Carless: An Adventure

So today begins an interesting experiment for our household.  We are going carless for a week.  Why?  Well the timing is good.  Our car was involved in an accident a while back and is finally going in to be fixed.  When I booked the appointment I was warned that they would need it for at least five business days or in reality a week.

Given how much we spend on our cars the reality is they are likely the second biggest driver on your retirement expenses after your house.  Having and maintaining a car can easily require an extra $100,000 or more in retirement savings per vehicle.  So dropping to one car is good for your retirement, better yet? Going carless.

Rather than take the easy way out and get a loaner or rent a car  while ours is being fixed we have decided to try out the other side of the equation and do without the car for a week.  I’m curious how this will turn out since this really isn’t a nice time of year to do this kind of experiment.  In fact, it is often bitterly cold outside at times around now so this week should give me a fairly good idea of what life could mean if you don’t own a car.

So how are we getting around?  Well to work and back I’m taking the bus, that used to mean losing like an extra hour of my day.  Yet recently the bus routes have changed and there is now an express route downtown that actually has a travel time around the same as my usual drive home.  So other than the walk to the bus stops my commute should be very similar.

For more local things we plan to just walk around.  The reality is I’m perhaps a 30 minute walk at most for any appointment or errand I may need to run in the next week (except the work commute).  Long, but certainty not horrible if the weather isn’t bad. If the weather is awful, I also have the option of taking a bus.

In the end I’m sort of excited to try this out, since I admire places with excellent public transit where you really don’t need a car.  Yet I’ve always dismissed that as an option living here.  So it should be enlightening to actually know what the issues are and exactly how bad they can be.

So if anyone has some tips on not having a car I would be glad for the help.  Or if you do have a car, what could you do to use it less?

14 thoughts on “Carless: An Adventure”

  1. I have to ask where you got that absolutely wrong figure of the $100,000.00 per vehicle? Are you driving a Bentley?

    If you take just a little care of your car doing the basics will cost you less then $1000.00 a year. (if you are retired, you also should have a little time to do a lot of DIY to save on labour). A car can easily be driven to 400,000 km’s these days with no major issues. You just have to use a little common sense with your car purchase and your care of it.

    In most cases your insurance is you biggest cost. You can get insurance dirt cheap for unique or Classic cars. If you only drive occasionally in retirement, that is something to consider that can save you big there.

    If you live close to everything you like to do then great – walk, ride, or take a bus. Today is -20 in Toronto. None of those activities outside are going to be on my agenda today. The hospitals have double of the number of people with fractures because of the ice the last few weeks. (a lot of old people that are retired) The GF takes the subway and buses. She has an altercation with someone at least once a week over absolute nonsense because a lot of people have chips on their shoulders. In rush hour it’s really not very glamorous. That type of transport comes with a lot of negatives.

    Not sure if I could call a bus ride an adventure. But I do appreciate the people that do ride the bus, as it relieves some congestion on the roads.

  2. Just wanted to chime in with a word of encouragement for your adventure. My wife and I unloaded one of our two cars earlier this year and though I have a 1 hour subway/bus ride to work now, I’m still very happy about the switch. To be honest, my car commute wasn’t much less than that most days. We carpool for a portion of the trip now and it’s even improved our relationship!

    Hope everything goes well. It would be tough to go completely carless for most, but driving the cars we have less is just as important.

  3. Good on you for trying out being carless! In the winter it is the most difficult, especially in really cold climates.

    Cars are way more expensive to maintain than most people think, I just wish we had a better public transit system here, and that it wasn’t so darn cold!

  4. I try to go car-less in the summer, when I only have a 45 min commute walking, but I’m afraid that the cold has kept my driving to work this year.

    If you can stomach the cold, keeping your hands out to engage with a smartphone or hold a book/e-reader is a good way to pass the time. I personally found walking allowed me to dump several hour long podcasts into my phone, which made the walk seem much shorter. Over the ear headphones also double as ear muffs, which is a plus!

    One perk of walking everywhere means you’re forced to take responsibility for the length of your commute, so you always know the time it will take you to get from Point A to Point B, regardless of traffic.

  5. My partner and I just went car-free. I think the biggest key to going car-free is being as multi-modal as possible – use the best method of transportation for whatever trip (or portion of a trip) you are on. I combine biking and busing to work. Taking the bus alone takes too long (because of transfers and some buses moving way too slowly), and biking the whole way every day requires too much physical effort to do day after day. So I bike 5.5 miles to the bus stop, and take the bus the other 10 miles to work. (And yes, you can bike even in the cold – it was negative 36 F (including windchill) this morning in Minneapolis and I was far too warm (too many layers).

