Un-driving the car

Here now is the continuation of my probably boring no-driving series. This may actually be interesting for those of you interested in my seemingly unusual lifestyle choices. Otherwise, I’m writing this for the myriad of Googlers that come across site from time to time looking for advice or learning how it is to live without driving a car.

I talked to you before about my experiment with not driving. Or un-driving, perhaps. I want to reiterate my personal expenses for driving. I drive a 2003 Toyota Rav 4. It’s all wheel drive, gets about 28 miles per gallon and weighs about two tons. My trip to the post office requires me to lug two tons of steel along with me. I live in Indianapolis, Indiana, where mass transit is virtually non-existent; our bus system is ranked 99th out of 100 of all the metro-area mass transit systems in the country. Driving’s also expensive, per month:

Car payment: $256 (over five years)

Car insurance: $105.33

Gas: $60 a month (two fill-ups, 400 miles)

TOTAL: $421.33 per month to run the car. That doesn’t include parking fees, titles and registration, wheel taxes, more gas for longer trips, oil changes and any other minor or major maintenance the car requires — like car washes, wiper fluid or new tires or brake pads. At best, with no maintenance problems or oil changes or hiccups, I’m spending $5,000 a year on a car. Most Americans spend about a fifth of their income on their cars. People in places without good mass transit, like central Indiana, spend about a third of their income on cars.

The bigger issue, in my mind, is the car’s depreciation. I’m going to spend $10,000 over 5 years to end up with a car that’s worth, maybe, $4,000. That’s the dumbest financial move anyone could make, and we seem to do it over and over again.

So I experimented with not driving for a few weeks, and I only drove a couple of times. Both of those times was to check out a motorbike in another county. It was too far to ride my bicycle comfortably and it was, after all, only to go find an option for replacing the car. I consider it a success.

The motorbike

And now I’ve made a purchase. For $4,000 I bought a new motorbike. It gets 80 MPG (conservatively, in the city, I’m going to say 60 MPG), which is more than twice as good as the Rav, maybe even almost three times as good. It holds just 2.7 gallons of gas.

It rides smooth, works great and is crazy fast and cheap. Now my expenses per month look like this:

Payment: $167 (over 36 months)

Insurance: $56

Gas: $12 (for about 400 miles)

TOTAL: $235 a month. After the 36 months, it’ll be about $67 a month on the high point and the value of the bike stays steadier than a car.

This does require some lifestyle changes to be sure. Here are some things I regularly do, or am prepared to do in the near future:

  • Drive to work.
    In the spring, I’ll likely be teaching two days a week at a high school across town from me. It’s too far to bike comfortably, especially in the wind (which is the worst thing to cycle in). So, the motorbike can get me there in 20 minutes as it travels just as fast as a car (up to 188 MPH in my case). I have a $50 outfit of rain gear I wear on top of my “work” clothes that I can put on and take off quickly, stash under the seat in the storage compartment and go on my way.
  • Deliver packages.
    Sometimes I have to take packages to clients or elsewhere. Sometimes I need to pick up something rather large from the hardware store or elsewhere. In this case, I can do a few things. I can try to mount it to the rear rack of my bike with ties, I can get them delivered and pay the nominal shipping charge (for a few bucks, that’s much, much cheaper than the car), get the package picked up by the Postal Service or FedEx or UPS, or just rent a car some weekend and get it then. Rental cars on weekends sometimes run as low as $10 a day.
  • Go to meetings.
    Like traveling to other jobs, just throw on my rain gear and go. The full-face helmet keeps my head dry and warm, too. Vents on the outside can be opened to give me a lot of fresh air in the spring or summer to keep me cool. Or, just put on a coat or bring a change of clothes to quickly layer into or out of. I can dress for the occasion, and make it as easy or difficult to change into or out of as I need, like if I’ve got access to a bathroom to change or not.
  • Get groceries.
    I recognize for some people they still go to the store. If you live in Indy, for heaven’s sake, use PeaPod.com already.
  • Get supplies.
    Amazon Prime is amazing.

The extra fees I pay for delivery charges or shipping is minuscule compared to the cost of owning the car. And since I work from home, this makes even more sense for me.

