How we ended up ‘Without Wheels’

without wheels

Kyle and Karen celebrate the purchase of our 2008 VW Rabbit in September 2010. We traded in our Mini Cooper and Kyle’s Honda Element because we didn’t need two cars. (And I got tired of moving both of them within their zones every 72 hours.)

I never thought I’d ever give up my car and live without wheels. Owning a car was always necessary — while living in rural Sandy Hook, Conn., attending college in Lakeland, Fla., and living in suburban neighborhoods in Central and South Florida. A car was as essential as the roof over my head. To get to work, shop, go out for meals, spend a weekend exploring, shuttling my son there and back — living without wheels would have been sooo restrictive. I needed them to be a productive member of society and to have fun.

When my wife Karen, son Kyle and I moved to Seattle in March of 2009, we drove across the country in two cars. We had pared down from three cars, but we still hadn’t seriously considered the cost of owning an automobile in an urban area. When we made the decision to live downtown, we suddenly realized there was an additional expense — either financially or one of convenience. Instead of paying $180 a month to park in our building, we opted for restricted zone street parking, which only cost $48 (2009 price) for a two-year pass in Zone 7 .

The only challenge with zone parking is you must move your car every 72 hours. At first, we didn’t think it would be a big deal to move frequently, but we quickly realized city living meant we walked to the things we used to drive to back in Florida, which meant our car was only being used once or twice a week. So, we had to move our car a few times a week, and that became a bit of a hassle because there seemed to be more cars than available parking, leading me to drive around for 15-30 minutes on occasion looking for an open spot. Still, it was worth six-block walks in the rain to avoid paying a monthly garage rate. Living without wheels was definitely doable now, but we really didn’t consider it at the time.

But when Seattle realigned the restricted zones four years ago, our rather convenient zone became more challenging because there were fewer spots than before. I learned that the hard way when I went to move my car and found a parking ticket on the window. I was within the 72-hour window, so I was puzzled … until I noticed a parking meter 15 feet down the curb. What used to be our zone was now street parking.

Around the same time, we were able to negotiate a lower monthly rent due to the loss of the grocery in our building (long story), but the lower rent made it affordable to pay for the monthly parking in our building.

Fast forward to January 2015. We decided to move to a new apartment after living in the same place for six years. We quickly discovered that rising rents meant we would either need to pinch pennies or move to the suburbs. The debate was a short one after Karen and I both professed our love for urban living. Pinching pennies won.

After analyzing expenses in a spreadsheet, the numbers staring back were clear: Car ownership was a significant expense — and one we really didn’t need to burden ourselves with since we only used our car a one or two times a week. But if we give up our car, how much will it cost to get around without wheels? I crunched a few more numbers, and it was shocking.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 2.59.37 AMThe numbers listed in the right chart are probably double what we’d end up spending. With an Orca card (bus and light rail), Car2Go and Zipcar memberships, and renting a car when needed, we would easily reduce our expenses by more than $400 per month.

The decision was easy. On February 5, I visited AutoTrader.com’s instant offer page, completed the self-evaluation of the car’s condition and pressed send. Ten minutes later, my phone rang and a dealer was interested in buying our car. And two days after that, we were standing in a parking lot in Bellevue without wheels.

Moving forward, we will document our journey as a carless couple navigating the numerous transit options in Seattle. We’re neophytes and we have a lot to learn, so stay tuned for what we hope will be an interesting and educational ride, without wheels.

3 thoughts on “How we ended up ‘Without Wheels’

  1. Pingback: Going carless in Seattle makes more sense every day

  2. I would think that maintenance and gas costs would be much higher than you estimated but maybe being in a urban area you are driving much less than the average American.
    I have had interesting discussions with friends about going carless. They often get a look of fear on their face when they think about it. Cars are very important to Americans.

    • I rarely used my car more than 3-4 times a month. On occasion, business projects had me using more frequently a few years ago, but over the past two years, I simply didn’t use my car enough to warrant paying the costs to own it. Once I put the numbers on paper, it was a no-brainer.

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