Five Ways to Own Fewer Cars

At a time when two- and three-car families are the norm, getting rid of one or more vehicles might seem daunting.
But if you’re willing to make a few tradeoffs, experts say, downsizing a few sets of wheels can yield sizeable savings for your household.
In addition to regular car payments, fuel, state fees, financing costs, maintenance, repairs, insurance and depreciation account for a considerable amount of your out-of-pocket expenses when it comes to owning a vehicle.

Based on these factors, according to Kelley Blue Book, the five-year cost to own a 2014 Honda Accord comes out to $33,593. That’s in addition to the $21,441 purchase price of the car.

“From our perspective, having more cars than you need in your household is going to be a costly endeavor,” says Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “Having the number of vehicles in your house right sized is critically important.”

Here are five ways to become a household with fewer cars:

1. Re-evaluate your lifestyle.

Lifestyle choices such as where you live and work and when you commute can factor heavily into the need for additional cars. Eric Tyson, author of “Personal Finance for Dummies,” says to examine your work schedule. Some families might be able to coordinate their schedules in a way that makes sharing one commute possible. “If you’re a married couple, you should really stop and think about whether you need two cars based on where you live and what your daily needs are,” Tyson says.

There’s also an opportunity to downsize if one of the adults in your household doesn’t work outside the home or works within walking distance or near public transit, he says.

If you’re planning a move in the near future, transportation should be one of the factors you consider in choosing a place to live. Urban areas, for example, are more conducive to using public transportation instead of a car. “The need for so many cars could be driven, in part, by you choosing a place to live that is not very convenient or centrally located,” Tyson says.

2. Let go of that old car.

If you’ve just purchased a new car, experts say it doesn’t make sense to hang on to your older model just because it’s paid off.

“I find that over time, some families accumulate cars. If they get a new car, they’ll just keep the old one, reasoning that it’s paid for and not costing that much,” says Tyson.

Even if the car is paid off and you don’t drive it around very often, operating expenses and maintenance can rack up big bills – especially if the car is more than five years old. “It’s really all of those ongoing expenses that are going to start to add up over time,” says Gutierrez.

3. Share the wheel with your kids.

These days it’s not unusual to see families with one car for each adult. But buying a car for your children can ultimately send them the wrong message, Tyson says. “Honestly, I can’t think of a worse thing to do than to buy a kid their own car. It’s an expensive luxury, especially if you’re handing a brand new, expensive car to a kid who hasn’t worked for it,” he says.

A better idea is to share your car with your teenage driver, Tyson says. “This reinforces that this is your car that you bought and paid for. You can use it when it works for our family, but that doesn’t mean you get to use it all the time,” he says.