reports, compared to our old car’s reliability of “Average” to “Very Poor” in certain areas. It bodes well for repair bills and the life span of our newest vehicle.

Taking those major points into consideration (and the rave reviews from Consumer Reports for our new car), we decided to ditch the old ride and upgrade. But there are more details to this story! Stick around all week to find out.

What do You Think?

Have you ever had to make a similar choice? I’m walking in the footsteps of many before me, so I’m curious to hear what you would have done in the same situation. Everyone’s circumstances are unique, but we can certainly learn from one another in some way!

This is part of a seven-part series on our new car journey. Below are links to posts that have already been published as part of this series:

  1. This post
  2. How to Sell Your Car on Craigslist
  3. Using Consumer Reports to Select a Car
  4. Would You Buy a Rental Car?
  5. Should You Buy a New or Used Car?
  6. Is an Extended Car Warranty Worth It?
  7. Review of Hertz Rent2Buy

Photo by Mulad

22 thoughts on “Our One-Car Experiment and Car Decision

  1. My partner and I recently did the same thing. We went down to one car to save money. It makes sense for us since I work from home. 99% of the time I very happy with the decision because, but there are some days you just wish you had your own car to go run errands, etc. I suppose that is a trade-off worth having.
    .-= The Penny Hoarder´s last post: Free Money Alert! – Get $25 Cash at ING Direct =-.

    1. I think if we were in the same situation, we would definitely consider something similar, but unfortunately neither of us is home during the day, and the one car we did have was way too small for even just the three of us!! 🙂

      1. Thanks for an interesting article. I’m going through a similar decision-making process at the moment. I was involuntarily deprived of my car for a while, and we have been experimenting with life as a one-car family. Although there are times when it is inconvenient being without a car, I’m still debating whether having a vehicle is worth the trade-off in terms of cost and trouble…
        .-= Penny Farthing´s last post: An interview with my brother-in-law, the abseiler and former mortgage adviser =-.

  2. My husband doesn’t drive (one of the perks of spending your life in the UK), so we’re comfortable with our one car lifestyle. We both use public transportation as much as possible, despite the fact that it is often inconvenient. I’m trying to let go of my worship of convenience. Not easy!

    Anyhoo, 5 years ago I bought my very first new car after years of making repairs on used autos. Next time around, I’ll buy a certified used car more than likely (with cash, of course), but I don’t regret my decision to buy a new car. I have not had to make one single repair, outside of general maintenance, in over 5 years. I researched the living hell out of it and made a good choice. I also had a contact with the company (Hyundai) and was able to get a great deal on an already reasonably priced car. Since I plan to drive it until I have to cut a whole in the bottom of it and push it with my feet, it’s been a sound expense. But I do realize now that I could likely get the same quality at a reduced price by buying used.
    .-= ConsciouslyFrugal´s last post: Instant Cure for all that Ails, Just $19.95 =-.

    1. The new vs. used line is blurry, even for us personal finance folk. Some people still stand by buying new all the time, some think it’s a complete waste of money. I guess it all depends on your philosophy…

  3. My husband and I made the decision to become a one-car family in our first year of marriage. I had left my full-time job to become a freelancer the year before, so most days, my car was not being driven at all. The only reason to keep it would be as a backup in case his broke down, and I reasoned that in such cases, it would be a lot cheaper to rent a car for a few days than to keep paying the insurance on a second car. We chose to keep his rather than mine because (a) he was more comfortable with it, and he was the one doing most of the driving, and (b) it was a Honda, which meant that at 11 years old it still had plenty of useful life in front of it. That was five years ago, and we have never regretted the decision. There are maybe two days each year when it is somewhat inconvenient to have only one car to share, but having only one car to insure, maintain, and park makes it well worth it. (Last month, when we had two feet of snow on the ground, I was very grateful that I only needed to clear enough space in our driveway for one car.)

    1. Sounds like you guys definitely made the right choice. We wondered for months whether it was a better idea just to dump one car and deal with the inconvenience. In the end, we decided it wasn’t worth it right now, but circumstances do change, and I hope we get to try it out again later in life. The extra hours in the day far outweigh the cost and hassle for us.

  4. When my wife started staying with our kids we went down to one car. It is an inconvenience at times, but overall it has been a great choice. The key? Communication be sure to tell you spouse when you need the vehicle!

    1. Ha! I can see how that would be helpful! 🙂 If either of us stays home at some point in our life, I think we’ll do the same. For now, my wife is helping out her parents, so she can be “out of the house” and with the baby at the same time!

