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Green Living: The Pros and Cons of Living without a Car

So, it has come to my attention that recently I have been thinking a lot about living without a car, mainly because I claim to be eco-friendly (and driving a car is about one of the most un-eco-friendly things to own) but also from a financial point of view (car fuel, mot, services, insurance costs add up). Whilst I contemplate whether to sell my car for the above reasons, I have done some research to help me with my decision and I thought it would be helpful to share it on my blog.

Just a quick thanks to the people who comment on Quora as a lot of my research was done on their site reading through peoples differing thoughts on the subject.

For ease of reading I have decided to break my research and thoughts into pros and cons of living without a car. Feel free to comment if I have missed anything out.

Pros of living without a car

  • Cars are expensive to buy as an outright cost and if you get a car on finance they are even more costly. They also depreciate (decrease in value) over time.
  • Cars require other expenses by law; such as fuel (which costs anything from £40 per month to £50 per day depending on your usage), car tax (which can cost anything from £0-600), MOT to test car roadworthiness (usually around £25-40 every year), expenses for car parts repair if needed (can cost hundreds to thousands), break down cover (cost around £25-100 per year) and lets not forget car insurance (which can range from £250 – £1000s depending on your age, address and car make) – here’s my post on how to save money on your car insurance (if your interested), parking costs (from £4 – £12 all day parking), parking permits (free to above £40), congestion charges (eg around London costing around £12), also PCN (Penalty Charge Notices) for speeding and parking offences range from £65 to £100+ (and over the years have cost me around £400). I am admittedly a “tight-arse” when it comes to money and I am always looking for ways to save more money and make more money. My partner always jokes that one day he will come home and I would have put him on Shpock (like a car boot sale but on an app). I cannot deny that owning a vehicle is one of my biggest ongoing costs and I don’t like that.
  • Road rage – since the year I passed driving, I have noticed that each year my road rage increases as there are more idiots on the road who do not know how to drive (and I have no idea how they passed their test). There is also a sense of anxiety, knowing that road accidents are one of the biggest killers for young people (under 20) and the fact that no one is safe on the road. I have been involved in/witnessed 4 car collisions, including one big one on the motorway which has impacted my driving – my anxiety has definitely gone up. Also some speed limits seem unreasonable and that alone can be frustrating, as well as other car drivers not adhering to the speed limits (e.g someone doing 20mph in a 30mph zone). My ‘papping people’ has gone up year on year for sure.
  • Storage – they take up a lot of space – this could be on the street, drive way or your garage, which perhaps could be better used.
  • When you arrive at your destination, you need to worry about where you are going to park or if there is any parking available. When I lived in London, this was something that worried me a lot due to how crowded the place is and how expensive parking can be. No word of a lie, I went cinema one time in central London and the parking was £4.50 PER hour.
  • People expect you to take them to places because you have a car, and they expect not to have to contribute to maintenance costs of running a car. This can be annoying as you don’t want to seem like a bad person or an uncool friend for asking for a contribution towards fuel costs, but cars don’t run themselves and money doesn’t grow on trees.
  • Other forms of transport also have a cost – taxis, bus passes and train tickets are not free or cheap. If you depend on your car a lot to travel to your destination, it is probably going to be more cost effective for you to keep your car compared to someone who only uses their car a couple of days a week.
  • The biggest one for me who wants to live a low impact lifestyle, is the fact that owning a car is so damaging to the environment and people due to the harmful emissions and extraction of non-renewable fossil fuels to make the fuel. Also, it is harmful for us to breathe in the emissions – air pollution is a silent killer.
  • In some cities, due to the number or cars on the road and general traffic, public transport can be faster than driving to places.
  • Having a car makes people lazy as they know that they can always depend on their car if they are running late to get somewhere. If you know you don’t have a car you can depend on, you become more organised and pro-active as you have to be in order to get where you need to go, and this isn’t a bad thing.
  • After the buzz of being able to drive wears off (which for me was about 2 years), driving becomes less exciting (especially with increasing traffic year on year) and it becomes more of a chore (in my case anyway). I am always looking for ways to be driven by someone else and not have to be on high alert all the time to avoid getting into a car collision – driving is exhausting and these days I would much prefer to be driven around, so the idea of car sharing or getting a bus doesn’t sound that bad.

