J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

No Car Experiment: Results and Conclusions

Almost exactly two years ago, our car lease expired, and my family decided to embark on a “one month” experiment of living without owning or leasing a car. At the time our daughter was attending an elementary school just a few blocks away (easily walkable), and Kia was willing to do the bulk of the grocery shopping on her Xtracycle cargo bike. In terms of commuting, Kia and I both work from home. Otherwise we planned to use car sharing services and Lyft/Uber as needed. Our #1 rule for the experiment was that we would never turn down social invitations for lack of transportation. Also, we would not depend too much on family and friends for rides.

The experiment has had its emotional, financial, and logistical ups and downs. And now it has come to an end. With the death of my father-in-law, the car we sold to him years ago has come back to us. It’s a 2005 VW Golf, somewhat the worse for wear, but one of my all-time favorite cars to drive. We’ve been using it, and it looks like we’re keeping it.

If you want to follow our journey from the beginning, I’ve documented the entire experience in the following posts:

Preparing for No-Car Month (and a Driverless Future?)

Skinny, Rich, Tan, and Live Forever (No Car Experiment)

No Car Update (Month 2)

No Car Month 3 – The Honeymoon Is Over

Carless in California (Month 4)

No-Car Experiment (Month 8)

Lyft (and Uber?) Drivers Don’t Know Where They’re Going

GIG Car Share-The Future of Driving

Continuation of the “No Car” Experiment (Year 2)

I Have Seen The Future of Local Transportation

Financial Summary

Over the course of the experiment I carefully tracked our transportation costs, including use of car-sharing services, taxi-like services, additional use of public transportation, increased bicycle maintenance costs, and the occasional car rental. Here’s the month-by-month breakdown of our family transportation costs:

2016
February: $225
March: $290
April: $289
May: $278
June: $197
July: $504
August: $453
September: $178
October: $205
November: $279
December: $506

2017
January: $275
February: $167
March: $339
April: $369
May: $161
June: $184
July: $380
August: $160
September: $75
October: $194
November: $310
December: $279

2018
January (through the 15th): $146

This averaged out to $274 per month. We calculated our cost of car ownership (in an alternate universe where we purchased or leased a car, as follows):

Economy car payment/lease, including fees: $300
Gas, bridge tolls, and parking: $80
Car insurance: $75
Amortized repairs and maintenance: $50
Amortized DMV registration fees: $15

Total monthly car ownership/use costs: $520

So we saved about $5800 over the course of the 23.5 month experiment.

Month-to-month cost variations

A few times during the experiment we were either offered the free use of a car, or specifically asked to “car sit” a car while friends were traveling (to avoid parking/street sweeping hassles). These times correspond to months when our costs were unusually low.

More expensive months reflect one or two car rentals for weekend getaways or events that required a longer drive.

Pros and Cons

My favorites things about the experiment included:

  • not being responsible for car maintenance
  • saving money
  • reducing our family’s carbon footprint
  • walking and biking more, and getting in better cardiovascular shape

My least favorite things were as follows:

  • transportation became more logistically complicated, with a higher mental load
  • sometimes I didn’t feel like walking or biking, but I had to anyway
  • Lyft and Uber drivers didn’t know where they were going half the time
  • I broke my foot while skateboarding in the dark, which I wouldn’t have been doing if I’d had access to a car that evening
  • it was difficult and expensive to get up to the Oakland parks for hiking, and we did less of that, which sucked

Would We Do It Again?

Right now it feels like a relief to own a car again. But transportation is a rapidly changing field, similar to the way telecommunication changed in the nineties. Within a few years it may be possible to summon a robot car to your house and then drive it where you want.

That would be my ideal–no ownership or parking hassles, but still having the control to drive myself (or be robotically driven, if I preferred).

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4 Comments

  1. Stephen Mann

    in your cost of ownership calculation, i don’t see a down payment, only the monthly lease/payment $. are there truly $0 down leases these days?

    • Good point. When I leased the Fiat 500 years ago, it was $0 down, but you’re right, that doesn’t seem to exist anymore!

  2. B Peters

    I would include the “cost” of your fractures and related expenses, because that was a direct consequence of not having a car too. Interesting experiment!

    • I considered that, but who knows how many car accidents I avoided? In any case my out of pocket medical expenses were about $2K, and I didn’t lose any work time.

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