  5. Over 5 years ago we became a one car family after an accident totaled the family van. I drove daughter to school and husband to work then drove an additional 110 miles to the facility I was working at. It was a difficult drive on a congested, high speed interstate. After working, I then drove back, picked up daughter and took her to swim practice. Later, I picked up my husband, both of went to Masters swimming practice and the three of us drove home together.
    My job entailed me to do most of my paperwork at home so this allowed me some flexibility. It was hard with one car but we did what we had to until our Prius came in. Having this experience helped us appreciate being back to a two car family again.

    1. That is a LOT of driving–I can see why you’d have a renewed appreciation for having two cars!

      I think in a lot of cases, the ability to become a one-car family depends on the area you live in.

      For example, where we live right now, public transportation is mediocre at best, and not having a car seriously impairs your ability to do anything other than stay home.

      In more urban areas, walking to the corner store might be difficult without a car, but at least it’s doable.

      Your comment made me think of this observation, so I wanted to share it with everyone!

    1. We loved Craigslist, too. I have a post going up tomorrow about our sale experience.

      The car we ended up getting is a Mazda5. I’ll be writing more about it next week–stay tuned! 🙂

  6. One car family can work well depending on job situation public transportation and having a good set of pals that can pitch in.
    We recently gave up the truck and became a one car family. It takes getting use to.
    We also unfortunately live in a area with no public transportation. While i have come to use cabs more for doc appointments . I find it is still cheaper to be a one car family then having a note / + expenses maintenance + insurance on another vehicle.
    It does take communication working together and trying to get more done at one time.
    I am enjoying the extra in the account since letting go of the second vehicle

    1. Very true–most people might faint at the sight of your cab bills, but not even give a second thought to what they are paying to REALLY maintain their cars!

      I’m very glad you were able to make it work!

  7. We are a one car household as my husband doesn’t drive. It works out fine, having two cars would be very expensive and because he doesn’t drive we don’t argue over the use of the car. I make all the decisions when it comes to buying a new car, so no arguements there either. The main draw back is if my husband can’t get somewhere by bus/train or walk, I have to drive him there and on long trips we can’t share the driving. But overall being a one car/one driver household means we save money and we can afford a decent car, so I probably don’t really want him driving now, I would find it strange if my husband was the one driving.

    1. Interesting perspective! I am assuming from your story that your husband doesn’t have a license, which is not all that uncommon in urban areas and in Europe. My aunt just got her license and she’s 55! I didn’t get mine until I was almost 20.

      1. We live in an Urban area where public transport is mostly ok. We actually met at the bus stop on our way to work. Then I passed my driving test and started driving to work, but used to go past the same bus stop and one day offered my future husband a lift. It was then that he told me he had no interest in cars or driving, so I’ve always known. When we started dating it was quite fun being the only driver, it meant I had the final say where we went! Still do and after 18 years of driving my husband (but NOT his taxi), wouldn’t want to change now.

  8. Interesting story and nice comments!
    Living on a student budget, I’ve stuck only with used cars. Considering the amount of driving I do (and the careless way I used to drive), I considered it feel it fair to pay around $500 -$ 800 for about 2 years of use. Some older cars do really well, as their mechanics were simpler and the price tag considerably lower!
    I bought only from owners saving on the middle man involvement, and always felt that older owners have better driving habits and take better care of their autos.
    When examining a prospective buy, I’d usually do a lot of research on reliability of the vehicle, and then consider how many years would the car drive with minimal input for repairs. A car being older and mainstream guarantees that its parts would always be available in junk yards thus saving on costs of ownership 🙂
    I’d get rid of a car and look for a new ride when I noticed the repair bills beginning to mount.
    Different cars have different temperaments. And so far, I have changed 5 sets of wheels in 9 years (driving the fifth now, a Prizm). The good part about this is that one doesn’t get overly attached to one vehicle. I can’t imagine driving the same thing for 5 years in a row, I’d get bored. With kids, though, I can see how I’d want more stability from the vehicle and will own something safer, more reliable and comfortable that will last me for more than 5 years.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your story! I have a good friend who is mechanically inclined and would do something similar, but he would buy his cars for ridiculous prices like $200 or even $50, then fix some simple things that needed to be fixed. I can’t even imagine how much money he saved in the long run doing this…

  9. Pingback: Our One-Car Household | Sometimes Parenting Sucks

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