I Need Your Advice on Going Car-Free!

Well, I’m really thinking hard about selling my vehicle and going unofficially car-free, but I need some advice…

go away car!

I don’t drive my vehicle much at all, and the money I can get for it will help offset bills and other financial obligations (and allow me to add an Xtracycle to my fleet). I will still have access to another car a couple days a week, so I won’t be totally car-free. The advice I could use from you readers out there who have chosen to free yourselves from the bonds of vehicle ownership is this:

1) What was the decision-making process you used to “let go”?

2) Any potential pitfalls I should think about?

3) What else do I need to know before making this step?

Any insight, personal experiences and other useful information will be greatly appreciated. I guess that technically, I don’t really need advice, per se, but more of a reassuring chat that suggests I’m ready to take this step in my life. So, any help you could provide would be just fantastic! Just leave your thoughts in the comment area, and again, I thank you.


  1. Dominic Dougherty April 30, 2008 7:01 am 

    Depending on how often you NEED a car, there are different things to consider. If you only need to drive once a month, renting a uhaul is very economical. Couple times times a month? Don’t forget about a taxi!
    Since we live in an age when you can have damn near anything delivered to your door makes going go car-light/free a real possibility for a lot of people – if it wasn’t for that hinky urge to be instantly gratified.
    The fact that you will still have access to a car a few times a week if you need it would seem to make things pretty simple really.

  2. Jamis_Bater April 30, 2008 7:02 am 

    I’m in the same boat dude. My Jeep Wrangler that I’ve had since October of ’93 goes unused most of the time. In fact she’s been sitting in the garage in need of a new battery for a month and a half now. But she’s been paid off for nearly ten years now, and was the first vehicle I ever purchased.

  3. Jami April 30, 2008 7:43 am 

    I am going through the same process right now. I decided to try car free because my car is a POS that is literally falling apart. I figured for the price of an xtracycle and maybe a trailer to haul the dogs, I am getting off cheap. Car payments, insurance and registration aren’t cheap. If I have to go by car somewhere, the occaisional taxi is a heck of a lot cheaper than all theother car related expenses we incur on a daily basis. I actually saw an interesting article on the house alive website about the real speed of a car. If you factor in idling in traffic and parked in the drivewazy, cars average about 6 miles an hour over the course of their life.

    Now, my main concern is that I live in Omaha, and winters can get fairly nasty here. Granted, work is only 2 miles away, but I have to pick up dog food every two weeks, and I am the main grocery shopper for our family. So I have to consider if car-free is feasible through the winter months. Ice biking isn’t at the top of my list of fun things to do.

    Come winter, I may have to break down and purchase a car, but I may be able to talk my boyfriend into adding me to his car insurance and sharing a vehicle through the winter months.

    Right now, I am taking it on a day by day basis. It’s scary to consider cutting of my dependence on a car, there are a lot of “what-ifs” floating around in my head that are hard to shake.

    Whish I had better advice. Good luck!!

  4. Dan April 30, 2008 7:45 am 

    We were a two car family until I decided to get rid of a sedan that was always needing repairs. Getting rid of it forced my wife and I to spend more time together, instead of splitting in opposite directions in each car. Then I became a daily bike commuter, because I no longer had an extra car there like a crutch. It’s really been helpful to have a car around for long-distance driving, and when it does get used, it’s packed tight with me and my family. I’d say keep it, if it gets great mileage and you have to do occasional long distance driving.

  5. danielo April 30, 2008 8:17 am 

    I was sorta “forced” into it by virtue of a busted car. Two years later (and car, never fixed, gone), I found that I learned everything I needed as I went along. Necessity is the mother of invention. Having a good solid utility trailer and good tires are what I would cite as my best advice. Learn to do basic maintenance, and be prepared for a spoke to break mid-commute. And the rewards of being a full-time cyclist continue to mount, well past the first year. I am still amazed when I notice my skill improving, even now. I guess “just do it” really is my best advice.

  6. Thomas Brock April 30, 2008 8:42 am 

    It’s something I’m considering, also…Though, it’d a serious shift here in Eastern NC.

    There are limited means of public transportation and serious sprawl.

