How to Be a One Car Family

The growing cost of maintenance, fuel and insurance, along with changes in location and lifestyle, are pushing many to become a one car family. Find out how they do it.

By Sam Brown

Here’s an interesting fact about car ownership: the US Department of Energy discovered in a recent survey that 37.6 percent of American households owned at least two vehicles, while 19.5 percent owned three or more vehicles. Most families are used to having multiple cars for a wide variety of reasons, but the growing cost of maintenance, fuel and insurance, along with changes in location and lifestyle are pushing many towards one-car ownership.

The same survey also showed that a surprising 33.8 percent of people only own one vehicle. So how are families making it with one car, and is it worth it to downsize your family’s current fleet? The answers may shock and surprise you.

Benefits of a one-car household

Owning a second car is an expense that many of today’s belt-tightening families could do without. The New York Times recently found that it costs an average of $8,100 per year to own a second car. With things like insurance, registration and fuel factored in, the costs of owning a car can take a bite out of a family’s overall budget. Downsizing the automotive stable to just one car offers plenty of annual savings.

Many families have also taken the opportunity to downsize their remaining vehicle to a smaller, more fuel-efficient ride, a recent trend that hasn’t gone ignored by dealers. For instance, Phx Ford dealers like Chapman Ford offer a number of compact vehicles such as the Ford Fiesta, a vehicle capable of achieving up to 39 mpg under highway driving conditions.

In addition to the fuel savings that come from downsizing your choice of car, the savings also increase if you happen to live in an area where shops and amenities are just a short walk away. Walkable neighborhoods with plenty of public transit make the one-car lifestyle much easier to pull off.

Drawbacks and caveats

For many families, operating with just one car in household is a delicate dance that requires smart scheduling and timing. Simply put, having more than one car lets family members get more done in a shorter amount of time. Having two cars may also provide families with the versatility they need to get things done, as many second cars are used for long-distance family travel or for hauling heavy, bulky items. In suburban areas, the lack of a second car can cause headaches for anyone with the need to run errands while a spouse is away at work with the car.

Tools that can help

There are a few handy tools available to help make a one-car lifestyle easier on yourself and your family. Time coordination software like Twist helps you calculate how long trips by car, foot or any other mode of transport take, all while sending other users accurate info on your progress and ETA. Meanwhile, apps like iCarpool make real-time ride-sharing possible by helping users find a recurring carpool or vanpool with an empty seat whenever they need one.

Alternative transportation strategies are also winning out for many families. Many cities have made their streets and thoroughfares friendlier towards bicycles and those who ride them. According to information from BicyclingInfo.org, five percent of people reported using bicycles as their primary means of commuting back and forth between work and home, despite a whopping 41 percent using their bikes for exercise reasons.

Sam Brown is a high school shop teacher who writes about cars and the auto industry on the weekends.


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We love sharing expert advice, and we often feature guest posts by specialists in child development, work/life balance, women’s issues and other topics of interest to working moms. If you’re an expert and feel you have something to offer our readers, contact us with your credentials and pitch. Please keep in mind that we prefer original content as opposed to re-posts.

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