Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Going Car Free - The Process!

A couple months ago, I had bought and read the book,
"How to Live Well Without A Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier and Get More Mileage Out of Life" by Chris Balish. I was curious to read what the author had to say about living car free...what practical ways you could go about it. I was curious to see if it was, indeed, possible to live without a car, even to live WELL without a car. :) That seemed like an oxymoron - everything in America SHOUTS at you to own or lease a car, drive a car, isn't life luxurious with a car, impressing everyone with your car, the freedoms that you have with a car, how happy you are if you have a car, etc., etc. There are ENDLESS and obnoxiously loud commercials on TV and radio to get you to buy a new or used car.
I owned a 1995 Ford Ranger - similar to the one shown above. When I had bought it when my Ford Mustang died back in Dec. 1999. I entertained the thought that I could probably live without a car. When I mentioned it to my brother, he loudly protested and said that I couldn't do that - that I really needed a car. He took me around in the freezing weather to look at car lots and check out various vehicles. I decided to get the Ford Ranger because at the time, I had a kayak, camping equipment, bicycles, etc. and it would be handy to have a pick-up truck to tote it all around. Plus, everytime I've had to move, I've always had to find someone who had a pick-up truck or van to help me. Now I would be able to have my own. And, contrary to some people who own pick-up trucks or off-road vehicles, and never use them for the purpose, I DID use mine in many ways.
The past number of years though, I was using my pick-up truck mainly on the weekend...never hardly on a weekday. I ride my bicycle to work (32 miles roundtrip a day). (See my bicycling blog, On my bike commute, I pass through various towns and city areas that offer just about anything I would need. I sometimes would stop along the commute to pick up things I needed or to run errands. By the time I get home (7 p.m.), I was tired from the commute and had no need or desire to go out. I saved most of my errands for the weekend.
My pick-up truck was handy, and for the most part, reliable. I hadn't had too many repair incidents. But now it was 12 years old, with 107,000 miles on it. Even though I didn't use it much, I wondered and hoped if it could last another 5-10 years. One never knows with cars....though I had heard that pick-up trucks were built to last longer than cars.
When I read this book, it makes you look at all the many, many ways that your car depletes your bank account, and also your free time. Usually, people don't think about those things...they just think about how handy, helpful or reliable the car is. When it becomes unreliable, they look to get another vehicle and start the process all over again.
I took a hard look at my yearly expenses with my truck. Even though I had been lucky to not have car repairs, I did still have to fill up the tank (and these days, gas was going for about $3.11 a gallon) - my truck did not get good gas mileage -- maybe 10-12-15 mpg. It was costing me about $40 to fill the tank. Add in the cost of monthly insurance ($60), oil changes, state inspection, vehicle registration, state tax, and it adds up - and for me to just have a car to run errands or see friends/family on the weekend.
All this had been percolating in the back of my mind...and then on Nov. 28, a night before I was heading out for a trip to Las Vegas, I got an e-mail from the Washington Area Bicycle Association, inviting people to donate their cars for auction, and in turn, they would be given a FREE, LIFETIME membership with Zipcar! (car-sharing program - (Normally, for a new account, you had to pay $25 for the application fee, and then either a $50/month or $50/year membership fee, plus an hourly/daily fee for car use). If I donated my truck before the end of November (just TWO days later), they would also credit $500 to your new Zipcar account (to be used within a year) for the use of Zipcar. If you donated by Dec. 15, they would just give you $100 on your Zipcar account, still not bad. With Zipcar, they pay for any gas that you use and also insurance. You just have the hourly fee (between $9-$11). The thought of NEVER having to pay for gas or insurance again sure was appealing!! Zipcar has cars located all over the metro D.C. area (and other cities in the U.S.), parking them on streets, in parking lots, and in garages. The Zipcars available to share are various makes & models - anything from small cars, pick-ups, SUVs, hybrids, and sports cars.
