What is your second car worth?

Your family’s first car is incredibly valuable. In the US, a family’s first car represents a tremendous increase in mobility. It exponentially expands the number of places you can work, study, shop, and visit. The first car makes it possible for you to get a better job, get an education, and ultimately improve your social standing.

But your family’s second car is not quite as valuable. While it might seem like it’s necessary to own two cars, in fact, there are millions of American families who live happily in suburban locations with only one car.

How do these families get around? They use public transit, bicycles, and their feet in addition to that first car.

In our networked age, the second car provides only a small fraction of the benefits compared to the first car. At best, the second car allows somebody in your family to get to a job or school. However, this assumes that there are no reasonable alternatives available. If you think you need your second car ask yourself these questions:

  • what would you do if you didn’t have the second car?
    • could you carpool, take the bus, or even ride a bicycle instead of driving?
    • what are the consequences of not making the trip?
  •  how much do you pay to keep the second car?
    • are the trips you need the second car for worth these fixed costs?

As internet connectivity approaches 100% of homes and workplaces in North America, the need for second (and third) household vehicles becomes more flimsy. Americans increasingly are turning to online shopping for their regular household needs. Services like the “Amazon Dash Button” allow families to re-order common household supplies with the push of a button. This eliminates the need for a car trip, and possibly the need for a second car.

Improved connectivity also allows more people to work from home. As more households gain access to high bandwidth internet connections, employers are finding value in allowing people to work remotely. Families who enjoy this arrangement may have very little use for a second car.

Do you want to find out what your family would do without the second car? Make a commitment to leave your car parked for a full week. Put the keys in a place that’s inconvenient and mark your calendars for the day you can use it again. Pay attention to the sorts of decisions you make. Do you find yourself doing more online shopping? Did you decide to dust off your bicycle for a trip to the grocery store? You might be surprised at how little you need your second car.

Besides the cost, why should families consider shedding their second cars?

When the car is the exclusive mode of transportation, every trip you make generates greenhouse gases. When you drive everywhere your physical fitness suffers as you miss opportunities for walking and biking. When driving, you spend time waiting in traffic rather than interacting with your family and community.

For your first car, these trade-offs might be worthwhile. But these environmental, physical, and social costs are awfully difficult to justify when your family has reasonable alternatives to driving.

Families around North America are figuring out how to get around in ways that don’t harm the environment, improve their physical fitness, and grow community. These families have realized that their second cars are not worth what they once thought.