On June 29, I wrote of the demise of my trusty 1999 Ford Escort wagon. I’d had it for a long time—when I bought the car the dealer took a picture of me and my now-college-age daughter, and she was about 5 at the time.
When I wrote Part I of this subject, I thought I’d be without a car for about a month. Turned out to be closer to two. I learned a few things in the process of buying my new car, and those will be the subject of a future article. For now, here’s what we learned while we were a one-car household.
- Car insurance costs dropped, by more than we thought. I figured when I sold the old car, I’d cancel the insurance, and my wife’s coverage would lose its multi-car discount. Instead, our agent suspended my coverage. This stopped the premium on my old car. But as he explained, my wife would keep her discount until her next renewal. By then, I’d have a new car.
- Car rental is a bit of a gamble. For the past few years, whenever I’ve needed to drive to Canada, I’ve rented a car. (It’s an expensive nightmare towing a car across the border, and I knew mine was a serious problem waiting to happen.) So when I needed to go to Toronto in August, I rented a car as usual, and arranged to keep it an extra couple days since my wife would have her own car out of town. I cannot quite understand how a rental car can have satellite radio and no cruise control, but this one did. It was a minor annoyance on the long drive to and from Ontario, but it alerted me to be more inquisitive about the car’s features the next time I rent.
- Insurance on a rental isn’t forever. Following the advice of many of my colleagues, I phoned my insurance agent to see whether I’d need to buy coverage for the rental car. He explained that according to my particular policy, I could rent a car for up to 30 days over the course of a year and be covered. Otherwise I’d have to purchase insurance for the rental. When I asked how the 30 days would be counted (per policy year? calendar year?), he explained that if I had an claim, the adjuster would start with the date of the accident and look back 365 days. If there were more than 30 days of rental in that period, it wouldn’t be covered.
- Work is not so far away. My home is about 7/10 mile from the office. For years I’d thought maybe I should walk to the office, and this gave me the chance to try. And it actually works—it’s possible to commute without a car, bus, or train. Of course, I could have taken my bicycle, but it’s not really made for commuting. Still, the walk was pleasant enough, at least most of the time. But despite my best efforts, I lost no weight measurable by our bathroom scale.
- A temperature of 70 degrees F is hotter than it sounds. It’s a pleasant enough temperature most of the time. But it became downright uncomfortable walking to and from work in moderately high humidity while carrying a briefcase and wearing a suit—even when you drape the suit jacket over the briefcase. I did find some moistened towelettes under the brand name Paper Shower that did a good job of helping me clean up. But it is a bit awkward wiping down your torso and then getting back into your not-quite-completely-dry shirt. Had I continued walking, I would have started taking fresh clothing to keep at the office, and would have changed after the commute.
- I wasn’t especially inconvenienced, but my wife was. Our lives are built largely around being able to travel by car. So I was frequently borrowing her car, sometimes for an entire day. Other times, she ferried me back and forth to appointments. Coordinating schedules is possible, but it takes effort and a bit of sacrifice on both sides. In our case, I feel that she was inconvenienced more than I was.
Despite the difficulties, we did manage. And the financial savings, while very small on such a short-term basis, are real.
I imagine that if you were to give up a second car indefinitely, there a many more ways (both obvious and more creative) for managing transportation that would come to mind. It’s not out of the question. It just takes a commitment to doing things a different way.