Book Review: “Divorce Your Car” by Katie Alvord

Based on a recommendation from our friend Shek Mukherjee (and others), I picked up a copy of Divorce Your Car: Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile by Katie Alvord (Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 2000).

book cover

This book is a detailed look at how the motor vehicle has affected all aspects of life, particularly in the United States. Ms. Alvord spent a lot of time researching this book, and it shows — the text is packed with details (32 pages of notes plus a long list of suggested resources and further reading on the topics at hand). The book is loaded with facts that will curl the hair of the most jaded anti-car advocates among us…details on the environmental, socio-economic and health impacts life with motor vehicles has left us with.

But that’s not all: after illustrating the many ills motor vehicles have visited upon us, the author goes on to discuss the pros and cons of alternatives to driving a car, from alternative fuel vehicles to telecommuting to using a bicycle as transportation. She points out that some of these alternatives really aren’t as good as we might imagine…particularly the use of some of the gasoline substitutes and hybrid-vehicle technology, which may offer cleaner tailpipe emissions of some substances as compared to a gasoline-powered vehicle, but little in other smog-producing compounds, not to mention no reduction in gridlock and road congestion.

Ms. Alvord’s book is not intended to be a one-stop resource in the practical aspects of saying goodbye to the car — merely a stepping-off point and food for thought. Her resources pages can definitely assist someone seeking to go car-lite or carfree, though. A few months ago, I reviewed Chris Balish’s How to Live Well Without Owning a Car, and in many ways, Balish’s book could be considered a companion work to Divorce Your Car: Ms. Alvord tells us why we should divorce the car, Balish tells us how.

Despite the exhaustive research and documentation that went into this book, it reads well — full of humor and amazing facts and is never bogged down by all those endnotes. I highly recommend this as the first of several books someone considering a car-lite or carfree life should read, as it is eye-opening and inspirational. Thumbs up from this reviewer!


  1. Abhishek

    Glad you reviewed it. I particularly liked the detailed history lessons.

  2. Christina

    I agree with your review and especially with the statement that Alvord tells us why & Balish tells us how to divorce our cars.

  3. Iron Man

    I signed a prenup with my car.

    I am definitely interested in this book, although I hope it’s not a complete rant on the evil of the internal combustion engine or motorized travel in general. You can fill volumes of books on the amazing improvements to life that motorized vehicles have brought, just as well. OK so I grew up in Detroit and my Dad put in 35 yrs at Chrysler. Still it’s the over-dependence on motor use by modern society, to the point of a complete disconnect people have with the amazing abilities of the human body that I think is the real issue. Seriously when you get amazement from friends for a three mile bike ride something is really wrong.

    Basically I think the developed world has been one big guinea pig in history. We are the first humans to experience plenty with occupations that require very little physical effort. We aren’t doing very well—just yet—in that experiment if you ask me.

  4. Ghost Rider

    Iron Man, I assure you that although there’s some heavy reading in Divorce Your Car, it never comes off as a rant…merely a lengthy list of some chilling facts.

    “…when you get amazement from friends for a three mile bike ride something is really wrong”

    Amen to that!

  5. Paul

    Unloading the car is like getting out of a finance killing relationship, think of it being a HUGE raise of nearly 10k a year! And you don’t even need to have a awkward goodby…

  6. Mike Myers

    I lived a car-free life for 6 months. My car died and I didn’t think it was worth repairing. Initially my decision to use only my bike was spurred by that, but I grew to like it.

    I live approximately 18 miles from work. The distance was an obstacle at first but I’m pretty fit so I adapted quickly. Weather is an issue here. There is no snow, of course, but I live just far enough north to experience freezing temperatures. That necessitated adding to my cycling wardrobe, which effectively negated the fuel savings. Florida also gets plenty of rain, and doing my ride in bad weather was unpleasant. Even with fenders I ended up covered in grime. So coming home after a rainy ride meant an hour cleaning the bike.

