America has long had a love affair with the automobile. Far from a mere instrument of transportation, the car has been an American icon for almost a century, often being treated with more affection than the owner’s family. Fueled greatly by the post-war, baby boomer years of consumption, the automobile became a work of art, and stylistically so. Oft characterized as “she” and lovingly so, the 1950s automobile had both its woes and rewards. Those who let theirs go, often wish they had not. Overall, they were not frumpy, which cannot be said of the big-box and smaller cracker-box utility vehicles from General Motors’ militaristic Hummer to the practical Honda FIT and Toyota Scion. But times have changed and many have exchanged art for reliability, comfort, convenience and advancing technology. And while many urban (and even some suburban) dwellers are opting to go car-free and craft a pedestrian or pedal friendly lifestyle, there are still those in the heartland that depend on transportion to some extent for connection to the outside world, supplies for the homestead, and all forms of entertainment; including me.

It all began nearly two weeks ago when the right, rear brake began locking up on our 21-year old Ford Ranger we affectionately named ‘Trusty Rusty.’ We started by replacing the wheel cylinder, then a brake pad, then a brake line – we were throwing good money after bad. Crystal and I had been talking a while about a new, more reliable, and more fuel efficient car, but this seemed to be the swan song for Rusty. It was time to get serious about replacing him. While we hate the thought of now having a car payment, more expensive insurance, and another car on the road, we knew that if we stuck with a few tips we could survive with a car without giving up on our value system of a more pedestrian-friendly society.

1. Start with a micro-action

Our truck could be fixed, yes. But even so it was not fulfilling our needs. It is not great on gas. It leaks when it rains. It has severe rust. But, it will make a great farm truck which allows us to repurpose Rusty. Purchasing a new car needed to be a step in the right direction rather than a be-all-that-ends-all. We decided our car would be limited to 20-25 miles a week. This included trips to nearby Kinston, NC where we pick up a number of supplies each month. We continue to incorporate walking and cycling into our daily trips around town. It would allow us financial freedom of sorts (gas is not at $2.23/gallon here for 87 octane) as well as keep up our health choices.

Exercise: Park your car for a week and walk or ride your bike everywhere. Try to carpool if necessary. Use the bus if one is available. See just how much you NEED a car.

2. Calculate the cost-benefit ratio

There is no doubt about it. Automobiles are expensive. The AARP suggests

  • Americans spend 1/4 of their current income on cars.
  • The average American spends $8,410 per year to own a vehicle or $700/month.

Next to sending a child to college or owning a home, car ownership is the third largest household expense in the U.S.

Exercise: Add up the monthly cost of your car(s) in terms of car payments, maintenance, gas, insurance, etc.? Multiply it by 12.

3. Make your car part of your arsenal

If you decide not to own a car you aren’t limited to bicycling or even walking. Depending on where you live you can consider the bus, a train, carpooling, community vehicles, etc. Taking a multi-esque attitude to transportation can be a great way to make life easier, healthier, and more interactive.

Exercise: Call a friend who also goes to your church or a family that also drives their kids to school and talk about potential carpool options and interest.

4. Get healthy

We all know that sitting idle in a car does nothing for the cardiovascular system, the waistline, the hips, etc. In fact, the rates of active transportation have declined significantly in the U.S. within the last ten year. A larger number of people will drive a few miles to the convenience store than to walk or bike, no matter what the weather conditions. I can only think that because of such (mixed with poor eating/exercising habits) obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and heart conditions, are up significantly.

5. Get connected to your community

The U.S. has seen a noted resurgence in cycling. Groups have sprung up in cities and towns across the map. And as gas prices continue to rise on what seems like a daily basis, new community and activity groups have been formed. Not only do they get you out of the drivers seat but they also allow a great opportunity to meet new people in your community and see your city streets in a new way!

Are you ditching your car soon? If not, what is the purpose of your car(s)? Are you finding everyway you can to save money at the pump? Tell us about it. And if you think your friends are interested in these (and other Tiny r(E)volution) thoughts, Tweet out the link or Share us on Facebook!