The end of life without owning a car

Our car story got another episode a few months ago and therefore became a trilogy. Just over four years ago in episode one I discussed our reasons for the somewhat unconventional move of getting rid of our car. A year later in episode two I reported on how it was going. It was going pretty good. I ended that piece by stating: “So we plan to continue being car-free for as long as it has more upsides than downsides for us. How long that will be, I cannot tell.” This time has come, because we now have a car again, after having been car-free for three and a half years.

Why?

There are three main reasons that we decided go back to a life of car ownership. Corona (yes, Corona is still affecting our lives considerably, a year and a half after I wrote about it here) stands for the first two. We are not travelling abroad at all, but instead doing road trips in Sweden. Since the Corona outbreak started we have been renting cars considerably more often than before. So often that we naturally started to question renting and started to consider getting our own car again.

The second reason is that the public transport authority in Stockholm was until October 2021 pleading the public not to ride with them in case of unnecessary travel. Since we have been working from home from March 2020, it is hard to say any of our trips were necessary. But being at home all the time is not something we are good at as a family. Staying put was not an option for us, and moving about was never against the permissive Corona rules in Sweden, but we had a guilty conscience whenever using the public transport. The solution was to get our own car. What an ironic turn of events – using public transport had meant that we were helping the planet. Now we were instead putting the society at risk of disease.

The last but by no means least reason is that Aneta is pregnant (she is due at the beginning of November). Constant access to a car is essential for us while having an infant.

How does it feel to decide to get a car again?

It is a mixed bag. The reasons I listed above are strong, but it still felt like a defeat when we took the decision to get a car again. I liked our car-free lifestyle. I liked that we were doing our small part in the fight against climate change. I liked that we were setting a good example. I liked that we were pioneers in our circle of friends. All of this is now gone. What is back are the drawbacks of owning a car – all the time consuming tasks of tire change, car wash, maintenance. On the other hand I have to admit – I really like the convenience of constant car availability. If we want to go somewhere, the car is just an elevator ride away.

What kind of car?

Deciding on the type of car to get in 2021 in a country leading the work on fighting climate change was not trivial. My environment (see what I did there?), my engineering curiosity and my value system were screaming “electric car”, only to be instantly quieted by my wallet. The premium for electric cars over equivalent fossil fuel cars is about 200 000 SEK (I don’t have statistical data to back this up, it is just a feeling after some price comparing). I am not yet ready to pay that. Especially not knowing for how long we will keep the car. The infrastructure is still saying “fossil fuel car”. Granted, I do have the possibility of charging in our garage, thanks to my forward thinking tenants association (bostadsrättsförening in Swedish) which installed chargers a few years ago. But taking any longer trip with an electric car is a whole other experience, a logistical challenge, as the public charging infrastructure leaves a lot to desire.

Another interesting aspect to the decision are the Swedish politicians that are advocating for a stop in fossil fuel car sales by 2030. Which would mean that if I keep a fossil fuel car for nine years, its second hand value will be zero. To be honest, that risk feels small, as I do not believe that Sweden will go fully electric in only nine years. On the other hand, I do understand where the politicians are coming from – we need clear incentives for the public to start buying electric cars in more considerable numbers. This will also trigger the car producers to invest more in developing electric cars, which will drive their price down, which will drive the demand up. Which will also push further investments into the infrastructure. Or should we have the infrastructure in place first before we can expect the demand for electric cars to go up? In any case, this transition will not happen on its own. These are exciting times and I feel privileged to be living during the shift towards electric cars. I would like to mention that I am aware that even electric cars have their own problems, and that they are not a silver bullet. They might solve the issue of CO2 emissions during use, but they definitely do not solve the issue of CO2 emission during production.

So what did we opt for in the end? A compromise. A hybrid. A car whose price is reasonable, that will allow us to take longer trips, but that will also make us feel slightly better than using a pure fossil fuel car. Slightly…

Which model?

Having one kid and preparing for the arrival of another one, I do not have the luxury of time as I used to. The old me would go into a months long process of choosing the optimal car. I would put our requirements on paper, read reviews, follow prices. There would be an Excel sheet involved. Probably also a weighted sum. But now we took a shortcut. We put our considerable rental car experience to use and limited the search space to only two models that we rented on multiple occasions: Toyota Corolla (a station wagon) and Toyota C-HR (a small SUV). The convenience of a large boot capacity versus more fun while driving. The latter won. We will solve the lack of boot space with a roof box.

Used or new?

Used, always. Buying a new car is not a financially sound decision. There is a rule of thumb stating that a new car looses around 30 percent of its value the moment you leave the dealership. So I started looking at ads for a one to three year old C-HR. And I realized quickly that a new one costs only about 20 000 SEK more than a used one. This left me baffled. The aforementioned rule of thumb failed miserably. This also meant that not paying the premium of 20 000 SEK was not a sound decision when factoring in the risk of buying a used car versus buying a new one. So we bought a new one. The only drawback was the delivery time, as we could have gotten a used car immediately. But we were not in a hurry. And in retrospect, taking into account all the recent issues with supply chains and the chip shortage that hit the car industry, our 40 day wait was minuscule.

The future?

I don’t know. Not having a car was never meant to be a permanent state. We were car-free while it worked for us. I guess the same applies for having a car – we will continue for as long as it has more upsides than downsides for us. But I do feel unsure in the decision to get a hybrid. Maybe we should have opted for an electric car anyway. Ah well…

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