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Becoming a one-car family: Downsizing pros and cons

minute read

    It’s no secret that owning a car comes with a number of costs. Car loans, insurance, maintenance, fuel — though these are all necessary costs of ownership, they can certainly start to add up. If you’re a two-car family, that doubled cost may have you wondering if it’s the right time for your family to downsize and become a one-car family instead. Let's break down the possible advantages and disadvantages becoming a one-car family may bring.

    How many cars should a family have?

    Families come in all shapes and sizes, which can make it tough to answer how many cars any given family should have. Your family might have as many, or as few, cars as required to fulfill your family’s needs.

    For instance, a blossoming family with four children of various ages might benefit from having more than one car to accommodate the logistics of traveling between schools and any after-school activities they need to get to. On the other hand, soon-to-be parents in a city with robust public transportation might only need one kid-friendly car to accommodate their lifestyle. In places with robust public transportation options like New York City, some families find they may not even need a car at all.

    Depending on your circumstances, maybe your family needs to be a two-car family right now. However, if the extra car in your garage begins to feel more like a convenience rather than a necessity, downsizing to one car may provide potentially worthwhile savings.

    Should you downsize to one car?

    If you’re debating whether your two-car family might be ready for a change, it can be helpful to weigh the pros and cons. A second vehicle may provide convenience and flexibility, but making the change to having just one car may have benefits for your wallet.

    Pro: Downsizing could reduce your monthly expenses

    Getting rid of your second car means you get to eliminate a second set of ownership costs like maintenance and fuel expenses, which can add up quickly. If you’re considering downsizing, it may be worth thinking about how the cash for these monthly expenses might be better applied to other areas of your budget.

    Depending on your circumstances, however, reducing your monthly car expenses might not be as important to you. Perhaps your second car is an old family vehicle that’s fully paid off and sparsely used. While you still need to pay for insurance and continuous maintenance to keep it roadworthy, these expenses may not feel as significant to you depending on your situation.

    Pro: The timing may be right to sell your second car

    In the example above, even as your old family vehicle sits safely parked, it continues to depreciate in value the older it gets. If your old car serves little-to-no purpose for your family (aside from being a historical relic), you may be missing out on the money you could make by selling your car — especially if you’re in a hot used car market that gives you, the seller, an upper hand.

    All of this to say, if being a two-car family isn’t serving your lifestyle anymore, consider how the extra cash from selling your second car and downsizing could help support your family’s needs. Would this money help other areas of your life more than the flexibility of having a second car affords you? Perhaps you were saving your second car to pass on to another relative or simply enjoy the convenience more than the money you might make selling it. In the end, the decision is a highly personal one.

    Con: Your single car carries more risk

    Once your second car is out of your hands, you'll likely rely heavily on your remaining car to get around. This may leave you at risk of being in a vulnerable position if your car breaks down and needs to spend extended time with a mechanic. Without your second car to fall back on, you may have to bear the cost of a rental car for the interim period to keep your day-to-day life functioning.

    Con: Downsizing may be less convenient

    Your family may have to coordinate how your single car is used as downsizing may limit your individual mobility and independence. Figuring out how your family will get to work, school drop-offs and the grocery store may require more planning and communication to manage daily routines effectively.

    Alternatives to driving

    If downsizing to being a one-car family is the road you choose to head down, there may be some alternatives to driving that allow you to still retain some of the flexibility you enjoyed from your second car. While specific availability may vary based on your location, some possible alternatives to driving include:

    • Public transportation (i.e., buses and trains)
    • Biking
    • Walking (if feasible)
    • Rideshare services (bear in mind, frequent use may become costly in its own right)
    • Carpooling

    Even if you’re leaning toward keeping your second car, finding workable alternatives to driving could help you save money here and there on things like gas or parking fees.

    In summary

    So, is two always better than one? With cars, it really depends — your family might need the flexibility of two cars, or you may find you prefer the added savings that come from being a one-car family. It really boils down to your unique needs.

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