Should You Really Own a Car These Days?

car agent congratulate the family in a car showroom

Do you need to own a car? | iStock.com

For a long time it was expected that most people would own at least one car. Currently in the United States there are 261.8 million vehicles (cars and light trucks) registered (VIO/vehicles in operation), and this is an increase over last year. Consumer Reports recently came out with a list of the best cars to buy in 2016, and car ownership is a huge business in America. Yet, not everyone uses a car, and some people are turning in their keys and choosing to walk, bike, or use the bus instead.

Many cities are becoming less car-friendly, or more accessible for bikers and walkers. While some people feel that they truly need a car, you also might find that getting around without one is actually easier than you might think. In order to determine whether you really need to own a car, you should consider a few things.

1. Your job

If you have a long commute, and you can’t easily access a bus or train, then you might need to own a car. If you have no easy way to get to work by bike, walking, or public transportation, then you will have to own a car or find a different job. Also, many jobs require regular travel. Some companies provide company cars or rental cars, but if you are expected to provide your own transportation then you probably benefit from owning a car. Another thing to consider is that although cars have problems, and they include maintenance fees, you also may have more reliability with a car. Public transportation can be late, and you also may face the same traffic issues as car owners do. If you have to take two or three different buses just to get to work, you will be investing a lot of time and you may be late frequently.

2. Where you live

A woman looks at her smartphone as a train passes by

If you live in a city, a car might not be the most efficient way to get around | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Where you live affects whether you need to own a car in more ways than just your commute. If you live in a city or town with a lot of bike routes, then you may be able to bike regularly to work. However, the climate you live in will also matter. If you have a harsh winter, then walking or biking may not be feasible for several months of the year. If you can’t easily get to a shopping center by bus, then it will be difficult to walk or bike with a lot of groceries.

You also need to consider the general attitude of the people who live where you do: Are they friendly to pedestrians and bikers, or are drivers impatient and sometimes dangerous? According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, there was an estimated increase of 10% of pedestrians killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2014, and the number of fatalities increased 19% from 2009 to 2014.

3. Your family

elementary school kids in school corridor

Having a car is necessary for the carpool | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Your family and your unique circumstances will also affect whether you need a car. It is possible to get around with kids on the bus, on a bike, or by walking, but it is usually more complicated than simply jumping in the car. If your kids regularly need to be brought to school or activities, you may find that trying to walk, bike, or take public transportation everywhere gets exhausting. You also might find that you have too much stuff to easily get around without a car (for example, backpacks, diaper bags, snacks, and strollers). If your spouse owns a car, then you may be able to get around with just one car, but you have to consider how much extra travel the kids require.

4. Your own personal feelings

If you are against owning a car for environmental reasons, financial reasons, or a different reason, and you really want to figure out how to live without one, then you probably can do it. You can also consider asking around to see if you can carpool with co-workers when necessary, and then use alternate transportation when possible. Services like Getaround, Zipcar (Reviews.com editor’s choice), or Uber are just a few ideas.

Your own financial situation also might play into your decision. If you can’t afford a car, or you would rather spend your money on something else, then you may choose not to own a car.

Cars used to be linked to personal freedom and identity, but that isn’t always the case anymore (particularly for millennials.) For many people, social channels are the new way to create identity, and the new preference for technology has lessened the importance of cars for some people.

In the end, your decision will be yours alone. If you determine you need a car, then get shopping.

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