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My partner and I are moving soon from a suburban rental to a downtown apartment. We are both within walking distance to work (5 minutes for her, 30 for me). We coordinate our shopping needs very well and it has been months since we have each needed a separate car at the same time (and those situations would be avoided completely if we lived where we are moving to soon). I don't like driving and I can get almost everything I need within walking distance anyway. I don't mind the harsh winters either, since walking to work in the morning is entirely uphill and I am plenty warm by the halfway mark.

Her car - a 2015 Jeep she got a fantastic deal for as the dealership was trying to make room for 2017 models - was brand new when she bought it: 36 miles on the odometer. However, my 2007 Toyota Camry (which was given as a gift a few years ago and has no car loan attached) is no spring chicken. It is in no need of repairs, but I doubt it will last another 5-10 years without sinking a significant amount of money into it. Meanwhile, the only nearby overnight parking garage charges around $70 per month for a permanent pass.

I have alternative options: I can leave my car at the employee parking lot, which is an hour's walk away from our apartment or 20 minutes walk from my office, although there are nearby bus stops for each location. Leaving it at the parking lot is free of charge, although it will be exposed to the elements of the American Northeast.

Essentially my question boils down to this: is it worth hanging onto the car, either by paying to keep it within convenient distance in a garage or for free and exposed to long winters, or should I sell it sooner rather than later so that depreciation does not whittle down the value when I am approached with the decision of whether to pay for inevitable repairs or sell it as it is?

I will probably not make a decision anytime soon, but it would mean a lot to know other people's opinion of this matter.

(I expect there will be a few predictable answers along the lines of "what if you break up?" While I appreciate everybody's input, I would suggest that if that is your sole argument, you may want to ask yourself first if you have ever experienced true love.)

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    Does you area offer access to those car sharing programs like zip car or Car2Go? If so, I'd say slam dunk but I haven't kept up on the cost of those services. – MrChrister Jul 12 '16 at 14:32
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    What is your total cost per month to keep the car? You mentioned Parking add in insurance (any adjustments for lower mileage or higher for storage), maintenance (fluids and belts need changed even if not driven), cleaning (urban northeast, you'll want to wash it off regularly). Would you rather have a car or that much money in your budget for other stuff? Does that cost cover occasional car rental or Uber or cab fare? – Freiheit Jul 12 '16 at 17:20
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    @Freiheit My employer offers free annual membership fees with the local carshare program, at rates of about $8/hr, $.30/mile. We don't have Uber but the taxis are ok. I got the brakes redone last year but the tires and transmission may need replacement in the next year or so. Good point about maintenance/cleaning being necessary even if the car isn't being driven. – rm -rf slash Jul 12 '16 at 17:34
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    "I would suggest that if that is your sole argument, you may want to ask yourself first if you have ever experienced true love." This isn't really necessary, is at best groan worthy, and is a little bit insulting to your readers. I highly recommend changing it to something like, "I would prefer to make this analysis assuming that the relationship lasts." – jpmc26 Jul 12 '16 at 22:00
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    Tip: save 10 minutes walking to the employee parking lot from your apartment by walking via your office. – jwg Jul 13 '16 at 8:46
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I think you should be able to approach your decision by starting with a purely mathematical model first, and then considering the convenience of having a car on top of that. To start with, how much does it cost for you to own your car? If you never drive it, your numbers might look something like this:

  • Registration: $100/yr
  • Insurance: $500-1000/yr
  • Parking: 0 - $840/yr
  • Maintenance: ???

Adding this up you're probably in the ballpark of $600 - $2400 per year ($50 - $200 per month). If you think you would be using other transportation occasionally, you can calculate the price and compare it. Note, however, you can't just compare these costs against each other directly. If you sell the car, you also get the car's value to use against the cost of not having the car. For example, suppose it costs you $100/month to keep your car, and $150/month on average if you occasionally use other transportation. The difference is $50/month more if you don't have the car, but if you sell it and get $4000, now you have 4000/50 = 80 months (more than 6.5 years) before it would have made sense to keep the car, and presumably by then you'd be considering a new one anyway. If you currently have debt, you could also use that $4000 to pay it down and save some money on interest too.