    Beginning tomorrow I’ll be bicycling to work and using the buses for most of my transportation needs during May. It’ll be interesting to see how commutable/travelable Jacksonville, NC really is…

  7. Q April 30, 2008 8:49 am 

    After a year and a half of bike only, taxi once, bus once and rides from friend, Don’t be ashamed to ask for a ride, Always keep 2 bikes ready to roll that are sim (aka grocery gitter/xtra), invest in bullet proof tires (Randonneur/drifter)
    Reflectors/tape are your friend
    the more you are on a bike the more traffic incidence you will have
    Make sure that the xtracycle can be seen with bumper to bumper traffic (people Don’t expect a Long tail bike)
    expect, at one time or another to have to go out in S****y a$$ weather.

  8. Jennifer April 30, 2008 9:00 am 

    I got rid of my car last summer and am glad I did. I bus and bike most places and ride in my gf’s car. The hardest part has been
    a)really wet rainy torrential cold weather – ugh
    b)reduced options for grocery, movies, restaurants, etc. because I’m more of a neighborhood person now.
    But it has been worth it! I’m more fit, happier, have more money, and get to be self-righteous(which helps out when it’s raining). I say take the plunge and if it doesn’t work out then you can just get another car. How To Live HappilyWithout A Car is a great book. It gave me courage.

  9. Ghost Rider April 30, 2008 9:33 am 

    Thanks, everyone — GREAT advice from all of you (and great encouragement, too!). I think you’ve made up my mind!!!

    We’re lucky to have fairly great weather year-round (except for hurricanes and a lot of summertime rain)…bicycling infrastructure leaves a bit to be desired, though. One other plus is that the vast majority of our destinations are within just a few miles of our house (grocery, pharmacist, dentist, schools, etc.).

    The vehicle I will sell gets far worse gas mileage than the one we’ll keep, so that’s a definite plus. I guess my big hangup is the “letting go” part. Having a vehicle easily accesible IS a crutch.

    Going without is a big step for anyone to undertake, but I really look forward to the additional challenges and logistics of living without a car of my own.

  10. Sunny April 30, 2008 9:34 am 

    I tried to go carless last summer. I suggest trying it out before you get rid of the car. Reasons why I decided to keep my truck:
    1) I do regular maintenance on my house/yard and an xtracycle just wouldnt cut it.
    2) I like to camp/hike/be away from my house. I dont have the time off from work to bike and my fam/friends are not interested in biking long distance.
    3) I found myself asking for rides. Ya, I pitched in on gas and said thank you, but it still is an imposition for your friends/fam.
    4) EMERGENCIES. Not having a car when a family member needed me would have been a disaster. This did happen last summer.
    5) If you get hurt and are unable to ride, you limited your options to get places.

    That said… my truck sits for weeks in my driveway most of the time.

    PS I live in the burbs.

  11. Val April 30, 2008 9:38 am 

    My main impetus to give up driving was ten years of driving at least five days a week, 50 miles a day, usually in rush hour traffic. After that, I needed a break. At this point, if feels totally alien to wedge myself into a box just to go somewhere. I had gotten to the point where just starting up the vehicle and heading into traffic was causing me stress and ageing me well before my time. Nice to leave it behind. Definitely, spare bikes make things more possible. My big discovery was that getting to destinations more than 15 miles away has very little to do with athletic prowess, and becomes easy when you develop your creative scheduling ability. These days, distance and time are almost synonymous in my mind, and I can come up with a departure time for any of my common destinations in just a few seconds.

  12. Mike M April 30, 2008 10:00 am 

    I went car free for about three years, and now only drive now and then (it is nice to have the option). I would say look at what cars and motorcycles have (NO – not engines), – lights, mirrors, places to carry stuff. If this is your vehicle then treat it like one. Oh yeah, don’t go cheap on the rain gear, it’s not worth it.

  13. Justin April 30, 2008 10:43 am 

    Zip car works great when I need a car. I sold my truck 6 months ago and haven’t missed it.

  14. Logan April 30, 2008 10:51 am 

    My wife and I just sold our car about a month ago.

    Here are some reasons we used in order of priority:

    1. We had to get a AAA tow truck out to jump start the car because we had driven it so little that the battery wore down. We never drove the car except on long trips and when we are lazy.