Cons of living without a car

  • Convenience is a big thing in this day and age, and you cant get anything more convenient than the ability to transport yourself to another location in a speedy way without having to reply on public transport or alternative forms of transport and being limited by the times they are available. It is liberating to be able to drive pretty much wherever you want (in some countries, you don’t get that level of freedom).
  • One of the main benefits of having a car is independence. It was a right of passage for me. It made me feel like I was an adult and driving was a way for me to show my parents how responsible I was. The sense of freedom I had at the age of 18 was amazing.
  • If you have a car to sell, it frees up extra money which could be useful to pay off debts, add to savings or book a well-deserved holiday.
  • Ability to transport items that would usually require a man and van (vehicle permitting) and you get to go to car boot sales to sell things you no longer use and make additional income.
  • You can get more shopping into a car than you could carry – but a the same time this could be a con as it gives you an excuse to buy more (and subsequently potentially waste more food and therefore money unnecessarily).
  • You become more sociable having a car as you are able to travel to see your friends and family with less barriers and you are less of a burden on people you are close to (as you don’t have to rely on them to pick you up to take you places).
  • Some jobs prefer it if you can drive and have a car and some even have it as an essential criteria for you to get the job so arguably, if you don’t have a car your employability chances decrease.
  • Travelling by car is faster than walking, cycling, and bus (maybe train if you consider waiting times and transfers). A car is usually twice as fast as other forms of transport – that is a big time-saving benefit not to be ignored.
  • You can be more spontaneous with a car – with less thought needed as you wont need to look for bus availability and rely on others. Although, as someone who actually enjoys planning things, this isn’t too much of a bad thing.
  • If you need to get somewhere such as work at risky times – such as evening and winter, having the protection of a car is blessing. The protection of a car is also way better than being on a motorbike, a bike or just you walking for sure. Although at these times, you could always get a taxi or bus if available.
  • If you keep your car, you get to keep your no claims bonus. I think I heard somewhere that if you have a period of not using a car then you have to start all over again with your no claims.
  • If you have a family, having a car is a real benefit as its a great way of transporting many people conveniently at the same time.
  • Public transport only takes you to popular destinations, so the nearest bus stop to where you are going could involve walking for more than 30 minutes, whereas a car can usually take you direct or within a few minutes walking distance.

Conclusion

As you can see, it is not easy to make a decision on whether to own a car based on their pros and cons. There are just as many reasons for living with a car as living without a car. If I am honest, I am still in two minds about this.

At the end of the day car ownership has a cost for its convenience and time-efficiency, which is both financial and environmental. My stand point is that when electric cars become more prevalent in future years, this debate of living with or without a car will be more guilt free due to the reduced environmental impact of electric cars and expense (although upfront costs of buying an electric car can be expensive).

My insurance is coming up in the next few months, so I will need to decide what I am going to do. I have these options so far:

  • keep my car but use it less often to lessen the negative impact on the environment
  • keep my car but share it with another family member and each use it half of the week (so sharing 1 car rather than having a car each – 1 less car on the road)
  • sell my car and rely on biking, and public transport (bus passes, coaches, trains)
  • sell my car and give petrol money to friends/family willing to take me to where I need to go or get a taxi if I was desperate (although this is very expensive)
  • sell my car and get an e-bike
  • for long journeys I could hire a car, get a coach or train
  • look into motorcycle ownership and the costs and environmental impact of this – if the costs and environmental impacts are less but still with the convenience of a car, then this may be something I could do (I’ve always deep down wanted to learn)
  • pretend I do not have a car and trial using a bus/taxi/giving petrol money to friends to take me places so I can see what life will really be like without a car, so that I can make a more informed decision on what to do.

I have an inner want to live as low impact as possible, and I think car ownership is holding me back from taking more responsibility for my impact on the environment and being a fitter person – by opting for cycling and walking like I did when I did not drive.

Let me know your thoughts on this topic by leaving a comment below. I am genuinely interested to see what people think about this debate – particularly if you have had experience of owning a car and then deciding to sell it.

UPDATE: It came round to getting my insurance and I decided to buy it but save money by buying annual insurance rather than paying more for credit for monthly payments. I use my car as least as possible and only use it for work that is too far to cycle to (cycling there would take over an hour really early in the morning) which in my mind justifies me using my car. However I am much more conscious when I do drive and this helps me to drive less, cycle more and in the process get fitter and contribute less to the environmental problem of harmful emissions. Sometimes living greener means being more conscious. Changes in my opinion don’t have to be abrupt and you can do a lot by making small changes here and there. I have also saved money by driving less as I am using less fuel, which is expensive.

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