The pros and cons of becoming a one-car family

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Oaken Financial

October 21, 2022

Travel and lifestyle

There are many reasons why a family may want to move from being a multi-vehicle household to a single-vehicle one. It could be the kids have moved out and there are fewer drivers in the house, or the commute to the office has been ditched in exchange for working from home or retirement. The reason could also be as simple as wanting to stop spending money on a car that is often not in use.

And, chances are the vehicle (or vehicles) you own are sitting idle more often than not. A recent study found that while 83% of Canadians own or lease a vehicle, that vehicle is unused 95% of the time. Given there are almost 24 million registered passenger vehicles in Canada, that’s a whole lot of cars sitting in a driveway or parking lot, immobile.

Whatever the motive for wanting to become a one-vehicle household, there are many pros and cons to consider before jumping in.

Pro: There will be one less vehicle to insure.

Auto insurance is expensive. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada in 2019, the average annual cost of insurance ranged from a low of $717 in Quebec to a high of $1,832 in British Columbia. For additional context, the average was $1,316 in Alberta and $1,505 in Ontario.

The potential for auto insurance savings is hard to overlook.

Con: You’ll have to plan your outings and errands.

With multiple drivers in the home and just one vehicle, everyone needs to be mindful of each other’s schedules. It takes planning ahead and coordination to ensure everyone gets to where they want to go, and when they need to be there.

Pro: You’ll save on maintenance costs.

From oil changes and new wiper blades to tire rotations and cabin filters, the annual regular maintenance required per vehicle is considerable. CAA estimates the typical Canadian vehicle owner spends $500 to $700 each year on maintenance. This estimate does not include getting new tires, winter tires, or larger repairs that are bound to happen.

Plus, with fewer vehicles that need to be tended to, there will also be fewer trips to the mechanic’s garage. You’ll save time and money.

Con: When the car is in the shop, no one has a vehicle.

Speaking of maintenance and repairs, when the vehicle is with the mechanic, there is no backup sitting in your driveway. Taking your lone vehicle in for a tune-up means you’ll need to stay at the garage or dealership while the work is being done, or find alternate arrangements. For bigger repairs that might require more than a couple of hours of work (or needs an overnight stay), not having a backup on hand may be inconvenient.

Pro: Fuel prices are going up, way up.

If you drive a plug-in electric vehicle, you might not mind the price of gasoline. For everyone else, the price at the pump is painful. According to Natural Resources Canada, the average price of regular gasoline in Canada this year (2022) is hovering around $1.768 per litre. Compare this to last year (2021) when the average price was $1.350, and the year before that when it was $1.031, and no one would blame you for wondering how high gasoline prices could go.

Con: Alternate transit options will vary.

When you’re without the car, say your partner has it for the day or it’s in the shop for repairs, impromptu outings will rely on your knowledge of, and access to, transit alternatives. Depending on where you live, you may have many options available to you or very few. Whatever options you have, the key is to know about them in advance, otherwise you may find yourself occasionally ‘stuck’ at home.

Alternatives to owning a second vehicle

When you are thinking about downsizing to one vehicle, knowing your transit options can help ease the transition. Unfortunately, travel options are not the same everywhere. There are more alternatives to owning a second vehicle for someone who lives in an urban setting than in a rural one. For the latter, it may not make sense to forgo having a second set of wheels handy.

When it does make sense to downsize, however, the options for getting around when you don’t have access to your car may include the following:

Carpooling with friends and family

  • Ride-sharing services
  • Occasionally renting a vehicle
  • Joining a car-sharing service
  • Cycling or walking
  • Using public transit
  • Taking taxis

While many of these options come at a price, you’ll want to compare these outlays with the total yearly cost of car ownership.

Statistics Canada estimated in 2019 the cost of owning a vehicle to be $11,258, based on Canadian households owning an average of 1.4 vehicles. This value includes both the costs of buying or leasing, as well as the operating costs throughout the year. And, it’s a sizeable dollar value. If you don’t need a second vehicle or can find ways to make having one vehicle work, that’s a lot of potential savings that you can spend elsewhere.

It’s worth a look if nothing else.