    2. We did a cost/benefit and we realized we could rent a car for less than $50 over a weekend…budgeting $125 for one trip per month (factoring in gas and insurance). This is compared to $600/month in car ownership related expenses. Also we were able to give up the gym membership ($45/month) because we now rode our bikes to the grocery store and stay fit.

    3. Selling the car is congruent with our political values.

    4. It just feels great to ride through a traffic jam in the city and when taking the train to work, pass the cars in the fast lane.

    5. Bike culture is way more hip than car culture…other cyclists always say “hello” and typically smile at the sight of a fellow cyclist.

    6. I got most of my weekends back by selling my truck. No more “friends” calling me up with “hey you wanna come over this weekend for a beer…oh by the way I’m moving something could you bring your truck?”

    7. If our situation changes we could always…buy another car. We’d probably even be able to pay cash next time with the money we are saving.

    Good luck! Its scary to acknowledge our oil addiction but it looks like you have made it through denial…now onto acceptance and action. It feels so good to be 2500 lbs lighter! :)

  15. Johnny April 30, 2008 10:59 am 

    It’ll be the happiest day in a long time when you get rid of your car! :)
    I looked at my bike differently when I sold my car in 2005. It went from being my preferred transportation to my only way to get to university/etc. It moved from being a think I owned and enjoyed to being a part of my life.
    Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do it because you don’t live in Portland, Chicago, NY, etc. I was in Southern Illinois, right outside a National Forest. It worked fine, and I got to enjoy the scenery more on two wheels. Now I’m in Baltimore, and people still think it’s nuts to go car-free. But that doesn’t stop people from doing it.
    Long distance trips by car get shot down if you don’t have one. But there is always the train (which I picked), the bus, rental cars — still, hell, with gas prices, who wants to take a road trip? LOL

  16. Wes April 30, 2008 11:12 am 

    1) What was the decision-making process you used to “let go??

    I moved from Vegas to San Francisco, and having a car was kind of ridiculous both in terms of price and space. I realized that public transit and pedal power were feasible options and the money saved/health benefits gained were nothing to scoff at, either.

    2) Any potential pitfalls I should think about?
    Traveling outside your immediate metro area gets more difficult. You can always rent, though. The convenience of hopping into an insulated car on cold/rainy/snowy/winter mornings is no longer an option. Get out the cold weather gear and rain suits.

    3) What else do I need to know before making this step?
    It is terribly rewarding, but there is something of a curve to it. Stick it out, your whole mindset will change.

  17. Ghost Rider April 30, 2008 11:14 am 

    Logan, your #6 above is a great “benefit” that had never occured to me! I refer to that phenomenon as “the truck driver’s curse”…when folks come out of the woodwork to get you to haul things!

    Johnny, I’m a big fan of train trips (I don’t fly), so that’s another good encouragement if I do decide to take a long-distance trip.

    Thanks again, everyone!

  18. Ben C April 30, 2008 11:16 am 

    Here is an idea for your transition:

    Keep the car for 3 more months. Remove/disconnect the battery from the vehicle. This would deter you from being tempted to drive, instead of bike. You would need time to reinstall/connect the battery. By the time you do this, you may be more than half way to work. Keep a journal on how often you ‘needed’ the vehicle. Then make an educated decision.

    Keep spinning

  19. Laura April 30, 2008 12:11 pm 

    I’ve been going through this debate for a couple years now and really only hang onto my car for those “just in case” scenarios. But, each time I have to write out a check for insurance, I think I’m totally nuts for keeping the car, since I bike just about everywhere and have gotten to the point where I actually hate driving (I get nervous and uncomfortable and have to roll down all the windows and open the vents to feel some air on my face). So, I’ve given myself until next March (when my insurance and registration come up again) and then it’s adios. I’m really looking forward to not having a car anymore, but I also recognize that I’ve needed this time to get used to the idea and all that it entails. Good luck!

  20. Chris April 30, 2008 1:23 pm 

    Going car lite was freaky at first. My wife still has a car, but she makes sure to remind me that SHE has a car, not me. Living in Wisconsin we get all the weather from 2 feet of snow to 100 degree days. My wardrobe got a little bigger once I sold my truck, but my bills went down and I have alot more fun getting to work and riding around. If people are near and going to the same place, it’s good to ask for rides. I drove last weekend for the the first time in about 3 months! The passengers weren’t all that happy to hear that, but we still are alive. It gets you our into the world, smell the smells you couldn’t in a car. See the things you wouldn’t see going 30 mph down a road. It’s very liberating not having to worry about all the costs associated with a car.