As for convenience, that is a highly personal preference, and the biggest factors might be:

  • How often do you need to go somewhere at the same time your partner needs to go somewhere else?
  • How much time can be saved by having a car readily available when you need it?
  • How much do you value your time?

For example, if you estimate you will need your own car 4 times per month, and will save 30 minutes each time if you had a car immediately available, that saves you 2 hours per month. How much are those 2 hours worth to you?

  • Good answer. Yet with one car, that remaining (more expensive) car usage will likely go up and is a cost factor. – chux Jul 12 '16 at 17:53
  • @chux - I agree with you, but I'm not sure if the additional miles on the remaining car would affect the calculation that much. (I'm thinking maybe 50-100 miles per month?) If there were going to be a big difference in miles, then that means there would have been a lot of miles put on the 2nd car if he keeps it, and then the decision probably wouldn't have presented itself to begin with, since obviously the 2nd car gets a lot of use. – TTT Jul 12 '16 at 17:59
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    You also will want to take it for a decent spin every few months just to keep the juices flowing. That's an hour each way plus an hour or so of driving. That will add up to 6-12 hours a year which you should factor in. – corsiKa Jul 12 '16 at 18:11
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    At 5% interest, that $4,000 in 6.5 years turns into $5,263, or about an extra $20 a month! Whether it's a few bonds or paying down debt, it's still money in your pocket in the long run. – corsiKa Jul 12 '16 at 18:14
  • @TTT I chose to accept your answer (while I liked the other two) because it best quantified the situation and, most critically, factored in the opportunity costs both in time and money, which made the decision much clearer to me. Thank you very much! Honorable mention goes to corsiKa for expanding the answer by including interest over time. – rm -rf slash Jul 12 '16 at 20:27
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I, personally, would sell a car and keep the money in savings or pay some off any existing car loan. And I say this because I did exactly this. I owned a car that was depreciating quickly and would likely start needing repairs in the coming year or so. I started telecommuting and my wife and I decided to see what life would be like with only 1 car. We tried it for 2 months, leaving the to-be-sold car in the garage, and realized we were fine without it. This would likely be the best way to make the decision. Actively try not to use your car for a period of time and see what happens.

We took the money from the sale (about $5k) and paid off the remaining balance on the car we kept. It's been over a year and we haven't regretted it. The cost of renting a car for those rare occasions when you might need it will likely be cheaper than the cost of taxes and insurance on the to-be-sold car anyways. There have been a few instances where I've felt a bit trapped, because we live in the suburbs and can't reasonably walk to anything, but that's been pretty rare.

We're now in the mindset that we've been taking what we would have been paying for taxes/insurance/gas/maintenance and putting it into savings, so in the event that we decide we need a second car, we at the very least have a decent down payment ready (aiming to have enough saved for the full cost of a car, but we're not there yet).

The only value to keeping the car is if you're going to be using it. If it's just going to sit, then it's not going to do anything for you except cost money. It will never appreciate in value, so get the most for it while you can.

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    Thank you for your answer! Could you please elaborate on the types of situations where you felt "trapped" and needed a second car at the time? – rm -rf slash Jul 12 '16 at 14:39
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    @rm-rfslash Times like when my wife went out for the day and I wasn't with her and I wanted to go out to lunch or run to the store. It sometimes made doctors appointments a little more difficult to schedule as well. She also went out of town a couple of times and drove, so I wouldn't have a car for 3-4 days. In those cases, I either borrowed a car from a friend/family or made sure to stock up on any supplies I needed. We really have no public transportation and nothing to walk to, so I think these instances would be really minimal for you in your new location. – BobbyScon Jul 12 '16 at 15:14
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    Cars can fall into disrepair faster when they're not being used regularly. The battery dies, tires get flat spots, gas goes stale. You need to drive a vehicle every 2 to 4 weeks just to keep it driveable. – stannius Jul 12 '16 at 16:52
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By my personal anecdata, we are a two person family with zero cars since 2011. We live in a large city with a commuter rail system that deposits me at a suburban job with a 35 minute reverse commute. My wife walks to work 8 blocks. We spend $1800 (pretax: commuter benefit) for my rail pass and about $3000 per year on car share and rental cars (two hotels in walking distance have rental desks - weekend rates often beat car shares') including per day insurance.

