Is your car more curse than convenience?

I ditched my car ten years ago. I’d been debating with myself whether to go car free for a few months as I was using my car less and less. I wasn’t sure though. If I got rid, would I be able to manage? I was self-employed with clients all over South East England and London. Would I lose out on work through spending too much time on travel? Would my travel costs significantly increase? Would I find myself spending lots of money hiring cars to get me to social events in out of the way places, or because I had too much luggage to carry on a train?

Then my car started overheating.  A garage told me the head gasket had cracked and it would cost £800 (more than the car was worth) to repair it. That made the decision for me and I said ‘goodbye’.

And I haven’t looked back (except before changing lanes on my bike).

I cycle or walk for local journeys (I rarely use taxis or even buses) and use the train for anything further away. I occasionally hire a car if I’m going away for a weekend (especially with others), doing a journey with lots of stops, or travelling somewhere with a lot of luggage. Probably only about half a dozen times in the last ten years though.

There are options for using cars without owning one that are cheaper than traditional car hire.

For example, car clubs provide locally parked cars that members can hire for slots as short as 30 minutes, booking online at short notice so long as a car is available.

While WhipCar enables car owners to rent out their cars to other people when they’re not using them.

In fact, I haven’t found I’ve wanted use of a car enough even to pursue those options.

Aside from the obvious contribution to me living a low impact life, here are some of the benefits I’ve noticed.

1. I’ve saved money

In my last year of car ownership, I spent about £2,000 on car-related costs (maintenance, petrol, insurance, tax, MOT, parking…), and about a further £1,000 on public transport. In the last 12 months, I’ve spent about £2,000 in total on transport. According to this inflation calculator, the £3,000 I spent ten years ago would be equivalent to £3,700 today. So, while I can’t be sure that there weren’t changes in my travel patterns that I haven’t accounted for, this crude analysis suggests I’ve nearly halved my travel costs by ditching my car. And that’s without taking into account the cost/depreciation of the car itself.

Money’s only part of the picture though…

Glass of wine on train

Let the train take the strain

2. Less stress

I no longer worry about the safety of my car parked on the street, or whether I’ll unexpectedly be faced with a large bill because something’s gone wrong with it. Parking where I live in Brighton & Hove is becoming increasingly challenging and the Council is introducing restrictions in more residential areas, prompting heated debates and strong feelings: not with me though.

3. I’m fitter

Not having a car handily parked outside my house results in me using my bike or Shanks’ pony even more than I would have done otherwise (and Brighton’s hills demand the use of every one of my gears). On a memorable occasion before I ditched my car, because it was pouring with rain, I drove to the gym instead of cycling. Big mistake. The world and her husband had made similar decisions and I was late for my fitness class because of the traffic. Now I haven’t got a car, that’s not an option. I just don my waterproofs and set off by bike. As my Italian friend says “After all, I’m not made of paper”.

4. I’m more connected to my community

As I walk or cycle about, I stop to chat to people I know, see notices for local events, pick up on changes in my neighbourhood, spot birds and listen to them singing, pop into local shops for errands…

5. I wear my high heels more

Didn’t see that one coming! Thing is, it’s easier to cycle in heels than it is to walk in them. So, if I’m cycling for a night out, I can wear vertiginous heels rather than carry them separately and change on arrival.

6. Lots of time for reading

Car-driving friends wonder how I manage to get through so many books. What a waste of time driving is!

7. Not MY fault guv’

OK, so sometimes trains run late or are cancelled. Driving is unpredictable too though. Accidents and breakdowns happen. Traffic gets backed up. And, if I’m late for a meeting because of public transport delays, I think people are less inclined to think that I should simply have allowed longer for my journey than they would be if I’d got caught in traffic.

There probably have been occasions when my life has been more inconvenient or more expensive than it would have been if I’d owned a car. I’m not aware of them though because I simply don’t think about it. And overall I reckon it balances out in my favour.

Admittedly I live near the centre of a city in the South East of England, which is relatively well-served with public transport and I haven’t got kids, or a job that requires me to transport lots of stuff around. All the same, if you’re convinced that you can’t cope without a car, maybe it’s worth thinking again.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jenny on May 23, 2011 at 11:38

    Oh yes – this is good to read. I ditched my car about 6 weeks ago. It was either that or pay around £900 to get it fixed, then in comes insurance (around £250, I have loads of no claims), MOT (£55 ish) and any repairs (£ heaven knows!). Add in breakdown insurance (needed – my car broke down about every 2-3 months), the cost of petrol (HOW much) and just the stress of driving … nope, I’m much happier.

    I don’t need it to get to work (I work from home on the whole) and I actually despise driving – most of it involves looking at the brake lights of the car in front as youedge towards your destination in the same timeframe it would have taken to cycle in it.

    I now use my bike, public transport or I walk. I live in an area pretty well served with busses and there is a train station down in the valley (which does sadly mean a steep hill to walk up on the way back but heck you can bounce coins off my butt cheeks these days!).

    The only inconvenience I’ve noticed so far is for other people, I love it. I was a little concerned about the bad weather but I love the comment about not being made of paper!

    Great post, Rachel, and as a newly car free person it’s good to hear a perspective from an “old timer” on this (with no emphasis on the old, I promise! 🙂 )

    Reply

  2. People are escaping the tyranny of the car more and more. If we make public transit fare-free it would speed things up. It can be done and is being done.

    Reply

  3. […] I bought a pair of cycling shoes a couple of years ago. While they’re not essential, they make cycling more efficient (the solid soles transfer more of your legpower to your pedals). Plus, they take away the need to work out what shoes I’m going to put on to cycle! I can always pop a more glamorous pair in my panniers to change into on arrival. Or sometimes I just cycle in the glamorous ones (see benefits of being carfree number 5). […]

    Reply

  4. […] About « Is your car more curse than convenience? […]

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