Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday Marriage Matters: Car Sharing

So this post by Mouse reminded me recently that I hadn't given a review of how car sharing has gone for us since we went down to just one car around this time last year.  Let me give you a preview of how the very idea of car-sharing went for awhile:

When we lived in the city, I was in school, but Mark worked 20-30 minutes outside of the city:
Him: You should get rid of your car and just ride public transport everywhere.
Me: But I run all of our errands during the day and go to class.  How can I do that without a car?
Him: You could just ride your bike and take public transit. [self-righteously] You should do that anyway.
Me: Hell no. Get away from my car.

[I feel the need to explain that I've spent more than an hour on a streetcorner in 90degree heat waiting for the bus to come. Baltimore City is not famous for it's reliable public transit.]

Conversations with my family went like this:
My sister: What are you going to do about your POS car? [cue pointed look at my father who thought the mechanical problems with the car were all in my head]
My father: It's a perfectly good car.
Me: Mark thinks we can share a car.
Family: [uproarious laughter] Has he met you? You don't share. Or drive very well.  You're going to hit things in his car.

Eventually, his job moved to the city.  Our two cars sat unused for most of the day.  My car stopped starting reliably, and began to consistently shake and rattle when I drove it at speeds above 50mph.  My car also got about 14mpg.  Eventually, I returned "my" car to my parents and my dad found a buyer for the car and cleaned it out for me while I stressed over final exams.  My friend Erin taught me to drive stick.  Mark started letting me drive his car. We signed up for ZipCar when it came to the city.  In June, the Charm City Circulator started running from our apartment in Federal Hill to my school.

And so, a year has passed.  A year in which we have not yet fought over who gets the car.  A year in which we have made compromises, sacrifices, and a general nuisance of ourselves to our neighbors.  A year in which I have learned to drive a stick shift, ride my bike in the city, and have done an awful lot of bus-chasing.  A year in which my husband has bought fenders and snow tires for his bicycle, and rain pants and ankle cuffs for himself.  A year in which I have been living at home with my parents, where I could use their car, and then unemployed, then employed with a walking commute, making the choice not to buy a car much easier.

We make a lot of compromises.  A lot of, "you need the car tonight, so I'll climb tomorrow night"; a lot of, "can you come pick me up after class because I took the bus?"; a lot of, "I'll drop you off at X, because I need the car for Y, but you'll have to wait until I'm done for me to pick you up."  I try to keep the car generally clean, Mark tries to keep from constantly complaining that my idea of "generally clean" is his idea of "horrifyingly messy".  I bring my hockey gear in, but leave my stick in the car.  I track the gas mileage by carefully writing the stats on the receipt from the gas station and then reset the trip; Mark doesn't complain that my gas mileage is lousy.  I would honestly recommend that every couple share a car, for at least a limited period of time, because it's a lot of valuable lessons in choosing your battles and respecting your partner.

We've settled into a system.  The biggest piece of this is the general rule that whoever is at home all day has the car.  We try to avoid taking the car and leaving the other person stranded at home for more than a few hours at a time.  This mostly applies to weekend days; and it takes some work to make it work - sometimes Mark drives me up to a half-an-hour to get me to a friend's house to carpool, sometimes it means a long and unnecessarily difficult trip on public transit, sometimes it means walking or riding a bike instead of driving, even though driving would be much easier.

We carpool a lot.  We try to make it work so we aren't freeloaders, but we drive whenever it's convenient for us and get a ride whenever it isn't.  My sister bought a house recently, and will no longer live across the street, and so the carpooling will be harder.  My running buddy lives on our street as well, and I really hope she never plans to move.

Since I was the most resistant to sharing a car, Mark has put a lot more work into making this work.  He has been the one to change his plans more than me, and use public transit even when it's decidedly inconvenient.  If there is a person who wants to car-share more than the other, they need to be the one making the sacrifice and they need to be the one figuring out how it's going to work.  Our car currently needs servicing and has a recall and I've put Mark in charge of figuring out how to get it to the dealership and deal with that, because, "this was your idea."  Eventually we came up with a plan that involves me spending two hours at the coffeshop next to the dealership when I'm off work, but we don't have a weekend day to devote to this and I have flexible hours. Mark is a firm believer that we'll still be able to share a car when we have children, I am equally certain that we will not, or if we are, it will not be a stick-shift Corolla.

My always-depressing-and-fluid employment situation shifted again recently, and I'm on the hunt for a new job.  I'm applying all over the place, and we've talked about whether this means we will have to get a second car (or a Vespa!) if it's somewhere far away.  The plan is to stick with one car for as long as is reasonable, and then make a change if we need to.

Do you share a car? Could you? Do you and your spouse even have a car? What would need to happen for you to be able to?


  1. We share a car that used to be mine. (1998, woo!) It's usually not a problem because himself works really close to the house and public transit here is pretty decent. In fact, I get annoyed when he uses the car and doesn't have to. Luckily, we both love our bikes and are in a decently bike-friendly place, especially during the warmer months.

  2. I give you tons of credit for sharing a car! My hubs & I have two cars that sit unused much of the time because I work from home & he takes public transportation to work. This has been the case for 4+ years. Yet we can't seem to pull the trigger on having one car!

  3. We've always had just one car as a couple. We live 1 mile from my husband's work, so he generally bikes or gets a ride from his boss if the weather is bad. I've always had the farther commute and pretty much have the car during the week. It's been pretty easy for us to share, and I think the hardest part was when the car was in the shop for 2 days this past week. Thank goodness the mechanic had shuttle service!

