Jim and I started sharing one car in 2008 when his 1999 Ford Escort (with 110k miles) quit at life weeks before our move from IL to WA. We had already been propping the car up with regular trips to the mechanic and jumps (and pushes), and we decided it wasn’t worth shipping to WA. We donated it to a charity and moved to Washington with one car between us. Money was tight and sharing one car (my ’02 Ford Taurus) seemed like something we could make work, at least for a little while.
Obligatory car pic:
What followed was a 4 year experiment in negotiation, sharing, practicality, and major savings.
Where to live when you share a car?
Answer: close to wherever you go most often.
We knew we’d be sharing one car, so we chose our first apartment in Washington state based on its closeness my new office. We were awkwardly far from shopping, but we could bike or walk to/from work in a pinch (4 miles) and that mattered more to us. (There are few, if any, public transit options and biking everywhere isn’t realistic for us.)
Being four miles away made it possible for Jim to drop me at work and then drive back home (or off to errands) with minimal extra mileage. We go to work every day, but we only go shopping once a week, so this was a good trade off and made sharing one car a lot more possible than if we’d chosen to live somewhere further away.
The first three months
A week after arriving in Washington I started at my new office job while Jim continued to work for his previous employer from home. At least one day a week, Jim dropped me at work and then completed errands during the day. This was a wonderful arrangement. Our only gripe was that Jim had to go through that painful transition from driving a small car to driving a land boat with the turn radius of a tank. He basically had to re-learn how to drive and park.
One car, one company
Three months after moving to Washington, Jim accepted a designer position at the same game studio I was working for.
Working remotely for the old employer was convenient and profitable, but the new employer offered stability and much stronger networking and engagement with the local developer community. While this saved us a lot of money (the cost of owning, maintaining, and insuring a second vehicle), sharing one car came at the following costs on our time:
- Whenever one of us was told to “take the afternoon off”, we didn’t get to take advantage of it.
- One of us working late? Usually we both ended up staying.
- Or sometimes one of us would drive home, and then drive back (15 mins each way) at what would normally be bedtime (or worse).
- Car trouble made us both late to work (or up early) – and lot of freaking out over “the only car” being out of commission
- Dropping the car off for repair/maintenance also resulted in us walking a mile to the office from the dealership, so we tried to time this with the rain (or lack of)
- Errand to run after work? We both go.
- Need to be two places at once? Someone gets dropped off way early. A common example: I’d drop Jim off at work an hour early, and then go to my own before-work doctor’s appointment.
We used to say, “Sharing one car is great, except for about one day a month when it really sucks.” When we became frustrated with the arrangement, we’d go hang out at a car dealer for a little while and look at stickers. This cured any resentment we felt.
Even “beaters” cost several thousand dollars. The insurance costs and buying into the same set of problems our aging main car never seemed worth it to get rid of the occasional inconvenience.
One Car, two companies
Sharing one car became more of a challenge when we were working two separate jobs. When Jim changed jobs, he also took on a 10 mile commute in the opposite direction of my job. We tried a few different arrangements, but the least-worst one ended up being Jim dropping me off at 9:15 (for a job that started at 10) and picking me up at 7:45 (from a job that ended around 6:30).
Being at work 45 minutes before everyone else was my favorite part of the arrangement. I mostly spent this time creating artwork at my workstation and I occasionally used it to get ahead on work for the day.
But the extra hour and 15 minutes at the end of the day was pretty rough. I brought a small “first dinner” to work with me to eat around 6pm (I ate a “real dinner” at 8, once I got home) to help with being hungry. I got involved with projects I could work on from my workstation at work. I walked around the building. I surfed the web. Some of my co-workers seemed to pity me, but I filled the time productively. I’m just glad I had useful tools at my workstation.
This arrangement lasted about three months. In that time, I had the car during the day just twice.
The first time it was so I could go to a doctor’s appointment in the morning.
The second time it was because we were going to a concert after work and it made more sense for me to drive south to get Jim, rather than him driving north just to drive south again. That ended up not mattering. In a fantastic coincidence, this was the day my company did its first mass layoff (me included) so I was super fortunate to have the car that day because I ended up spending the morning boxing up my workstation and going home early.
I was unemployed for three months (don’t feel bad, I had a blast). During that time, Jim was pretty much the exclusive driver of the car. He took the car to and from his new job each day, and I ran errands on Saturdays. We felt no pressure for a second car, but it helped tremendously that the car was A) already paid for B) 10 years old and not massively expensive to insure.
Back to Work
Three months later I accepted an offer at the same company Jim was working for. Our new employer is 10 miles from home and the car we’re sharing just hit 85k miles.
During our four-year run as a one car family, we talked a lot about what would replace the Taurus. We banked money with the expectation that we would either add a second car or outright replace the Taurus at some indeterminate point in the future. Perhaps emboldened by Subaru’s 0% financing and my new income (and general fatigue with the topic of whether we should get a second car) we finally bought a second car. You can read more about why we chose a Subaru Forester here.
The second car addressed two key needs:
- We need a vehicle that can haul stuff
- We need a reliable car
It’s sort of an insurance policy against trouble with our 85k miler.
Life with two cars
The biggest benefits of having two cars are A) the new one hauls big stuff and B) I sleep more soundly at night, unafraid of how much work we’d miss and how much we’d freak out if our only car broke down. Having two cars did not, however, solve any of these issues:
- We work at the same place, so when one stays late, we both stays late because it’s a waste of fuel and mileage to drive separate cars
- The new workplace is much further, too far for making habit of dropping someone off at the office and then driving back home for whatever reason
- Our insurer doesn’t discount the second car (nor will anyone else that I’ve called. But they will discount a third car. WTF, NO!)
- The garage holds just one car, so one car gets to be rained/sunned/snowed on
Some perks of having two:
- We have an “old car” to take to places where we’re afraid of something bad happening to our “nice car”
- If one car is low on gasoline we can take the other one
Whether we’d replace the Taurus if/when it “goes” is an ongoing discussion, but we’d be okay with going back to one car if we had to.
Had we immediately replaced Jim’s car with a new one in 2008, we’d have paid about $12,000 (most likely for a used Honda Fit, given our preferences and budget at the time). At $1000 a year/car (which is roughly what our insurance costs here), we’d have paid about $4500 in insuring it since 2008.
The hypothetical Honda Fit would have lessened the need for the Forester 4.5 years down the road, but I’m much happier with the Forester than I would have been with a Fit and I’m glad we held out for it. And, since the Forester only cost us $10,000 down and $350/month thereafter (with nothing to insure for the last four years), we’re still ahead of the costs of having bought a second car four years ago.
All things considered, the four year shared car experiment was a success.