Should You Become a One Car Family?

One Car in DrivewayOne of the biggest expenses for any family is transportation. It seems that most families own as many cars as there are drivers, or more. For example, I know a couple that own four cars between the two of them. While it seems like it goes without question that you must own a car (unless there is great public transportation around you), do you really need two or three cars in a family? Could you get by with just one?

I started thinking about this recently because I was trying to figure out different ways to pay off our debt. My car worth is approximately equal to what we owe. My husband only drives his car to work and back. While the finances seem to support selling the car, the challenges behind being a one car family would be hard to tackle. First, I want to discuss the pros and cons of becoming a one car family. Then, I’ll go into some alternatives to driving that you should consider.


1. Save Money – Owning and maintaining a car can be pricey. By owning one less car, you will obviously save money on gas, but that is not the only thing you would have money on. Cars need maintenance such as oil changes, tire rotations, and mechanical work. You will save on tag fees and possibly taxes as well depending on your state. Also, if you are going somewhere where you must pay for parking, you can avoid these fees as well. Additionally, you won’t have to worry about getting pulled over and having to pay a ticket! With all of these factors, you could save hundreds or thousands of dollars a year.

2. Pay Off Debt – If you currently have debt, consider selling one of your cars to pay it off. As I mentioned, this is what got me started thinking about living with one car. Depending on your debt situation and how much your car is worth, this may or may not be helpful. But without question, you should at least consider the option of selling your car for cash online or to a used car dealership. If you want to go the online route, consider these tips to sell your car online for free on Craigslist.

3. Go Green – Reduce your carbon footprint by being one less driver on the road.

4. Get Exercise – Depending on the alternative mode of transportation you choose, you have the possibility of burning some calories and getting in shape.


1. Rely on Others – At times you may need to rely on the generosity of others to get you where you need to go. Perhaps you could chip in for gas money if someone is helping you get around.

2. Share and Compromise – We all were supposed to learn how to share in preschool, but it can still be a challenge as an adult. You need to have very open lines of communication with your family to know who gets to take the car and when. You will need to learn to compromise.

3. Getting Wet – If you decide to get rid of your car and ride a bike instead, you are going to have to deal with inclement weather. Depending on where you live, this could be a really big deal, especially if you are up north where it gets really cold or down south where there are frequent storms. I have a friend who rides his bike to the bus station to get to work, and I always feel bad for him if I hear rumbles of thunder when I wake up in the morning.

4. Being Left Stranded – If your driver can’t pick you up, and there is a monsoon outside, you just may have to stay put and wait. Hopefully, that won’t happen too often.

Alternatives to Driving

If you do decide to go the one car route, here are some really great alternatives to driving for you and your family:

1. Carpool – Chances are there is someone that lives near you that is going close to where you are going. Considering looking on a carpool matching site to find someone. The carpooling benefits are endless.

2. Bike – This is a wonderful form of exercise. Even though it might take you a little longer to get to your destination, you may end up saving time in your day because you will have already completed your daily workout. This is mostly likely what my husband would use if we do decide to become a one car family.

3. Bus/Public Transportation – Unfortunately, funds for public transportation are being cut in many areas, such as mine, but this is a great alternative to owning a car. What I really like about using public transportation is that it gives you an opportunity to get stuff done, such as emails, or it gives you an opportunity to have some downtime to read and realx. If you have a busy life, it might be nice to just “chill” for 20 or 30 minutes every day. While public transportation does cost a few bucks, it is usually much less than what you would pay in gas and in parking.

4. Moped or Scooter – This might be a good mode of transportation if you are going somewhere that is too far to bike.

5. Telecommute – Consider working at home a few days a week if your company will allow it. Telecommuting is becoming more and more popular.

Final Thoughts

I really think this is a difficult decision. It would work well for some people but not for others. Your comfort level also plays a huge part in it as well. While I think it is a cool idea for many reasons, I am still hesitant about taking the plunge.

Do you have experience living as a one car family? I’d love to hear your story!

(Photo Credit: Stephen Barnett)

  • Nate Hall

    Casey, well said. I thought you brought a lot of the important points up.

    We’ve been living as a one car family for the better part of this year. I recently switched to working out of the home so we felt we’d save, for a lot of the reasons (pros) you mentioned here, and budget the money we’d have for a second car in other important areas.

    For the most part it has worked well. There is the occasional inconvenient times when schedules don’t line out, but we make it work.

    I could see how challenging it would be if people worked outside the home and had more than one direction to go. However, if a person is motivated and sees the benefits of living with a one car situation, I really believe it’s possible.

    Who knows, one day we may go back to having a second vehicle, but for right now it really has benefited us with our personal finances, budget and financial goals.

