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Why Do Many Families Have Two Vehicles These Days?

I wrote an article recently, and in it I talked about families with more than one car, and how that seems to be the norm.  My friend Julie mentioned that it is just too difficult in her family, with kids and errands and chores, and their family needed two cars.

I’m not debating that fact at all; I think if you asked most Americans with two cars they would basically say the same thing that Julie said.  That got me wondering, though, back to when I was a kid.  I can only think of one family in our neighborhood that had two cars, and they were upper-middle class.  All the rest of my friends, their families made do with one car.

Our family always had one car, and both of my parents worked.  My dad took the car to work and mom took the bus.  I took the bus home from school, and that’s just the way it was.  If I needed to go anywhere, I left a note and rode my bicycle.

I guess my question to all of you is what has changed in the half-century since I was a kid?  Why do Americans insist on having two vehicles?  I am not judging; rather, I am curious what has changed in our way of thinking to lead us to this two-vehicle mindset.

I look forward to your comments.  Again, I am in no way judging; I welcome your input to satisfy my curiosity!

Bev and I only have one car. Because of our commitment to living simple, we have decided to make do with only one car, and it has worked out fine.  We arrange our schedules and somehow it works….and yes, Bev has a teenage daughter who is active in sports and needs rides to and fro….but somehow we make it work.

Anyway, thanks for your input!


About Billybuc

A simple man who has found happiness as a functioning dysfunctional.

19 responses »

  1. Wow! We’ve thought about downsizing, but you know, we have two cars for a few important reasons. We live 35 minutes from the nearest city, and 7 miles from the nearest store. When we run errands and otherwise don’t need space, we use our gas-efficient 7-year-old car. But, for towing trailers, tractors, boats (yes, we have a boat that is way older than I am, lol) we use my husband’s lightweight truck. We use to truck to haul firewood when we can’t get it off our mountain by hand and when he’s doing rock work, he has to haul rain barrels (yes, rain barrels, hehe) as a source of water. So, we only ever really use one car at a time and often, we won’t use one car or the other for a week or more at a time. It works for us, though. We’ve thought about selling both and getting a medium-sized pickup with more space and 4-wheel drive to handle the needs of the mini-farm, but still okay on gas. However, we also drive across the country twice a year and that would be awful on the gas mileage. Soo, we settle for a 7-year-old car and a 20-year-old truck. 🙂 Interesting discussion!

  2. Thanks Cyndi! I appreciate you adding to the discussion! I’m still wondering why families only needed one vehicle back in the day and why that has changed in today’s society?

  3. Bill, we too have 2 cars. My husband works 45 minutes away and works sometimes almost 10 hours a day. There truly is no way with two kids (now one in pre-school) that I could not have a car to get the kids to and from, so we are literally stuck on this one. I have to tell you though for my my monthly expenses, as for car payments (we still have one that is almost paid up on Kevin’s car) and car insurance too, I wish that we could suffice with the one car. Nice article though and as always you always give some really good food for thought 🙂

  4. Hey Billy,
    Great post! Made me want to jump right in and comment! 🙂 I think there are lots of reasons, but you hit on a good point when you talked about yourself as a kid. Nowadays, kids aren’t expected to walk/ride places because its deemed too dangerous. When I was ten, I rode my bike everywhere, but I know lots of ten year olds that aren’t even allowed to stay home alone!

    So that’s one thing. Two, I think more and more people commute farther, there are two parents working, and public transportation isn’t as much a priority in the suburbs. I can imagine if the towns and rural areas would get onboard with the bus/train idea, people might be more apt to use it. But in our town, it is highly unreliable.

    It’s a good discussion starter for sure!

  5. Hi Bill, I think that back when you and I were kids that like Julie said there was less worry about our safety. We walked and bicycled all over the countryside without a care. Our parents got by with one car as you said because in many cases, mom still stayed at home as the keeper of the family and dad worked. Even in those families that had two working parents, they shared the car or one possibly carpooled with coworkers. These days, it seems there is an underlying feeling of independence that having a car provides and the basic “Family Model” has been lost.

    • Interesting Mark! I don’t know why I have been thinking about this lately, other than I’m just missing the old days and wondering why we have moved so far away from it.

      Thanks buddy!

