The Two Car Debate

Subaru Forester carrying sled

The Green Car carrying a 10-foot sled as indicated by Vanna, I mean Michael. Why IS this photo so blue?

J was for a while mildly obsessed with what color car every person he would meet drove. He named our cars The Green Car and The Blue Car. He’s a very literal little boy.

The Green Car is a 1998 Subaru Forester that we bought in December 2005 after our previous car was totaled  (4 weeks after our wedding, 2 weeks after our return from our honeymoon, 6 days after Jason quit his job to go back to school full time, and while the car was parked in front of our house). We did our research, waited until we found just what we were looking for, and bought her and her 149,000 miles for about $4,300. 

For a while after our son was born, we fretted that she wasn’t that reliable. And an unfixable problem meant that she was a tiny bit stinky when idling at a light.

But The Green Car hit 200,000 miles earlier this year, and for most of its life with us it has needed nothing more than an oil change. In fact, this car has had the lowest cost of ownership of any car I, and probably Jason, have ever owned.

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The Blue Car is a 2007 Dodge Caliber that we were given in early 2009. It was, and continues to be, an extremely generous gift. Without it being a gift, we could not have afforded the luxury of two cars.

This car has under 50,000 miles on it and has been a great, and reliable, second car for us, with the bonus of having working air conditioning. That alone makes it a winner in my book

However, Dodge discontinued the Caliber last year and the car is devaluing quickly due to its reputation for needing significant repair.

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Our cost of owning The Blue Car will go up soon. Jason and I have been debating buying a new car sooner rather than later because we know The Blue Car will need more large repairs in the not-so-distant future.

I’ve been advocating for going back to one car.

I read an interesting (but a little old) article on NYTimes.com about how many families are moving to one car. I like that the first family is in a similar situation to ours, and they acknowledge that it could get tougher as the kids get older.

Most of my motivation is financial, but some is environmental and my interest in simplicity. If we have two cars, we’ll use two cars and much much more gas than if we’re limiting ourselves to one car. Maintaining and repairing two cars is a drag on time and money, not to mention that our parking situation would be immediately easier with only one car to deal with.

Now that we’re into the renovation, I think having one car would strain Jason’s time somewhat more as the person who would have to constantly rent a truck for the Home Depot and Construction Junction runs if I’m out of town. While a car isn’t required for Jason’s job, he has a commute to think about. His office is not reachable by mass transit.  Several of his coworkers live nearby–I wonder if they’d consider a carpool arrangement?

And I do have to admit that one car would put a significant strain on me as the person who totes around two children and their assorted sundries all day. And we probably wouldn’t get to have quite as many play dates with friends. But I think we’d adjust if we gave it time.

I feel like we could share one car fairly easily, especially if we have both kids in preschools nearby and he continues to enjoy biking to work a couple of times each week. We live in a densely populated urban area with good mass transit and 5 (five!) grocery stores within an easy walking distance. All of our doctors are within walking distance.

It would be even easier on us if that car is The Green Car or a similar-sized vehicle.

Jason points out that the extreme heat of the summer and cold of the winter could make it tough for us to walk the two-mile round trip to J’s school even a few days a week. Not to mention tough for him to ride the 8-mile round trip, part of which is a busy highway.

With the money we’d save on insuring, maintaining, and fixing The Blue Car, we could easily afford to rent cars for longer travel or trucks to make our Home Depot runs. But is it worth the inconvenience? Because, ultimately, a second car really is a convenience since I don’t need one for work.

My argument is that, if one car isn’t working for us after two months, six months, a year or even more, we can always buy a second car.

And at least we can say we’ve tried it.

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If you have one car, how does the car-sharing work for your family?

Have you had two cars and considered moving to one car, or vice versa?

 

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Posted by Jenee on September 4, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I think I have seen them cropping up more around Bakery Square and in the Whole foods area. You are right though, I think they are mostly smaller cars. I have never rented one, but I think they are trying to push into the city more. Their promo guys were all over Oakland a few months ago.

    Also, we love our Mazda and would 100% recommend them. Minimal maintenance and super reliable.

  3. They’re not much–at least they weren’t a few years ago when we had one. Jason was able to receive a student discount, so for the first two years that we lived in this house and had one car, we had a membership. We didn’t use it much because coordinating a car pick-up is as much or more work as catching a bus.

    I don’t think they have a Zipcar location in Bloomfield any more. Or if they do, there’s probably only one and I doubt it’s a truck or minivan, which is what we end up needing most of the time when we need a second car. One of the cars we’re considering is a Mazda5; bigger than the blue car but about the same as the green car. Hopefully we could haul everything we needed with it.

    Have you seen any Zipcars near you? I would think your neighborhood and mine would be (outside of Oakland, of course), two of the neighborhoods Zipcar would target. Now I’m going to have to look it up…

  4. Posted by Jenee on September 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    I am curious, because I haven’t really looked into it, but how much are those Zip Car memberships, and how prevent are their locations in the city? I see them promoting (and parked) all over Oakland. I lot of people back in Cali used them to only deal with one car.

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