The Dead Minivan Experiment: How We’re Trying to Become a One-Car Family

A few weeks ago, my 2007 periwinkle blue minivan lay unworkable in the driveway. With jumper cables in hand, my husband tried to bring her back, but to no avail.

Most people would probably be upset if their car died, but I couldn’t care less. To be honest, I’m not really a car person, nor do I drive that much anyway. Plus, I’ve been angling to become a one-car family for a while now – mainly because my older model van is starting to require pricey maintenance and repairs.

Yeah, I could have upgraded my old, bright blue minivan – with its zip tie on the bumper – a few years ago, but why? I work at home, so I have little need to drive anywhere. And my van has been great for those times I do need it – running the kids around town and random trips to the grocery store.

I’ve always had the option to buy something pricey and new, but again, why? I abhor car payments – so much so that I would probably drive a skateboard before I financed another automobile. We’ve saved up enough to pay cash for a nicer model, but I don’t see why we would.

The Benefits of Being a One-Car Family

My van would probably come back to life with a new battery, but it has other problems, too – squeaky brakes, an engine that smokes when you drive too much, windows that don’t work. I could fix it if I wanted, but I probably won’t.

To be honest, my minivan dying seems like a good excuse to conduct a one-car experiment. Before we sink any money into reviving my van, we can “try out” the one-car experience to see how it goes. And really, there is so much to gain if we can pull it off.

For starters, we won’t have to continue pouring money into a car that’s worth almost nothing. Within the last year, I paid $600 for new tires and a few hundred more dollars to get the brake pads replaced. I’ve also paid for gas and oil changes along with new wiper blades not once, but twice. If we sold this car or got rid of it somehow, I would no longer be responsible for keeping it workable and in good shape – nor would I have to pay for the labor each time it breaks down.

But there are other reasons having one car might make our lives easier (and cheaper). We’d no longer have to pay for car insurance on my van, which currently adds about $400 per year to our policy. We could also stop paying for registrations and upgraded license plate tags.

Altogether, getting rid of my minivan would save us at least $700 per year in insurance, license plates, and oil changes. And if you add on the cost of the repairs we’d need to make just to get it running again, it could easily save us $1,000 or more this year and a lot more in the future.

Lastly, we would fix a problem we can’t seem to find the answer to: Should we park the van in the driveway or the garage? In the garage, my nearly worthless van takes up half our usable space for no reason at all. But in the driveway, it’s an eyesore. By getting rid of it altogether, we would gain precious usable space either way.

The Downsides of Having One Car

Savings and benefits aside, having only one car does present some challenges in our household. Not only that, but we anticipate even more scheduling conflicts down the road. Here are a few hurdles we’ll need to overcome:

  • Juggling schedules when kids need to be two places at once: Since our kids are ages 5 and 7 now, there have been very few instances where we need to be two places at once. Occasionally, however, a day comes along where we have a birthday party and gymnastics lessons during the same hour – or we have a kids activity but I also need to go to the grocery store. With one car, my husband and I will have to plan these days out so we can juggle more than one activity at the same time.
  • Figuring out transportation when one of us travels: Right after my van died, I went on a work-related trip to visit beautiful Mazatlan, Mexico. With two cars, this wouldn’t be a challenge at all – I’d just drive to the airport. But since we only had one, I had to take an Uber to and from the airport.
  • Deciding what to do when our car needs maintenance: Having two cars makes it easier when one of them inevitably needs maintenance or repairs. Whenever we’ve had belts replaced or repairs made, we just shared our second car for a day or two. With just one car, we’ll have to figure out how to get around when our remaining vehicle breaks down or needs an update.
  • Moving large items: My minivan has been a lifesaver when we’ve had to drive more than four people around, and it’s also come in handy for moving large items. Since the seats fold into the floor, you can easily transport small furniture, folding chairs, gardening supplies, and bags of mulch. Without my van to use for these chores and only the small trunk in my husband’s Toyota Prius, we’ll have to figure something else out in the future.

I don’t think any of these issues are deal-breakers – especially while our kids are young and their schedules aren’t packed with activities. I tend to believe we’ll do fine if we plan a little better and talk out our transportation needs ahead of time. With two cars and two kids, we rarely have to sync our calendars or discuss our plans ahead of time — but with one car, that will need to change.

The Bottom Line

As my minivan continues to languish in the driveway, we’re conducting a little experiment. If we can get by without a second car until winter without too much hassle or inconvenience, I think it’s reasonable for us to become a one-car family for the foreseeable future.

Not only will having just one car save us money, but it will simplify our lives in some ways, too. With just one car, we’ll have one less thing to keep up with, fewer bills, and a lot more room in our garage and driveway.

Just like many other decisions we’ve made, this one is about compromise. When my husband wanted to cancel cable television many years ago, I was initially stressed over the decision. But now, years later, I hardly remember what it’s like to watch Bravo for several hours each night.

Sharing a car will probably leave us feeling the same way after a while. Once a few months tick by and you relax into your new routine, the sacrifice you’ve made becomes normal and you learn to be happy with what you have.

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Have you ever shared a car with someone? Do you still share a car? Please share your story below.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. She blogs at ClubThrifty.com and teaches others how to write online at EarnMoreWriting.com.

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