  6. Melanie Chisnall

    Interesting topic, Bill. In our case, we had two cars up until around the beginning of the year. Geoff worked about an hour away, and I worked closer to home. He also had some sports that he did sometimes straight after work. Back then, we didn’t think twice about having two cars. And now, with me taking up freelancing full time, we need some extra money and there is no reason for us to have two. We’re in the process of selling mine and so far we’ve managed to get along with one car for the past 6 months. It’s easier I guess because I work from home and we don’t have any kids. Still, the choice of having a second car to go to the shop when I wanted to, was a luxury I took for granted. At least we have a newer, working car between the two of us that doesn’t break down. For that, I am grateful! Great discussion point 🙂

    • Thanks Mel! We had two cars up until six months ago as well; I sold mine for extra money and we haven’t missed having it. Oh sure, there are some inconveniences, but the difference in money for insurance and upkeep more than makes up for the inconvenience.

  7. Maryanne Nonay

    Wow…. I feel kinda like I am over doing things… I am a single parent and have two vehicles. I did not intend to do this, I intended last summer to buy a new one and sell my older one. Things don’t always go as intended, however, and I have not sold my van. I am now considering keeping it, however, as it is paid off completely and too, when I have tried to sell it (last summer and again recently) I get low-balled on offers… going to like $2000 below black book value. I don’t wish to ‘give it away’… so figure on perhaps just keeping it for camping and road trips (as it is better on gas than my newer vehicle) and keep the newer one for work and around town, thereby distributing my mileage a bit more and making my new one not stack up the kilometers so fast.

    • Maryanne, thank you for your comment and your honesty. I think you echo the situation a lot of people are in. Life is rarely black and white, is it? 🙂

  8. I have two cars (10+ years each) but I inherited the second one from a dying parent…

    This isn’t about that, it’s about Americans being status-conscious pretentious dicks who not only blow big bucks on luxury vehicles but take their Quantity oh-so-seriously…
    I live in an upper-crust NJ town that’s going wall-to-wall McMansions and it’s pretty disgusting an experience being surrounded by such wasteful showoffs constantly out to prove something to each other, if not themselves.

    What I’m talking about here are families of 2 to 4 owning 4, 5, 6, 7 cars each. Their gaudy dwellings featuring 4 to 6 garages (looking like loading docks, all nicely lined up!).
    If you think that’s f-ing hilarious, consider that these garages are Empty! They have garages and they don’t use them because they want to show their wheels off 24-7-365 by parking them outdoors, either in their expensive hand-cut paving stone driveways which dominate their front yards or along the road, or typically both.

    If you want an even bigger f-ing laugh: let me remind you that they do this all-year round. If there’s a foot of snow out there, their vehicles are parked in it. If it’s bucketing down rain a la Katrina those vehicles are out there. If trees and branches are coming down those vehicles are out there. They don’t care if they have to walk 50 feet to reach them in wind, snow, rain!
    Even when they have these huge Vacant garages Attached directly to their mansions!

    If one a-hole does this, they All do it. That’s the sheeple mentality!

    I Seriously believe they’ve collectively forgotten the true purpose of garages, despite having each door illuminated at night with a spotlight shining on each and every door (so passers by can Count the number of garages they own, apparently!).

    • Lenny, your comment had me laughing, but I was feeling guilty about laughing because it’s all so insane. This American mentality that bigger is better has driven society into a hole they can’t climb out of. I’ve never understood it. I’ve had money…but I never had a need to spend it on fluff. Anyway, thanks for some great insights.

      • Lenny Brewster

        Old Tappan, New Jersey.
        Check it out sometime, and it’s by no means the only town in this neck of the woods like it.
        Decades ago it was nothing as described, just a peaceful little agricultural town. Today the McMansions are being supplemented by McCastles (don’t ask–I’m sure some engineer right now is working out the details of a feasible moat and draw bridge!). Luxury cars and SUVs everywhere. The big Exxon gas station in the center of town has The guaranteed highest priced gas in the state.

  9. I’ll check it out right now, Lenny.Thanks!

  10. It’s just not that big of an expense to own a car compared to the convenience it provides. Buy 5 yr old cars for a few thousand which have lower taxes and insurance. I pay more for my cable and Internet than I do for my cars.

    I also like the freedom to be able to come and go whenever I want. There is also safety issues where I would be able to leave now and go to the hospital without waiting for a ride.

    Having to wait outside in Michigan winters in order to catch the bus is no fun. I also don’t like having to leave extra early and getting home extra late because of all the stops. You only live once, I would rather spend my time with my loved ones or in bed than riding a bus. My time is worth more than that.


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