Transportation Alternatives for One Car Families

Many of us grew up in two car families, and more recently, even three car families.  A car for each adult (and sometimes teenaged) member of the family seems to be a necessity, but is it?  Are there transportation alternatives for one car families?

We live on the outskirts of a major urban area and have lived happily with one car our entire married life.  By not having a second car we have saved thousands of dollars.  Consider the following:

Parking space rent – $60 per month/$720 per year

Registration fee – $98 per year

City parking sticker – $25 per year

Car Insurance – $700 per year

Gas – $75 per month/900 per year (this is using a conservative estimate of 20 gallons per month at $3.75 per gallon)

Maintenance – $900 per year

Just owning a second car and maintaining it would run us $3,343 per year.  This is not even including a car payment if we didn’t have cash to pay for a car outright.  Over the course of the 10 years we have had only one car, we have saved $33,430.

transportation alternatives for one car families

Do you have any transportation alternatives for one car families?

If you do make the leap to a one car family, you don’t have to constantly juggle who will drive the car.  There are plenty of options available so that the person who drives the car less often still has access to transportation.

  1. Take public transportation.  If you live in an urban area and commute daily, you can take advantage of public transportation.  My husband has done this for 10 years at a cost of $100 per month or $1,200 a year or $12,000 over 10 years.  Not necessarily a cheap option, but certainly cheaper than owning a second car, especially when factoring in the exorbitant price of parking a vehicle downtown if he were commuting by car rather than train.
  2. Become a Zip Car member.  Zip Car options are popping up around many big cities and college towns in addition to other countries.  If you would like more flexibility than a train or a taxi offers, consider a Zip Car.  You pay a low annual fee (typically around $50) and a one time $25 application fee.  Then when you use the car, pay a daily fee of $72 (this is the price in my area, rates vary by location) or $7.80 per hour.  All cars taken out for the day are allowed up to 180 miles.  Gas and car insurance are automatically included.  Once you are a member, you can use a Zip Car anywhere in the world that they are offered.
  3. Rent a car.  If you are driving locally, many car rental agencies offer very reasonable rates, especially if you are able to rent a car with an advertisement on it.  (Too bad those aren’t offered in more markets!)  In my area, I could rent a car from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for $38 to $46.  Obviously this is not something you want do every day, but if one member of the family is usually home and simply needs a car to run errands or just drive for the day, this option would be economical if only done once or twice a month.
  4. Bike or walk.  Many Americans have stopped biking and walking.  My son goes to school a mile from our home; rather than driving, we have been walking.  This will be more difficult in the winter months, but for eight months of the year it is a good option.  Many people could get more exercise into their lives and save money by biking or walking instead of driving.

If you live in suburban or rural areas, deciding to give up one car may require more of a sacrifice.  Before you make the decision, park your second car for a month and live as if you are already a one car family.  See what the experience is like.  If you decide you could make the leap to a one car family, prepare to save thousands of dollars a year.

Have you switched to a one-car family? How did you do it?

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Published or updated May 12, 2013.


  1. Jake Stichler says:

    $98 registration? Holy cow! And I thought it was bad that a pickup truck here costs $58.50 over the $36 passenger car fee…

  2. One of my home buying clients sold their car to raise a down payment for their dream house. When they had a goal to meet, the convenience of a second car became a lot less important.

    Good post, Melissa.

    • Glen Craig says:

      Awesome way to do what’s needed to make an important goal! Amazing what we can sacrifice when we want something enough.

  3. gharkness says:

    My husband and I did an experiment with one-car ownership. The first month, it was just a run-through. We parked one car in the garage and decided not to drive it for a month to see how it would go. Actually, it went quite well, since his job was located on the way to my job. I dropped him off and picked him up. Weekends were a little more difficult, but we work well together, so we adapted.

    Then, when it was time to turn in my (leased) vehicle, we just didn’t get another. The idea was to go six months if possible. Well, things happened, like my husband lost his job, and we were really glad we hadn’t spent the money for another car at that time.

    So, we did make it the six months, but in the meantime, hubby did get a job that isn’t located anywhere close to or on the way to mine….so we caved and bought another car. The best part, though, was that we were able to buy a fairly late-model, very reliable car and we saved enough money during the six months that we were able to pay cash! No interest, no financing, and no payments! We are happy we made the six months as originally planned, but it really was time to move past that into the next phase. I am sure, though, that once we retire, we’ll go back to one car.

    The lesson from all this for me was that, since I was 17 years old I have NEVER been without a car to call my own – until the beginning of this year. It can be done! It just takes planning and cooperation.

    Good for you!

    • Glen Craig says:

      Most things CAN be done, we just have to open our minds to ways to achieve it. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. My wife and I also only have one car. I bike during the spring/summer/fall months and the train in the winter and late fall/early spring. It not only saves us money, but I am able to stay active with little to no extra time. (I am able to bike home in the same time it takes to ride the train and walk home).

    • Glen Craig says:

      That’s awesome! I wanted to bike to work on my last job but it was just too far. [Reminds me that I need to dust off the bike…]

  5. No, but I am thinking about it when we retire. When I am not working, I drive maybe twice during the week. I would gladly give up the car, but it would take some adjustment.

  6. Excellent article! We recently considered going down to a one car family. The amount on insurance it would save us is awesome. Still thinking about it though . . .

  7. It’s just me and I own a car. However, I never drive it which saves me tons of money. I spend $30/month on parking and maybe $20/month on gas.

  8. The truth is that it would be so much easier to live with one car if one could relocate to a more urban environment. After spending a month in South America I can say that it is so much easier to live with one car when there is good public transit and cheap taxis all around.

  9. Jake–Ignorance is bliss. I didn’t know this registration price was high way robbery! (Not much I can do about it though. :))

  10. Jake Stichler says:

    Oh, well in that case, just so you know — my scooter costs $18/year. Blaaaahhh 😛

  11. Meh… registration fee here is several hundred dollars. 😉

    We’re a one car family, and that’s great for us. She walks to work and I take the subway during the week, so we save a lot on gas, too.

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