    • Casey Slide

      Wow, awesome story, Nate. I am so glad it has worked well for you and your family. That is really encouraging to hear that it can be done if you want to make it work. Thanks!

  • not given

    No way, when I need the car, I’d have to drive DH a long way to work, go do whatever I needed to do, wait until he called he was about to get off work and drive all the way back over there, provided I was even back from where I had been going. It would end up putting close to twice as much mileage on the work commute several times a week. We have no public transportation and hardly any shopping here and nobody else in town works in the town where DH works and he doesn’t always get off at the same time as anyone else who does work there. My car has over 100k miles on it and DH’s truck has more than 200k. When we need to go somewhere together we usually take the car but a lot of the places DH goes on the weekends he needs the truck for, you just can’t drive out into a pasture in a Taurus and strap a deer or hog carcass on top. You can’t haul much around in or behind a midsized car, either. We’ve even discussed a 3rd used vehicle. Something small that gets very good mileage for him to drive to work so he wouldn’t have to put so much wear and tear on my car to save on gas and save the gas-guzzling truck for the times he really needs to have a truck.

    • Casey Slide

      Thanks for sharing your experience. You make some excellent points about putting extra mileage on the car.

  • Joe

    We have been a one car family for over three years now. We moved into the city and both uses public transportation. I drive to work 50% of the time. My wife doesn’t drive much anymore.
    We love having only one car, it’s great for us. This save on insurance, gas, repair cost, various fees, and more.
    Keep in mind we have great public transportation and no kids.

    • Casey Slide

      I am so glad it works for you. Sounds like you have the perfect set up to make it work so well. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Julia Stell

    we’re going on over 18 months of being a one car family. i admit, it’s not easy. lately, i’ve really been wishing we had the second car still just to have help with dropping off/picking up the kids, running errands, getting the car serviced. i end up getting stuck with all of it since i’m the one who takes the car to work. it has it’s own unique set of challenges, but i agree that it does foster more communication.

    • Casey Slide

      Thanks for sharing, Julia. That is exactly what makes me hesitant about doing it.

  • Jim Smith – UHNW

    We have been a one car family for 7 years now and have never looked back. We live in the inner city, so I get the bus to work, while my wife drives the car (she works out in a suburban business park). The kids walk to school.

    I recently had a good look a buying a second car – I was getting sick of crappy public transport and found that it would cost an additional $25,000 per annum. I also discovered that if I ran home from work, not only would I get there quicker than taking the bus (weirdly) but I’d get fit at the same time!

    We also walk to the shops to do errands etc. While it takes an extra 10 mins to walk, I found I was spending 10 mins looking for a parking spot anyway. If worse comes to worse, we grab a taxi.

    I’d say that if you live in the inner city, there really is no excuse to have only 1 car per household. The upside benefits are too great not too. Might be a bit harder if you live in the suburbs – but its a definite goer for me.

    • not given

      I can’t even imagine walking even 7 blocks from the only grocery store in town now, not even one whole block of sidewalk between, on a state highway, with 40 pounds of cat litter and several other bags including ice cream, milk and meat in 100°+ weather. I can barely get the litter into the cart by myself.

      Of course, I live in a place where I paid off my house at $112/month, there are no movie theaters and only 2 banks.
      Hell, we don’t have 3G here, we don’t even have ‘G.’ My kid couldn’t update Facebook from his phone at Christmas. We are the biggest hole in the maps on all the cell phone ads.

      I have to drive 50 miles at least once every month just to buy necessities, visit a doctor, a health food store, a Walmart.

    • Casey Slide

      That’s awesome, Jim! Sounds like you all get quite a bit of exercise too, which is great!

  • Justin

    Great. I can chose to have more than one car or not

  • Ruth

    We have been a one car family in the past and it didn’t work well for us at all.

    We live in a remote rural area.

    Basically, having only one car meant that we had to drive it twice as much. The depreciation and oil changes were insane! We would end up having to replace the car far sooner and that’s not economical at all.

    We added a second vehicle and it’s been wonderful. Since the second vehicle is so economical on gas, our monthly gas expenditure doesn’t appear to be going up. Now we can get oil changes for the other car half as much and won’t be driving it 24,000 miles per year.

    Our insurance hasn’t gone up much with the addition of the second vehicle.

    I no longer have to drive 24 extra miles early in the morning with 3 kids, just so that I can keep the car. I also don’t suffer from feeling trapped at home anymore.

    Also I don’t waste endless time sitting around waiting for my husband after making the drive into town if he’s having to work unexpected extra time.

    Having just one vehicle can work well for city folks, but I don’t recommend it for rural folks. In our situation, we were essentially paying for two vehicles while only driving one.