Our Household’s Two-Car vs. One-Car Debate

Two weeks ago our 1999 Nissan truck died. The head gasket blew just 1.5 years after we purchased it for $3500 cash when my other used car finally called it quits after six successful years (boy I miss my 1997 Chevy Cavalier). While I never liked the truck, it was a huge disappointment that it did not last longer. Repairs were estimated at $3500, and it is clearly not worth it to put this amount of work into it. So much for our truck lasting us the five years we had hoped for! Heck, it didn’t even make it for two.

If you remember the last time when one of our vehicles died we had just moved into our new home and had cut our emergency savings down too much (note: I don’t recommend this as we were in a bit of a pinch). We were still able to pay cash for a vehicle…but here we are again 1.5 years later, so I guess we didn’t make a very good choice. Well, we have wizened up since then and we actually have enough money above and beyond our emergency savings that we could purchase a good used car with cash.

Here’s the thing though: we don’t want to.

Pros of a One Car Household

  • Cost Savings: A savings of approximately $1296 per year from not having to pay insurance and gas on a second vehicle. This doesn’t include the time, hassle, and money saved on not having to register, inspect, and get oil changes for a second vehicle.
  • Not Having to Shop Around: Picking out a new used car takes a lot of time and energy. I have been known to spend hours just trying to figure out which cat food to buy. Think about how long the process could be for a car!
  • More Exercise: We have a library, YMCA, JCC, grocery store, community pool, bayou, CVS, and church all within walking and biking distances from our house. I would be without a car on Fridays while Paul takes it to work (unless his work schedule changes: see below), so this would be a great time to run errands on foot instead of in starting up a vehicle.
  • Possibly More Time Spent Together: If we are driving together to work each day, this means more time together!
  • Fewer Emissions: If every household went down to one vehicle (or to no vehicles), think about the emissions saved and its impact on Houston’s brown haze in the summertime.

Cons of a One Car Household

  • Scheduling: Paul and I are two different people with two different schedules. I am sure there will be conflicts on the weekends and during the week when errands need to be run or one of us is hanging out with our friends.
  • Work Schedule Change: Currently I work a highly coveted compressed work schedule of 10 hour days Monday through Thursday. This allows me to write and work on my blog three days a week, which is crucial to Frugal Confessions and to my happiness. Paul is going to attempt to get on the same compressed work schedule at his job (we should find out soon), but if he cannot, then I would have to switch my work schedule to five 8-hour days a week again. If he can, than this will be even more ideal as he would love to go on a compressed work schedule like mine.
  • Truck for Hauling: As one of my regular readers (Michelle) pointed out last week, our truck has been an integral part in our renovation process throughout the house. Without a truck, we will most likely have to rent a truck when we need to haul equipment, borrow a truck from someone, or pay a delivery fee (the last time I checked the delivery fee at Lowe’s is $79 even though we live just three miles away from one).

This decision mainly rests upon work schedules, as it would for any household with two full-time employees. The independence/freedom factor is there as well, but the feeling of not being free or independent to do what we wish when we wish to because of not having a car is not very strong for either of us. We are fortunate to live in an area with many things to do, and there is always blog/writing work I can do on Fridays instead of leaving our home.

Do you have a one car, two car, or no car household? Do you have a car loan you are dying to get rid of by paring down to a one car household? What is holding you back? 

18 comments… add one

  • Have not considered paring back. We have 4 drivers and many of us go different places. I work 15 miles away although some days it is 33 miles. Gymnastics for the boys is 28 miles away. They go there 6 days per week. It just wouldn’t work when 6 people in the family have to be in 4 different places.

  • We have two cars. A couple of years ago when he had our first kid, we bought my parent’s SUV, I took my wife’s 2006 Pontiac G6, and we sold my 2003 Olds Alero. I drive only a few miles a day to a thankfully short commute, and in retrospect, I probably should have kept the Alero as we would have pocketed more money otherwise. Still, even with a short commute, it’s just tricky enough where I wouldn’t want to walk/bike it, and I wouldn’t want to ever have to have my wife drive me back and forth (impossible with two little ones) nor would I leave her at home w/o a car, so long story short, it’s two cars for us!

  • we are a two car household, mainly due to the fact that my husband and i work in completely different parts of the state and public transportation or van pools are not accessible or an option. if we did not have this, we could easily be a one car household, which i would totally prefer. on the occasions where we would need two cars, it would be cheaper just to rent an additional car for the day or two.

