Thursday, January 2, 2014

Two Car or Not Two Car: That is the Question

Today, Tracy and I did something we have never done before. We went for a day drive simply to drive, including a visit to Camano Island, one of the rare places in the state of Washington we had not been to. We had no end destination in mind. We didn’t drive to go hiking or snowshoeing somewhere, or to shop at a Factory Outlet Mall!

We racked up 208 miles, first taking the highway to Marysville, and then driving the full loop of Camano. We stopped for a nice lunch in Stanwood, and then we went driving home on back roads that I knew from cycling to be quiet, twisty, and hilly. We took Burn road from Arlington to Granite Falls. To get to Sultan from Granite Falls, we took Menzel Lake Road, Lake Roesinger Road, Woods Creek, Old Pipeline, and Reinert Road. From Sultan to Monroe, we used Ben Howard Road. I can highly recommend all of these roads as being fantastic for driving or cycling, although there are no shoulders. I can’t comment about weekend traffic, but during a weekday there is very light traffic through this area.

What might the impetus for the drive have been?

We spent a good part of New Year’s Eve buying a new Subaru Forester Touring model with a safety package called the Eyesight Driver Assist Program. This was our first car purchase since we bought a new Forester in 2004. We now have two cars in the garage for the first time since May of 2001.

Of course, we didn’t “need” a new car at all, as our Forester is still in perfect condition and only has 85,000 miles on it. We barely have much use for even one car, let alone two! I didn’t really grasp why we needed a new car, but Tracy had always had ten years in her mind as a logical replacement time, and she drives the car 90% of the time. She just felt like she wanted to get a new car, and the safety enhancements in the redesigned 2014 Forester were the icing on the cake.

The choice to get another Forester was pretty easy, as the Forester suits our outdoors lifestyle perfectly; the one we already own has been a great car. We didn’t have any interest in something super fancy, although the Touring version of the Forester comes loaded with a lot of luxury features in addition to the safety stuff. Actually, the major reason we bought the top finish level Touring model was that the Eyesight option package was not available on the less expensive models.


We certainly don’t need a larger SUV, and we never thought about buying a regular passenger car. The fact that the 2014 Forester is Motor Trend’s SUV of the year and Consumer Reports top rated and highest recommended small SUV didn’t hurt either.

We could have opted for the higher horsepower Forester XT, which also can be ordered in a Touring version. Tracy has zero interest in more horsepower, and as previously mentioned, she is the one using the car most of the time. Besides, the XT wheels looked really ugly to us, and that just wouldn’t work! We never seriously considered the XT, and that got me to thinking about cars in general, and how I use and view them these days.

I was very fortunate to be able to “retire” from the investment business at a pretty young age:


I met Tracy in 1998, and I moved to the Seattle area on 1/1/2000. Moving to Downtown Seattle in 2001 provided the perfect scenario to test a one car strategy. I sold my remaining sports car, which had already become superfluous due to sporadic use.

At the time, Tracy drove to her full time job over on the Eastside, but since moving to the Seattle area, I have never been a commuter. We don’t have kids to haul around. On weeknights and weekends, the car remained in the garage unless we went to the mountains or have a social event outside of downtown. We walked everywhere, and I had a fixed gear single speed bike I used for both fun and errand running.

The thought of adding a second car never entered our minds when we left Downtown Seattle after almost ten years and moved to central Olde Town Issaquah. I sold the single speed, but we still walk to the town center from our house on Squak Mountain, and run errands on our bikes to the Farmers Market and a few other places. One of the major location requirements for the house was that it had to be a ten minute or less walk to town. I now ride a mountain bike in addition to riding on the road, but I ride to the local trails. We live a quarter mile from a hiking trailhead on Squak, and I still love to walk as much as ever. I walk for both pleasure and to run errands, and I hope to continue doing that (as well as cycling!) until I am a very, very old man.

Tracy is now a part time education consultant, and normally uses her car two days a week for work, except in the summer. I can use the car most other days, but I find I rarely do so. Often I will think of a destination cycling trip I would need to use the car for, consider the planning and traffic involved, and wind up just riding out of my garage.

