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How to save by downsizing to one car
Save on car costs by taking advantage of public transit and ridesharing apps.
The convenience of being a two-car family can make the thousands you spend each year on maintenance and insurance seem worth it. But if you and your family can find a schedule that works for you, downsizing to one car can save you thousands every year, reduce traffic congestion and lower emissions.
How much could I save by downsizing cars?
Making the move to becoming a one-car household could save you a lot of money.
- Loan or lease. Selling a car you’re paying down could save you hundreds of dollars a month.
- Parking. If you live in a big city, you’ll save on parking and garage fees.
- Maintenance. Oil changes, new tires and brake jobs — going down to one car will save you significantly.
- Gas. You may put more miles on your shared car, but taking public transportation, biking and walking will save you gas money.
- Registration fees. One car means only one registration bill from the DMV.
- Insurance. The premium for having two drivers on one car is much less than insurance costs on two cars.
How much could I save on car insurance?
You may lose your multicar discount, but dropping a car from your insurance will more than make up for it. And making a change to your policy is the perfect time to shop around and make sure you’re getting the best deal on the insurance of your only remaining car.
Compare car insurance rates for one car
How do I get around with one car?
There are going to be times when you’ll still need more than one car, but, depending on where you live, you’ll have other options to get you where you need to go.
- Route planning
- Public transit
Ideally, you’ll be able to schedule your life in such a way that route planning will help you and your partner to share one car efficiently. For example, you could drop off your spouse at work and then drop the kids off at school. Before ditching your second car, it’s a good idea to experiment with route planning for a couple of weeks to see how limiting yourself to one car works for your family.
For those times when your schedule has failed you, or you need a last-minute ride, you can turn to your favorite rideshare app. Using rideshare is usually cheaper than a taxi, but you’ll pay an average of $25 per ride, which isn’t going to be viable for everyday needs. And if you live in a smaller or rural town where Uber and Lyft drivers are few or unavailable, rideshare may not be a realistic option for you.
Another option for a quick emergency errand is to enroll in services like Car2Go or Zipcar. Carsharing allows you to rent a car at any time by the hour or by the day. For example, you may rent a car for a few hours to take the pets to the vet or up to a few weeks for a family road trip.
There is usually a monthly or annual membership required, but paying $70 a year to have access to a car whenever you need might be worth it if the service is available in your area. And at $10-15 an hour, carsharing is cheaper than most rideshare, cabs or rentals.
Carpooling with colleagues to work or trading off carpool duties to get the kids to school can help you survive having only one car. Existing carpooling apps like Scoop or Waze Carpool can help you catch a ride to work if you don’t have any work friends who can help. Plus, most rideshare apps have a discounted carpooling option in larger cities.
Take advantage of your local buses and trains, including your school district’s bus system to take your kids to school. You have to plan to make sure you account for the added commute time.
Still, the expense is minimal and many systems function on a reliable schedule. You could also use the time you would spend driving to work, read or relax on the bus or train.
Don’t underestimate the power of your own two feet. Use the Walk Score website to see how your residence scores for walkability. And if your plan to downsize your car aligns with a move, make sure to check out the walk scores as you shop around for your new place.
As more cities face congestion and move toward environmental policies, initiatives are cropping up to encourage people to bike to work and for errands. If your city has protected bike lanes and your commute or errands are within a few miles, it might be worth it to dust off the family bike. And if you don’t have one of your own, check out bicycle rentals in your area, which often rent by the hour, day or week.
Is it worth switching to one car?
Whether the move to one car will work for you depends on your circumstances and where you live. But it’s worth your time to write out how much your car is costing you in maintenance, gas and insurance and comparing that to how much you might spend to use other options.
For example, according to a 2019 AAA Your Driving Costs study, the average annual cost of owning a small sedan is a little over $7,000 a year. Compare that to using a car service a few times a month to supplement for your missing second car:
- Carshare. Averages $15 per day x 3 rides per month + $70 membership fee = $610 per year.
- Rideshare. Averages $25 per ride x 3 rides per month = $900 per year.
- Public transit. Even in New York City, which has the highest monthly transit costs at $121 per month, you’ll only spend $1,452 a year for your commute.
Ditch your second car if you have…
Keep your second car if you have…
|Little or no commute. If you work from home or on a public transit route, you may be able to make one car work.||Commute issues. If you have a long commute to the office, you may need your second car.|
|Bad driving records. Your driving record matters. If you’ve faced a DUI or made multiple claims due to accidents, you are probably paying a high premium.||Scheduling problems. Multiple kids may mean multiple afterschool activities that require a second car.|
|Big city options. If you live in a larger city, you probably have multiple transportation options at your disposal, which means replacing a car with public transit could be as easy as putting your second car up for sale.||No transportation options. Your small town may not have rideshare or carshare, and your public transit may not be as accessible as you need it to be to downsize to one car.|
|Luxury vehicles. That luxury car purchase seemed like a great idea at the time, but ditching your most expensive vehicle could lead to big savings.||Economy car. If the car you’d get rid of is an economy car with cheap insurance and bare minimum maintenance needs, it could be cheaper to keep it than to regularly use car services.|
Case study: Trading in two cars for one
We traded in our 2011 Toyota Prius and 2016 Ford C-Max for a 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. After we both stopped commuting to work, we realized we probably didn’t need two cars anymore.
Before we made the plunge to a one-car household, we tried out what it would be like to only have one car by not using the Prius at all for several months, save for a short drive once in a while to keep it in shape. When we didn’t end up using the car at all during our test, relying on optimal route planning or rideshare instead, we knew we were ready to make the switch.
Before trading in both cars for one, we were paying about $55 a month or $660 a year for insurance on both cars, with liability only on the Prius and full coverage on our daily driver, the C-Max. After switching to the new car with the same coverage as the C-Max, we saved about $60 on our annual bill, bringing our monthly payments to $50.
Downsizing to one car may not work for every family. But by taking advantage of the carshare and rideshare services in your area, you might be able to make it work, saving you thousands of dollars a year. If you decide to take the plunge, downsizing can be a great opportunity to shop around for an auto insurance policy to make sure you’re getting the best deal on your remaining car.
Frequently asked questions about downsizing cars
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