Thursday, April 5, 2012

Considering life without a car

The state of New Hampshire requires yearly car inspections. If your car doesn't pass the inspection, you can't drive it legally. I think this is the case in most states, but I'm from Florida where the folk are blissfully allowed to drive their cars into the ground no matter what the car's condition. The first time I had even heard inspections was sometime after I met John. Now I have to deal with this every year in April, when I need to renew my registration etc.

Meet my car:
96 Honda Accord, nice n' snowed on.

(Well, not the greatest photo to show the actual car, but who cares? Cars is cars, they all look basically the same. Snow is prettier anyway.)

Her name is Lady Lethe, and she is a super duper, great, great car! I bought her five years ago, used, for $3,000. And if I did not need to spend $30 on getting her inspected every year and then spend upwards of $400 on getting all the little things fixed in order for her to pass inspection, then I probably wouldn't have spent another cent on her other than gas and a few oil changes. None of these "fixes" for her to pass inspection were things that affected me while driving. I don't care if she makes a ruckus because there's a hole in her muffler, and I didn't care that the electric window couldn't roll down (despite lack of A/C) and I'm definitely not worried about the steering rack breaking on me suddenly while I drive! (I'm very reformed.)

But the state of NH does. Or so the mechanic says.

This morning I was told that the fixes needed to get dear Lethe to pass inspection will be more on the side of a thousand (more, if I bother getting break pads replaced). Since I spent four hundred on her last year and eight hundred on her the year before.... Well, John and I just don't think it's a good idea to spend so much on a car that will very very likely not pass inspection next year for some other random expensive broken part. She is a very old car, after all.

This leaves us to figure out somethings. Buy a new car? Absolutely not. We want a house, not a car.  Buy a used car? Possibly. Go without a car? Hmm....

I remember when I bought my first car. I felt like I had just bought myself a whole new world of freedom. That car lasted about a month before it broke down. And so began my experiences with cars and the multitude of troubles they bring with their so-called convenience. Now I feel like not having a car would be freeing.

Considering that we already walk to church instead of drive. It's about a 12 minute walk. When we drive, we're so close that time goes backward. We only drive if we're really gonna be late. As in, church starts at 10:30 and it's 10:35...

I walk to my weekly bible studies (the ones that aren't at my house) and I generally walk to my friend's pottery studio when I'm going to hang with her. To go to her house would be a quick bike ride too.  I generally don't walk to the library, because I'm not fond of carrying so many books back and forth and it's a bit more of a time and energy investment than I want to put into a quick book refreshing trip, but I could. It takes me about 30 minutes one way.

Basically, if I have time and it's relatively close, I walk. I'd much rather walk than drive, when I have the option.

So when do we use our car?

Of the two of us, I use our car much more regularly, since John's work provides him with a truck that he uses all day long. I use our car, on average, about seven or eight times a month. I drive to the grocery store, because it would take me a good hour to walk there, and then back with groceries.... ergh, not gonna happen. I drive to a friend's house occasionally to help her out in her garden and herb studio. She lives pretty far, about a 20 minute drive. I drive to our local spring to refill our water jugs. The spring is not far; I could bike there in 15 minutes. The tricky part would be transporting six gallons of water home on a bicycle.

John and I drive when we visit his parents, they're about a 40 minute drive away. We drive to the airport to pick up friends and family (when that happens). We drive to the beach transporting a surf board. We occasionally drive to other friends' houses if they've invited us for dinner. And we enjoy having the option to drive to John's family's lake house for summer frolics.  We also frequently volunteer to give church folk rides and if my friend needed me to help her in teaching her pottery class again, I wouldn't be able to get there on my own steam (the school at which she teaches is a 45 minute drive).

If we were to give up the car, we'd work out groceries and water fairly easily, by simply having John pick up what we need on his way home from work. When John is on call, one week out of three, his company prefers him to drive his truck so he'll be free to use it any time on those weeks.  Those would be the weeks when we could visit friends or family, or take a trip to the lake house, but there's also be the threat of him being called out, since that's why he's allowed to use the truck anyway.

Trips to the beach to surf would be right out unless John's surfing buddies were also going and willing to give us a ride (a distinct possibility.)  I definitely won't be helping my friend in her garden this year, unless she wants to pick me up and take me home (not very likely). We'd also be in the "needs a ride" group rather than the "can give rides" of our church, which I wouldn't be too frazzled about.

My final thought on this for the time being is that we could live without a car, but it would limit us a lot. It would take some adjusting to simply not have the option of hopping in the car and going somewhere any time I liked.  And while I hate driving and prefer walking whenever possible, the loss of that optional ease does scare me a bit. But I also like the idea. Cars can really be a hassle. Plus, it would be nice to feel like I'm doing more of a part in being environmentally friendly (even though I hardly drive the one I have now.) For emergencies, we really could use John's work truck, though his company might not like it much.

I also think it would be a lot more difficult to live without a car when our baby comes along. But we have till late summer to figure that out. And that's just as well; going without a car in the winter would also be trickier, since bicycling would no longer be an option with snow on the ground. We walk to church all year long anyway.

The verdict on the car isn't totally out yet. We're checking with some other mechanics to see if it will actually cost as much as the first guys said. We'll also look into how much used cars are running in our area. We might go without a car for a few months and see how it feels, and if the perfect car comes along we'll buy it.

Could you go without a car if you had to? Anyone local who can replace steering racks?


  1. Going without a car it my favorite! A little hard to do in NH though... not the best public transportation...
    My rents are selling the little white subaru if you guys decide to purchase a car. It needs some brake work but my dad would do that before he sold it to you.

  2. It definitely seems that going without a car in a place like NYC would be easier than here. Will you be going without a car in CA?
    I'll tell John about the subaru. Thanks for the info, Sarah!


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