For me, the “pleasure” of driving is gone, and it is now more of a burden…although I must admit I had a blast today on our drive in the new car. We don’t have the fantastic deserted mountain roads that I drove in Colorado, and we live in a wet climate, so there isn’t much of a reason to have a special sports car or sports bike. I’d spend more time cleaning it than riding or driving!

Cars are meant to be used for transportation, and of course that is always going to be their primary use. In my twenties and early thirties, I also drove for pleasure and sport. I lived in Denver, and had a job that required me to travel throughout the Rocky Mountain West. Rather than take puddle jumpers, I explored just about every possible paved road using high performance cars, including two Porsches. I was something of a “professional speeder,” but in those days the Rockies were full of wide open prairie roads, great mountain and canyon roads, and very few law enforcement officers. It was a great place to drive fast before traffic became overwhelming.

As I got older, I still used cars for transportation, work, and convenience. I owned two cars most of the time when I was single, normally a sports car for fun and a more utilitarian car I used just to get around. I also often had a sport bike motorcycle as well! At some point, I started to notice that instead of a convenience, cars were starting to become an inconvenience, especially two of them.

Not owning two cars for the past 12+ years has very rarely been an inconvenience with our lifestyle. In fact, not having a second car has felt less inconvenient than maintaining two cars would have been. Now that we have two cars in the garage, we have decided to take a little time to evaluate whether we want to keep or sell the old Forester. The potential lack of use is a real factor.

Since 2001, I am not sure if I could recall more than a few times when not having my own car inconvenienced me. Yes, it does mean that I sometimes ride with friends when we leave town on a cycling expedition, but it doesn’t happen often enough that I think I have been a PITA. Even if I consider “elective” times I would have driven, not having a second car just has not been an issue.

The “cost” of keeping the second Forester would not be very high, and it’s not like we have any specific plans for the amount the car would likely sell for. If we keep the car, we would likely keep it indefinitely, and I doubt it would cost much to maintain a car that we would rarely use. What is probably more significant is the psychological “cost” of keeping the car while it mostly just takes up space in our garage.

As I said, our pleasure drive today was the first that Tracy and I have ever done together. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember a single drive just for the sake of a drive after I moved away from Denver in 1994. When I was growing up, we always had two cars. My father loved cars, and every year we would trade the car that was two years old in for a new car. Every Sunday my parents would take my sister and me for a drive. Suzy and I looked forward to this treat. It was a pure pleasure drive that always involved a stop at a Dairy Queen. For many years, I drove cars for pleasure. But when I moved to Dallas where I lived for six years before coming to Seattle, driving for pleasure ceased. There isn’t a whole lot of reason to get in a car and explore the Texas countryside, and you have to search far and wide for the curvy and hilly roads on which to use a sports car.

While I had always thought any second car, would be a fun car, if I ever do get another sports car, it wouldn’t be a new one. I’d be looking for a rare 1967 Porsche 911S. There would be no air bags or air conditioning, and the windows would be crank powered. Or maybe I should get one of these, especially if horsepower were important, as either option would have more horsepower than our new car:



I doubt I would use a 911S or sport bike more than once or twice a month, which is likely about the same as I would drive the old Forester. I am left to wonder whether there is a perfect equation that will help us determine if keeping the old car is worth it for very occasional use, or if it would be more of a burden just taking up space in the garage.


4 comments:

psorr said...

We went to a single car 3 years ago and never looked back. Few things are more frustrating than finding a dead battery when needing the "occasional" car that has been sitting for weeks. Car2Go has been a good backup plan (easier in the heart of the city, of course). Dealing with insurance/registration/emissions for the occasional car got to be more of a hassle than it was worth.

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Byron Walters said...

This is really a tough decision to make. Owning two cars is very convenient, but if you think that you spend more time cleaning it than using it, selling would be a good option. It might be difficult because of its' sentimental value, but it will also leave you space for a new car you were eyeing before. So, what did you end up doing?

Byron Walters @ Bob Dunn Subaru

Tom Meloy said...

Byron,

Love the new Forester, sold the old one in less than 24 hours.