    In general, the bus works well for longer distances, esp. if you can a route that moves fairly quickly and doesn’t require too many transfers.
    Biking works well for medium to long distances especially when you want to be able to set your own schedule.
    Walking works well for shorter distances.
    Getting rides from friends works well for when you are doing social activities with others.
    Finally, many bigger cities have car-sharing programs, which work well to give you access to a car on the infrequent occasions when you need it.

  6. I live in Montreal and have no car. The metro and bus system is great, takes me 45 stressless minutes to get to and from work. I work slightly off-peak hours so I don’t have to deal with crammed public trasportation though, and no unpleasant interactions with other transport users.

  7. We’ve lived car-free in a medium-sized Southern Ontario city for five years, one of those where you supposedly “have to have a car.” It definitely helps that I work from home, and we live a 10-minute walk from the grocery store, drug store and the downtown (entertainment).

    We walk or bike whenever we can. Otherwise, we use a combination of the bus (both public transit and coaches) and taxis. Nobody has mentioned taxis, but they’re a lovely luxurious option when the bus is a hassle, especially when transporting something larger, or travelling at night. We only use a taxi about once a month, at $15-20/ride, but the cost is nothing compared to what we’d spend on owning a car.

    As for the weather, here’s a tip. A couple months ago I started walking 30 minutes every day for exercise. I found a side benefit was forcing me to go outside despite the weather. I’ve been forced to dress better for it – long johns, ski mask, scarf, hoodie, etc. I actually tend to overdo it and end up sweaty even in the -20C cold.

  8. Good for you! Been car free for 10 years and counting, and Paul N., forget -20, I live in Toronto and was walking in -30 wind chill this week. Benefits are just too great to ever go back to a car. Not only have we saved considerable money, but the entire family is healthier and happier. We use multiple modes of transit (walking, biking, TTC and Autoshare), but the most pleasant is walking or biking. I didn’t realize until I started walking (sometimes up to 45 minutes each way) just how much commuting stress takes its toll, until there werent any stresses from late bus/traffic jam and/or ‘altercations’ with super-grumpy/late/world-revolves-around-me fellow commuters.

  9. @Paul N,

    Oh, sorry if I wasn’t clear. With $100,000 I was referring to the cash savings to generate a cash flow to keep a car. So $100,000 should produces about $4000/year cash flow. I’m assuming a car similar to mine so $800/yr plates & insurance, $1000/yr gas, $1800/yr replacement (or depreciation costs) aka a $18K car every ten years, and $400/yr maintenance.

    Obviously the numbers are different based on your particular situation.


  10. I will admit to having an aversion to public transit – a crowded bus makes me uncomfortable. I will always have a 4X4 vehicle because almost all my passions include getting out of the city and exploring the wild places in our great country and others… my retirement planning assumes I will always have a vehicle. In my ER I intend to overcome my public transit phobia and use it fairly often – but I will never get rid of my truck. I am an avid sea kayaker and I need a way to transport my boats to the myriad of launch sites here on the B.C. coast.

  11. Thanks for the clarification.

    I would personally just shop for a decent used car which has a good long term record of being reliable. If you take your time you can always find a deal. I personally have had really good experiences with that method. I also helped several friends do the same that are were really happy they did this. The cars I found were between $1200.00 – $3000.00 with usually just under 200,000 kms on them. They were all taken into the 400,000+ km range with minimal issues. I think people are way too fixated about having a warranty and that “the next” major breakdown will occur “soon”. They give up on their cars just at the wrong time theoretically worried about their next repair.

    I read through the replies above. For me I have to find a different balance between saving/living life then I think some do here. We are obviously different and I respect all opinions. I read a few lines on another blog, ” Depriving yourself of everything you enjoy is not a formula for long-term success”. It leads to “Frugal fatigue”. How does one find that balance between?

  12. Rainerd beat me to the bike-bus comment. I like to have a ‘disposable’ cheap bike waiting for me at the bus stop. Very European, haha. Something so cheap that if it gets stolen, it’s merely an inconvenience. Even better if it helps you avoid transferring or using a local milk-run bus. Riding a bike a short distance is really no different from walking, just faster.

  13. I’m with Paul – I was sort of car-less for about a year when my oldest son and I were sharing a vehicle that he had most of the use of (he had totaled my jeep and I was putting off buying a new vehicle since I didn’t really *need* one). I felt really trapped.
    When I break the cost of the vehicle down into what percentage it is of my take home (from work only) last year, it’s about 2-3%. OTOH, it would be about 6-7% of my future ER-ish type budget. I still think the flexibility is worth it and I’ll be driving as long as they still issue me a driver’s license. I also can’t get RV insurance unless I have primary vehicle insurance – so there’s that.
    I did raise my deductibles quite a bit this year since I rarely drive and don’t drive to work and am pretty cautious. That took about $250/annum off the insurance for the RV and SUV (combined BV of ~$60k).

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