There are some other lifestyle choices that have pros and cons of not owning a car:

  • You can’t just get up and go wherever whenever.
    The epitome of American excess: I WANT IT NOW. You’re sitting on the couch, you want ice cream, you go to the car, hop in and go. Well, I don’t really do that so much anymore. But, I save more money because I’m not as interested in bicycling 3 miles to get some ice cream or some other equally needless thing.
  • It requires a little more planning.
    I spend a few extra minutes each day thinking about my travel plans and getting things done all at once. I used to go Lowe’s for things two or three times a day. Now I take more time to sit and think about what I need before I go so I can get it all at once and be done. I also think about the order of things so I make my commutes shorter. All stuff people should probably already do anyway, but don’t, because we’re spoiled car addicts.
  • You have to let go of some of your ego.
    If you’re one of those people that thinks your car defines you, you live a sad, pitiful existence. Your car doesn’t define you, it just tells people how much debt you’re willing to go into. It’s like a stupidity tax. Our culture, driven by ads from car companies, tells people that bicyclists and people on motorbikes are dumb or weird. I think you’re the stupid one, as I stream by you on the shoulder or leave you in my dust on my motorbike that goes 0-40 in about 2 seconds. Plus, nothing garners attention like something sexy and red.
  • You have to recognize the hidden costs.
    The costs you spend on depreciation,  fees and taxes at the BMV and so on add up. A lot. I’ve done some research and read some books, and everything I seem to read comes back to edmunds.com and their “True Cost to Own” calculator, which often suggests taking the purchase price of your car and doubling it. That’s how much it truly costs to own and operate the car over a period of a few years.
  • You have to do something smart with the savings.
    I’m keeping my Rav for a little while longer, just in case, but I want to sell it (anyone interested?). I’ll get out from under that loan, pay off the bike in about 6-7 months (if I pay the same I am for the car and just divert it to the bike). Then I’ll be debt free except for the house. With the savings, I can store it away, put it in my retirement, invest it, or put it towards the house. Over a period of just 10 years, the savings in cash will be at the very least $50,000. If I invested it or put it in my retirement plan, that’d make me a millionaire by the time I’m ready to retire. Just from not owning a car.

Some common questions I know you’re thinking:

“What do you do when it gets cold?”
I put on a coat.

“What do you do when it gets hot?”
I wear less clothing.

“What do you do when it rains?”
I put on something waterproof and get over it like a man. Dressed properly, and I’ve tried this, I don’t get wet, I don’t get cold and I don’t have a hard time seeing because the water just rolls off the side of my helmet.

“What do you do when you need to go someplace really far away?”
Rent a car. It’ll cost about $60 for the day or two I need it, if it’s during the week. Enterprise will even pick me up and drop me off, too. It’s cheaper on the weekends.

“What do you do if an emergency happens?”
I’d probably call 911, like in any other emergency.

“What happens if it’s snowing or icy?”
I probably won’t go out unless I have to, just like I would with the car. If I have to, then I’ll do what any rational person would do: put on the right gear, take my time, exercise caution and get on with it.

“What if you have to take a passenger?”
They can hop on the back of the motorbike. Or, they’ll have to figure something else out. Maybe we can bike together — I have two bicycles now.

“What if you have to go somewhere at night?”
I’ll turn on my lights.

“That seems awfully uncomfortable. I think I like my car.”
Fine, drive your car. Doesn’t bother me. My bicycle burns fat and saves me a ton of money. My motorbike saves me a ton of money, too. Your car makes you fat and burns money. I feel better, look better, live better and save money to put toward things I actually really care about — like technology equipment, books, food and better living stuff, like buying a better set of cookware or a better coffee maker. All without going into debt.

I’ve taken my motorbike out for a test drive in cool air (50 ish degrees), cold air (28 ish degrees), windy weather, rainy weather and sunny weather. It’s not a problem. When it’s 2 degrees and snowing, that might be a problem, but I’ll get over it. I’m sure I can manage. And if the weather is just so shitty that I absolutely can’t get out and I absolutely have to go somewhere, I’ll spend the time taking the bus or call a cab. It’s miserable the most in Indiana in January and February. Eight weeks, and if I have to go somewhere and it’s the actively sleeting or snowing, then I’ll have to put up with that for a few trips that, out of the entire year, are piddly in comparison.

There is no inclement weather, just inclement dress. If you live in a city, you almost certainly do not need a car. Unless you’ve got a bunch of kids, you work in construction, live on a farm or have to do sales calls all day long from one spot to another, or have health issues that your doctor is concerned about, maybe car-free living isn’t possible. But for the vast majority of people, it most certainly is.

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