  21. printenv April 30, 2008 1:23 pm 

    I would personally love to do this myself. Problem is, I have Dr appointment that are in the middle of the day and they are two far away to bike to them and get back to work in a timely fashion. At the same time, I have other Dr. appointments that are across town that take me half an hour by highway. I just don’t have the daylight or the energy to be able to pull that off. Also, I love mountain biking, however, the closes trail is about 20 miles away via highway. 40+ miles round trip to mountain bike and then actually go mountain bike is just too much for me. Lastly, when I go visit my parents out of town, it is impossible for me to do without renting a car. Oh, and my car is completely paid off so there is no real point of getting rid of it yet.

  22. Mike Myers April 30, 2008 3:22 pm 

    Jack—I was car free for 6 months, and I’m pretty car-lite now. I am also subject to “a lot of afternoon rain”, but I think you misspelled THUNDERSTORMS. :-)

    Weather is the biggest impediment to being car-lite in Florida. I don’t know how long your route is, but riding home in sideways rain and crashing lightning is no fun.

    Having access to a car a couple days a week makes things easier. When I was car-free, I was car-less. I had no option.

  23. Lance April 30, 2008 3:27 pm 

    Let us know how it goes Jack! Going carless is my ultimate goal too. I’m currently planning a move to Portland, then will begin my serious attempt at being vehicle-free(or at least only have on between myself and the wife).

    I literally hate driving now. I’m convinced the dregs of humanity can be found behind a steering wheel.

    VERY interested in your successes(and problems) along the way.

  24. Ghost Rider April 30, 2008 3:31 pm 

    Mike, I don’t really mind riding HOME in the rain, especially during the summer. Lightning scares me a bit, though, I suppose…

    It’s all the other riding I might have to do in the rain that makes me hesitate to “pull the trigger” on this deal. Getting soaked on the way to work would really suck (even with good raingear, that’s a distinct possibility in Florida).

  25. DOBADE April 30, 2008 4:32 pm 

    I’ve been reading up on all these posts, since I’ve recently become interested in biking around town as opposed to driving. Gas is at $3.93 for regular unleaded and although I don’t have trouble affording it, I don’t believe I should have to. I’m kind of diving in head first, have decided on the Trek Soho S, keeping my truck (my Cheyenne is my baby) and am looking forward to the adventure of riding. Traffic is my main worry as of late, since I live in Huntington Beach and the city streets are filled with “drivers.” I use ” ” becuase I think 90% of the time people are doing anything but driving (cell phones, coffee, food, reading, nose picking) and unfortunatley the city isn’t really geard towards biking.
    I’ve been forced into riding my bike as my only form of transportation in my early 20’s. And it sucked! Not sure how God can pit riding into the wind both ways on ones path againt someone. Doing it on a 20 inch GT bmx could have been an issue too, but I am trying to do it smarter this time. My legs got stong as heck though…I had a 200+ pound friend sneak up and jump on my back at a house party…I didn’t even flinch.
    Anyhow, thought I would share my thoughts and say thanks for all of yours. They really helped.

  26. Kim April 30, 2008 4:34 pm 

    My car’s been sitting unused in my driveway for about eight weeks. If it still starts, I’m going to take it for a drive tonight and see how it runs. I’m selling it to a friend (recent accident injured her knee pretty bad, and she wants to bike but doesn’t currently have the mobility) and will finally make the leap to car-free! I’m quite excited about the whole venture.
    Living in South Korea, the winters aren’t serious enough to stop me from riding every day, but moving to Montreal in a year will be more of a challenge.
    Going car-free was a goal that started with moving to bike commuting full-time a year ago. The only reason I’ve held on to my car is to go visit my best friend who lives outside the city. I may look at alternate ways to get there now including multi-modal transportation. Maybe it’s time for a Brompton.

  27. r. April 30, 2008 4:37 pm 

    I lived 9 years car free and thunderstorms aren’t that big of a deal, usually. Memphis has installed bike racks on the route that picks me up from the airport; if it’s too scary I just put the bike on the bus and get home.