Well, the free $500 was definitely a bigger incentive to do it before the end of November...but it wasn't a lot of time to really seriously THINK about doing this! I spoke to a representative at Zipcar, and they said really, all I needed to do before the end of November, was to give them the car information (title number, make, model, mileage, etc.). When I got back from my trip, I could arrange for the truck to be picked up. So that gave me a little "buffer" to think about it further, and I could even back away from doing it if I wanted to.
It's a different thing if you're thinking about doing something like this, when you have an old jalopy in the driveway, that doesn't run and looks like crap. But that wasn't the case with my truck. Sure, there were some scratches and dents, and the paint job was starting to fade. And the truck was starting to do funny little electronic things where bells rang for no reason, various lights came on for no reason, the transmission was feeling like it was starting to long did I have before things did seriously fail?
Well, I figured if this "experiment" didn't work, I could always just buy another used car, as I have in the past...and at least it could be one with better gas mileage than my truck. :) I had a mixed reaction from my friends and family - some thought I was crazy and it was a mistake; others said I was a perfect candidate and that if anyone could pull it off, I could! :)
So, I took the car-free plunge. It was scary - it was daring! I was almost shaking while I made the call to donate my truck....but I tried to remain calm and keep my wits, not allowing myself to back down. I knew in my heart that I could probably pull this off. I would figure out the other logistics later, of how to get around, take care of errands, and see family & friends. As the book pointed out, it just required a little more planning - not just last-minute, spontaneous car trips...which we're all used to. :) Fortunately also, I live about a mile from a bus line that goes into D.C., and also another bus that can bring me to the subway. I also have a couple of neighbors I could ask for a ride from, as a last resort, or even call for a cab! :)
The day was scheduled for the tow truck to pick my truck up. I was told to leave the title and the keys in the glove box that morning and it would be picked up by 3 p.m. It was a weird feeling at work that day, knowing this would happen. Someone would be coming with a tow truck to haul away my perfectly good vehicle, my faithful friend for the past 7 years, my buddy, my good 'ole pal.
When I biked home and turned the corner to my street, I looked up and, of course, my pick-up was gone. It was still a little bit of a shock to the system, because you're ALWAYS used to seeing it there! Like having your mom being there when you got off school. Like your cat or dog greeting you at the door when you came home. Like the sun rising and setting. It was a normal routine in life.
But now, my main "wheels" and transportation would be my bike & my legs. Well, actually, I have FOUR bikes at home - a small FLEET. :) If one fails, another one is standing nearby to come to the rescue. :) I had even taken an in-depth bicycle repair class this past Spring, so I could try and learn how to fix the more common repairs on my bike, that occur with my daily commute. I bought a bike stand and some tools, and have a good repair manual. I've replaced a few things on my bike so far, and hopefully it'll continue to go well...learning as I go. :)
And, of course, I now had Zipcar available, and other transportation options, so it's not like I was destitute. :)
I wanted to start this blog to capture my feelings and thoughts and experiences as I go through life car-free. Hopefully it will inspire someone else to take the plunge also. To better themselves and their life, and the world around them. :)


Bill said...

You are still my ideal!
Bill, Topeka KS

Anna said...

Good Luck Charmy! I am sorry I wasn't as positive about this venture when you told me. I think now after reading your blog that it will work out for you just fine.
Look forward to reading your future installments!
Luv always!

Freewheel said...

Wow, what a great way to start the new year. I'm looking forward to checking back to see how it goes.

Luanne said...

Char, you are a most daring soul for sure. It's amazing how reliant we have become on the car parked in the driveway. I'm not so sure I would be able to do that. I've considered it, but so use to having the convenience of the car. But as you mentioned in your blog, if anyone could do it, you could :-) Great post.

The School Girl said...

I had never heard of Zipcar before. I'm seriously thinking of getting rid of my car some time in the future. I too much for it to say that it sits in a parking lot all day. Bike commuting with Zipcar to fill in the gaps might be the way to go. Thanks for broadening my world a little bit!

lena varuolo said...

You have jumped another notch on my admiration, my friend. You were quite brave taking the plunge! An inspiration to those of us who are thinking the same. Thanks for sharing your story