Cars: A Convenience/Hate Relationship

I live in Washington, DC. I park on the street because it’s free. Sometimes it’s annoying when I arrive in the area late at night because it’s difficult to find parking close to my building, but most of the time I don’t have to park very far away.

There are trees lining the street I live on. I like those trees a lot…except when I park underneath one and limbs fall off and smash my hood!

Car Damage! Stupid tree limbs.

More car Damage! Stupid tree limbs.

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Reasons Why My Car is Convenient:

1. I drive to work. The building where I’m currently working is located 8 miles from my apartment and it’s not easily Metro-accessible. I’ve heard I can take Metro to the Pentagon and get on a bus from there, but by the time I walked to the Metro station near my apartment…took Metro into Virginia…waited for and rode the bus…it would take me way longer to commute than it does now.

However, I hope to cross this issue off my list one day. It would be awesome not to drive to work (either by telecommuting, or taking Metro, or walking/biking to my job location).

Although my drive only takes 15-20 minutes in the morning, traveling home at night is a crap-shoot. On good days, I can get home in 20-25 minutes. On bad days, it’s more like 45-60 minutes.

2. Grocery shopping. I like a grocery store in Virginia better than the one located a few blocks from my apartment, so I usually take my car there every week or two to stock up.

(Alternative: Go to the damn grocery store that’s closer to me.)

3. Slightly longer drives. For instance, trips to see people located in DC or in the greater metro area.

(Alternative: I could take Metro, but sometimes that requires switching lines — which increases travel time — and the people I visit don’t always live close to a Metro station.)

4. Much longer drives. I drive to Richmond to visit my family every 6 weeks or so. This trip is a little over 100 miles one-way.

(Alternative: I could take Amtrak, but sometimes the schedules are wonky and I’d have to rely on their timetables instead of my own.)

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Given the examples above, it makes sense for me to continue paying for the monthly insurance, gas, and general upkeep like oil changes, car washes, tires, etc. On the plus side, I haven’t had a car payment since 2003 and I’d like to keep it that way.

I admit, not having a car intrigues me. I like reading about people who don’t have cars — even people with kids — and how they make it work.

However, while I admire people who make a car-free lifestyle work, I also realize there are certain situations when a car is just more convenient than taking alternate transportation. In those situations, you can always rent a car: either by the day (through a typical car-rental agency), or if you live in a city like DC, you can subscribe to Zipcar (a service which allows you to rent a vehicle by the hour or by the day).

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Reasons Why I Dislike My Car:

1. Things go wrong. [See tree-smashing-hood issue above.] My car already has existing body damage (like scratches on the rear bumper, because I park on the street and that’s just what happens when you parallel park so often), but I realize that every dent and scratch affects the resale value.

2. Maintenance. I cannot stand having to take care of car-related matters, such as oil changes, inspections, and repairs. I am a patient person in general when it comes to almost anything else, but I tend to put off these appointments until I absolutely can’t put them off anymore.

3. Many, many other reasons. Other people have said it more eloquently than I can, so here are a few reads:

Zen Habits: Lessons From a Car-Free Life
Rowdy Kittens: A Moral Imperative to Drive Less
Becoming Minimalist: How to Go Car-Lite

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In all the reasons I gave for “Why My Car is Convenient,” the biggest deterrent to a car-free lifestyle is my commute to work. Although I may not work at this particular location for a long time, if I stay with this employer I could just as easily be sent to work at their Tysons Corner location. (For those who don’t live in this area: commuting to Tysons Corner would be Zan’s Version of Hell. As it is for many, many other people. A Metro expansion will take trains to that area one day, but not until 2013 at the earliest.)

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My vehicle history: I’ve had a car ever since I was 16, when my dad gave me his brown Chevrolet Chevette. When that car died a year later, I went through a few more older-model vehicles — a Mustang and a Geo Storm. When I was 19, I bought my first and only new car, a 2000 Honda Civic (silver EX coupe). I had that vehicle until 2007 when it was hit by a drunk illegal immigrant and the car was totaled (the driver was later apprehended and deported out of the country). I replaced it with the car I currently own, a 2002 Honda Civic (silver EX coupe). Yes, I bought the exact same car, just a few years newer. Both of them have been very dependable and get good gas mileage.

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Will I give up my car? Since it would involve changing my current lifestyle a bit, there are no immediate plans. But I like thinking about it.

3 Comments



  1. The first time I lived in DC I didn’t have a car…but I’d never owned a car, didn’t really know how to drive, and had never had a driving lifestyle. Now, although I drive maybe once every week or two, and I walk to work, to the grocery store, etc, I am very reluctant to give up my car. I visit my mom in VA lots of weekends and I shop at Costco in VA – and could not haul the quantities of stuff we buy on the metro. Cars in DC are a hassle, but it’s very hard to give up the convenience.

    Posted April 29, 2011 at 9:26 pm #
  2. Is it possible for you to combine grocery shopping with the commute home? That might be a way to reduce car trips.

    I agree with the admirable goal of not owning a car, in theory, but I have yet to put this goal into practice despite living in many walkable areas. It’s a hard thing to give up a car. On the bright side, you have no car payments and not too much expense with the car, right?

    Posted May 2, 2011 at 9:41 am #
  3. You don’t look 31, whatever that means! What I think i mean is that you look good, no matter what age you are and that’s the most important thing!

    Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

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