    It was difficult. There is NO public transportation here. Well, there is Citrus County Transit, but that’s primarily to get seniors to the doctor. I managed OK but shopping is a hassle. At the time I only had a set of Topeak fold-out panniers and a messenger bag.

    If one lived in a city with public transport, I could see being car-free. If someone lives in a city or a connected suburb, absolutely. It just didn’t really work for my situation.

  7. Stuart M.

    Mike, I have two baskets that hook into the rear luggage carrier and hang down on the sides of the rear wheel. I ride to the grocery store, unhook the baskets and take them into the store with me. I fill up the shopping cart with about a week’s worth of groceries, go through checkout, and pack the baskets myself. The top of the rear luggage rack is still free after I hook the baskets back on and there is room for toilet paper or a 10 kilo bag of rice. Yes, everyone in the parking lot looks at me like I am crazy, but I bicycle home with an extremely smug look on my face, knowing I have once again proven the “It can’t be done” crowd wrong.

  8. Ghost Rider

    Stuart…Mike lives a LONG way from “civilization” — everything is extremely spread out over a mostly-rural county in Florida. Car-lite is definitely a possibility there…car-free not so much.

  9. Andrea

    I definitely want to read the book. Recently, I heard a talk radio show that spent one hour talking about how annoying bicycle riders are for automobile drivers. The show talked about people who cycle no way near the shoulder of the road and people who ride without lights or reflection at night (on main roads). I get the feeling that the average joe thinks bicycle commuting is done by crazed lunatics. I don’t like to be generalized as such. What do you think can be done to get more respect for bicycle commuters?

  10. Ghost Rider

    Andrea…when gas prices hovered around $4.00 a gallon, a lot of folks suddenly thought that we bike commuters were the smart ones — not so crazy anymore!

    Honestly, I don’t know what we can do — motorist education is a great start, but it doesn’t seem like many municipalities are interested in spending money on that sort of thing.

    Other stuff we can do, obviously, is be courteous, predictable, well-lit and follow the traffic controls that we are required to abide by, just like motor vehicles. Being a jackass and blowing through lights, riding the wrong way up streets and otherwise doing silly things isn’t doing cyclists any favors in the eyes of motorists. Also, busting out windows with U-locks, shouting and all that other aggressive stuff isn’t winning us any friends, either…playing it cool seems the best course of action, and who knows? Maybe one day we “early adopters” will be revered as real pioneers and champions of the human environment!

  11. Mike Myers

    GR—I do see other cyclists here, especially since the job situation has become so dire. Unfortunately, I see lots of them riding into traffic, riding on sidewalks, riding through crosswalks, etc. Money spent educating the public about proper bicycling behavior would be money well spent.

  12. Mike Myers

    To live a truly car-free, 100% bicycle life, I would end up riding 350+ miles/week. That’s 5 days of riding to and from work, and estimating trips to the grocery store, trips to visit friends and family in the county, riding to the next town to the movies, etc. Who can do that?

  13. Ghost Rider

    I’m with you, Mike…thus my defense of your situation.

    Strangely enough, even in the urban environment I live in, where public transportation is pretty decent and bicycle use is a breeze (except for all these idiot motorists!), the overwhelming majority of bikes I see on the road are as you describe — “bike salmon”, folks in the dead of night with nary a light or reflector…sigh.

    We DEFINITELY need a massive education campaign nationwide!

  14. Rob

    Hello everyone! This is my first post on this site. It definitely has a lot of great information in it. I started biking in 2007 and just purchased a touring bike this year for commuting. I enjoy it a lot and have been doing it during the summer and early fall months in fair weather only. I bike to get my workout done on my way to work, which makes it fun.

    I have been doing a lot of reading on bike commuting and occasionally hear stories of people getting rid of their cars to save money and go “car free.” I have seen both extremes in my almost 2 years of bicycling…..the hard-core racer to the anti-car, ultra-liberal advocates. I drive a fairly new Honda Civic and I wish I could find a bike as reliable as my car, but I don’t think they make them, unless I spend thousands of dollars on a bike. We have some pretty harsh winters, with lots of snow, and of course salt. A few days ago we had a significant ice storm and I relied on my car to get me through it. I have simply reduced the amount I drive, canceled my gym membership, and turned my commute into a workout.