  4. We shared a car for a long time. I take the train to work, and the train station is just a mile from our house. So my husband dropped me off in the mnorning and then I walked home - 90+ degrees or 3 feet of snow. We did a lot of "I need to go to X tonight so can you come home and I'll take you to the gym and then pick you up after?" We saved our grocery shopping and other stuff like that for the weekends (which I HATED - so crowded!). It worked, but after the first big snowstorrm this year, I was done. We bought a car and are back to being a 2-car family.

  5. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, because I think this is a great post and I think you have lots of valuable insight to share, but I do want to comment on this:

    "I would honestly recommend that every couple share a car, for at least a limited period of time, because it's a lot of valuable lessons in choosing your battles and respecting your partner."

    Couples learn lessons very differently, just as children have different learning styles, when you put two people together that complicates "couple" learning even more. I think that it would be better phrased "It's important to learn to choose your battles and respect your partner." I just don't know if you can say that everyone would learn from sharing a car. Brian and I could never share a car. His car is a trash pit. My car, while it has a few things in it, has clean floors. He likes big cars, I like small cars. He likes automatic, I drive stick shift. He is 6'3", I am 5'8". If it were an absolutely essential, could we share a car? Well, we'd have to. However, it would be a point of contention.

    However, as silly as it seems, we've learned those lessons from sharing a bed. In fact, we've lived together for 4 years now and we're still learning how to share a bed. I could go on and on about how we've learned respect and compromise from fighting over the blankets and how I believe they should be properly on top of us, not to mention whether or not we can handle the addition of a top sheet.

    If we lived in a place where we didn't need to drive, maybe the situation would be different, but we don't live near public transportation and he doesn't have a job even on a bus line. Even so, there are times that other couples learn valuable lessons whereas we just don't get those lessons out of it. We honestly don't learn a lot of lessons, as I know we should, we have a long ways to go until we can learn to set rules in the house like I know you and Mark do, but everyone is so different.

  6. We share a car, but I consider us very fortunate to live in a place where that's extremely easy. We both commute via public transportation, so the car is only used for errands, groceries, and the occasional weekend roadtrip. When we first moved here, we had two cars, but mine was totaled in a freak accident while parked on the street a few years ago. Given that I wasn't using it often, the choice to not replace it was an easy one (although it greatly confused my friends/family who live in parts of the country with fewer public transit options.) There has been a little bit of drama since then, mostly around decision-making regarding repairs and who drives when. My wife does the vast majority of the driving when we're together--a result of it both being her car and the fact that I don't particularly like to drive.

    I suspect that someday we'll move to a part of the country where at least one of us will have a driving commute, but if at all possible, I'd still really prefer that we find a way to make being a one-car family work. I know at some point in the future I'll probably have to drive more often than I do now and I'll deal with that, but from financial/environmental/lifestyle perspectives, I hope we can avoid having to buy a second car.

  7. Kate, my car was a trash pit (literally, my approach to not getting it broken into was to have it look like a homeless person lived in it). Anytime we drove other people, I had to clean it out, or at least move the garbage to the trunk. It sometimes smelled strange. It was full of papers, empty soda bottles, random sweaters/coats/raincoats/umbrellas, and all kind of other sh*t. From sharing a car with Mark, I learned I do not have to be the kind of person who drives a car full of trash. I always thought it was unavoidable.

    I learned that I can drive stick shift. I don't like it, but I learned to do it because I had to. I honestly thought, after several failed attempts at driving stick, that I would not be able to learn to drive stick, and I didn't make the effort until we had to share a car.

    Mark is 6 feet tall, I'm 5'4". He can just barely get in the car to adjust the seat once I've been in it. Every time we drive, we have to adjust the car. It's not a big deal anymore.

    Of course I think every couple needs to learn to pick their battles and respect each other. I just think sharing a car is a really good, really fast way to do it. I heard on the radio once a woman who thought that every couple should go on a long-distance sailing trip with their fiancée before getting married. It seemed a little extreme to me, but I get where she was coming from.

  8. We've been car sharing since January. Since the boy works from home and needs to be mobile, he drops me off at work daily and picks me up. I hate it. I never realized how much I rely on having MY OWN car until I no longer did. Needless to say, we're getting me a car after we get back from our anniversary trip.

  9. I'm crazy impressed that you share. We really want to, and will probably do so in the future, but for now my classes are an hour away and his work intermittently needs him, and the real issue is that he has a lease, our town has no public transport, and we want to keep mine, which we own outright.

  10. I'm getting really, really sick of sharing a car. It was fine in the city, but there's no good public transit here. We're saving up for another one.

    Mark needs to let go of the notion that you can share a car with kids right now. It's not worth the extra stress.

  11. There are often very few cost advantages to sharing one newer instead of two older cars. (and by older I mean 3-6 not 13-16.) Unless you pay for parking the only fixed cost is insurance, which can be cheaper for two older cars than one new one. Everything else essentially goes by the mile once a car is about 3-4 years old

  12. Dad, there is a pretty big cost advantage to not laying out $14,000 or making car payments. If you already have two cars, there isn't necessarily an advantage to giving one up, but there were a hell of a lot of advantages to not buying a new one. Plus the cost of routine maintenance and keeping two cars full of gas is pretty high, so it's nice to only pay that on one car, because we only use one car. It would be really irritating to pay upkeep costs on two cars, especially when we're only driving one of them most of the time.

  13. I see what you're saying, I just know that since we share everything else, we view our cars as the one thing we have to ourselves. My car is the way I like it, and it's my refuge, and his is the same. On the few occasions I've had to drive his car the height thing has been very stressful for both of us.

    My point was just that you can learn those values elsewhere. Additionally, I've had lots of people say we should take a road trip or back pack together. We are just not that couple. I wish we were, but we are not.