According to 2017 U.S. Census data, 8.8% of American households are without a car. For the most part, the decision to forego car ownership used to be purely economic, with people opting not to buy a vehicle simply because they couldn’t afford one. These days, however, the story has changed. People are making a conscious decision to opt out of car ownership even if they have the means to acquire a vehicle.
The choice to not own a car has become more manageable thanks to recent innovations that can help make car-free living easier and more sustainable. For example, ridesharing has seen its popularity explode in recent years. This service gives riders access to a locally based driver who can be at their doorstep in a matter of minutes, and the entire transaction is handled quickly and smoothly via a smartphone app. And then there’s peer-to-peer car sharing. This service makes it possible to rent a vehicle from someone in the community using a smartphone app, and for as little as $5 per hour.
As we enter 2019, there are more reasons than ever to challenge the status quo of car ownership. But what exactly are the pros and cons of car-free living? Let’s take a look.
Pros of Car-free Living
Comes with fewer responsibilities
Car ownership essentially boils down to a series of tasks that need to be performed with unfailing regularity over the course of several years.
It starts with the act of purchasing the car. First, a shopper needs to do the necessary research to find the most suitable vehicle. Then, if you’re financing the vehicle, you must secure a car loan. Once the money is in hand, the shopper needs to consult various dealerships to try and get the best price. Upon arriving at the selected dealership, several hours need to be set aside for price negotiations with a car salesperson – a process that can often be wrought with stress.
The chores continue after taking ownership of the vehicle. Bills associated with car insurance and vehicle registration need to be paid. The vehicle needs to be taken to a mechanic for regular maintenance. And, if an accident occurs, a car owner needs to get the vehicle to a body shop for repairs and find alternate transportation while it is out of commission.
Car-free living comes with none of these responsibilities. It allows people to spend less time worrying about bills and repairs and more time doing the things they love.
Good for the environment
Our planet is getting warmer, and scientific evidence suggests that a lot of this has to do with factors that are man-made. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), eight of the top 10 warmest years on record for the contiguous United States occurred since 1998.
The EPA’s data indicates that greenhouse gases from human activities are the most significant cause of climate change since the mid-20th century. Most of this is due to emissions created by the transportation sector. In 2016, nearly 28.5% of greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation-related fossil-fuel consumption.
Many people are choosing to address this problem by taking a hard look at car ownership. A car-free lifestyle can help reduce the number of vehicles on our roadways, and this can ultimately help lessen the type of pollution that can lead to climate change and other environmental problems.
Might be less expensive than car ownership
Car ownership comes with lots of expenses. The car itself has to be purchased, and this can be pricey. According to Kelley Blue Book, the average transaction price for a new car rose to over $36,000 in 2018. And the cost of car ownership doesn’t end with a vehicle purchase. It also includes things like car insurance, registration, and fuel costs, as well as expenses related to repair and maintenance.
According to a 2018 internet trends report by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, using a rideshare service like Uber could be cheaper than owning a car in certain large cities. The report states that in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Chicago, ditching car ownership in favor of ridesharing could save money.
Factoring in expenses related to things like maintenance, gas, and parking, the report estimates a weekly cost of $116 for owning a car in Chicago. Choosing Uber over car ownership for personal transportation (including commutes to and from work) would incur a weekly cost of just $77.
Cons of Car-free Living
For vehicle owners, travel decisions can be simple and spontaneous. If you decide to go furniture shopping or to pick up some groceries at the store, the trip can be made with no planning and no waiting.
With car-free living, prior thought is usually required before making any trip away from home. If public transportation is involved, you must consult bus and train schedules, too.
For those who don’t own cars, the quickest and most convenient means of transportation involves ridesharing. In many service areas, these companies can deliver a driver to a rider’s doorstep within 10 minutes of a ride request. But even 10 minutes is a longer wait than would be necessary if someone owned a vehicle. Over time, that time spent waiting adds up.
Might be inconvenient for those with pets
Ridesharing and peer-to-peer car sharing offer convenient transportation for those enjoying a car-free lifestyle. But there’s one limitation that comes with both these services: There are no guarantees as to whether pets are allowed in the vehicles. And when they are allowed, typically they must ride in a pet carrier.
This may prove hugely inconvenient for pet owners who like to travel with their animal companions.
With ridesharing companies like Uber, there’s no hard-and-fast rule as to whether pets can ride with their owners. The drivers at these companies own the vehicles used to ferry riders, and it’s up to each individual to decide whether to allow a pet on board. This means it’s impossible to predict whether pets are allowed before requesting a driver. Once a driver has been requested, the rider can inquire as to whether it’s okay to travel with a pet.
Car-sharing services like Getaround have a similar policy, leaving it up to each vehicle owner to decide whether pets are allowed. At Getaround, if a driver’s car is pet-friendly, it’s indicated via a special icon in the vehicle profile. Bringing an animal companion into a car that isn’t pet-friendly will result in a $100 fee.
Might be inconvenient for those with small kids
Ridesharing and peer-to-peer car sharing are perhaps the best options for those enjoying car-free living, but these alternatives bring some challenges for parents of young kids.
If small children are traveling, a child seat must be affixed to the rear seat of the vehicle. Anyone who’s ever traveled with a kid knows that getting this seat into place can be a grueling task. Many car-owning parents avoid this hassle by simply keeping a child seat installed in their vehicles at all times, but this isn’t possible when you’re car sharing or ridesharing. A car seat will need to be installed with each trip, adding tedium to the trip.
Also, these services have certain rules that can be incompatible with young kids who love to make a mess. With peer-to-peer car sharing services like Getaround, if the vehicle isn’t returned in the condition in which it was rented, the renter may be charged a cleaning fee that may be as much as $100. Rideshare companies like Uber may also charge a cleaning fee, and it can range from $20 to $150.
One alternative for parents to consider is a car subscription. Since subscriptions are paid monthly (at a minimum), this service requires more of a commitment than car sharing or ridesharing. But it can be an excellent alternative for parents who want frequent access to a vehicle without actually the hassle of actually owning one.
None of the joys of ownership
Buying a car brings certain joys of ownership.
One of these joys involves using a vehicle as a form of self-expression. Everything we own says something about who we are, and different vehicles may suggest different things about the people who drive them. For example, Corvette drivers are likely to create a different impression than those behind the wheel of a Toyota Camry.
Another perk of ownership concerns customization. Whether it’s a bumper sticker that reflects a political affiliation or a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror, car owners have the luxury of tailoring their vehicle to suit their tastes and to reflect their personality.
With a car-free lifestyle, this canvas for showing the world who we are remains blank.
The Bottom Line
Whether or not car-free living is an ideal choice will depend largely on a person’s lifestyle and perspective. Keep the above pros and cons in mind when deciding if life without a car is a compatible fit for your circumstances.