Contemplating a car-free life
It’s not always easy, but going without has lots of advantages
By Jennifer Hadley 03/04/2010
Since I’m barely employed these days, I have a lot of luxuries that the gainfully employed just don’t have. Like watching the scintillating testimony of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Capitol Hill last week regarding the handling of the Toyota recalls. Don’t hate. I know it’s a blessed life.
While the testimony was only marginally less interesting than watching grass grow, this Toyota fiasco (and the fact that I was able to watch the hearings ALL DAY LONG on a Wednesday because I don’t have anything better to do) allowed me time to do some thinking. How safe are any of our cars, really? If investigators started looking into the safety of, say, Nissan Xterras, how long would it be until they pulled at a loose thread and found that my SUV is basically just a coffin on wheels?
Since my ability to pay my bills has gone from being challenging to being laughable (and since I now doubt that any of our cars are as safe as we may like to think) before I knew it, I was contemplating getting rid of my car altogether. Heck, it’s banged to bits, I can barely afford it, and who knows when it might just accelerate to 1,000 mph and take flight like a rocket ship, sending me to the moon? Soon enough, getting rid of my ride didn’t seem like the worst idea I’ve had as of late. But I needed to hear from someone who had done this. As it just so happens, Scott, my friend and neighbor, recently gave his car (a Toyota, no less) right back to the bank that held the title.
At 38, Scott is without a car for the first time since he’s had a driver’s license. So I called him over to chat about how his life has changed since his deciding to go foot loose and fancy free from car loans, auto insurance and spendy visits to the gas station.
“Dude, I kinda love it. I ride my bike everywhere, so I’m killing all of my cardio every day.” Hmm … I like the sound of that, but I would have to buy a bike. Still, with money I’d save on insurance and payments, I could afford a bike, and Scott confirms that the savings are huge. “My car payment was $475 a month. Insurance was $90 a month. I spent about $80 to $100 a month on gas. So I’m saving close to $700 bucks a month,” he said.
Quick math shows that my savings would be slightly less — more like $600 a month — but still, I could use that extra cash. The idea of getting rid of my car is starting to sound quite enticing, but there are some things Scott says I need to consider.
“If you’re a hermit and don’t have friends who will let you use their car every once in a while, it would probably suck. It sucks when it’s raining too, because there isn’t a bus stop close to my work. But, well, then I just borrow your car.” He’s right again, except for the fact that he never asks to borrow my car. I offer it to him daily, as it’s just sitting in my garage anyway.
Scott acknowledges that this lifestyle would probably not be ideal for someone who has to drive to meetings or work regularly. Since I work from home, and I broke up with my therapist because I can’t afford to see him anymore, I rarely have to be anywhere. The list of reasons why I ought to get rid of my car continues to grow.
I sheepishly admit I’m also attracted to the idea that people would view me as eco-conscious. I can see myself zooming around on my bike, like those cool cats in San Francisco or New York, all the while explaining to people that I’m trying to reduce the size of my carbon footprint. Imagining how cool and trendy everyone would think I was makes me beam.
But then Scott tells me that his decision isn’t permanent. Although he is enjoying the time on his bike, he’s saving money to buy a small, cheap used car in a few months, which he plans to pay for in cash and insure with minimal coverage. So apparently, it’s not a complete bed of roses being carless. And, as he pointed out to me, I only have 10 more payments before the rust bucket I drive is all mine, so turning it in now isn’t really going to do me a lot of good.
He’s right. But at least I know now that I could live — even in LA — without a car. And even though I’m keeping the Xterra for the time being, I’m attracted to a car-free lifestyle enough that I think I am going to look into buying a bike — just as soon as I win the Mega Millions.
Contact Jennifer Hadley at email@example.com.