Any day now, you’ll see a patrol car parked outside my house. No, I didn’t go postal on my husband for failing to start the dishwasher before bed again; rather, my husband is awaiting transfer from his position as a detention officer with our local sheriff’s office to the patrol division.
The addition of his patrol car to our lives will be monumental. I figure it will provide an extra layer of security, since who really wants to mess with a house where you know an armed law enforcement officer resides? It’ll also cut down on our transportation expenses, since my hubby will be required to drive his county vehicle in to work instead of his personal car. That’ll help us shave our gas costs and even trim his car insurance premiums.
But it’s got us thinking about bigger changes, too. Like, whether we’ll need my husband’s car at all once he makes the great switch to patrol. After all, I work out of the home, meaning my car is almost always here and available.
Automobile Ownership in America
The number of vehicles per household has remained relatively flat over the past two decades. In 1990, one-car households made up about a quarter of the population; just shy of four in ten were two-car households, while about 20 percent owned or leased three or more vehicles. Today, those numbers remain more or less unchanged. By 2009, there were 133 million registered vehicles in the United States – meaning there was roughly one vehicle for every two individuals over the age of 16. According to data from the Center for Transportation Analysis, there was one vehicle for every licensed driver in America in 2009.
Despite the huge number of vehicles on America’s roads – and parked in our driveways – there are still 10 million households, representing more than 26 million people, that don’t own a single vehicle. The vast number of these zero-car households are considered low-income; three-quarters live in the nation’s top 100 metropolitan areas.
The One-Car Household Lifestyle
I have a good friend who tried the one-car experiment for nine months, before finally caving in and leasing a second vehicle. I know many others who have contemplated it, only to convince themselves it wasn’t a good idea. In fact, the only person I know who has successfully maintained a one-car household long-term is a former co-worker, whose husband worked in a neighboring office building. She’d drop him off on her way in to work every morning, and pick him up on her way home every night. It’s important to note that they do not have children.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s – when the majority of American households didn’t have two cars – my grandmother and grandfather lived in a one-car household. My grandfather would go into work for the day, taking the family’s sole car with him, and would return every evening. My grandmother was homebound until his return, doing just about all of her errands within walking distance. They didn’t see the point in getting her a vehicle of her own – she didn’t learn to drive until my mom graduated from college in 1972.
Giving Up The Second Car
My husband and I have been a two-car household since before we technically became a household. We both owned our vehicles outright before our wedding. It was a good thing, too; my husband has frequently worked weekends and overnights over the past seven years, while I largely had a standard Monday-Friday, 9-5 job. There’s no way a one-car lifestyle would have worked for us.
Now that I work from home, I’m still pretty car-dependent. The website Walk Score gives my neighborhood a score of 14 on a scale of 1 to 100 – meaning that you can’t really get anywhere (save to a neighbor’s house) without a vehicle. Public transportation is non-existent in my neck of the woods; I’d have to walk two miles down a busy four-lane highway (with my two children, mind you) just to get to the nearest bus stop. That bus, by the way, would take me to my city’s central depot, where I’d have to catch another bus to get to the grocery store – which is located just six miles from my house in the other direction.
But with my husband’s patrol car entering the picture, becoming a one-car household is far more feasible. My husband would be able to use the patrol car for any and all work-related purposes, including his daily commute. That would leave our remaining vehicle for me to use; we’d only have to worry about sharing the car when my husband was off work, when we spend the majority of our time together anyway.
It Is The Right Financial Decision?
My husband and I own both of our current vehicles (they’re both 2008 model years), so not only are they fairly new, but they’re also not directly affecting our monthly budget or our rotating debt. If we were to sell my husband’s vehicle (the less family-friendly of the two), we’d be able to get between $7,000-$9,000 for it based on its current Kelly Blue Book value. Factor in not having to fill it up every month (~$150 in gas) or pay insurance on it (~$450/year), and we’d be looking at between $9,250 and $11,250 back in our bank account over the next 12 months.
It’s hard to part with a vehicle you own. You never know when you *might* need that second car, or when it may simply be convenient to have. And, while my husband’s career in law enforcement is one of the most stable I know of in terms of job security, as a law enforcement officer, you never know when you’ll get transferred back into a position that doesn’t have a patrol car (like courtroom, for example), which would require us to get a second vehicle once again.
Reader, if you were me… what would you do? Ditch the second car, or keep it in park?