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Our One-Car Family Experience (Pros and Cons of Having Two Cars) Skip to Content

Our One-Car Family Experience (Pros and Cons of Having Two Cars)

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Downsizing to one car to become a one-car family is not always a popular idea. Let me show you how we've done it for two years, and why you might want to try it.

Have you ever thought about downsizing your car to become a one-car family?

two parent and one child family in car, text overlay "our experiencing downsizing to a one car family for 2 years"

We've actually been a one-car family for a little over a year now, though not by choice (at least not in the beginning).

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, our one vehicle was parked in the bottom of the parking garage at Hobby Airport – we were on a scheduled trip in Michigan. And while our house did not flood, the airport did (anyone who watched the news can attest to that!).

Crazy enough, just three weeks later, we were caught in a flash flood and lost our second car.

Pssst: You can read all about our flooded car insurance claims here. 

And then there were the two times that we dabbled in being a one-car family as one beater car died and we wanted some extra time to buy our new one.

But before that hurricane hit, we had never really, truly thought about becoming a one-car family.

I’m going to share with you our own experience of being a one-car family for two years, the pros and cons of one car family households, and how to live as a one car family with kids.

How We Became a One-Car Family

As mentioned above, we didn’t become a single car family by choice. Hurricane Harvey + getting caught in a flash flood claimed both of our cars.

Both of our cars had been paid off, and we carried comprehensive auto insurance on each – thank goodness! Because liability only insurance does not cover flooded cars (nor does flood insurance).

Here’s the breakdown of what we received for our vehicles:

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer

  • Vehicle Value – $3,605.00
  • Taxes – $225.31
  • Title Fees – $115.25
  • Deductible – $500.00
  • Settlement Payout – $3,445.56

For our 2007 Mustang, we received $5,800.

We decided that even though beater cars have been great for me to drive, we would put that money together from both claims and focus on buying an upgraded used car (upgraded from the beaters I normally drive).

Psst: you'll definitely want to check out my breakdown of should I buy a new or used car?

So, we purchased a 2009 Ford Focus with just 66,000 miles on it, using the money from both of our insurance payouts.

It’s been a blessing!

But, that didn’t leave us with anything left to purchase a second vehicle. True, with my beater car money strategy, we have money set aside to purchase another vehicle – outside of our emergency savings.

However, it’s kind of hard to part with a large chunk of cash at once, especially when it wasn’t a planned expense. Not only that, but since hundreds of thousands of people in Houston lost their cars in the hurricane, it was really difficult to source even one car at a decent price, let alone two.

So, we just decided to keep carpooling.

Let me show you how we juggle the one car.

One Car Family with Kids – Do We Need 2 Cars?

Going from two cars to one was a bit of an adjustment. But you know what? It wasn't as bad as we thought it would be.

In fact, it seems to be a slight trend here in the U.S.

First off – you should know a few things about our family’s makeup.

  • We have one toddler.
  • I work from home.

Paul, my husband, was able to switch his schedule to go into work a little later than he was, which coincides with our toddler’s sleeping schedule perfectly.

On a typical weekday morning, our little guy wakes us up between 5:30-7:00 a.m. Paul gets him up, feeds him, he uses the potty, they play, etc.

We all get dressed, pack Paul’s lunch, and then at 7:20 we are out of the house. It takes about 35 minutes for me to drop Paul off to his work (because of traffic – luckily, we don’t have to use the highways though!). After I do so, I then take Conner one of several places depending on the day of the week.

  • it could to his grandparents’ house, where he goes for 3.5 hours twice a week while I work
  • it could be to story time at our local Barnes & Noble
  • it could be to the JCC, where we have a membership (they offer 90 minutes of kid-care while I work in their café)

Then I pick the little one up, and we go home. Generally, unless I take him to a kid event somewhere, we stay home until 5:00, when we leave to go pick Paul up.

We’re all home, and making dinner/feeding the little guy, playing, and doing family story time by 6:00 p.m.

Does it Make Sense to Own Two Cars?

Since this has been working relatively smoothly for us for the last year, I’ve found myself asking does it make sense to own two cars.

I mean, why have 2 cars at all?

Granted, we’re blessed in that we can afford to have me work from home on my own business. And we’re also blessed that Paul’s employer allowed him to alter his schedule by an hour to accommodate us.

So, I know this isn’t an option for everyone.

But for us, it’s been a Godsend.

