The car-free debate


I am still working on my curtains, but I have run into a few hiccoughs I am working through.  In the meantime, I find myself in the midst of a huge decision that has really been challenging me.

Moving to a downtown apartment in a large city, I was surprised to learn that parking was going to cost around $200/month. I was shocked, to say the least. I’m sure things are worse in really big cities like New York or Los Angeles, but I simply could not stomach the $200 price tag; the most I have ever paid for parking is $50/month.

Luckily, I had a temporary solution. Just before moving, my sister Clara came back from overseas to stay at my mom’s for several months while she finalizes another adoption (yay!).  She brought Harrison with her!  To help her out, I lent her my car for the time she was in the country, allowing me to try the car-free life for a while.

About 1 week ago, Clara called me about the car. Apparently, she was driving it to the mechanic to change the oil, when out of nowhere, there was a huge bang.  Luckily, she was only minutes away from the mechanic, who was able to diagnose it immediately. Apparently, my dear car had suffered from “rod knock,” also known as “the death knell” of an engine. This post I found explains the condition really well (if you care about that sort of thing). In short, it seems my car was not getting enough oil for who knows how long.

Regardless of what happened, the relevant part of the story is the end: I need to replace the engine or say goodbye to my little Camry. After factoring in the cost of labor, replacing an engine ends up being a very expensive proposition.  Depending on what type I choose (new, rebuilt, or used; 60000 miles or 80000 miles on a used, etc.), the price can run from $5000-$7000 (I already decided against a new).

I have been car-free for over 2 months now. I have to admit, it would be nice to have one around, mostly to go grocery shopping, but other then that, I don’t miss it all that much. I live within a mile of work, and there is a small market around the corner from my house. There is a library up the street, as well as many other downtown attractions within easy walking distance.  The nearest full-blown grocery store is about 2 miles away. If I ever want to go there, it is easy to get to on my bike, which I also ride to work everyday.

Five benefits of being car-free:

  1. I am saving a ton of money (see below for more details)!
  2. I get to work faster on the bike than driving (I run red lights on occasion).
  3. I spend less money because I don’t “swing by the store” as often.
  4. Commuting is a lot more enjoyable.
  5. Riding a bike is safer than driving a car, not to mention healthier.

Will I be able to maintain my car-free lifestyle long term? In a city, a lot of people can get by without a car, though a lot of my friends seem disturbed by the prospect of living without a car. How will I feel about no car once it gets cooler outside in a couple of months? Will I feel as safe on a bike then? Will I be comfortable riding my bike to and from work when the days are shorter and it is dark both ways? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but when I think about it logically, I don’t know that it matters all that much when I live less than a mile from work. In fact, I’ll possibly suffer less while biking to work instead of driving because I’ll actually be moving, instead of sitting in a frigid vehicle, waiting for lights to change.

To help in my decision making process, I did a quick estimate on the cost of owning a car:Car ownershipIn short, it would cost approximately $4000/year to continue to run my car. Luckily, I own the car out-right, but if I didn’t, this price would be even higher! Even after owning my own car for 6 years, I never realized how expensive it actually is to maintain.

Some caveats: these are very rough estimates. I don’t know if I found all the fees for re-licensing and titling in my state or not, and I don’t actually plan on spending $300 on repairs (I just think guessing high is safer than low).  Additionally, I don’t know if the insurance price is accurate; I just used the cost of my last insurance bill (I pay in 6 month intervals), but it usually goes up a little every year.  Even without the exorbitant cost of parking, it would still cost me about $1500/year to keep a car.

Although I could afford it, do I want to? At $4000/year, that is over $300 per month!  The main task I would use the car for would be grocery shopping (at most a once weekly affair), but I could easily add an extra $100/month to my grocery budget to finance delivery, and still save money.

Right now I’m leaning very heavily towards not keeping the car; I plan on putting in a new engine, letting me sister use it until she goes home, and then trying to sell it. What do you think I should do?




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