    The grocery/hauling can be overcome by building your own trailer. I saw this article on a DIY site: http://www.instructables.com/id/bicycle-trailer. This guy made one out of a cooler, it looks like it might have a similar capacity to a BOB trailer w/0 the cost.

    Other than the hauling issue, you should be able to make 98% of your trips by bike, and c’mon Florida has awesome weather. I’d be there now if I wouldn’t fry in the sunshine, redheads burn easily out there.

    Good luck and I hope you find a buyer for the car. You won’t regret going car-free.

  28. Ghost Rider April 30, 2008 5:25 pm 

    Shanyn, great book recommendation — I checked it out from a friend’s library today!

    I should add that being “car-light” is not a new thing for me…I’ve driven just a hair over 1000 miles in the past FOUR years (averaging about 270 miles a year).

    Hauling isn’t too much of a concern, either — although I lean towards an Xtracycle rather than a pull-behind trailer.

  29. Mike Myers April 30, 2008 7:57 pm 

    Jack—I’ve ridden to work in the rain a couple of times. Even when the weather is cool, you are faced with a dilemma. If you wear a rain jacket and rain pants you will sweat so much you’ll be soaked. If you don’t, you’ll be soaked.

    I wear scrubs at work, so I pack in a few sets every week. Even if I get grubby on the way in I find I can clean up OK with a towel, alcohol wipes, deodorant, and body spray. Rain gear? My usual kit is a helmet cover(for the Bell Metro), rain jacket(even IF it doesn’t breathe), Rainlegs, and booties. Still get wet or sweaty.

  30. gavin May 1, 2008 1:27 am 

    My rural location and five small kids make it very difficult to go completely car-free, but I personally drive about 10 miles a week at most and that is typically with every seatbelt taken. I have managed to tough out even some REALLY nasty Utah/Idaho winter weather and just kept riding, after all, the van is HER car. My car has handlebars.

  31. Ghost Rider May 1, 2008 5:06 am 

    “My Car Has Handlebars”….Gavin, that’s a fabulous idea for a sticker/t-shirt .

  32. steve May 1, 2008 5:30 am 

    I’ve been car light for 2 years now and the only problem I’ve encountered is getting around while injured. My wife and I shared the car while I was recovering from a recent crash. Fortunately, it worked out because we both have really flexible hours for work and much of it can be done from home. I think sharing the car and getting around would have been more difficult if we had more fixed work schedules during this time.

  33. Mark May 1, 2008 10:33 am 

    A car accident last year (other driver was at fault) and an extended, fruitless battle w/the insured’s insurance company sealed my fate to ditch my car permanently (actually a P/U). I live in a small Western capital city where there are only 4 minor bus routes, which end at 6:30 PM weekdays, 4:30 PM on Saturday and no Sunday or holiday bus coverage.

    So, I’ve managed to make do buying two commuter-type bicycles, outfitting one with panniers and the other w/a small cargo rack bag, which will fit a half-gallon of milk and a few soup cans so more frequent trips to the store but less overall buying.

    Other than walking, biking or busing, I don’t drive a car except at work, supplied by my employer.

    You just make “do” without a car as best you can. You buy less, explore your haunts locally and live within your own muscle power. After a year, you just get used to it. Oh, my biggest mistake. Next winter I’ll put studded tires on one of my two bikes (the Kona Smoke 2-9).

  34. Kevin May 1, 2008 6:35 pm 

    I’ve been car “lite” as we still have a mini-van (3 kids), but I rarely drive and never alone.

    I know you said you are leaning toward the xtracycle but I’m going to put in a plug for the Burley Flatbed Trailer. I throw a 19 (?) gallon Rubbermaid container on it and can bring home considerably more from the store that the xtracycle can. BUT I also live in a town of 10,000 so it’s relatively easy to navigate with the trailer (affectionately named the Grocery Getter). It’s also nice to disconnect the trailer when I don’t need to unnecessarily pull it.

  35. Ghost Rider May 1, 2008 7:42 pm 

    Kevin, I have a lot of miles under my belt of pulling a child trailer — and while it is nice to be able to detach the trailer when I don’t need it, I just do not like the handling compromises I have to make when towing it. There’s a weird “pulsing effect” when starting off with a load and negotiating tight spaces and turns leaves a lot to be desired.

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