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Zooming more, driving less: When to ditch your car

Zooming more, driving less: When to ditch your car
Posted at 7:49 PM, Sep 30, 2020

Even a parked car is a source of stress.

Like when you run outside in your pajamas at the sound of the street sweeper coming. Cars left unattended for days might become a target for theft or vandals. They still need routine maintenance, the occasional car wash and a drive every few weeks to circulate the fluids and recharge the battery.

So with the pandemic changing the way we work, commute and shop, there’s probably no better time to see what life feels like without a car.

Here are four reasons to consider a car-free future:

1. You don’t (and won’t) drive much anymore

How many days last week did your car just sit? How many miles have you put on it in the past month?

When the pandemic hit, many companies sent their employees home to work remotely. Total miles driven plunged by 40% nationally in the second half of March, according to insurance data analyst Arity. Driving is on the rise again, but the interlude showed that we can get along just fine without everyone having their own car.

But you’re still making the same car payment as when you drove every day.

2. You have better uses for that money

Americans have long been encouraged to overspend on cars, urged on by ads that promise the right car will make us popular or rugged and unlock the freedom of the great outdoors.

The average American spent $773.50 a month, or $9,282 a year, on their car in 2019, according to AAA. That’s mainly because car payments are so high: Experian says in 2019 the average monthly payment for a new car was $554, and the average for a used vehicle was $391.

If you’re struggling to make ends meet, ditching the car payment would be a huge savings, not to mention the related expenses of gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs. If you’re not hurting, that’s money that can go toward a home down payment, a Roth IRA or paying down debt.

Why not take a look at exactly how much you pay — and how much you could save — with our handy total cost of ownership calculator?

3. You can cash in on high used car prices

If you do decide to part with your car, it’s a seller’s market. The average price of a used car listing rose by $708 from June to July, according to Edmunds, which called the trend “an unprecedented historical shift in the used vehicle market.”

Year over year, the value of used cars is up 16%, according to auctioneer Manheim’s Used Vehicle Value Index.

More good news: Selling your used car is easier than ever. Online used car retailers such as Carvana, Shift and Vroom will give you an upfront price and pick up your car from your home. Or, sell your car to a local dealer who’s probably hungry for trade-ins for the used car lot.

If you sell, consider protecting your assets with a non-owner car insurance policy. It offers liability protection if you borrow or rent a car and the owner’s own limits are exceeded. And if you were to buy another car yourself, you wouldn’t be penalized for a gap in insurance coverage.

4. You have options when the need arises

The pandemic has opened our eyes to the possibilities of delivery: groceries, takeout meals, school supplies and area rugs.

And to the joys of walking, too. What’s within walking or cycling distance? A few minutes with Google Maps might surprise you.

Car trips of less than a mile add up to 10 billion miles a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Replacing those trips with walking or biking will not only help keep you fit, but also save you money on gas and cut down on pollution.

But sometimes you still need a car. Many transportation services that were initially locked down are up and running, offering contactless service at reduced prices with new safety measures.

Here’s what’s available for longer-than-cycling distances:

  • Taxis and ridesharing services.
  • Car-sharing companies such as Zipcar.
  • Rides from a friend.
  • Rental cars and peer-to-peer car rental sites such as Turo.
  • Public transportation.

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Philip Reed is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @AutoReed.