This is slightly higher cash outlay than fuel, repairs and insurance but with depreciation I am well ahead per year compared to the decade I owned the RAV4. I also do not have to struggle for street parking which is an immense quality of life benefit. If you are in a dense area full of commercially viable alternatives I highly recommend it.

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Since you clearly don't need 2 cars in your new situation, I'd sell off one of the cars immediately, and park the other one in the garage for a few months. Then see if alternative transit (car share, Uber/Taxi, transit, biking, etc) works for you and if the cost savings over car ownership is worth it.

Not just in dollar value, but overall value/convenience to you - for example, if you like to make spur of the minute weekend road trips, car share may not be the best solution if you can't always find a car when you want it. Or, if you own a pet, you may find that car-share and Uber/Taxi to be difficult -- Zipcar, for example, requires pets to be in a carrier. Not a problem if you have a 10 pound dog, but if you have an 80 pound dog, just fitting the carrier in a car may be a challenge.

If after a few months you find that you don't use the remaining car, get rid of it.

Since you're not going to be commuting by car, you won't be putting many miles on the car, so I'd sell the newer car first, and hold onto the old one. A 2007 Camry should have at least a few more years of life in it without major maintenance and since it's paid off, that may as well be the one you keep. And for additional savings,you can eliminate comprehensive and/or collision insurance on it or go with a high deductible to reduce your insurance costs (your Jeep's lender almost certainly has minimum insurance requirements)

My wife and I did this when we moved to a place where neither one of us needs to commute by car - we sold the nicer car, paid off the loan, and don't worry about leaving the older car outside in the parking lot. We dropped collision and comprehensive insurance entirely (not really worth it on a $3000 car when we had a $1000 deductible). We still have liability insurance, of course. We don't have any car-share places nearby or we'd probably get rid of the car entirely.

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Older cars need to be driven regularly. If they aren't driven regularly, their parts tend to wear faster or come apart. Be particularly concerned about lubricated parts (axle, bearings, etc.) and rubber (hoses, belts, etc.). But even things like the brakes can cause problems (don't park with the emergency brake, as the pads can rust to the rotor). So I would not park your car outside and not drive it. I wouldn't even park it inside and not drive it. If you're not going to be driving it weekly, get rid of it.

Her newer car should have fewer problems like this. Brand new cars get left outside on dealer lots for a year without issue.

When I lived downtown, I only used a car to get groceries. A car sharing service worked for me after I got rid of it, and I saved on parking. Assuming she's keeping her car, you won't even need to do that. Two cars in a downtown setting is definitely more than you need. Personally, I didn't feel that I needed one car.

I'm with the others. Get rid of the car and use the proceeds to create a small investment account that you add to monthly (based on your savings from not having a car). Next time you're ready to buy a car, you'll have some money available.

  • Some new cars left alone for a week or two will not be able to start without assistance. They have so many extras waiting in standby mode that they can drain the battery. This is even true for Hybrids. – mhoran_psprep Jul 13 '16 at 10:10
  • If they aren't driven regularly, their parts tend to wear faster or come apart Have a reference for this? Our 12 year old car sits outside for weeks at a time and hasn't fallen apart yet. Why will a radiator host wear out faster when the car is parked than when it's driven every day? Why is a 10 year old wheel bearing more stressed by parking than by driving? The only precaution I've taken with the car is putting a fuel stabilizer in the tank since we sometimes go months between fillups. – Johnny Jul 13 '16 at 20:01
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What strikes me in your story are the fact that you are "moving soon", meaning you are probably making some assumptions about your needs after the move.

While I can perfectly imagine that you've thought about it long and hard, you never know.

So honestly, if I were you, I would keep the car for a month or two after the move. You've mentioned a decent parking garage for 70$ a month, that sounds like it shouldn't break your bank.

So take your time. Move first, and then judge whether you really have no justifiable use for it.

  • I have lived in this small city for my entire life, excluding college and a summer internship in California. The house we are moving from is where I grew up, and I previously spent a year living a block away from the location we are moving to. Suffice to say, I understand my needs for transportation. In other circumstances, your answer may be appropriate, but for the sake of future readers, I felt it necessary to make this distinction. Either way, thank you for your input. – rm -rf slash Jul 13 '16 at 14:28

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