Book Review: “How to Live Well Without Owning a Car”

I recently had a chance to read How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life by Chris Balish (Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2006).

Car Free

This is a well-crafted, thorough and enjoyable book. In the first part of the book, Balish focuses primarily on the financial implications of car ownership (did you know that the “true cost of ownership” is about TWICE what you paid for your vehicle?) and the financial freedoms available to those who choose to forgo such ownership and embrace other transportation choices. But, he doesn’t stop there — this book is packed with practical advice on the “nuts and bolts” of living a car-free or car-lite lifestyle. Balish covers it all: environmental and health considerations of car ownership and the resultant benefits of choosing a car-free life, carpooling and ridesharing, bicycle commuting and strategies for most conceivable transportation scenarios.

The book is peppered throughout by “real world” stories and examples from Balish’s communications with other car-free citizens (including Tampa’s own Julie Bond). These tidbits provide a “face” to this lifestyle and really help sell the concept.

Overall, I highly recommend this book — while I already live a pretty car-lite lifestyle, I became totally gung-ho to finally sell off my car and to reap the resultant financial benefits. In this book, Chris Balish presents his case in such a way that makes this a very real and very attainable choice for most people. And he does it without forcing anything down one’s throat — everything he describes is presented in a practical, rational framework. Two thumbs up!

Oh, and I’d like to thank the readers who recommended this book to me in the comments section of an article I wrote a few weeks ago. Thanks! And, I’m always on the lookout for other bike-friendly book recommendations, so if you have some favorites to share, please leave your recommendations in the comment section of this review…


  1. Iron Man June 12, 2008 5:50 am 

    I’ve been talking with my boss and company about encouraging alternative transportation or being a help to get things going. In particular my boss loves the idea of carpooling. His belief is that would encourage stronger relationships among his employees. I thought that was pretty progressive. He’s looking for the business benefit to all this high gas price. He already knows my cycling provides less health care costs for the company and better work performance out of me. More employers should do the same.

  2. Ghost Rider June 12, 2008 6:24 am 

    That sounds great — I hope more employers embrace progressive ideas like this as the “gas crunch” gets worse. It benefits both management and frontline employees (reduced costs…maybe even some reduced waistlines!)

  3. Palm Beach Bike Tours June 12, 2008 8:01 am 

    Based on the review — thanks, Ghost — I might pick up a copy of the book. (I just hope it doesn’t sit on my bookshelf the way my bike sits in the garage. {grin})

    I’m generally hesitant about buying books such as this because they seem to be a big ‘duh’ with a lot of filler.

    Want to lose weight? Eat less, exercise more, eat better.

    Want to be rich? Make more, spend less, invest better.

    Want to buy less gas? Bike more, car less, plan ahead.

    Anything more complicated than that strikes me as someone trying to sell me something — something I may not need, understand or even want.

    Still, if the book has some practical tips and some level of motivational prose, it may be worth the read.


  4. Ghost Rider June 12, 2008 8:18 am 

    You know, I was a touch skeptical about it, too…while there’s lots of advice contained in the book that will seem “old hat” to a seasoned cyclist such as yourself, this book is SO MUCH MORE — stuff we’ve never even thought about, all contained in a narrative that is entertaining and quick to digest.

    I blow through books…they never sit for more than a few days before I start reading them. This one got read in about 6 hours — it’s THAT good. Don’t let it sit around gathering dust!

    And remember, support your local library. If they don’t have a copy on their shelves, they can order one from another library via “inter-library loan”. All the joys of reading without the guilt of paying for an unread book.

  5. marsha June 12, 2008 10:19 am 

    came across your site b/c i googled ‘cycling commuting lifestyle’… glad there are lots of us out there!

    i picked up that book myself even though i am very car lite and in the process of selling my hunk o metal.

    do you have any cycling advocacy groups/lifestyle groups where you are located that have been particularly successful?

  6. Iron Man June 12, 2008 10:51 am 

    Marsha, loved your blog site. Cool Xtra-cycle. A chick with an Xtra on this site? Get ready for marriage proposals from the fanboys here.

  7. PushingWind June 12, 2008 11:11 am 

    I received this book when I signed up for the DrivelessDenver challenge for May 2007. The pledge was “…to leave one car at home during the month of May.” Great advice and a nice motivational tool, even to this “seasoned” commuter. Recommended for the novice and beyond.

  8. Ghost Rider June 12, 2008 11:12 am 

    THE legendary “Princess Hungry” from FGG?!? Wow — we’re honored you came by!

    Marsha, the Tampa Bay area is in its infacy as far as successful cycling advocacy groups — our biggest and strongest is Tampa BayCycle (, but the group is only two years old and hasn’t really developed much muscle yet. Our local BPACs are similarly popular … the Pinellas County one is pretty strong and gets a lot of stuff done, while the Hillsborough County side has a lot of great intentions but not a lot of “teeth” to really bulldoze the issues we face around here. We keep hoping for a big break, though.

  9. Moe June 12, 2008 8:50 pm 

    Here in LA we have the fine people from C.I.C.L.E.ORG, LACBC and (Which Russ Roca is a big part of)

    And yes, Xtracycles RULE!

  10. TOMSAIL June 13, 2008 2:16 pm 


    The author of “HOW TO LIVE WELL WITHOUT OWNING A CAR,” Chris Balish, lives in Santa Monica, CA.

    You have probably seen him on the trail.

  11. Mindy June 16, 2008 11:12 am 

    I read this before I bought my bike and sold my car. I was already thinking of doing both but not sure it was possible or practical, so I found the book helpful. The cartoons in it are fun, too.

    Now I’m reading “Pedal Power: The Quiet Rise of the Bicycle in American Public Life” by J. Harry Wray. It’s more of a sociology book…talks about how a culture shapes bicycle usage, etc. I’m finding it very interesting. You might have to do an interlibrary loan for this one — it’s not available from my public library, I found it at the university.


  12. Ghost Rider June 16, 2008 11:38 am 

    Oooh, I’m intrigued! ILL is my dearest friend, too. I just placed an order for it. Thanks Mindy!

  13. climbinskier June 16, 2008 8:33 pm 

    I actually read that book a couple weeks ago. I didn’t know about that book until I read the comment on your post that someone left recommending it.

  14. princesshungry June 17, 2008 8:52 am 

    ha, Ironman, I’m still waiting for the proposals to come….

    right now I can’t get a date to save my life. πŸ˜›

  15. Ghost Rider June 17, 2008 9:12 am 

    Marsha, just wait until your profile goes up…you’ll be bombarded by slightly nerdy IT professionals/librarians/English professors/dental techs/etc. who love to ride bikes.

    I kid — the librarians and the English professors aren’t nerdy (at least the ones around here aren’t). πŸ˜‰

  16. Pat Rodden April 1, 2012 7:07 am 

    A great site and a great book. I am a person owning an engineering company in the Seattle area which can be scene at and choose my company “FIORI”. I owned and managed it for 15 years with great products that we designed. 3 years ago I fell from a 14′ later at home on to my head and almost died numerous times. I spent 17 months in the hospital and have been out of there for 16 months and am actually doing well – almost back to normal.

    I enjoyed this book very much and look forward to putting it to work in a great community called Whidbey Island about 25 miles northwest of Seattle. This solution works very very well. I have ridden almost 200,000 miles in my lifetime all by bike and Whidbey has incredible roads to bicycle (4′ to the right of lane for cars (very few cars in most places on the island). Busses go everywhere on the island that is the biggest in the USA and busses are all free to travel on.

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