    I spent a year living in Germany back in college and that has made an impact on how I view transportation. I support more public transportation, such as electric street trains, more sidewalks, and bike paths. Many people use the excuse that everything is closer together in Europe than in the United States, but the fact is that a large number of Americans live fairly close to work. If we allow more options, then more people will want to go out and ride, or walk. As a result, we will be a much healthier nation, with a lower obesity rate, etc…..that in turn could improve how the rest of the world views us.

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  16. Andrea

    Cars are no way more reliable than bikes. You just need an entry level mountain bike with good tires and a rear fender. If you have a competent bike mechanic- your bike will hardly ever need service! As far as the harsh winter conditions, I don’t usually ride during a snowstorm, but the day after is sufficient for riding. I commute by bike in the snow and ice with a cyclocross mentality. When the road is too slippery or the road is too narrow-I walk or carry my bike until the conditions are better. I really would like to divorce my car-it is constantly in the shop and I hardly ever use it.

  17. Rob


    I disagree with your opinion on the reliability on bikes versus cars….I drove three “hand me down” cars during my high school and college years that were about 10 years old or so….none of which left me stranded. Sure, they had some repairs, but they weren’t horribly expensive. I took them through rain, hail, sleet, snow, lots of snow, and then some….Indiana weather is fun and changes fast, especially growing up near Lake Michigan.

    I just think when people put on an extreme anti-car rhetoric it turns of a lot of people off and hurts the cause for encouraging more people to ride their bikes. We all come from different walks of life and that we need to consider many options for transportation.

    2008 was my first year commuting, and I started in June, not due to the gas prices, but for placing my workout routine within my commute. I own three bikes now…..a road, touring, and basic mountain bike.

    My commute is 7.5 miles one-way and goes on a busy 2 lane road that is very narrow. My other option was to take another narrow road that is heavy with dump truck traffic from a nearby rock quarry, which would make it 10 miles one-way. I opted to take the the road with the car traffic instead and a shorter route. The city I live in has no bike lanes in the area, but a multi-use path is coming soon to the road I currently ride on. A touring bike gives me speeds around 20-30mph to make my commute within 30 minutes.

    My mountain bike is slower than molasses….but eventually I would like to turn that into my “bad weather/winter commute bike” should more bike paths become available and when I get more experience bike commuting. I work at a factory and my bike stays parked outside. Any freezing rain or snow and I better have lots of de-icer for my bike……….however, with my car, I can start it up and go with no problems in just a few minutes, regardless of the weather outside.

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  19. Mary Ann Blackwell, R.N.

    I moved to Oakland/SF Bay area 12 years ago as a Travel R.N. I sought work positions that I could ride my bike or take public transit to… used very little.. I did not want to be part of the problem..but part of the solution, I began organizing small group rides that focus on promoting bike safety and combining cars w mass public transit to cover the Bay area car free. We are fortunate to have weather that permits year round riding..I parted with my car some time ago and have been happier and more fit than ever before… now, I work from home and it is nice to get out and do errands by seems easy enough to strap on the right panniers to carry groceries.. I buy very little that is unnecessary… My background includes years of Med/surg/coronary ICU nursing as well as years working in behavioral nursing…Bicycling is great for my own cardiovascular health, mental clarity and balance…I initially began doing small group rides with the ICU nurses and physicians I worked with in Tulsa, O.K. back in 1984…We rode together to bond, get strong and reduce the stress of working in a demanding environment….Riding the bike is the best and most fun medicine ever, not only for individual and community health..but for all of our environment. I ride in all weather, day or night…have the right gear and a solid Trek 720 set up…lots of lights, comfy helmet w light, Hi Viz …good to go…except for those stinking motorists…gah…Love that we close our city streets to cars on occasion…brings the community together…Viva la Bici!

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