Here are the things we particularly like about it:

  • We Get More Daddy/Husband Time: Paul works in the medical district, so when he was driving himself, he had to park in a parking lot off-campus and wait to catch a bus in. Which meant it took him a lot longer to go to work and go home – a whole lost hour per day. Not only that, but since it takes us 1.5 hours of commuting time for both the morning and evening to get him, we’re getting about 2 hours of extra Daddy/Husband time per day. Yay!
  • It Gets Our Day Started: Since I’m already out the door by 7:20 a.m., it makes it easy/no-brainer to go to some fun baby/toddler activities, and to get my own workday started with the hybrid childcare we’ve got set up. If I didn’t have to get out of the house by a certain time, then I probably would take longer to get things moving.
  • We’re Working Together as a Team: It takes a full-on team effort to get out of the house by 7:20 a.m. each morning with a toddler – if Paul got to get up and go, then more of the work would land on my own shoulders. We need to pack Paul’s lunch, pack me a breakfast, and pack our little guy up for wherever he’s going (usually entails an extra set of clothes in case of accidents, a few toys, and something to snack on). We’ve really got #teamfamily down in the mornings! On top of all that, I usually get the dishwasher unloaded and reloaded with any dishes from the previous night and clean off the countertops. It’s so nice to come home to a clean kitchen.
  • It Gives One Person a Break from Driving: Paul's commute had been atrocious since he took a new job in March 2014. Not only that, but four days a week he also commutes after work to his college, then home…and all three are in different areas of Houston. One of the things he requests — and I gladly oblige — is for me to drive to all places that we go together. As I drive, he remarks about how nice it is that he can relax, look out the window, and see things he doesn't get to see while driving. Of course occasionally he likes to nap as well!

How to Live as a One-Car Family (How to Be a One Car Family)

Next, I want to touch on how to live as a one-car family. Because, well, it’s not always easy.

Yes, I painted a really rosy picture above. But to be honest? Sometimes people are grumpy in the mornings. Sometimes we bicker over what to listen to on the radio (even the little guy likes to pipe in about this!). We’re both introverts, so sometimes Paul misses his commute time to just himself as a quiet time rarely afforded with a toddler in the house. And sometimes, I get tired of the commute.

Here are some tips we’ve learned for the logistics and emotions of actually how to be a one car family:

  • Switch Driving on the Weekends: Paul likes to drive, too, but with the way the drop-off works in the medical center, it just makes sense for me to drive. So, on the weekends, he basically drives us everywhere – he drops me off to a coffee shop on Saturdays so I can work, he drives us to church on Sundays, and if we happen to go anywhere else, he’ll drive us there, too. This means a lot to him!
  • Embrace Silence: Sometimes it is SO nice to just sit in silence, together, while commuting. It gives us all the time to quiet our minds. Does it always work with a toddler? No. But you’d be surprised how often he imitates our silence, especially if we have the radio off. Speaking of the radio…
  • Share Radio Time: Don’t let someone hog the radio! It sounds so petty, but it’s just courteous when you have one car to really share each part of it. Personal autonomy (or at least feeling like you have autonomy) is really important!
  • Give Daddy Some Decompression Time: Since we’re now dropping Paul off and picking him up, he virtually gets no time to himself. Whereas before he commuted by himself to work and back, now he doesn’t get that. Granted, I don’t get that much time to myself, either. But he gets like 0%! Because of this, we’ve learned that sometimes he just needs to take a shower when getting home to get a few minutes to himself to decompress.

On top of that, if you live in a place with good public transportation? Then the decision should be easier.

My husband Paul and I have both lived in different countries with awesome public transportation systems, and we have one thing in common (well, there is more than one thing): if we had something similar here in Houston, we would opt to go car-free.

Pros and Cons of One Car Family

Above was based very much on our own experience. So, I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about more general pros and cons that, combined with our personal ones, you’re likely to go through if you decide to go from a two-car family to a one-car family.

Pros of a one-car family:

  • Cost Savings: We are saving approximately $1,920 per year from not having to pay insurance and gas on a second vehicle. YES! This doesn’t include the time, hassle, and money saved on not having to register, inspect, and get oil changes for a second vehicle (though, of course we’re getting oil changes more often with just one vehicle – still, we’ve cut out several oil changes/year).
  • More Exercise: I choose to drop Paul off to work each day so that I can have a vehicle. But if you don’t want to do that, and you stay at home, then you will need some entertainment options to still get you out of the house. And since you won’t have a vehicle to get there – walking it is (unless you’ve got good transportation options)! We have a library, YMCA, JCC, grocery store, community pool, bayou, CVS, and church all within walking and biking distances from our house. What’s in your neighborhood?
  • Carpooling Means More Time Spent Together: If you drive to work with your spouse/partner each day, that means you’ll actually get more time with them than if you each had separate vehicles. Time together is precious! For us, we’ve listened to audiobooks together, you can catch us belting out some songs with our toddler, and we’ve played a few fun games together as well.
  • Carpooling Means Less Time with a Toddler: Are you a stay at home or work at home mother? To be honest, it just makes my day easier to be able to buckle my toddler into the car, turn on some music, and let us both be entertained by the sights. If I had to account for another two hours in my day at home? Well, I might go a little batty.
  • You Don’t Have to Shop Around: Picking out a new used car takes a lot of time and energy – it took us several weeks to pick out this one. 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!
  • Fewer Emissions: I used to work as an Air Quality Environmental Investigator, so this one is near to my heart. If every household went down to one vehicle (or to no vehicles), think about the emissions saved and its impact on Houston’s (or your city's) brown haze in the summertime (and yes, even though I drop Paul off to work and pick him up, we’re still using less gas than we did a year ago so we’re still emitting fewer emissions).