  • Michelle (a different Michelle than in the article)

    We are currently a 2 car household but in October when my husbands lease is up on his car we will be a 1 car household.
    Normally, I and would want us to each have our own car, but we work at the same place so our schedules rarely differ. Even if he needs the car to go to work I can easily take him in to work and pick him up since its only a 15 min commute (we work in downtown Houston and live in Montrose/River Oaks area).
    Another reason we are sticking with 1 car (besides the money saving factors) is because we are looking to buy a house early next year and dont want to “ding” our credit by taking out a loan for a new car.

  • Sandra

    Please let us know what you do with the truck.

  • Sara

    My husband and I each have a car as well as his motorcycle. Not sure if we’re counting recreational vehicles, too. :)
    His jeep has been paid off for a couple years and my car will be paid off soon. We’re moving into a house soon, too. (I swear, one of these days we’ll actually get to close on it.) We’ll finally have a 2 car garage!!
    Would it be too weird ta ask peoples parking situations in addition to how many cars in the household? We are currently parking on the street at my in-laws. Not fun as my driver side door can attest. It has been hit twice by the across-the-street neighbor backing out of the driveway.

  • Becoming a one car family is one of my goals in retirement! In Los Angeles, it is very difficult to do this unless you live downtown.

  • My husband and I share one car. Since he works from home, this works out most of the time. I can normally bike to work or school, but there are times our schedules conflict and we both need the car. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I don’t know if we’ll always be a one-car household (Mr. LH loves cars and foresees another one in the near future.) But I sure like not having to pay the additional costs!

  • I think a one-car household is a great idea, but it really has to be worth everyone’s time. I’d take the expected cost savings, and divide it by the number of extra hours of time incurred by having one car vs two. That’s the hourly rate – if it’s worth it to you, then why not? However, if you’re effectively getting paid minimum wage based on this calculation, it might not be the best move. All depends on our situation individually!

  • Harri @ TotallyMoney

    Wow it’s times like this when I’m actually pretty thankful that I live in London! My boyfriend sold his car earlier this year and we now have no cars whatsoever. This would be impossible were it not for the fact that although public transport here is blood-boilingly infuriating, it is much, much faster and cheaper than driving around London.

    You could experiment- see what it’s like living with one car for a while. If it’s too much to bear or you find yourself shelling out huge amounts to support your renovation work then you know that a second car is right for you.

  • Olivia

    We can only afford one car. That simplifies things. We’ve always had just one car in spite of very different schedules. We learned to live with what we had and make do. It comes down to planning, flexibility and communication. We cannot do without a car totally however, though it would be nice, as my DH travels quite a bit for his job.

    Your own cons are not insurmoutable. But only you can decide what you really want. Since you have the means to ask the question, “one car or two?”, it really does come down to preferences.

  • We have two cars (one is on your beater car page), but plan to downsize to one when I retire.

  • My DH and I only have one car and honestly I would never go back. I check how much it would cost to rent a car for the day and we would need to rent a car for 35 days before owning one would be useful. In the last two years we have only rented one twice. Yes, it takes some communication and coordination and occasionally I’ll take the bus but really it works out well for us. Unless I get into grad school and my DH has to move for post-doc before I am done we will never have two cars. Well, unless when we are older our kids get them.

  • Super Frugalette

    We just upgraded to two cars. There were occasions that I found it annoying to have just one car, but not impossible. The consequence of having one car is that you are more frugal. You aren’t out shopping, so you are not tempted to buy additional things. You have less opportunity to go do “things” so you tend to save money that way.

  • My wife and I share only one car and we are managing just fine. We were able to do this when we move closer to where I work. We’ve been saving a lot of money in gas and maintenance and we’ve been able to prolong the life of the car.

  • We share one car and we even lived with no car for 3 months. You should try 1 car for a while and see if you can handle it. Hopefully, you have some public transportation options.

    http://retireby40.org/2011/06/carless-3-months/

  • Lisa

    I’m from the Philippines and I don’t have a car. I only ride a jeepney anywhere i go like going to work, church or malls.

  • We did consider this and were about to do it. Then my hubby’s work schedule picked up, and the bus (which he’s use occasionally) wouldn’t be available as early or late as he needed it.
    It’s not doable for us at the moment, but if it is for you, I’m all for it!!
    We don’t have a truck, though we have done a lot of home improvements. Maybe you could borrow? That’s what we’ve done.

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