Becoming a One-Car Family in the Suburbs

There's a lot more room in the garage.

Pink car in a garage

Ed Freeman / Getty Images

I’m going to put up a sign-out sheet on the refrigerator for the family car.

Nearly a year ago, we became a one-vehicle family. We didn’t really think about it all that much. Our son was moving across the country for his new job and would need a car. My husband and I both worked from home, even pre-pandemic, and didn’t drive all that much.

So when our son moved, the trusty 2010 Honda Accord went with him. 

We live in the sprawling suburbs of Atlanta where nobody walks (except to take a walk) and it’s relatively unheard of not to have one car per driver. We're hardly alone: The number of households with two or more cars has increased substantially, from 22% in 1960 to 58% in 2017.

Where we live, many teenagers get a car when they’re old enough to drive because parents are ferrying their kids to school, games, practices, and whatever, and that adds one more driver to the lineup.

Some of them inherit a family car from the garage; others get something new and fancy that’s all their own.

When our son turned 16, he drove the Accord to school and all his various activities. My husband leased an electric Nissan Leaf because, at the time, he was commuting downtown. When the kid went off to college in Midtown Atlanta, he no longer required a car, relying instead on public transportation, walking, and the occasional kindness of friends with wheels.

The Accord came home to roost and the Leaf went back to the dealership.

But now that we have one well-cared-for 2011 medium-sized SUV with nearly 100,000 miles in the garage, we see no reason to add another vehicle.

Some of our friends are baffled. What happens if we both want to go someplace? What if there’s an emergency? Don’t we miss the freedom of having our own cars?

Obviously, there are carshare services for emergencies and we just plan our trips. For example, my husband recently went on his annual (except for 2020) golf trip with his brothers and rented a car for a long weekend.

The Next Step

When our current vehicle dies, which we hope is a long time from now, we’ll no doubt get an electric one.

But as Treehugger columnist Sami Grover recently wrote in a piece on electric car battery recycling, electric cars aren’t enough. Car reduction is the second piece of the puzzle. We just need fewer cars on the road.

It makes sense. But it’s hard when you live in the suburbs and there’s no public transportation, few sidewalks, and you have to drive everywhere.

We figured out it’s no big deal. We just combine our errands, move the seat around a lot, and revel in not paying that extra insurance payment.

Compared to some of my coworkers—like design editor Lloyd Alter, who rides his bike almost everywhere; senior writer Katherine Martinko, who is an e-bike pro; and editorial director Melissa Breyer who lives in NYC and doesn’t even own a car—this may seem like such a tiny step.

But in the sprawling suburbs of Atlanta, I hope it makes an impact. And at least there’s more room in the garage.

View Article Sources
  1. "Percentage of Households by Number of Vehicles, 1960-2017." The Geography of Transport Systems.