Cons of being a One-Car Family

  • Scheduling Conflicts: You and your husband/partner likely have two different schedules. And unless you can get an employer to say yes to schedule changes, you might come up with some issues. I’m amazed that so far, even on the weekends, Paul and I have worked seamlessly through any borrow-the-car challenges. But, it could happen!
  • Losing Some Me-Time: Some people enjoy their commutes, because it’s time to decompress from the workday before you head home and step into your Mommy/Daddy role. So, yes, you would lose this by carpooling with your spouse.
  • Carpooling Could Equal a Longer Commute: If you decide to carpool with one another and one spouse doesn’t work away from the home, then they would still be stuck in a commute. Or carpooling together could equal a longer route for both of you to make it work.
  • Travel by Car Could be Limited: Since I work for myself, whenever we travel in or out of state, Paul stays for as long as he can, and then I usually stay longer with our little guy. Our Aunt and Uncle moved in our state this past year (yay!), but unfortunately, I cannot stay longer with them because they live four hours away from us and we only have one car. Also, if I wanted to go on a road trip to a conference in another nearby state, I would have to rent a vehicle in order to do so.

I hope I’ve laid out some of the key pros and cons, as well as lots of nuggets from our own experience, that will help you with your decision on whether or not to become a one-car family.

As you can see from above, this decision mainly rests upon work schedules. 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.

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 family? What is holding you back from downsizing to one car?

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.

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Gary Grewal

Saturday 7th of November 2020

This is such a great article. I have a passion for cars, and used to flip them every year to make more than I paid for them (how I found willing buyers I have no idea!) yet a few times I had no car for 2-3 months at a time. It worked because I worked a half mile away, used a bike, had good public transit, and now work from home! Having one car per person just doesn't make much sense, and not having a car is quite liberating!

Amanda L Grossman

Saturday 7th of November 2020

Thanks so much for telling me how much you enjoyed the article! Being a one car family is definitely easier when you work very close to home (my first job out of college was just a few blocks from where I rented an apartment). How cool that you flip cars - I'd love to hear more!

Sarah Packer

Tuesday 30th of July 2019

My husband and I want to buy another car, but we don't know if we need it! I didn't think about switching drivers every weekend, so both parents feel included. I'll have to keep that in mind and look for insurance that might make getting another car worth it!

Mike

Wednesday 17th of October 2018

We are a married couple with one child. We moved to a house that is on a bus route to my wife's very stable job, and sold our second old car to become a one car family. I purchased an electric bike, and fitted it out with panniers, rack on frame bag. My job is flexible, so I bike with my son to school, bike to work, and fill my grocery bag panniers with food every other day. Last year our one car had 6.000 miles on it, which included a car trip to death valley from Los Angeles.The electric bike flattens out hills, and makes carrying anything easy. We are using the extra money to pay down the mortgage :)

Amanda L Grossman

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

That is AWESOME, Mike! I love how you guys figured things out by actively planning around the fact that you wanted to be a one car household.

GreenDollarBills

Sunday 14th of October 2018

This has been a debate in our family for the last couple of months. We've got two cars that are 16 and 11 years old respectively. They're both starting to cause us no end of repair problems. I'm really considering trading both in for a newer used car. Probably makes more financial sense.

Bill in Houston

Thursday 11th of October 2018

Amanda,

Is your web site's calendar off? All of your responses are from 2011, yet you mention Hurricane Harvey (in 2017).

We considered a single car after we were flooded out after Harvey (we were flooded by the dam releases and lost both cars). My wife was working from home, and we were staying with my folks. It would have worked for us, but my son just started kindergarten at a private school. I worked in the opposite direction. My wife would have spent over two hours a day dropping us off and picking us up.

The point is moot today because my wife was recalled to her office, which is in the opposite direction of mine. Still, it would have been nice to get by with one car. My parents did it back in the 60s.

Amanda L Grossman

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

Hi Bill!

I somehow missed your comment -- sorry about that.

No - the calendar is good; I'm going back and editing/revamping some of my old content to update it and use it again!

Ack! I'm SO sorry to hear you guys also lost both of your cars! I hope your wife's job is going well.